Interview By Aron Radford
Nice to meet you Jed, thanks for agreeing to speak to us today you must be real busy promoting your new album “A Foreign Country”?
“It's a pleasure, thanks for getting in touch”!
You have been on the TWiE radar for quite a few years now and with the new album “A Foreign Country” I could put off no longer making contact and having an official chat for the website. Give us if you will a quick 101
“Well I'm a singer/songwriter and guitarist based in Melbourne, Australia. I've been playing Weissenborn for about 15 years, give or take, and standard acoustic and electric guitars for almost 30 years now. Which makes me feel old”!
Congratulations on the new album it’s a wonderful immersive listening experience. Two tracks in particular have obviously taken my ear “Tailem Bend” and “Life”. They are two of the best Weissenborn singer/songwritter tracks I’ve heard this year.
“Ah thanks very much for that. Yeah the main aim for this record was to try and capture some great performances of solo slide guitar and voice. I've been touring solo a lot over the past couple of years, and at those solo gigs people would often ask me for a CD of what they've just heard and I didn't really have an album that was solo guitar and voice, so I decided to make one! Once I got into the studio there were certain tracks that called for a band or some other instrumentation, but we did manage to stay on course and keep plenty of the solo guitar and vocal tracks”.
So for a weissenborn fan what tracks of yours would you single out for special listening attention?
“Well the two recent videos you mentioned are probably a good place to start - ‘Tailem Bend’ and ‘Life’, which are both on my YouTube channel. All of my records have a mixture of some Weissenborn playing and some standard acoustic and electric guitars though”.
What drives you keep writing songs? and what musicians constantly and historically inspire you?
“I guess songwriting just allows me to express things that I think about and feel but can't quite voice in any other way. It's also allowed me to meet and form friendships with some great people that I really respect and admire. As far as musical inspiration goes, the list is long! I can always put on an Allman Brothers record without getting tired of it. I mentioned already slide players like Jeff Lang, Harry Manx and Ben Harper who first got me into the instrument. These days it's great songwriters like Jason Isbell, Gillian Welch & Neil Young that are kinda the benchmark for me. There's lots of great writers and players based here in Melbourne too, people like Liz Stringer, Suzannah Espie, Lost Ragas and others that I've listened to a lot”.
Short term plans?
“My new album just came out, so I'm getting ready for a big Australian tour which starts in late August and runs right through til December, then it's summer festival season in Australia so I'll do a few of those. I'd like to get back to Europe as soon as I can too”.
Longer term plans?
“Well I've toured a lot in Australia and parts of Europe, but there's still lots of Europe that I'd like to get to, as well as North America. I guess the main goal is to stay inspired and keep myself surrounded by people who help keep me positive and creative”!
Thanks Jed for being so gracious to take time out of your busy schedule it’s been a pleasure talking to you. All the very best with the new album and if you ever make to the UK i will be sure to give you my support :-)
“Thanks very much Aron, I appreciate your time”!
What’s your signal chain from ‘pick up-effects-amps’ when playing Weissenborn live?
“I’m using an EMG ACS magnetic sound hole pickup, which is kind of a Sunrise-style pickup. I had it put in when I first got the guitar and it pretty much always sounds good. I'm sure there's better pickups out there but it's a pretty good fit for the Weissenborn and it handles overdrive and effects really well. Because I've been doing mostly solo shows lately I'm running a really stripped down pedal board that I made myself which fits into a lap top case and can go on a plane as carry on. I go from the EMG into a boss chromatic tuner (which I also use to mute the signal when I'm changing guitars). I've then got a Mid Fi Electronics Overdrive, an MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay and a Mooer Skyverb. When I'm using the overdrive I'll also kick on a SansAmp amp simulator pedal with a clean Fender-ish sound which just helps the overdrive to sound more like it's coming through a tube amp. The whole signal goes into an LR Baggs Para DI and then straight to front of house. I used to travel with a massive pedalboard and either a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp or a Vox AC30, but these days I'm all about simplicity because a good live performance really comes down to the songs and the playing and singing for me”.
The first two live videos you’ve made to promote the new album are both Weissenborn lead, co-incidence or on-trend marketing (not that I’m complaining lol)?
“Whenever I play live I just find that audiences really respond to the Weissenborn tracks, so I wanted to try and capture some of that live Weissenborn performance energy in a couple of videos. I guess the Weissenborn stuff that I do is a bit of a point of difference to most guys out there singing and picking a guitar, so the live videos are a good way to communicate that”.
What tuning is “Tailem Bend” played in?
“The Weissenborn is tuned to open D (DADF#AD), but I've got it capoed at the 2nd fret so it's in the key of E major. Open D is pretty much my home tuning. I did experiment with some other tunings when I first started playing, but I find it works for me to stick with the one main tuning and get to know that inside out”.
When and where did you first physically get to play a Weissenborn?
