Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are just some of the legendary guitar players in the world, musicians that transformed their art and influenced a generation of ‘I want to be like that’ grunge rockers and other like-minded youngsters.
I think it’s time to add another name to that elite list, and I do it without any trepidation: Rhythm Shaw.
At 23, Shaw has already left his mark on the international music scene be it through his lush arpeggios or heavy metal crunch. He is making a broad statement and has the world’s top guitar players trying to wrap their heads around his extraterrestrial genius.
He’s won competitions in India, Europe, the United States, just about everywhere. His power chords, indelible riffs and flamboyant solos are capable of burning the house down. Few guitarists in the business possess his technical breakthroughs and ability to coax emotion from his guitar with an astonishing psychedelic raga that draws from Indian classical music.
He’s here and he’s here to stay.
Gulf News tabloid! caught up with the guitarist. Edited excerpts follow:
When did this love affair with the guitar start?
I come from a music background. Both my parents are musicians. As a kid, my toys were guitars, not cars or anything else. I used to just strum them and really had fun. And when you have parents like I have, who know the direction that they want you to go in, its easy. I used to find guitar plectrums under my pillow even as a really young kid. That’s how it started. After that, it was always the music, good music. Even at a young age, I already understood what was happening in my life. I had it in me. The music. There was no illusion. After that, it was all about execution.
I believe you have a wonderful collection of guitars.
Yes, I have about 40 guitars, many of them which I endorse like Yamaha and Kempa. So many. I love them all.
You endorse famous guitars? How does that work?
It’s about building a relationship. One is the company, the other is the artist. We need each other. Guitar manufacturers look forward to seeing how much I can do justice to their particular brand for the public to believe that what I’m endorsing is actually a good instrument. It’s pretty simple. It’s about trust. People who trust me and trust that I’m playing a good guitar will go out and buy one. Many of the guitars in my collection were made specifically for me like the Blue Yamaha Pacifica, which I use a lot these days.
I didn’t really pay much attention to how or what I wanted to be. But I was paying attention to doing things right.
[Lowden also made him a guitar with specific wood, neck and width, etc.] How cool is that? It happens when you are in mutual terms with the manufacturer, which is a great thing. You’ve established a connection and they trust in you. I also have contracts with guitar string companies, pedals, amplifiers. I just recently signed a deal with Laney, they gave me a Lionheart, which is more suitable for jazz and fusion; and an Ironheart, which is great for metal and just about all genres.
How did you get the name… when did you actually know that you wanted to make guitar playing a career?
My dad was pretty disciplined, he made me practice a lot. I learnt the tabla for 11 years and the guitar, simultaneously. My dad always felt that rhythm is the most important thing to being a musician and that’s why he gave me the name Rhythm as well. In music, you can still mess up with melodies but then if you don’t have an understanding of rhythm you’re not a part of it. That’s why my dad insisted on the tabla, and honestly you can’t believe how much it has helped me become a better musician. I connect more with drummers because they connect with me in terms of rhythmic structure and polyrhythms.
Learning something traditional on the tabla, techniques like Benares gharana helped me a long way in my guitar playing. At one point, I was learning all the different classic rhythms and it changed my perspective of why my dad was so insistent on me practicing so hard. That’s when I started loving what I was doing, it was maybe 2003-2004 and I was still in grade four. At that time I discovered that I could listen to something and that I could straight away play it. It freaked me out. That’s the best feeling in the world. I felt like I had keys to all the doors that I wanted to open and discover something new every time. After a time, they couldn’t stop me from practicing. I don’t know how many sleepless nights I had. But it was so fulfilling.
All this time were you developing a style of your own.
The thing was I didn’t really pay much attention to how or what I wanted to be. But I was paying attention to doing things right, the proper way. If you really think about developing a signature sound it won’t happen, until your good at what you do. I was learning a lot and the tabla was always a big influence. I learnt classic guitar in Trinity College of London. They had a lot of right and wrong techniques. They say practice makes perfect, but it’s not true, it makes a man permanent.
I had it in me. The music. There was no illusion. After that, it was all about execution.
Did you have any other influences?
Books. I read a lot of music books which my dad had collected. Books on all styles and techniques. You read one book and learn about a technique and then another book and there was another technique. I would wonder, ‘which one was right?’. Both, because when you merged them you would come up with something else. Putting Indian classical to Western classical, rock to jazz, jazz to funk, it was so exciting. If you fused everything together you had your own sound. Different techniques open up more paths to your own technique. That’s why I read a lot to help develop my own sound. That’s what makes your sound. That’s what happened to me.
Obviously as a youngster, you must have been a fan of the guitar greats. Anyone in particular?
Steve Vai, because of the expression in his guitar playing. He can express himself. I wanted to learn everything and Steve’s writing was influenced by so many things and sounds because he played with people like Frank Zappa, Whitesnake and also had a successful solo career. Steve’s writing, his composition, his way of thinking about music, was something that really opened up my mind. I actually played at the same music festival that he did, the NH7 Weekender in Meghalaya. Mohini Dey [bass guitarist] played with me, she played with Steve as well.
Marco Minnemann, the German drummer, I even toured with him. People like U Sriniva [mandolin] and R Prasanna [Carnatic guitar] were a big influence as well. [Plus] Guthrie Govan, Bireli Lagrene, Tommy Emmanuel, And drummers like Dave Weckl. So you really get to hear so many stories from guys like them ad that motivated me to practice more and to want to get better. I want to get better every day of my life.
What’s the big dream, the one that sticks in your head?
Honestly, it’s all about becoming better and better. Concerts, gigs are happening. I’m playing with the right guys in the world, which is amazing. But perhaps I’d like to play at the Montreaux Festival, with my band. Playing jazz, rock fusion, and with a band with a brass section. That will be nice.
QUICKFIRE WITH RHYTHM SHAW
Who is your favourite guitarist?
Steve Vai without a doubt, and also Django Reinhardt, Guthrie Govan, Tommy Emmanuel.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
You can communicate with anyone without talking and you can express yourself in a way that you can’t do with anything else.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
A better musician. And playing alongside better musicians.
Do you have a rare guitar in your collection?
A 1958 Hofner Tenor Guitar.
What’s the best advice your father gave you?
To be a better human being, it will make you a better musician.
— Rhythm Shaw is on Instagram at @rhythm_shaw.