TERRA GUITARRA TEAR IT UP WITH ACOUSTIC GUITARS ON THEIR FOURTH RECORDING "Dragonfly"
Terra Guitarra, as their name implies, is a musical group that focuses on two things -- guitar explorations and planet earth. As exemplified on their fourth album, Dragonfly, this instrumental duo features two acoustic guitarists playing original compositions in the popular nuevo-flamenco style. The music encompasses their love of nature, travel, fiestas, the outdoors, journeys of personal growth, and spiritual reflection.
“Our style of nuevo-flamenco music is incredibly blissful to play,” states Bruce Hecksel. “Usually the melodies first come to me when I am outside experiencing nature. We travel constantly and each place has its own music. The music celebrates the landscape and the people there. The melodies are reflective of the earth’s energy and vibrations.”
According to his musical partner, Julie Patchouli, “The initial composing and recording are only part of the process. Performing is a major part of our music and it allows the music to continue to grow and evolve over time. The music also takes on characteristics of where we are and the flavor of the audience.
More information on Terra Guitarra is available at their website (terraguitarra.com). Their CDs -- Terra Guitarra, Winter Solstice, The Mother Night and Dragonfly -- and digital download tracks from those recordings are available at online sales sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody and many others. Terra Guitarra is on Earthsign Records.
There are several reasons why Terra Guitarra’s sound is a bit different than other nuevo-flamenco acts. Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli’s alter-ego group is an eclectic acoustic singer-songwriter duo called Patchouli with a dozen albums released over the past decade-and-a-half.
In addition, Bruce previously played in punk, rock and acoustic bands and studied fingerstyle and classical guitar, and Julie started as a singer-songwriter at a young age. Terra Guitarra subtly incorporates elements of world music, ethnic folk, and classical. Between the two groups, Terra Guitarra and Patchouli, the duo plays an average of 200 shows each year, more than 2,500 to date (and in performances they often combine selections from both group’s repertoire) so the music is audience-tested.
On the Dragonfly CD, Bruce plays lead on a classical nylon-string guitar, but also performs on six-string and 12-string guitars, bass, keyboards, djembe, congas and percussion. Julie plays acoustic rhythm guitar, bass, shakers, tambourine, dumbek, congas and djembe. “I studied fingerstyle guitar and classical music,” says Hecksel, “but Julie and I have immersed ourselves in world music and global ethnic folk so the nuevo-flamenco style evolved very naturally to us. People from all over the world come up to us at our performances and tell us how they hear the music of their culture represented in Terra Guitarra be it Greek, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Columbian or any number of other countries.”
The tunes on Dragonfly represent “a spiritual journey of personal exploration and discovery,” according to Julie. Some of the music was inspired by mythology and mystical ideas. “Danu” is named after the Irish goddess of rivers. “We live right next to the upper Mississippi River and flowing water is a big part of our personal mythology,” says Bruce. “We are very fluvial people.” Julie explains that the composition “The Swan” also comes from water inspiration. “We wanted that music to have the feeling of a graceful swan swimming. The composition ‘Alchemist’ was inspired by the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is a modern-day fable that we relate to because, as musicians, we are always growing and changing as we journey onward. Another tune, ‘Anastasia,’ was also inspired by a book. The novel Anastasia is by a Russian author and we liked its theme about restoring the planet and people’s connection to it.”
The tune “Kokopelli” is named after the Native American fertility symbol often portrayed with a flute. “We use the title to symbolize a special place where you can be contemplative -- fertile ground where you can grow as a person,” explains Bruce. “Similarly, ‘The Story’ was inspired by a vision of Native American elders sitting around the campfire sharing the tribe’s history with the children.” The piece “Kairos” is titled after the ancient Greek word for that opportune moment in time when something special happens. The tune was composed spontaneously at a concert Terra Guitarra was playing at an outdoor Greek marketplace in Florida.
Three tunes have their roots elsewhere. “Elements” was originally written and recorded as “Absinthe” on Terra Guitarra’s The Mother Night album (“I pictured sitting in a bar with Rimbaud in Paris,” Bruce says), but the arrangement changed so dramatically in concert performance that the group decided to record the new version. “Discovery” previously appeared on an early Patchouli album, but is reworked here to feature the Spanish-style guitar playing. For only the second time, Bruce and Julie have recorded someone else’s music; in this case they create their own unique arrangement of the film theme by John Barry from the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.”
Bruce, who is from Minneapolis, Minnesota, started playing piano at age five (he won several state contests), switched to guitar at 13, played electric guitar in punk-rock bands in high school, and became enamored with acoustic guitar when he was 18. He attended college, first as a music major (studying piano, guitar, choral music and composition) then theology and graduate school in theology. “My father was a pastor and I’m fascinated with the metaphysical, but eventually my love of guitar-playing took over my life. I studied with Eric Lugosch, who was a national fingerstyle champion, and he introduced me to the music of Rev. Gary Davis, Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges. At that time I started composing solo guitar pieces spontaneously. When I began performing professionally I became more of a flatpicking acoustic lead guitarist, with many rock and classical influences but Ernest Ranglin and his Jamaican Jazz forays opened up new territory for me.”
Julie grew up in the Chicago, Illinois, area where she began playing violin at age seven, moved on to drums and percussion through elementary school, learned trombone in junior high, and switched to acoustic guitar at age 15. “I started playing in bars downtown before I could drive. I was fairly fearless.” Her early influences included Tracy Chapman, Joan Baez and The Pretenders. In college she studied classical guitar. She also studied upright bass. But she continued to compose and perform on the acoustic steel-string and classical guitars. In addition to her music, in college she studied medicinal botany (including a field study program studying plants in Mexico), ethnobotany (how plants are used in all parts of our lives) and environmental studies.
Both Bruce and Julie studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (intense courses taught by top musicians). They began playing music together in a folk-rock group called Aunt Betsy (Bruce on guitar and Julie on bass) that performed full-time for four years. “It was the exploratory years,” explains Bruce. “We were like six hippies touring in a van and living on a Native American reservation in Washington State. We were influenced by Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen.” Bruce and Julie began composing instrumental music separately and together. They called the pieces string-breakers because whenever one of the other guitarists broke a string and stopped to replace it, Bruce and Julie would play one of their pieces. The first one they wrote they called “Patchouli” which became Julie’s stage-name and eventually the name of their own songwriting duo when they left Aunt Betsy. In 2008 they expanded their musical terrain to also include recording and performing as Terra Guitarra.
Bruce, who has painted all his life, began a special series of guitar-based paintings for the artwork on the first Terra Guitarra album, and the art has expanded and evolved since then with resulting art shows and exhibits, and sales of originals and special prints (details can be found on the group’s website).
“We chose Dragonfly as the title of the album,” explains Julie, “because the dragonfly is a magical creature that appeals to everyone in a joyful way. It also symbolizes our lifestyle because we are always flitting from place to place to perform concerts. As the dragonfly’s iridescent wings reflect the light, our intention is for our music to do the same.”
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