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Interview to Ace of Skunk Anansie

Between February 17-20 I was lucky enough to attend a private guitar course with Skunk Anansie’s guitar player Ace. Eight hours of intense course for beginners that literally blew my mind: I was expecting difficult words and complicated symbols but all I found was someone who clearly loves not only playing guitar, but teaching people how to enjoy playing guitar. I never thought learning how to play electric guitar could be so simple and enjoyable and I was happy to find out that there are methods that can actually teach you how to play without having to be a scientist: the Ace Method is undoubtedly one the best. If you are considering learning guitar, whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist, Ace is the man who can really take you to run the extra mile.

Sitting in a nice bar in King’s Cross, we had an interesting conversation about guitar teaching, Skunk Anansie and how it all started. Enjoy. 🙂

Q: Let’s talk about the Ace Guitar Academy

A: Basically when I decided to do the Ace Academy I started to look for a home I was thinking about getting a venue, a proper place, What happened was I was looking for a premises where I could put all my stuff in one room. I found some very cheap, dirty and horrible places with very expensive rent. You don’t wanna do the Ace Academy in an old dirty place, so I thought the best thing to do is to hire it somewhere. Then I thought why don’t I do it in a rehearsal room? I picked the best one in London, I went through all the rehearsals rooms in London, and I picked The Joint ‘cause it’s really the best in London. Not only do you kinda go in there, you have a choice of which room you want, so if I only have 2 people I can be in the mini studio, if I have 10 people I’ll go in the orange room. Also, what I liked is that when people come up they find a working environment there. So when they come it’s a buzz already, and they’ll get in the mood, it’s very clean, it’s got a snack bar and waiting rooms. Because at the moment the Ace school is sporadic ‘cause I’m touring and it’s just taught by me I needed a place where I can store my gear and be flexible. So I looked for the best place and also the most convenient place, cause the students so fare have come from America, Russia, Italy, all over the country, Scotland. We’re on the northern line, they can get off the train and be here, a guy came from Abu Dabi yesterday. It all started because people on Facebook asked me for lessons. And I went, well I don’t really teach guitar, but I know how to style, why don’t I do some workshops, why don’t I just build the course, 4 days everything I know from playing the guitar solo to playing the effects, to learning a scale, to jamming along to a song, everything I know, my knowledge, I’ll teach. So I put in on the Facebook and said ok everyone who asked me, I’m gonna put a course together, who wants to do it? All those people said we wanna do it, so I thought I’m gonna think about this cause I have all different levels of guitar players, so I came up with 3 different levels: total beginners, people who know how to play but want to improve and people who are quite good. So, I got the people, I divided them into 3 classes, and what I did was I gave them a test, see what skunk song you can learn to play. It works really well, each class has a different vibe and they will learn a different. So the first class is basically what you were doing, literally play one string and the chords and building around that. The second class was ok I’m gonna show you how to play better, so they were learning how to play solos, scales, play with pedals and things like that. The third class was I’m gonna show you how I do it and then we’ll play together which is really quite cool but actually with the beginners is more fun, ‘cause they learn more. But the third class is cool because I get to sit down, chat teach them a song and they can learn it then we’ll play to backing tracks. They loved it, the third class, it was like hanging out with a friend and jamming. Whereas the first class loved it because they didn’t know anything and they learned the easy way to play guitar, the second class loved it because it was the unlocking key to things that they didn’t know. I always find an easy way to do everything, because I’m self-taught, because I play by ear, so I pick up the melody in an easy way.

