Combining culture, history, legacy, and tradition, Indigenous artist Nadjiwan has outdone himself with his latest album Star Nation. Nadjiwan, the stage name of Toronto singer, songwriter, and producer Marc Meriläinen, released Star Nation on May 28th, via Heading North Music, a project certainly not short on ambition. The record’s ten songs show an artist who’s not intimidated in getting a little adventurous when it comes to playing modern rock. You combine that with some traditional elements, influenced by Meriläinen’s background and upbringing, and you get a rock album that’s bursting with innovation. Music and storytelling are cornerstones of Indigenous culture, which is part of what makes Star Nation such a memorable listening experience.
A lot of the lyrical themes and song ideas on the album were motivated by many interviews that Meriläinen conducted with his mother Hilda Nadjiwan. As an indigenous woman in Canada, she has experienced a lot, some positive, and some negative, with many of her personal experiences instrumental in the creation of Star Nation. She also shared many traditional Indigenous stories with her son, which prompted Meriläinen to write a new fictional narrative that plays out throughout the album.
With the new record out now, Nadjiwan eager to share with you his best music yet, and today being National Indigenous Peoples Day, we caught up with the man himself for our latest Geared Up in which we discussed the importance of his Nadjiwan Signature Series guitar, developed and produced by Longbow Guitars.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
Nadjiwan: “My sound varies from album to album and project to project. However, with the latest release Star Nation, the primary guitar used was the Nadjiwan Signature Series guitar by Longbow Guitars based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The guitar was made by Indigenous luthier John Longbow.”
How did you come to possess this Longbow guitar? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details.
“Years ago I was heading out to do some shows in New Mexico. I stumbled upon an ad for a Native American guitar manufacturer (Longbow Guitars) and was curious about the instrument. I emailed John to see if I could try one out. John brought me one of his guitars to the show and I used it exclusively all evening. I immediately fell in love with the instrument. A couple of years later, John was in Toronto attending a music industry event and presented me with the Nadjiwan signature guitar.”
What made you choose this particular guitar and were there any close seconds or alternates?
“The Longbow Guitar is a hollow-body with a unique but familiar tone that I thought would suit this ‘space rock opera’ we would be embarking on. It has a very large and full sound, especially when paired with the Vox AC30 top boost. Like The Edge from U2 and Daniel Lanois, I used the SDD-3000 as a preamp as well as my primary delay.
I used this guitar on eight out of the ten songs (on the album). For the other two songs, I used a Gibson Les Paul Custom.”
What about this guitar makes it so important to you?
“Since my background is Indigenous, I am a big supporter of other Indigenous artists and businesses. Prior to the guitar being built, John and I had conversations about my ‘wish list’ for the ‘perfect guitar.’ The wood is cherry with a maple top and ebony fretboard. The pickups are lace humbuckers. John also created custom inlays on the fretboard from the Nadjiwan album artwork I was promoting at the time. But, the best part is the inlay at the twelfth fret that reads ‘Nadjiwan.’ It’s not often you get your name on a guitar.”
Tell us more about how this guitar was used in the recording of Star Nation…
“I used the Longbow guitar on eight out of the ten songs. For the other two songs, I used the Gibson Les Paul Custom, as I felt that need more drive, and I have a Bigsby on the Les Paul that used to create some sonic spacey soundscapes. I ran the guitars through a Vox AC30 top boost as well as a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe in stereo using the SDD-3000 digital delay. That was the fundamentals of my sound for this recording.”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“For live shows, we basically just do what we did in the studio. Our touring band varies between five and six people so we divide all the parts accordingly and try to reproduce the album as it’s recorded. However, that’s not to say we don’t leave room for extended solos and jamming when appropriate. On the road, I’ve been mainly playing Les Pauls due to the fact they can handle a lot of the wear and tear that comes with being on tour. I recently acquired another custom-built guitar, this time a Telecaster which I will be using more on road trips since it’s much lighter.”
We know you love this guitar, but are there any major cons? (Okay, now you can also list the pros.)
“Because the Longbow guitar is one of my favourites I have retired from the road. It’s truly a beautiful guitar but the wear and tear was just too much night after night. I suppose that’s really my only ‘con’ as I don’t get to play it out of tour anymore.”
If you could, or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on the Longbow?
“The only tweak I would make for this model is adding a coil tap or split on the humbuckers for when you want that single-coil sound. However, Longbow Guitars and I are working together to build another Nadjiwan guitar this time a solid body with that feature.”
How easy is it for you to tweak the Longbow and get the tone/sounds you need?
“This guitar is super easy to play and get tones for. It’s basically plug-and-play. It has a three pickup selector switch which makes switching between tones very easy.”
How does the Longbow hold up with regular touring and gigging?
“This guitar was on the road with me for many years and many shows. Recently I have retired it from the road due to all the wear and tear. Since it’s a hollow body it feels like it’s more fragile than the other guitars. Over the years it’s had various minor scratches and dings from being on stage. It’s one of my favourite instruments so I no longer want to risk it being damaged beyond repair.”
Do you have a backup for the Longbow?
“For touring recently I’ve mainly been using Les Pauls as they are workhorses and can handle a lot of the daily stresses of being on the road. However, recently I picked up a custom-made Telecaster that will be replacing the Les Pauls on the road. With the Telecaster, I can get a wider array of sounds and tones. Also, the guitar is much lighter than the Les Pauls.”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“Many years ago while on tour we had a show at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. During the very last song of our set, I had somehow stepped on a cable and knocked out the signal to my main guitar rig. Luckily this was during the drum and bass interlude. The stage was so dark I couldn’t find where the cable had become disconnected. With some quick thinking, I switched over to my acoustic rig and was able to finish the last song.”