THE NORTH COUNTRY PRIMER #6: CHRISTOPH BRUHN, SAINT PAUL, MN
Originally published at North Country Primitive in May 2015
The sixth North Country Primer features another player associated with Grass-Tops Recording - in this case Christoph Bruhn. Christoph’s 2013 album, Weekends on the Frontier, shows him to be a supremely melodic player with a real ear for a decent tune. He tells us here of his journey from teenage skate punk to American Primitive guitarist and promises he will get that new album made…
Tell us a bit about yourself and the musical journey that took you to a place where you concluded that playing an acoustic guitar on your own was a good idea…
Well, for my first guitar, I remember getting a Suzuki Stratocaster knock-off at age twelve from Fuller’s Gun and Pawn in Park Rapids, MN. Park Rapids is a lake town about 50 miles south of Bemidji, MN, which is probably the only town that would be marked on a macro-scale map of Minnesota in that area of the state. It’s a very small town, only about 4000 people now. The local flavour is hunting, fishing and big trucks with loud exhaust systems. Fortunately for me, my dad was a music aficionado and I was exposed to some great stuff in my early childhood.
At that time I picked up the instrument seriously, I was also really interested in skateboarding, particularly Bam Margera and everything he brought to that subculture. Most things in that whole scene were just cheap entertainment, nothing what parents would call ‘constructive’ for their child, but nonetheless I did take some important things away from it. CKY was a band that was the de facto soundtrack of a lot of the skate videos I liked to watch. Their music was very riff-oriented, so it was a really great band to be obsessed with as a player starting out. I remember learning every song they had out at the time.
As I got older, I had the opportunity to play in local bands, doing mostly blues and country lead work. It was much of the same pentatonic stuff you’d hear at any cover music bar, so I’ll spare the details. Still though, it was good experience for developing player.
I went to college in Duluth, MN and studied engineering, but was also able to get three years of guitar in too. My teacher and mentor Jim Cooper really brought me through the ranks and was a very positive influence on me. We went through basically everything he could give me. It wasn’t until the very end of our time together that he showed me John Fahey. And that was that!
What has influenced your music and why?
Peter Lang is probably my biggest influence for Weekends on the Frontier, as I drew on his songwriting ideas to help me with points on that album. Of course, Kottke and Fahey gave me a lot of tools to work with as well.
What have you been up to recently?
As I write this, I am fresh off of a five day, sixty hours-plus full band session doing eleven tracks. It was my first work as a session guitarist, you would call it, I suppose. The band is Glen’s Neighbor, a group I played with when I still lived in Duluth - I live in Saint Paul, MN now. I have also been working on a new fingerstyle album since October 2014, but it’s still not ready yet. I’m still hoping for a late 2015 release, though!
A lot of my playing nowadays is crosspick and flatpicking. I knew I needed to branch out after Weekends on the Frontier , so I devoted a lot of energy to becoming a better bluegrass picker. Norman Blake is my biggest influence there, for sure. I have some solo crosspick guitar stuff that we’re trying to get together for a release this year, too.
I work with Kyle Fosburgh on Grass-Tops Recording in my free time. We toured in late April. Kyle and I get along great and I feel so immensely fortunate to have met him.
What are you listening to right now, old or new? Any recommendations you’d like to share with us?
The last record I was completed obsessed with was Warren Zevon’s self titled album from 1976. All the songs are just awesome, a real well-rounded rock record and just plain fun. I like that.
The guitar nerd bit: what guitars do you play and what do you like about them? Is there anything out there you’re coveting?
I play a Norman B20 with the essential modifications of a heavy bone saddle, graphite nut and Grover tuners. I use .13 phosphor bronze strings. I also have a Seagull 12 string which will be featured on upcoming recordings. These are my guitars and will be for the indefinite future. For some reason I’m very content with these two instruments and do not feel any need for others. I think there’s a lot of sentiment for the instrument when you create solo guitar music.
Banjos: yes or no?
Definitely. The Glen’s Neighbor record I was just working on features a great banjo player, Nate Weiler. He plays without finger picks, but not clawhammer. The banjo is featured in a lot of cool ways on the record.
What are you planning to do next?
I really do want to get this next fingerstyle record done, honestly. Now by writing it here I have to get it done!
What should we have asked you and didn’t?
My favourite food is anything that has almonds in it, I love mountain biking and I’m a huge MotoGP fan!
You can check out Christoph's music over at his Bandcamp page.