I am chatting to Dan Patlansky at Die Bordinghuis in Wellington. He just returned from another successful European tour and is halfway through a follow-up South African tour. This one is without his band however. He is all by himself with just two acoustic guitars. I found Dan in an upbeat but reflective mood and we delved into his gear choices, life on the road and how to stay focused on your core skills.
I must admit that I regrettably sold a few electric guitar amps in the past that I rather should have kept. They did not work for me at the time, but those same amps sounded fantastic a few years later. The lesson I learned was that my ears take time to grow accustom to the sound of a new amp. I must put in the time necessary to get to know the amp inside out, which in my case, takes about 3 months. I wanted to know from Dan whether he shares my sentiments and if so, how long it takes him to get to know an amp inside out tone wise. “For me it takes a bit longer. I think the longer you stay on an amp the better your tone will be because every amp EQ’s differently and reacts differently. So, it takes a while to firstly understand the dynamics of the amp and how it reacts and how to EQ the amp and where the volume should be for what you want. For my Dr Z amp it took me two to three years to get into it properly. I mean it always sounded right, but to get exactly what I wanted took that long. It is a commitment. You don’t know if you like an amp within three months. If you are into high gain amps and you get a clean amp you will know immediately it’s not for you. But if you are into clean amps and you buy a clean amp you don’t know immediately. You got to kind of mess around for a while.”
I remembered from the Dan Patlansky Guitar Weekend I attended in 2013 that Dan mentioned a preference for power amp overdrive over pre-amp drive. I reminded him of that. “Big time. That’s the big thing. On my Z its volume section has pre and post so you are driving different sections of the amp. I have never loved the sound of preamp tubes being overdriven. It is a thing, but it sounds like the amps with two channels and I have never liked it. Some people think it’s the business because it has a valve in there and it is not a pedal. The reason I like a pedal is because of the way I set up an amp, I use the overdrive pedal with gain low and volume right up. You are boosting it so much that it is hitting the power amp more than the pre-amp. It is a different kind of break-up but that is the kind that I like.”
Dan also believes in good old volume to get good tone. If you ever attended one of his electric shows you will know that he plays loud.
“Yeah, I think it is volume for a couple of reasons. I think it is volume because you want the power section to drive and the more air you push the bigger your sound is. Speakers are a massive part of it too. Speakers are as important as the amp.” Dan used a speaker cabinet with speakers from a company called Markbass for a while. That has changed significantly though. “I’ve still got the same cab, but changed the speakers. This is the biggest tonal difference I have ever done. The first speakers were matched for the cab – 50 watt speakers. Now I have 300 watt EV’s N12L – it is the same one Bonamassa uses. The whole point is to over spec the speaker. So the amp can be full blast and the speaker is still clean. I do not like speaker distortion – it is very nasty for me. These speakers smooth the sound – all the edges goes out. The EV’s are dark but you can still get the brightness but without the harshness. For me an over spec’d speaker makes the world of a difference. The downside is – 10kg each per speaker and they are expensive, but they are very cool.” The speaker Dan is referring to is the EVM12L BlackLabel model. This is the signature speaker produced for Zakk Wilde and Black Label Society and the same one used by Joe Bonamassa.
During the latter part of 2015 Dan Patlansky had the privilege of touring Europe as the support act for Joe Satriani. I could not resist asking about Dan’s experience of Joe as a person. “It was cool man. He was one of the most awesome dudes. Very sweet and humble and made us feel very at home, which helps. We did close to 30 shows with them and his band and crew were fantastic. And I was exposing myself to a fantastic audience – a guitar loving audience. It could not have gone better. We built up followings in all sorts of places like Budapest and Slovakia that we would never have been able to play. We just got back from those places a week ago, as we are now able to fill clubs there because of that tour. It was an honour. He is a monster player, but the other side is that he is also a first class person.”
