Interview Will Lester, from General Store - March 2012
(By Philippe Archambeau, assisted by Y. Philippot-Degand - Translation : Y. Philippot-Degand )
RTJ : Hello WILL !
Many thanks for accepting this interview for Road to Jacksonville, webzine dedicated to the american rock. Your band grows on as reckoned with the french rock landscape.
First, Will can you introduce yourself? Where do you come from and how old were you
when you started playing guitar ?
Will Lester : Hello Philippe and all the Road to Jacksonville crew. I am a Bordeaux born and
I also still live here at the moment. I began the music in 1990, my first guitar bill dates from 1990,
the 26th of December ! I took classes during a year with an excellent Blues Rock guitarist,
Gérard Hello. Overall, I played in a band from the beginning and that's what let me get ahead
quiet quickly with the guitar. General Store is born in 1992.
RTJ : What were your first influences ?
Will Lester : My first influences were all that got around the Seventies spirit. With my pals from that time, we used to watch over and over on VHS the Woodstock Festival, The Song Remains The Same, Live at Pompei and Easy Rider among other things… I was very fan from Led Zep and from the celtico blues spirit of some of their tunes, the endless Pink Floyd tunes, the Santana Latin
Rock and the traditionnal Blues for the roots side.
Then I had my Stevie Ray, Gary Moore, Lynyrd, ZZ Top, Molly & co era, and then and overall
the Allman Brothers.
RTJ : I discovered you at the moment of two gigs in Charente-Maritime (France), I remember two magical evenings listening to Allman Brothers covers among others, a rare moment in our country. How did you discover this band and what does he represent for you ?
Will Lester : I discovered the Allman Brothers by chance in a record store where a shop assistant recommanded to me heartily the live album Set 1. And then, shock ! This sound, this atmosphere, this feeling, that was all that I wanted to play ! The Allman's music overall combines an incredible cultural heritage including Jazz, Blues, Rock and Country. A digest of the american musical culture played with a very great talent by hudge musicians.
The Allman are from my point of view the masters of the style and fathered a mass of young musicians who took on this very particular style of Blues. I like all the Allman eras along the decades even the albums of the 80's, I have a small preference for the Betts/Haynes era.
RTJ : Still today, what does GOV’T MULE represent for you ? Personnally, the first time I listened
to this band, I had the feeling that I always waited for a band in that style between Allman
Will Lester : Indeed, it's the Allman culture with the freedom of the trio. In 1995, I succeeded in finding the first album thanks to my fiancee who chatted the shop assistant up to let him go and look for it in the stockroom ! Overall, it was the compositions and the sound that made the difference, it wasn't a seventies band anymore but a band really from today playing Blues Rock, loud and in place !
RTJ : I remember superb concerts by Rocco in the today deceased Bourbon Store Café in Ste Foy la Grande, you played 3 hours and even more. Where do you find the necessary energy ?
Is it that to have the Blues ?
Will Lester : The Bourbon Store was the archetype of the club concert built to play during hours. Rocco, the boss, made us feel like wanting to play, the audience was always here for us, and general atmosphere of the place generated the necessary energy to play until the exhaustion.
The Blues is a musical style for me, not a way of life. Once you have gathered the essential elements to give a good gig, then you can offer a serious Blues Rock show, but I think inside that it's mainly the audience that boosts you and gives you the strength to surpass yourself.
RTJ : For those about to discover you today, can you introduce to us the current band ?
Will Lester : Today, General Store is Phil Sun on bass with us since 2005, Bob Franks on vocals
and organ and piano, arrived in 2007, Pascal Boy on drums since May 2010 and myself
on guitar and vocals.
RTJ : Can you tell us how and where you recorded Somewhere in The Middle ?
Will Lester : The project « Somewhere In The Middle » was recorded at the Berduquet studio
in Cénac about a dozen of miles away from Bordeaux.
This studio est renowned for its audio equipment and overall its analogical mixing console Neve V2.
The recording took place on about 3 weeks, with bass-drums recorded live, but the guitars, keyboards and vocals parts recorded individually.
