Interview to Jennifer Batten
Interview by Elena Arzani to Jennifer Batten, the pioneering guitarist of Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck and other prestigious artists...
(Photo courtesy of the artist)
We, at Tuttorock, feel very privileged to have the opportunity to welcome here at TuttoRock. Thanks for your time! You pioneered a new approach to guitar’s play, and managed to establish yourself in the music industry, collaborating with some of the greatest artists that wrote its history. How did it all started with you and music? And did you first get discovered?
I started playing guitar at age 8. My first guitar was electric which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. The Beatles were huge back then and I wanted to be a part of that culture. I took lessons right away and learned to read music. My sister already had a guitar and I was jealous, and glad to finally get my own.
You’ve started playing the guitar in your early childhood. What was your first guitar and the first song you ever learnt?
The electric guitar I got was some cheap off brand thing but good enough for me. There’s a photo of it in my Momentum CD art work.
In 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl, you played for a special “50 years of Jeff Beck” concert. How has Jeff’s work inspired you with the guitar?
Jeff is the ultimate guitar player. He invented so many techniques everyone uses today. His sound is the envy of everyone. It’s so hifi, he could literally play at 160db and it wouldn’t hurt. He is connected to the heavens. He’s the only guitarist from that era that is still inventing and searching for new sounds. It was truly inspiring to hang out with him for 3 years and listen to his opinions on music and observe him in different environments.
You are no slouch at conventional-style playing, can you tell us something about your phenomenal two-handed tapping technique?
It was inspired by a fellow classmate at the Guitar Institute of Technology, Steve Lynch. We got a seminar by a super great player every month, like Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. One month it was Emmett Chapman who invented the Chapman Stick instrument (used by Tony Levin with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel). The Stick is all tapped and it gave Steve the idea of tapping on the guitar. This was before Van Halen got big. I loved what he was experimenting with and after we graduated, I took a lesson from him and learned enough to start experimenting on my own. I was obsessed with tapping which ended up in my version of John Coltrane’s "Giant Steps”, "Flight of the Bumblebee" and my original tunes "The Swarm”, "Cruzin’ the Nile" and others.
Do you have a most memorable concert or a particular occasion you performed with Michael that is prominent in your memory?
The Super Bowl XXVI was a great memory because it was so different from our other shows and was aired to 1.5 billion people around the planet. Also opening night for the BAD tour in Tokyo will always be in my memory. It went great and was the payoff for 2 months of intense rehearsals. The whole time we travelled in Japan was extraordinary because the culture and sights were so different from home. Also getting to tour all over Europe and see such things as the Forum in Rome was wonderful. Most people have to pay a lot of money to get to do that, and I was paid TO do it. We only played 2 or 3 shows per week so we all had time to explore the cities we were in.
You’ve participated in 3 mega-tours by Jackson, and some your solos, such as the one of Beat It, are embedded forever in our memory. What has been your contribution to MJ’s music? And how was to be working with him?
My job with Michael was to recreate the sounds from his hit records so that was my contribution as well as the staging and look. He was behind the creation of my look and costumes. He hired an artist to draw up a look for all performers and then the costume makers and makeup and hair artists tried to recreate that look for us us from the paintings. I already knew the Beat It solo from playing it in a cover band for several years prior to getting hired.
How did it feel to be playing in front of millions people?
It always felt surreal. It was very dream-like.
What is the legacy of Michael Jackson’s work nowadays in your opinion?
He has forever carved a permanent space in history from his various innovations. His music always gets people to dance. I’ve seen it in clubs where music is playing or a band is playing and people are sitting down. But when his music is heard people are inspired to move. He was a creative tornado in all aspects of entertainment from his cutting edge videos to the special effects he used live, and of course his groundbreaking dance moves.
Not long ago, the Met museum hosted an exhibition on music. Surprisingly the representation of women artists was really low. Is it more complicated for us, women, to establish ourselves in the Industry, in your opinion?
Women are challenged in every industry, not just music. I think part of the issue is that women are generally raised to be passive or at least NOT aggressive. But it takes somewhat of an aggressive nature to make your way to the top of any industry. For myself, it was Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck that launched my name. I don’t think you would be aware of me without their help and open mindedness for something different. But in the end, I believe things are only getting better for women, not worse. The internet has had a huge impact on influencing young girls to really dig in with their art and excel. I think as women excel in their crafts they will get noticed. One of the best examples is bassist Tal Wilkenfeld who played with Beck. She’s in Eric Clapton's Crossroads live video. It’s the kind of thing that’s so impressive it gets people talking, which is the best kind of promotion you can’t buy. If I could give women any advice at all it would be to not stress about success or how you’re perceived, but instead spend the energy on your craft. Just immerse yourself in it every day, get out and play with loads of different people and get an internet presence. All your efforts are seeds you’re planting that will eventually emerge as little successes, sometimes in ways you don’t expect.
You’ve published 5 albums since 1992: Above Below and Beyond; The Immigrants - One Planet Under One Groove; Jennifer Batten's Tribal Rage: Momentum, and Whatever. There is also another CD that came out a year or two ago with killer singer Marc Scherer called “Scherer Batten-BattleZone” That’s the most recent.Moreover, you wrote 2 music books, and are a Master in guitar’s lessons. Also, you’re presently touring Europe with Jon Macaluso. What are your plans for the future?”
The music industry has changed drastically since the digital age and the internet. Everyone can get your music for free so I’ve lost my motivation to pay for recording out of my own pocket. It’s very expensive to get a record mixed and mastered even if you record everything at home. So I’m pretty much a hired gun and respond to email requests whether it’s to record on someones track or come play in another country. Two weeks ago my next tour was to be in the UK and then an email came through requesting me to play a Hendrix Festival in Poland prior to the UK gigs, so that’s how it works. People contact me and I try to pull things together for the travel to make sense. The trip I’m on right now just started with a request to play the Larvik Guitar Festival in Norway, so I had to build dates around it to make the travel worthwhile. In the end I arranged about 6 weeks of work in Itay Norway Finland & UK. I’ve been doing this kind of travel for 30 years but I’d like to get a better balance so I’m launching a band in my home city of Portland Oregon to try and stay home a little more. I also have done 3 guitar courses for the TrueFire.com company and plan to do more and build my catalog with them.
Jennifer Batten: https://www.batten.com /