Guitarist of the month: Paul Sugar

Stumbling upon inspiring people online is great right? Well, Paul is exactly one of those inspiring guitarists that I met on Instagram. He regularly posts guitar content on social media and his attitude and playing is contagious! It makes you want to pick up the instrument some more as well. Read more about him below as he shares some behind-the-scenes stories and some guitar tips.” – Neli

What brought you on the path of a career in music?

Although I was not born into a musical family, I was fascinated by music and musicians as a kid. My parents sent me to piano and violin lessons at an early age, but secretly I was more drawn to the guitar. I remember being in awe of guitarists like Slash and Prince and amazed by their music videos. Even though I was too young to understand what was happening in those videos, I thought the guitar was so cool. Thankfully, I was able to convince my parents to let me play guitar in middle school. I felt the freedom to create through the guitar, which is something my violin and piano teacher didn’t let me do. They told me that to create music, you first had to achieve a level of virtuosity in your instrument. One of my music teachers in high school even discouraged me from auditioning for music schools, which was too bad. It turns out they were wrong. Years later, I attended a conservatory and earned a Masters in Music Composition.

While I was composing, I, unfortunately, didn’t have much time to play guitar. For a few years, I felt like I was neglecting the instrument. Although I’ve used my guitars to record and produce, they mostly sat in my studio collecting dust. That made me feel a little regretful, and I thought I should go back to playing one day. The lyrics “your sword’s grown old and rusty” from “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend rang in my head for some time.

About three years ago, I broke 5 bones in my right hand and wrist. It was a tough recovery process, and I lost a lot of muscle mass on my right arm and shoulder. I was really worried that I lost the ability to play guitar. So as soon as I got the clearance from my doctor to resume normal activities, I picked up my guitar to relearn it and see how far I can advance. After regaining mobility in my right hand, I began actively auditioning for bands and ended up in Between Skies.

What is the story behind your stage name?

Hmm, I think the story might not be too interesting. I’m actually a private person, and I wanted to create a slight barrier between my stage and social media persona and my private life. Although anyone with Google can easily look up people’s real names, I thought I should add just one layer. For a while, I loved the cartoon Adventure Time and loved the character Marceline’s songs. Cartoonist Rebecca Sugar wrote them, and they are super catchy. I think I was playing guitar one day, and someone said “sweet tone,” and it clicked!

Also, I didn’t want those familiar with my work as a composer to influence their expectations of my guitar playing or any of the bands I’d perform with.

You are on the verge of releasing your debut EP “Horizons” Between Skies. How did the creation process for it go?

Oh, it had a lot of starts and stops! I think, like every musician in the world, the pandemic really put a halt in the process. Guitarist Tommy Scales is the main writer for Between Skies. I mostly contribute guitar solos and a few supporting riffs. Tommy began writing the songs in “Horizons” before Between Skies was formed. After he formed the band, we were hoping to record and release it by 2020. But thankfully, we were able to persevere and find a way to finish recording remotely during the quarantine. We are so excited to share it! It’s a short EP, but it took a while to make, and great friendships were born out of the process.

How did the band come together in the first place?

Around 2018, guitarist Tommy Scales was a bartender, and bassist Ranpal Chana was his regular customer. They discovered they both loved metal and decided to jam together and start a band. They posted some ads, and eventually, I auditioned, followed by vocalist Oscar Derderian. Before the pandemic, we began performing with our former drummer Pedro Herrera, who left for personal reasons. Our last gig was in a venue called the Midway Café on March 10, 2020, the day many states in the US declared a state of emergency. Now that our new drummer Edson Lacerda joined, we will resume live performances after the release of Horizons on August 3, 2021.

Is there a certain message or emotion you want to convey with the “Horizons” EP to the audience?

The songs in “Horizons” explore themes of delusions of grandeur that can spiral into paranoia. We’re pretty nerdy guys, so you may hear some nerdy references in the lyrics. But overall, we wanted to create an unfiltered metal record. Although each member listens to different styles of music, we all have a love for metal and especially classic metal. So we wanted to create something that sounds new while paying homage to our influences.

What effects do you use on your electric guitar? How do you choose them?

My favorite guitar effect is a good spring reverb. Although I have pedals, they are mostly drive, reverb, or delay pedals. I have a couple of funky effects that I might use to create some Instagram content. But, I really shy away from other effects and instead try to create effects with my hands. For example, I may use my whammy bar or left hand to emulate the wobbly effect of a chorus pedal.

Personally, when I choose pedals, I go for ones that have the least amount of knobs. Although I appreciate the level of control that some pedals have, I get overwhelmed with the options and worry I might kick a weird setting on a dark stage. But, I believe it’s all a personal choice. Some people love playing with all the knobs and adjusting every parameter. That is totally cool too! I just prefer simplicity.

For many years, I used to play totally pedal-less. I just plugged straight into an amp with a good drive channel and a spring reverb tank, and I was happy with that! 

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

Honestly, for many years I felt that I was stuck and stagnant with my guitar skills. But in the back of my mind, I was not satisfied and wished I was advancing more. By advancing, I don’t mean turning into a shredder. I felt like I was doing the same things over and over and wished I could see the guitar differently. For me, breaking my hand was a turning point. When the possibility came that I could never play guitar or advance in guitar due to an injury, my perspective changed. Now I feel like I have a good mentality for practice and trying new things. When you practice, it’s not about just repeating the same thing over and over. You need to learn how to practice smart and make sure you are evolving as you go. I think I advanced more dramatically in the months after my injury than the years before it. I like to set short-term goals like learning a new song or working on a particular technique. Over time, the short-term goals add up. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

I’m sure other musicians will say this, but listening to different kinds of music really helps with goal setting and expanding your sense of what’s possible. You don’t need to become a fan of every style of music but developing the skills to actively listen and try to understand the music that’s new to you really helps. Personally, I feel like I have so much more room to grow on the guitar. I live near the Berklee College of Music, so I feel like I’m surrounded by 10,000 guitarists who are better than me. Maybe they are 10,000 people I can learn something from.

What is your dream musical project?

Oh, this is a hard question! As a guitarist, I would love to jam with someone like Thundercat or perform with an innovative artist like Erykah Badu. As a metal guitarist, I would love to be a Nameless Ghoul in the band Ghost and perform in one of their huge arena performances. 

Now that the Between Skies line up is complete and the band has a new drummer, Paul is looking forward to creating and recording new music. He recently joined the funk/smooth jazz band Midnight Motion. They are planning on recording a debut EP, so look forward to that.

Photo by Nicole Mari Photography

He also has a bunch of unfinished electro-acoustic instrumental tracks that could end up with a more electronic or maybe a more guitar-centric sound. He is planning to finish them as a solo project. You can find some clips on his Instagram now!

Follow Paul and his bands here:
Website: wearebetweenskies.bandcamp.com
Instagram: @paulsugar.music
@wearebetweenskies
@midnightmotionband
TikTok: @paulsugar.music

Leave a Reply

required