The Ace academy started in October (2013) and when I was on tour and I was thinking about it. Then I thought about, why don’t I write a book? And stupidly enough I said that to my wife (laughs) and she said, you should do that, cause you know how to teach people. So I said, ok, I’ll do it, and I’m almost finished on the book, and the book turned into a course. Now what I’m doing is I’ve written a book and a course, anybody can pick it up, cause it’s for beginners and advanced stage, cause it’s in sections. If you don’t know how to play guitar at all you can pick this book up. So the next stage for Ace Guitar Academy is the beginners course when they actually come once a week and they actually learn stuff in progression, other than a clash course. My book, like my course, is aimed at children of about 12-16, and it’s so simple even the wording is simple, there’s no real musical theory in it, because my theory is basically music came first, theory came afterwards. To write down is very complex, to show someone is much easier. I know how I learn, I’m quite dyslexic when I learn, I’m like, what I don’t get it, that’s why I never learned from a book I don’t really understand it, so when I’m teaching to someone I go, here’s how you do it and here’s a little trick. This is the idea, it’s easy, so my course is almost like a conversation, so if you read my book it’s like you were sat talking to me. When I said to you, play on the dot, put your finger on the second dot, here and there, it’s more like that than go, do the A, do the B, like theory you know. Cause you learn like someone would learn language. You don’t really write language, you just talk and they pick it up. My course is pretty much like that, you train your ear and you know when it sounds wrong, that’s when you learn by ear. If you play the wrong notes, you go that’s wrong, rather than it’s right it’s wrong. The wrong note is only one note away from where you’re playing, the next one is the right one. You can’t really go wrong. I look at everything really logically and really easy and I play by ear, I pick sounds by ear and melody. Sometimes the theory can overtake the ear. So my book does include theory, it’s got all the tabs, it has it, because people want to go there and explore it, and it shows you so they learn, but theory is not important, the trick is when you want to play electric guitar, and you want to be in a band, and do that, that’s what this course is about. It’s not about being a virtuoso. If you wanna learn someone else’s songs don’t come to me as a tutor, I’m not gonna teach other people’s songs, it’s pointless, I don’t know any other people’s songs; but if you want to learn how to play guitar and be your own person and develop your own style then come to me. Then I will show how I developed my style. So that’s my thing, the Ace Academy is about being unique, it’s not about copying anyone, it’s not about copying the scales perfectly, it’s not about anyone else’s songs, cause I don’t know other people’s songs and that’s why I’m a song writer. If you don’t know other people’s songs you have to write your own.

Q: How does a Skunk Anansie song come to life?

A: We sit in a room, we jam and we play until it sounds right. And that’s it, we go, that sounds funny, that’s how we do it, we do it on sounds and what sounds good. So basically we just sit and jam, we have some ideas, we are really strict we only work on one song a day. Write a song, arrange it, put it down as a basic form, and then what I was talking to you about changing the chords, turning standard chords into melodic ones. I do that afterwards, when everyone is packing up and going home, I might sit there for another hour and go, that C needs to be a nice C and things like that. So that’s how we write, we sit in a room and write songs that we do like, and the amazing thing is when we record the album me and Skin sit there and she sings me all the parts and she just goes, can you play this? … so there’s no music, it’s just a sound, she plays it and then what I do is I say, how does this sound, let’s change it down to this and she goes, I love it! As a collective, as a band, we will tell each other what we wanna hear, it’s a very diplomatic, a communistic kind of movement when we do songwriting. At the moment it’s great cause I’ve got 2 things going on: Skunk Anansie, which is the main thing and cause we’ve done so many records and tour we’re gonna take a little break after this tour, we’ll have to write a new album and record it so that process will probably take a couple of years. Cause you can easily take a year cause you make need to take your time for inspiration. So it might take a whole year just for writing songs, it might three months to record it and other three months to get all the mixing and the mastering and then you have to do at least another tour. So probably after this tour we’re gonna tour before the end of the next year, so I have time for the Ace Academy. And I thought about it, I do lots of things, I do productions, and I play some sessions, and I just kinda thought, well, what I like myself that makes me really happy? I just love playing guitar. Everything I do, all around me, is playing guitar, and it’s because I love playing guitar, and if I’m doing a session is because I love playing. So I just thought, I’ve been doing education, music education for years now and I’ve always thought I should just do it, you know, start an Academy. So it started in October in its humble roots, and I’m just about to expand it, the course and the book is being picked up by other people so soon it’s gonna be like in a proper school, not in the Joint, but a proper school. I’m working on different ideas at the moment, I got these people involved, and there won’t just be me teaching there, but also other tutors, and they’re gonna learn the book, it’s calledThe Ace Method. It’s gonna be really interesting actually for the tutors to learn the Ace method as it will be for them like walking backwards, cause they’ll go, it’s too easy, isn’t it? I decided it, you know, I have a niche, my niche is about being a successful band and play single things really well. I will aim my things at beginners, I know I can teach beginners a lot more than advanced people, I’m not that advanced in my theory and the thing is, what you wanna do? You wanna be in a band and play electric guitar, right? That’s it! Do you wanna be in a band, write your own songs, be unique and play electric guitar… that’s all I’ve got and that’s what you get, you get everything I got! In a way this course is great because it opens lots of doors, and it cuts out a lot of things you don’t need. You just need to know what sounds good, what works for you and you create your own style and you know 90% of the guitar players I know don’t play anything more complicated than my course.

