Marc Guillermont: The French King of Fusion talks to Truth In Shredding

From NAMM 2013

I have been a big fan of Marc Guillermont's playing over the years having appeared on numerous jazz fusion albums and solo efforts... I just love his fluid legato playing, and that blend of inventiveness that separates the men from the boys. I'd not seen Marc play live except on YouTube videos. So you can imagine my pleasure whilst attending NAMM in California, bumping into Marc Guillermont on the Paul Lairat stand. I watched him play, grabbed a bag of video and solo camera shots. Like all players he's drawn to the very best talents and I catch him at the MI stand watch Scott Henderson play. Later in the year I caught up with Marc again at the Frankfurt Musikmesse. This time we said hello and I decided that I would at least get an interview together with this remarkably talented musician.

Soloing on "PUD WUD" (Allan Holdsworth)

[Truth In Shredding]

I understand that you were born in Aix Les Bains in 1968. Can you tell us a little about your early playing years, were you from a musical family, what sort of music did you listen to back then and when did you first start playing an instrument?

[Marc Guillermont]

I started playing alto sax at the conservatory, I was just 6 years old then. The funny thing is I was taught classical music on that instrument, which is usually considered to be jazz oriented... I stood for a long time there, may be 9 years... and hated it almost since the 1st day! It was not how I was "thinking" about music, and all those exams and competitions scared me to a point that I couldn't play sometimes. It felt more like it brought some extra work to do in addition to schoolwork.

Anyway, from there I started to try to play by ear by listening to LP's and playing along with them. And this was much more natural and exciting to me! I listened to a lot of different musics at that time, mainly discovering the LP's of my parents. My parents were not musicians, but my father was an architect and I guess this is somehow related to art. So, since we're in France, it meant a lot of french singers but not only, lots of classical music too. A few years later I discovered pop and rock bands like Rainbow, Van Halen, Foreigner, Police...and Pink Floyd which, to me, still is a huge influence not for guitar, but for their "intentions" in music. They definitely opened a door.

This brought me later on to more progressive bands like Camel, Zappa "The Mothers of Invention", Yes and Gong and thanks to these bands I discovered Bill Bruford's "One Of A Kind" and "Master Strokes" and... Allan Holdsworth of course!

As far as I remember, my heroes were then Steve Howe, Mike Stern, Allan Holdsworth, Andrew Latimer... and they all made me want to be a guitar player. When my parents finally bought me a guitar, I was just 12 years old. It was an acoustic guitar. I didn't want to take lessons, LP's were the best teachers I remember I said to myself (and I still do!) To make things easier, I start building chords to be able to walk on the neck with one finger, without knowing it was called tuning and I was using my mum's radio to record myself!! I finally ended up trying to play by ear on my favourite LP's. Which leaded me naturally to want an electric guitar... From that day, I really started to work seriously. I remember for instance I was playing along the whole "Yessongs" album, knowing everything by heart.

I worked a lot on Mike Stern's albums too, specially "Upside Downside"and many others...
After 1 year or so, I met other musicians and we finally built a band playing covers. But the main thing to me is at that time I started to compose music.

[Truth In Shredding]

Did you get any lessons?

[Marc Guillermont]

Yes, I went in a Jazz school in Lyon, for just one year and then I had only a half hour guitar lesson per week. But, by then,  I had already 8 years of practice as as a self taught player, so most of the time, the lessons ended up with me just jamming with the teacher!

From NAMM 2013

[Truth In Shredding]

So from there you moved to Paris in your early twenties, what was the reason for that, was it to attend some music college or, like many musicians in the UK who move to London, it was a better place to get gigs and live music experience?

[Marc Guillermont]

One of the guys in our cover band became a sound engineer in Paris, he once called me for a session... and I really had to "escape" from the little place where I lived anyway.

[Truth In Shredding]

Was it in Paris that you decided to make a career of playing music?

[Marc Guillermont]

Oh no! I knew it way before then! The feeling was already there when I was 12 I guess...
It became really concrete later, when I saw all those great gigs with players like Brecker, Stern, Holdsworth, Zappa...

