kitchen knife cut off the top of one of guitarist Alan Gogoll’s fingers, the wound forced him to adapt his guitar
playing method as he recovered, and led to him discovering ‘bell harmonics’,
which has opened up his career.
Gogoll (17 January 1988) is now considered to be one of the leading acoustic guitar players in the world, with over half a milion Facebook and Instagram followers and video views running into the hundreds of millions.
Guitars Exchange catches up with Gogoll at his temporary home in Lyon, France, where he has been playing guitar, making videos and looking at expanding the distribution of his music in China. “I am self-managed and have a workload of maybe 100 hours per week,” he says, “there is a never-ending list of things to do when you run your own business.” However, Gogoll is happy to take a break in his busy routine to talk about how he reacted to people regularly advising him not to be an instrumental guitarist, the success of his music videos, and how that bloody finger led to some very welcome good luck…
GE: You are from Tasmania; have you travelled much abroad?
AG: Yes, I am from Hobart in Tasmania, and I had certainly never travelled outside of Australia until my mid-20s, when my music career really took off. Now I’ve got two passports and one of them is nearly full! I have done more travelling in the past couple of years than all the years’ prior, and I really enjoy it.
GE: If you had to choose three key points in your career, what would they be?
AG: Number one would be when I first picked up a guitar, which was in the attic of my house, and thinking ‘this is what I want to do’. I just fell in love; I felt this weird connection, and it has been life-long.
The second key moment would be when I cut my hand with a knife while I was cooking a few years ago, as that actually led to the beginnings of my ‘bell harmonics’ technique. The cut forced me to play one handed, which led me to push how far I could take playing with that one hand, which I could then transfer to both hands.
The third would be when I released the video in 2015 showcasing my technique, which is also known as two-handed artificial harmonics. That was featured in Guitar World magazine and it really opened up the world for me.
GE: In terms of your career, what do you see as your main aim?
AG: My first love is playing guitar and I would love to have more time to do it. Everything I do is working towards having more freedom to be able to play and compose. When I am back in Australia I will look into employing one or two people to help me, and start putting a team together. I also enjoy making videos…
GE: Going back to your childhood, how did you start playing guitar?
AG: I found a classic guitar in the attic, as my mum had had one or two lessons and had then stopped. Then I got a Samick electric guitar, so I moved quickly from classic to electric and then acoustic, and backwards and forwards…
GE: Guitar instrumental music in the XXI century is quite unusual... why did you choose that?
AG: Guitar instrumental music is pretty unusual now, but that is just what I love. People had told me I needed to be a singer-songwriter and that I could never make a living from just playing guitar. I did listen to that advice, unfortunately, – well all things happen for a reason – I am happy where I am now so I can’t say I regret it, but I think when it comes to music certainly follow your heart and do what you want to do. I have always wanted to play instrumental guitar, and I knew I had found my voice and expression when I first started playing.
GE: Who do you think your main audience is?
AG: It is great because I can actually see who my audience is through Spotify and social media. I know my audience is comprised of 18-34 year olds, and slightly more females than males. I know they study, relax, and chill out to my music. I have had heaps of school teachers tell me they put it on for their students to calm them down; yoga teachers use it; and I get a lot of parents play my music to their babies to get them to sleep, which is really cute. Some people have said ‘your audience is old men’, and there would be nothing wrong with that, but it is really nice to see people of my own age group engaging with what I am doing.
GE: You seem to be particularly popular in countries like China; why do you think that is?
AG: I think as it is instrumental music there is no language barrier, and in China guitar and ukulele music is really popular, and finger style is also rising in popularity. They also have a different business approach; I’ve been approached by Australian guitar builders who want me to buy their guitars or sign a ridiculous contract that is full of demands. On the other hand, I’ve never signed anything with aNueNue, they’ve sent me half a dozen guitars and paid for everything, as well as performance fees. In a decade they’ve become the biggest-selling ukulele brand in the world, where as these Australian companies or builders haven’t made a dent - just a difference in business mindset; mine is much more aligned with the Asian market.
GE: Your videos have a strong relation with nature... does your inspiration come from there?
AG: I have done a lot of videos with nature and animals but my inspiration actually comes from just sitting down with the guitar. I have never found inspiration from nature; I actually prefer to just sit inside watching Netflix when I am composing. If I am outside I find it too distracting.
It is interesting that there is a prestigious fashion school building in France that looks like an ugly concrete box; it often seems that the more bland your environment is the more you have to dig into yourself; and so I actually think the worst environment can potentially create the better art.
GE: You have said that your dedication to ‘bell harmonics’ may make you less creative in the future – why is that?
AG: I don’t remember saying that but, if I did, it was probably due to frustration, because it is just such a hard technique. But now, more than ever, I just love it, and I want to spend more time improving, because the possibilities of it are just so exciting.
GE: Two of your most popular Youtube videos are ‘Mulberry Mouse’ and ‘Apricot Eyes’ – why do you think those struck a chord with viewers?
AG: I guess they just tick a few boxes as they have an impressive technique, a nice pace, they are pop acoustic guitar, and there is nothing offensive in them; I am proud to have written those songs. Also the videos work, so there was a combination of a lot of small things that all came together really nicely.
GE: You don’t seem to have any advertisers on your Youtube videos – is there a reason for that?
AG: I actually do have adverts turned on for my Youtube videos, it’s not something I can control though, more than just saying ‘monetise videos.' I’ve made one or two grand over my entire Youtube career, so that covers some small advertising expenses.
GE: Could you tell us about your experiences with Cole Clark and Ted Astrand guitars?
AG: I stopped playing Cole Clark four years ago. They are nice guitars but I was promised a few things that were never delivered: for example, I had to pay full price for the signature guitar that I got from them and I guess I was hoping that there would be a relationship where the sales I was generating for them through my playing and my videos would come back in some way for me, but it never did.
So I recently got a Ted Astrand guitar, which is just incredible, it has surpassed my expectations. I could have had any acoustic guitar in the world but I chose his, and I have no regrets. I have an OM and I have ordered a Parlour guitar; it takes three years between ordering it and getting it, so I’ll have that in two years time.
GE: Which amplifiers and/or effects do you use?
AG: I only use a touch of reverb. I used to use Schertler amplifiers for a bit, which I love, and H and K as well, but at the moment it is just the guitar. I use a bit of compression and EQ when I record but that is more to do with the fact that I don’t have the best mic with me at the moment. The Apogee HypeMic is awesome; I think it is the best portable mic that you can buy. I used the Schoeps CMC 6MK 4 microphone back in Australia and that captures the guitar really nice. I have been considering not doing anything with the signal just getting good mic placement, which I believe is the most important thing.
GE: Who are your main guitar influences?
AG: When I started it was Tommy Emmanuel, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, all the guys you could find in guitar magazines, but for the last decade and a half I have been on my own journey. I really appreciate other guitarists playing but I really strive to make my own sound; originality is very important to me.
GE: What advice do you have for guitarists just starting out?
AG: Just play what is fun. Don’t worry about theory; if it helps you that is great but, at the end of the day, there are no rules. You don’t have to play fast or technical, but if you play truthfully, that is what people will love.
I can’t recommend having a career in music, certainly instrumental music, because it is just the hardest thing. People said ‘don’t do it’ to me my whole life, but it was a burning passion; nothing was going to stop me.
GE: What plans do you have for the future?
AG: I am working on new songs. The way I work, which I don’t try to fight anymore, is to just have lots of ideas and see which ones I enjoy, or which ones are popular, and then go back and spend some time on them and re-record them.
The interview closes with Guitars Exchange thanking Alan Gogoll for his time, and wishing him well.