We produced the financial part, but the audio production is our for more than 10 years long live sound engineer's work : Krystof Méreuze. Krystof is the boss of a sound and light service company from Bordeaux : Conkrete Live. He did all the things on the album from the band's reception to the final mastering. He did a great job and we are delighted with the result. The album sound is really the sound that we had at the root of our amps and drums. As a result, the audio rendition is more smooth, less hard, to say the more natural sound as possible.
RTJ : At the first lintening, we set a first assesment : the touch of your new drummer Pascal Boy
is more smooth, than the one of Urban Chad that was very vigorous ? How do you feel that ?
Will Lester : Pascal Boy is a professionnal drummer and drums teacher in Strasbourg and
in Germany. Phil Sun and Pascal met in Paris at the end of the 90's in the Atla Music School.
Phil contacted him to make a try and it fit immediatly.
He has a very personnal style and a very professionnal way of performing our tunes. I think he appreciates the fact that he has carte blanche for the execution of his drums parts, that gives him a lot of freedom in his way of playing. He structures perfectly the parts and leads us to follow his calls. I have a total faith in him and I have to admit that his involvement is very encouraging before coming on stage.
RTJ : Incidentally, have you some news from Urban Chad ? Can you tell us more about his departure and his projects ?
Will Lester : Urban Chad's departure is due to the fact that we didn't succed to find a common ground whether on the artistic level or on the human level. We tried to hold on during almost one year and an half, but the situation was becoming unmanageable and Phil, Bob and I wanted to propose and record the new tunes on an album. Urban was more attracted by the folk rock and wanted to sing. The problem being that we couldn't mix the projects and propose an ill-assorted album. It's always difficult to part from a member of the band, especially when you know him for near 20 years, but we had to make the break-up to continue the General Store project.
I don't know really what are his projects and anyway I wish him to have a lot of fun in his band.
RTJ : In a former interview, you revealed to us the Urban's ability to find catching choruses.
Does this ability miss you not too much and how does it have an impacton the band's music ?
Will Lester : Indeed, Urban often found the chorus that « makes it ». But when listening « Somewhere in the Middle » I think that there are enough federal and catching choruses.
We have to use the band's musicians' talents and make the most of each one's resources
without regretting the assets of the people who are not here anymore.
RTJ : The album opens on « Celebrate », an high-powered southern boogie blues rock
tune between the Mule and Mountain, remaining us Mississipi Queen. Roughly speaking you
put everyone on the same wavelength from the beginning, ah ah ?
Will Lester : Yes, Celebrate is the tune that allows to enter immediatly in the album. It's a digest
of our influences, with an efficient and powerful riff. This tune is also ideal to open a gig
and introduce our set. The lyrics talk about the 70's, without nostalgia, and about the
music's importance at that time.
RTJ : Can you tell us a little more about this tune that you already played live for a moment,
how was it recorded, aso. ?…
Will Lester : Celebrate is a part of the first stage of our compositions and dates from 2009.
It formed a part of the tunes played in the last gigs. It allowed us to make the link between
the tunes of « Vision Of Diversity » and those to be released on « Somewhere In The Middle ».
It's also the first title recorded in studio.
RTJ : The title « Somewhere in The Middle » gives its name to the album, does it exist
a special meaning ?
Will Lester : « Somewhere In The Middle » is significant of our situation during our part
from Urban. « Somewhere In The Middle » of our project, somewhere without a drummer…
Then we worked more to complete and put the finishing touches to our 10 new tunes.
We have made an audition to a single drummer : Pascal. And the band just simply restarted.
As Pascal worked all the repertoire, all worked very quickly and his upstream work allowed us
not to lose more time.
It's also a title that is reminiscent of our wide influences, and that situates our album
« Somewhere In The Middle » of all our musical cultures.
RTJ : The dazzling Hammond B3 organ parts on « Somewhere in the Middle » and also on the
rock blues « Get Back Home » are very rare in the albums recorded in France.
How did you record Bob Franks's parts ?