Q: The Ace Guitar Academy toured in Italy and other countries. How is it gonna be structured? Is it gonna be available in other countries too?

A: That happened because people would email me and say, I really wanna do the course but I can’t come to London once every week from Italy. And I was, well, you know what, if you get enough people together I can come and do it over there. So, in Switzerland I taught the course for a week to them, in a really nice place actually and that was really good. In Italy it was slightly different, it was two music colleges asked me can you come over and do a couple of days? We want you to do an intense course to these guitarists, talk to them about anything you know, and then in the mornings we would do masterclass with the bands. So I did the masterclass with the bands in the morning and then the course in the afternoon with the guitarists. That was like The Ace Academy comes to the college thing. It was really good fun and I’m gonna do summer schools as well. The book and the course I’m writing now, that is the proper learn to play kind of thing. I’m thinking about how long does it last, I think in about a year people could do it. They’ll have to be practice cause they’ll have to be my standard at the end of it, not the standard of playing, my knowledge, the most important thing is the knowledge and practice all the time. So I can teach them knowledge in a year and it might take them 5 years to actually master it. My theory is the LPM method, which stays for Learn it, Practice it and Master it. When you master it, that’s when you can be a professional. When you learn it is when you can play in a band, but when you master it is when it sounds good.

Q: When is the book coming out?

A: I’m looking to finish it by mid april, the last thing to do is all the charts. There’s gonna be 8 songs, backing tracks that I’ve written, 4 very easy and 4 easy. They’re easy to learn, but to play them really really good it’s difficult. So when you start you say, I can play this, but one year ago you can say I can kill this! It’s a lot of work, the book is 30,000 words plus photos, charts, DVD, backing tracks on a CD, with all the scales. I’ve been so long involved in this kind of thing, I thought I would a 12 yo kid do this? How would they do it and how would they find it exciting without getting bored or discouraged? Every time I wrote something that sounded too difficult I re-wrote it to sound easy. I made sure there was not even one complex word in the language, it’s so simple, and it works really well for European people as well, as on CD when I talk the instructions I talk really clear, very slow, almost like a robot, really clear talking, no strange words, there’s nothing that is particularly English or slang.

Q: Why did you start playing guitar? Did you have any idol when you were younger?

