A New Kind of Super-Star
By Michael Aronovitz
Rock is many things. It is poetic religion, emotional architecture, politics and pop culture in a strange twisted hybrid, parody, satire, mystery, and melodrama. Some use it to provide the thematic soundtrack to their day to day, while others opt for sitting back and appreciating the instances of bold technical execution. Many would claim that we “feel” music as much as hearing it, and while we all come to the table with different tastes, desires, and preference for genre, the one thing we might all agree on, is the idea that music is really cool when we get to see it on tape.
This is not a new concept, and it certainly did not begin with MTV on August 1st, 1981 when “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was aired. As far back as May 20, 1966, The Beatles filmed themselves walking and singing in a garden and greenhouse at Chiswick House in London in order to promote the song “Rain,” just as Jim Morrison released home videos of overpacked arenas that erupted when The Doors would throw on the lights after one of their unscrupulous multi-minute pauses. Kiss used to buy short spots on prime-time television to advertise upcoming shows with concert clips shot on Super 8 film, just as Queen released the video rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 1975, beginning with the four bandmembers in closeup, arranged like a diamond on black backdrop, mouthing Freddy Mercury’s most famous overdubs.
Most would agree that music videos are a cornerstone of our collective cultural identity. Still, for the sake of argument, I confess that I’ve always had issues with the camera cuts. Why so many? A second and a half on average, per shot, is not long enough. Did the producers figure the attention span of the average rock fan was, and is, that incredibly short? Is fancy camera work more important than the recording artist and his or her given performance?
And while we’re on the subject, I never understood why the sounds sometimes didn’t match up with what was playing out visually. While it is obvious that many “concert” videos (still) portray the band lip syncing and miming the studio recording, (and many quite smoothly I must admit), it never ceased to amaze me when I would hear a beat on the snare, yet see the drummer twirling his sticks, (Sweet – “Fox on the Run” first verse, second stanza) or I would hear keyboards yet see no one playing them (Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now” ending and outro). Now, don’t get me wrong. The above-mentioned videos are two of my all-time faves for a myriad of reasons; I’m a critic, but I am reasonable. Still, the one thing I never could get past…never ever…no exceptions, no rationalizations, was the fact that some videos throughout the years had the cameras focused on things other than the fretboard during the guitar solos.
Were the producers checking to see if we were paying attention? Did they think it was cute? This is, and was, unadulterated blasphemy. The heart and soul of rock music is the guitar, and while I could easily binge on intricate drum-work all day, I simply can not accept the idea that I am prevented from watching the guitar player work his or her magic, close up, uncut, and uninterrupted.
Problem solved. Watch a Sophie Lloyd video. Now. Yesterday. This rising star is changing the game, and it is an absolute thrill to watch her upgrade the playing field. Musically, she is a technical shred-wizard. She writes her own material, drums and bass pre-recorded, which is unequivocally bad-ass. And she has the confidence to play the lead track live right in front of you, close up and personal, no camera cuts, or at least very few, as if she came over to the house and set up in your living room to make your mind explode.
The idea that it would be cool to play along with a track and basically keep the camera simple and still is not necessarily new in itself. Over the last few years, YouTube has become a haven for this particular sort of music video in the form of the established expert or bold novice playing along with prerecorded music. As for the former, a good example is “Zakk Wylde rips amazing guitar solo over Andy James track EMGtv,” and an example of a famous shredder professionally recording a live take with the prior recorded tracks in his ears and ours, would be “Paul Gilbert – Technical Difficulties (Racer X).”
In reference to the relative newcomers, there has been an explosion of young female drummers playing along with famous records, the genre-type usually referred to as “Drum Covers,” featuring those like Meytal Cohen, A-YEON, Lindsey Raye Ward, Sina, Ami Kim, and the very best of the bunch, Mia Morris. Most often, said drum-cover artists employ a single camera and shot, or an unequal double screen, the smaller of which that acts like a “window,” showing the foot pedal work from behind in close-up.
In terms of guitar, there has been a surge of young female axe grinders producing these sorts of videos, including those like Jessica Garlund, Andreia Gomez, Juliana Vieira, Miki Kato, Tina s, Sakura, and Laura Klinkert. Similar to their drumming counterparts, these women employ the common idea that the recording device is meant to simply stay put and document the performance, and though they might use the occasional split screen to show both the rhythm and lead simultaneously, there are very few cuts. Moreover, if the camera does switch, it merely exposes a better angle of visibility for the given mechanics with no interruptions in continuity. In the end, we get an incredibly potent aesthetic, similar to the way The Blair Witch Project removed all the special effects to frighten the living shit out of the viewers with what came off as raw, intense footage.
And so again, in terms of ability and technique, image and the “Wow Factor,” the one clearly leading this charge is guitar extraordinaire Sophie Lloyd.
I came across one of her videos on Facebook a while back, and from the start, I was mesmerized. First off, her song “After Insanity” is an original, and while I love the new trend of playing along with an established record minus the initial artist’s guitar track, I have always had a special appreciation for someone’s own vision. Secondly, the song is simply superior. There are no vocals (everything I have seen from this rock-goddess has been instrumental), but the rhythm is absolutely righteous…the lead – clever and engaging, full of drama and dynamics. I liked especially the juxtaposition of her “feel” in terms of her bends and sustain, in contrast to the speed of some of her runs. Here, I might mention “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, hopefully in a context one would find tasteful. Many of my friends back in the day used to claim allegiance to the dexterity Allen Collins offered to us, as did I, but they would privately admit he seemed to be showing off tricks, almost like a laundry list.
