Session, touring and solo guitarist. Jennifer speaks with us about recording, touring, new projects and more.
October 23, 2005
Guitarhoo!: Hello Jennifer welcome to Guitarhoo! Thanks for joining us. Which part of the world are you from originally?
Jennifer Batten: I was born in upstate New York and moved to California when I was 9.
G!: At what age did you pick up an instrument and was guitar your first choice?
JB: I started playing guitar when I was 8. My father bought me a killer red and blue electric.
G!: Who were some of your earlier influences?
JB: It was the Beatles early on and in my teen years I discovered blues players like BB King and Lightnin Hopkins. When I first heard Jeff Beck as a teen, that was pretty much it for me.
G!: You are most known for your amazing 2 handed tapping technique. What attracted/inspired you to this style?
JB: I learned it from a fellow classmate at Musicians Institude, Steve Lynch. He started developing it that year – 1978. We kept in touch after school was over because I wanted to learn it. He eventually wrote a book and I memorized it and then started experimenting on my own.
G!: Cool! Your renditions of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” are unique and dangerous! How much time is involved transcribing pieces like those?
JB: Getting the proper fingerings for Bumble Bee was pretty time consuming. I think I changed it 4 or 5 times before I was satisfied. I had piano sheet music for it from my mother. I also had Coltrane’s Giant Steps solo transcribed already, so it was just a matter of learning it. The hard part was the tapping version.
G!: Can you tell us a little about how the experience was performing and recording with artists Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck?
JB: Jackson was really intense work but a lot of fun. Once I joined, it was 7 days a week for 2 months of rehearsing. The focus was on sound and groove more than anything. I learned the value of repetition in rehearsal to enable comfort on the stage. Jeff was very intense in a whole other way. There was a lot more freedom in playing the parts and soloing. He wanted to be inspired and challenged in different ways every night. The thing that impressed me most about him live is how differently he’d play from night to night. He’s always a strong creative force. He’s always stretching and taking great risks. He says when he gets off stage after a show he feels like he just cheated death. When you hear him, you understand that statement.
G!: How has working with these artists affected your playing?
JB: I think Jackson helped make my own music a little more accessible overall. Jeff’s influence goes back to my teen years. I learned every solo from “Blow by Blow” and “Wired”. There are things I picked up from the 3 years with him that are not possible to put into words. I was also very inspired by his willingness to listen to anything new. He gets bored easily and is always looking for new sources of inspiration. He turned me onto music I never would have heard otherwise. I think a hunger for the new and unusual may be one of the most important things I picked up from him.
G!: Awesome! Another talent you have is creating Stained Glass Art. I really dig the portait of Django Reinhardt and the Stained Glass guitar string box’s look amazing! What inspired you to get into this?
JB: Thanks! I needed a balance from music and last year I took a lot of time off from travel because I was getting very burnt out. It was the best thing for my creativity to leave the guitar alone for a while and get into a visual art. I took classes for stained glass and loved it. I really look forward to cutting glass when I return from the road now. Especially when I’m up in the middle of the night with jet lag, it’s good to have something like that to go to. When I’m traveling I have a glass software called Glasseye that I work with to create designs for when I return home. I’ll be making a lot of guitar string boxes this winter. I love the idea of art that is useful.
A few of Jennifer’s Glass Art pieces. © Jennifer Batten
G!: Excellent! You use a “String Dampener” to mute unwanted noise from open strings when using 4 fingers to tap on the fret board. That’s quite a cool and useful idea. Did you invent this?
JB: I didn’t invent it. I’ve modified several models over the years, but last year Michael Batio released a new design that is the best yet. You don’t have to screw it into the headstock and it dampens better than any I’ve had in the past, so I only sell those now on the site.
G!: You’ve got a few new projects about to be released around the same time. Your track “Whammy Damage” will be featured on the record “La Guitara”, a record featuring 14 female guitarists, November 1st, 2005. What more can you tell us about this project?
