Ewan Dobson Doesn't Care What You Think

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Ewan was one of our very first interviews, many years ago. Still to this day, I consider him among the most technically accomplished fingerstyle guitar players on the planet. Not too many other pickers can do what he does... and he's still pushing himself to get even better. 

I think it's a bit premature to call fingerstyle guitar a pop-culture boom and bust but now that there's a bit of hindsight from the GoGo days of a few years back, it seems to have enjoyed an apogee that has definitely subsided. I remember the late 1990's when Brian Setzer brought 'swing music' back for a minute. I wish that had lasted longer. 

Ewan is pretty fearless when it comes to speaking his mind. That's rare. It's also something that is not without consequence when the dollars available for fingerstyle guitar players are spread a lot thinner. Courage comes with a price but in an era of safe-spaces and thought policing, it always deserves a voice.

Even if it offends you. 

- You've talked at length about the current state of fingerstyle. Riff. 

I honestly don’t know what the current state of fingerstyle is, I have not been following any of it.  It became a Youtube monetization game where you do a tap-slapping percussive cover of whatever new song was high on the charts and try to get as many hits as possible.  It became “piggy backing” on whatever popular song was trending.  It is an easy method to get subscribers and if it works to pay the bills, so be it for some.  

It seems to be a genre that was relatively easy to copy, in that, you can achieve the “wow” effect through tapping and slapping the guitar like a bongo drum.  Due to the fact so many people copied the technique, there are thousands of players competing for center stage in the genre.  My experience having been someone who went into the so called “scene,” and then exited in favor of being unrestricted, it is a highly left-wing dominated genre where the identity of “liberal socialist” is important to bare.  If you don’t identify with those politics, the chances are the fan base will turn on you.   It is mostly a bunch of guys who read “The power of now” and want everyone to know that whoever also read the book, is their brother or sister. 

I was happy to do albums for Candyrat records, and they have been good as a business partner, but I found that in order to please their fan base I’d have to play “politically correct” on the internet.  I find the idea of pandering to media mandated identities in order to gain acceptance is a foul existence.  I did not get into music so I could kiss ass, I got into it ultimately so I could stop kissing ass.  To be internet famous, it became the ultimate reversal. 

An artist must kiss ass all day long with “positivity” and live in fear of rubbing people the wrong way because the cost of living is so high.  Since the cost of living is high, artists are more afraid than ever to lose whatever customers they have.  Therefore, financial weariness leads to an increased insecurity within artists because they must parrot the liberal dominated media politics in order to not be rebuked.  They call that the dream? I call it bullshit.  If others want to go dance around parroting the media agenda, have at it.  I’d rather make Youtube videos for 500 people than have to pander to the mind control of 500,000 people. 

The desire for fame in numbers is a trap.  You are better off with 200 people genuinely supporting you on Patreon, this way you don’t have to worry about them pulling their support because THEY KNOW who you really are and STILL want to support you.  Political correctness is an arch enemy of art and the artist, if you are bound by it, you are a bitch.  End of story.

- You aren't afraid to go head on with ideological/political stuff, which naturally can have career implications both positive and negative for an artist. How has your audience reacted- and/or developed- once you decided to go above-the-fold with your political views? 

When Time 2 was experiencing its first few rounds of viral success, I was friended and followed by many people on facebook.  One may think that they all represent “customers,” “fans,” or “followers.”  However, only a small percentage are actual fans and come to shows.  Due to the cost of living mixed with the rise of politically correct thought domination, there is a fear of offending people on the internet.  You lose people giving you thumbs up and making you feel like an important successful person.  I eventually realized that I didn’t want to play for those people, the people who would react and become assholes to me on the internet sharing their mind control parroting nonsense.  I have and never had any desire to impress or please the people who believe in and retransmit popular culture ideas. 

I did though however find myself in a situation where I felt pressured to please them because of the sheer number of people watching what I said on the internet.  That fear is related to two things, sense of identity, and finances.  Our depraved culture has placed fame at any price above personal freedom and artists will sacrifice themselves for the fame before the art.  It was a great learning experience, because I can rest now without worrying “what would have happened if I actually tried to make music work?” 

