fb-pixel Skip to main content

Guitarist Glenn Jones opens up new possibilities

Jesse Sheppard

Guitarist Glenn Jones is one of the premier purveyors of the deceptively named American Primitive school of guitar. First presented to the public by independent-music innovator John Fahey, the style is rooted in American folk and blues traditions, infused with improvisational spirit and fueled by an avant-garde sense of composition. Now with adherents across the globe, American Primitive has found a new level of critical and commercial appreciation; Jones, a founder of esteemed local rock band Cul De Sac, celebrates the arrival on Friday of “Fleeting,” issued on trendsetting Chicago indie label Thrill Jockey, with an Arts at the Armory concert on Saturday. In a recent interview, Jones talked about the process that led to his sixth solo disc.

Q. You didn’t record “Fleeting” in a traditional studio. What led you to record where you did?


A. The woman that engineered and recorded my last two albums is named Laura Baird. Laura’s going to be playing with me next Friday at the Armory . . . she’s an old friend, and she knows what I’m looking for in terms of recording. She had found this house which was almost on the banks of the Rancocas Creek, which is in New Jersey, just off the Delaware River. The back room where I was sleeping, if I took five steps out the door, I was in the water.

I’m just kind of allergic to working in the studio — I like to hear the experience of making the album, where I made it, when I made it. I just like to go some place I can relax, that’s off the beaten path, that’s away from any responsibilities I have to anything besides making this record. Those qualities you get from a studio? I don’t need them. I don’t mind if the birds and the insects or whatever else are bleeding onto the track. I think that really adds something to it, rather than takes away from it.


Q. How do you go about composing material? Are you a song-a-day kind of writer?

A. Oh, no, it takes me about a year, year and a half, to write enough material for an album. I don’t really write to order; I just play, and if I’m having trouble — writer’s block or something — I’ll just invent a new tuning on the guitar, throw my partial capo on a new spot on the neck or something. It’s kind of arrogant, but I haven’t played in standard tuning in like 35 or 40 years.

There are guys and gals that have spent their lives playing standard tuning and never have gotten to the bottom of it. It’s an incredible mystery, and there’s just so much theory and so much you can do with it. But I have a hard time composing in standard tuning. Maybe it’s just because I kinda feel like, well it’s G chord but I don’t own this G chord — it kind of was there before me, it will be there after I’m gone. In non-standard tunings I may be hitting on the occasional G chord, but somehow I feel I own that G chord, because I got to it in such a roundabout way and had to dig my way through the underbrush and all that stuff. It’s a different experience. So putting those kind of obstacles in my path, the pieces that I compose become a way of navigating a new and unfamiliar landscape.


Q. What posed the biggest challenge in making “Fleeting”?

A. One thing I’ve discovered is that playing your own music is different from listening to your own music. I don’t know if it’s a left brain/right brain thing or whatever, but once the music is recorded, it’s almost like hearing the music for the first time. Sometimes I can be more critical of it if I’m not playing at the same time. The challenge is, how is this not just a collection of the latest songs but an actual album? How do these pieces reflect on one another, how do I segue from one to another? I like the record, when it’s done, to feel like a voyage. Not just people sitting in rooms listening to songs — I want to feel like I’ve taken [the listener] somewhere. The records that mean the most to me take me somewhere.

And the order of the tracks . . . once I’ve got the mixes of the record I’ve got pages and pages of sequences before I find one that really works. When I start listening to the record as the record, within three or four listens, it’s like, yeah, this song has to follow that song, and this song has to be at the start of side two, and the side needs to end with, like, “A Day in the Life” or “Bold as Love.” It should feel inevitable.


Glenn Jones

With Laura Baird. At Arts at the Armory, Somerville, March 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $14, $12 with advance reservations. 617-718-2191, www.artsatthearmory.org

Interview was condensed and edited.
Sean L. Maloney can be reached at s.l.maloney@gmail.com.