Ready for the future: Interview with Bluesrock Guitarist Julian Sas

Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter "Beppo" Szymanski

Julian Sas looks happy. The 45-year-old blues-rock musicians from Beneden-Leeuwen in the Netherlands has just released a new album. „Coming Home“: The title is ambiguous. Cem Akalin talked with the sympathetic guitarist, singer and composer.

Julian, I have the feeling that you opened yourself up stylistically. I mean, you are still playing Blues-Rock. But your Guitar playing seems to be more open. Is the impression that I have right?

Julian: Yes, Cem, I think that is true, I have always seen the guitar as a voice which I can use in many ways, it is also the voice of my soul. And sometimes if words fail this is the way to express myself.

So, what happened on your new album?

JS Coming Home CoverJulian: This is very personal album with lots of stories I have been through the last years: loss of friends, the changing of the world, where do we stand and where do we go… These things are on my mind. I just had to write about it. When I go in the studio I know the songs for 40 percent always, the rest is improvisation. I play it when I am there; there is no thought because that stands in the way to express yourself directly. It HAS to come from the heart… and because this is a personal album, that‘s the reason that is for one hundred percent open, and I am proud of the fact that after all these years of being out there recording and playing, that I still can do it like that… is a great feeling.

Anyway, I do hear out many new sides. From David Gilmour to Gary Moore …. How come?

Julian: Because I am a musician. I listen to everything, it is not only blues, because you’re mind has to be open for music. Otherwise there is no growth, then you will stand still as a player. While we are doing this interview I am listening to Beethoven, that is music that I really like, country, jazz, you name it… I listen to everything, whatever fascinates me, I will go and have a listen. Gary and David are guitar players that I have listened to all my life, great tone players and very different emotions, but brilliant sustain and TONE! Amazing! Gary Moore was Irish so that came after I discovered Rory when I was young, Thin Lizzy and so on, great harmonies, Gilmour is the master of playing musical landscapes, and I am really fan of his way of playing only a few notes that hit you directly… if you hear these two masters back in my music I can consider this as a great compliment hahahahaha.

You always admit to your role models especially Rory Gallagher and Peter Green. You once told that you’ve seen Gallagher 21 times within five years. What is it that made the Irishman so fascinating for you?

Julian. Rory was a complete musician to me, great performer, great songwriter, great guitar player and the man could sing. Same goes for Peter Green. But Rory had something special when it comes to energy levels in performing, he could lift a stage to another dimension. I really enjoyed when he was on stage and it was no fake. For me he had it all, that is why we went to his concerts so often, it was always different and changing on the night he played, there was always a free vibe of improvisation, also because he loved jazz. He knew what to do, with mixing these styles, especially in the early days with „Taste“…

Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter "Beppo" Szymanski
Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter „Beppo“ Szymanski

The Band he was playing with from 1966 to 1968, with Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman Damery on the drums…

Julian: Yeah, that was when he picked up the saxophone too, brilliant in my opinion… John Coltrane, what more do you want? hahahahah. I think what we both have in common, although I never met him, but I played with his band many times, and they told the stories, is that he was open for music and not only listening to the same old stuff, you know. I think that is important. The high energy he had on stage is something we also have with my band. We easily deliver 2 1/2 hour shows because it is just flowing….. Music and energy the best combination….ever.

Today you play at least one Gallagher-piece on your concerts, and your devotion to him is easy to see and hear. Yet you did develop your own musical language. How difficult it is, to develop your own style?

Julian: I never thought about it really, when I was starting out 30 years ago, I was playing cover songs of Hendrix, Rory, Muddy… and so on… like everybody! But from the first time you write your own song, you feel like there is a change in the way you approach music, because now it is your music and song, you are creating something, that is the first step of your own style, it just kinda develop from there, you get wiser and smarter what works and what doesn’t, you learn along the way.

It’s something that grow and prosper…

Julian: Writing songs these days is not hard for me, because I am always open for what comes, when I start thinking then it doesn’t work hahahahaah. Then you make the first album, the second one, people starting to hear the music and say, that is typical for your music and then you know, okay! You must have your own style! So I never developed anything, You’re right: It kinda grew on me because of doing it! Now sometimes when I hear songs, I listen and think: Man, I would have played another chord there! Hahahaha Then I know that I have my own style. I really never thought about developing it…..when it is in you it has got to come out…

What are your current demands on your guitar sound?

Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter "Beppo" Szymanski
Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter „Beppo“ Szymanski

Julian: I changed to a Fender Vibroverb Amp and a Marshall JTM 45 with a 1960 TV Cabinet, I used these amps in the studio for a long time and they match perfectly with Rolands playing, so that is my new amp set up these days…

That’s for a warm vintage sound…

Julian: Well, problem is that I have many amps hahahah so I can change overnight. I use a lehle 1@3 pedal, two tube screamers and sometimes I use the Royal Blue, a drive from Mad Professor which is really great, a MXR Phaser and a Vox Way, and Carl Martin Reverb. That is basically it, it all comes from the fingers as far as I am concerned. With this set up I have a perfect combination of seer and raw, it rocks, it is smooth, sometimes jazzy and fierce and snappy, so al the sounds are there….and above all great sustain……..happy man.

[For the technicians: With the Lehle 1 @ 3 SGoS Switcher the instrument signal can be distributed in three ways. The Tubescreamer appeared in the 70s. People like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore overdriven their amps with it. The Mad Professor Royal Blue Overdrive is kinda sustainer. The sound of the MXR Phaser may be heard on Eddie Van Halen’s „Eruption“. The Vox Way is a Wah-Wah pedal, and the Carl Martin Reverb is a reverb unit.]

The organ is a new element in your music. Why did you decide to bring Roland Bakker into the band? And how do you know him?

Julian: Roland and I played a show once together years ago with a complete orchestra, called Symphony In Blues. There we met and we had this instant vibe on stage and most important on that night lot’s of humor hahahaha. I have always loved the Hammond sound, but the most  Hammond players that I know they are more into one style of playing that instrument and that is like jazz/blues and they play more like sideman. Roland surely not, we have the same love for bands like Deep Purple and Rainbow, with the duels on Hammond and guitar. So when I called him a year ago I told him about my vision and where I thought the band should be going, and making the sound bigger. He said: let us not talk but play! That is what we are and how we do it, we arranged a couple of rehearsals and oh my god this band was smoking. So he had to join my band. I had already written a lot of songs for „Coming Home“, but when Roland came in, he brought his own ideas and we kinda worked them all out together. I love the interaction and the way it sounds.

Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter "Beppo" Szymanski
Julian Sas, 2014 in Harmonie, Bonn. FOTO: Peter „Beppo“ Szymanski

You called your album „Coming Home“. It is probably not only a commitment to your geographical home, isn’t it?

Julian: No although all the recordings and fotoshoots were done in my region, but it is coming home within yourself, spiritually and in life. Coming home musically with this band I have now.

Also with an new bass player…

Julian: Yeah, Fotis Anagnostou is an amazing bass player, and Rob Heijne is on drums after eleven years. This is the best band I ever had, this band is ready for the future, musically and in vibe. So for me it is like coming home, it feels like i picked up my guitar and music yesterday hahahahah

„Coming Home“ means indeed that you have arrived at the music yourself. What does the current album means to you?

Julian: As I said it before, it this was a very personal one, with lot’s of stories I went through the last few years, I just had to write them on this record. I am very proud of this one, so are the fans. They really love it because it is real, they can feel what we play and what we are saying. I already have new songs… For the next one, in may I will be listening to all the live tapes we have recorded maybe for an upcoming live album. We just keep on writing, there is so much music in the band – it is unbelievable

Last question: Why didn’t you actually never moved to the US, or at least to England, I mean permanently? Your music is exactly what the fans love there too, right? You  could be successful there too, don’t you?

Julian: Funny thing is that our music is everywhere successful, I can see that in sales worldwide and all the radio shows that play our music world wide and we have lots of fans in the US and in England and I love both countries, we played England a couple of times and we will probably be back there this year or maybe next year, for some road work. America I have my contacts – so no worries about that. I never moved because of the fact that where I live it feels good, I can travel everywhere from where I am now. I am a country boy, always have been and will always be, I like the small town I live in, the silence when I come home at night… simple life, it is busy enough when you are on the road. But with this band I do not know where we will go hahahaha! My first album was called „Where Will It End“ – and to be honest, I still do not know. It is promising with these guys…


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