|As a keyboard player for two of the '80s bigger bands- Roxy Music and Dire Straits- Guy Fletcher has been instrumental in the success of both, including the multi-platinum Straits' recording, "Brothers In Arms". But, Fletcher's story only begins in the decade of big Pop and big hair. Since, he has toured extensively, now with Mark Knopfler's solo outing, and has been Knopfler's right-hand writing partner on all of his soundtracks and scores. Recently, Guitar Center caught up with Guy on tour, via email.
GC: How did the relationship between Mark and yourself get started?
GF: Our respective managers knew each other and Mark was looking for someone to take over the second keyboard player role [in Dire Straits]. Our first project together was the movie soundtrack "Cal".
GC: Dire Straits' use of keyboard sounds took a distinct turn when you joined the group for "Brothers In Arms". It is a keyboard style that Mark's songs have retained throughout the body of work that has followed the "Brothers In Arms" record. How much of this was something Mark was specifically looking for, or was it something that he discovered from you?
GF: I think it was something that he discovered, although initially he did have a pretty good idea of sounds.
GC: For the most part, when working with Mark, you've been one of two keyboard players in the band. What does this mean in terms of choices you make regarding equipment, sounds, parts, etc.?
GF: These days, I do pretty much everything except piano and most Hammond. I decide on all equipment.
GC: When you are rehearsing material from the album for the tour, how true are you trying to stay to the sounds and arrangements on the record?
GF: Pretty true, sometimes improving. Often the original sounds don't work and sometimes you have to compromise.
GC: How knowledgeable is Mark of what sounds and tones your playing is capable of? In other words, does he come into a session asking for a particular mood and it's yours to find, or does he say something like, "I want tone #42 on that"?
GF: I pretty much develop what I feel the song needs. He hardly ever suggests sounds now.
GC: For you, what's the main difference between a Mark Knopfler solo record and a Dire Straits record?
GF: Dire Straits records are older!
GC: Again, for the most part, you have been a partner in the soundtrack work you've done with Mark. How does that collaboration work in terms of process? Are you charting things out?
GF: No charting. We used to use a Synclavier system, which I solely operated. I ended up playing everything on The Princess Bride and Last Exit to Brooklyn. These days we use my ProTools system. (It's) much more of a virtual tape machine method. It's all done by ear.
||GC: Going back a bit, can you talk about your days with Roxy Music? What are the main differences in your playing then and your playing now?
GF: The sounds I used on Roxy were a good introduction to the bed/pad sounds I use often today, as Brian (Ferry) was keen on atmospherics. I always enjoyed playing the parts on his tours, but obviously the standard of song is much better and therefore more fulfilling with MK.
GC: You are also quite adept at, among other instruments, guitar and lap steel. Do you find yourself thinking differently as you play a different instrument or are you trying to have a uniform approach to any instrument you play?
GF: Each instrument requires a different way of thinking. In fact, each SOUND does. I've always stated this, especially in the days before sampling. The only way, then, to get a string sound to sound real was to PLAY it in the correct style.
GC: Can you talk about the equipment you're using on the current tour? What keyboards do you find work best for what you are doing?
GF: I still use just a few main keyboards. The Korg Trinity Plus is used for most string-type sounds and the Roland JD800 with string card for atmospheric beds/pads. These are often played together with E-MU 4 and Akai samples I made up from Synclavier FM sounds from as long ago as Brothers In Arms. I always manufacture or modify my sounds. The most common edit is to remove all key velocity for the beds and swell in and around the song using stereo volume pedals. I also have a Clavia Nord 2. This has real character. (I use) an MPC2000 for sequences/loops. (This is) all through a Promix 01V presenting the sound guy with just two outputs. I always mix my own stuff.
GC: When you were first learning to play, were you intent on moving away from traditional piano/organ tones early on, or did you simply exhaust what it was you wanted from those two and seek out a larger palette?
GF: I'm from a synth background, so high-tech stuff was always more exciting to me. My dad (MD and creator of JoeMeek compressors) used to make Alice broadcast mixers. There were always bits of mixing desks, which I put together in my bedroom, together with a Revox. I was always recording.
GC: Who were some of the bigger influences on your playing when you were learning?
GF: Keith Emerson, John Lord, Steely Dan and Weather Report (were influential).
GC: When you write, are you demo-ing your material? What are you using to record?
GF: I don't do demos. It's a waste of time. (Recording, I use) ProTools 5.1 only. What else?
GC: What's on your wish list? Is there an instrument or effect you can conceive that doesn't exist yet? Is there an instrument or effect near- extinct and you wish you could find?
GF: I don't really wish for anything. If you can't make good music with what's out there now, you're a custard! Having said that, I'm always into exploring new, cool plug-ins, etc.
GC: Finally, have you ever shopped at a Guitar Center here in the States?
GF: No, (but) I look forward to the experience.
Top image courtesy of Graham Vinten.