Will Lester : On this album, the organ was mixed at the same level as the guitar. Bob recorded
with the 70's Hammond organ B3 type and the Leslie 122 speaker of the Berduquet studio.
The sound was huge at the time of the sound takes, thrilling…
Our will is to propose a band with a duality between the guitar and the keyboards,
it's a classic format but it's not very frequent in the current Blues Rock formations.
And you know, I'm a Hammond sound fan so I wanted to hear it !
RTJ : In this connection, you sign all the titles General Store. In another interview Bob Franks reveals that 4 songs were written bt three of you, is it a trade secret ? To the listeners to guess ?
Will Lester : Yes, all the titles are signed by General Store, but we can easily recognize the hand of some musicians of the band according to the titles atmospheres. Pascal works with Phil on the settings up and structures the rhythm parts. Bob and I write the lyrics and structure the chord charts. However, all the titles get an arrangement by the band and each musician can bring his hand as long as he keeps the spirit.
To prepare the studio time, with Pascal, who lives in Strasbourg, we exchanged the audio files of the tunes by mail and he created his parts and sent us back the tune including his drums. It allowed a pre production of the album. This groundwork appeared to be very effective, and avoided the pointless rehearsals.
RTJ : Still about the songwriting, the « new kid » of your former record, Bob Franks seems this time to have brought you a serious support while he didn't yet take part since he arrived to late to help you for the former album. Do his compositions and his bringing-in fit so well to the musical line of the band ? Did he need a time of adaptation before seing his ideas borrowed by the band ?
Will Lester : Bob is a real singer and a pianist, organist. On the former album, he only had to settle his instrumental parts while all the titles were already finished On « Somewhere In The Middle », however, he proposed a superb work concerning the songwriting and the commitment. Overall,
he succeed to adapt his Soul and Rhythm'n Blues world to the world of General Store. His ideas of composition hit the bull's eye each time and his diplomacy allowed us to find exits at the moments of difficult choices to make during the creation sessions.
RTJ : In your former album, in addition to this from Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers, we made out that Pink Floyd's listening brought you a lot. This influence becomes much less perceptible in the last opus, despite (paradoxically ?) a band line-up strengthened by Bob's keyboards. Is it also one of the consequences of his participation to songwriting ?
Will Lester : No I don't think so because Bob is also a Floyd fan. That's only a good digestion of all our influences. There is also the will to propose an album with a Blues Rock Soul world, without going every which way. Somewhere In The Middle is really the follow-up of Vision Of Diversity within also proposing a variation around our Blues Rock.
RTJ : Aren't you afraid that someone pinches Bob Franks ?
Caution, he's expensive ! And when he arrives, there is also a truck full of gear to unload !
Afterwards, I don't really see what means « pinch » ? Each musician has his own freedom to play, Bob for exemple has his own solo project where he sings a crooner repertoire with a jazz guitarist.
RTJ : Your tune « Deadly Star », country alternative with a staccato rhythm makes us think about the Blackberry Smoke, do you know them ?
Will Lester : Yes, I know. I think they are excellent ! They are very representative of the revival of the « From the South » style, really in the spirit, and their leader is really charismatic.
However the rhythmic theme of « Deadly Star » would be more inspirated by an Irish pub around a good pint of Gu…ess ! This tune is also the first one where we share the vocals Bob and me, really cool…
RTJ : The tune « After The Winter » gives us eight minutes of psyche emanations pleasure.
Is it a style you like ? And in this particular case what are your important bands ?
Will Lester : Yes, I like the tunes where an atmosphere is established and where
the time isn't numbered.
Pink Floyd is still essential in this domain. I listen quiet some the Trafic, Sweet Smoke, King Crimson albums, where the tunes are also very long. At that time the musicians played without restraint and without timed size obligation, it was the good time. To come back to the Allman, they also propose Dantesque tunes where the Jam was on top. « Live at the Fillmore » is a testimony
of improvisations mixing jazz blues roots and psyché flights, a very great record !
All the secrets of the Allmanian Blues style are inside !
