Guitarist Ant Law has been performing in Tim Garland’s group and now releases his second album, Zero Sum Game. Here he talks to Charlie Anderson.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started in music.
“I usually tell this lame joke about how when I was born I emerged strumming my umbilical cord. But my parents really loved music and when I was in my mother’s womb, apparently, they put headphones on her tummy so that I could hear music. My family always listened to music. My dad showed me some chords on the guitar when I was about ten. Then I had piano lessons when I was quite young and then carried on just playing.”
Do you find there are connections between that and music?
“I think that whatever people do they can probably find some kind of connection to it. To be honest, I don’t think there’s a huge connection form me. I think there are examples – I can also think of a way that anthropology might inform music. Pick any subject and you can figure out a way how it influences music.”
Tell us about your new album and how it came about.
“I went to Brazil for a few months and I really liked the country – the weather, the food, the people, the music and the vibe, so I wrote a lot of the music. It’s not inspired by Brazilian music in any particular way, but it’s certainly inspired by how much I enjoyed being there.”
“I wanted to keep the same core quartet for this album, as I did for my last album because I think that ultimately, it really shows. It’s very audible whether there’s a kind of long-term musical relationship going on or whether you’re just calling up randoms to come and record with you. So I wanted to do that so I called the same core band but I’ve also been doing some playing with Ivo Neame so I decided to get him in on piano. We did a big tour and played the music a lot, to kind of get stuck into it, try stuff out, see what works and doesn’t work and experiment. And then we recorded right after the tour.”
“The title Zero Sum World means that no one can profit without someone else’s loss, but more specifically it means that the sum is always zero. That’s not a bleak outlook necessarily but it just means that if you make millions of cars which burn loads of petrol then they will pollute the environment so there’s always some kind of balance or trade-off in life, I think.”
“People often think that I got that title from something to do with physics but actually I was just watching an episode of Treme, which is this really cool TV series by the guy who did The Wire. It’s set in New Orleans and it’s about all the cool musicians and there’s this character in the series that mentions this phrase ‘zero sum world’ so I just literally got it from that. I learned it from telly, not from my physics degree.”
When you compose, is there a particular process that you go through. Do you just write a guitar lick and then add some chords? How do you do it?
“Yeah, that’s definitely one way. I’ve got different ways. Sometimes there will be a rhythmic thing that I’m working on. So, Mishra Jathi, the fourth track on the album, is basically a ‘septuplets etude’, because we’re really interested in South Indian music and rhythms. So that piece is loads of rhythms exploring groups of seven. That way is where I have a rhythmic structure and I put notes to it. Another way, the one that you mentioned, is where I’ve got a cool lick and I’ll put chords to it.”
“A lot of the tunes, the ones that I think are the best musically, usually come out of nowhere, out of thin air as a chord melody. So the whole thing just emerges fully formed and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s sort of like if you are improvising and you’re trying to make something amazing on the spot, sometimes it’s a bit like composition but obviously if you’re improvising then a lot of what you play just isn’t that great. If you’re really improvising then there’s always a chance of that. If you try and channel that improvised thing and just be really spontaneous sometimes you get a load of guff and then you shelve it. But sometimes you get something really cool. For example the piece Triviophobia or the main melodies in Monument, and Waltz as well. These just kind of emerged fully formed in the moment. Within about 30 seconds of me hearing the first chord, the whole thing is done and I don’t really know how it happened. I don’t even feel that I should take credit for it because I didn’t really do anything other than just write it down.”
Last week I went to a rhythm workshop run by Asaf Sirkis.
He went through the whole Konnakol system.
“I’m a huge fan of Asaf! I had some Konnakol lessons with Asaf and I get to play with Asaf a lot in Tim Garland’s band. That’s a real pleasure and whenever we have a drive, like whenever we have a gig in Newcastle or somewhere. We did The Sage in Newcastle last month and I basically learnt Konnakol from Asaf in the car all the way there. It was amazing.”
He said when I interviewed him that driving around in his car gave him lots of time to learn and perfect his rhythmic skills using Konnakol.
“Exactly. And for someone like Asaf, who really is a road warrior and always on tour, it’s a way that you can develop a huge amount whilst being on the road.”
Loads of people have probably asked you about your guitar and how it is tuned. How did that come about? did you think of it yourself?
“Yeah. Well, I’ve been playing guitar for ages. I’ve been playing since I was about ten and then when I was 18 I had this jazz guitar lesson. And the guy was like ‘you need to learn these different arpeggios and he listed all of these different arpeggios that I needed to learn. So I wrote them out and it just seemed like it was gonna be really complicated to learn all the different fingerings on the neck of the guitar. Because of the strings of the guitar are tuned to the fifth fret, the G string and the B string are separated by a major third. So there’s this inconsistency built in to the guitar that was just going to make everything way more complicated.”
“So what I realised is that because I didn’t really know much at this point, if I change now then it’s going to make things a lot easier. So, for example, someone in normal tuning, if they want to play the exact same chord (say D major), if they play it in three different places on the neck, they have to learn three different voicings, three different fingerings, three different shapes. So their brain has to learn a lot of information. But if you were to change your tuning to fourths then you can just learn one shape and use it in three different places on the neck. so I was like ‘okay, sweet! This is brilliant’ and ‘let me do this and I’ll just have to learn a third of the stuff that all the other guys learn’. So I did that and I also liked the idea of being a bit of an individual, just to throw me off into a slightly different zone to everyone else. Obviously we can still play the same Charlie Parker licks and stuff which is good but that’s how it came about. After that I researched it and there are a lot of other people who do tune like that – I think that’s called ‘convergent evolution’.”
“So that’s the tuning spiel! Buy my book!”
You’re playing at The Verdict on Friday 17th July. Are you just going to play through the album?
“Nah! We always mix it up a little bit. We’ve got all the hits from the first album, Entanglement. There’s a few pieces that we still like playing. And it’s always nice to address a few standard tunes or at least tunes by well-known jazz composers such as Monk and Coltrane. Music from the CDs will definitely feature.”
Ant Law appears at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 17th July.
His album Zero Sum World is now available on Whirlwind Recordings.
His book, 3rd Millennium Guitar: An Introduction to Perfect 4th Tuning,
is published by Mel Bay books.