Stewart Gude is back! Before his triumphant return to our regular teaching staff a few months ago, you may have seen him make a brief cameo at our Winter Concert, rocking lead vocals for House of the Rising Sun. Although Stewart left us for a number of years, pursuing a career in Southern California, he’s back home and back to pursing the one thing that’s always been his passion (despite the best efforts of diabolic, triangle-giving band directors). Here’s his story of early rock and roll records, 2-string basses, wrongly-strung guitars, Jimi Hendrix mimicking, and rising podcast stardom. Enjoy!
I always like to go back to the beginning, for a little context! How did you first get started in music?
When I was a kid, my parents would play a lot of old 50’s records and Beatles, and we would dance to it. I also remember going to one of my mom’s friend’s houses in Grass Valley when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. She had this big piano, and I remember just sitting at the piano and tinkering at it for hours! I definitely gravitated towards music. I also remember having a choir teacher that had a microphone and, every once in a blue moon, she would let us play with it. I just remember being fascinated by it – how our voices sounded & how it was so different that the voice you hear in your head.
I was really fascinated by drums and rhythm also, like Mony Mony by Tommy James & the Shondells, and Rockin’ Robin. So I wanted to learn how to play drums. When I signed up, they put me in percussion. There were only so many bass drums and snare drums, and since I was kind of a spaz at that age, they ended up just giving me the triangle to play! At the concert, I played it like, once, at the very end. It was the lamest experience! So I went back and, because of the trumpet solo in the Chumbawamba song, “Tubthumping”, I played trumped. I thought that song was SO cool! I played trumpet all the way through my senior year of high school after that.
Do your parents play music? Are there any musicians in the family?
My parents don’t play music. They’re very passionate about music and played a lot of records though. I think my dad played drums briefly, since he grew up in LA and liked all those surf rock bands. I think the technique was a little too much, and he bowed out after a while. I don’t think I have any aunts, unlcles, or grandparents that played music. On my dad’s side, they’re all painters. I come from a creative family, but not necessarily a musical family.
When did you start guitar?
I started playing in middle school, on this 2 string electric bass that was in the band room. I thought it was really cool! I had just gone through this period of listening to a lot of rap and hip hop, whatever was on the radio, and I was getting into classic rock. I had just discovered Jimi Hendrix for myself, so I wanted to play a string instrument. I started playing this bass, and my parents saw that I had an affinity for it. I think it was Christmas in 8th grade, they got me a Japanese guitar called a Python. It was white, like the guitar Hendrix played at Woodstock, with a knock off Fender Strat body. I accidently put acoustic strings on it, so I learned how to play with strings that were way thicker than usual.
How did you learn to play? Did you get lessons or were you just self-taught & obsessed over it?
I definitely obsessed over it! I lived about 7 or 8 miles from the high school and middle school that I went to, and I didn’t drive of course, so I didn’t have the distractions that most other kids have – you know walking home together & doing this or that on the way. I was always carted home, and that was it. My parents were not big fans of screen time on TV, computers or video games, so they always limited that. The one thing that I could do unlimited was play guitar.
I never had lessons. I would look at Hendrix and Pete Townsend DVDs and VHS, since this was before YouTube was really a thing. I would print out tabs off of the internet and try to pair them up. I looked at the tabs, and then looked at their hands on the videos, and tried to match them up. Then I would look in a mirror and try to get my hands to look the same way.
I can imagine that would just take hours!
Yeah. I was obsessed! Kids have just this incredible wealth of information that they can just tap into. I can imagine that if you actually cared about playing guitar, it would be so much easier these days! You can just look up, “How do I play this song” for any song, and there’s some dude with 3 camera angles telling you how to play it.
When did you go from just playing on your own to playing in a group?
I was was really lucky, since I was in the band playing trumpet, I was in a class that was full of other musicians! My friend Chris’s dad was the director of the high school band, so he was a really talented musician at a young age. He and I were really good friends before I even picked up a guitar, so then when I started playing, we would just go to his dad’s house and play music in the garage. He would play drums, I would play guitar, and my cousin Matt would just rap over it!
So you had people to play with since basically day 1?
Yep, that was like, day 1! We were in a band called Facedown. Really regrettable name for your first band!
What was your education in music? You were in jazz band and marching band in high school?
Yeah, and then I took choir too. I knew my voice was just garbage and I had to get better, so I started doing choir.
And then what sort of classes did you do after high school?
