|Robert Everest is one of the busiest guitarists in the Twin Cities.
He's well known for masterful performances in a range of styles,
especially those of Latin America. His most recent CD, the
Robert Everest Expedition, marks a new stage in his
musical journey. He was kind enough to take the time for an e-mail
interview, providing insightful answers to questions about his background,
interests, and current projects.
Q: What first drew you to the guitar?
I had been taking piano lessons on and off since age 5, when
my Mom spotted a crash course for electric guitar at Schmidt Music.
Up until then I really didn’t think about the guitar, and
I have to admit that the rock star image was partially responsible
for my interest. I was listening to bands like U2 and the Police
and learning their guitar riffs, and then writing my own tunes
with my high school band, proudly toting around my bright red
yamaha and amp to friends’ houses for rehearsals and recording
sessions. I still have some tapes if anyone’s interested
(laughs). I think I’m finally over the rock star thing though,
now that I’m making a modest living at it!
Q: Who have you studied with?
I studied briefly with Paul Renz in the mid-90s, which was a
great eye opener, but I have mostly just picked things up along
the way from different guitarists I meet while traveling. I met
Pedro Godinho in Lisbon, Portugal after watching him perform in
the Castelo de São Jorge in 1998 – that encounter
led to a surprising invitation to move in with him and his wife
for a week. I have visited him twice since then, and I give him
credit for instilling in me a true love of practice. On one of
my trips to Seville, I studied with “Lito” (Flamenco
guitarists will often use only a nickname) who gave my technique
a kick in the pants. In Buenos Aires Hernán Reinaúdo
really opened my eyes to the different approaches to Tango guitar.
I have been traveling the world for over 15 years, and almost
always have my guitar to hand off to a woman on a Bolivian train
as I watch her play folk music from 3 generations ago.
Q: What drew you to the music(s) of Latin America?
I could write a book on this question, but I am sure there is
a limit on space here, so I will try to be brief. In 1990-91 I
was a student in Ecuador, and heard some of the local folk music,
which sadly was quite marginalized (as is unfortunately the case
in many countries, where it takes a distant back seat to invasive
pop and rock music from the U.S.), but I heard enough to spark
an interest. In 1994 a visit to Puerto Rico turned me on to the
genius of Cuban songwriter/guitarist Silvio Rodríguez (who
still makes me cry like a baby) and some old recordings by groups
like Trio Los Panchos (1940s), with their sentimental Boleros,
full of beautiful guitar work and romantic lyrics. The clincher,
however, came later that year when I found myself in Brazil, spending
all of my travel money on sheet music and CDs. During most of
’95 I spent hours every day pouring over these totally new
and harmonically mesmerizing chord progressions – slowly
but surely making my way through classic tunes like “Desafinado”
and “Chega de Saudade”. Since then I have continued
to explore music from many Latin American countries, marveling
at the quaint similarities and refreshing differences, even between
different regions of the same country. In 2001 I found some very
inspiring Sandinista protest music while traveling in Nicaragua,
and realized I couldn’t wait any longer to record some of
the songs I had learned, which led to my first CD, Gracias a la
Vida, named after the song by Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra.
This music is so full of passion, vulnerability, strength, and
truth – these are the things that I love to bring back and
share with local audiences, and even though many of them don’t
understand the words, their response to the music is much more
than I ever could have imagined.
Q: You're also a linguist and a painter--how do these interests
relate to your life as a musician?
I started learning Spanish in the classroom about the same time
I started playing guitar, but those paths didn’t cross until
almost ten years later. French, Portuguese, and Italian followed
Spanish quite nicely, though it took a lot of work, practice,
and travel of course. My obsession with foreign language led to
a Degree in Linguistics from the University of Minnesota, and
definitely rivals my love of music, and that fluency has opened
up many doors to the music of Latin America and Southern Europe.
