Meet Melanie Faye: The Viral R&B Guitarist Turned Guitar Hero
This article originally appeared as the cover story of She Shreds Issue #14, which was released in February, 2018.
With millions of musicians sharing new music online every day, it’s easy to mindlessly click around. But Melanie Faye is the type of talent you can’t just scroll past; she was born to become an icon. Without any current releases and virtually no touring history, the now 20-year-old guitarist from Nashville has gone viral, gaining international attention from varying music and social media communities that are mesmerized by her soulful and effortless guitar work—which she typically shares through videos on her YouTube page.
Faye’s creative voice comes through in the emotionally expressive notes of her guitar; a voice that impacts new and old generations of guitarists, including those in genres not immediately associated with guitar such as hip hop and R&B.
In order to fully comprehend the talent of Melanie Faye, you need to see her masterful playing for yourself at @rainbow_fever_1998_ and indulge in who is sure to become your new guitar obsession. She Shreds video chatted with Faye about her favorite gear, refining your chops, and what the future looks like for the young guitarist.
She Shreds: How was your weekend? Where are you?
Melanie Faye: It’s been alright. I don’t really know what day it is anymore. I’m in Nashville, at my house. Did I tell you I just dropped out of [sophomore year of college]?
What was the decision for that?
I was half-heartedly doing school and then half-heartedly doing music. So I just had to make a decision—I chose music. It was the proper decision. Now I can focus on my career, which has already started.
Do you feel like the whole social media viral situation solidified that decision?
It solidified it, but it already started when I was doing shows locally. If you’re just doing local shows, that’s not really much of a reason to dropout of school. Just all the work that’s been piling up, all the people reaching out to me. I couldn’t balance it out.
A friend sent me a video of you playing, which I thought was amazing. And then three days later, you went from 7,000 followers to 50,000. And I was like, “What just happened?”
I actually started out at 1,200 and then it exploded. It kept going up and up. I was at Little Harpeth Brewing in Nashville [to play a show]. And then the very next day I got a text from one of my friends saying, “Hey, um, you’re going crazy right now, you’re going viral.” And then I looked and saw that somebody had taken my video on Instagram and posted it to their Twitter, and it just blew up. I didn’t know the person. I didn’t have anything to do with that. It just naturally blew up. And that’s an old video. That came out October of 2016. It didn’t go viral until August of 2017. I guess I just got lucky.
How has your life been impacted since then?
I have a lot more show dates, and this time around they’re in different states. A lot of free stuff: clothes, a whole bunch of guitars, guitar pedals. So, yeah, it was pretty cool. I have more direction too, I guess.
What does that direction look like?
Keep doing the shows, and then just keep posting. When I’m ready, drop the EP. In order to go on tour, you have to have a body of work out, which I don’t have yet. But once I get that out, then I can go on tour.
I read that you got into guitar by playing Guitar Hero on Xbox. What about that game made you want to pick up the guitar?
The song “Cliffs of Dover” [by Eric Johnson]. And the characters, how cool they looked, how cool the guitar sounded, the music on there, and how fun the game was. But “Cliffs of Dover” was my favorite song of the whole game.
How did you go about getting your hands on a guitar?
A year later, after getting Guitar Hero 3: Legends Of Rock, I got a real guitar. I didn’t get it for Christmas or the holidays because my family is Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I got some money for Black Friday. Like, we didn’t do Christmas, but we did Black Friday. I decided I was going to buy a guitar, so that’s what I did. I was 11.
What about the baby blue Strat that’s often seen in your earlier videos?
I bought that senior year of high school. I worked at Subway part-time and made minimum wage and I was really excited to buy something. It was that Black Friday time again, so everything was on sale. I can’t really say that I’ve ever really been in love with the guitar. It takes a lot of extra work to get it to sound decent. You have to really work on your technique and your touch to get the most of that guitar.
What do you look for in a guitar?
I like guitars that are really well set up, that feel really effortless, that have low action where you barely have to press down and it just feels like air. But none of my guitars feel like that at all. The blue [Fender Stratocaster] has the world’s highest action.