A: Motorhead is the reason I started playing. When I was 12 my brother took me to see Motorhead and I’d never seen a concert, so my first concert was the “Ace of Spades”, it was the largest concert in the world at that point. I was just absolutely blown away. I didn’t know it existed that kind of thing, I mean I knew music and rock bands, but I didn’t know what a rock show was. I was kinda converted, I said that is what I’m gonna do, literally the next day, that’s what I’m gonna do. The next thing was to get an instrument, at first I wanted to play drums but my mum said no it’s too noisy, then I picked bass cause it looked easier, then I saw a guitar in a shop window it was very cheap, I said to my dad, that guitar is just £20 in that shop, and he drove me to town and he bought this guitar for £20 and then he said, you can’t have it until Christmas and it was just the end of summer… he said, it’s your Christmas and birthday present. So I got this guitar and I just sat in my room and I started listening to Black Sabbath, and that’s how I started learn, because Black Sabbath were really easy to play and there was something about it, the way he’s playing what you thought he played he did, while when you’re listening to Led Zeppelin you think he’s playing something but he’s playing something completely different. I could learn stuff really easily. So for me Sabbath was my learning band, Motorhead a total inspiration. I’m really lucky now cause Motorhead are really good friends of us, we hang out with them and I recorded with Lemmy. That’s a brilliant thing cause this persons started me off. A few years ago I was asked by Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath) to play on his record, to play on his solo album, and me and Skin went to the studio, and I recorded with him, and it was one of the best moments in my life. Two or three months later, I was actually in the studio with Lemmy, and I was doing my record and Lemmy went home and I got a phone call from my manager she said, Tiny Iommi sent you a little box what do you want me do with it. I said, send it with a cab to me now, I’ll pay the cab! I opened the box and there was a silver coffin, I opened it up and there was a cross they wear, Black Sabbath, exactly the same one, with my name cut into the cross. It was a gift for playing on the album. It’s actually my most precious possession I own. I love it! I got really lucky, following my dream, and do what I do with my little knowledge of guitar playing. It’s my drive that got me there. The Ace method, the course, that’s what it’s about, it’s about being unique and following your dream.

Q: How did you formed the Skunk Anansie, did you already know Skin and the others?

A: I knew Skin from the club. I used to run a club, it’s a very successful chain now, years ago I came to London with some friends, we formed a band and we needed money, so what we do was we went to the club just up here, in King’s Cross, the Water Rats Club, it was called the Splash Club. They paid for our rehearsals, and Skin used to come in with Cass and another band, and I watched them play and she knew me and we played, and we became friends and I gave her some music on the tape, and one day we just decided to form a band, the Skunk Anansie and what I did was, I said, I used to run the club with the guys, I said you know I can’t do it anymore, I’ll just pass it over to you, didn’t want money didn’t ask anything, I was just like, I got my thing I’m sorry to let you down, so they took the club and they built it up and it became the Barfly, so either way if I didn’t join Skunk I would have been successful either way. So basically I started the Barfly back 25 years ago. So with Skin and Cass, cause they played in the club, I played them. I can remember the first day I played the first Rage Against The Machine promo before anyone had heard of them. I said wow it’s amazing, none of these sounds are synthesised and Skin came in and I said, Skin you got to check this out, listen to this band, it’s so unique, and 3 or 4 weeks later they became huge. Then I introduced Skin toTool, I said check this american band. That’s how we became friends, through music, through tapes, cassettes. No iPods no iPhones, you didn’t have to meet people on Facebook then, it was a social community. Even with your relationships you met people the old fashioned way. And with Skunk, we just fitted so well as a band, we did rehearse for two weeks, we did our first show and it was completely full, one month later we did a second show, and we got a record a deal. So it was that fast, within 10 shows in England, a couple of months, we were signed a record deal, within 14 shows we were signed to Epic in America. It was very fast.

Q: You have an independent label now. What do you think of the state of music today, the mainstream music industry. What did you choose to go independent?

A: Labels just take too much off the bands now. You can’t survive on that. You can’t financially survive on what labels give to the bands. Everyone’s downloading music now, so everybody gets ripped off. But when you are with a label you’re on a very low percentage, so you get ripped off of a low percentage. So we decided to become our own record label and then we license our records to different companies for distribution. We just deal with all of them, just they don’t own us, we own us. So it means we have to finance our own records, we do our own thing and theory sell it on to other people. The good thing is if it makes money you make money, you’re in control, you wanna release a record? you go I’ll release it whenever I want. No one says you can’t do that or you have to wait for art working or you have to wait for this and that. Because we’ve got 20 years of experience we kinda know what to do. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have that knowledge. We even do update our own social media profiles, we don’t physically create it as a site, we have a person who manages the sites, but we do our talking and posts.

Q: How about creativity? I’ve always thought labels tend to tell you what kind of music you should do.

