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Karl Kohlase Answers- What's All The Fuzz About?

Issue #3- February 16, 2023

Wildman caught up with the multitalented musician Karl Kohlase- he shares many insights including practice regimen, faith and how to decide what music to listen to!!


WM: Karl- how did you get started in music?

Karl: I was surrounded by music as a kid. One set of grandparents, immigrants from Norway, rooted me in Classical music, like Edvard Grieg. The other set infused me with a love for old hymns, bluegrass and Elvis. My Dad, a fan of Jim Croce and Johnny Cash, played a bit of guitar and had one around the house, which I picked up when I was 11 or 12.

WM: Is that when you became a serious guitarist?

Karl: I took piano and trumpet lessons, but as soon as I picked up Dad’s old acoustic guitar I was hooked, so I saved up some money by delivering newspapers and bought myself my first guitar, a black Squier Stratocaster. I’ve had it for 40 years now.

WM: Wow! 40 yrs??? Do you still play it?

Karl: I do. In fact, I’m using it on the new album, since it’s my only electric, and I’m writing in a more blues/rock/funk fusion style these days, which is all electric guitar driven. For several years prior I had been on a purely acoustic. I love both, but it’s been a blast to pick up the electric again.

WM: I've noticed that. I remember you were primarily instrumental and finger style- from what I could see. How did you learn the acoustic finger style? You do it well.

Karl: I’m mostly self-taught, but I did take a few lessons in classical and jazz guitar at college. I was a music major.

WM: What caused the recent shift in style?

Karl: A friend of mine and I were working on some songs together, and he suggested I pick up the electric again, knowing I had played in a few rock bands in high school, and when I did, the songs just started flowing out. Just felt right, so I ran with it.

WM: Kind of like riding a bicycle?

Karl: Pretty much, but it’s taken some practice to get some of my old chops back. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the kind of speed I had back in high school, but I’m not too worried about that. You know, B.B. King wasn’t a shredder, but he could make you feel something with a few well selected notes played straight from his deepest soul. Hendrix wasn’t really a shredder either, by today’s standards, but he’ll always be my favorite to listen to.

WM: So true- many guitarists have made there mark in history- each one with his own skill to be known for. Jimi and B.B. are they your favorites?

Karl: If I had to narrow it down to two favorites, I’d say Hendrix and Van Halen.

WM: You recently wrote a song based on Hendrix- how did that come about?

Karl: Right. It’s called “Cryin’ Winds”. As soon as I came up with that opening riff I knew the song had to be about Jimi. It was just so saturated with his musical influence upon my guitar tone and style. But I didn’t want to gloss over the fact that, while I’m a huge admirer of his music, I’ve come to have a significantly different philosophical approach to life as a believer in Christ. That whole drug scene destroyed so many great artists. Nearly destroyed me, too, until Jesus intervened.

WM: Wow! Let’s talk about that for a minute- the case could be made it was of epidemic proportions. Why do you think the drug scene (as you call it) occurred? Where did it come from and why was it so prevalent among guitarists?

Karl: It was prevalent among musicians in general, not just guitarists. I suppose there were several factors to it. The pace of a touring musician is hectic, and some reached for drugs that helped them to keep their energy up, then needed something else to come down, which became a vicious cycle. Some thought that psychedelics might open up new creative doors and windows in their minds, later to discover that they were playing a game of Russian roulette with their mental health. While others just bought into the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” party mentality, not realizing that the lifestyle simply wasn’t sustainable.

I suppose we’re all looking for something to fill that hole in our hearts, a way to numb the pain. As I got older, I came to realize the best way to do that is to work on my own spiritual development. For me, music is a part of that work of inner healing. I’m seldom happier than when I’m absorbed in a musical endeavor.

WM: You mentioned earlier your faith in Christ pulled you out of that lifestyle. Could you share more about that experience?

Karl: By the time I was 18 I was playing in bar bands and dabbling in way too many mood altering substances, but somehow at that young age God made it clear to me that He had other plans for me, and that if I didn’t turn from the path I was on I would end up in a hole I most likely would never get out of. I just knew it. So I started reading the Scriptures, and the words of Jesus just leaped off the pages for me, straight into my deepest being. I knew He was calling me to follow Him, although I had no idea what that might entail at the time, or how it would end up.

WM: When I first started following you on Twitter- I noticed all of your music being free- even your latest stuff is put out for all- not having to download or purchase. Why is that?

Karl: I don’t know. Maybe it’s something God put on my heart to do years ago. I have a good job as a truck driver for an iron ore mine that pays the bills. Plus I have the recording equipment at home, so it doesn’t cost me much of anything but my time to produce it. And it brings me a lot of joy when people connect with my music. I do intend, however, to make the new album available for streaming and download when it’s completed, something I’ve never tried before. Maybe that’ll generate enough money to buy myself a nicer guitar or better recording software. If it does any better then, that’d be awesome, but one never knows. It’s a tough market these days, and I think all musicians are feeling the pinch of the new technology.

WM: Right- hearing that from many artists today. Let’s talk about your practicing. First of all, when doing this part time- how do you find the time?