RTJ : Is « Bread and Games », written in the Allman style, a tribute to this band ?
Will Lester : Yes and no, it's a shuffle so it can sound a little like an Allman. This tune fits with a will to have a shuffle tune to break up with the other tunes' rhythm. It helps also in concert to move to another world between the titles. The instrumental passage with the question and answer
guitar-organ is significant of the bond I can share with Bob, and it's a very nice passage to play.
RTJ : Well, I haven't named all the titles of the album because I have to let to the listener the pleasure to discover by himself, but haw could I skip the pearl of this record ? « Each of Us » between Gov’t Mule et Allman will delight all the Southern Rock lovers. Can you tell us more about it, how did you write this tune and how did its implementation organ/guitar develop ?
Will Lester : To be honest, Bob instigated « In Each Of Us ». He proposed us the theme and
the chorus and wrote the lyrics. This tune and the atmosphere reigning in immediatly hooked me.
Phil and I arranged our parts, and the guitar tuned in E flat caps the organ implementation.
RTJ : Were you faithful to your two main "Les Paul Reissue" ?
Did your Gibson collection expand again, and did you use some new guitars in this album ?
Will Lester : Yes, my main Les Paul is a 58’ Reissue from 2002. It has been played on all the tunes
in the album that need power and grain. I also played a 1993 Les Paul Classic on « Deadly Star » and a 2002 Les Paul Standard Premium tuned in E flat on « In Each Of Us ». I recently had
the opportunity to buy a superb 1956 Gibson ES125, I keep it carefully for the time I'm older !!!
RTJ : Your sound uses less consistently a typical thick overdrive that characterized the band's sound on the former opus. Different amps settings (mix of a Marshall JCM800 head and of a Soldano associated with 2 Marshall speakers), guitars settings (volume) or use of a different gear ? Is it just to selectively fit to the spirit of the new tunes or is it a way you really want to...
explore (without bad pun) ?
Will Lester : The recording of « Somewhere In The middle » asked for a stricter production regarding the guitars' sound and asked for more subtlety regarding the level of overdrive.
I used my Soldano SLO100 and a Marshall 4X12 speaker for the overdrive rhythm parts and the most part of the solos. The nouvelty comes also from the use of a 1975 Fender Super Reverb amp on « Deadly Star », « Get Back Home » and « My Father Said », providing a sound more roots and less thick than the Soldano's grain.
Also on a lot of passages, I pick with my fingers (like on « Deadly Star »), it softens the striking up compared with the mediator and gives more variations in the touch. It's a way of playing I use more and more.
RTJ : While listening to your tune «Celebrate», that you already played on stage a while ago,
and knowing that it needs a big budget to have a sound worthy of your two former albums,
I was thinking to myself that it would be very nice to be able to have a General Store live,
is it your next step ?
Will Lester : Yes, of course, a live is always an excellent thing to do, but it needs a quiet substancial logistics and overall a lot of gigs. We'd have to record it during a tour with several dates to be able to have the choice in the tunes.
At the moment, we can record our gigs thanks to the new digital consoles that we use Live,
so if we get the opportunity…
RTJ : Now that you are on the social networks, do you plan videos from tunes of this album ?
Will Lester : Why not? But we must have a quality video production to have something credible.
So it remains to be seen. Appeal made to the video producers and directors !
RTJ : Have you a message to the festival organizers to convince them to take you on the bill ?
We feel you are to much blues for some and to much rock for the others.
Will Lester : What ? You didn't plan General Store for your festival ?
Yes, it's very difficult to find dates at the moment and you have to be very tactful with the festivals' organizers.
Surely our vision of the Blues can frighten a purist and our overdrives are not « metal » enough for a Metal festival, but we have our own style and for a festival, to have General Store live ensures the planners to get an original show! And to conclude, how can an organizer not snap for « Somewhere In the Middle »?…
RTJ : Thanks for granting us this interview.
Will Lester : Thanks to you, look forward to seeing you once again…
long lives Road to Jacksonville !