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Johannes Luley

When a CD from Johannes Luley dropped on my digital doormat I had no idea who he was, I also didn’t recognize any of his (previous) bands. But Luley isn’t a newcomer in the progressive rock scene, he currently plays guitar in the band Perfect Beings, he has played the same instrument in Moth vellum, and has already released a solo album before (‘Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove’). When I played his newest solo album, ‘Qitara’, for a review, I was flabbergasted. What an amazing CD! This was very surprising to me as I hadn’t expected the combination between Jazz and Rock to be this good, yet Luley has found a way to make it sound great. I wanted to know more about the man and the new record, so I decided to reach out to Johannes Luley and to ask him a few questions.

By: Leon | Archive under fusion / jazz

Let me first congratulate you with the release of an excellent album! I liked the album so much that I bought the FLAC-HD version. How do you feel now that the album is finished and has hit the market?
Thank you Leon, hello dear Lords Of Metal readers. To be completely honest, I feel relieved. Due to other projects, mainly my band Perfect Beings, the release of ‘Qitara’ got delayed and pushed back several times. I had originally planned to have it out in the spring of 2016. But in the end I just had to be patient and go with the flow. Things happen for a reason, you know? I believe that the latest Perfect Beings news of the upcoming release will help propel ‘Qitara’ to become the success it deserves to be. In other words, it is getting much more attention this way. As an independent artist, it is crucial to get as much exposure as possible. So please help spread the news about my new album.

’Qitara’ is very different from your first solo album ‘Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove’, on ‘Qitara’ there is a lot of emphasis on jazz and less on rock. What made you decide to go for this sound?
Jazz is a big part of my background and musical upbringing. However, I would like to think of ‘Qitara’ as a “jazz-rock” album. The ‘The Doer’ for example, features soprano sax. That makes it pretty jazzy I guess, but the band is playing rock in the back. Other tracks such as ‘Sister Six’, ‘Hot Sands’ and even ‘Red and Orange’ are also very “rock”, in spite of their jazz chords. My first solo release ‘Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove’ was indeed very different. All acoustic and with vocals, whereas ‘Qitara’ is a full on electric powerhouse. With this album I am going places that I don’t with Perfect Beings, which I think justifies doing a solo record in the first place. I have always been a sucker for taking Jazz elements to the rock stage. Think Mahavishnu and Jeff Beck.

You have found many guest artists willing to participate on the album. Katisse Buckingham (Herbie Hancock, Prince), Otmaro Ruiz (John McLaughlin, Jon Anderson, Gino Vanelli), and Michael Hunter (Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz), to name a few. How did you go about asking them to play on your album?
Katisse is well known in the Los Angeles jazz scene. I saw him at the Baked Potato and decided to contact him. He and Otmaro are both monsters and I am incredibly honored to have them on my record. Otmaro was recommended to me by Ruben Valtierra, another pianist I work with. Ruben said that Otmaro was the right guy for a very challenging and odd-metered track such as ‘Upness’. He literally did three takes and that was it. Michael Hunter is a trumpet player whom I had hired previously in my function as a music producer. My day job, so to say. To learn more about that you can visit this website.

Was there any performance in particular that blew you away?
Again, that would have to be Otmaro on ‘Upness’ and Katisse on ‘The Doer’. However, I want to point out a particular recording session that happened on my birthday in April of 2016. I had invited two good friends, Dicki Fliszar (formerly of Perfect Beings) and Morten Kier to jam with me. The goal was to track a George Duke song live as a three-piece, which we did. Dicki on drums, Morten on the Rhodes electric piano and myself on bass. The result is ‘Faces in Reflection’, my personal favorite on ‘Qitara’. The lead guitar was later overdubbed. I just love the feel of this track. You can hear our chemistry. Three guys at the right place and the right time. The magic was with us that day and you can feel it when you listen. This was really the best birthday gift I could have asked for.

There’s also a collaboration with your former Moth Vellum band-mate Ryan Downe (on the song ‘Sister Six’) can we expect you two to work together again on something in the future?
We certainly had fun doing this. Ryan loves the album, beyond ‘Sister Six’. I would say it rekindled an interest in doing something together in the future. What form or shape a potential collaboration might take, I don’t know. We have talked about it recently though. A Moth Vellum reunion is highly unlikely though, as Ryan is the only one of the guys that I am still in touch with.

