Esoteric genius with a penchant for intricate acoustic masterpieces

You only need to hear one song by Michael-John Azzopardi to understand why he has been described as “a guitarist of chaotic talents”. From the outset, the intensity and depth of his compositions reaches right into the listener and takes a firm hold on the soul. In fact, some of the progressions and arrangements are so mind-blowing they might be described as schizophrenic if they weren’t so goddamn sane, beautiful and eloquently reasoned!

The poetic, philosophical lyrics – which are at the same time accessible and firmly rooted in everyday reality, or at least a lucid dream of it – also hint at a remarkably multi-layered artistic force.

Azzopardi’s first album, Room, which was released several years ago,features primarily acoustic instruments, as does his live show.  “Acoustic is just one part of me. On the first album, it was an acoustic album because the idea was that I had some recording time on hand; that album was recorded in about 24 hours in total.”

The current Azzopardi work in progress is also acoustically based.

“I was going to actually add other instruments to them, but since I’ve been playing solo quite a lot, the acoustic arrangement is starting to sound very full. So the songs don’t lend themselves that much to getting other instruments added.”

You should have the idea by now that Michael-John Azzopardi is not the sort of musician you could reasonably assume anything about. To see him kicking out the jams in a band context, you wouldn’t believe he has touched an acoustic, or ever would. He throws out the chunkiest riffs to ever leave a quad box, interspersed with the kind of effortless guitar-strangling lead that would make any would-be virtuoso jealous. And discreetly making inquiries after the show about whether there are any protégé positions going. “What I intend to do, after these, is to actually go in the studio and make an electric album. Maybe a bit more underground, a bit more experimental. Probably a lot heavier.”

Like the frenetic artwork on Room’s inlay book – his own original paintings and sketches – Azzopardi’s compositions have characters reminiscent of an Escher print. The music contains millions of details arranged into an enigmatic pattern which seems to conflict with itself when observed close up, but is cohesive, satisfying and symmetrical when seen as a whole.

Yet Azzopardi’s philosophy has nothing whatsoever to do with prioritizing complexity above musical honesty. “Basically, I’ll get into anything that’s got feel. And I can appreciate music that might not be where I’m headed, or might not be made so well as felt well.”

And don’t expect to hear the same thing twice if you catch him onstage. “I don’t see myself as a disciplined player. What I’m doing live with an acoustic is that I’m leaving a lot of room open to improvise, I like to be able to make a song breathe and live in itself, rather than constrain it. I have certain songs which are fairly set in stone, but then still not to the extent that I can’t interpret them, add a different feel to them based on what I’m feeling at the time.”

Not surprisingly Azzopardi’s been around: apart from his reputation as a gun session player (who has worked with Sam Burke and Carolyna North-Loveless), he has been heard on more radio stations than an ambulance dispatcher. Yet despite his breathtaking skill and experience, this is not a guitarist to rest on his laurels. “It’s important to be open, and to grow. The day I can turn around and I don’t feel I have any room to improve, I should give up playing.”

Ever true to his art, Azzopardi hosts a monthly musical showcase in a church hall in Balmain, NSW. Ironically titled MASS (Musicians And Singer Songwriters), the regular event has seen all manner of local and overseas performers tread the boards.

article published by Guitarist Australia magazine issue 3 June/July 2005. Article written by Gun Arvidssen, Editor Guitarist Australia