For Andrew Wessen, founding member of the band Grouplove, music was pretty much always in the picture. “I was born and raised in the LA surf scene and I got heavy into punk rock as a kid,” he told me as we chatted over the phone on a recent Friday morning. “I remember seeing a few shows, like Smashing Pumpkins, back in the day, and it just changed me as a kid. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I ended up going to live in the Greek Isles for a while back in 2008, living with all these other musicians, and everyone who ended up forming Grouplove was there on Crete. We cut a record in LA a year later and I guess the rest is history now, you know, four albums and tours and all later. I started playing music when I was about nine and never stopped.”
If you have always wanted to play an instrument but, on the other end of the spectrum, never started, Wessen has words for you: “Stop making excuses. Anyone can play music, and there has never been a better time to start. People see learning to play the guitar or something else, they think of it as a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be fun, it’s an outlet, a connection.”
In short, the barriers you perceive are just that: your perception. And that includes the common misconception that good instruments and good instruction are just too expensive.
“My first guitar was a Mexican [Fender] Strat,” Wessen said. “I used my same guitar and amp from the late 1990s to record the first Grouplove record. And I used it on tour for the first few years, too. Fender has been a part of that story since the beginning. And today I’m still learning. I was originally a piano player. My grandma was this incredible pianist, she played for USO shows back in WWII and toured around and all, and she always played by ear, which is kind of where I got it too. I never had any formal training and maybe because of that I can appreciate the tools anyone can use, YouTube, Fender Play, there’s so much like that. Learning by playing the music you love, learning that just a few chords in various order make up most of the greatest songs, it opens up the world of music so you can just live with that passion songs are supposed to inspire even as you’re just starting to play. And without being overwhelmed by it. And there are guitars you can afford – this is something anyone can do when you use these resources.”
“Playing music with a Juilliard teacher is a strict sort of experience of music that’s precision-focused, that’s geared toward perfection. That angle on it is great for people who want mastery of the music, and I can understand how some people might be envious of that opportunity,” Wessen continued. But he also says that not having access to a top-level musical education is hardly a good reason to avoid learning a new instrument or taking your playing to the next level.
And if you need a little more motivation, think of making music as a sonic silver lining to the prolonged pandemic. “Music in general is like a long-term companion,” Wessen said. “It gives you relief and release and there’s just never been a better time to learn to play. And because the guitar is just this universal instrument, it’s probably the best one to pick up right now. Anywhere you go in the world, there’s a guitar leaning up against the world. The community of guitar players is really the whole world, and you can be connected through that music.”
Once you can travel again, that is. Which is something to look forward to soon. What’s Andrew Wessen looking forward to?
“Just getting out of this nightmare. Seeing an end coming is making me really excited, the idea of getting back into these venues, of playing together again, of having an audience there. And not just performing, I mean going to shows myself. It’s just going to be thrilling to get back to it for all of us.”
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