The Creationists

Creating Tri-Slide Guitar with Shaun Verreault

January 27, 2021 Steve Waxman Season 3 Episode 8
The Creationists
Creating Tri-Slide Guitar with Shaun Verreault
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating Tri-Slide Guitar with Shaun Verreault
Jan 27, 2021 Season 3 Episode 8
Steve Waxman

Wide Mouth Mason singer and guitarist Shaun Verreault has long been recognized as one of Canada’s finest blues rock guitarists. His long spidery fingers allow him to play incredible fiery riffs with casual ease.  The exploration of the guitar’s possibilities has been his lifelong pursuit but even his closest friends weren’t prepared for Shaun putting aside everything he knew about playing guitar and covering his fingers with metal tubes.

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Wide Mouth Mason was born in 1995 with Shaun being joined by friends Safwan Javed on drums and Earl Pereira on bass. Within two years the band had a gold-certified major label debut, played the Montreux Jazz Festival and were touring the world with the likes of AC/DC, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones. Around the time of the band’s second album, Shaun began to incorporate bottleneck slide guitar into his sound and eventually fell down a creative rabbit hole that has led to the tri-slide guitar he can be seen playing on Facebook and Instagram and featured on the groups latest album, I Wanna Go With You. So, naturally the place to start is with the most obvious question “Shaun, how did you end up with three slides on your fingers?”

I highly encourage you to check out all of Wide Mouth Mason’s music including their latest album, I Wanna Go With You, on any music service you have access to.  If you want to find out more about the band, please visit widemouthmason.com.  You can follow Shaun on Facebook or at sv_trislide on Instagram and watch some incredible tri-slide guitar playing. And finally, you can watch the entire jam session with Shaun and Robert Randolph HERE.

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram and rate and review us on your favourite podcast platform.

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant


Show Notes Transcript

Wide Mouth Mason singer and guitarist Shaun Verreault has long been recognized as one of Canada’s finest blues rock guitarists. His long spidery fingers allow him to play incredible fiery riffs with casual ease.  The exploration of the guitar’s possibilities has been his lifelong pursuit but even his closest friends weren’t prepared for Shaun putting aside everything he knew about playing guitar and covering his fingers with metal tubes.

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Wide Mouth Mason was born in 1995 with Shaun being joined by friends Safwan Javed on drums and Earl Pereira on bass. Within two years the band had a gold-certified major label debut, played the Montreux Jazz Festival and were touring the world with the likes of AC/DC, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones. Around the time of the band’s second album, Shaun began to incorporate bottleneck slide guitar into his sound and eventually fell down a creative rabbit hole that has led to the tri-slide guitar he can be seen playing on Facebook and Instagram and featured on the groups latest album, I Wanna Go With You. So, naturally the place to start is with the most obvious question “Shaun, how did you end up with three slides on your fingers?”

I highly encourage you to check out all of Wide Mouth Mason’s music including their latest album, I Wanna Go With You, on any music service you have access to.  If you want to find out more about the band, please visit widemouthmason.com.  You can follow Shaun on Facebook or at sv_trislide on Instagram and watch some incredible tri-slide guitar playing. And finally, you can watch the entire jam session with Shaun and Robert Randolph HERE.

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram and rate and review us on your favourite podcast platform.

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant


Wide Mouth Mason singer and guitarist Shaun Verreault has long been recognized as one of Canada’s finest blues rock guitarists. His long spidery fingers allow him to play incredible fiery riffs with casual ease.  The exploration of the guitar’s possibilities has been his lifelong pursuit but even his closest friends weren’t prepared for Shaun putting aside everything he knew about playing guitar and covering his fingers with metal tubes.

