Recognized among the world’s greatest guitarists - Vicki Genfan is known for unique mastery of the acoustic guitar. Utilising 29 alternate tunings and a percussive technique she calls ‘slap-tap’, she draws from folk, jazz, pop, soul and world music to create a brand of music that borders on pure alchemy.
Vicki discusses her philosophy on tunings and some key guitar influences.
AU: What has your relationship to the guitar been like through the years?
Literally there are times when my hands call to me to pick up the guitar. There's something here, it's a kinesthetic thing, it's a real 'in my body' thing where I have to pick up the guitar and something wants to come out and I've gotta figure out what it is.
I realised that the tunings could reflect my mood and the guitar was buddy, the guitar was my best friend growing up. I was not an extremely outgoing person as a teenager. The guitar was my best friend so whenever I was feeling sad or depressed I would always go to the guitar and I began to collect tunings. I changed the tunings all the time. Now I would say I have documented about 34 tunings.
“Genfan is carving a niche in the acoustic music world which few can fill.”
AU: Do you have a guiding philosophy in life and does that play out in your music?
VG: Well certainly something that I;ve learned through guitar that I try to incorporate in my life is that you must follow your joy...YOU MUST! And even though I say that, I find it hard to do outside of the guitar, but I want to. Like I totally trust it with guitar. I was a guitar major for 2 years and I had the opportunity to formally study and it was a program where you had to study jazz and classical. And I had no excitement about those things. Nothing was going on in me. I was sitting in the stairwell in my dorm hallway where it echoed coming up with new tunings and writing songs and going into my classical teacher where I was supposed to play a classical piece every week and saying "can I play this piece I just wrote". And god bless my teacher who said yeah, go ahead. So following my joy has led me to where I am in the guitar world which I feel really good about.
AU: Was there a moment for you? Someone who truley inspired your journey with the guitar?
VG: About 11 or 12 years old I started listening to an artist named Joni Mitchell. I'd be playing your basic chords you know, I was strumming, I was fingerpicking a little, signing some songs, writing some songs. I heard Joni Mitchell's music and you know her music is amazing as music but my ear went to her guitar and I was freaked out. That was a moment. That was definitely for me a moment of like "what was she doing?" Anyone that loves any kinda music can relate to the feeling when something musical really touches you. You know it just moves you and it shakes you. And that's what happened. And I learned somehow that she was changing the tuning or I could tell. I couldn't get those chords on the guitar. I could get them on the piano so I was really using my ear and I realised I could change the tuning on the guitar and that blew my world open. So I started tuning and once I started putting the guitar in open tunings things became available to me as a creator that never were there before.