César Huesca was one of the first guitarists I ever listened to on Youtube and my first thought was “is he famous all around the world? He damn well should be!”. Most of the videos back then portrayed the young Mexican guitarist playing breath-taking covers of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani’s songs, with a virtuosity and emotion that rivaled the original interpretations. A couple million views and a debut album later, he is considered by many to be an uprising force and one of the few who will one day be able to call themselves true guitar heroes. It is my pleasure and honor to offer you the first interview on Guitaristic.Net, with the one, the only César Huesca:
Guitaristic.net: I know you’ve always wanted to play guitar and you’ve dedicated most of your life to music. How did it all begin for you? Did you ever have moments when you lost your enthusiasm / optimism and regretted choosing this path?
César Huesca: Music has been surrounding my life since I can remember. I started singing when I was 4 or 5 years old, then I played drums for a while but at the age of 9 I started to play my father’s acoustic guitar and that’s where it all began. Of course I’ve gone through difficult situations at some point as an aspiring musician, in high school I was considered by many as the not normal kind of guy, I used to stay home just playing guitar for hours and doing transcriptions rather than going to a party or hanging out with friends.
Some people would criticize me because of that attitude, I was like the weird shy guy always playing a guitar and listening to Steve Vai CD’s, but I think that one of the most important things is the passion and focus that you put into what you’re doing, at that time all my energy was centered into becoming a serious guitar player, being able to play whatever I wanted in the best possible way.
In high school classes I used to write tabs or figure out melodic lines instead of understanding Integral Calculus. Eventually I started to get really bad grades and that caused me trouble with my parents and teachers, but my goal was to be as good as possible at my instrument. On the other hand, you shouldn’t regret anything, no matter how hard it gets, this is what you do and this is what you’re here for. Life is about making decisions; you take something or just leave it. I envisioned myself as a musician since I was a kid and since then I haven’t been able to imagine myself doing something else.
Guitaristic.net: Most people know your exquisite playing from Youtube, where you’ve gathered a loyal fan base. How did you first come up with the idea of filming yourself while playing (everyone does it nowadays, but you were among the pioneers)?
César Huesca: I think it was in early 2006 or late 2005 that I saw Gustavo Guerra from Brazil playing some guitar tunes on YouTube and I thought “Hey, I should do this too!”. So one day I hooked up my rig into the computer and recorded myself with my webcam and opened my first YouTube channel. That was in March o2006. I think at that time Gustavo Guerra and me were like the very few Latin-American guys putting guitar videos on YouTube and doing it really well. Fortunately we have received a lot of support from many people all around the globe and personally I’m really grateful to all of them.
Guitaristic.net: Do you remember the first time you played a solo on stage? How did it feel?
C.H.: Yes I do! I was 14 years old when I joined a tribute band doing some Deftones, Korn and Rage Against The Machine covers. One day we were scheduled to perform in a music festival at a local high school, but I was the only member attending that thing, none of the other band guys were there so I had to get onstage standing alone, no drums, no bass, nothing! Just me straight into an amp and I was like: “What the hell am I supposed to play now?!”. I remember I ended up playing “The Call Of Ktulu” by Metallica and “Big Bad Moon” by Joe Satriani and some improvisations along the way to cover most of the time. It was demanding because there were like 600 people just starring at me, wondering what I was going to do without my band mates. I was really nervous, but confident at the same time. When I finished the first song people clapped so I was like “Oooookkk I thing this is going fine”.
Guitaristic.net: What do you think matters most for a great guitar player: feeling or technique?
C.H.: Both things are very important at the same level and I think the goal is to keep a balance between these things. If you don’t have a well developed technique you won’t be able to play what you hear in your head as it is or you won’t be able to break down your own boundaries and expose your ideas as they are intended and conceived.
Talking about feeling is a very subjective and personal thing, for instance most people may consider Blues players are the ones who play with feeling and shredders are the ones that lack feeling, but I think that’s a vulgar misconception. Every player feels in his or her very own way, regardless of the style or genre. Feeling to me is the ability to print and convey a certain intention in what you play in a given musical context and being honest with it. That intention is captured by the listener right away when the music goes from the speakers to the ears, no matter if it’s a rhythm pattern or a melodic line; the intention has to be always right there, that’s what marks the difference between good interpretations and those that are bad.