I was reading the booklet while listening to the album and I noticed you used a lot(!) of guitars during the process of making the album. How many guitars have you used on this album? And how many guitars do you actually have?
Between my wife and myself we own about eighteen guitars. I used a majority of them on ‘Qitara’. My main guitar at the time of recording was my ’58 Les Paul Junior, but I also used my Gibson “Oxblood” Les Paul a lot. It’s a reissue of Jeff Beck’s Les Paul, seen on the ‘Blow by Blow. cover. Meanwhile I have modified the instrument to better fit my personal needs: new tuners, new pickups, slimmed down neck, etc. It is currently my main squeeze. The more exotic instruments on ‘Qitara’ include a santur and a 11-string fretless guitar made by Godin, both featured on ‘Sister Six’. The three acoustic guitars I used are my old 70’s Guild, Dicki’s 12-string Guild and a brand new instrument made by Santa Cruz based luthier Ed Claxton, the Claxton EM-C. Ed made it for me in the winter of 2015/2016. I also used my Ibanez CN-250, a guitar that was very prominent on Moth Vellum’s album. Last not least I used both of my Strats, one being a ’79 that I bought as a teenager, the other a 2013 Japan made copy of the ’68 Strat David Gilmour played in ‘Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeji’. The Japanese Strat feels amazing. So easy to play. The other Strat is a beast. Heavy as hell and not easy to tame, but the sound is to die for. Oh, and then I have a ’68 Fender Telecaster that can be heard on ‘Soliloquist’, a ’64 Gibson ES175 is used on Moonlight Mesa, and a ’78 Ibanez George Benson that came in handy on ‘The White City’. I am pretty sure I forgot something, so you’re going to have to buy the album and read for yourself.

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I felt that the choice of guitar really contributed to the overall sound of the album, how did you go about selecting the right guitar for the right part?
That is either decided by which guitar happens to be sitting in the studio at any given time, or by the style of solo/melody that I want to play. Fender and Gibson guitars not only sound very different from each other, they also feel very different and they allow you to do very different things. For example a song that needs a vibrato has to be done on the Strat. For a thicker tone I choose the Les Paul. Using a lot of different guitars and amps was done purposely, as I wanted to offer a great variety of guitar sounds and tones. ‘Qitara’ is Arabic for guitar, so the whole album is really a shrine to my instrument. As for the amps, I used a 1974 50w Marshall half-stack, a Carr “Artemus” and my old ’67 Fender Twin Reverb. No software amps were used in the making of this product.

How do you balance being active in a band (Perfect Beings), writing/recording/releasing solo albums and owning a recording studio (My Sonic Temple)?
It is a balancing act to be sure. But like most artists, I have to make a living. Usually, I follow where the action is. If I have clients, I do client work. If work is slow, I do my own stuff, which of course includes Perfect Beings. The good news is: I happen to enjoy my work, no matter what I am working on. So I feel very blessed that way.

Is there anything that you haven’t done yet but you really would love to do?
Yes, a lot. I would like to record a live trio album with my composer friend and partner Christian Hammer on piano and Ben Levin, who played drums on Perfect Beings upcoming release. I would also like to dive deeper into classical composition, and I would love to record an album with Indian musicians. Christian can be heard on the ‘Qitara’ track ‘Agni Rahasya’. He created the brass sounds with his Vienna Symphonic Library. We spent many days to tweak them to sound just right. Beyond my personal music, I am planning to do many more albums with Perfect Beings. We are just getting started.

What are your thoughts on the changes in the music industry? Many people just go to Spotify to listen to music, rather than buying an album, which isn't unlikely to decrease the musician's income. On the other hand, music is more accessible to people, so chances are that more people find your music. Where do you stand in all of this? Have you noticed this change?
It’s hard not to notice. I also use Spotify the get my music out, but think about it, the artist receives a fraction of a cent per stream. It’s not sustainable. Musicians need to be compensated properly or they will be forced to stop creating music. Or at least stop making music commercially and making a career out of it. I think the current model is doomed to fail. Just not sure what will come afterwards. I do think that in the age of digital files and streaming services, people are starting to appreciate owning something tangible again. The resurrection of the vinyl album is a good example. Isn’t it great to look at fantastic artwork and read liner notes about how the album was made, not to mention lyrics to sing along? The smell of the vinyl when you first pull it out of the sleeve. When Amazon or Apple Music goes under, you will still own your vinyl. I guess I am old fashioned that way, but I see younger people yearning for something they can hold in their hands. Real music, real art, none of this virtual BS.

What’s next for you? Can we expect you to visit the Netherlands for a live show any time soon?
I would so love that. My main focus will be Perfect Beings’ new release in January of 2018. We just signed with InsideOut and we certainly hope to visit Europe and tour there, or at least do the summer festivals. We have a lot of fans in the Netherlands, the UK and Germany, so those countries are on top of our list. The Dutch press has also been very generous and kind to myself and the Beings. Holland, we love you!!! Hope to see you in 2018.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our readers?
Yes, thank you for supporting independent music. We can’t do it without you. ‘Qitara’ can be ordered in various formats directly through my website. I recommend the high-definition version in FLAC-HD. Sounds phenomenal. Better than CD. Sorry, there is no vinyl available at the moment, but that can change. Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Tom Petty who passed away yesterday. He died way too young. Since my teenage years I have loved (and covered) his music and admired his spirit. He was a true Rock and Roll rebel. We need more like him. Thank you Leon, for a great interview! Let’s stay in touch.

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