I did the Steve Sage class at DVC, which I still credit as probably my best music education. After that I decided to learn more about music theory, because I was really ignorant. I barely read music! Even with trumpet, I kind of just memorized it and played it. I wanted to learn about chords, scales, key signatures and modes. I started at DVC and then transferred to UCSB where I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Music.
Did you have any specific concentration for your degree?
It was just a general music degree. A little bit of performance, a little bit of theory, and little bit of history.
Anything that stands out to you from the years at Santa Barbara?
I just remember the community was really amazing. The entire town of Isla Vista is only students! So anytime you wanted to meet up to study, play or practice, you can just walk over to someone’s house. It’s not like going to NYU or even Berkeley where you’re in the middle of a regular city that has a lot of students. Literally, everyone is a student! It was a really cool experience to have such easy access to playing with my colleagues.
And you were just playing guitar?
I actually switched over to the upright bass. I wanted to play in symphonic band and jazz band too, and I didn’t want my guitar to sound less rock and roll. I just wanted to have the theory behind it. I didn’t want to change to more of a jazz or classical style. I liked it being raw. I didn’t want to train formally on guitar.
What ensembles did you play bass in?
I played in a jazz combo and a chamber ensemble (4 or 5 piece string ensemble), the symphonic band which has all instruments and the orchestra, which is just strings. I had a really wide breadth of education on bass!
I know you stopped pursuing music for a bit, and then returned to it. Let’s talk about that!
I started playing out, playing gigs at a very young age, like 14. By the time I was 22, I was so burnt out by it, just feeling really discouraged. At the time I was really into ultimate frisbee, and I started to get really involved in that. I tried doing an office job for a while, and that was really discouraging. It’s been hard to find something that I can maintain a level of passion and enjoyment. Music has always been the constant though! It’s always been other things and music. So I really feel that music is the way I should go.
So then if you know music is the way to go, what’s your plan of attack with Radiokeys, (your main musical project)?
We just figure that social media is the main thing to do. You have to be active, but not in a “look at me, look at me” way. You want to be a megaphone for the community that you’re in. And you want to share things that would interest other artists. For example, today the Black Keys came out with a new single for the first time in years, so we posted that. People are interested in your content, beyond just your own music, interested in your thoughts and ideas, and the things you’re sharing. Our band does a podcast that talks about underground artists that are in our same vane. We talk about why we like them, giving the bands a little more exposure, and talk about their history and trajectory.
We started playing the music, too, but then we realized that there were copyright laws. Because you can download podcasts, basically I have to get the same license as if I was redistributing the music. Then I realized that these are underground artists, not Mick Jagger or something. We started emailing the management of bands we’re interested in, and sure enough they started getting back to us right away! So now we almost developed a rapport with these bands. Instead of just talking about them, we’re talking with them! A bunch of them have started following us on Instagram, and it’s just been a really unforeseen, awesome way to communicate with these bigger bands.
Any bands we would know of?
I’ll get the list. We’ve had 17 episodes, and we just started doing a historical podcast every 3 weeks or so where we talk about moments in music history. We’ve had The Deslonds, Gold Star, Chris Kasper, Quiet Life, Charley Crockett, Davey and the Chains, Liz Cooper and the Stampede, C.W. Stone King, The Redwalls, The Felice Brothers. All these bands are letting us use their music!
Getting back to your music – I have to ask, what’s it like to be in a band with your sister? Did you guys always get along?
We didn’t always get along! We were always very similar, emotional people, and sometimes it can be hard to harness it when you’re younger. Her and I didn’t start getting along until after high school. I realized that she wrote a lot of poetry and lyrics, so we started writing a song together, and it flowed together really quickly and easily, and felt authentic. We ended up doing it more and more. I feel like she’s my songwriting partner! When I write songs by myself, I don’t feel as complete. I feel like if we’re like Voltron or something, I’m just one of the tigers.
And since this is going out to students, let’s finish with some comments your teaching philosophy. Any main focuses or goals for you and your students?
I would say the big thing is to find that main reason why students are here. Sometimes it’s because they have to, because their parents make them, but for the most part kids do want to be there, and there is a reason why they gravitate towards it. You can be like my original music teacher that saw I was passionate about music and gave me a triangle to play – that’s like snuffing the fire! You take what they’re passionate about and then give them something that they don’t care about at all. As a teacher, if you’re just going through a book, it’s important to recognize when students have no interest in what’s going on, and to audible a little bit, ask them what they’re passionate about. The main point is to figure out what that flame is for that student, and to try to fan it!