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How Music Got into Charlie

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The guitar solo is a characteristic part of rock music. In the traditional verse-chorus form, it normally appears between the second chorus and the third verse, and it often serves as an opportunity for the guitarist to display his virtuosity. For anyone who’s ever sat down to spend a few hours learning their favourite song on the guitar, paying close attention to the positioning of their fingers and clumsily picking and strumming their way through the melody, watching Charlie Springmuhl burst into a guitar-solo during a live performance is a humbling experience. He flawlessly strings every note together while free-falling to the ground in mid-song ecstasy. All with a big-ass smile on his face.

Charlie Springmuhl playing a guitar solo in Guatemala City. Photo: Comvite

27-year old Charlie Springmuhl notably stands out from Guatemala’s microcosm of alternative rock for his humble intensity. While his guitar-playing and performance on stage tend to be fierce, there’s always a certain degree of affability about him. He has a hail-fellow-well-met disposition—the possibility that he will ever be caught in a terribly bad mood is just as remote as the possibility of someone purposely using Bing to search for something online. It’s not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

He became immersed in music at a very early age. When he was just three-years old, his mother gave him a small piano as a present. He fiddled around with the keys, and he eventually developed a simple approach to music. “You begin to notice that if you put your fingers on the piano in a certain way, it could sound pretty and nice or it could just sound ugly. And if it does sound ugly, you just don’t use it,” Charlie explains. A few years later, his parents gave him a small drum-set, and he used it to just make noise around his house. “My parents gave me the drums,” he recalls. “So, they were basically asking for it.”

That’s when Charlie created his first band along with his best friend. He would play the drums while his friend played the guitar and sang. However, he wanted to sing as well, and that’s what eventually led him to the guitar. “I was never a big fan of the Phil-Collins-concept of being a drummer and a singer,” he says. “So, I picked up the guitar to play and sing at the same time. It’s something that went hand-in-hand with my interest in creating songs.” His best friend sat him down and taught him the basics of guitar-playing and a couple of songs: Come As You Are by Nirvana, and When I Come Around by Green Day.

Mr. Springmuhl named his guitar “Maggie May” because, according to him, it makes “country-like sounds.” Photo: Comvite

His parents often tried to get him to take lessons, but he was never a very good student and he kind of hated them—he was the embodiment of the Principle of Least Effort according to his mom. However, while the idea of formal musical education wasn’t appealing to him back then, he did crave to learn as much as he could about the guitar. The fact that his parents never shushed him while he played or told him to find better dreams became his biggest encouragement to keep going. So, he diligently taught himself how to play to the best of his ability. “I would put on MTV and watch what dudes would do with their hands and then try to imitate it. At the same time, I would listen to a lot of music and try to emulate what I was hearing by applying what I had seen on TV.”

After high school, he studied music production and sound engineering in the United States. He knew he wanted to study something that was music-related, but he was fiercely-resistant of being taught how to play an instrument by someone else. When he moved back to Guatemala after completing his higher education, he got together with his friend, Francis Rodríguez, to play music. His band, Hot Sugar Mama, came out of that particular jam-session.

Nowadays, Charlie produces music and remains a very industrious guitar player. For the past seven years, he has practiced each of his band’s songs on his spare time every single day. “It’s my job, so that’s what I do. That’s the kind of thing that gives you the liberty to not think about what you’re doing while you’re on stage. You already know what you’re doing because your muscle memory knows what you have to do. Your nerves are in sync with your brain… you just feel like the laws of physics cease to matter and you shut yourself within you. When you see me playing a guitar solo while twisting on the floor, I’m already gone. What remains and what you’re looking at, is my professional side trying to get the job done.”

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