Guitars hold a very strange position in music at the moment. Some of the most powerful and popular songs in the world are defined by their distinctive guitar parts, but it’s becoming exceedingly rare in modern mainstream music for the instrument to take up front and center.
Outside of that mainstream, however, guitars are definitely on the rise. Indie acts of all kinds are putting them to the fore. Giant effects units allow three piece bands to use one guitar to capture a huge array of sounds. On top of that, countless genres and sub-genres are pushing their guitarists to the extremes of their skill sets to create something incredibly complex.
Joey Landreth strikes a natural balance between these two extremes. He’s one of the most emotive, brilliant guitarists on the planet right now; it’s no surprise, then, that this is a big part of the music he creates, both with The Bros. Landreth but more recently as a solo artist. But his music isn’t about his guitar playing. What he lays down on a record demonstrates only a fraction of his incredible talent, but it’s everything that’s needed to service the song. A wonderful sense for songwriting, beautiful vocal harmonies and a great chemistry with his band are just as important to Landreth’s music.
Landreth hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Though it’s a relatively remote city, he talks a great deal about the vibrant music scene that it supports.
“Winnipeg doesn’t have the reputation of cities like Vancouver or Toronto,” Landreth said. “Maybe because it’s so hard to get to. So we’ve had to create our own scene: Winnipeg is very vibrant in terms of music and the arts, but in order to make that work in a small city, everyone has to work together.”
There’s no room to be picky in communities like Winnipeg. In smaller cities, music scenes hang by the thin thread of what few musicians there are. If you want to be a part of it, you have to be prepared for anything: there’s always someone in need of an extra band member and they could be playing anything from thrash metal to Cuban jazz.
“When I was living in Toronto, everyone was either ‘rock’ guy, or a ‘jazz’ guy, or whatever, whereas in Winnipeg, the community isn’t large enough to sustain that, so everyone has to play together.”
That experience is part of what makes Landreth such a consummate performer, but what is even more impressive is that this eclectic array of inspirations led to such a coherent, consistent artistic voice. Folk, blues and country define Landreth’s creative output, brought together by his incredible slide guitar chops and unmatched work with vocal harmonies. His work with the Bros. Landreth would be right at home alongside 70s acts such as Little Feet or Willie Nelson, but there’s something distinctly contemporary about his solo work. His new single ‘Dangerous Heart’ bears the sensitivity and careful composition of Landreth’s other songs, but drives forward with a more modern rhythm that makes it stand out amongst his impressive catalogue.
Landreth’s guitar skills have made him enormously popular in online communities dedicated to the instrument. One of the biggest breaks for The Bros. Landreth was a series of highly successful UK shows in 2016, which made their name more widely known outside of Canada. During these shows, Landreth met Lee Anderton and Daniel Steinhardt, who both run musical gear stores and highly popular guitar-related YouTube channels. Landreth has appeared on these and many other channels to discuss guitar gear and playing technique, which has earned him a reputation amongst guitar nerds everywhere. It’s a strange way to have made a name, but Landreth seems quite comfortable with having both of these circles to exist in.
“I’ve just been doing what people react to,” Landreth said. “I’m obviously a guitar player by trade but it never dawned on me that people would be interested in my guitar playing, I didn’t consider myself as having a distinctive style.”
“Because the Bros. Landreth is so song-centred, I never thought people were even really aware of my playing. It felt a little weird, but it exposed our music to a whole demographic of people who ravenously consume new music.”
It’s a sign of the times that Landreth’s musical career has been helped by keeping up an online presence like this. But it’s the hard work he puts in that makes the biggest difference. Not only does Landreth tour regularly, but he manages his touring himself and puts a lot of thought into where he plays shows. A lot of pressure is put onto up-and-coming musicians to break into the United States market, but Landreth feels that its importance has become overblown.
“The United States is such a big place that people can become obsessed with the idea of breaking into that market. There are places in the States that we do really well in and I would rather drive down, do those shows, and then get out.”
“A small run of amazing shows in the UK is more appealing to me than get a few great shows and a lot of tough ones on a longer run in the States. Being away from home on tour is tough and at the end of the day, I just want to have a nice time.”
Having seen Landreth live, it’s hard to believe that he would ever struggle to sell a show. His solo band has as much chemistry with one another as The Bros. Landreth do, pushing themselves and each other to go that extra mile in the heat of the moment. The stripped-back renditions of Landreth’s growing catalogue adds plenty of rock and roll grit to the smoothness of his recordings. As the only guitarist in his solo band, Landreth has a lot of parts in each song to make up for, but he combines them all seamlessly into one performance that shoots into the stratosphere for his blistering solos. The band has a huge dynamic range as well, dropping from an arena-filling howl to barely a whisper at the drop of a hat, without ever sacrificing any energy. The vulnerability of a track like ‘Greenhouse’ makes just as much of an impact as the raucous, bluesy charm of ‘Going to the Country’ or the infectious groove of ‘Made Up Mind’.
Landreth’s drummer for this tour is Roman Clarke, another musician from Winnipeg. The two met when Clarke opened for some of the Bros. Landreth’s shows: Landreth was so impressed with him that he brought him on board to help put his solo album, 2016’s Whiskey, together. It’s easy to see from live shows why Landreth was so excited about Clarke: that man can hold a groove like nothing I’ve ever seen, and his incredible voice is a perfect match for these shows. Clarke has even been pulling double duty, performing as the opening act on this tour as well as drumming for Landreth.
It’s exciting times ahead for Joey Landreth. A second solo record is slated for release next summer: if ‘Forgiveness’ and ‘Dangerous Heart’ are anything to go by, it’s going to be a huge step up. That album will coincide with another fairly large tour, so be sure to catch him on that too. His band mate (and equally skilled singer/guitarist) Ariel Posen will also be releasing a solo record over the summer. But wait, there’s more. Earlier in the year, The Bros. Landreth reunited to record a follow up to their debut, 2013’s Let It Lie: that album is intended to be released towards the end of 2019 and it seems a monster of a tour is going to follow it.
If you’re only just hearing about Joey Landreth now, I highly recommend that you study up. By this time in 2020, he and his band are going to be all over the radio and selling out stadiums. I hope you’re ready to sing along when they do.