I lost the following of people who believe that artists have to parrot politically correct jargon in order to earn their respect.  I realized eventually that this is no loss at all, because to have their support is conditional upon you acting and conforming to their wishes for its continuance.  They assume you want fame, so they threaten to spread bad shit about you if you step out of the little box they put you in.  They assume you are afraid of being poor, so the original threat seems scarier because you won’t make any money and therefore can’t afford rent in the ridiculous housing market.  I eventually realized I’d rather live in a basement than be beholden to a bunch of jackasses who think they own me.  Say what you like, don’t come to the show, shit on the cd, I frankly don’t give a shit because I’ve chosen to be a free man who enjoys creating the music I wish without the worry of the collective mind threatening to withdraw its “esteem” of me.  

The public will give you a fictitious identity of “success” and praise you, then, they try to control you by threatening to take it away.  Well no problem, I helped them take away because I don’t want to fight for it.  The truth is, most people covet an “identity of success” because it gives you a sense of emotional satisfaction.  However, there is a price for that, and the price is that you have to play into the paradigm that the popular culture is harnessed by.  I value freedom and isolation more than harness and the praise from people.  No one can understand what any of this means unless they experience it.  

These days, artistic success is an internet illusion.  With or without youtube views, people will play the role as though they are a great success.  They will talk of working with various producers, owning blogs or whatever else that “other notable people” are in association with.  It’s all bullshit.  The highest success is to not have to bow to other people out of fear.  If you can achieve that in your life, you are a success.

- Political Correctness is an abstraction. We all know what it means but specifically, what issues do you feel most strongly about that are otherwise stifled by PC or cultural shaming?

Mandatory positive thinking.  There is an unspoken mandate that says that all thinking must presume tht the outcome or reality of any situation must lead to good emotional feelings.  To be realist about any topic can only be done if applied through the filter given by the PC thought police.  To refrain from filtering your realism through the mandated filter of the PC thought police will lead to you being branded as an unwholesome character, something in the realm of “negative.”  It is a way of shaming the conscious person and trying to bring their mind back under the harness of the collective mind.  Mandatory positive thinking is part of how artists in the public eye sell their product.  “Hey everyone, happy goodness, buy my stuff.”  If you want to be against something, well then of course you have to be against the things that are already provided by the media as “worthy to stand against.”

I also believe that many people advertise their acceptance of homosexuality, racial diversity, and sexual diversity in a manner that is not genuine. I believe the motive behind their proclamations is one of “accept me because I am trying to show you that I am a good person by declaring my beliefs.”  The root is “the wish for acceptance,” NOT actually possessing the virtue.  It is a popular fad that is rooted in the pursuit of certain feelings, and it happens unconsciously.  People don’t know that their motive is to pursue a feeling, not to be a certain person.  They are the same type of people who say “I am without sin.”  An example is that we ALL have in-group preference.  An in-group preference is by their definition racist, so how can anyone be without racist sin?

- So acknowledging that nobody can predict the future, where do you see your career as a musician in 1 year, 5, 10? Is this something you're sticking with? 

The people who are jealous and envious of someone who doesn’t jack the social dick and conform out of fear want to see those who surpass the fear fail.  So, if I say “I’ll be sipping martinis in the forest of goodness,” they will wish for some kind of misfortune.  Everything we have, the use of our body, the situation we exist in, the very concept of ourselves that we hold, is all on loan until further notice.  There is absolutely no aspect of the future that we own.  I am going to keep doing youtube videos that alternate between guitar instruction and performances of songs I write or arrange.  

To call it a “career” implies that there is an industry behind it that pays for work, there really isn’t much of that left.  Unless you want to be masturbating vigorously with the left wing socialist media, you won’t get hired anywhere for jack shit.  Who knows what will happen.  There is no career, it is just what I choose to do, I contribute to the body of knowledge and music for the guitar.  Unless you rub mushroom heads with the right media people or get the right sponsors, there is no career.  I’d rather not have a career than deal with that trough of horse shit.  It’s literally a field of zombies kissing ass and playing games to get gigs and favors.  No thanks.  

- You should do a Christmas album. Anyway, it seems you're resigned to a permanent state of "Fuck You All", which can be understandable. Lets not bullshit ourselves; most 'guitarists' perform music to please others, for the adulation. "The girls". Some creative artists don't care about any of that, but they rarely engage directly with whoever their audience might be. You're definitely a creative artist- not just another mimic holding a guitar- but you still publish your stuff for consumption, in spite of being obviously misanthropic as fuck. This suggests there might be some kind of underlying longing. What do you want your art to say when you make it?