Well folks, Sophie Lloyd doesn’t do “lists” and the word “laundry” doesn’t even belong in the same universe. She creates tapestries. And her transitions are poetry.
Watch the song.
The beginning chords make you want to jump up, stand on your chair, and put up your hand horns. A year ago, February, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, and the beginning of the song feels like that. Like exactly. When she goes into the first part of the lead, your heart soars, you feel like you’re flying, and her hammer-on theme is so catchy, you literally hum it for days.
Watch the video.
Going even more micro if you will, Sophie Lloyd’s tapping technique is superlative, and her fake-echo move would make Dimebag Darrell freakin’ proud. At the 2:12 mark she slows it down, going bluesy, showing off her powerful insight for textured dynamics, and from 2:40 to 2:59 she cranks back up with such bizarre (and lovely) note selection and eventual speed, that when she themes back into the hammer-on lick, you feel giddy.
I shared this performance on all my social media platforms the minute I saw it.
And I was amazed by the comments. In the video, to be frank, Sophie Lloyd is wearing a tight, low cut AC/DC shirt, and that was the subject of most of the discourse. This disappointed me. She looks good in the shirt, granted, damned good, but I felt it was little more than a disrespectful excuse to ignore her expertise. I’ve noticed since that on her YouTube videos, many comments like these crop up like weeds, and I asked her about this specifically. I also voiced my concerns, and I was pleasantly surprised by her response, almost consoling me so I’d be the one to feel better.
Simply, (paraphrased), she said she liked her look, she was comfortable with it, and she wasn’t about to start wearing “massive jumpers” in order to derail the pervs and placate the prudes. In fairness, I do admit that looks are a big part of this. It is for us all, it’s the world in which we live, and by God it sells albums. Won’t hurt Sophie Lloyd’s sales, that’s for sure, yes, by God, it’s a win-win!
So yes, she’s awesome.
But for me, it isn’t just about that, not even close. For me, the beauty is in the baking.
Look at this brilliant guitarist’s technique. She is a recent graduate of BIMM (British Institute of Modern Music) which centers its curriculum around rock, jazz, metal, and pop. She is schooled and it shows. Many musicians (and artists in general) have the misguided idea that they must create the “new pop culture” in a vacuum, devoid of anything that enjoyed success in past timelines. This is simply not so. Shakespeare studied Greek and Roman theater. Swift studied Shakespeare as did Poe and Dickens and Emerson and Thackeray, and the modernists, at least the good ones, made close study of all the said masters.
Sophie Lloyd is a master of feel and patterning, exploration and historical tribute. Plainly, her pinkie work is outstanding. It is universally superior in the same way hummingbirds look ornate and royal when painted on porcelain. Moreover, her multiple methods of hammering-on are extraordinary, while her vibrato is concurrently poised and unique. Concerning the latter, I have always thought that vibrato was a guitarist’s middle name, a private insight, a personal signifier. Zakk Wylde and Orianthi rock it like they are wringing your neck, while Paul Gilbert deals it as if he’s telling you a coy little story. Sophie Lloyd’s vibrato unfolds like the bend of a heart string. Bluesy. Bold and deep cut…the sun coming over your neighbor’s roof when you’re sitting out on your front step in the morning with that first cup of coffee…the lights dimming in your favorite club when the band is about to go on and you’ve taken your first sip of lager.
Sophie Lloyd has a number of videos out, and I have never seen a bad one. First off, they are all produced extremely well, whether she is shredding over someone else’s classic or playing one of her own. Her originals also sound different from one another, and I don’t mean they simply have varied chord progressions. Each of her compositions tells a story that represents another walk of life, another feeling, another poetic journey.
My favorites are “After Insanity,” more a power chord vibe, and “Zombie Dance,” which hits you with syncopation that’s funk-a-licious. Notable also, are the songs “Battleground,” featuring classic metal harmonies, and “Delusions,” one of Sophie Lloyd’s few videos produced not as a live take in a folding chair, but out in the woods for the sake of the visual emblem.
I must also say that a must-see (all of them are, really…) is her “Shredding to JUSTIN BIEBER?” in which she begins by going off on a rant about the flack she got for playing over “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Then, she plays a version of said Bieber song that is brilliant. Oh, and for a fine example of her dry humor, look out for the 1:07 mark. I won’t give it away, but I am telling you, I can’t watch it without laughing my damned ass off.
Sophie Lloyd is the future. She is not only proficient with soulful bending and blues notes…jazz chords and intervallic leaps in solos…classical arpeggios and diminished sequences…but she rocks from the heart and tells stories, all on a platform she all-but invented.
That my friends, is called the “X” factor.
That, my friends, is “must-see-TV.”
(Michael Aronovitz is a published horror novelist, rock reviewer, and college professor)
MHF Magazine/Michael Aronovitz