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Wide Mouth Mason was born in 1995 with Shaun being joined by friends Safwan Javed on drums and Earl Pereira on bass. Within two years the band had a gold-certified major label debut, played the Montreux Jazz Festival and were touring the world with the likes of AC/DC, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones. Around the time of the band’s second album, Shaun began to incorporate bottleneck slide guitar into his sound and eventually fell down a creative rabbit hole that has led to the tri-slide guitar he can be seen playing on Facebook and Instagram and featured on the groups latest album, I Wanna Go With You. So, naturally the place to start is with the most obvious question “Shaun, how did you end up with three slides on your fingers?”

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Shaun Verreault:  When playing with lap steel, or when playing bottleneck style I wear the slide on my pinky and for the longest time just had the one digit to move around. That's how many of us start on slide guitars. You tune your guitar to an open chord so it's a major chord all in a straight line. And then, when you play with a slide over it it's just major chords up and down the neck everywhere you move. And some very resourceful lyrical players are able to use that and suggest chords by playing like two notes at a time or three notes at a time and they can kind of hint at it. They can hold the bar kind of diagonally and play some minor chords or some seventh chords and that kind of stuff. But what I had started to do following in the footsteps of of Sonny Landreth and our mutual friend Ian Thornley and a few other people that I'd seen do it was to use all the other fingers on my left hand, beyond my pinky which had a slide on it to play with and then there would be a hybrid of slid notes and skin notes mixing together and it was really easy to to switch back and forth because if you press down. I know this is not a visual thing but if you're playing a slide and you press down a finger, with any of your other fingers that note gets pushed down further than the slide is touching the strings so that it sounds. So it's this like a Roger Rabbit world of half cartoon half real life, and some of the notes are being played by the slide and some of them are being played by your fingers and so in essence you really have three flesh fingers and one may have pyrite or steel and that one you can slide up and down and do whatever you want with. But in the meantime you can play any kind of chord you want by applying those other fingers to that slide which is in one place and pressing down behind them to make other chords minor chords and seventh chords and things that aren't right under a slide if you're just playing. Traditionally, and I have such respect for the Derek Trucks and Dwayne Allmans and Ry Cooders of the world. There are certain licks that when you're just playing with one slide are always going to sound like those guys. I'll just grab one slide to show a little bit of it, there's this lick in particular that you always hear slide players play because it's just sitting right there, ripe for the picking underneath your fingers to play those things. (performs a slide guitar blues riff) And I found when I was playing bottleneck style without my other fingers I kind of was reminiscent of other people, but I wasn't as good. And then a friend of mine who hadn't been gigging at all, I invited him to play some shows, and he thanked me for Lazarusing him back into playing by hand-carving me a lap steel and putting in a pickup that was raised up into position by having quarters with holes sawed in them underneath it to hold it up. It was really handmade, made with love and artisanally, you know, soully one person produced. And man, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. There's still ink on it where I had to draw lines for the frets beyond under the string and over the side so I could kind of see where they were because it was hard trying to intonate yourself. A fret is where you push your finger down and it makes you play in tune if the guitar is in tune. But, playing slide is like tightrope walking, there's nothing to stop you from dying, any direction you go except for one very particular correct direction. So, I was just finding myself not being able to sing on it and sounding like everybody else. And then one day, it just dawned on me that if I was to use another slide on another finger somewhere, it would be somewhat like playing using my other fingers when I was playing bottleneck slide so I went down deeper rabbit holes. I was like Edward Scissorhands. I was putting a slide on this finger and a thimble on this finger and any kind of nut from a boat on one finger. Nothing was made for this playing style so I was just kind of MacGyvering random things. Someone would have a big thick ring and I would put that on and go "Oh, can I play with that." And when I first started playing, it was pretty raggedy, but it immediately became clear that I would be able to, much the same way as when I was playing standard guitar with one sliding using my other fingers, that I'd be able to use my other fingers along with the bottleneck that I had. When people play lap steel style they generally hold a bar in between their thumb and their index finger and their middle finger on their left hand and they hold it, or they hold a knife in some cases. You can basically rub anything hard against the strings and make it make sound, you know. And I got to the point where I thought, if I'm using the five of these things, I might as well just play regular guitar. So one is not enough, but five can be too many. What's the sweet spot? And the joy of it for me was that, as far as I knew at that point, nobody had ever attempted anything like it so I was completely making it up as I went along. And I wonder with other creative people if there's ever been a thing, it would be like, Linda Manzer making drums, all of a sudden, and going you know there's similar characteristics, I'm shaping wood, there's something stretched between the word whether that's strings or whether that's drum heads. You know it's a similar enough thing that some of the fundamentals apply, but so much of the rest of it is using your creative faculties to go okay what message would I tell 12 year old me if 46 year old me could somehow send a message back to him. And some of it might be you know, don't lift your pinky up so high when you're not using it when you're playing guitar because it takes a really long time to unlearn that and you're wasting all this motion and, man, it would be way easier to just learn it right, and never have learned it wrong and to apply that to your playing. So I started taking some of that thinking and applying it to the lap steel playing I was doing. Going, okay, is there anything that feels tense, the way you're playing with this, because we want to nip any of that in the bud. And I was actually looking at ergonomic desk design thinking that anyone who's typing, the angles of their wrists and their fingers is very similar to a lap steel player so what is the accepted common knowledge about what angle to have your wrists at so that you're not hurting it. What angle tto have your fingers at so you're not hurting them. And I was just sort of putting things in my mental scrapbook that were, in any way, related to the weird contortion that I was putting my body into. And what I discovered was that it's actually much more ergonomic to the way that our bodies are designed to play lap steel than it is to play regular guitar. The shapes that your body has to make, the contortions. I mean any guitarist who's gone to a masseuse, the masseuse is like a minute in and  goes "Guitar player? Yes I figured. Your left shoulder always has a strap on it. Your right arm is bent a certain way your left arm is bent another way and your gibbled for life for playing that instrument like that." So, lap steel to me became very quickly something that was really comfortable to do for hours and hours at a time, and I just started learning songs and writing songs in this new technique. And much like the person who's trying to learn French, you can take French lessons and dabble in it for years, or you can just move to Quebec City and that will accelerate it because you have nothing else that you can do except for speak French. I started showing up at gigs in Vancouver not Wide Mouth Mason gigs but, you know, either thrown together things or jam gigs with just a lap steel and my slides and and going' "Listen guys, I love you, you love me, guys in the band, I'm going to hit the ditch a bunch of times tonight. And parts of it will be ways I've never hit the ditch before and I just have to do that a couple times. Next time we play I'll hit the ditch less, and then next time less." And it really made me play simply, but it was a work in progress and I had to go back to the drawing board.

