Spotlight: Imagho

The joy of publishing Guitar Moderne has always been the discovery of new guitarists with evocative tone, fresh ideas, and inspiring new sounds. When I started, I had to find them by spending hours mining YouTube. Now the magazine has grown to where they find me. The French guitarist Imagho A/K/A JL Prades contacted me, looking for feedback on his music. From the first tune on his Bandcamp compilation I was hooked. His mood drenched, layered guitars conjured a Bill Frisell influenced more by the French romantic composers than American roots.

Checking out his videos, I discovered that he gets his gorgeous sound playing a cheap, vintage Italian import upside down left-handed through pedals and multiple amps. Once I started I couldn’t stop; in addition to the great music, these live videos are beautifully shot with great sound.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

I started playing the guitar when I was 16, back in 1985 or so. I was into hard rock and heavy metal, and quickly joined a band playing rhythm guitar. Our lead guitarist was a really gifted musician, he taught me a lot of stuff, but he eventually quit the band to play jazz. Some time later I got into jazz myself, as a listener. When I was 20, I joined a jazz trio. We played music that crossed rock and jazz but was neither rock, proper jazz, nor jazz-rock. I think that’s when I began to be able to really play the guitar. At that time I played in the proper left-handed way, and continued for 20 years or so.  Five or six years ago I switched to right-handed guitars that I play without any modification and re-learned everything: I still use my left hand for picking and the right hand for the fretboard, but the strings are now upside down: lower E string is down, upper E string is up. On the compilation, every tune until 2009 is played on a regular left handed guitar, and everything since 2009 (starting with “Eglise” which is an improvisation I played in a church on my Guild) is played with reversed strings.


What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?

When I was a teen in my first hard-rock band I was already attracted by outsiders. At the time my favorite band was Venom. Everybody else despised them, even the musicians in my own band, but I loved them and stood against the sarcasm. I think that’s when I began to have my own musical tastes and started to be attracted by the margins. A few years later, within a few months I discovered early King Crimson (I had A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson 2 LPs set) and Power Tools, Bill Frisell’s band with Ronald Shannon Jackson and Melvin Gibbs. King Crimson led me to Fripp & Eno and the Frippertronics, my first introduction to ambient guitar. In Power Tools I was deeply impressed by Frisell’s use of his Electro-Harmonix 16 second delay. Shortly after that I discovered the second King Crimson line up—the one with Adrian Belew—and fell in love with that incarnation. I think that Fripp and Belew are the first two guitarists who opened my ears to non-melodic and sound-based guitar playing instead of notes, and Frisell opened me to realtime treatment. This is where I began to process my guitar sound, using, at that time, weird choruses, flangers, and long delays; I was into something a bit like what Andy Summers did with The Police, crossed with Belew-esque soloing.  Later on I got into Fred Frith, then Sonic Youth, and from then on I stepped into the experimental music scene, beginning with James Plotkin’s Final, Microstoria, Oren Ambarchi, et al. But even though I still love experimental music, I’m not non-mainstream on purpose: I just play and record music I think is beautiful.

Whose music inspires you?

I do not only think of guitarists, in fact I mostly think of singer-songwriters, jazzmen, and modern classical composers. Sometimes it’s records that inspire me, more than musicians, because I see them as horizons in the making of my own albums (for instance, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive, Arto Lindsay’s O Corpo Sutil.). As a guitarist, after all these years, my main influence is Bill Frisell, my favorite since I discovered Power Tools. I’m not a “fan,” in that I do not love all his records, but I love his sound, I should say his sounds: the squeezed overdriven sound he had in Power Tools or Bass Desires, his acoustic sound as on Ghost Town, his current Telecaster or Jaguar sounds. There is a video called “Mastery bridge” in which he discusses guitar parts and plays a tune from his first or second solo album throughout. He’s awesome: just gentle fingers, soft accurate right hand, and a Telecaster: it’s gorgeous. I still love Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew (Belew with Talking Heads was brilliant), Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo when they played together in Sonic Youth. But I’m not a real guitar fan, in that I’m more into music than into guitar. When I think of musicians who inspire me I first think of Claude Debussy, Edgar Varèse and Luc Ferrari, of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, of Nick Drake, The Beatles, Mark Hollis, Kraftwerk, Husker Du and Unwound. I love sound; I love harmony and chords, and I love songs, that moment when moving lyrics meet a good chord sequence, a melody and the right rhythm pattern.

How did you get better at your current style?

A few years ago, we settled into a house and I built a studio. I’m now able to play anytime, in real conditions. For years I tried to play in our flat, trying not to annoy our neighbors. Now I can plug all my stuff and play any hour at loud volume; I just have to plug in the power, get to the studio and play, day or night. I think the “secret,” if there is one, is here: I follow my inspiration and have little to no limits. Everything is in the pleasure and the constancy. As I do not like to learn other people’s tunes, most of the time I just improvise and try to find new ideas.


What are you trying convey with your music?

A Phil Och’s quote says, “In such an ugly time, the only true protest is beauty.” I have an wide definition of beauty, which is not equal to “nice” and “pleasant.” So I can play melodic acoustic guitar miniatures as well as dark ambient layers of sounds or non-tonal electric guitar pieces, and find them beautiful. I’m not the kind of musician who tries to shock, sound avant-garde, or impress and overwhelm my audience. I just try to be honest, and play and record only what is beautiful to my ears, keeping close to the mood I’m in. That’s why I spanned so many different genres through the years. In the Imagho compilation there’s a gap between “bienvenue” and “hypno”, for instance, or between “eglise” and “someone controls electric guitar.” That is why I played in a Noise and Post Hardcore band, then in an Alt-Folk duet, then in an experimental and free improv guitar duet: I just followed my inspiration and went for it.  When I finished my first LP, I told the guy who was to create the artwork I wanted it to be as cozy and pleasant as a summer evening, when you’re drinking red wine outside, while listening to the insects and birds slowly getting silent for the night—to match the music. My latest record, half quartet, which is a collection of guitar duets I recorded with Mocke, is exactly that: music we find beautiful and melodic, no matter what most people are listening to at the time.


Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

For a few years now I have owned two guitars I use almost all the time: a Galanti Jetstar (an Italian made electric guitar from the late 60’s), and a 1975 Guild D25M, the best acoustic guitar I’ve ever played. You can hear them both in “meandres”, the seventh track on my compilation. I found the Galanti in a yard sale while on vacation; I never saw one before and had never heard of that brand. I got it for 10 euros!! I brought it back home, changed the strings and plugged it: I was blown away by its sound and it soon became my favorite guitar. I only own two other electric guitars: a jazz box (a great DeArmond X155) and a Korean made Epiphone Casino, which is okay, but I dream of an ES330. I plug my guitars into a 1968 Fender Bandmaster head, through its original 2X12″ cabinet with two Celestion speakers when I want a rock sound, or in a 1X12″ Fender cab with a Jensen speaker for a more silky sound. I own a few pedals: a booster (Modtone CleanBoost), an overdrive (Custom77 Push me Pull me”), a fuzz (Fender Blender reissue), a reverb (Shim reverb), a delay (Digitech DL8), a freeze (EHX Freeze), two loopers (Akai Headrush 1, EHX Stereo Memoryman with Hazarai, that you can hear in “session absolue”, track 9, which was improvised two times, first on the acoustic guitar, then on the electric guitar) and the EXH 2880 stereo looper. When I’m recording I plug my guitar into only the pedals I need: for instance if I need an overdrive, I just plug the overdrive pedal between the guitar and the amp. I like to keep things as simple as they can be.

On stage, my setup is as follows: guitar thru booster, OD, fuzz and reverb, to my amp. Then I mike the amp with a Shure SM57, which goes thru the freeze, the delay, the Headrush, the Memoryman into the 2880 for looping, and into the PA. Thus I always have my “natural” sound (the guitar and ODs into the amp) separated from the treated sound (freezed, delayed and looped sounds). On the mixer, I have the amp on the center and the loops on the sides, and that lets the sound guy work on separate channels. The major issue when you play live with a guitar and loopers is that when you pile the same sound over and over in one or two amps the low range becomes too fat and you quickly lose the details and have a muddy sound. At first I played with three amps, with natural sound at the center and loops on the sides; but that was way too heavy and cumbersome, and, to be honest, I had only one good amp—the side amps were not as good, so I was unhappy with the global sound. Now I loop my beloved Bandmaster’s sound and treat it then send it to the PA. Overall sound is far better, detailed and as rich as if I had three Bandmasters on stage.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

I definitely prefer playing live, because there is instant feedback from the audience. You can feel when people are with you—or not. The air vibrates when people are into your music with you. I love it! For the first 13  years of Imagho I rarely played live. I played live with other bands, jazz or rock bands, but almost never with Imagho. Then I bought the EHX 2880 and that started the whole live thing: I was able to recreate the layered guitar parts I recorded on my albums. After a few years of live playing using that setup, I started to feel able to play without any loops, then I began to sing. I sang in a few other acts but never in Imagho. Now an Imagho gig is half looped, half plain guitar playing, and almost all the tunes are sung.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

It’s been a long, long way. My first EP was issued in 2000, but the label closed a few months afterward, so the record never really got any audience. I chose a bigger label for my first LP the next year, but the same thing happened again. My third record (2005’s someone controls electric guitar) was issued on a small CDR label and got little attention too. Things began to change in 2008 when I issued inside looking out on a bigger label. The disc was a nominee for the Qwartz International electronic music awards, in the best album list (along with Battles and Autechre), and that gained Imagho more attention. But then I passed through hard times in my personal life. I resurfaced in 2011 when I finally got my studio in our new house. I began rehearsing for live gigs, and recorded three albums: meandres, which was issued in 2013 on cd and vinyl, half quartet with Mocke issued in June 2014 on vinyl, and the Dreamer, an adaptation of Richard Brautigan’s novel dreaming of babylon with Gordon Paul, who reads it (we’re still looking for a label to issue this one). Things are getting much better in France since 2011. I am currently trying to expand my audience abroad, and thank you a lot for this interview!

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

My first thought was for Bill Frisell, but then I said to myself, “He’s too far ahead, and your sound is too close from his, that would not be the best of choices.” He’s my favorite guitarist, and it would be so exciting to play with him, but there must be a better choice, because when I collaborate with someone I first think of the music we can play and try to make music with people who are complementary. I then thought of Charlie Haden, because I dream of a bass player to play with me, so why not choose the very best, the most touching of them all? But sadly he passed away while I was answering your questions. I’d be delighted to play with Archer Prewitt from The Sea and Cake. We met when we shared the stage in Lyons, but I’m too shy to speak to musicians I like, so we barely talked. I love Wilderness, his latest record to date. I tried to get in touch with him but never found any email address. I would love to make music with him.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

My latest album is a collection of 11 guitar duets I recorded with Mocke who played electric guitar (me playing my Guild acoustic). It was issued in June 2014 on three:four records, a Swiss label, on vinyl only, with a great artwork by Darryl Norsen and superb mastering done by Julien Grandjean at Jetlag mastering. People in the USA can get it from Experimedia, people from everywhere else can get it from Norman Records. I own a few copies that I can send worldwide, they can be found at my Bandcamp site.


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