photo by: Johann Breij
I met with dutch blues-rocker Julian Sas before the soundcheck at one of his gigs of his ElectracousticTour 2023 for an interview.
rockfrank: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for rockfrank.com. Julian, exactly 20 years ago, in 2003, you’ve said in an interview regarding your Album “Delivered” – “Basically I belong to the circle of amateur musicians. I still work two and a half days per week for a furniture store. So, nothing yet being a fulltime professional musician”. Yet, “Delivered” had been your seventh studio album at the time. I take it, you’ve quit your job at the furniture store since then?
Julian Sas: Yes, a very long time ago. I can support myself now with playing music, but it is a lot of work.
rockfrank: Rory Gallagher is one of your great idols. You also cover his songs on a regular basis during your live concerts and you are playing, just like Rory, on a very high technical level. What was it in particular with his way of playing that impressed you? Gallagher works with Pinch-Harmonics, finger picking, and legato techniques.
Julian Sas: For me, it wasn´t just about playing the guitar. For me, it was the whole package on stage. Also, the energy that came from his way of playing. He was one of the “Originals”, he had his own way of writing songs. To me, Rory Gallagher, along with Jimi Hendrix, Alvin Lee or Johnny Winter have been the most influential. They all developed their own style which they then continued to develop throughout their careers, so they became very unique personalities, just like Rory Gallagher.
rockfrank: I am not well versed in my knowledge of guitars; I’d rather listen to them. Do you still play that red Gretsch Corvette? I am asking, because it also was a favored instrument by Rory Gallagher, so another link showing your closeness to him.
What makes its sound so special?
Julian Sas: It was a Gibson ES-335, I’ve got one at home. But for the slide-songs I’ve re rebuilt a Telecaster, I like it better for this. To me, the Gretsch has always been a beautiful guitar, but guitars change. And what you wanna listen to, changes with that. So, for the last two, three years I’ve been playing the Telecaster.
rockfrank: You call about 40 guitars your own, so I’ve read. Are you particular proud of one of them, which one is most valuable to you?
Julian Sas: 75 in total! There’s this one Stratocaster model, from a friend in the Netherlands, Patrick Goldmann. It’s got a reversed headstock, so I do have a longer E-string and more bass in the lower sound level (annot. rockfrank: reversed headstock – head and pegs (tuner screws) are located reverse on the neck; this is meant to influence the sustain, which describes the time-period for a tone to drop down to a certain level). This one (guitar) is always on tour with me, just not this time due to getting a new reset.
rockfrank: Undoubtedly you are one of the great European blues-rock guitarists around. What do you make of the current European blues scene? In my opinion there is a lively variety of different artists and genres. Did the pandemic do more harm to the music scene or do you see a more strengthened outcome?
Julian Sas: I consider people like myself the “survivors” in the scene. Next year I will have thirty years under my belt, and I believe that slowly but surely the audience comes back to the size that it once was. The pandemic did a great deal of harm. I could witness a lot of bands from the Netherlands quitting, they stopped playing and sold their guitars. Most of all young bands, which of course was bad for the (musical) future. They were relying on performing. Also, a lot of music bars throughout the Netherlands had to close down (due to the pandemic). There aren’t so many smaller stages there anyway. In general, there are plenty of stages, but for audiences of 400 or 500. That’s where I’ve been playing for the last 25 years. But the young guys, they don’t get a chance there, because they sell fewer tickets. And smaller venues like here tonight (Pitcher – Düsseldorf), for me that’s also like 20 years ago; but I’m grown up, so it’s not a problem for me to play here.
rockfrank: Your last release is from 2022, “Electracoustic”, a double album, where you’ve recorded your new songs both in a rock version and also acoustic, a genius and successful move. A lot of those songs, I assume, were written during the pandemic; in addition, you had to deal with loss of your longtime bass player Fotis Anagnostou. How difficult has it been to work on your album under these circumstances of loss and pandemic?