When it comes to foreign languages I feel I can be much more authentic
when I can speak a language before attempting to sing in it. On
the other hand, my Portuguese advanced much more rapidly as a
result of all the songs I was trying to learn while immersed in
As far as my painting goes, ironically to some perhaps, I often
paint in complete silence. The flow of artistic expression through
me feels similar to when I play music or sing, but the silence
actually takes on musical qualities through the visual art. While
sharing this phenomenon with a friend years ago, he mentioned
Stanton McDonald Wright and Synchromism – check it out,
seems I’m not the only one. I haven’t yet let my interest
in visual art become a job though, only selling paintings when
I am approached, and this makes painting a nice break from the
pay-check producing musical gigs I take on by the dozen.
Q: You sing, compose, and double on bass and percussion,
all in addition to your work as a performing guitarist. How do
you find the time?
I work on intricate and intriguing Afro-Brazilian rhythms on
drum kit when I should be practicing scales on the guitar (laughs).
That’s why my guitar chops are not where they should be
after 20+ years. But I think that the time I’ve spent studying
and working on percussion, bass, piano, and other instruments
gives me a valuable awareness of many elements that help me lead
the groups I have put together. Also, since May through September
is much busier for me than the rest of the year I do a lot of
composing and A.D.D. indulging (i.e. plucking out Middle-Eastern
riffs on my Cuban tres) in the slower winter months. The serious
truth is that I live music, as much as that takes its toll on
my relationships with loved ones (thank God for their patience).
Maybe I would change it if I could, but to “make it”
in the arts takes a lot of work and sacrifice, and that’s
the way I’m wired.
Q: Your new CD, The Robert Everest Expedition, is the first
of your recordings to feature only your own compositions. What
impact did that have on the recording process?
Wow! What a different experience! It was much more challenging.
I recorded my first CD in one afternoon, and mixed and mastered
it in two weeks. Each recording since then has taken longer and
longer, as I get more involved and particular, and when you are
working with your own tunes, that tendency is magnified, because
there is no cover to adhere to. With the Robert Everest Expedition
a year and a half passed between our first session and the final
production. When you record your originals for the first time,
you are really defining the song for your listeners at that moment,
and you can get too wrapped up in the process. Also, the studio
sessions were the first time some of the musicians ever played
some of the tunes. In retrospect I would have waited and done
more live performances with the full band before going into the
studio (or at least some rehearsals) but it’s very hard
to get gigs that pay what the musicians deserve, especially with
the economy tanking the way it has been. It’s always the
chicken-egg dilemma – record to have a CD to send out and
get gigs, or play gigs to iron out the kinks and define the tune
before you record?
Q: Describe the process of recording the CD. How did you
find the musicians for this project?
I had been playing with most of them for a while – Marco
Sambrotta, Tony Axtell, Michael Bissonnette, Jocko MacNelly, Chico
Chávez, Andy Artz – but had rarely played any original
tunes with them. Through a referral from our engineer Matthew
Zimmerman, I contacted violinist Gary Schulte, who played on “A
Prairie Home Companion” for many years. I had seen Gary
play but this was the first time we worked together. It was very
challenging to coordinate all of the schedules, since I really
wanted to record “live” as a group as much as possible.
In the end I did do quite a bit of overdubbing for the violin,
harmony vocals, additional percussion, etc. but I think it retains
a lot of that live energy, which is nice.
Q: What's more comfortable for you--live performance, or
recording in the studio?
I definitely prefer the spontaneity of a live performance –
also the emotional and spiritual dialogue with the audience during
a live performance is really one of the main reasons I keep playing
and writing music. It’s very hard to get out of your head
when you are in the studio, and that’s a dangerous place
to be. I do much better in my heart. During live performance I
often take risks that can lead to a whole new level in the interpretation
of a tune as it evolves. I am much less likely to hang out on
those musical cliffs in the studio for some reason, strange as
Q: You seem to like to work in collaborative settings--your
website highlights several musical ensembles past and present.
Yet you also work regularly as a solo artist. What's your favorite
Well, I always prefer playing with a group, due to that excitement
of yet another dialogue and getting to play with the talented
musicians who I am fortunate to have with me. It also gives me
more freedom to deviate from the form. And as much as I love the
“regulars”, I’m not crushed if one of them can’t
make a gig, because it gives me the chance to play with and get
to know other musicians, which presents other challenges of course.
