Interview with Snow Owl (Juan Garcia-Herreros) by Lars Mullen
Legendary bassist Snow Owl (Juan Garcia-Herreros) talks to Lars Mullen about his experiences on the World of Hans Zimmer tour, and his Phoenix bass guitar. Big thanks to our friends from Britain's Rare Guitars for the video footage.
Nice to see you again. This time in London!
Yeah! Can you believe it, Lars? We've finally met here. [Laughs]
Again, again, again.
So, you're here on tour, with a celebration of Hans Zimmer.
Yes, the World of Hans Zimmer, this is our third tour and our second time in London. Last time we were in Wembley. Now we have the Bolshoi Belarusian Orchestra, that is joining us. It must be about - maybe 70 people, but there's also a choir, altogether I think it's 200 people travelling.
Going back to just eight or nine in a band, and then you're standing there, looking around, "look at all these people"! Do you have to adapt much?
Yeah, what I love about it is this: when you're playing in an eight-band combo, everybody has a specific range that they have to cover, right? But even though there's this entire orchestra that's there, it's the same game.
If you look at the brass section, they have a tuba. That's the bass player. Right? You have the woodwinds; you have your contrabassoon, that's the bass player. So it's just different timbres, of the same thing, spread out over 70 people. So it's easy to adapt - being a composer myself, easy to adapt. [Laughs]
The great thing about Hans Zimmer's music is literally the lowest frequency available, to the highest frequency available, he'll compose for. And he's a great lover of bass.
And giving us the artistic freedom, as soloists, allows us to jump between the roles of each instrument, so I can be supporting the cellos, I can be supporting the violas, I can be supporting the contrabasses or the brass.
And the construction of the bass played a significant role in the blending process of that.
I was able to tune in – literally to the available frequencies that the cellos or double basses don't have from the bowing side, you know - that raspiness that comes out?
And whatever was not there, so I'm not masking them, I was able to tune in with this and enhance it.
So it's a fantastic marriage of the two worlds.
We improvise, as soloists, a lot of the music. We have introductions, we have solo features, and we have solo sections between all of us, that we can always vary.
And Hans always encouraged us not to play what's on the paper. And I love that, so we really have a lot of freedom.
Oh, great, now that must be something.
That's a blast.
Just going up again here, where I've watched you, you're using effects on the floor to –
To change... What are you changing, to get that high end?
It's a screaming guitar.
Absolutely, absolutely. Well, a lot of it is a mixture of - I've been using the BIAS amp application on the iPad, just for the high sustain, high-gain drive stuff, but also the B7K from Darkglass, with designed impulse response, that I put in there, that allows me to create that room mic sound, high edge, high sustain, without having to have the sacrifice of the room, the big halls, you know what I mean?
Tell me about the bass now. Oh, look at it. Six stringed monster.
There she is, in London. Right there, the Phoenix bass. Contrabass guitar designed by Andreas Neubauer and myself.
We were celebrating already eleven years of working together, and the first Snow Owl bass that we had designed was a neck-through-body design. And I wanted always to do a bolt-on version of the bass.
This is a bolt-on?
This is a bolt-on. I can turn it around a little bit here. You can see that on the camera maybe, there.
That's an extremely gorgeous design by Andreas and we used alder, ash and pear woods to create this masterpiece.
But the emotional element of this bass is very special and very dear to me.
And also for Andreas because, he had an episode of throat cancer, that he was really, really fighting with. He did not do any guitars for one year, he didn't do anything, he was completely in the hospital, dealing with the chemo.
And towards the end of the treatment, I said to him... "Why don't we design, finally, our bolt-on, anniversary, ten-year anniversary bass", right?
And I witnessed a process which is indescribable.
Every day that we worked on this bass, we worked on it for two months, together, every day that he worked on it, and it was being born, it was as if he was being reborn.
And he started healing, during the process of building this instrument.
And that's how we got the name, the Phoenix, to rise out of the ashes.
And that's literally how it happened. For him. And he's fully healthy now.
But the instrument, and the friendship and the love, that brought him out of it, and that's what's so special every time I play this instrument.
We've actually got two pickups, right here. You can switch from single coil to humbucker.
One here, and one here. I love the placement because I prefer to play in this area of the bass.
I can play here as well, which is nice, a smoother tone.
But for some reason, my hands always - because of the size of the instrument, and the muting is such a challenge that - it tends to sit right here.
This is active?
This is active. And they are Harry Häussel pickups from Germany. That's right.
Very good, yeah.
The electronics are also custom, and we have kind of a secret piezo microphone hidden in there somewhere, that I'm not allowed to reveal. [Laughs]
We can hear it but we mustn't talk about it.
And we've got a little snow owl, on the headstock!
Oh, yes. Andreas is always adding these little details. I've got three Snow Owl basses.
And the choice of woods for those helped me for different colours, but it's always a contrabass guitar.
The other thing that I've used a few times is if I - if you need a fretless, then I've gone with the classic Fender, Fender Jazz, you know, fretless sound.
And the occasional P-Bass, which is always a joy to smack around.
This puppy's gonna cover everything.
Yeah, yeah, it covers everything pretty much.
Was this one on your award-winning "Blue Road" album?
On the Blue Road album? No, what was on the Blue Road album was the first Snow Owl bass.
And at the very end of Blue Road, when we finished the last... There was an orchestral piece, then I had the Phoenix with me, yes.
Just to go back to the Blue Road, that won several awards, didn't it, in LA?
Yes, yes. We were blessed. There was one particular song, the title was "She Became a Thousand Birds", and it - there was a horrible tragedy in Colombia, in 1985, 1986, where there was a volcanic explosion, and thousands of people passed away.
And I wanted to write sort of a protest song, to make the Colombian government have more disaster prevention, ready, in those areas of Colombia.
And the song, even the video, the music video, the animation video, was featured in the Cannes film festival and we won multiple film festival awards for that song.
And what's so touching is, the power of music, that we can bring awareness to help the common man, with such a message of tragedy, and I'm still impressed how people have received that album.
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.