A: Yes, you do have creativity issues, but we would sign agreements that gave us creative freedom. But I know what you mean, labels say, we don’t release that because they don’t like it. Whereas we had 100% control and even now is bigger. We pick our singles. Record labels choose a single to be released all over the world, but music is like food. So if you go to Italy and you try to sell them German sausages it ain’t gonna work, if you wanna sell them pasta then we’re buying it. So what you do is you pick the tracks that work in that country, so we have different singles in different countries. So the single might be Tear The Place Up in one place cause it’s really aggressive and they’ll love it in Germany, you know they love hard music. Then you go to Italy and you release Squander. So we’re gonna have two releases at the same time. That’s a good thing about having your own label, you can adapt. Twenty or thirty years ago you could make a lot of money selling CDs, but today you make more money touring. Not long ago we were tracking the sales of a single and they said, you sold 1,000 singles and 20,000 illegal downloads. So you could have potentially sold 21,000 singles. Whatever you sell as an album it could 10 thousand more. So if you sell 1,000 songs you’re actually popular because maybe 1 million people downloaded your song. In one way is good in one way is bad; it’s bad because you don’t make a lot of money but it’s good because you’re a successful band.

Q: How about Spotify? Tom Yorke of Radiohead said during an interview that it’s not good for artists.

A: I don’t think it’s good financially. If someone said, every time your record gets played you get 10 pounds, you would love it. But it’s because financially is not good, but exposure wise is good and it’s great to have more music than no music. People don’t like it because it’s no making money for them.

Q: Three albums that you would take with you on a desert island.

A: “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, it’s one of the most beautiful acoustic records ever. “Led Zeppelin II” and I think Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. But there’s millions I can think of… Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” as well. You know my favourite record at the moment is Ben Howard “Every Kingdom”, I love it.

Q: And how about your favourite Skunk’s album?

A: I kinda like “Black Traffic” cause it’s the latest one, but I would say “Post Orgasmic Chill”, I think that’s when we became who we are. It’s hard to say, because they’re all different. “Stoosh” was actually written in 9 days between tours, that was really really crazy, and then on the 10th day we recorded it. And “Stoosh” went massive, that’s what made us massive, when we established as a band, then we made “Post Orgasmic Chill” and we toured for a couple of years constantly, and we got absolutely worn out, so we decided to have a break. It took a long time, it was 8 years, and then we came back when the last tour was made, coming back with the band there was a lot of vibe, it was absolutely brilliant. Then “Smashes and Trashes” came in, we did some extra tracks for that, it’s a greatest hits, then we did “Wonderlustre”, we toured we were like kinda fired up again, we went aggressive again, so we said let’s make a new album, let’s make it in a different way. So we made “Black Traffic”, it’s made in a completely different way, we recorded it in sections, put bits together, we made this weird album. And then the acoustic thing literally came out of the fact that someone asked us to do a big acoustic show. We said we don’t really play acoustic, and they said, we’ll pay lots of money, and you can have a weekend in the mountains and we said, that sounds cool. Our manager said why don’t you put it in the record company and record a live acoustic album the next day in London? So she set it all up and we did the show, came back the next day and did the live acoustic record in London. So that’s how it happened.

Q: Looks like the audience liked it cause you’re doing it again.

A: I know, it’s sold out, London sold out in 8 minutes. So now we’re doing an acoustic tour, just one, no more, that’s all my fingertips can take (laughs).

Gessica Puglielli

Visual/Web Designer, Digital Marketing Strategist born in Lecce (Italy), I currently live in London. Between 1998 and 2005 I collaborated with Michael Jackson’s staff and in 2000 I had a meeting with the man himself. I founded Rebel Rebel in 2013 and so far it has been an exciting journey. Some of my favourite artists include Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Skunk Anansie, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Archive, Kraftwerk, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Anthony & The Johnsons, Gazpacho, The Maccabees, Led Zeppelin, Brian Eno, Beethoven, Bjork, Steve Wonder and many others. I feel a deep connection to animals and Mother Nature, which led me to choose a vegan lifestyle. I like playing electric guitar, photography, cinema, art, entertainment, travelling, playing tennis and browsing London.

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