Karl: I don’t practice nearly as much as I should or as much as I did when I was in high school. When I was a kid I’d easily play four hours a day or more. Nothing even close to that nowadays.

WM: So- under your current circumstances how are you able to maintain the level of playing you achieve?

Karl: Oh I still practice, but I don’t spend hours playing scales or rudimentary exercises like that any more. I mainly only practice the next thing I intend to record to get it to a level that’s presentable for public consumption. Then I capture it and move on to the next thing.

WM: What is your rule of thumb for when you know a project is at that level?

Karl: I practice a piece until I get through it, without any glaring mistakes, twice in a row. Then I start hitting the record button. Because it might be that third take that’ll be the best, when it’s still fresh and fiery. If I wait too long it might start feeling mechanical or a bit worn out to me.

WM: That's a point I don't believe many get- when recording- timing is everything...

What do you hope people will receive from your music? How do you want your music to touch them?

Karl: Sometimes my aim is very simple. Just to bring a smile or two. Entertainment. Other times I have loftier goals in mind, like spreading a message of faith, hope and love, or causing people to stop in their tracks and think about their lives a bit more clearly. The new album has some lighthearted fun songs, as well as a few weightier songs that touch on very serious subject matters, like depression or broken homes. In all of the songs, though, I’m very careful that my lyrics don’t conflict with my Christian worldview, while trying to avoid being “preachy” or “churchy”, if that makes sense. It’s a challenging tight rope balancing act.

WM: Well said. I appreciate that balancing act you do- not wanting to turn people off- while at the same time offering them the help you have received.

WM: You mentioned the new album- now if I'm correct you are releasing a single at time until complete?

Karl: Yes, I’ve been releasing one song (with simple videos) per month and have nine of the songs uploaded to YouTube. Three more to go and I’ll call it an album in April. Then I intend to experiment with getting the whole album out there on the streaming and download services. A friend of mine suggested I use a service like DistroKid to do that. We’ll see how it goes.

WM: Great to hear- can’t wait until the full album is released- will be looking forward to it.

WM: Ok- it is time now for Wildman’s On The Spot question- are you ready?

Karl: Go for it.

WM: Ok- you go back in time and find yourself on stage playing with Hendrix- he says to you, “Ok, Karl what song are we doing next?" What do you say?

Karl: The Wind Cries Mary

WM: Why that choice?

Karl: I think the song highlights Jimi’s more pensive and tender side. His poetic sense. It’s one of those songs that stops you in your tracks and makes you think about the big picture, the fleeting nature of all things, and what it means to be human as we face our own mortality. And that solo is perfection. It’s not necessarily impressive, but it’s exactly right for the song. The way his guitar speaks… the tone, his note choices and expressiveness. It can’t be improved upon, in my opinion.

WM: And the part you would play with him would be?

Karl: I’d take rhythm while he took his solo.

WM: HaHa- I was wondering what your answer would be- I mean who would say they would take lead with Hendrix on the stage?

Karl: Right?! “Move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over.”

WM: Hey- There's the title of your next song!?!?!?

Karl: Nah, I’ll leave that lyric reserved for Hendrix himself. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it’s what Jimi says at the beginning of his solo on the song “Fire”.

WM: Right- but you could do the same- just replacing “Jimi” with “Karl"?

Karl: Wouldn’t work for me. I’m far too introverted.

WM: Gotcha…… Then let me say it about you!

WM: Regarding Hendrix- obviously he was a great player- personally when watching him all that comes to mind is- he was a natural. Would you agree?

Karl: I think he worked at it like everyone else, but he had that rare capacity to make it seem like he was communicating something from the depths of his soul when he played. Jeff Beck was another guitarist who brought that kind of heartfelt soulful artistry to his playing.

WM: You shared about Hendrix and his talent but you’ve also shared about his difficult lifestyle. How do you reconcile appreciating talent while not supporting lifestyle?

Karl: As a kid I didn’t know how to separate the two, and I was pulled into the lifestyle. As an adult I guess I’ve developed enough wisdom to know I need to develop my own moral compass, rather than offload that responsibility to celebrities, however talented they might be.

WM: Well said. On a very similar note- As a fellow believer it has always been a point of contention for me in finding that line of how far to go with secular music vs. Christian music. Any process you use in deciding what is appropriate to listen to?

Karl: Limit your intake, listen critically, and pay attention to how it affects you spiritually. If you approach it as an objective student of the craft, instead of a mindless “fan” that accepts everything that comes out of the artist’s mouth, you should be fine. And if you feel it affecting you negatively, listen to something else.

WM: Well said!

WM: I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us today. Where can our readers find more about you and your music?

Karl: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

WM: Where can people follow what you are doing?

Karl: People can find me on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. All three accounts have the same name, Karl Kohlhase. And hopefully I’ll have the new album on all the streaming and download platforms sometime this summer. I’m thinking its title will be the name of the first track, Prodigal Son. Twelve original guitar driven songs with blues, classic rock, jazz, and fusion influences.

WM: Great sir- we are looking forward to it!

Hey guitarists- what did you think of Daniel's practice regimen? Comment below....

- Widlman

What's All The Fuzz About? Is a blog dedicated to the instrument we all know and love- the guitar. Stay tuned for more articles and interviews!

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