24 Million and Counting…

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 8:44

An Interview with Trace Bundy

by Casey Pukl

With over 24,000,000 views on YouTube, it’s no wonder people are calling Trace Bundy the “acoustic ninja”! His playing style is something you have to see to believe, and it is definitely not something to be missed.

Bundy is currently releasing his fourth studio record titled Elephant King, and he’s hosting his CD release party here at Anthology. I had the chance to catch up with him earlier this week to find out what to expect on this latest record, just how he amassed such a large YouTube following, and just why he started learning to say his name backwards…

CP: Tell me a little bit about this latest record release!

TB: Well, I’ve had four shows out here in Colorado, and of all my albums, this new material has been received better than anything else. People seem to be loving it, which is really exciting. I believe it’s my most mature and melodic work to date. It’s been an exciting album to finish, and there are a lot of new fun things on it. There’s a song I’ll be doing where I play two guitars on stage at the same time. I’ve got fun looping stuff, and just a lot of new ideas!

There’ve been a lot of great fans who have been coming to my shows, this one guy had been to seven of my shows, and he said that this was the best concert and new material that he’d heard.

CP: That’s exciting!

TB: Yeah! It was pretty cool, so I’m really excited.

CP: I saw that American Songwriter just featured your single, “Elephant King” last week!

TB: Yeah! It was on their homepage, and that was really cool. You can stream it and download it from their website.

CP: What have you been up to for the last year— mostly recording this latest record, or have you been touring a ton?

TB: The last year has been crazy. I’ve been all over the world! I did an Asia tour that was really successful. I had something like 300 people come to my show in South Korea, had a great show in Singapore, then I did a big European tour that ended in Budapest, Hungary. That was a sold out show! It was so crazy!

Guitar playing is my passion, I mean, I’ve been playing for something like 25 years since I was a kid. But to have those dreams that you have as a kid where you can go around the world sharing your music, and then with the help of things like YouTube and all that, people all around the world can know about your stuff! It’s so amazing, and I consider it such a blessing to be able to do that.

CP: Absolutely. And speaking of you YouTube, last I read, you had something like 24,000,000 views across all of your videos?

TB: Yeah! I think that’s the last time we counted, so it might be closer to 25 million now (laughs).

CP: How did that get started? Did you start putting your own stuff up and it just took off?

TB: Well, someone put the video of me playing “Canon” up on YouTube quite a while ago without my permission, they just ripped it from my DVD and put it up there. So at first I was like, “That’s not cool! You have to buy the DVD to get this!”

But then, I started thinking that maybe it was okay (laughs). It started getting a lot of views, and people started posting their own cover versions of it. And then this little boy in South Korea, he was 10 years old, posted this video of him playing it. His name is Sungha Jung, and he put up this video and that kind of went viral. But now I’ve toured with him three times here in the states, three times in Asia, and here we are! Videos either get a few hundred views, or something just clicks and people start spreading it around.

CP: That’s pretty rad! You can’t believe how quickly that stuff spreads! It’s such a powerful tool.

TB: Totally— stuff gets around!

CP: Do you write the majority of your material?

TB: Yeah. All of my stuff up until this point has been stuff I’ve written. On this record, a few of the songs were co-writes, but the bulk of everything I’ve done has been on my own writing and arranging.

CP: What’s your writing process like? Do you have any tried and true methods you like to use?

TB: (Laughs) I wish I did! It’s just different each time. Sometimes I have a deliberate idea of what I want to do. Sometimes I’ll want to write a song that I’ll play and loop it, and then I’ll flip it around backwards and play along with that. Or sometimes I’ll want to write something where I’m constantly moving the capos around the guitar to see different sounds. Sometimes I have a set idea, and other times I’m sitting on my bed, playing guitar and something just comes out. What I often do is video when I get a new idea. Then I can always go back to my computer and look through my past ideas and see if any of them spark new ideas.

CP: That was actually where I was about to go with that. Do you have to video to remember how the hell you actually played some of this stuff (laughs)?

