An Interview With Canadian Fingerstyle Guitarist Emilio Bonito
Emilio Bonito is a fingerstyle guitarist from Hamilton, Ontario. His music combines a deep background in classical music training with influences that include pop culture, contemporary music from a diversity of genres and the great fingerstyle guitarists that came before him. I talked to him about his background, his creative process and where he finds inspiration.
Interview With Emilio Bonito
KM: How did you first become interested in playing music?
Emilio Bonito: When I was a kid, I wanted to do everything my brother Maximiliano was doing, whether it was playing Super Nintendo or playing basketball with a bunch of older kids, so when he was taking piano lessons I wanted to do that too. I was too young, initially, but as soon as I was old enough to enroll, my parents got me in right away. I absolutely loved it. We continued with the Royal Conservatory of Music program with a fantastic piano teacher named Flavio Danieli. He tried to bring out the best in us. We completed all the theory exams and continued lessons right up until we started our undergraduate degrees respectively.
When I was around nine years old, I started to really get into rock music, so I wanted to play guitar. My parents bought me an electric guitar and I spent a couple of years learning the basics of standard tuning guitar with a guitar teacher. After two years, my guitar teacher moved away, so I started to teach myself. I was able to play a lot of tunes by listening to a CD or on the radio due to the ear training from piano lessons.
I didn’t really start to get into fingerstyle guitar until 2009 when I saw Andy McKee’s videos on YouTube. I was amazed by his songs and became a huge fan. His music really resonated with me because I found the technicality of the songwriting fascinating. There was purpose in not only what it sounded like but by how he was doing it, so I watched more of his YouTube videos because I wanted to learn how to play his songs.
I got an acoustic guitar at that point and in 2010, when I was about to begin my undergraduate degree, I explored altered and open tunings. I found different patterns on the fretboard which led to great sounding chords that are hard to pull off in standard tuning due to its limited range. That’s when I really started to write my own fingerstyle songs.
In 2013, I was looking for a studio to record my fingerstyle tunes. There was a post on Twitter from a studio in Hamilton called Catherine North Studios about a recording session they did with an artist there. I commented on it and the person who was running their Twitter account, Kathleen Farley, stumbled across my YouTube videos through that tweet.
Kathleen did some digging, found out I was from Hamilton, and later connected on Twitter and set a time for a studio tour and meet. I spent the afternoon with her and Michael Chambers (moon:and:6) chatting about music. A year later, Kathleen sent me an email that she was starting a music label called Maisonneuve Music and invited me to join the artist roster. This was around the time that I was starting to lose that flame to write songs. I wasn’t playing often, and things were getting tough with my undergraduate degree which was draining my soul. The music I was making is a niche genre and I felt like my music wasn’t going anywhere. But I accepted and wanted to try it out. Michael records and produces my music today. I am grateful to be able to work with Kathleen and Michael.
KM: Tell me about your approach to guitar playing and about the elements that you like to explore within the music you write.
EB: I have to feel inspired to write about something or else I’ll come up with an idea that sounds good but ultimately leads to nowhere. Those ideas are either scrapped or put aside for a later time. That being said, I feel like there are three ways for me to be inspired. First, I get inspired by watching other fingerstyle guitarists like, for example, Tommy Emmanuel, Antoine Dufour and Dylan Ryche. I listen to their repertoire, watch Youtube videos of them playing, and learn new techniques that I have yet to conquer on the guitar.
Second way is discovering old and new music outside of the fingerstyle realm. Over the last couple of years I’ve really started get into Queen. I’ve listened to every single song from every album and I absolutely love them.
Lastly, I get inspired through experiences or have a weird idea in my head. In regards to my next couple of new releases, ‘Tenderly’ is an old Western sounding tune based off of the Spanish vaqueros which later developed into the North American cowboy. ‘The Kraken’ is based on an image in my head of a colossal octopus destroying a ship which reminds me of the Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
My previous releases have explored the ideas of rumination, introspection and personal discovery.
KM: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced making a career out of music?
EB: With contemporary fingerstyle guitar being a niche genre, there’s a small audience to work with, so it’s hard to bring the music to the forefront of a mainstream audience. Whereas if I was making electronic, indie, or folk music, the audience is bigger. As I release more music, I am fine tuning the approach with Maisonneuve Music on how to release this style of music, providing tabs and videos to really appreciate visually what’s going on, since there is no lyrics and vocal tracks.
KM: Tell me more about how your last single Chrysanthemum came to life.
EB: Chrysanthemum was one of the first songs I wrote when I was starting to get into fingerstyle guitar. It’s essentially a song about how I was feeling around that time. I was trying to discover what I wanted to do and what kind of person I am deep inside. Heading into undergraduate studies, I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing and I was in limbo. Whatever I was feeling that day came out naturally and became the song.
When we recorded Chrysanthemum with Michael, it was a very minimalist process. Michael sets up his microphones. There’s about three or four different mics capturing the guitar. We do about four to eight takes. He’ll tell me if there’s any spots where he feels I could play better, if there were any mistakes in a section, or gives me an idea to alter a part of the song. We don’t record it in sections, it is a full song take each time.
KM: Where do you want to see your music going in the future?
EB: I’ll be releasing more material with Maisonneuve Music. Depending on how many I do, I’ll either keep doing singles or release an EP. I definitely want to play more local shows, and shows in and out of the greater Hamilton-Toronto area. I don’t see myself doing long tours, but I do see myself doing short pocket tours in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. I also want to participate in the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar competition in 2019. It’s usually held in Kingston Ontario, and a lot of the great fingerstyle guitarists have done competitions there. I want another year to fine tune my current and new techniques, so that I feel totally confident performing there.
KM: How do you keep yourself recharged creatively?
EB: It would be doing things not related to music. Watching sports, playing Nintendo, binge watch TV shows, etc. It allows me to step away from the music and sometimes gives me some new inspiration and ideas to work with.