Julian Sas: It was horrible. On one side, there was the pandemic, you couldn’t play together, we were at home a lot and had to coordinate a lot over the phone etc. Then Fotis fell ill. While in the hospital, we organized everything for him, like his flight back to Greece, because Fotis wish was to die amongst his family. We said out good byes at the airport, despite of actually not being allowed there due to the pandemic; those were very hard times. I had written a lot of music with Fotis for the new album before all that. But he wasn’t there for the recording. He was with us in our hearts, still it was difficult. But the bass player who recorded instead of Fotis, did a great job, so we could go a head and produce and release the album for the new tour. But those were difficult times.
rockfrank: So, Fotis is actually not on this album then.
Julian Sas: No. We had many ideas together, but he didn’t play on this album, that is the devastating part. We did try to use some of the old demo bass parts he did and include them, but it wasn’t possible.
rockfrank: You’ve released “Electracoustic” also as a double vinyl edition. How difficult is it nowadays, with regard to the streaming industry, to release music on a physical medium?
Julian Sas: I’ve been with the same record company for twenty years now, so they know what’s economically possible in regards to sales. With this album, we had a limited edition of 1.000 pieces, and I touring with the last albums right now. So, we’ve then sold 1.000 albums in about 1 ½ year. That was nothing compared to back then, but nowadays it’s really a lot.
rockfrank: Do you call a record player your own at home?
Julian Sas: I have four. Throughout my house, in my own studio, there are four hi-fi-installations. I do listen to my mixes there for instance.
rockfrank: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self today, if planning to go into the music business?
Julian Sas: I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen, so basically, “start earlier”. I made the decision while being at a university in the Netherlands, if not for that I’d be a history teacher today. But I did sit down in a tour bus one time back then, and that was that. I’ve never had any problems with not doing all the things that “normal” people do. The life I have now, that’s just the one for me, how I want to live. That’s why I am a happy person.
rockfrank: What effect would you like your music to have on people? What do you want do achieve?
Julian Sas: For me, the most important thing is that there are emotions between band and audience. That they feel what we are playing and get it in an emotional way.
rockfrank: I read somewhere that you don’t live to far from Angus Young (AC/DC) in the Netherlands. Is that true?
Julian Sas: There’s nobody really living far away from Angus Young in the Netherlands (*laughs*).
rockfrank: Have you ever met him?
Julian Sas: No. But when we played in Aalten once, that’s where he lives, close to the German border, he came to one of our concerts. With bodyguards. He stayed for the first set and left after 45 minutes. Later his nephew told me: “Hey Julian, Angus says hello, he really liked it”.
rockfrank: My last question is related to your personal taste in music. Imagine moving into a new house and throwing a housewarming party. What kind of music will you play for your guests?
Julian Sas: That would always be “Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix, as well as The Allman Brothers Band – “At Fillmore East”, Rory Gallagher and the likes. I listen to all sorts of music including rap music. I am interested in the stuff the younger bands do and what’s new out there in the music world. Recently, for instance, I watched a concert with Beyoncé on TV. My wife goes: “What’s happening with you?”. But I have to know how it all works, that’s kind of practice for me. But when relaxing, with no appointments ahead, just being at home, the I like to listen to the old stuff from my youth. Many musicians are like that. “Songbook of life” they call it.
photo by: Photographarry
Sandra B: Another question regarding your current album, Julian: Did you have the impression, while recording “Electracoustic”, that some songs work better in one of the two versions, that they were more likely to transport the desired emotions?
Julian Sas: First of all, I have to say, this word “Electracoustic”, that didn’t exist until then, I’ve invented it. When we thinking about how it would be an exciting thing to record some songs in that fashion, opposite versions in a way, that’s when I came up with the word, it just fits. We recorded the songs within a few days in a session each version, first acoustic then rock. And we thought all the songs work our really great in both presentations. Nothing gets lost, just the opposite, the different styles emphasized different aspects of the songs. It worked out nicely and, in the end, became a triple-edition on vinyl!
Sandra B: Once more back to the traditional mediums in music like LPs and CDs compared to streaming. How do you keep it at home when enjoying music?
Julian Sas: I have a whole wall full of records (LPs), at least 10.000, all in alphabetical order. In addition to that countless CDs, also going into the thousands…. That does make my wife crazy sometimes, since it’s only growing to become more…. That is pure joy, listening to music from a physical medium, something I can touch; that’s my preferred way of listening and I can spend hours like that.
rockfrank: Thank you for the interesting interview. We wish you all the best, personally and on the job.
Translation: Sandra B.