An incredibly unique entertainer and wonderfully nice guy, Texan-born Rodney Branigan’s talents are appreciated world-wide. His musical diversity has seen him play in countries such China, France, Germany and Switzerland, to name but a few, and his reception at Behind the Castle was phenomenal following his ability to play simultaneous instruments side by side.
I have checked out some of your videos on youtube before today- you are insanely talented! When did you decide to start performing with two guitars? Was it by accident?
Yeah it was an accident actually-it was a student of mine when I was teaching in my home town of Amarillo Texas that dared me to do it. I am ambidextrous, so I am not really left-handed or right-handed so he just said out of the blue ‘think you could play both of them at the same time?’ and sure enough I could. I stayed in my studio space that night until midnight and worked out some songs and then played it the next day at a gig. It has given me a bit of a something that’s mine that’s like a unique thing that I can do so I have figured out how to transfer that to other instruments.
Oh really? What other instruments do you use?
Tonight I will start with playing the mandolin and the guitar at the same time and then the second song I’ll play the conga, the guitar and the mandolin- all three at the same time.
That’s really impressive- I can barely play one guitar just on its own!
Well, I have a lot of free time- I have been a professional musician, which means that it’s actually closer to being a pensioner than being a working individual. I have my day time pretty empty, I just spend my time in my little space trying to figure out the possibilities.
I guess now that you have moved to Somerset there is lots of open space and it’s so laid back here in the country that you have lots of free time to experiment?
Yeah and the huge benefit of living in Somerset, other than the fact that it’s a beautiful place to live is the expenses, whereas living in London I was having to stay on the road so long just to make ends meet, whereas it’s much cheaper to live in some place like Somerset. Much more pleasant as well.
The pace of life is very different here and I suppose that it’s much more conducive to a creative atmosphere than London?
Completely. I mean London does have its parts of being creative but sometimes you just end up so stressed just making sure you can make your rent every month and you’re constantly looking for the next gig that’s gonna pay the most money whereas I don’t really like being in that position. I prefer to be in the position where I can take the gigs I want to take whether they pay or not. It’s a lot easier to do that in Somerset.
Was that the case with this festival?
Yeah that’s pretty much it. Obviously I wanted to play a festival like this, they told me it was at a castle and I thought yeah definitely want to do that!
What was the inspiration for your new album ‘Sketches’?
It was a notebook that I carry around with me. Over the course of the last ten years or so I have spent a lot of time just playing gigs and stuff and a lot of the songs were started or finished in this little notebook that I carried around with me. My sister had given it to me for Christmas one year and so the whole album, because I was on the road so much and I wasn’t in a space where I had ‘this is my writing space’, it was written on planes or written in airports waiting to go to the next gig or hotel room. So the one album came out of this one little notebook.
Do you have a particular music-writing process?
The process of writing music for me is very individual, there isn’t necessarily verbal things going on there, I just write the music and I’ll hum it or I’ll do some fake lyrics to it and then I do the lyrics in a completely different way and I have a journal that I keep lyrics in. The final process before I go into the studio is ok, these are the good lyrics in this column and this is the good music on my dictaphone that I carry around and I sort of piece them together. I do write poetry as well, but mostly just to keep me in the practice because I have noticed that the best lyrics are the ones which aren’t so poetic. Poetry is an art in itself but a lot of the best songs are songs which are very much real language. Most of the best song writers have complex ideas but the actual words they use to explain those complex ideas are quite simple.
Do you have two particular guitars that you like to use when you’re onstage or do you have a selection that you like to rotate?
I do- I currently am working with Yamaha and they helped me develop a line of guitars that I use. The particular one I am using today is called the AC3R but it has a pick-up system in it that was developed by me. It means that it’s harder for it to sound bad! From playing a lot of festivals over the last 15 years or so I realised that I needed to have a little bit of control over my sound from the stage so with these guitars I have not infinite control but a lot of control so it’s difficult to mess it up.
Is there anywhere you haven’t had chance to perform yet but would love to?
South America will hopefully be on the cards soon. I have toured all over the United States, in North America, Mexico, Canada and all over Europe and Asia but I have never been to South America. With a lot of the touring I get to come into contact with a lot of different musicians from all over the world and it’s as much a learning experience as it is me going and teaching. When I was in India that was a massive thing for me comparing my musical education with some of the people that were there and realising that the Western education is completely different than the East and trying to find all those things that we had in common, it was very different. Uniqueness is difficult- there are only 12 notes in the musical alphabet and it’s no easy job to be different, just putting those 12 notes in a different order.
Do you have a main source of inspiration for your lyrics?
It’s mostly just diaries- personal experiences and I have some political songs that come out of stories that I have seen on the news but most of it is just personal experiences and people that I have come across and I write little notes in my journal as I go. I keep a little journal of all the experiences that I have and develop stories out of that afterwards.