Guitarist Aaron Dugan has quite a diverse background in
music. His musical journey includes everything from Heavy Metal to Jazz,
to Folk, to Hasidic Reggae but the one thing that has remained unchanged
is his love for guitar... and oh yeah, his
Riviera! Epi's Don Mitchell recently spoke with Aaron about his musical
Tell me about your first experience
AARON: My parents got me a guitar when I was ten.
I played it for like a month and then put it in the closet. Then when I was
fourteen we moved out to the suburbs where I didn’t know anybody. Since
I really didn’t have anything to do I just sat around playing guitar
all the time. I was listening to bands like Van Halen, Metallica and stuff
like that so I kind of became a metal head at that point. My dad was a bass
player and he listened to the Grateful Dead and the Beatles a lot so that
stuff influenced me to play as well.
That’s a pretty well rounded group
of bands to listen to.
AARON: Yeah, then when I was in Junior High I was
getting into bands like Dinosaur Jr. who have this great guitarist named
J Mascis. He was a really big, big influence on me and still is to this day.
Then I had a friend introduce me to the Funky Meters and people like John
Coltrane…. that changed my whole thing. I had a band that just covered
Meters tunes when I was in high school. When I got into college I got into
more jazz and guys like Bill Frisell and Nels Cline were big
Did you study music seriously at any
point during these phases or was most of what you did by ear?
AARON: In the tenth grade I took some lessons from
this guy who had studied with Greg Howe and he taught me a bunch of metal
licks. Then the summer before I went into twelfth grade I went to the Berkeley
Summer Guitar Session. That was in 1994 and it opened me up a whole lot.
After that I came back to Philly and studied with a couple of jazz
Looking back, do you think it’s
more important to learn through study or by ear?
AARON: I think they both go hand in hand. If you
really want to play you’re going to learn some by ear. But for me it’s
always been good to have both. I learned a lot from teachers but I used to
play along with jazz records too and that would be some of the best practice
times I had.
So learning licks off of albums helped
AARON: Yes, but not only learning the licks but
the whole vibe, the time feels and all of it. It’s not really so much
about the notes but about the spirit you play them with.
What happened next for you?
AARON: I kept studying jazz with a local guy who
is actually a vibraphone player and then I went to Temple University with
an undeclared major. One day I realized it wasn’t working. What was
the point of going to college with an undeclared major, taking all these
liberal arts classes, when all I wanted to do was play music anyway? There
was a local community college that had this really great music program and
a great jazz instructor named Ben Schacter, so I transferred and it was great.
I’d be there from like nine in the morning until midnight everyday playing
or studying music. I met some amazing musicians there and the people I met
there eventually lead me to New York and The New School University where
I received my Bachelors Degree in Performance Jazz in 2000.
EPI: Which brings us
to now! I guess your main gig is playing with Matisyahu?
AARON: Yes. It keeps me busy for sure. We’ve
done something like 200 shows this year.
How did you get hooked up with a Hasidic
AARON: I knew the singer from college before he
was religious. A couple of years after we graduated he called me out of the
blue and asked me to play this gig at Union Square Park. We’ve now been
doing this for like two and a half years.
The band is doing really well!
AARON: The CD is selling really good which in a
way kind of weirds me out (laughs), I guess I really didn’t expect
Are there any other projects you’re
AARON: I do have other bands that I play with.
One is Ducarriganigan that is kind of a progressive folk thing. I also work
in a band called Astro-Cusion which is like an afro Cuban, space rock thing.
That band is a lot of fun!
It sounds like you have a lot going
AARON: I think it’s important to keep a lot
of things going; at least it is for me. You never know when one thing is
going to fall apart and I’m not one of those guys that thinks, OK, I’m
in the band and if it doesn’t make it I’ll become a doctor or
Tell me about your
AARON: I had an
Joe Pass a few years back that I loved but since it was a full hollow-body
it had a tendency to feed back when I was playing rock. I started shopping
around and went to this guitar store in Manhattan and tried a bunch of guitars.
I saw this
on the wall that had all these punk rock stickers on it. I tried it out anyway
and the tone was just amazing. I’ve been playing it since 1999.
I guess you took the stickers off?
AARON: Oh yeah…definitely!
Thanks Aaron for chatting with us and
we look forward to seeing what lies ahead for you.
For more information about Aaron visit