Student Spotlight: Nick Poland ’09

Between Grasshopper Night, Battle of the Bands, Abbot Cabaret and Coffeehouses, Phillips Academy event producers might as well compile a set cast list of frequent performers. It is a rare occasion, then, that an undiscovered talent in guitar like Nick Poland ’09 flies under the radar until his senior year. Poland premiered his skill at the JusticeNOW Coffeehouse and followed up in the Abbot Cabaret this year. Matt Renner ’10, guitarist of 7 Layer Crunchwrap Supreme, member of the aforementioned list of staple acts and one of Poland’s fellow Abbot Cabaret performers was skeptical of Poland’s skill at first, based on the commonly beginner-used brand and model of Poland’s guitar. According to Renner, though, “when he plugged in everything and started playing, he busted out a quick blues run…and it was really cool. Then he started playing the beginning of the Jimi Hendrix song ‘Little Wing,’ and it sounded exactly like [the original].” Renner continue, “When I heard him play the whole thing through, my jaw dropped because it was so good. He had even the most minute detail down to when he would palm mute the strings between chords in the beginning to perfection—he did it exactly how Jimi Hendrix did it. He also had a good voice though you couldn’t really hear it [when he was performing].” Poland shared his story, opinions and his practicing methods in an interview with The Phillipian. How long have you been playing guitar? I think I first picked up my dad’s acoustic in seventh grade, but I didn’t really get that into it until a few years ago. Who taught you to play? My dad taught me a couple chords at first and I started guitar lessons with a teacher at PA. What do you prefer: acoustic or electric? They serve different purposes. I usually play electric, but I do play acoustic as well. There are certain things that you can do on one that you can’t do on the other. What is the hardest part about learning to play guitar? The hardest part is not giving up on yourself. For me, it just sort of worked out because [playing guitar is] something that I really like to do. I feel like the hardest part is not giving up when you’re stuck with it—when you hit a plateau. Eventually, I would listen to something and say that I really wanted to play that. As I do it more and more, it gets easier. I think the hardest part is playing [without] thinking about it. I just want to get better. What’s your favorite part about playing guitar? It might sound corny but just the music that comes from it. It’s like, you can make music with your own hands. It’s only been really recent but I like to take songs that I really love and I get really absorbed in feeling the music. What is the coolest or hardest thing you can do with a guitar? Trying to play Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn. That’s really difficult just because they have a unique and powerful way of playing. I can’t say that I’m really good at it. Do you perform often? I played at a coffeehouse at PA. I also played at the Abbot Cabaret this year. I only really play when the opportunities present themselves [which was] pretty much those two times. It was just recently that I have the confidence to play. Do you play in a band or do you prefer to play solo? I’ve only really performed twice. One time it was solo. If I audition, I try to get some musicians together, but I’ve never been in an actual established band. My friend plays bass and we’ve talked about making a band, but something like that hasn’t materialized. Do you have any inspirations or favorite musicians? Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Frusciante and David Gilmour. They’re all blues based. They all tend to be classic rock influences. They just come from the music I listen to. Do you think that there are many opportunities for guitarists to become part of the school music community? My friends and I were talking about just that—we didn’t think that there were many times we get to play. We were talking about how to organize a big music festival this spring. I think we sort of felt that besides Coffeehouses, Abbot Cabaret and Battle of the Bands it would be cool to have something more than that. What kind of music do you generally like to play? I like to play, generally, just stuff I listen to, which is classic rock. Most stuff that I play has a lot of roots in blues. What’s your favorite song to play and why? That changes quite often. I played “Under the Bridge” for six months straight last year. Right now, my favorite song to play is Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love” because it’s a fantastic tune and it has the most incredible outro/solo that I’ve ever heard. Do you play any other instruments? I used to play piano and clarinet. What about singing? Do you like to sing? That was never a big focus for me. I do vocals for certain songs. Mostly my focus has been on the guitar. Have you ever written your own songs? It’s been more recent that I’ve started to do that…Most of it comes from just experimenting. Just sort of fooling around with different ideas…and sometimes [songs] just knit themselves. None of them are finalized and most of them aren’t really organized. I’ve never performed any of them. Do you use the guitar to take stress away? Yeah, a lot actually. I procrastinate with it a lot. It’s a good stress-relief for me. It’s really therapeutic. What advice do you have for other guitarists? It sounds kind of corny but if you concern yourself with loving what you do and creating the music, you just keep getting better and better. Some people, even including some high profile musicians, approach learning the guitar as a science. But for me, it was always playing something that I heard, that I wanted to learn. As you do it more and more, you sort of get better at it.