JB: It was the brainchild of Patti Larkin. She says on her site that interviewers always ask her why there aren’t more female guitarists playing. She got tired of saying THERE ARE! So she got 14 of her favorite players together for the CD partly to raise an awareness of all of us that exist, and it’s also partly a benefit project to get guitars into the classroom. Almost all of it is solo playing from the jazz of Mimi Fox to a killer Indian-esque slide thing from Ellen McIlwaine whom I started to listen to many years ago. Kaki King is also another I’ve become very fond of. She’s got a very fresh creative approach. Several of them are touring now and will go into next year, so check out the dates at www.pattilarkin.com. We all may be playing at the NAMM show in Anaheim this January too.
G!: A Frank Marino tribute record to be released soon, this winter. What can you tell us about this one?
JB: A friend of his is behind that project. He’s a biker comedian named Willy Parsons. It’s the first time he’s done anything like this but managed to get all great players on the CD. He’s going through the ugly learning curve of dealing with music industry people right now though. I’m still not sure when the CD will be released but he’s got a contract now at least. It’s the first tribute record I’ve played on that I was given full creative control so I’m very happy with my track. I think Willy was skeptical when he heard it because it’s very different from the original, but he told me Frank loved it when he heard it so that makes me feel good. The track lent itself to an Indian flare and I love delving into various other ethnic kinds of music.
G!: And your 3rd solo album. What can we all look forward to on this one and how is it different from your past works?
JB: I’m taking this winter off to finish it up. I hope it will be out next spring. I’ve programed everything myself this time and used Logic for the first time. It’s such a time consuming effort to do it all yourself and I won’t do that next time. But I enjoyed what I learned using the computer possibilities. I’m using a lot of vocal samples on this one and lots of different drum loops. It’s extremely different from past CD’s.
G!: Great! Will you be touring in support of this record?
JB: I hope so but there are a lot of variables to consider. One is the rising price of gas. It’s a becoming a major factor in whether bands are able to make a profit or not. We’ll see. Dates are always on my site as they’re confirmed.
G!: Your JB100 and JB100 midi – signature guitars with Washburn are pretty slick. How involved were you in the making of these guitars?
JB: They basically had the design and I liked it a lot. It fits like a glove and is very lightweight which is important to me. It was my idea to add the option of a Roland synth pick up, Duncan JB Jr pick up in the bridge and Duncan Duckbuckers, the original Floyd Rose tremolo and wood choice–swamp ash.
Jennifer’s JB100 Washburn Signature Guitar
G!: Is it true you are working on a new model?
JB: I’m not so sure about changing now. They’re pretty backed up at the factory and I haven’t received anything. It will have to be a really special guitar to make me want to change. We’ll see.
G!: How would you say you benefit the most by having a guitar endorsement?
JB: I really don’t think there’s any benefit at all unless you’re a million seller with your CD’s. It’s a very expensive guitar and doubly expensive for people in other countries to buy. Finland for example has a 25% import duty. There is one model made in China however that is very good and much cheaper obviously.
G!: A lot of guitar synth products out there have issues with the tracking and sensitivity settings. Which guitar synth are you using and do you find you have to go through a lot of tweaking or adjust your playing style a little to make it work properly?
JB: I’ve been using the Roland GR 33 recently though on the Jeff Beck tours I used a Roland GI10 midi converter with their 1080 for sounds. It’s great for pads, but soloing is always an issue and I don’t use it much for that. I did some gigs in the spring however where I used a steel drum sound that worked pretty well. I also covered the trumpet solo in Dick Dale’s “Miserloo” in a sort of comedy medley interspersed with Weather Report tunes. It sounded really good and tracking wasn’t a problem. I was able to emulate that cheesy-assed trumpet vibrato of the 60’s without a hitch. You really need to learn how each sound behaves.
G!: What gives you the most satisfaction as an artist; writing, recording or performing?
JB: Writing. It’s where the magic can happen easiest. Performing has too many variables to be consistent and recording is just a pain.
G!: hahaha… Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians out there?
JB: Yeah–be courageous and break some new ground. Keep an open mind to listen to everything and anything.
G!: Thanks for taking the time out for this Jennifer – You rock! and we all look forward to your future projects!
Interview © 2005 Guitarhoo!