by Brad Wright, Shock Issue #27 – 2012
Grandson of Hendrix? Temperamental or unpredictable? Hollywood actor reinvented? Who, or what, is New Rock God?
The Jolly Joker is the sort of venue that everyone on vacation in Istanbul visits, but for all the wrong reasons. With its glass 3rd floor balcony, funky décor, and cheap drinks, the Joker has become Mecca to the hip East meets West party seekers from all continents. Hidden within this multi-storey pub lined with nouveau contemporary art and costumed court jesters is some of the most unique live rock, pop, metal, indie, and DJ inspired music on the planet.
It was immediately after one musical act that I became acquainted with an exotic black fellow who had taken the stage, presumably to clear gear and set up for the next artist. I could not have been more wrong.
For the next 30 minutes, armed with no more than an electric guitar, this gent proceeded to entertain and amaze as he ran through a cacophony of musical emotions: squealing blues runs ala Hendrix, jazz riffs and phrasing that echoed Wes Montgomery, Spanish intonations shred over a landscape of metal power chords. I inquired to a DJ who this might be. He shrugged, then catalogued a list of rumors.
Supposedly, he was a nomad of sorts, having been spotted playing with numerous other artists in Dubai, Japan, and Brazil. Perhaps the grandson of Jimi Hendrix, running from a legacy he did not wish to bear. Or maybe a Hollywood actor who had walked away from a promising career to re-define himself. No one seemed to know his name, but he was often referred to as “New Rock God”. Loving a good mystery, I tailed him after he finished, and with some suspicion and disinterest, he agreed to chat at a nearby hookah bar. The year was 2010.
With his strained, lilting voice and shy demeanor, the allusions to Hendrix were obvious. Over the next several hours I tried to answer a simple question … Who is New Rock God?
BW: Who influences your playing?
NRG: Anyone who does their thing outside the lines, and the really technical cats.
BW: Who are your top 5 favorite players?
NRG: Hendrix…Al DiMeola…Steve Vai…Strunz and Farah. There’s a new cat making a name, Philip Sayce. His energy is very strong.
BW: You mentioned Hendrix. Any particular reasons besides the obvious?
For awhile he was quiet.
BW: You’ve heard the rumors.
NRG: Yeah…I’m just a guy playing music and trying to get better.
BW: Are you looking to form a band at some point, or do you have one?
NRG: Bands are hard. People have egos and dreams. It’s hard to cut through all that and get to the point of what the music is about.
BW: Have you done any recording?
NRG: I record on my phone (laughs). It’s full of like, song embryos. Baby songs. I have some cats who want to get me in a studio. We’ll see what happens.
BW: What kind of music are you going to record?
NRG: I don’t know. Whatever feels right at the time.
BW: How long will you stay in Istanbul?
NRG: I want to take in the music scene here, which is really broad.
BW: It is Eastern culture meets Western in every aspect.
NRG: Yeah, totally. I heard some cats the other night playing music that defied genre. You really had to listen actively to keep up. They had no boundaries but it all came together. Everyone was grooving to their own free form, and it was so unselfish.
BW: That doesn’t happen often.
NRG: You can’t do it unless you’ve played together forever. It’s rare.
BW: Speaking of, one of the DJs at Jokers said you had played with a lot of artists with mixed results. They complained that you didn’t have much respect for structure.
NRG: Yeah, if I get bored with a groove or a vibe, I just head off into another space and hope everyone figures it out.
BW: What do you hope to achieve musically?
NRG: Have fun doing whatever I’m doing.
BW: What does that look like?
NRG: Playing with some good cats. People digging what I’m doing.
BW: I think people were digging it tonight. I thought there were moments of real inspiration and intrigue at the same time.
NRG: Yeah, I don’t know.
BW: What do you mean by that?
NRG: Sometimes when I play live I do riffs and progressions that I’ve never played before, but I don’t realize it at the time. That’s why I don’t enjoy playing live.
BW: What keeps you from enjoying it?
NRG: I went through a period of stage fright where it was so hard to play that I stressed out about not making mistakes. After that period passed the anxiety that came with it stayed behind. Most of the time when I’m playing live I’m thinking about so many other things that could go wrong. So I don’t have the same experience someone else might have.
BW: What do you think caused the stage fright?
NRG: No idea. It lasted for about four years and then just gradually went away.
BW: Where will you go after Istanbul?
NRG: I’m supposed to go to NYC and meet with some producers. My heart is pulling me to China. The music there is so intriguing, so patient and restrained. I need to get that vibe into my head before I go into a studio.
BW: Besides other guitar players, what instrumentalists do you like playing with most?
NRG: Definitely sax players. There’s this cat, John Klemmer who blows me away. He always colors outside the lines.
BW: If you weren’t a musician what would your creative outlet be?
NRG: Probably a writer or a painter.
BW: What would you write? Poems, short stories?
NRG: Short novels, something mixing different genres of sci-fi with religion and real life events. You know, mix it all up and see what comes out. At this point his phone rang and he stepped outside. After about half an hour I went outside to see if something was wrong, but he was gone. I never saw him again.
Almost two years later I Googled “New Rock God” and found a SoundCloud page with three songs. Listening to each one gave me the feeling that NRG had captured nuances of the performance I witnessed that night in Istanbul, but that the music wanted to burst out from the constraints of structure and commercialism. The song “Dubai” felt authentic and hopeful. It pleased me that the production values lived up to the expansive tone of what I felt the song was meant to convey. When I played the songs to my associates they were impressed, but they didn’t hear what I heard.
The original plan was for NRG to record and release ten songs with various artists, but artistic differences soon surfaced. NRG had taken to the road once again, first Los Angeles, and then to China. I spoke to a man who identified himself as NRG’s manager. He too wanted to know who or what is NRG.