Soloing on "WEZEP"

[Truth In Shredding]

Later you moved down to the South of France, to Nice, and stayed there for 15 years. What is the difference between playing in Paris and playing the clubs in Nice? Did you get a different kind of experience there, did it change your playing style?

[Marc Guillermont]

Well... In fact I guess In hindsight, I was too young in Paris and inexperienced by the way. That makes it difficult to be really objective to reply but still, one thing I noticed is the difference of weather yes!

[Truth In Shredding] LOL... so the weather was better, that figures... a nice dry heat.

Marc Guillermont is on Sound Cloud:

1997 : 1st CD "UMAN" (Keys / Bass / Guitar / Voice / Programming by M.Guillermont
Sax : Thierry Valentini)

1999 : 2nd CD "O WORLD" (Keys / Bass / Guitar / Voice / Programming by M.Guillermont)

2000 : 3rd CD "VIRTUALIST" (Keys / Bass / Guitar / Voice / Programming by M.Guillermont)

2003 : 4th CD "ZAPPOSTROPHE" tribute to Frank Zappa (Keys / Bass / Guitar / Voice / Programming by M.Guillermont Sax : Jean Marc Baccarini Voice : Carole Dreant

2005 : joins the members of "MIKAPTOJAM" group, ro record a fully improvised record "DEDALES"
with guests like : Barre Phillips on upright bass, singer Carole Dreant and Francois Rossé on piano.
2006 :New Trio "The Space Animals"

2008 :Sebastiaan Cornelissen, bass player Frans Vollink and pianist / drummer Gary Husband
2011 Sebastiaan Cornelissen/Marc Guillermont/Coen Molenaar/Frans Vollink: The Sebastiaan Cornelissen Group

Live video performance of the track 7/4


[Truth In Shredding]

You've played and appeared on a lot of albums, both solo and in a band format. Which do prefer doing, being in a band or working on a solo project?

[Marc Guillermont]

That's a real good question because, it will help me to clear up a misunderstanding that happen sometimes.

Both cases have got their real good sides for me. I made four solo albums, alone, true, but that's certainly not a way to say "hey my thing is to do everything alone"...

The excitement of playing live is unique, I just wish I had more gigs... Being alone on my room is very exciting for me, because I know everything is possible and I can control everything as well.

The studio, to me, is the place where you can do and redo a thousand times the music that you have got inside your mind, doing it again and again until it sounds like it does in your head...

The stage, on the other hand, is the place where you play your best, and it's a one shot deal, that's it!

If you think, It's exactly the same as for cinema and for the theater.

From Musikmesse 2013
[Truth In Shredding] That's a very interesting insight, I had never thought of it like that. What guitars, amps and effects pedals do you use when you are playing live and do you use the same gear in the studio or something different?

[Marc Guillermont]

In studio, I used to use Vst plug ins like Guitar Rig, Revalver, or Amplitube...
And both VG8 & VG 88 were used on U MAN, O WORLD VIRTUALIST and ZAPPOSTROPHE
But mainly, for the last few years now, I'm using a SE 70 Boss FX (you know that old little thing is just amazing...) then it goes in a VF1 Boss (that's the SE 70's big brother) and then into a Lexicon MPX 1 and finally directly into my soundcard... and that's pretty much it.

But the very important thing to me is I'm working in Stereo all the time, "Live" or in studio. I recorded all the tracks the same way for the last few years, indeed I used that set up for Ranjit Barot, Usonic, using just that gear.

I use it in live situations, like when we played with Randy Brecker, or when I did the tour with Bill Evans, Mbappe & Barot.  But now, since not so long ago, I'm back to a real set of pedals.

These are the list of pedals that I use:
RC BOOSTER, Suhr Riot, Tonebone Radial Trimode, Strymon Timeline, Mobius & Blue Sky, Fulltone Octafuzz, Boss LM2 Limiter. + a some stuff for program changes.

It all goes in stereo of course, in 2 ENGL SCREAMER 50. And recently, I put my SE 70 in both amps loop.

