“Big stages are fun,”says string instrumentalist Andrew Kasab, “but I love the intimate, right-next-to-your-audience shows. There’s nothing quite like making jokes with folks while entertaining the pants off them.”
True to form, the Raleigh-based musician is returning to play Wilmington’s Fermental on January 4. He describes Fermental as a home away from home, where he can share belly laughs and good times. While Kasab will draw from his latest, expansive 24-track album “Fish” (2015), he also will perform some of his newer songs-in-progress.
“As ‘Fish’ was an immense hurdle for me to put together, I am in the process of recording a new album that should be out in early 2020,” he says. “I am also planning on recording another live album as I tour nationally in 2020. I keep picking up the guitar and finding something new I hadn’t discovered before, and love to cook up the comfort food of music, too. After all, how can anyone refuse a plate of that?”
An American finger-style guitarist, Kasab plays harp guitar and, occasionally, harmonica and ukulele. For the past 30 years he’s combined traditional and contemporary techniques. However, it’s the tone of the strings and the box of the instrument which ultimately define his sound.
“I like playing to what the tool in my hands can accomplish well,” Kasab explains. “The smaller Martin OM-28 [guitar] I use has a shorter frequency range than the harp guitar, so doing a more folk-driven, snappy finger-style technique rather than a more rounded tone with both hands drives the smaller guitar better.”
Having grown up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., Kasab praises area schools’ emphasis on music. It’s where he picked up the ukulele and trumpet. Kasab’s mother and older brother were both very musical. He enrolled in piano lessons at age 5, and took private guitar lessons with various teachers.
“While I still have a great love for wind instruments,” he explains, “I have always enjoyed seeing and feeling vibrations of a string instrument. The way that chords and melodies intertwine has made me feel at home on fretted string instruments. The way a string can resound and resonate is incredible; you can feel it swell and change in dynamic or do quick, staccato bursts, smooth, legato runs or lush chords.”
Kasab first picked up the harp guitar in 2007 after watching artists like Michael Hedges and Stephen Bennett play the instrument. American harp guitars have either hollow arms, double necks or harp-like frames for supporting extra bass strings. They look quite elaborate—large, yet elegant. They’re also expensive, which is why he decided to make his first one out of two acoustic-electric guitars.
“[I] played that Frankenstein of an instrument for a few years,” he quips. “After switching through several different harp guitar models, I have settled into a Timberline T60c with K&K Pickups, and it is by far one of the most resilient instruments I have taken out on tour. From being an acoustic artist (as well as an electric bassist/guitarist), I have always loved expansive styles and sounds, which led me to this extended range instrument.”
According to the musician, harp guitar expands his sonic range and adds dimension. He is drawn to traditional players like William Eaton (harp guitar) and Carlos Nakai (Native American flute). He also credits his progressive flair to modern rock, country, jazz and blues artists, like Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Charles Mingus, JS Bach, Jerry Garcia and Doc Watson.
“I [strive] to craft music along the lines of influencing artists who, I believe, were imitating other instruments and reimagining them on a bass, guitar, organ, etc,” he says. “That, to me, is an essential element to the guitar.”
“Fish” features a range of genre influences and finger-picking techniques. On it, Kasab tried to capture the most comprehensive sampling of instrumental material in one album. “IRE” was originally written and recorded on a six-string and is heavy on percussive rhythm that evokes a traditional Irish dance beat, usually associated with a bodrum (Irish drum). Songs like “Leaves” showcase Kasab’s alternative tuning on the harp guitar, wherein strings are tuned (low to high) E-A-D-F#-A-D and the sub bass strings are G-F#-C#-A-D-F#.
“Rather than having the sub bass strings separated from the top guitar strings, I viewed the instrument as a whole and it allowed me to expand upon the guitar parts into the lower tones rather than using the bass strings as supporting notes for a guitar chord,” he details. “I also use the right hand and left hand independently, allowing for a swaying bass line and swirling harmony to be completed at once.”
Whenever he tours, Kasab says he usually camps, encountering all kinds of inclement weather, wildlife and wonders of nature along the way. “You cannot beat playing music next to a campfire under the stars,” he says. “Trail 505” was inspired by hiking up the trail of the same name in Eldora, Colorado, a few years back. He found himself in awe of a herd of caribou with a backdrop of snow falling heavily on the mountain.
“I had never run down a mountain before but was lucky to make it down in the near white-out conditions,” he says. “Within an hour, over 4 feet of snow fell and I would not have made it back down the trail. It was pretty nuts, and [wouldn’t be] the last time I ended up running down a mountain.”