Our conversation turned to Dan’s latest two albums, Dear Silence Thieves and Introvertigo. I perceived both of these as a departure from the typical Stevie Ray Vaughn inspired blues rock that characterised many of Dan’s earlier work. To my ears these albums contain a wider variety of influences that identifies Dan’s individual style more clearly. “The more influences you have, the less you will sound like someone else. If you only have a few influences you will sound like them. You kind of take ideas and a feel from a particular player and not necessarily what they do – (but rather) the essence of what they do. It is difficult to produce your own albums. Every album (apart from the first one) I produced myself (up until Dear Silence Thieves). Although I am capable of producing it is difficult to produce your own stuff cause you cannot look at it from a different angle or perspective. So I decided to get Theo (Crous) on Dear Silence Thieves and the latest. He could look at it from another angle – an outside point of view. He is not necessarily a blues guy – he produces everything. I don’t see music in genres, just like Theo. For me either you like it or you don’t. Obviously I have a lot of blues influences but many that are outside of the blues.”
After a while we had such a nice rhythm to our conversation that I forgot it was an interview. This is usually when a conversation turns philosophical, and that is exactly what happened. The first topic we tackled was the reality of music as a career and the pros and cons of not having a backup plan. “I don’t have any qualifications – so it is a risky thing, but it is a have-to-make-it-work. I find that if you have a backup plan, when times get tough, you will always go to your backup plan. And once you are there, you’re there for life, because you’ll get a fixed income. If you do not have it, you will have to make music work. Sometimes I almost envy that (having a backup plan) as guitar playing for me is a complete and utter passion – it’s not a job. Don’t get me wrong, I love my “job”, but on some nights it feels like a job. But luckily for the most part, it does not and you have a good time doing it. But when you have another job for your income and guitar is your passion, it is also a special thing.”
It is clear that Dan Patlansky is riding a successful wave of his career at the moment. Doors are opening in Europe and in South Africa he has a bigger following than ever before. That is not a result of guitar playing alone, but also a testament to good business practices.
“Well, I’ve always known that I have to run it as a business cause it is – it has to be. But then the more successful you become, the harder it gets to run your business because you stop playing eventually and just run the business. That is why I got my manager on board and he runs the business. You get to a point where you cannot do it on your own anymore. Franie (Kotze) runs the business responsibilities. I still have a big say, but I focus on playing music – that is my primary focus.”
On managing responsibilities at home with the demands of a career on the road, Dan says: “It is the hardest part of being a musician. In fact, I wrote a song about it on the new record ‘Still want to be a man’. It is about balancing something that is virtually impossible. You have to sacrifice both. You will miss opportunities in your career because you are at home, or miss opportunities at home because you are on the road. I have a 2-year-old daughter at home, but the trick is that my wife is very supportive and understand what the industry is about. On the other hand, we never spend more than 6 weeks at a time on the road. We have to put those boundaries in, otherwise it will never ever work out. We go overseas 6 weeks max – does not matter what is happening.”
I end our time together with the last philosophical question. What does guitar playing mean to Dan apart from making a living?
“Everyone in life needs something to express themselves – some through their job or arts like photography, whatever it is. I have always had music and the guitar. It goes beyond the guitar – music as a whole is an expressive thing. Music is the expressive part, but the whole kind of vibe with the guitar and how every guitar is different to each other appeals to me. My biggest passion within the music realm, is guitar tone. That is my biggest thing – that for me is everything. For me the more playable the guitar is the better your tone will be because it comes from your fingers – only 30 % from the rest. On a personal level, if my tone is good, then everything is easy from there – the gig, technique, improvisation – it is pleasing on the ear. I would rather listen to an average player with a fantastic tone than an awesome player with a terrible tone. But the coolest is when a guy has both. Within the passion of music tone is my passion and that is a bottomless pit – an endless pursuit to get the tone in your head into reality. But is a great journey as you learn a lot along the way and you learn that it is not the pedals, amp and guitar. It is mostly with your hands and techniques not to choke the guitar, play too hard or play too soft.”
To end of our time together Dan used this wisdom to explain the pitfalls of buying gear based in Youtube reviews. “When you go onto Youtube and you want to buy a pedal or amp it’s amazing, but the sound is dependent on who is doing the demo. It shows how much the player imparts. I bought stuff on the internet that sounded great because a fantastic player played it. When you get it you realise that it is not really what you were looking for. The player was simply so good. On the other hand, I have avoided certain pedals for years because not such great players demonstrated them on Youtube and sounded like crap. Then one day you stumbled across it and you go, ‘Wow, it is really cool’”.