Off Course (Marc Guillermont)

[Truth In Shredding] I've seen you playing a lot of different guitars over the years, Do you have a favourite guitar or brand of guitars?

[Marc Guillermont]

Well, in fact I do not have a favourite instrument, I always consider them as a tool, literally, as long as, like with your car, it "drives" you to your destination, that's all I need.

I've been fortunate to be endorsed by guitar builder Paul Lairat . I got 2 of them, "Stega" & "Leona", which are awesome pieces of wood!

And I still own my Fender Strat which is a rare limited edition called "Bad boy", I like it alot too. The one I keep preciously is my Fernandes "The Function", I bought that guitar 25 years ago, it's got number 25 on the neck back plate...

[Truth In Shredding] Yes, they look really cool, great looking pieces of art, I liked the Janaa model too.

A number of people have asked me about your playing style, Do you use stand tuning when you play? I don’t see you using a whammy bar either now, was that always the case?

[Marc Guillermont]

I probably have a weird way of playing and technique since I'm self taught... Funny you should say that about the whammy bar, I actually use it quite a lot in fact!!

[Truth In Shredding] LOL... You know I went back and looked again... I was so wrong!

[Marc Guillermont]
I never use open tunings or whatever, just very recently I wrote a tune that needed that, and start to solo with keeping that open tuning, and I discovered new horizons!!! So, maybe, yes, from now on, I may use it more often!

Otherwise, I use both techniques, legato and picking.


[Truth In Shredding]

You've obviously played a lot of gigs over the years, what are the special ones, the ones that stand out for you?

[Marc Guillermont]

I'd say the recent one we did with Bill Evans, Etienne Mbappe and Ranjot Barot in India. That was awesome to be with Bill on stage as I discovered him when he played with Miles Davis! I probably listened to "We Want Miles" a million times...  The little tour we did with Randy Brecker with the Sebastiaan Cornelissen Group was just amazing too. I remember sitting in front of him, realizing suddenly this guy had played with Frank Zappa!! (in addition to all the others!!!)

Cornelissen / Vollink / Molenaar / Guillermont / + Randy Brecker

Bill Evans Ranjit Barot with Etienne Mbappe and Marc Guillermont (live at Blue Frog).mov

We start talking about it and I gave him "Zappostrophe", the tribute I made to Zappa. He apparently enjoyed it alot.

OK NOW (Marc Guillermont / Gary Husband / Sebastiaan Cornelissen / Frans Vollink)

The gigs we also had with Gary Husband were amazing, he's always be a major influence to me, for his way of "thinking" the music, his drum approach, and the wonderful pianist he is.

From Musikmesse 2013

[Truth In Shredding] From a music point of view are you still evolving your technique or you happy with your style?

[Marc Guillermont]

Of course it's still evolving and it always does. And it does in different ways too. One of the most effective way for me, is when I compose a tune, which is mainly on a keyboard, and then after I have done that, I jump to the guitar to play the melody that I wrote or have to solo on weird chords etc...

I'm never happy with...anything..!! No but seriously, I'm very difficult with myself, some would say sometimes too much...

[Truth In Shredding] You're actually like many players I talk to in that regard, never happy with their work, always striving to be better.

Who are your musical influences and can you name five albums that you would recommend guitar players check out, to get an idea of the techniques and styles that inspired your playing style?

[Marc Guillermont]

Oh so many!! Let's see..
Influence is not only about the instrument, as a composer I'm influenced by a lot of different people.
Anyway here's a few ones in:

"Bill Bruford" Master Strokes (one of those I 1st discovered in my beginnings and that still does it for me todays..)
"Camel" A Live Album
"Yes" (all albums until "Drama" which I'm maybe one of the only to dig...)
"Zappa" Everything but mainly "Live In NY", "Baby Snakes", and the enormous "One Size Fitz All")
Allan Holdsworth (everything..)
Scott Henderson/Tribal Tech (EVERYTHING)
Wayne Krantz (The stuff he's doing in trio is unbelievable to me...)
Vince Mendoza "Epiphany", Start Here, Instructions Inside, A Night On Earth.(A reference in composition to me)
David Bowie
Joni Mitchell (EVERYTHING!!!!)
Alberto Iglesias "Los Amantes Pasageros" (Awesome film music composer)
Jeff Beck
Michael Brecker
Michael Landau (...)
Robert Plant
And so many more...