“I think the first real Weissenborn style guitar I played was the one I have now, I think I got that in about 2004. Before that I was playing some lap style guitar on an old acoustic that I had converted for slide, but it was a completely different beast once I got on a real Weissenborn”!
How did you learn to play slide guitar and has Jeff ever given you any playing technique advice/tips?
“When I first moved to Melbourne I had one lesson from a pedal steel player named Ed Bates, and he just showed me the fundamentals of some picking and muting techniques, banjo rolls and stuff like that. After that I just taught myself slowly. I probably wasn't very good at it for a long time, but I remember I just loved the tone of the instrument even when I was playing really simple melodies, so I persisted. I've learned heaps from Jeff, but surprisingly little when it comes to playing the weissenborn specifically. He did give me some great tips while we were recording 'Devil Wind' on the most recent album though. We were tracking a lap slide solo and I wasn't quite getting what I wanted, so he just got me to go over all the scale notes across all the strings, in different positions on the neck until I didn't have to think about where they were. I did that for a couple of days then came back in and tracked the solo that's on the record now”.
Your Weissenborn is made by a luthier called Tim Hackett i believe, tell us more about him and your guitar and how he ended making your current lap steel?
“Tim was working for Maton guitars at the time and I saw him playing a weissenborn at a gig and I asked him if he'd make me one. He was going to maker me a custom one, but he ended up selling me his own that he'd played at that gig because he'd made himself a couple of others and decided he didn't need it. He likes making some weird and wonderful stringed instruments - he made this weissenborn that, instead of having a face and a back, has a set of strings and a sound hole on each side. He had one side tuned to a D and the other to a G, so he could just flip it over and play in a different tuning when he wanted to! I borrowed it for a gig once, it actually sounded great when plugged in”.
It’s quite deep bodied, was that a request of yours, not to dissimilar to Jeff’s Dave Churchill Weissenborns i have noticed.
“Yeah that's right, it is deeper bodied than usual which gives it a big booming acoustic sound with more bass response than the thinner Weissenborns. I think that suits my playing style because I'm often playing a bass line and a chord/melody part to accompany singing. He might have modelled it on Dave Churchill's instruments, I'm not sure”.
Tell me what having a Weissenborn has added to your songwriting and performing, is it a mere guitar monotony breaker on stage for visual and sonic variety or is it more spiritual than that, does the instrument hold a piece of your heart and soul?
“I definitely feel a real freedom to improvise and take a song wherever I want to go when I get on the Weissenborn, and most of the Weissenborn songs will sound a bit different every time I play them, so there's a kind of spontaneity and aliveness that I feel when I play the Weissenborn. I feel like I'm creating and exploring, rather than just regurgitating something I've done before. For songwriting I find the Weissenborn can be great for developing a melody because you can really 'sing' a melody more than you can on a standard guitar. I went through a period where I didn't really write on the Weissenborn because I felt tied down by being tuned to a fixed key and all my ideas were sounding the same. When I was developing the songs for 'A Foreign Country' I swapped a lot between Weissenborn and my standard acoustic, trying songs out with different rhythmic feels and so on until I settled on a feel that worked. This album kind of helped to re-invigorate the instrument for me and I feel like I've been able to marry together some of my best songs with my best playing and singing, which is satisfying”!
It appears to me that more and more singer/song writers in Australia have a Weissenborn in their arsenal. Is this a trend you are aware of and would you care to comment on?
“I guess I can only comment on the time I've been part of the music scene here, but we had a real boom of 'blues & roots music' here in the late 90's and early 2000's which really started with Jeff Lang and then guys like John Butler, Xavier Rudd and Ash Grunwald followed and gained some popularity. There were a lot of dreadlocked lap slide players in all the pubs for a while! My first exposure to the instrument came through Jeff (before I knew him personally) and also Ben Harper when he started touring here, and I listened to Harry Manx a lot as well for a while when he started touring here. I don't think there's anything like that level of popularity of the instrument now, but there's some great guitar builders and players here”.
Are there any other Weissenborn playing Australian artists that have crossed your path while touring and recording?
“I’ve met some great slide players, not necessarily of the Weissenborn but of lap slide in general, including dobro and electric lap steel. Pete Fidler (sideman for Bill Jackson among others) is a brilliant player, and Matt Walker has done some great electric lap slide stuff with a really unique approach. Ben Franz is great on the pedal steel and he plays with about a million bands here in Melbourne, and Shane Reilly plays great pedal steel in the band Lost Ragas. I like listening to those other related instruments and seeing what I can incorporate (i.e. steal!) into my own playing. I think Jeff Lang”.
Jed Rowe Official Website @
Jed Rowe is a singer/song writer from Melbourne, Australia who has been playing Americana style folk music on his Weissenborn for well over a decade now since first discovering it. Jed also happens to be great friends with legendary Slidesman Jeff Lang whom it could say has been a mentor and guiding light for this hugely talented artist. With his latest album “A Foreign Country” it was about time TWiE finally caught up with Jed and got the low down on all things hollowneck.