Feeling is not about making dramatic gestures or body movements while playing, to me that’s just an entertaining showcase – but if it goes along with great execution and intention then it can be a great thing to experience. Finally, when you go to a concert, you’re paying for an audio-visual experience, so when the show starts you should expect to see a coherent and logical relation between what you’re seeing and what you’re listening, to me that’s a fine and honest display of art as expression.
So as a guitar player I think you should develop your technique and the craft in your instrument so that you won’t find any limitations and, on the other hand, you should be able to print real intention into what you’re playing and always have some sense of finesse and good musical taste, not sound just like cold scales and patterns, nor act like a clown doing faces only to justify “I’m feeling what I’m playing”. I’d say that the player who plays with feeling is the one that is able to cause an impact into the audience’s senses, thoughts and emotions.
Guitaristic.net: You released your self-titled debut album in 2008 – how did it come to life and what is your favorite song on it?
C.H.: I started to work on most songs back in 2006 and then I decided to select some of them to include on an independent album, so after all the process I released it in mid 2008. Every song has its own flavor and character; some are structured as typical commercial songs, just like an Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse type of song. My goal was to create songs for all kinds of audiences, not only guitar enthusiasts; there are very sticky melodies on most songs just like a vocal line will do, but some songs have unusual passages and structures as well, so you will find a little bit of everything on that record, from straight rock and heavy to acoustic and mellow ballads.
Editor’s note: You can order César Huesca’s amazing LP on CDBaby.
Guitaristic.net: What has happened since – are you recording a new LP, writing new music, touring?
C.H.: I’m currently working on the next album, this one is planned to be released this year. I’ve already recorded half of the material and it’s sounding really nice, I’m working with several musicians to every song, bass players, drummers, keyboard players etc. Just as the first album, this one will have songs from different styles and one of the coolest things about it is teaming up with more musicians, so every song will have a different feel. I’m really excited about how the final product will sound like.
As for other collaborations, I’m currently working with The Arkitecht doing some gigs and presentations of the first album called “Hyperstructure” – I also recorded the lead guitar solos throughout the record. The Arkitecht started as a solo project lead by a good friend of mine, Genaro Ochoa (we used to study Contemporary Music at the same school). Finally, the Arkitecht became a full band, so we’re working hard and we have some scheduled gigs for the next months.
Guitaristic.net: What inspires you when writing a new song? Do you begin with the groove, the harmony or just the overall feeling?
C.H.: It varies a lot. Sometimes I start with a riff and then I develop the idea from there, sometimes I start with a melodic line, a rhythm pattern or a chord progression. But the origin of all those ideas comes from improvisation. Most of the time I grab my guitar and start to play whatever goes through my head and eventually some stuff will resonate to me in a particular way, so I separate that idea and start to play it over and over again and from then I begin polishing and arranging that idea. Then I can record it into a multi-track session and start adding more ideas until having a more defined thing.
Sometimes it happens so quickly and the structure or parts are almost defined and done, sometimes I have to tweak things a lot, but I try not to force the process, if something sounds good it’s ok, leave it as it is, it’s not about trying to make it sound good just for the sake of it, if that happens I better put my guitar away and continue in another moment.
Guitaristic.net: What’s your current concert setup (what guitar(s), amps, effects do you use)?
C.H.: For most of my live work I’m using some Ibanez models and a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster. I use a Jem7VSBL and a modded RG2020X. With The Arkitecht I use an Ibanez RGT42DXFX tuned down to Drop A. All the guitars except the Jem are equipped with Lace Sensor pickups of different models, so every guitar has a very unique character and tone, allowing me to use every instrument in different situations and applications, achieving different sounds and textures.
Effect-wise, I’m using a TC Electronics G-Major into the effects loop of a Marshall 30th Anniversary series combo. The pedals at the front are only a Crybaby GCB-95 wah and an Xotic BB preamp or an MXR Wylde Overdrive. I try to keep it very simple but useful, I’ve been working with this kind of rig setup since 2004 and I’m really happy with the results.