Playing with the quartet at the Fitzgerald Theatre last fall for
MPR’s Talking Volumes with Isabel Allende was definitely
one of the best experiences of my musical career. Our CD Release
at the Cedar Cultural Center in January was great too –
I put together 10 people for that performance, to include everyone
who played on the CD, plus two back-up vocalists to sing the harmonies
that I overdubbed in the studio. Theatre venues where the audience
is silent are ideal, especially for my music, since I love to
dig into the subtleties that you could never hear in a noisy bar,
restaurant, or outdoor festival. I love being able to approach
the music almost with a whisper, vocally and instrumentally, and
draw the listener in. That’s why loud rock music has never
been my thing.
I have also really enjoyed playing for European audiences –
Spain, Italy, and Switzerland were all very memorable. Music is
definitely a more integral part of the culture in Latin American
and a lot of European countries – heck, in the rest of the
world really. In the U. S. we tend to compartmentalize the arts,
keeping them in isolation from the rest of our experiences. I
know I’m generalizing, and I always cherish the exceptions
to this rule!
Q: You recently participated in a masterclass by Earl Klugh
when he was here in March for his Sundin Hall concert. Tell us
about that experience.
One of my most memorable early inspirations was Earl’s
1989 release Solo Guitar, which was some of the first jazz guitar
I listened to. I also got my first classical guitar in 1991, and
never looked back (to steel-string), so I was excited to find
a recording I could relate to. Earl, along with Charlie Byrd,
who I was grateful to meet in ’98 about a year before he
passed on, affirmed the role of classical guitar in jazz. I was
excited to see him record Naked Guitar and be a part of the workshop.
His softspoken “hands-off” approach caught me off
guard, but it was still great to be reminded of his refreshingly
liberal approaches to some of the standards.
Q: Where are you currently performing?
Weddings, fundraisers, private parties…I stay very busy
with private gigs, which makes it easier to pay the mortgage,
but I miss the connection that comes from doing more public performances.
I have had the brunch gig at Maria’s Café (Saturdays
and Sundays from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm) for almost seven years now
– that’s where a lot of people go to hear me perform
solo, and it’s usually packed, which is nice, because I
don’t have to promote at all anymore. I will also be down
in Rochester with my ensemble in May for Cinco de Mayo. Unfortunately
I’ve found a disappointing inverse correlation between the
number of public performances I do and the attendance at those
performances, so now I do less, have more energy to promote each
show, and usually see a better turnout. I go through phases that
I don’t really control, since out of about 150 shows in
2006 I only initiated maybe 5. As much as I love to travel it
pays to have the same home base for a while and develop a nice
word-of-mouth network – I’ve really been blessed.
Q: What's your next project?
I am kind of torn between another all-original project and recording
another album of music by some of my favorite composers from other
countries. Ideally we should be constantly evolving and improving
as artists as we find new challenges and incorporate new knowledge
into our repertoire. This happens in both my original music and
my interpretation of music by other artists, but I tend to shy
away from recording my original music, since a lot of it is very
personal and exposing. Songwriting is my therapy, and what comes
out is not often what I imagine people want to listen to, though
I have gotten some great feedback on the latest CD. Another thing
many people have asked me about recording is an instrumental album,
so that may happen soon, with a combination of originals, some
often-overlooked Latin American classical gems, and some jazz
Q: How can readers learn more and keep in touch with your
The best way is to get on my e-mailing list – I send out
monthly newsletters filling people in on my current public shows,
recordings, etc. There is a lot of information (biography, photos,
CD tracks, live samples, etc.) on my website too (www.roberteverest.com),
which I am constantly updating and expanding. I’d also be
happy to answer any questions that aren’t answered on the
site via e-mail (contact page). I love the music community here
in the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Guitar Society is a perfect
arena to share with and learn from other musicians!