Steve Waxman:  So, how did you figure out for yourself which fingers to put the slides on?

Shaun Verreault:  What I've ended up doing is having a slide on my thumb, a slide on my index finger and a slide on my ring finger. They all have rounded ends on them, so I can push my fingertips down and sound a note just with my fingertip, because when you're playing slide you also need to dampen the notes that you don't want. There's a real positive and negative aspect to it were the ones you want to sing you want them to be as loud as possible and the ones that you don't want to hear are all kinds of wrong. So you have to be able to shut them down. So three for me was the magic number where I was able to play what I heard in my head. I had grown up loving Roland Kirk and Charlie Hunter, as soon as I heard of him, and Eddie Van Halen, and the people who not only had a unique voice on the instrument and they could have played anything. Eddie on keyboards sounds only like Eddie. Roland Kirk playing any instrument would only sound like Roland Kirk. Jeff Healey's style of playing guitar was eye opening for me when I started doing this. Those people who came across an interesting technique, but less suited in the pursuit of musicality rather than novelty. People will do something and it's cool if you watch them do it because it's weird looking, but it's nothing that you couldn't do on a regular instrument so it's really just kind of a novelty. And the thing that Eddie did was tapping the thing that Charlie Hunter did with playing simultaneous baselines and keyboard lines and guitar lines. The thing that Jeff Healey did by just playing music on the guitar but it's just so happens that his thumb and his pinky had a way larger intervocalic reach than a standard guitar player really inspired me to look at tri-slide lap steel and find the things that I could do on it that couldn't be done on any other instrument. For instance, one note moving down in pitch while another note moves up in pitch and a third note stays exactly the same in pitch is something that I can't do on a regular guitar by bending or playing slide or anything. But by using three slides on a lap steel, I can resolve into chords I've never played before by having one note move south, one note move north and one note be the North Star.

