CULTURE - BUZZBOX- Beloved things: Guitar Trio accentuate favorites

Paul Richards, Bert Lams, and Hideo Moriya are the golden boys of the League of Crafty Guitarists, a collection of musicians who study under King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and use his ambitiously named "New Standard Tuning." They perform together as the California Guitar Trio, but the name is a bit of a misnomer– none of the members are from California, they've delved into other instruments (most notably under the influence of King Crimson bassist Tony Levin), and when they're really grooving together, even the "trio" part is questionable: as Lams posted in his blog last month, "One + one + one does not make just three, it makes ONE!"

The Hook: How does your background in Guitar Craft affect composition and performance?

Paul Richards: The tuning gives an expanded range to the guitar– the low notes are lower, the high notes higher. It has allowed me to play guitar in a different way than I usually play, so I'm not just playing the same old Jimi Hendrix riffs that I used to play in standard tuning.

The Hook: Is it hard to improvise with a group where the instruments don't dictate the roles the musicians should play?

Paul Richards: It definitely is a consideration and a challenge. Sometimes we try to create more of a layered effect, playing right in the same frequency range, and at other times we try to split up and somebody will take more of a bass part or whatever.

The Hook: And some songs, like "Blockhead" or "Melrose Avenue," include very prominent bass-lines that tend to work better when you bring a bassist like Tony Levin into the mix. Do you ever find yourself wishing that one of the guitars was, well... not a guitar?

Paul Richards: That's one of the reasons why we enjoy playing with Tony, because he brings a whole new element. Yeah, the guitar only goes down to a certain range, but we try to use that to our advantage. Lately we've been doing things with these new Roland pedal boards that have octave dividing so that we can play octave lines, and we've experimented with picking up other electric instruments, but it always seems like it works best when we stick to the three acoustic guitars.

The Hook: Which King Crimson member has been more influential, Tony or Robert?

Paul Richards: They've been influential in different ways. Robert has a very precise and very defined way of sharing his experience with students. We practice a lot with metronomes. Tony has a very different sense of time and melody that's in many ways the opposite of what we get from Robert. It's more flowing and grooving.

The Hook: What do you look for when choosing a piece to cover? What connects Beethoven with The Ventures?

Paul Richards: With the three of us coming from three different countries and three different cultures and growing up listening to different things, we let those things blend in with what we do as a group. Bert is the classical player among us, so he started working on some Bach fugues. Hideo grew up in Japan, listening to the Ventures and playing surf guitar– the Ventures are huge in Japan. And I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and a lot of the English and American rock bands. Our repertoire is a representation of all the things we love.

California Guitar Trip