Marc Guillermont: fluid fusion Paul Lairat Guitars Frankfurt Musikmesse 2013

[Truth In Shredding] If you were marooned on a desert Island with only five other musicians, who would you like those musicians to be and why?

[Marc Guillermont]

The Saturdays Band: The Saturdays are an English-Irish girl group based and formed in London, United Kingdom. The group consists of singers Mollie King, Una Healy, Vanessa White, Frankie Sandford and Rochelle Humes. Wikipedia
How about those?

[Truth In Shredding]

Yes I think I could allow you that!

Moving back to your life history, I understand that you moved back to Paris to write film scores, how did that come about? Is the writing process more difficult than that required for improvisation, I guess you have a lot of creative and more commercial types to impress?

[Marc Guillermont]

Thats a huge subject! Movie music was my 1st love (!!), Way before I loved the guitar stuff.  That explains maybe why even in my "fusion" compositions there's still some movie music references. Wide spaces, rich chords etc...

But life made finally a guitar player of me, not that I didn't choose to go for it, but it came naturally. But I never gave up on composing"film music" kind of tunes. And I got a lot of stuff now, a lot of stuff! So a few years ago I decided to work seriously on that aspect.

It takes a lot of time to make contacts, but I chose to do the same as I did as a guitar player : better look to the greats, the masters of the genre. and It's a real challenge because I did not have any real experience in movie industry, but I do have a huge amount of experience in music composition.

So what I did is try to be in contact with one of the French directors that I really dug, that was almost three years ago. I watched again all his stuff and started to compose like 10 tracks inspired by his work. Finally, I met him and gave him a CD. Then later, I had a phone call and what he said makes me think I have some chances, so it should be for this year, but let's see.., and finger crossed.

[Truth In Shredding] I'll cross my fingers for you too.

Talking about work and being a musician today, I would have a lot to say. But what I am sure, for me that is, working in film music is the last chance to get a better and decent life. I say that because if I count on guitar player status, I better give up...!!

I know as a guitar player/composer, I like to play a non commercial style, can't help it, it's a matter of taste, not of business, and since I don't want to become a prostituted artist....I know there is an audience for fusion, instrumental music, it's a fact...But there's a big lack in the way this form of music is promoted. In fact It is not promoted, or it is just badly promoted. I think we musicians should look at this differently because it's not working and there is a lack of respect for what we do.  I think that managers, bookers should come and take some risks, to sign unknown or less known artists, instead of just working only with the great names.

[Truth In Shredding]  Yes, I agree I often wish there was some kind of circuit, a bunch of fusion clubs around the world, linking together, enabling fusion bands to tour globally, the kind of places like the Baked Potato, The Iridium you know there are clubs like that all around the globe.

From Musikmesse 2013

OK, finally onto my last question, I know you are a busy guy, what are your current music projects and touring plans?

[Marc Guillermont]

Well, I still have a CD in preparation (I have been working on it for three years now) that I hadn't managed to finish until now, that is. It is going to feature some well known players including Gary Novak, Nigel Hitchcock, Frans Vollink, Sebastiaan Cornelissen... and there are more to come...
Marc Guillermont: Now Loading​.​.​.​

[Truth In Shredding]
That sounds really cool, I'll look forward to that, we'll let people know about it when it's released

I would just like to say, I was so happy to finally see you playing live when I went to NAMM this year, and I'd like to thank you for spending a little time talking with me at the show, and particularly your tip about Scott Henderson playing on the MI booth. I know the both of us were amazed at Scott’s playing.

I would also like to thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview, and wish you all the best with your future projects.

[Marc Guillermont]

Thank you man for your kindness and the great support. It's a real pleasure to meet a normal person in this crazy world!

[Truth In Shredding]  No problem Marc, keep up the great guitar playing!

Key Web Sites