Avery Stewart can be a one-man band without the Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” clutter.
Instead of knee cymbals and a harmonica holder, Stewart uses an electric guitar, a looping pedal, a delay pedal and an octave pedal, so he can layer multiple tracks to form complete-sounding songs during live performances around Juneau. In recent months, he’s provided music for Kindred Post’s anniversary party, the annual Woosh Kinaadeiyí Grand Slam poetry contest to go along with more traditional sets with the band Lucid Culture or with other musicians.
“It’s an easy way to do background music,” Stewart told the Capital City Weekly. “I’ve been doing the looping for the last two years or so as kind of a way to play music out in Juneau without necessarily needing a band to back me up. I’ve been playing around with effects in general since I’ve been playing an electric guitar.”
Stewart has been playing guitar for the past 12 years, or just over half of the 23-year-old musician’s life.
The various effects pedals allow Stewart to play parts of a song, then loop them to create backing for his lead guitar playing. The octave pedal lets him create a bass line without having to resort to creative tuning.
It’s essentially stacking parts of a song on top of each other until things sound whole, and then riffing over the set rhythm — think laying down studio tracks but in real time.
“I think it’s easier than it looks,” Stewart said. “It certainly takes some getting used to. If you practice it a little bit, you’ll probably surprise yourself how easy you can adjust.”
Stewart said while he knew others used similar setups, the only performer he can recall watching who made use of looping was comic music-maker Reggie Watts.
“Of course everything he does with his voice is otherworldly,” Stewart said. “I think the spontaneity of what he does, the comedic timing is hilarious.”
But he didn’t pore over YouTube videos of others making music with a collection of gear and a guitar.
“I kind of just started,” Stewart said. “I didn’t want to get too much into whatever vein they were going in.”
Influences on his guitar playing and song craft include Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, rock legend Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, and John Frusciante, who is most famous for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers but has also released several more solo albums of spacey, guitar virtuosity.
“When I started playing, I always wondered if someday I was going to be good enough to know if someone would ask who my influences are,” Stewart said while pondering his list.
Making the music
Stewart can play other instruments, but he said he approaches his one-person soundscapes primarily as a guitar player.
“I dabble in other instruments. I would never claim to be proficient at them,” Stewart said. “I’ve recorded with keyboards, and I do a lot of singing and songwriting.”
Stewart said he generally makes loop music in a live setting, but he’s interested in recording it at some point.
“I’d actually like to do a project like that,” Stewart said. “I usually just use it (looping) to practice at home or play out for whoever is interested in something.”
Generally, Stewart’s composition’s are made up on the fly.
“It’s usually totally improvisational,” Stewart said. “Sometimes I’ll have some chord changes that I was practicing earlier in the day or something I was messing around with. I want to deliver something that sounds professional-sounding and rehearsed, but it’s more fun if it’s improvisational.”
Each free-wheeling song is typically composed of one to four loops;
“I try to keep some space in it,” Stewart said. “If I had more than four layers, it sometimes gets too crowded.”
But Stewart can make use of his effects pedals’ multiple channels to bring different loops in and out of the mix.
“That makes them feel like choruses and verses,” Stewart said.
Plays well with others
In addition to playing solo instrumental stuff, Stewart also plays with other musicians too.
He’s a regular in the band Lucid Culture, and for his recent featured performance at the Mountainside Open Mic at the Rookery, Stewart was backed by a couple percussionists and a bass player.
Josh Lockhart played the djembe — a hand-played drum that looks like a lone, cylindrical bongo — Jason Cornish manned a drum kit and Jeff Boman played bass.
While Stewart said it can be nice to play over the set-in-stone rhythms set by looping, he’d rather make live music with other musicians.
“I think the difference is that when you play with people, the rhythm changes,” Stewart said. “You play lead over it, then it might go to a different chord, but when you’re playing a loop, it’s just a repeating or stagnate line. It’s easier in a sense, but it’s always more fun to play with other people.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.