The Guitar Hero Series: Ernesto Schnack
Written by Ava   

The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right.  Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman.  Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best--ripping a mean riff!

It's hard enough moving music scenes from New York to Baltimore, but how does a guitar player deal with Berlin, Germany, and a long stint in Panama.  Ask Ernesto Schnack.  The versatile guitar player was born and raised in Panama, but opted to move to Berlin in hopes of finding a bigger audience for his music.  Of course, his father is German, so you'd think he'd have an easy time fitting in.

Though it actually hasn't been quite so simple, it seems Ernesto Schnack has carved a niche for himself amongst the German capital's music scene quite effortlessly.  After moving, he decided to go back to basics-strumming out tunes on his acoustic and focusing on his own music.  

He's done a great job so far, working on many an album and putting out a great blog and website in his name where you can read all about his latest gigs.  

In his own words, here is really what Ernesto has come up with.  

Where did your interest in guitar come from?

I was always attracted to the guitar, even as a small kid I'd try to play an old guitar that was lying around the house. But it was when I started listening to Metallica and Iron Maiden that I really took it seriously. For some reason I remember listening Kirk Hammett's solo on "Trapped Under Ice" as being the moment I decided "this is what I want to do."

You’re from Panama.  What the guitar scene like there? 

There are a lot of great guitarists and musicians in general, but it's a very small country, so all the different scenes tend to be pretty small. But it seems to be getting better and better with time, I see more people trying new things and changing things up a bit.

Why the move to Berlin? What are the difference between the guitar scene in Panama and the guitar scene in Berlin?

I wanted to be in a place where I felt I could find a big enough audience for the music that I do. There are people in Panama that like my music and appreciate it, but I didn't see that growing enough to sustain a career.

Plus it's much harder to tour in South America compared to Europe and the U.S., so it's not as easy for an indie artist to get their name out there. Here I can hop on a bus and go play in any European city with very little hassle. That's a big deal for me.

The scene in Berlin is a whole other ball game. There's such a huge influx of musicians here, and there are so many great ?  guitarists. It's quite humbling.

Why start from scratch in Berlin?

I felt it was the perfect opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do, and find my own voice as a composer and guitarist. In Panama I got involved in a lot of bands and projects, and lost focus on my own music. I don't regret that all, because I made some great music with friends and learned a lot during that time. 

But being new in Berlin and not knowing many people, it seemed like a good moment to go back to the acoustic and just focus on my own music, with no distractions or external influences. 

What kinds of guitars do you play and what are some of your musical influences?

My acoustic is a Martin DR. I also play an Epiphone Sheraton II and a Carvin 727.

Some of my biggest influences are Michael Hedges, Frank Zappa, Tool and Meshuggah. I was a big fan of Rush and Dream Theater, although I don't listen to them that much anymore.

Right now the music I'm studying and listening to the most is classical and jazz: Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Schubert, Bach, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus and Wayne Shorter, just to name a few.

You play a variety of genres in guitar including rock, pop, jazz, and classical and you also play both Electric and Acoustic.  Why did you choose to play different kinds of instruments and genres as opposed to sticking to one?

It's not something I really chose to do, I'm just naturally curious and always looking for new music to learn from. I'm always looking for things that sound unfamiliar to me and challenge my comfort zone, and I get bored very easily.

But now I'm at a point where I'm trying to distill all my influences into one coherent style and voice, instead of jumping around so much. 

Would you consider yourself more of a guitar player or a composer? Do they go hand in hand? What is the great thing about each thing? 

Mainly a composer, but being a guitarist is such a huge part of my musical identity, that it's hard to separate the two. A lot of ideas come from playing the guitar, but sometimes I'll write something away from the guitar, and the challenge is to figure out a way to play it...sometimes leading to interesting techniques or tunings.

But what I really like is to take sounds and turn them into something coherent that moves me. I see playing guitar as an extension of that, just in a much more in-the-moment kind of way.

You are really proud of the EP you just put out and you say that it’s filled with music you worked on while traveling.  Is there a theme to the songs on the EP? What kind of songs do you feature on the EP and why don’t  they fit with what you are doing now?

I wouldn't say there's a theme, but they were conceived around the same time    and were worked out more or less in the same way. Those two songs are a good representation of the kind of music I see myself doing in the not-so-distant future, but right now I'm focusing on my solo guitar music.

The smart thing might have been to hold on to them for a bit longer, but I've already done the mistake in the past of holding on to music for too long, waiting for the "right moment" to release it...and it ends up never seeing the light of day because I lose my enthusiasm with it. I felt these songs were way too good to be left in the purgatory like that.  

Tell me about some of your other albums.

Well, right now I'm working on my solo guitar album, it's called "Solo Guitar 2009-2010: A Work in Progress." What I'm doing is releasing one song at a time as I record each one, rather than waiting until it's all recorded.

It's really not an album at all in the traditional sense, but I just wanted to get my music out there instead of waiting until it's all perfect. I tend to over-think things, and that's a way of preventing that.

My other album is Wood which I released in 2002. It's also acoustic guitar, but I was experimenting a lot with using percussion loops and effects to get some different sounds and arrangements. 

What are your plans for the future?

The main thing right now is to finish recording all my solo guitar pieces for the album. I'm also in the process of finding other musicians and starting a band to play my music, which would eventually lead to a CD more along the lines of the Beta EP. 

I'm also planning on releasing some tracks from my past which I never released. They were done right after Wood, and have a lot electric guitars and electronic elements. 

And there's also my side-project, Death and the Maiden, where I play metal arrangements of classical pieces, mostly string quartets. I already released an EP and I'm working on more material for that. It's a way to get closer to the classical music I'm listening to right now and at the same time letting out that teenager in me that still just wants to shred.

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