Steve Waxman:  You mentioned a little while ago about Eddie Van Halen, of course, one of the great guitar players who pushed the instrument forward and Hendrix pushed the instrument forward and Stevie Ray Vaughan pushed the instrument forward. I had a really great experience however many years ago, when we put out the first Robert Randolph and Family Band record. And that was the first time I had experienced somebody that played lap steel that way, so aggressively. It was, to me at the time, 'Here's a person, moving guitar music forward,' because he's doing something that I've never heard before. You know, taking lap steel out of church, and turning it into a rock instrument and a rock sound. So I'm curious, I know that you ended up jamming with him. What did he think about what you were doing?

Shaun Verreault:  Robert is like the Ray Charles of steel guitar because there were a lot of churches that  maybe  couldn't afford a Hammond organ, or for whatever reason, the lead instrument in the choir became the lap steel guitar and then, eventually, the pedal steel guitar. And the Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph, and AJ and Aubrey Ghent, they have soul singers in their left hands. It's amazing. It's a voice when they play and they become Aretha Franklin with just one thing on their left hand. So yeah, I have a day gig at a guitar design company called Graph Tech Guitar Labs, so I spend the entire day talking with every guitar company I grew up loving and designing and making stuff for them to use and as a result of that, I went to the NAMM show, which happens in California every January, and all the makers of headphones and keyboards and musical instruments and everything all descend upon Anaheim to show their new wares for the year. And at an event, I ran into Robert Randolph, and had actually just ordered his signature lap steel made by Peavy, the one I play in a bunch of my videos, it's a sparkly silver Peavy Power Slide and the Randolph version has a bunch of upgrades on it, two pickups and nicer saddles and nicer tuners than the than the standard ones. So, when he showed up I went, "Hey man, I actually just bought one of your lap steel's." And he went "This one I have in my bag here?" And he pulled it out. And I said "Oh, great third I haven't tried it yet," and he went "Well you should try it." And I said "Well I brought my 1959 Fender Champ lap steel down here to Anaheim. Do you want to play it?" And he looked at it and said "You have one of those? Oh my god, those are the real deal." So he pulled it out. And Graph Tech had rented a room in this studio where all these musicians were coming in and out of, and we hired Thomas Nordeg, Steve Vai's guitar tech, to hang out in the room and swap out people's machine heads to these machine heads that we make at Graph Tech. So, Steve Vai's guitar tech was sitting there and Vernon Reid from Living Color was hanging out and a whole bunch of musicians were there, and Robert and me just started playing a blues song, and it just went on and on and more and more people started coming into the room. And sometimes when you play with other musicians you're either so wary or polite and nobody really goes for it because they don't want to make it competitive. Or, the other end of the spectrum is it's like the end of one of those diva concerts and everyone's just shrieking their heads off and playing as fast as they can and try to whip out enough dick to win the contest. And what was beautiful about that situation with Robert was, we both just pushed each other but it stayed really really musical the whole time. We would raise an eyebrow when someone did something unusual but we would stay musical and supportive while we were playing rhythm for each other. So he and I struck up a friendship and saw each other a few more times at NAMM and I flew back home. And after walking around at NAMM and everyone going "You're the guy from the Randolph video playing a weird guitar Hey come on in. Let's talk for a while," I got home and, I don't know for a fact if Robert had anything to do with it or if that video just made the rounds, but the Ottawa Bluesfest got in touch and went "Look we want to book the Masons to play, but we've seen you play lap steel and we want you to sit in with The Campbell Brothers to play a set of gospel sacred steel slide guitar music with them. And I got to sit in with them and, you know, I am enough my own man at 46 to even reveal this playing style. I have dear friends who were like, "You know, I don't get it. I don't know why you're working so hard. I guess there's something to it but why don't you just play regular guitar? I mean, you play so much with your slide now that you could probably figure out a way to do this. It's kind of pitchy. I don't really love it yet, I'm sorry." But getting Robert and The Campbell Brothers, pulling me aside after and going "I don't know what alien planet you came from and I kind of don't want anyone to hear about this because then I'm going to have to figure out how to do it but but keep on with it man this is interesting you got a thing going here," was really really encouraging.

