Matt Willis – Best of both worlds

Matt Willis started bagpiping in the traditional world of Pipe & Drum bands. Having made music since the age of seven, he took up the bagpipe when he was 18 years old first learning with Wade Harper and Ken Liechti of the Silver Thistle Pipes & Drums. He played together with Silver Thistle from 2000 until 2004 and even attended the World Pipe Band Championsship in 2001.

Matt Willis with his redpipe classic

When he got contacted by the the Folkrock band The Killdares he did not hesitate to join them to explore another field of music. For ten years now Willis plays the pipes, whistles and flute with The Killdares and it was here that he found out about the big advantes of playing an electronic redpipe. Before he came across the electronic pipes of the German instrument maker and inventor Rolf Jost he tested electronic pipes which did not suit him in many regards. So he was quite excited when the Killdares shared the stage with the Canadian folkrock-band Gaelic Storm including Grade 1 piper Peter Purvis which uses a redpipe caledonia for several years now. Willis did not recognize at first that it was an electronic bagpipe and was stunned by the great sound that came from the stage.

So he ordered a redpipe for himself and his main reason was the stability of tuning that this instrument claimed. The Killdares are based in Dallas, many of summer shows are outdoors in the peak of summer, and it’s very difficult to keep a traditional set of pipes in tune in such extreme conditions. And when touring, the band often goes from one extreme to another. The redpipes are always in tune, regardless of weather.

Another great advantage is their lack of stage volume, allowing the pipes to be pushed harder out of the PA at larger shows, but also letting the band play smaller, more intimate venues without the pipes drowning out the other instruments in the band. But Matt discovered other great features of the redpipes when he became more acquainted with the instruments.

When the Killdares went into the studio to record their new album Willis recorded several tracks with Uilleann Pipes. But he found it difficult to play these tunes under live conditions: „I have always found them to be a nightmare to properly mic on stage“, says Willis„using the redpipes Classic with the Gaita-extended fingering, changing the key to D, and then having them hooked up to my Mac via MIDI and using a great uilleann pipe sample, I am able to replicate the sound of the uilleann pipes electronically, including much of the second octave and needed accidentals. The redpipes classic also frees me from blowing which lets me sing backing vocals and play the pipes at the same time.“ While the initial reason for purchasing the redpipes was the trueness of tuning, Willis found the ability to easily change keys/tones/fingerings easily (with the 10-preset knob) to be perhaps an equally important feature. „The redpipes have allowed me to play with keys and with accidentals not otherwise available on a traditional bagpipe. Having MIDI out also is great, and allows these pipes to trigger any MIDI tone you could want.”

The Killdares‘ newest album Steal The Sky features a song in the key of C-minor, which would not have not had worked on any other traditional highland chanter. „With the redpipes, I am free to write songs in any key I want, and that really expanding the sounds of range of The Killdares.“

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