For the uninitiated how would you describe you signature sound and style? I don’t like pigeon holing artists but its always useful for people who haven’t heard your music before for me its somewhere between Country, Heartland, Americana and Folk, fair comparisons?
“Yeah it's mostly sitting in the folk, country and blues categories but I like to listen pretty widely across different genres so hopefully some of that diversity comes through. As a listener I like it when albums can traverse across different sounds and genres so hopefully I can achieve that on my records”!
Are you pure a solo performer these days as you once had a band behind you i have seen in years gone by from older YouTube videos.
“Yeah when I started recording I had a bit more of a blues-rock thing going on, and I played with The Jed Rowe Band on my first two records which was a power trio with bass, drums and myself on guitars and vocals. Over the years though it's become more about the songs and telling a story and often I can do that best with just me. The weissenborn is great for solo performing because you can play a bass line, a counter melody and a chord progression all at once, and then take a lead break as well, it's awesome! I love playing with other musicians too, and I'm sure I'll do more band stuff, but for the moment I'm having fun flying solo”.
Was “Tailem Bend” written about first person observations and experiences. Tell us the real story behind this wonderful emotive song.
“For me songs are often a mixture of my own experiences, things I've observed other people going through, and pure imagination. The spark for that song came while I was touring in South Australia last year, and I drove though this little highway town on the Murray River called Tailem Bend. It was on dusk when I was passing through, and I stopped to take some photos of an old sandstone house that was deserted and falling down, and I guess I got thinking about who might have lived there. I drove a lot of miles on that tour so the melody and a few words were turning over in my head driving down the highway”!
The opening few lines of the song “*I remember sitting by the river in the falling dusk, watching the sun light turn from gold to rust*” is something i can only dream of writing and i imagine you will never get tired of singing and playing till the end of days such is its charm and beauty?
“Oh thanks, well hopefully I don't get tired of singing it! You never really know which songs will be keepers until you get out there and play them for people, but that one's had a really great response so far”.
“Tailem Bend” and most of your songs have got such terrifically vivid story telling hooks that isn’t so surprising when you learn that you were once considering a fiction writing career i believe?
“Yeah I started studying creative writing at university, did about a year of that. I ended up dropping out of the course to play music, but I definitely learned some useful stuff from having to write short stories and think about things that worked and didn't work”.
A great skill to have is story writing and for a musician it must have been the perfect spring board? But what was the catalyst that pushed you towards becoming a full time musician away from fiction writing?
“I think it was just the immediate emotional satisfaction and release you get from playing music, it's such an immediate and physical art form. Writing is a long slow (and often painful) process, whereas playing music gives you a great feeling straight away, and when you perform you can see the way it effects the audience”.
Would it be fair to say that you are somewhat of a protégé of fellow Aussi slide genius Jeff Lang?
“Yeah I suppose it's worked out that way over the past few years. Jeff has recorded and produced my last 3 albums and I feel really fortunate to have been able to work with him. He's obviously an incredible guitar player, but he's just got a brilliant all round knowledge and understanding of the whole process of writing, recording and playing music so I've learned a heap through recording and hanging out with him”.
Tell us how you two first met. I think I’ve heard you mention a “Mentorship” program that he participated in with you many years back early in your career.
“Yeah there's a great program in Melbourne called Push Songs, run by Charles Jenkins who is also a brilliant songwriter. The program pairs up and coming songwriters with more established and experienced writers in these short mentoring sessions on songwriting and Jeff was one of the mentors I got. It was right around the time I was getting ready to record my second album so I asked him about producing it and fortunately he was into it”.
What’s been the best pieces of advice he’s given you down the years?
“Well there's loads of technical advice he's given me on things like gear, pulling a good guitar sound, structuring songs etc but I think some of the best advice has just been on how to stay sane, motivated and focused on the right things when you get frustrated or discouraged career wise. I used to get a lot more hung up on worrying about how my music might be received by people, and I think hanging out with Jeff helped me to just try to make stuff I really like, throw it out there and move on to the next thing”.
He’s produced all your albums since i believe including the newest album. How much input does Jeff have on the course of each album, song choices, instrumentation, production techniques etc?
“I’d say his role has changed a little with each record as I've learned more about the process and had a clearer idea of what I want with each record, but generally I'll send Jeff a bunch of demos of songs in various stages of completion and he'll list the ones he thinks are the strongest, then I'll go away and finish off any lyrics that need work etc. For some songs I'll go into it with some clear ideas of what instruments I want on there, and for others I'll pretty much put it in Jeff's hands and let him come up with an arrangement. Production is pretty much Jeff's department as he's great with things like mic choices, mixing etc. For this record I did have a few clear ideas for things like vocal delays on the track 'Green Eyes' and a few tricks backing vocal sounds. We're pretty good at getting out of each other's way when one of us has an idea in mind that they want to hear on a track”!
"A Foreign Country" is available on iTunes @
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