TB: (Laughs) That’s the thing! Listening to the audio doesn’t always help. I can listen to it and hear it, but I have no idea how I played it. Then I have to figure out what tuning I was in, if I used a capo or two, if I video I can at least see it.

CP: I think that’s really interesting because for me, my first step when I’m researching or checking out an artist I’m unfamiliar with, is that I go to Spotify and listen to them. So I listened to you first before I actually saw on YouTube how you played things. Listening, it doesn’t register how hard it is to play until you actually see it.

TB: (Laughs) Oh man, you did it backwards from what people usually do with my music!

CP: It’s a very different experience to listen to what you’re playing first, then process how it’s played.

TB: Totally. I kind of do that too with Spotify. But with guitar playing it’s neat because it sounds good, and people like the CDs, but then they go to a show and see it, and I think that’s when they get it.

CP: Absolutely. I think you hear something and it sounds so effortless and polished that it doesn’t occur to you what has to happen to make that sound at first.

TB: I do a lot of storytelling and explain the songs as well at my shows, which is cool. People have started to come to the shows certainly to hear and see the songs, but also to see the banter between. The thing I hear the most at my shows is people saying, “My friend made me come, and I didn’t want to see some guy playing guitar, but that was the most fun show ever! I’ll be coming back!”

That’s cool to hear. It’s hard as an instrumental musician to put on a show that doesn’t get boring after a while. I always hear people say that my shows are fun though, so that’s neat.

CP: For sure. I think for so many instrumental musicians it can be especially tough because there are so many who have these gimmicks. It’s really easy to get caught up in the showmanship and be a little hokey. I think it’s tough to not just do things for the sake of how they look. It just sounds like you hear the sound first and then figure out how to play it.

TB: Yeah, totally.

CP: I know you mentioned using some loop pedals and such lately. Do you feel like you’re almost learning a new instrument with that kind of gear?

TB: Yeah. Looping can get obnoxious if it’s overdone. But it can be really tasteful if it’s used well. But it is like learning a new instrument. If you start or end a loop a millisecond late, the whole thing sounds awful, so you have to be dead on with it. Then you can create these layers. You can’t undo it, and you can’t go back, so it’s a challenge to put the loop together. But the pedal I use has a button that lets you speed up the music and then you can flip it around backwards. I do a few things with that that make it really interesting.

I’ll learn how to play a song backwards and then I’ll loop it, and then I’ll flip the backwards song backwards (laughs). It’s fun! It goes back to the forward version, but it’s really a weird trippy version of it.

CP: That’s pretty fun. What gave you the idea to start learning things backwards? The pedal?

TB: Yeah. It started when I was trying to learn how to say my name backwards and then I would speak it into the little microphone and play it backwards to see how close I could get to my real name. But then I thought about what would happen if I did that with an entire song.

CP: That sounds like a lot of fun. It also makes you sound like the ultimate guitar geek (laughs).

TB: (Laughs) Well, it’s weird because I never studied music. In college, actually for undergrad and graduate school, I studied civil engineering. So even after I got my masters, the University of Colorado asked me to teach two classes. So for two years, I was this professor part-time, yet touring on the weekends. But then it got to the point where I couldn’t make it back in time for class, so I eventually had to make the decision to go full-time with music. I think that was seven years ago now? But the mathematics and engineering stuff influenced the music in a way. If music is too mathematical it sounds terrible, but some of the influences work.

CP: That makes perfect sense. You have a scientific approach. What are you most looking forward to about coming out to Anthology?

TB: I’ve never played there before, and looking at pictures of it is awesome. I really like the Triple Door up in Seattle, and a lot of people have told me that if I like that club, I had to check out Anthology. It just looks gorgeous with all the levels of seating. I just can’t wait!

Special thanks to Trace for his time! Don’t miss the acoustic ninja’s highly anticipated CD release this Friday night!

Trace Bundy on Spotify

WHAT: Trace Bundy
WHEN: Friday, May 4, 9:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$33 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile