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Arts + CultureMusicFamed fingerstyle guitarist Brian Gore steps up to the...

Famed fingerstyle guitarist Brian Gore steps up to the mic

Founder of International Guitar Night finds his voice on heartfelt new album 'Seek the Love You're Yearning.'

Most singer-songwriters may be well-known for accompanying themselves on guitar (or piano, or synthesizer, or, heck, even trombone), but it’s their voice that leaves the mark, no matter how expertly they strum/pluck/wah-wah. Brian Gore (appearing at Lost Church, Tue/12) did things very much the other other way round. A famed fingerstyle guitarist who founded the wildly successful touring “International Guitar Night” more than two decades ago, he’s just released his eighth album—the first one on which he sings. It took seven years to make Seek the Love You’re Yearning, a process that saw Gore step up to the mic and finally sing what was on his mind.

That’s a big jump, but for Gore it was an artistic manifestation that was a long time coming. “To create an emotional background for the numbers I was playing, I would often write lyrics to go with me instrumental pieces,” Gore told me from his home in Portland, to which he’d recently moved from the Bay Area during the pandemic. “I learned early on from some great mentors and role models like Alex de Grassi, that if you learn how to have singing as a reference, and you’re trying to have your guitar sound like you’re singing, that makes for more memorable pieces.

“That’s one thing,” Gore laughed, “but to get to a place where I felt like, OK I can do this, well, that took a little longer.”

Gore started playing guitar when he was 12, and started writing songs in college, but it wasn’t until afterwards that he sensed it was possible to “get somewhere with it”—he became a professional player in his 30s. He put out CDs inspired by Santa Cruz and Sonoma Wine Country, and launched International Guitar Night, which he was with for 25 years.

“There’s so much good acoustic guitar out there, and at the time we started, it wasn’t getting the opportunity it deserves,” he said of the event. “There were naysayers at the time that said, ‘Only guitarists are interested in guitar,’ and I said, ‘Well yeah, but isn’t everybody kind of a guitarist?’ We banded together and created a consortium, and long story short, we ended up touring the world. It’s been great because my heroes have been in the show, we’ve brought some great new players some attention, and it’s still growing. We now have players who were kids when the show started, including a couple who actually went to the show when they were kids. It’s been pretty wild.”

The call to follow a different, more personal musical path rang out, however. “I always felt like I was a better writer than guitarist,” he said. “I did work with several singers, but the lyrics I write are pretty personal. It ended up being that I was able to leave the International Guitar Night tour without it falling apart, and that created the opportunity to focus on singing, and develop my technique.”

“We were living in Berkeley at the time, and there’s a guy there named Raz Kennedy. He’s worked with Green Day, and Metallica, and all these other famous singers. He’s a great singer himself and he’s done all kinds of stuff. He has a method called Complete Vocal Technique. When I first went to meet him he asked, ‘Who do you want to sound like?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean? I just want to sound like me!’ and he went, ‘Well, that’s kind of weird,'” Gore laughed. “The thing I loved about the methodology he used is that it reflected a lot about the anatomy of singing. It was like going to a yoga instructor, and really getting to pay attention to your anatomy.”

Was it difficult for Gore to finally step into the limelight as a singer? “Interestingly, the show at Lost Church will be the second or third time I’ve done it live. What I found the first time I did it up here at a small venue, I was surprised because I was singing a lot better than I was playing guitar! My theory in it was that if I could capture the right vocal persona for each piece, then I would be more emotionally present, and therefore the singing would make for a stronger performance. It really feels like that’s what’s happening, and it feels good.”

The album Seek the Love You’re Yearning itself is a deeply heartfelt, folk-infused journey that bares Gores vulnerability, something refreshing in an age of artifice. It features friends like genius bass player Michael Manring (who will be performing with him on Tuesday) as well as Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Charlie Bisharat on violin and further bass duties by Dan Lutz. “With Michael Manring, I had two pieces with him in m ind and I thought, I’m just going to ask him. I’ve been a fan forever, I remember the exact light in the room when I first heard his music. So I emailed him, and when he responded he would do it, I was flabbergasted. I was over the moon.”

One cut from the album especially embodies Gore’s direction. “The song ‘From her Window,’ it’s kind of a sad song, but it’s about a person who finally gets the courage up to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to take this crap from people in my life anymore who are keeping me down. I’m going to find some courage to get out of this bad thing, and go after what I want. It’s sad, because a lot of times people want to hang on to what’s familiar with them, what they know. But at the same time, when you get the courage to break away from that stuff, it’s also super-sweet.”

That plays into the overall message of the album, and into Gore’s artistic leap as well.

“I’m really glad I did it because I feel like I’m offering something up, a message of hope that you can have the kind love that you want in your life, and have the kind of life that you want for yourself overall,” he said. “I feel like the songs are also taking about weaning yourself from pain, and the people and situations that cause you pain, so that you can be in a better place and make that life you want. I think the songs convey that message. The thing I’m happiest about is that I’m able to convey the meaning of the songs now.”

BRIAN GORE w/ Michael Manring, Tue/12, 7:30pm, The Lost Church, SF. More info here.

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Marke B.
Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.

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