Longtime Canadian Musician contributor Jeff Gunn sits down once again with Mark Pelli, guitarist & keyboardist with reggae-infused pop outfit MAGIC!
Guitarists who have experienced major mainstream success in pop bands often have musical interests that go beyond their band’s sonic profile. Mark Pellizzer, more commonly known as Pelli by his muso friends, is one such musician. A Juno Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, Pelli performs guitar and keys with Magic! and has written and co-produced songs for artists including Shakira and Classified. Here, Pelli reflects on his intimate approach to acoustic guitar in songwriting and live performance.
Jeff Gunn: How do you go about selecting a new acoustic?
Mark Pelli: Well, I select my acoustic guitars based on resonance and live application. I aim to produce a full tone during live shows that complements the lead vocals and backing vocals, whether it is a large arena show with MAGIC! or in an intimate setting at a jam in a local bar. I use a Gibson J45 and Taylor 7CE precisely because they resonate so strongly and produce a full, rich tone.
MP: Actually, I began my journey in music by playing piano. I studied piano for many years before picking up the guitar. Coming from a classical piano background, I began learning classical guitar technique. I worked through Pumping Nylon, a tremendous book for developing impeccable finger picking technique. I also found a love for jazz and Brazilian music. I picked up The Brazilian Guitar Book and worked through Bossa Nova songs. Studying Brazilian music enabled me to develop a stronger sense of rhythm in my playing generally, and I learned how to play rich chord voicings. Most importantly, I learned how to effectively combine bass notes with my thumb and separate percussive sounds with my fingers while sounding chords. I liken the combination between thumb and rhythmic chording to the drummer’s kick and snare – it requires a fine balance. I would jam to Brazilian songs with my guitar every chance I got. That’s how I enhanced my sense of rhythm on guitar.
JG: What is the role of the acoustic guitarist in a band like MAGIC!?
MP: Let me start by saying that there is no better instrument for accompanying a singer than the acoustic guitar. My role is to accompany our singer Nasri during acoustic performances, while also providing backing vocals so I kind of have a double role. I think of the acoustic guitar as a symphonic orchestra that works with the singer. There are so many tones enabled by the acoustic guitar that go a long way to support the vocalist. My knowledge of jazz harmony has played a big role in the type of chord voicings I use on my acoustic in general. There are subtle places to use voicings more commonly associated with jazz music in a pop setting.
JG: What should guitarists practice to improve their skills?
MP: Learn challenging songs. I select jazz standards and eventually master them on guitar and piano. Make sure to select songs that teach you specific skills. For example, I remember learning the song “No Regrets” in order to work on sliding, hammer-ons, and legato picking. When you are songwriting, aim to produce unique sounds on the guitar. On the intro to Chris Brown’s “Don’t Judge Me,” I played harmonics on my acoustic guitar, which produced dissonant tone colours over a C major7 #11. Lastly, practice unfamiliar and uncomfortable chord positions. Focus on how much pressure is required in each finger to sound a chord or a string.
JG: What advice do you have for up-and-coming guitarists?
MP: Remember that progress takes time. Be uncomfortable and try things that challenge you. That’s how you will grow as a musician and human being.
See all of Mark Pellizzer’s upcoming shows with MAGIC! at www.ournameismagic.com.
Jeff Gunn is a contributor with Canadian Musician, Juno-nominated songwriter/producer, author of the Hidden Sounds Guitar Series, and musical director/guitarist for Emmanuel Jal. Visit www.jeffgunn.ca and find Jeff on Twitter and Instagram @jeffgunn1.