Steve Waxman:  It's funny you say that because I was thinking as you were talking about how I guess when Van Halen was playing back in the early 70s and Eddie would turn his back to the audience when he was tapping so that people couldn't see what he was doing.

Shaun Verreault:  Yeah. I recently read Greg Renoff's book Van Halen Rising and what's interesting to me in that book was for, growing up when I did, by the time I became aware of Van Halen it was right before 1984, so they were already massive, but in that book detailing the rise of the band a couple of things stood out to me. One was just how long people said no to them, people were like, metal's dead, guitar music is dying, there's not going to be an audience for this. You might be able to open a Foreigner tour and tour with Black Sabbath, but really that's it. This is going to be a regional backyard party. Your singer can't sing. He kind of looks good in spandex. You guys are already too old to exist, whatever, and how they just stuck with it through every no and they just kept going and kept going and kept going. But the other thing that stood out to me was, I had assumed that Eddie had been tapping his whole life, but it was like the Hendrixian switch from 1966 he's Jimmy James playing side-guy gigs and 1967 he becomes Jimi Hendrix, and you would know him from a note from that point on. Eddie was apparently not tapping and, boom, he discovered it and took it to "Eruption" within a few months. And it's mind boggling on the one hand that he could do that but, on the other hand, having experienced this on on the level that I have, I'm playing a chord I've never played before or playing a pattern I've never played before and I just found myself in it, rather than having to work to get there. And the beginning of "Mean Streets," the volume swells in "Cathedral," very much Tom Morello-like in the way that he just kind of would, I imagine, just messing around and then discovering a thing. And then hanging out all night and playing with it until it was something enormous that sprang from this little seed. So all those guys have very much been influential and inspirational in taking a little embryo and really exploring it as much as I could in the fearlessness of Hendrix going this is so wrong that they had to print on the masters 'don't master out the distortion' because it's on purpose. 'This is not audio failing we mean for it to sound this way.' And in the same way, Eddie would hide the Variac machine that he was using to make his Marshall sound like they were going to blow up in flames but be just the right volume for a smaller room was like, there's a little bit of wizardry involved, but there's also a little bit of you're still figuring it out so you don't want anyone to run with it before it's complete. I can totally relate to that.

Steve Waxman:  So, how long was it from the time that you started, whether it's 3, 4, 5 fingers, feeling confident enough to play in front of people.

