Downtown had the pleasure of interviewing Guitar Mash’s musical director Mark Stewart to preview last year’s event at City Winery. After hearing how well the event did, and that the 5th Annual edition of Guitar Mash was booked for a Dec. 11 return to City Winery, it was obvious that another feature had to be done by Downtown.
Taking place from 12:00 PM to 3:30 PM, this year’s lineup not only features Mark, but also singer/songwriter Dar Williams, newgrass pioneer Sam Bush, blues master Bill Sims Jr., singer/songwriter (and Sting backing musician) Jo Lawry, Steely Dan sideman Jon Herington, singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur, and the voice of the Tunisian revolution, Emel. Prior Guitar Mash events have featured the likes of Kaki King, The Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, and The Patti Smith Band’s Lenny Kaye.
Q&A with conducted with the aforementioned Mark Stewart, Jo Lawry, Emel, and event producer Rebecca Weller over e-mail, as arranged by GreenHouse Publicity’s John Seroff. Tickets to “The Best Concert You Ever Headlined” can be purchased through Eventbrite, while more info on Guitar Mash itself can be found at www.guitarmash.com.
How did you get involved with Guitar Mash?
Jo Lawry: I was invited by the wonderful Mark Stewart, who I met when we toured together with Sting and Paul Simon.
Emel: They got in touch with me about two months ago, I think. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before. It sounded funny to me at first to be performing while people will be jamming, but it’s just wonderful. I think it’s a very cool concept.
What is your favorite part of working with Guitar Mash?
Mark Stewart: Everyone playing and singing together.
Rebecca Weller: Ear to ear smiles. Great songs are irresistible. And I LOVE when someone who came without a guitar one year, comes back the next with an instrument in hand.
Jo Lawry: Well, I can’t say for sure yet, as it’s my first time! But the house band is mostly made up of guys I know and love, like David Cossin and Rob Schwimmer, so I’m really looking forward to playing with them again. And Mark Stewart is able to turn anything into a magical party!
Emel: Interacting with people. We never connect enough with each other, the musicians as well as the crowd and with the live-streaming people from all over the world!
What else is coming up for you besides Guitar Mash?
Rebecca Weller: The Women’s March On Washington — I’ll be bringing song sheets for the bus.
Jo Lawry: I’m currently deep in the thick of making my third solo album, and I’m running a PledgeMusic campaign for that, which is super-fun, and is giving me a chance to engage a lot more with my audience. I’m also going to flee the New York winter in a few weeks for my homeland of Australia, to enjoy the summer there, to hang out with my awesome family and do a few shows.
Emel: I will be releasing my new album Ensen on Partisan Records on Feb. 24. An album with very modern sound experimentations, marrying berber and north african inspirations and percussions with electronic and cinematic soundscapes. I co-produced it with four different collaborators, such as Iceland’s Valgeir Siguròsson. The release party will be held on the release day at Joe’s Pub and a U.S. tour will start in May.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Mark Stewart: Walking and digging — what is actually going on? Swimming, too.
Rebecca Weller: I love to watch my 11-year old daughter play basketball — Greenwich Village Girls League!
Jo Lawry: We just adopted some stray kittens, so they are providing a huge distraction from all the musical and non-musical things that I should be doing! Also, I have my own backyard for the first time in my life, so I am getting way into gardening. Also, I like to needlepoint. Yes, I am aware of how much like a grandma those last two make me sound.
Emel: Discovering great visual art, whether in real galleries or on Instagram. Watching independent movies — I saw an excellent one recently, two trains running about the parallel of great blues musicians stories and the black rights movements in the 60’s.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
Mark Stewart: Our kitchen. My wife Karen and I love to cook.
Rebecca Weller: Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Jo Lawry: Supper in the East Village is an old favorite of mine, and in my Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, I love Saraghina.
Emel: Hot Jalapeño, a great Mexican spot in Harlem where the food the music and the service are good, which is a real rarity in New York!
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Mark Stewart: Play and sing music with your buddies. It’s cool. Then make a meal together. Just as cool.
Rebecca Weller: Well, as a mom, I tell my kids to PLAY MUSIC like other people tell their kids to EAT VEGETABLES. I don’t care what instrument, I don’t care what kind of music, just play something. And listening is really important. Listen to all kinds of music, even if you think you’re going to hate it. If we only ate Italian food all the time, think of what we’d be missing out on!
Jo Lawry: Don’t be afraid to look or sound stupid! Here’s a dirty little secret: I only started playing guitar at age 33! To be honest, I’m still pretty scared every time I have to play it in public, but facing those fears is so worth it for the things I learn each time. Keep at it!
Emel: Believe as much as you can in yourself, in your power, in your ideas, in who you are. It might sound easy, but I think that’s where it all starts and that’s what events, people, and societies try to steal away from you all along the way.