The black Epiphone Genesis, which is from 1980, also has pretty high action. And then the three new ones I just got—I’m in love with this bass. I’m obsessed with it. I’m so excited to start playing bass and learn stuff and even pick up some gigs as a bass player. It’s perfect. I chose that [Offset Fender Mustang PJ] bass because [as a] a guitar player, I’m not comfortable with the full-scale bass. I’m not comfortable with a full-length 34-inch bass. So I decided to get a short-scale bass because it’s reminiscent of a guitar and feels familiar. And then, the D’Angelico guitar is perfect. You have to see it in person, it’s gorgeous. When I first pulled it out of the case, it was clean: brand new, no specks of dust, no scratch marks. It was just amazing, and it sounds even better than it looks. And then, the American Professional Strat is amazing. It’s better than my original baby blue Strat.
Did the Strat inspire that Jimi Hendrix portrait that’s always behind you in your Instagram videos?
It’s a 3D poster, so if you are in here and you move to the left, it turns green. But if you move to the right, it turns red. So you can see in my Instagram, sometimes the poster’s green and sometimes it’s red, depending on my position on the floor.
What do you think was the hardest thing to learn at first?
Chord changes. Going from one chord to another, and then picking the right string. If you’re holding down a note on a D string, you might accidentally hit the wrong string. That was really hard.
What were some of the main tools that were pivotal in developing your skills?
Being patient and having the drive and determination to learn something else. It’s easy to learn something and then just plateau and not really push yourself to get better, to just play the same thing over and over again for the next few months. But you just have to push past that wall. You have to be determined to move into the next obstacle.
I think for a lot of people, like you were saying, guitar is an obstacle rather than, “This is an expressive instrument.”
I’m sure a lot of people can play guitar, but very few people have the patience. Nobody really wants to put in the work, so they’ll get to be decent at it and that’s it.
Speaking of… I noticed on your Instagram you’re experimenting more with pedals and bass. Do you consider yourself a bassist?
Yeah, it is secondary. I never relied on pedals, but pedals are super exciting. I’ve always wanted to get a good, solid overdrive sound. Like a “Cliffs of Dover” type of overdrive.
Do I consider myself a bass player? I do now. I’ve been playing for like, four days now, but I’m good at it.
What do you consider a good guitar player?
I guess that is subjective. But [I consider myself] someone who really has rhythm and does more than just the basics, who thinks outside the box instead of just being all simple with it.
What is the longest you’ve ever played guitar in one sitting, and what do you like to play for practice?
Maybe 12 hours. Not all the time, but that’s probably the longest. I don’t really sit down and play scales, but I play other people’s music, and then my own music too. In order to make your own music you have to learn and listen to other people’s music.
What are some of your favorite songs to play by other musicians?
[Songs by] Eric Gales. Nobody talks about him. I feel like he’s really unknown. Nobody plays guitar like him at all. I’ve never heard anyone sound like that. He’s extremely R&B, and very gospel, but he still does rock and blues too.
Who are some people you’d like to play with?
Chance the Rapper, Kehlani, Noname—who I actually recently met—and her guitar player, Brian Sanborn. Aminé and Danny Brown, Lianne La Havas, and SZA for sure. Anderson Paak, Shawn Mendes—I would want to work with him. Definitely Bibi McGill. I mean, she’s actually doing yoga right now, that’s what she’s really focused on, but if she makes her comeback to music, then I would want to work with her. Cage the Elephant, Portugal. The Man, Hayley Williams. I hope I’m not missing someone.
So, a lot of hip hop and R&B influence.
Everything I have made has R&B influence to it. It doesn’t always have to be like, hard rock. You can do other stuff. I’m really influenced by singers like Mariah Carey or Kelly Price. Sometimes when I’m playing I mimic the way a singer does runs and stuff.
Why does that interest you?
Instead of sounding like generic guitar noise, it sounds like music. It sounds like singing. I grew up listening to R&B music. I didn’t grow up listening to rock music. I didn’t discover rock music until I got Guitar Hero in middle school. Before that, me and my siblings were obsessed with Michael Jackson. I mean, he’s considered the King of Pop, but a lot of his music is R&B. We would sit in the living room and listen to his music, and dance like him. Other than him, I was really obsessed with Mariah Carey. Chris Brown, too. Those were my top three favorite people to listen to.