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A Conversation with Guitarist Daryl Stuermer (Genesis, Phil Collins, Solo)

The best introduction to multi-instrumentalist Daryl Stuermer’s body of work may be his powerful guitar chord entry on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” In fact, before you read any further, do yourself a favour; go to your nearest playing device, select the live version of this innovative classic, crank the volume, and realize the towering nature inherent in a single chord. His chords and lead lines add just as much to the song as Collins’ distinct drum sounds. Therein lies Stuermer’s mastery of the ability to only play what needs to be played for the greater good of the song - no more, no less. His guitar style reveals the emotional intensity that can develop from a fine interplay between subtle and aggressive chordal and lead runs. For the past 40 years, he has served as bass guitarist and guitarist for Genesis and, for nearly as long, guitarist for Phil Collins. Most recently, he performed on Collins’ 2018 Not Dead Yet Tour in South America to some of the largest audiences of his career.

I took the opportunity to ask Stuermer some questions about touring, guitar performance, the experience of working with Phil Collins and Genesis, and his plans to release solo guitar projects.

JG: How do you decide on which gear to use including guitars, pedals and amps?

DS: I use different gear depending on the artist I am working with. With Phil, I use my Godin LGXT, Eric Clapton Fender Strat, and Roger Sadowsky Nylon Acoustic Solid Body. It always depends on the artist I am working with and the sounds they require. Regardless, when it comes to amps, I like to use a Mesa Boogie Mark 1 reissue. I want a simple, clean amp sound. I then use my pedals to build and create different sounds.

JG: How have your musical influences changed over time?

DS: My influences have not changed much over the past 40 years. I like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Allan Holdsworth, Eric Johnson, and Derek Trucks for his slide guitar. I also enjoy finding young players on YouTube. There are a lot of talented young guitar players posting their performances these days, but I keep asking myself if they will be able to make a living. When I was growing up, there were a lot of venues to perform at like clubs, restaurants, and theatres. I used to play in local venues nightly with a band called Sweetbottom, which was a five-piece jazz/R&B band. There were a lot of clubs for us to perform in. I think the number of spaces for live music is shrinking and I’m not sure where the next generation of musicians will perform.

JG: You’ve carved out a unique guitar sound for yourself. How would you describe your sound in terms of tone, preferred techniques, and feel?

DS: I have what I consider to be a warm tone. For my distortion, I use the Tonebone Hot British pedal. I also use Marshall EL34 tubes. Currently, Godin Guitars is producing a signature Daryl Stuermer model guitar. In terms of technique and feel, I think when you are young, you tend to overplay, but as you get older, you create more tasteful leads and learn to build your solos. Apart from my guitar tone, I have been a part of records in which other instruments like the drums were pushing the envelope. The gated snare tone on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” came about on the tom toms based on the production decision not to use cymbals.

Daryl-Band

JG: Describe your warm-up and practice routine.

DS: When I’m at home, I always have a guitar in hand while sitting on the couch watching TV. I like to keep my fingers moving. When I seriously practice, I play along with albums and/or backing tracks. I also work on scales and riffs. On the road, I do not have a guitar until I get to the venue. I’ll noodle before Phil arrives and then we run specific songs for about 45 minutes. I also like to play for about 15 minutes backstage before the show.

JG: How has touring changed from the beginning of your career to the present?

DS: The biggest change has been in-ear monitors. Personally, I don’t like to use them; however, it is a necessary evil and a good thing that leads to a better overall production. As for the travel aspect of touring, the experience of increased air travel has led to more hassles at the airport, especially if we are taking non-direct flights to our next destination; however, with Phil, we all travel on a private plane, so it is very comfortable.

JG: Describe the preparation process for learning and revisiting songs for a major tour like the Not Dead Yet Tour with Phil Collins.

DS: About a month before the tour, we receive a list of songs from Phil. I play along with the live recordings. I also listen and play along with studio recordings. The set list remains pretty much the same. We may change the key because as a singer ages, we may have to move the song down a half step or whole step. We get together about a day or two before Phil arrives and rehearse the set with the musical director, who is Brad Cole on this tour. Once Phil arrives, we run the full set and work on transitions.

JG: What have been some of the highlights on the Not Dead Yet Tour with Phil Collins? And, how has this tour differed from the previous tours with Phil and Genesis in terms of set list, band lineup, and energy?

DS: One of the highlights was the South American leg. We had not done it in 23 years. The audience was the highlight - their energy. It’s amazing to see older fans singing along to “Follow You, Follow Me” and younger fans who may be discovering Phil’s music for the first time.

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JG: How does the venue affect your performance?

DS: The venue affects the way I perform because the smaller the venue, the more subtle I will play. I tend to play more aggressive in an arena or stadium. The energy level rises. I enjoy playing in both cases, whether to 500 people or 50,000 people.

JG: As someone who has toured on both guitar and bass, how important is it to be a multi-instrumentalist in 2018?

DS: In my own case, my ability to play guitar and bass was vital. It meant I got on tour with Genesis on bass and guitar. It also led me to performing with Phil Collins on guitar. Today, I’m not sure; however, the more instruments you play, the more options and possibilities you allow for yourself.

JG: Besides Phil Collins and Genesis, what other projects are you involved in?

DS: I am releasing an album called Breaking Cover, which will be available for digital download. Some of the highlights include my cover of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” and Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey”. I cover two of my own previously-released original songs. I am also planning to release an album of Genesis songs that I reinterpreted in the near future.

JG: You mentioned the forthcoming release of your Godin DS1 signature guitar, but please tell us some of the specifics.

DS: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robert and Patrick Godin at Godin Guitars. We are releasing the Daryl Stuermer Godin DS1, which is based on the LGXT except there is no synth on the acoustic guitar. The Godin DS1 will be complete with HDR High Definition Revolver.

JG: What advice do you have for up and coming guitarists who are seeking to tour with a major artist?

DS: My first thought is to learn to play whatever moves you musically. Preparation is everything. Get as much information about an album as possible before heading to an audition. In my own case, when I auditioned for Genesis in 1978, I was recommended for the audition but the rest was up to me. Mike Rutherford asked me to play “Follow You, Follow Me.” Remember, you are doing their thing, not your thing. In my own case with Genesis, I bought their album and learned four songs for the audition. It was just me and Mike Rutherford in an NYC studio. Following the audition, he told me I had the gig.

Check out Daryl Stuermer’s music, tour dates, and more at www.darylstuermer.com.

Jeff Gunn is the author of Hidden Sounds: Discover Your Own Method on Guitar, guitarist/musical director for Emmanuel Jal, and composer of All The Roads We Take (2017). Follow him on Instagram/Twitter @jeffgunn1 and visit www.jeffgunn.ca.