George Collins: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

George Collins Interview

Feature Photo courtesy of George Collins

Based in Nashville, TN, George Collins has accomplished a ton. He’s toured with American Idol’s season 20 winner, Noah Thompson, and rising country artist Josh Gracin. That aside, he’s working as the musical director and as a guitarist for May Manuela, an indie-pop darling whose song “Multiverse” is exploding across outlets like TikTok and is set to headline across North America in 2024.

At the core of it, though, Collins is an outstanding young six-stringer with jazz leanings who is capable of handling any genre. His future is bright, which is why ClassicRockHistory.com settled in with George for a far-reaching chat.

What inspired you to pick up the guitar?

Weirdly, when I first started playing guitar at age 9, I didn’t really enjoy music too much. It was my third instrument at the time; I also played accordion and sax. It wasn’t until around age 14 that my then-guitar teacher, Neil C. Young, introduced me to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mark Knopfler, which really started my love for guitar and music.

Who were your greatest influences? How do they remain within your sound, and how have you diverged?

The John Mayer influence in my playing is definitely undeniable, as in my early years, he was such an enormous influence. Listening to his playing taught me how to improvise in that bluesy soul style not to mention fueling my love for the Fender Strat.

Another huge influence in my early playing journey was Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. In fact, one of the first solos I learned note for note was “Sultans of Swing.” I was obsessed with his fingerstyle clawhammer technique and songwriting approach to the guitar.

In more recent years when I was in college, my professor Curt Shumate turned me onto jazz players such as Charlie Christian and Grant Green. Although I wouldn’t say I’m a jazz player per se, my ear is drawn to those jazzy lines, and I like trying to implement that into my playing as much as possible.

Do you remember your first guitar and amp? What did that rig teach you that stuck?

I had an Encore black Strat copy and a Cruizer amp. I can just remember how that encore guitar would never stay in tune, and that amp sounded like wasps in a jar. But it got me started, and in all fairness, I can remember the excitement I felt when I first got my hands on that guitar. I remember being so overwhelmed with everything. It’s rather fitting that my first guitar was a Strat.

What was your first professional gig? What did you learn?

My first professional gig was with Bebe Wood, who was just in the new Mean Girls movie (she played Gretchen). Her solo music project is very cool, though, and I love her songs. We played in Upstate New York. I can remember how exciting it was to be on the road, which was something I’d never experienced before.

The main thing I learned was that it’s all about “the hang.” You’re pretty much living with these people for a few days, so it’s so important that everyone gets along. Luckily, the band was awesome, and we had a great time.

How do you view the way you play today versus the past? What has changed most?

The beauty of Instagram is that I have a time machine of my playing. When I look back, I can tell that I didn’t know what I was doing at all. Mostly using recycled licks here and there but I was never too confident in my ability.

I’d say now I am a lot more comfortable with my playing as I’ve worked a lot on my improvisation and general understanding of music. Delving into music theory helped a lot in finding my place and I feel like now there’s less guesswork.

Tell me about your riff and solo writing process.

I like to have a really solid knowledge of the harmony first, what key I’m in/what functions the chords are serving. Then, I usually like to stay as pentatonic as I can because that’s what sounds good; if any chords are not in the key, I can follow that by playing a chord tone, or my favorite is playing an altered dominant line of a 7 chord that’s going to a minor chord.

How do you view guitar solos in the modern era? Do they need to be deconstructed and changed from being overblown?

I really do love a guitar solo, and I have no issue with indulgence sometimes. I believe the absolute main thing is to always serve the music and be tasteful. I think a short melodic guitar refrain can have the same effect as a crazy face-melting solo, depending on the context. It’s all relative.

Tell me about your gear: guitars, amps, pedals. What goes into those choices?

I try to keep it as simple as possible right now. My amps are a Fender Princeton and Vibrolux. If I can, I go straight into the amp with no pedals, but if I need effects, I love my Line 6 HX Stomp. I can program the setlist into there, and it takes away a lot of stress! I used to have a huge pedalboard, but it was really heavy, and when things start to go wrong, it’s a pain to troubleshoot.

Pedals are now more of an at-home thing for me. My main gigging guitar is an Eastman Juliet. I love that thing so much. The solid-body two-humbucker sound is something I’ve always wanted, and it’s so versatile. Other than that, I also have an Eastman T59/V, which is a [Gibson] 335-style guitar, and then my Fender Custom Shop 62′ Strat.

I’ve also been gigging a lot of acoustics recently, and the Martin OM-28 is my favorite acoustic I’ve ever played. It sounds so great for everything. As long as it plays well, is reliable, stays in tune, etc., that’s all I need. I’m very lucky to have a lot of nice guitars. My tone is pretty straightforward, so as long as it feels good in my hands, I’m happy.

What are your short and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?

Right now, I’m the MD for Maya Manuela, and my short-term goal is to be on tour playing shows across America. In the long term, it would be really cool to tour the world; that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I feel like gigs breed other gigs, so I hope that if I keep playing, practicing, and gigging, it’ll come when I’m ready.

George Collins: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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