There’s a certain gunslinger mindset that is present throughout the history of electric guitar. For some players, that manifests itself as quest for (and/or a constant monitoring of who’s) playing the fastest, the heaviest, the most difficult changes etc.
But, sticking with the Wild West imagery, the most dangerous person in the room is always the one with a crystalline view of both who they are and what they are there to do without giving a damn about what’s going on around them. In most rooms where music is playing, that person is Reg Bloor.
Reg’s music is uncompromising, unapologetic and unabashedly unique. An iconoclastic player– she has developed that rare thing among guitarists, a signature style that draws from numerous influences without sounding like any of them. Adopting a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, her performances are sonically over the top and delivered with such conviction and precision that you might be surprised to suddenly find yourself smiling and nodding along to really dissonant passages.
When not acting as a concertmaster and performing in husband Glenn Branca’s ensemble, Reg can be found writing and playing in the Paranoid Critical Revolution. A LinkedIn page lists her specialties as, “Aggressive, Experimental rock guitar” and her interests being, “Making a whole hell of a lot of racket.” Add some gallows humor, a keen intellect and a raised middle finger and you’re a little closer to getting a full picture of Reg and her music. With all that in mind, here are:
10 Questions with Reg Bloor
1. How did you get started playing guitar and who (or what) do you consider to be primary influences?
I started playing piano when I was about 5 until I was about 9. Then, I messed around with some other instruments and settled on guitar when I was 12.
We always had guitars lying around the house when I was a kid, but the first one that was mine specifically was a Carlos acoustic. I liked it because it was dark brown instead of light tan like all the other acoustics. I got my first electric when I was 14. That was the ’70 Les Paul Custom that I still play.
I never know how to answer the influence question. I don’t think people are even aware of what influences them. Everything from ad jingles to the way your air conditioner sounds sinks into your head and comes out years later. I don’t really consciously or intentionally sound like anything.
When I was a small kid, we lived out in the middle of nowhere with no cable. I didn’t hear much rock music, but I heard all about it from my parents and preachers, people like that. They described it as dissonant, cacophonous and satanic. So when was 11 and we moved to the East Coast and I finally heard some, I was really disappointed. I was expecting something along the lines of Merzbow and what I got was Twisted Sister. Snooze.
From then on, I grew up listening to heavy, aggressive music and never quite finding it satisfying. So I was looking for something more. That music still has an influence on what I do, but I wanted to take it much further. This was in the Stone Age before the internet, so it was hard to find new things to listen to.
Of course, I have to mention Glenn here. I don’t swipe his techniques, but you can’t play someone’s music for 11 years without some of it rubbing off. We’re both very interested in harmony. We approach it in different ways, but there aren’t so many other people dealing with that.
Besides that, I can hear a lot of horror movie music and cartoon music mixed into my style. My high school music teacher once knocked a piano over in class in a big echoey band room and that was a big beautiful sound. So was a tornado passing over my house as a kid.
2. I know you have a lot of influences that are both musical and non-musical, but are there any guitar players you like, and are there any generalities you look for in musicians in general?
I’m going through one of my phases where I hate everything at the moment, though I always come back to:
Glenn Branca (of course), Derek Bailey, Arto Lindsay, Pat Place, Robert Fripp, Kazuyuki Null, Keiji Haino, Larry LaLonde from Primus, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix of course….
I don’t know. I feel like people are trying to figure out where I ‘got it from’ when I didn’t get it from any one place that I can put my finger on.
I look for people who are doing something that’s their own, who step out of their genre, no matter what genre it is.
3. It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity of the sounds that you use and focus on the channeling of anger, but there’s a lot more going on than that. When I listen to your music I hear an impish thread going through it that reminds me of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in The Evil Dead films. What do you think you’re bringing to the table when you play?
Humor usually comes from a place of anger. Comedians are some of the most pissed off people in the world.
I love The Evil Dead movies. There are references in the song titles to Kill Bill, 12 OZ. Mouse, Tom And Jerry, etc. Slash-stick? Is that the right word?
In the case of “Stepping On A Rake,” the music literally sounds to me like that scene from Tom And Jerry where Tom is chasing Jerry around the back yard and steps on the rake.
I guess it depends on what you think is funny. Don’t you think a stick figure guy hitting a clown in the head with an ax is funny? I think that’s funny. Projectile bleeding? Funny.
We had a piece on our first record called “Nietzsche is Dead”. People have sent me lengthy messages about what it means and what they think of it, and they won’t take ‘it’s just a joke’ for an answer. I mean, no matter what you think of the man, he is in fact dead. I think that’s funny. If they don’t think Nietzsche himself would think that’s funny, then they don’t get him either.
4. What gear are you using and does it factor into your writing process?
A Les Paul and a Marshall. It hasn’t changed. With THE PARANOID CRITICAL REVOLUTION it’s all standard tuning so far but I haven’t ruled out altered tunings in the future. In my old band, TWITCHER, I messed around with a microtonal tuning, on one song “Awake” and obviously with Glenn I use his tunings.
