Tone Talk with Leilani Kilgore

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Hello! I am musician, songwriter, and self-proclaimed riff bandit Leilani Kilgore. (But to give credit where credit is due, the third observation originated from an outside party who will remain anonymous because I refuse to give them the satisfaction.) Keith Richards, SRV, and Jimi Hendrix can be thanked for my initial draw to the guitar; as an only child, I got quite jealous of all the attention their music got from my dad and decided learning to play was the only way to redirect his attention. After studying classical as a kid and mucking about in pop-punk/indie rock for a while as an angst-ridden teen, I finally had the good fortune of experiencing blues. I laughed, I cried, I was completely enraptured, and I experienced an instance of total musical metanoia. This drove me to learn about the blues, and it wasn’t long before I was spending eight hours a day learning the songs of Albert and Freddie and B.B. King, Hendrix, and Clapton.

I graduated high school and immediately moved across the country to accept a scholarship at Berklee College of Music, where I spent two years taking every blues-related elective I could while living, breathing, eating, and (hardly ever) sleeping music. After two years, I got restless and dropped out to move south to Nashville, where I’ve lived and worked for nearly five years now. I spent two years working on cruise ships as lead guitar/vocalist and bandleader for a rock group. I’m now currently performing original music under my own name and working on new songs to perform and release while co-fronting/co-managing a Lower Broadway band called “Holy Lightning.” I released my first single “XXX Moonshine” and music video in July; my second single (and music video), “I’m Gonna Leave You,” and a re-release of an original previously accredited to an old band became available in September.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
I think tone is an aural representation of whatever emotion it is you’re trying to convey in the absence of verbal expression, and there’s so many ways to do it—something as specific as left-hand pressure creates a drastic difference. I used to think of it in a pretty rudimentary way (i.e., no further than bridge pickup for rhythm, neck pickup for solos), but that changed as I learned more about what a guitar can really achieve sonically and how even slight adjustments are capable of affecting the story the guitar is telling.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
It really depends on the gig, but for the most part, I run either my Epiphone Bonamassa Black Beauty Custom Les Paul or my loaner Fender ’51 Nocaster reissue through a Fender Tonemaster Twin. The pedalboard usually has the standard boost (Xotic EP Boost)/ delay (TC Electronic Flashback)/ phaser (MXR Phase 90) lineup, followed by a slew of drive and distortion (Friedman BE-OD for lead tone, MXR FET Driver, Supro Drive, and Nobel ODR-1 or Ibanez TS9/TS808)  tied off with a Dunlop Bonamassa custom wah. That usually gets the job done.

What about strings?
D’Addario NYXL or Ernie Ball Slinky are my go-to; honestly, as long as they’re 11-52 and relatively durable, I’m happy.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
Give me a band and a mic’d amp, and I’m happy. Going back and overdubbing solos or specific additional parts is a different story, but I feel live tracking bare bones with the band presents an opportunity to capture the energy of a song before diving into details. I’m probably a nightmare to track; I never write solos note for note or play one the same way twice. I like feeling the song in the moment.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Gaff tape and carefully aimed boot placement.

What does your practice consist of?
Back when I was in high school and college, I would really focus on specific techniques or scales and create a practice routine. Since working as a musician full-time, my practice has become more material-oriented, depending on what gig I’m prepping for. When it’s not that, I’m trying to learn new riffs or styles of playing that challenge me.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
Ooh, good question. I started out playing classical, then punk, but I think I was learning B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” from “Live at the Regal” for my teacher,  and at some point, something clicked, and I went, “wow, this is really cool!”.Something about playing blues really spoke to me, and I suddenly couldn’t get enough of it.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Firstly, never ever let anyone tell you you aren’t good enough, or can’t get as far, or intimidate you into thinking so. The recognition women have been receiving in the industry is so incredibly inspiring, and every woman has a place in this business. Secondly, embrace whatever it is that makes you unique! There’s only one of you, and will only ever be one of you, and that’s a priceless advantage that should never be ignored. Lastly, don’t be afraid of rejection or failure. I like to think it’s just the universe’s way of saying that connection or direction isn’t the right way to go; besides, there’s always something to be learned from every experience.

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