Interview: Jairo Estrada, DEATH OF AN ASTRONOMER

Jairo Estrada

Los Angeles-based guitarist, keyboardist and composer Jairo Estrada has started recently a project on his own called Death of an Astronomer, and “Digital Conversation” is its first single release. Here is an interview with Jairo where he talks about getting into music, playing guitar, his plans with the project, gear, and more.

How would you describe your initial exposure to music?

I would say my first exposure to music was like many, as a kid when my parents would be listening to the radio or cds. They loved music like Air Supply, Elton John, and a lot of Latin music which I found very interesting. I remember having an interest in music at a very young age and at the time was just discovering any artists that I could and listening to whatever they had to offer.

Were you in the music programs in school while you were growing up?

I remember wanting to get guitar lessons but I never did for whatever reason. I always played my guitar all the time while I was home but never joined any programs at school which I regret very much now. I think it would’ve been fun to play in the jazz band or something with people I knew in school.

How did you get into playing guitar?

I got into playing just kind of on my own. I remember having a strong interest in the guitar because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, which I still do. Some cousins of mine got guitars when they were kids and once I played theirs, I knew I had to beg my parents for my own, which worked. I just loved a lot of music, especially rock and metal which featured some of the coolest techniques I wanted to learn so bad and I feel that I had this love for it very early on.

Jairo Estrada (Death of an Astronomer)

Did you start to listen to music differently once you discovered guitar?

In a way, yes. I always listened to the guitar in a song and would be memorized. Once I began playing, I started to listen to the techniques and the chords being played in songs and wanted to figure them out and learn them. I also began to analyze how they got their tone and started singling out guitar players in songs and trying to learn more about how they were doing what they were doing, so it’s had me thinking a whole lot more while listening.

Who were some of your early guitar influences?

Some of my earliest influences were definitely people like Kurt Cobain since Nirvana was the first band that I ever really loved as a kid. Later on, when I discovered metal though, I was all about James Hetfield and Kurt Hammet, as well as Dave Mastain and Kerry King. Anything fast and in your face, was all I wanted when it came to guitar when I was in my early teens.

Tell me about your technique.

I am not a traditionally trained guitar player at all. While it does feel like a bit of a hindrance sometimes, I find that it allows me to look at music in a very different way which results in my songwriting sounding the way it does. I enjoy finding new interesting chords and I am always chasing a feeling or a sound that gives me chills. I love playing fast and aggressive stuff and really digging into the strings when I’m playing a heavy section, if it makes me grind my teeth a little bit, I know I have a sick riff. I also really enjoy finding chords and melodies that sound both happy and melancholy as I feel they bring together emotions that you remember when listening to a song and that is probably what is most important to me. These feelings and vibes are definitely all over “Digital Conversation”.

What guitars are in your collection? What is your guitar you trust the most?

I have a couple of guitars. I’ve bought and sold a few through the last few years but my collection now is almost all Ibanez and I have one Esp that I’ve had since I was in the 9th grade, as well as a Yamaha acoustic and my very first guitar which funny enough is a B.C. Rich warlock. My main guitar is my Ibanez prestige S series 5427. I trust it the most because its reliable and always feels good to play, it’s got great tone and with the pickup configuration in it right now, serves my needs the best for DOAA. I also have a made in japan Ibanez RG 7421 which I love as well an Indonesian made 7421. I have an old Ibanez RG 120 as well, but I mostly own 7 strings at the moment.

With the advancements of technology and amp/effects simulation, do you still use pedals?

Yes, I still do. I have a line 6 Pod HD500 which I’ve had for a few years now. I’ve owned a few pedals over the years and I do love them, I also love what technology is brining. With things like the axe-fx and kemper, you can really create music with very little to carry around with you. A lot of bands still use pedals live which I want to use as well, it’s all about what is easiest to carry when you’re traveling from place to place and it seems like amp simulation will probably be the future of guitar amps exclusively.

In your opinion, what are three skills every guitarist must bring to perfection?

I would say the three skills every guitarist should perfect as much as possible, are training your ears, knowing what fits a song, and knowing your gear. I think it’s important to train your ear so that you can not only hear when you’re out of tune, but also learning what the sound of certain strings and chord voicings are. Knowing what fits a song best is very important to me, if you’re playing with a pop band, you can’t come in shredding all the time because you won’t be servicing the song. Its best to know what playing is appropriate at a given moment. Also, knowing your gear very well helps. If you need to trouble shoot something live or during a rehearsal, things will go a lot smoother for you if you know your gear and can figure out how to fix something, or recognize a problem very well. I’ve experienced having to trouble shoot live, and it taught me a valuable lesson that when you’re playing live and something isn’t working very well, you need figure it out and not stop the show.

How did you work on perfecting your rhythm and solo parts?

I definitely wouldn’t call it perfection, but I just play guitar everyday as much as I can and trying to sound as clean as possible. Playing with a metronome has been extremely helpful, as it has helped me not only play cleaner but also stay in time. I never practiced with one when I was younger which created some really bad habits but I’m trying to get better. Solos I wouldn’t say I’m good at but I think it helps give me the voice that I have in music. I write a lot weird sounding riffs so I feel realizing and focusing on the fact that I didn’t learn a more traditional way helps stand out which I’m great full for now.

Death of an Astronomer - Digital Conversation

Back to music… You have launched a single with your project Death of an Astronomer. Lead me through the creative process of “Digital Conversation.”

This track is an interesting one for me because I worked on it for a while and wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. I kept working on it and rewriting some of the sections but once I had the intro down, the rest of the song pretty much wrote itself. It’s a little more straight forward than a lot of music I have written but it’s still complex and explorative enough to feel progressive. I absolutely love the way this song turned out which is why I think any stress or headaches I received from it have payed off.

What evolution do you feel this song represents for you as a composer and guitarist?

I feel that I have realized that I love playing complex stuff but I also love music that is a bit more straightforward. I feel that the music I’m writing with DOAA is a little simpler in approach, but still has a lot of room for technicality and experimentation. I think “Digital Conversation” shows that I am going for a combination of simplicity and complexity without relying too heavily on one or the other. It’s given me perspective as to what I want to represent as not only a guitar player, but songwriter as a whole.

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a guitarist when making “Digital Conversation”?

I think the biggest challenges were figuring out a way to make the riffs fit well with the keyboards. I wanted to have an emphasis on keyboard as well but I didn’t want to just write guitar riffs and throw keys and synths on them. I felt that balancing them both was the best move and I think listening back now, you can hear that the keys don’t over stay their welcome and don’t step on the riffs and vice versa. I had a hard time finding a balance or what patches to use on my keyboard and I wasn’t happy with what I had written, but after some time, I found what worked. Keeping it simple was probably the best thing I could’ve done when it came to finishing the song.

How do you go about channeling inspiration into writing?

I usually try to not think about it too much and just play guitar. I have my days where I can’t come up with anything that I like or I will jam on something that I think is great for a moment, but when I come back to it, I am unhappy and will either trash it or set it aside. Generally, when I feel I’ve hit a wall I will try to put the guitar down and do something not guitar related. Sometimes just listening to music that I like or watching a musician I admire perform, it begins brewing something in my brain and I get excited to write. It happens at the most awkward times sometimes, but I just try to play guitar and see what happens.

JE

Back to tech talk, tell me about your guitar rig you use for recording?

My rig is very simple actually. Just my guitar amp head, cabinet and an effects pedal. I am using an Orange duel terror as my head, and a marshall 4×12 cab that I’ve had for years that sounds great. My main tone comes from my Line 6 HD500 footswitch. Some may think it doesn’t sound very good because there is gear out there that is a lot more advanced, but for what I am playing and the tones I have fine-tuned, it works great. For this recording though, I used a Kemper profiling amp for all of the heavy rhythm tones courtesy of my friend and engineer Ryan Williams. We used his kemper and found some tones that not only had the bite and crunch we were looking for, but also complimented the music. For the clean guitar tones we used my HD500 and my Orange Duel Terror head. I really do love experimenting with gear though so I am looking into maybe getting an amp modeler like a Kemper, Axe-Fx or maybe even a Line 6 Helix sometime soon but for now, I am happy with my rig.

What are your five favorite pieces of gear in 2018, and why?

Well if we are talking the gear that I own, I absolutely love my Ibanez prestige S 5427 and my Orange head. There is so much awesome gear out there but if I had to narrow it down to five I would say I am loving and am dying to try a Horizon Devices Precision Drive, a Kiesel Osiris, Axe-Fx III, an Aristides, and Line 6 Helix. Though I can say one piece of gear that I have played through and love this year is the Ibanez AZ series. Love the feel and I love the look of those guitars. Really great stuff.

What comes next for Death of an Astronomer?

Well the first thing that I plan on doing next is releasing my second single which I am very excited about. It was recorded at the same time as “Digital Conversation” but is pretty different. I think everyone will be in for some surprises when they check out the track. After that I definitely plan on playing some shows and doing quite a bit of touring. I think 2019 will be a really busy and fun year for Death Of An Astronomer and I can’t wait to share all the new music I will be releasing for your enjoyment.

Death of an Astronomer’s debut single “Digital Conversation” is available from Bandcamp here. Follow the project on Facebook and Instagram.