I have another rig, the one I’m using in the studio now, it’s practically the same configuration but all in rack format. I’m using a Mesa Boogie Rectifier Recording preamp, another TC Electronics G-Major and a Marshall EL34 100/100 power amp connected into a Marshall 4×12 cabinet.
Guitaristic.net: Who has helped you and supported you the most throughout your career?
C.H.: Definitely my family. Once my parents realized that I wanted to take music as my career and my life project they have always supported me but I have to say that at some point it was really hard for me to make them understand my aim and my vision, they were insecure and afraid for me and my future, but my vision was so clear so I just followed that. I had to demonstrate to them that I could do it so it was not easy.
Also there have been a lot of people who helped me get a clearer vision of what I wanted to do, musicians, producers, engineers etc. One of the most important things in this business is to make contacts and relations, you can’t just make everything on your own or pretend you know it all, so it’s always good to get connected with more people inside the industry and you’ll see that things may get along in an easier way.
Guitaristic.net: It’s not a secret to anyone that you’re a Steve Vai fan – did you get the chance to jam with him? :)
C.H.: I haven’t had the chance to jam with him yet, but I happened to get in touch with him at his chatroom on vai.com some years ago. He told me in that conversation that he had seen my videos of his songs on YouTube. He saw most of them and told me that he was very touched by my dedication, so having his acknowledgement is such an honor to me. I met him at NAMM in 2004 and he’s such a nice person. Steve Vai has been a very important influence and inspiration to my guitar playing since I was 13.
Guitaristic.net: How long can you go without playing? For me, it’s about 24 hours – if I can’t touch a guitar for a day, I get really pissed off :)
C.H.: Sure it happens to me too! I need to play, finally an instrument becomes a part of you, you express and perform with it so it’s not about playing 2 days and not playing for a week, it has to be a discipline and a commitment to the instrument. Maybe I’m not playing 8 hours a day like in the old days, but I do play everyday, it could be a live gig, a studio session, just sitting and practicing, a rehearsal with some band etc. It has to become a habit of its own.
Guitaristic.net: The music industry is constantly changing and guitar heroes seem to belong to a distant, golden past. How do you deal with being a young artist focused on complex instrumental music in a world of cheesy pop?
C.H.: I don’t think guitar heroes belong to a distant golden past. There are new young bands that are bringing back creative guitar works influenced by the greats from 20 or 30 years ago. The roots of contemporary rock music are still resounding and are often discovered by the new generations. That’s one thing I applaud about Guitar Hero, because even though it’s not real guitar playing, the kids are discovering the roots of what rock guitar is all about. Now you see 12-year old kids listening to Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden or Metallica albums.
It’s widely known that nowadays music industry focuses on music and products for the masses, popular music, songs that you will be listening on the radio 10 times a day, products that might be good or crap, but finally you decide what to listen. I’d not worry too much about dealing with that, there are all kinds of music for all kinds of people and I’m going into another kind of market.
Guitaristic.net: Do you also teach guitar? What are your methods and how do you relate to your students?
C.H.: Yes, I teach guitar. What I do is apply methods and techniques of modern guitar playing and adapt those to the students’ needs, so I focus merely on the things that every student wants to develop: it could be scales, licks, harmony, improvisation, ear training, transcribing etc. When a student already has a certain level, we just go ahead from there paying attention in the areas that matter the most or areas where he/she needs to work harder.
Guitaristic.net: Can you recommend some artists / albums you’re currently listening to?
C.H.: Well, I’m currently listening to a lot of alternative rock and progressive bands and some old stuff that I am used to listen from time to time like Pink Floyd, or guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore. Lately I’ve been listening Ayreon’s The Human Equation album, the new Stone Sour album Audio Secrecy, the new Joe Satriani album, Guthrie Govan’s Erotic Cakes, some Alter Bridge, Evergrey and a little bit of everything. I’m a rock guy but in my media player you may find unexpected things haha!
Guitaristic.net: César, thank you for granting this interview and the best of luck with the second album!cesar huesca, famous guitarists, guitar solo, ibanez guitars, inspiration, steve vai, the arkitecht br>