Trace Bundy on the impact of YouTube, rocking a mullet and getting his start playing metal
Boulder-based guitar virtuoso Trace Bundy has been a YouTube sensation for a few years now with more than twenty million views of his various videos -- an extraordinary feat that few artists can boast of achieving these days. Bundy has forged an enviable international career that has dragged the staid world of folk and classical music kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Combining classical guitar with digital looping pedals, iPhones and avant-garde playing techniques has vaulted the young guitarist into rarefied air as one of the world's most prestigious and respected fretboard maestros.
In advance of his appearance at this year's HeavenFest this Saturday, we spoke with Bundy about his favorite memories of playing music abroad, the importance of YouTube in advancing his professional career, his childhood love of heavy metal and the effect fatherhood has had on playing guitar.
Westword: You've successfully toured on quite a few different continents over the last few years. Any special memories on and off stage from any of the places you traveled and performed at?
Trace Bundy: I've loved the opportunity to travel all over the world. I've been able to play shows in 21 countries now. Off stage, I've been chased by elephants in Gabon, hiked with lions in Zimbabwe and visited castles in Wales. It's important to me that my family and I always take time to learn about the places we visit. We take time to eat local food and get to know new friends.
We are thankful to have dear friends all over the world. This is especially true in Guatemala, where we partner with the organization Agros International to sponsor a village. We've been able to visit three times and always enjoy throwing a big concert at the end of our stay. The villagers are incredible musicians as well, so we are able to share music and connect beyond language and cultural barriers.
On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, how would rate the importance of YouTube to your professional music career?
Wow. For me it's been a solid nine. YouTube launched my music into markets I could never have reached on my own. I hear from fans everywhere from Indonesia to Germany to Australia who found my videos -- it's pretty incredible. I now have over 23 million views of my YouTube videos. Because my music is so visual, YouTube allows people access to that dimension of my songs. YouTube has also connected me to other musicians. Sungha Jung and I met because he found my music on YouTube. Now we've toured three times in the US and three times in Korea.
How old were you when you first picked up and learned to play chords on a guitar?
I was ten or eleven. My brother and I bought a $10 acoustic guitar and started playing heavy metal songs.
What were the first songs you learned to play on the guitar?
We bought guitar magazines at the grocery store and started teaching ourselves heavy metal songs. "One" by Metallica was the first song I learned. A few years later I started playing more acoustic stuff, like Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, etc.
Can you tell us about any embarrassing music/fashion phases you went through growing up?
Well, when I was young, I lived seven years with a mullet. Seven years! But in high school, tie-dyed shirts were a definite favorite. I had long hair and went through a hippie stage. For my senior prom, my best friend Jonah and I both took the same girl as our date, and we wore tie dyed shirts under our tuxes. Pretty classy.
What kind of acoustic guitar do you play these days on tour?
I tour with my custom McPherson guitar. It has an incredible sound that's hard to beat. I also play Breedloves, as well as my first decent guitar, a Taylor 714ce that I bought in Louisville at Wildwood Music back in the day, which still sings incredibly.
Surely your McPherson guitar must be radically different than the sort of acoustic guitar regular mortals play, right?
Well, it is an amazing guitar, but it's actually not that different. I like my action to be pretty low on the neck, but otherwise my guitars are set up the same as any other. McPherson makes exceptional guitars with unique woods and design, but my techniques work on any old instrument.
When did the idea of trying to get different types of sounds out of a guitar than just chords start?
Since I never took lessons, I never had any sense of what you were supposed to do with the guitar. I've always been fascinated by the idea of "breaking the rules" of music and still creating a melodic sound. I guess that motivation is what led me to think of the guitar outside the box. Why not play it like a piano? Why not use it as a percussive instrument? I still have so much to learn and discover.
The iPhone has made guest appearances as a featured stage instrument during many of your shows the last few years. What started that?
A few years ago a fan of mine in California sent me and my wife, Becca, iPhones as a gift. I think he felt sorry for us when he saw the old school phones we were using. Along the way, someone introduced me to the app, "Pocket Guitar," and after playing around with it my friends said I needed to perform on stage. It's been pretty fun!
Has becoming a husband and a father changed your career priorities or direction at all?
Absolutely. Becoming a father changes your DNA. Your life is no longer just about you, but about caring for another person. My son, Sawyer, continually reminds me of the pure joy of music. He lights up when I play the guitar and loves to dance along. Certainly the logistics of touring have become more challenging -- we've traveled to ten countries with our son and most of the U.S., before he was even one year old! Pretty crazy.
But being a father has also renewed my joy in writing and playing music. You'll hear a song I wrote for Sawyer in the first months of his life on the Ukelele. It's simple, but an expression of what it means to be a father.