Interview with Stewart Garry

A couple of weeks back, we highlighted Stewart Garry’s exciting new project Sojourner. Basically, Stewart is one of the country’s finest acoustic guitar talents, particularly specialising in fingerstyle, and ‘Sojourner’ is an album and a film, recorded live at a number of locations that have inspired him in his writing (from a lighthouse on the outskirts of Newcastle to a Scottish whisky distillery). Sojourner was officially released yesterday, but we caught up a couple of weeks back to find out more about the project and the man himself…

So Stewart, introduce yourself 

Hi, my name is Stew Garry, I’m 27 years old, currently based in Coventry but originally from Newcastle upon Tyne. I’m a part time student studying theology and also work part time as an elder for my church in Coventry whilst continuing to play music when and where I can.

I’ve always been into music. Growing up, my parents brought me up on a solid foundation of jazz music- Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong stand out as people who I still love to listen to and inspire my writing! I started out playing penny whistle in school folk groups (ending up playing on ITV at one point somehow?) but quickly had a fascination for all musical instruments, playing violin, steel pans and various other instruments until I was settled on the drums. I joined a rock band aged 13/14 playing mainly black sabbath covers, which was truly awful! But we got this gig playing at an opening of a local studio in Newcastle. So we played our set, thought we’d nailed it and on walks this older guy, with a beat up guitar. I’m thinking ‘who’s this guy?’ And he plays one of the most stunning pieces I’ve ever heard on the guitar! The guy’s name is Tommy Emmanuel and he was playing his version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. Needless to say when I picked my jaw up from the floor, I dropped my drumsticks and said ‘I’m going to do that!’. Ever since I’ve been trying to work out how to play guitar like that, looking at other great guitarists like Andy McKee, Don Ross, Eric Roche and Antoine Dufour for technique and Inspiration.

Throughout that time I also played in a lot of different bands, jazz (which was a must to try and play like Miles) and rock bands, including a post hardcore band called Juinera where I got to play alongside Chris Donald who produced this album.

How did you come up with the whole idea for Sojourner?

I composed this album bit by bit over the last 4 years, gigged it and refined it until I was ready to record. I tried a few times to record the album in a studio, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t sounding right.

One day, Chris and I were talking  about how much YouTube was playing a role in the rise of modern Fingerstyle guitar playing and he had the idea of doing a live film, where we would visit different places that have inspired my music.

There are so many factors that have gone into Sojourner. I love the way that it’s not just a collection of songs, but a laying bare of the factors behind the songs and of you as an artist. One of the key elements seems to be place and geography as you record all the songs in places that have inspired your writing. How do you feel place and location affects your art?

Yeah, something I love about instrumental music is that it evokes different things for different people, it allows the listener to engrave their own stories onto the music which I think is awesome! But for this album I thought it would be great to bring the listener into some of my thoughts about the compositions and what inspires me, that way I think people who may struggle with instrumental music might be able to understand where I’m coming from as well.

Playing live at the different locations was a really fun way to record, it makes everything more relaxed! You’re not shoved into a small booth, with microphones thrown in every direction at you! It’s just playing that music I love to play in the places that are special to me, which was a huge joy! I think that made all the difference to the album, each place had a unique look, sound and feel. For example ‘After the rain’ was played in this little chapel in Cornwall that me and some friends visited a lot, so I had some great memories of the chapel but also the reverb in there was awesome, the weather played a part as well! It had just rained and so it made filming there even more perfect.

How does your art fit into your role as a church leader? In what ways do you find the two a natural fit or a source of tension?

I love doing both music and church work! I think having both aspects of music and church works well. Music is an outlet of creativity, I see it as a sabbath activity, it’s restful and brings joy, it’s also worship whenever I’m playing. Church work allows me to spend a lot of time studying the Bible which is a great joy, the more I study the more I learn about Jesus which in turn inspires me to write! So I think the two overlap nicely. The only tension would be touring and how that works alongside church, but it’s a small tension and one that is usually easily workable.

When the project is fully released on 16th May, what can we expect?

The project will be sold in various formats. You can get it digitally or physical copies. It will come as a CD/DVD double disk, so you can watch the film or just sit back with a dram and listen to the album. You can order the album/film from the Minor Artists shop (you can get it from bandcamp or iTunes but we would prefer if you could get it from us directly).

Thanks Stewart. If he hasn’t convinced you to shell out for this fantastic project,  let the music speak for itself: here is the second video from the project (featuring Sputnik favourite Joanna Karselis) to whet your appetite:

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