Shaun Verreault:  I probably started to do that within a year or a little bit less than a year. And I thought of it like, I'm not saying I'm Hemingway but I, again to to grab the examples that I could because I didn't have a guitarish example to grab, when people would talk about Hemingway's small vocabulary, but what he did with it or like Picasso taking three crayons and coloring with those, I wanted to just show up at a gig and go, I know I can do three or four chords in tune. And I've often, when I've been teaching people regular guitar playing, talked about boiling it down to its simplest thing and play your leads on just one string. And if you do it on just one string it becomes a piano. Every note is right next to one note higher than it and one note lower than it and really simplify your ideas so you're not playing patterns or hand exercises, you're thinking melodically. So I just thought, I can play three chords, so I can play the blues. And I can move up and down, one string so..(plays an example). I thought, 'Okay, that'll be enough to get me through the gig,' and a bunch of those gigs would be pretty eye wateringly out of tune. But I just kept at it. I just kept throwing myself under the bus and then crawl back out in front of a crowd full of people. And I would notice that every time I would do that I'd leave with five or six more things that I would have had no idea I could attempt to do if I was playing in my living room because you have to correct when you're in front of people. You've probably experienced this where people make live records, partly, you know for contractual reasons or whatever but there's a thing that happens when you're in front of a crowd of people. I remember hearing Bono talk about, there are certain notes he can only sing in an arena full of people because he needs the energy of all those people driving him to reach that note, or if he's in a studio, which is sometimes three faces looking at him through glass he'll be sitting there going, "We must have written this in another key, there's no way I can sing it in that key, there's no way." But in front of people you can. So, I just started taking it in front of people and what I've learned from playing regular guitar in front of people for years is you can do almost anything if you make it seem like you meant to and they will think that you did. If you just look the audience in the eye and go 'That's right, I sacrificed this guitar for us tonight. I dropped it on its headstock and it broke,' they will believe you. So I just figured musically a lot of the difference between a note that works and doesn't is how you stick the landing. So you can play almost any barrage of weird shaped notes if you land on something that's right. I remember hearing people talk about playing with Miles Davis and they hit a clunker and were worried they were going to get fired out of the band and Miles just would make that note work. He played a note two or three times so people went 'Wait a second, he's meaning to do that weird dissonant strange note,' and then have it resolved into something that was pleasing was more dramatic and more interesting than only playing right stuff. So I just kind of threw myself into that and thought, I'll figure out a way to make it right when I make it real wrong.

Steve Waxman:  So it must have been really exciting then for you when you did start playing out with the tri-slide that you're going back to that live without a net feeling,

Shaun Verreault:  Yeah, I mean there's still hundreds of years worth of it's hard for me to discover on a regular acoustic guitar with no slides. There's decades of work to be done on regular slide playing but I was really excited about discovering the tri-slide thing and about doing it out in front of people and discovering stuff. And anytime a musician would kind of come up after and go 'What were you doing there?', and even trying to describe it to the players I was playing with who are used to - a lot of the gigs I do here in Vancouver where I live are, when there were gigs, where I do this thing where I'd invite players who've never played together before to play together, and we would not even know what we were going to play until we'd walk on stage and start playing and some of that was because of, as you said, all those years of touring with the Masons for six nights a week for hours and hours a night for years and years, made me pretty confident that no matter what ditch I hit, I'd be able to find a way out of it. No matter what strange musical situation I found myself in, on stage with a metal band or on stage with a soukous band from Africa, that I'd be able to find the thing that worked musically within my toolbox to sit in with them. And tri-slide was fun because it was, it is fun still to this day, because it's go on stage and there are so many unknowns, so many variables, so many ways for it to go wrong that I'd have to choose exactly the right path through all of those things, spontaneously for it to go right and it became a bit of a showdown between me and my limited ability to figure out the right thing to do. And to pull it out of the ditch when it was going wrong. And I've translated that into every creative pursuit now that I do. I think what's so interesting about listening to your podcast Steve, is that all of these people talking about creativity, all of it is transferable to other creative endeavors, because you're talking about the process of coming up with new ideas, honing techniques, being judicious in the things you do and don't do and figuring out what the end goal is. So much of it is now I'm playing regular guitar differently because of the way that I play with three slides. I'm singing differently because it's really taught me awareness of playing quietly, singing quietly, where I've always been kind of more of a shouter and a blues-influenced singer and a soul singer. Playing quietly as you can is something I'd never really explored before until the slide led me back to doing that

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I highly encourage you to check out all of Wide Mouth Mason’s music including their latest album, I Wanna Go With You, on any music service you have access to.  If you want to find out more about the band, please visit widemouthmason.com.  You can follow Shaun on Facebook or at sv_trislide on Instagram and watch some incredible tri-slide guitar playing. And finally, you can watch the entire jam session with Shaun and Robert Randolph HERE