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Robert Everest Interview with
the Minnesota Guitar Society - May 2007
by Paul Hintz
(click here and go to pg. 5 for .pdf of print version at the MN Guitar Society website)

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 Brazilian music.

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 that seems.

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 performance setting?

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 standards.

Q: How can readers learn more and keep in touch with your activities?

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 (, 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!