Greg Howe enjoyed a somewhat overwhelming reception when he appeared in the Carvin booth at the January NAMM show. One of rock-fusion’s most forward-thinking guitarists, he was there to launch a new signature guitar and mingle with fans of his current band project Maragold, which bridges the gap between funk fusion and pop.
Few musicians acquire a fan base with such variety, but Howe’s accessible songwriting and versatile guitar chops allow him to enjoy the best of both worlds.
What’s the status of Maragold?
We’re in the process of writing for a new album and recording in the next few weeks. What I liked about the last album was that it was such a departure from my normal thing. In some ways, it was a challenge and a fun exercise in restraint.
Being in the guitar-instrumental world meant pushing myself in terms of complexities, rhythmic ideas, and harmony. To pull back so far from that was fun, but I think for the next album I can implement musical influences that were gathered during my instrumental years. I can take advantage of my influences that are more sophisticated in harmony and rhythm, and bring that into a presentation that’s hooky and appealing to a broader audience. I think there is a way to bring in more of what I can do on the next album.
When I listen to artists like The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, they did exactly that. Stevie Wonder is brilliant at making you believe that something simple was happening because of the vocal line. In reality if you were to take the vocals out of the situation, you would hear something that sounded a lot more like jazz. His melodies are the thing that keeps the listener engaged, while he’d get really complex with the chord arrangements. He was able to place himself in an objective listener’s position and ask, “If I’m not a musician, am I still moved by what I’m hearing?”
Is being accessible to a mainstream audience important to you?
Accessibility is important as long as it’s not coming at the expense of something I believe in. I have to find a way to satisfy myself, and at the same time appeal to the biggest audience possible. I’m not going to write music that I feel is just being written for the sake of the general audience. I can’t do that. If I’m not feeling good about what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean anything. I have to feel honest about what I’m doing as an artist.
Your new gear has your name on it.
My signature amp by DV Mark is pretty damn good for the price. We were looking for an open, British-style, responsive tube amp that was going to deliver the goods without a lot of bells and whistles. It’s an easy amp to operate with two channels. The clean channel is probably the cleanest clean channel I’ve ever played through, and the gain stage is very Marshall-esque with very quick response and an immediate, percussive attack. It has a powerful mid-boost so you really don’t have difficulty being heard for solos. It’s a really cool EL34 40-watt amp for under a thousand dollars.
Your new guitar is by Carvin.
This is the first time I’ve ever had an official signature guitar. It’s nice working with a company that’s excited about working with me. It’s an offset double-cutaway alder body. I love the focused woody quality it has. It’s a flame-top California Burst and it came out really nice.
The neck has a 20″ radius, so it’s extremely flat. You can get the action way down for all the shredder guys. It’s one of Carvin’s first 24 fret bolt-on necks. It’s got a vintage-style vibrato, which I really like; I’ve wanted to get away from the Floyd Rose for a long time. The notes are pronounced, with more power, and I don’t have to take half an afternoon to change strings (laughs). The most significant part of this guitar is that it’s chambered.
Any instrumental touring before the next vocal record comes out?
It’s hard to go back and forth between doing that and writing; the mindsets are so different. Writing material that’s geared toward a specific audience and then performing material that’s geared toward a different audience is difficult. I always love watching guitarists who can adapt immediately and jump into a country situation, or a rock thing, or a jazzy song. They become that thing. I have to live in it for a minute. I have to absorb it and get on that page, or it feels like I’m just going through the motions.
This article originally appeared in VG August 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.