24 Minutes with Shaun Verreault
Shaun Verreault of Wide Mouth Mason. (Handout)
Shaun Verreault has fronted the Canadian blues-based rock band Wide Mouth Mason since the mid-'90s. A veritable guitar master, Verreault will be performing Saturday, April 22 at Steel Toad Brewing Company in Vancouver. He spent 24 Minutes with Joe Leary.
Going way back, what was the moment that you recall that music resonated with you? Was it a particular song or artist that made you want to make music?
Prince. When I heard the beginning of "When Doves Cry" and the end of "Let’s Go Crazy"; I knew I was gonna have to learn how to play guitar.
What kind of musical training did you undergo?
I took guitar lessons in Saskatoon at a school run by a classical guitarist who employed a wide variety of gigging musicians. Though I had a couple of year-long periods of the same teacher consistently - one fusion shredder guy and then a hardcore jazzer - depending on who was around each week, I might walk in to spend an hour with a country chicken-picker or a metal tactician or classical player. Between that and playing trumpet in the school band, which exposed me to orchestral music and the likes of Miles Davis and the book of standards, I got a crash course in diversity that made a huge impression on me.
It’s hard to believe that Wide Mouth Mason has been around for over two decades. How did you form the band and did you ever imagine that it would have this durability?
A couple weeks ago marked the 20th anniversary of the release of our first record. I’d played throughout elementary and high school with Safwan, Wide Mouth’s drummer. From me on my first acoustic and he on pots and pans, to last weekend at a festival with the current day Masons, he’s been my constant musical and comedic companion. I knew early on that I’d be a lifer. Music’s been my gateway to seeing the world and finding my way around in it. I figure, when you learn how to do a thing, it teaches you not only that thing, but a process to learn how to do everything. I’ve projected those musically-learned patterns over every endeavor undertaken since, and it’s been like a skeleton key.
Is there a key to longevity in the music business?
Stubbornness and resourcefulness! I don’t even mean on the business side. I mean as a creative person. I’ve set myself challenges every couple years: you don’t get a pick anymore; you don’t get any effects pedals for a year; you have to play everything with a slide until you actually kind of can… Don’t get complacent. Push yourself, and in this current climate, finding other ways to make a living that facilitate and support music-making.
What advice do you offer to aspiring guitarists that see you shred on stage and want to follow in your footsteps?
Even if you’re not a singer, sing along with what you’re playing when you practice. Let your voice lead you around, not the patterns your fingers have memorized. Play melodies on just one string for an hour. After an hour, allow yourself the next string too. See how you can translate physical shapes of things in the world onto the guitar neck. Listen to styles of music you don’t usually. Learn how to play Cannonball Adderley’s solo in the Miles Davis song "Milestones." If you always play sitting down, practice standing up. If you don’t play with a drummer, find one to play with. Jam along with records. Before you think you’re ready, figure out songs you like using your ears, not tab. If you usually use distortion, play clean for awhile. If you’re an acoustic player, try an electric with lots of gain. “Diversifind” your way to your own voice; and keep looking in different places. I feel like it took me about 30 years of playing to find a corner of the room that was more my own than someone else’s.
Finally, how has fatherhood changed you?
I’m more musical than ever at home. My daughter and I continuously sing and improvise on guitar or trumpet or percussion instruments and Lego and Play-Doh. Maybe that’s the best advice for up and coming musicians: Be as fearless as a four-year-old.