"When it comes to my humble attempts to create
with wood, strings, and my hands...
Charis just speaks to me!"
We spoke with Texas-born finger-style guitarist, Steve Devries. His latest album, Odes, Myths and Lies, released in April 2010, flows with honesty, haunting melodies and humor.
CA: When did you start playing guitar?
SD: I started playing at the age of 12, so that’s way too many years…46 years would be close (I wish I’d actually practiced all those years). During those years, I learned multiple styles and performed on guitar, 4 & 5 string banjo, dobro, mandolin, bass, harmonica, pedal steel, dulcimer and uke.
CA: What were some of your earlier experiences playing?
SD: My first “gig” was with my family band (Dad on fiddle, Mom on piano, little brother on drums and myself on guitar). It was on the Texas gulf coast at a place called “The Green Parrot.” I think we were the only English-speaking folks in the place. I remember playing bass in a country band in an open air milking barn while it was sleeting and 30 degrees! I also played in numerous “garage bands,” performing everything from the Beatles to Zeppelin. Fun, fun years!
I was a Theory Composition major in college and started working with better musicians playing jazz, rock and classical. I toured with a country & rock band and started devoting myself to technique in multiple styles. I discovered that I had to play with better musicians to become a better musician. After a million years of playing, I found that it wasn’t so much what you know, but how you apply what you know. In the late 70’s and 80’s, I started doing classical guitar gigs during dinner hours and then playing blues, country and rock at night. Additionally, I began performing solo guitar/vocal gigs, which I still do (better money and no band mates to have to babysit!). In the 90’s, I developed a love affair with solo steel string acoustic music after realizing that it took a good instrument, good hands, emotion, technique and musical knowledge to create memorable songs without leaning on lyrics to carry the load. I found writing for solo guitar to be a great outlet and challenge. It was easy to write arrangements for steel string, so I found some success fairly quickly. I was playing a bit of jazz at the time, which had a healthy impact on my confidence and hand skills.
CA: What projects are you currently working on?
SD: Currently, I’m preparing to record my fifth project – the first being a live recording in 2002. I’ve listened to several finger-style players and found a lot of motivation, style-wise and tonally.
I don’t “tour” anymore because I teach four days per week, do studio work and gig on the weekends. I do “sneak out” a few weeks every year to travel and perform.
CA: Any albums readers should check out?
SD: Any albums to check out…YES! Anything but Andy McKee, Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Hedges (oh, ok…just kidding!) --anything with one guy on one guitar! Of course, there’s the Steve DeVries collection: Stories Without Words, Horizons and Odes, Myths and Lies (blatant personal plug, right?). I really don’t listen to a lot of music, as I tend to dissect every song –technique, melody, chords, etc.
CA: What musicians have you worked with in the past?
SD: I’ve had the honor of working with a ton of great singer/songwriter types, some of the older country guys, country Christian artists and folk guys. It’s hard to “name drop” when you’ve played with people who drip talent, yet no one has ever heard of them and (unfortunately) these artists will probably never “make it.”
I currently write and record the music for three lyricists and continue to sideman with a variety of groups in different genres. Mostly, I perform solo (remember…more money, etc. etc. etc.). I still have the opportunity to do clinics. The last was at Red Rocks College on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. Additionally, I perform home concerts and play at a lot of wineries here in Northern Virginia.
CA: How did you discover Charis Acoustic Guitars?
SD: Danny Brevard, owner of Acoustic Pro Musician, first introduced me to Charis Guitars when I did a series of videos for his handmade guitar lines. I fell in love with the Charis personality and would come back to one, in particular…even after shooting videos all day on some other really great handmade guitars.
CA: What Charis model do you play?
SD: I own and perform on two Charis guitars. The first is a #230 – cedar top with cocobolo back and sides. It has tons of inlay, a great neck and sound…visually a show-stopper! Everyone wants to touch it! I use B-Band electronics, but acoustically it’s the warmth and clarity that captures me and all who hear it. I use it a lot when recording and for all my altered capo tunes. The second is a #243 – Indian rosewood back and sides with an Alaskan Spruce top…TONS of punch! It’s from Bill’s performance line, but it certainly isn’t an entry level guitar! I play with guys using dreadnoughts in picking circles after concerts and they are amazed at its projection. I use it for all my altered tunings and it does exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Bill Wise guitar.
CA: How would you describe the tone of your Charis Acoustic?
SD: As I use cedar and spruce tops, there are differences – as most every acoustic player knows. However, what I find amazing is the head room, sustain, clarity, string separation and, more importantly for me, the tonal variances you can get from these guitars. As I play different styles, it’s important that the instrument responds, tonally and dynamically, as the player requests. Bill, somehow, has figured out how to build that into his instruments.
CA: How would you best describe the craftsmanship/aesthetics of your Charis Acoustic?
SD: Well, I’ve played a lot of handmade instruments over the years and there are fine instruments out there…but I think the majority are chasing Charis in the attention to small details. Aesthetics are not necessarily on the top of my criteria list when purchasing an instrument. But, when I see clean lines, tight jointing, immaculate neck sets, beautiful fret work and matching woods…well, that assures me that someone has the knowledge and ability to really “build.” I’ve yet to play a Charis that didn’t meet the standards of the most demanding eye. A luthier friend of mine summed up my guitars like this, “Oh my! (long pause) This guy is VERY, VERY good!” He then started trying to figure out how he could do what Bill does. I will add that the neck profile is extremely comfortable and has allowed me to continue playing those more demanding fret distances on some of my songs and arrangements.
CA: What style of music do you play with your Charis?
SD: I chose Charis guitars for finger-style. I love the neck width past the 5th fret and the saddle! The stuff I write ranges from gentle Celtic ballads to aggressive thumb-style swamp stomp. It’s a bit hard to categorize my finger-style…let’s just say it’s a combination of musical influences, intensities and techniques. Secondly, I use both Charis guitars in the studio for tracking, strumming, finger picking and lead lines.
CA: How would you compare Charis Acoustic Guitars to other high-end guitars, both handmade acoustics and high-end manufacturers?
SD: Any good musician would sum it up by saying, “Tone, tone, tone!” I have come to realize there is a strong relationship between the builder and the player. I have to be comfortable with the ability of the luthier to build a musical instrument that reads my mind – musically, emotionally – and isn’t offended by my musical personalities. When it comes to my humble attempts to create with wood, strings and my hands…Charis just “speaks” to me!