It suggests that I have to make money to pay rent.  If there were a lodge where I could stay for free and simply pursue music and upload it to Youtube along with tab, lessons and mp3s, I would do it.  There is no way to go about it without money.  I am forced to sell it because I exist on earth. People on earth in the western hemisphere are masturbating vigorously in service of jacking prices up to the point where no one can afford anything and the standard of living goes down the toilet.  There is no direct connection between seeming misanthropist and putting music out for consumption.  The cost of rent was so ridiculously high in my home city of Toronto that I had to leave.  A decent apartment costs around $2000 a month, most of the time without utilities.

Why on earth does someone need to make $35 an hour minimum to live in a basic clean one bedroom apartment?  They have apartments for $1200 that are next door to crack dens with reggae and hip hop blasting all night, and you wouldn’t dare ask them to turn the music down or else they would bum rush you with a cap.  I had to sell something to make what little I do so I can pay rent in a Filipino apartment on a winter island (Filipino apartment means small apartment).  It’s normal for believers to think that others who “leave the circle” are misanthropists, as I said they take it personally.  Part of becoming a free artist is allowing yourself to be at peace with the fact that those people hate you for leaving the dream world.  So be it.   If other people want the job of being professional brown noser of the dream world society, so be it.

It definitely sounds like “fuck you all” to someone who wants to remain on the side of positive thinking regarding the whole thing.  When you leave the collective illusion, people take it personally, that is why most people don’t leave!!  If they try to, people always say “someone must have really hurt you,” “you hate everyone and think you are better than everyone else,” “you are butthurt because of X or Y.”  Those are classic shaming mechanisms that are designed to keep sheep from wandering away from the herd into greater freedom.  It sounds like this, “If you leave the circle, we will make you feel as though you are doing it because you are unworthy or worthless.”  Well, that’s fine with me. 

It doesn’t matter what I want my art to say, people will apply whatever they want to it and that becomes their final answer.  If I try to convince them otherwise, they get offended because they can’t tell the difference between the end of their perception and beginning of an artist’s intention.  I’ve already fallen into that trap where someone comes and says, “this is what you mean!”  To which I reply, “No, honestly sir or maam, this is what I really mean,” and then I go about giving an honest answer without any bullshit.  When I do that, people become offended because they attach part of their ego or identity to the presumption.  If I state things which are in opposition or contrary to the presumption, they feel as though they are being attacked and then proceed to attack me.  

Who cares what I want my art to say?  I could want it to say any number of things, but people will think whatever they want, so why bother?  Some people will give a description of it sometimes that is more or less what I felt or meant when I made it, but I don’t worry about that anymore.  To talk about “what I want my special art to say” is poser dog shit.  People try to integrate messages into art as if it matters, like world peace, the end of war, getting along, longing for the emotional past, and it all sounds like shopping mall emotions.  It’s like those Kurt Cobain impersonators who talk about “the music” as though they are new prophets of the 3rd testament.  No one gives a shit.

A Christmas album is a sales thing that people do to get extra cash at Christmas.  I think most popular Christmas music is dog shit.  The only ones I think are ok melodically are the three shits that came sailing in, and rump a bum bum.

- It is pretty much impossible to not conclude there's some degree of misanthropy there given what you're saying, but that's neither here nor there. It's interesting that at the end of the day, even if your bills were paid and you lived in a lodge with nothing better to do, you'd still make music and put it out into the world for public consumption. When you do this, who are you talking to? 

The part of the definition of misanthrope that has to do with the dislike of human society, surely.  The current society as it is anyway, is generally a collective dream of masturbators frothing at the mouth trying to maintain appearances while the rising cost of living crushes everybody into a shit sandwich.  I am speaking to whoever happens to share the interest, or, whoever is of the same guild who would take the approach I have put forth, and expand upon it, thus continuing the evolution of guitar art using the ideas I have put out there.  In the same way I would take ideas of Leo Kottke and modernize them so speak, by applying techniques I learned from him to other styles, there is someone else out there who may hear what I have done, have it make sense, and then expand upon it.  I am also putting out there what I would want to see.  

In my latest videos I am exploring the history of Paganini as it applies to the topic of the video lesson.  Am I speaking to anyone in particular?  No.  I am actually creating content that I would like to see on the digital shelf.  Only a like-minded fellow or person sharing the interest would see the value in it.  I am certainly not doing it for money since it isn’t the type of content that sells.  I am creating it for my own interests, and whoever else can see the value in it.  I appeal for patreon and paypal donations now since I prefer that approach.  I put out the content, and whoever actually likes it as it is, can support me if they want to.  There will be no playing of games of applying for showcases to sell my show to whoever.  

Why?  Well, because I don’t dance around on stage like a chicken hawk bobbing my head in an enthusiastic manner.  These sorts of emotional theatrical movements are necessary to sell a stage show.  I realized, through honest introspective observation, that I am not actually a “performer.”  I don’t naturally make the connection with the audience through making enthusiastic and theatrical movements converting their appreciation of my externalized ego into energy and self esteem for myself.  I play best when there is no talking, no introductions, none of that “hey everyone I’m doing this and that for this reason, I’m touring and doing this, yay for me.

- Lets step back from the heavier stuff and go light for a minute. Gear. You play at an amazingly high level yet you don't seem to have fallen into gear-smugness that is so common these days. What's your gear rundown? 

I only use gear when I play live.  I use whatever guitar I can afford or is given to me.  I practice lately on the Nightwish guitar I was given in China, and perform usually with the Ibanez AE900-NT.  I use an AER domino 3 as my monitor and send that direct out to the PA for bigger shows.  If I play an open mic, I just plug direct into whatever dust box board they have laying around.  I use the reverb on the Domino 3, but if there is no Domino 3 like when I play in China, I use the Boss digital reverb pedal.  I also use a Boss tuner, a Boss DD-6 delay pedal, and a empress para EQ for tuning out feedback.  I have two fanfrets, one by Mike Byle and one by Emerald Guitars.  The Byle guitar is great for studio and live work, but the Emerald is easier to tour with because it is made of fibreglass, which means it won’t change too much with differences in climate.  For metal, I use the Ibanez 7 string AE207, but since I haven’t played the metal in a while the two I have are sitting in the case.  Metal comes around at some point during the cycle of styles I visit.  I have a Godin steel string Multiac that is used rarely for practice as well.

The truth about gear is that if your company gives me stuff that works well for free or cheap, I’ll include the name of it in whatever I’m doing including tours or Youtube videos as a promotional thank you.  I don’t bother with ten thousand dollar elite hand made guitars because I can’t justify nursing them like babies in incubators that suffer health problems if I leave them alone for a while.  I don’t mind guitars that don’t sound spectacular, I work with whatever I got. I don’t have the money to walk around with the back half of a house investment in a guitar case.

- So honestly, what technical boundaries are left? Do you ever find yourself running into something where you think "That just isn't something I can play... " ?

As for the level of playing, I am constantly reaching, surpassing, and losing various plateaus and levels.  It’s like athletic training, you work hard and peak, and then eventually have to break and regroup.  Sometimes I gravitate more to fingerstyle, other time to playing with a pick, sometimes I can sit between both, but usually one is stronger than the other depending on what wave I am riding.  With going around to different styles, I approach one that feels out of reach or rusty, and then smooth it out with practice.  Once I get to a certain level with it I refine it as much as I can until eventually my loss of interest signals that it is time to pursue some other sound.

There will always be something out of reach technically, musically, or otherwise.  I lately have been going with whatever music I naturally enjoy.  That has been manifesting as very simple and melodic “Lucca Sonatas” by Paganini.  They are pieces he wrote for violin and guitar where the violin part is easily approachable by intermediate violinists.  They are not necessarily difficult or fast, but they are very charming.  I am editing video today on a historical instructional video I recorded that explains the history of the Lucca Sonatas and demonstrates one of them as well as a single movement of another.

- So in total, how many instruments do you keep in the stable at any given time? Do you cycle through them, loyal to a few, any rhyme or reason?

I keep two in shape usually, but not perfect shape.  If you try to keep all your guitars perfectly balanced with proper humidity, this and that, you become a obsessed parent over the guitars.  Whenever the acoustic metal vibe comes, I grab the 7 string Ibanes AE207, and give it a truss rod adjustment if necessary.  Lately, I've been only using the Nightwish guitar from China along with the Ibanez AE 900 NT.  I haven't been playing a lot of older material so the fan frets have taken a back seat.  The only reason to any of it is, give me whatever is decent, and I will work with it.  

-Any shout-outs, mentions, etc?

Check out my latest Paganini videos that I have put up as instructionals, they come with tab and in some cases backing tracks.  There is also one that over Irish flat picking.  My new approach is to put out material and just ask for patreon support.  I would prefer that kind of donation based support rather than kissing ass in order to get paying gigs. 

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