I used to use smaller tubes in my Marshall JCM-800 combo to get more high end, but now I’ve switched back to the standard tubes to add back in more low end (still plenty of high end though).
The only pedal I use is a harmonizer. I used it occasionally in TWITCHER, but I use it more often in THE PARANOID CRITICAL REVOLUTION.
I usually write unplugged. So, [gear] doesn’t really factor into writing.
The exception would be pieces like “Make Them Die Slow” or “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning” which revolve around either foreign objects on the guitar or guitar accessories used in unconventional ways.
5. Your songs are often short and really intense. While they have an improvised white knuckle feel – I know that they’re heavily composed. How do you write your music and how much does the music change from when you first writing it to recording it?
Actually, they’re not all short (the title track from “Euphobia” is almost 6 minutes).
All of it is composed. Some pieces are through-composed and some are just parts put together. You can generally tell which ones are through-composed because there’s a thread running through the piece, often the rhythm. I invent my own chords and the chord usually comes first, then the rhythm/meter, root motion, etc. The only thing that usually changes after it’s written is the tempo. Everything tends to get faster as time goes on.
Both records were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. With the first record, we actually pulled the tempos back a little and went for precision. With the second record we just went full on like it was a show. There’s some bad notes, but we left them in. I haven’t ruled out using overdubs or some studio-specific stuff in the future, but for now everything is written to be played live.
6. One thing that’s always been really impressive to me is how you roll with the punches and keep moving forward no matter what. PCR was already stripped down as a duo and now you’re pushing forward solo. Are you looking to expand the lineup again or just stick with the solo performances?
When Libby Fab (drummer) and I first got together, we decided that when we had a half hour of music we were going to play out no matter who we had. We wanted to have a full band, but I’d been in enough bands that couldn’t gig because we didn’t have a bass player or singer or whatever. We tried out a few bass players, singers – we were even going to try out a rapper (he didn’t show up) – but nobody worked out. So, when Libby quit I just kept that idea and did a few solo guitar shows.
I’ve been working with a new singer named Roger Oldtown. He’s amazing. He can do anything. We’re writing material now and hope to record soon.
7. What constitutes a good live performance for you (either as a player or as an audience member)?
A good live performance is one that doesn’t suck. Minds are blown, asses are kicked and nothing blows up that isn’t supposed to.
8. It’s interesting that you went to Berklee and yet are one of the most anti-Berklee sounding players I know (in a good way). What were the positives and the negatives of that experience?
I do all the stuff they told me not to.
They purposely present music theory in a way that discourages innovation. It should be taught as a history and not as a set of rules. The history of music is a history of broken rules. To take those broken rules and turn them into new rules is missing the point. I think I realized about the time we got up to modal interchange in Harmony class that they were really reaching to make music fit into their rules. But it was useful information once I realized what it really was and how to look at it.
Why is music so much more conservative than other art forms? Look at the modes. Ionian, Dorian? That’s ancient Greek. I.M. Pei doesn’t put Doric columns on his buildings. Why do musicians still play these things?
Paying for it was really difficult for me. That was really the reason I left. I showed up there with no money and managed to stay 2 years. I can’t deny the impact the stress of that had on my ability to study.
Though I have to say, one semester of Legal Aspects of the Music Business made it all worth it. That’s payed for the whole thing a few times over at this point.
9. Obviously, there are a lot of talented women in the arts, but it seems like there are definite industry biases against them if they’re not looking cute standing in front of a microphone. When people talk about female guitarists, in comparison to the number of male players, it’s such a relatively small pool of people. Do you think there are additional difficulties for women in music?
Do you think there aren’t barriers for guys who don’t look cute? There are a lot of female guitar players in NY. Of course it’s difficult, but it’s difficult for everybody.
The one thing that I’ve had trouble with is meeting people. The usual way to meet other musicians is to go to show and talk to people. I find when I do that people get the wrong idea because I’m a woman. They think I’m trying to get picked up or something.
Going out to the middle of Brooklyn to meet some complete stranger from craigslist is a different experience than it would be for a guy too.
As far as how other people treat me, when someone’s acting like a jerk they don’t usually tell you why. I find there are some people who like me just because I’m a woman. So, that should balance out anyone who dislikes me for the same reason. Of course, a lot of them are perverts.
Maybe it helps though that I don’t feel the same kind of pressure from family to get a real job the way a guy probably would.
10. Finally, what music business advice would you give guitar players out there?
Never ask anyone for advice and question the motives of anyone who offers it. The only person looking out for you is you.
Thanks again for your time Reg!
To learn more about The Paranoid Critical Revolution – check out their website at:
Their current release, “Euphobia” and their debut (“Death of the Cool”) can both be purchased as CDs or as mp3s from Amazon.com
Reg Bloor Videos: