Hayden Pedigo on the Imaginational Anthem Series and Getting into Producing

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Paying attention to developments—or the lack of them—within American Primitive guitar almost requires a glance at the Imaginational Anthem series from Tompkins Square. Along the way to hitting on the seventh installment of a compilation intended to draw from solo acoustic guitar’s vast and unending pool of talent, everyone from Max Ochs to William Tyler have put in a track or two. And while Hayden Pedigo, an Amarillo, Texas, guitarist, hasn’t contributed work to the series, he has compiled its latest installment.

Pedigo had a busy 2014, too. In addition to having a hand in Grass-Tops Recordings, a label that re-issued Robbie Basho’s 1979 Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12, he’s played with a few rock groups in addition to issuing his solo Five Steps through Seattle’s Debacle Records. And while becoming another entrant into the guitar soli canon may or may not be towering achievement—Pedigo’s even dubious about the genre’s future— his disc features collaborations with a vast swath of experimental music practitioners. There’s a guy from This Heat, as well as Fred Firth and Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Kawabata Makoto. And Pedigo was able to finagle all these contributions over the Internet, never meeting folks face to face.

When Pedigo picked up the phone to chat with Paste, he was driving back to an Amarillo bank where he works. The 20-year-old guitarist apologized and said he’d have to call back when he reached the office. He did.

Paste : You working at a bank reminds me of comic book writer Harvey Pekar’s time at a Cleveland Veteran’s Administration Hospital. I don’t think you’ve toured, either.
Hayden Pedigo: I haven’t played outside of Amarillo, but Charles Ives was an insurance salesman while he was writing some of America’s greatest musical works. For me, I don’t know if I’ll [leave my job] unless I’m sort of called to it.

Paste : Most performers have a certain need to be the focus of attention, though, don’t they?
Pedigo: I’ve made an album I enjoy. I compiled the new Imaginational Anthem. I’m happy where I am artistically and I’m getting married in April. When my life settles down a bit, I can definitely see [touring]. I just have to have my art and prioritize the time I have to do it.

Paste : You’ve said hometown crowds don’t always know what to make of your music. Is there a limit to what you can do in Amarillo?
Pedigo: I think there’s a limit to the reception, but there’s not a limit to what I personally can do. I can still make albums here. My next one’s going to be on Tompkins Square, and you don’t have to be from Amarillo to enjoy it. It’s still in progress. It’s more like, I have some of the songs written, but I don’t even know if I’m going to use those or go off and do something different. After doing Five Steps, I started wondering what I did want to do. It was such a special album to me, but I have to leave it.

Paste : In addition to all the acoustic guitar stuff you’re known for, you’re in a garage band, Western Plaza.
Pedigo: We just recently started with Burger [Records] and have shows lined up for South By Southwest. But some of the guys have kids or full-time jobs. You just have to work stuff out really far in advance. So, we’re just playing it one day at a time to see what ends up happening.

Paste : All these projects have garnered a decent amount of press. But everyone seems to want to talk about how you’re a prodigious 20-year-old. It’s a weird pigeonhole, just like American Primitive guitar.
Pedigo: I kinda don’t want to be seen as either—I certainly don’t perceive of myself as a prodigy; I just like writing my songs. On the other hand, I don’t want to be considered an American Primitive guitarist, because it’s such a tiny, little box. I can play solo, compile pieces or do whatever I want.

Paste : Do you think the collaborations on Five Steps obscured your style? Imaginational Anthem doesn’t feature your playing, either.
Pedigo: I wrote all of those songs [on Five Steps] before they added to them. You have my influences, but you have those other sounds. And when I compiled [Imaginational Anthem] I chose a bunch of people who not everyone’s heard of yet. I think, I wanted to create an album that I’d want to listen to and not just have a bunch of rehashed people.

Paste : Was putting each of those albums together a similar process?
Pedigo: They were two totally different things. On my own, it was me asking people, “Hey, do you want to play on an album by some unknown guy?” Whereas, Imaginational Anthem was like, “Do you want to play on this album that has a good reputation? You can write your own music.” The thing is, people asked, “Are you going to put your own music on it?” And it’s not really what it’s about. It’s about finding other people.

Paste : Since you’ve released and compiled albums, booked shows and have a hand in running a label, are there parts of the industry left you want to explore?
Pedigo: I’d like to be producing. My two musical heroes are Phil Spector—I’m in love with his production. And Brian Wilson—those sounds, those are my favorite sounds. Later, when I do stuff with Western Plaza, we’re really ’60s sounding, I would like to be their Brian Wilson or Phil Spector, minus shooting people.

Paste : Can those producers’ aesthetics be applied to recording acoustic guitar?
Pedigo: Maybe, but the problem I have with a lot of the acoustic guitar stuff that’s coming out, some younger guys keep putting out the same exact album. They sound like, “We wrote some new songs, but maybe just changed the names and got a bigger label.” I feel like, there’s more to be said for instruments other than guitar. I don’t even know if I’ll be playing guitar on my next album, honestly. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut on an acoustic guitar. You can be technically excellent, but keep putting out bland albums.