By ANDREW FOERCH
Most UT students frequent Ybor’s popular event venues for the atmosphere, for the dancing, and to see their favorite musicians rock the stage. Sophomore entrepreneurship major Michael Rende is not like most students.
Instead, the 19 year-old is the one rocking stages at clubs and concert halls like The Orpheum, The Ritz, and Castle, where his ridiculous shredding has wowed crowds since his sophomore year of high school. Rende isn’t getting gigs like these by accident; he’s one of the most talented young guitarists in the greater Tampa area, and he’s looking to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming musician with serious breakout potential.
“I’ve always looked at it as something I want to just try to make the absolute most out of,” Rende said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than play guitar.”
He describes his genre of work as “progressive neoclassical.” His play style features intricate displays of what is known as “fingerpicking,” where he plucks the strings of his custom Carvin DC400 with his nails or fingertips rather than a plastic pick.
Rende first showed interest in the prospect of musicianship at age 5, when Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles came on the car radio. He believes that the novelty of an adolescent boy “ripping it like crazy” led people to enjoy his playing when he was younger.
“I was obsessed with that violin riff. Unfortunately, I thought that violin riff was a guitar. And I started playing guitar because of that,” Rende said. “Really it’s like, fifteen years later I’ve been playing the wrong instrument,” he laughed.
And fifteen years later, he’s developed a mature understanding of guitar theory and a sound all his own. He pulls inspiration from legends like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Paul Gilbert, but never fails to maintain his own personal vision.
The uniqueness of Rende’s sound owes thanks to his flowing, often improvised, approach. Once he’s compiled his drum or synth loops to use as a backdrop, he’ll add in his guitar, often recording his free form sessions for hours on end to find the perfect notes and phrases. Then he’ll add some progressive stylistic flair.
“There’s a lot of sustained out notes and other things like that. It gets boring unless you add something new to the shredding,” Rende said. “If you layer guitars with different effects, it almost becomes similar to a live EDM show but with insane guitar playing instead.”
Though he does not have a band at the moment, Rende still finds ways to push the boundaries of song composition as a solo artist.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of drummers out there, so I end up doing a lot of synth beats and rhythm stuff on guitar before I get into the shredding,” Rende said. “I love to work with anyone and everyone, regardless of genre. That’s a big part of the progressive aspect. If I find anyone who wants to do something, that’d be great.”
Rende’s latest experiment is a solo synth-driven guitar album called Calligraphy. He’s recorded five tracks so far, including one timed at over 15 minutes, and has more on the way. According to Rende, it’s definitely not going to be a standard seven track album.
Rende will continue fleshing out Calligraphy this fall, and hopes to gig the project on weekends if he can find the time.
Though Rende isn’t actively promoting the project yet, he did preview some music about a month ago for a crowd at Gators, a pub close to where he grew up in Clearwater. It was in Clearwater at a local music store called Seminole Music and Sound that Rende met Randall Carter. A guitar teacher in the Seminole area for almost 30 years, Carter helped Rende hone his skills and develop professional knowledge of theory and technique.
As a young teenager, Rende came in to Seminole Music and Sound already being able to play. He had one previous teacher, and was sure of himself, but hadn’t been told exactly what he was playing or why.
“He got frustrated and came and found me. And we just flew,” Carter said.
Over the next two and a half years, they worked together on building chord progressions, picking what scales to use to pull chords from, giving proper names to Rende’s techniques, and understanding why certain musical rules apply.
“Absolutely as soon as he started playing, I could tell that this is what he wants. He was one of the few students who would take my lessons and come back next week with six different variations of what we were working on,” Carter said.
Carter referred to Rende’s experimental willingness to try anything as his greatest musical quality.
“The biggest challenge was staying ahead of him. The ability to take that risk, to just do it and see what happens, that’s a hard quality to come by,” Carter said. “I would give him an exercise, and he’d find a totally different way of playing… I love that. He always kept me on my toes.”
It took a lot of dedication, time, and hard work for Rende to get where he is today. Carter estimated Rende’s practice habits at upwards of four hours per day during the years they worked together. Rende highlighted a time during his adolescence where he was playing roughly 10 hours a day, between formal practice and just playing around at home.
“Every guitarist learns from other people. If I wasn’t playing Steve Vai, I wouldn’t have had rigorous stuff to practice. If you don’t practice stuff that’s out of your league, you’ll never get better,” Rende said, just before scrolling frantically through his cell phone to show me what he was referring to. When he found what he was looking for, Steve Vai’s “For the Love of God,” he started excitedly bobbing his head to the song’s tempo, appreciating the tightness of the strumming.
“Really, the basis of my training was: ‘if you play the hardest stuff, you just get better,” Rende said.
Now, though, he’s restrained by the responsibilities of life as a full-time college student. Rende takes five classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of his week is spent at Raymond James stadium as a counterparty credit analyst.
Even in the midst of a hectic schedule, Rende hopes to pursue his musical aspirations during his limited free time.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and you might be lucky enough to catch one of Rende’s unique performances this fall, and don’t be surprised if you hear about a Michael Rende tour in the not-so-distant future.
“Any time any of my students venture into the professional world of musicianship, I’m beside myself,” Carter said. “I can’t wait to see what Rende’s life holds for him down the line, and I can’t wait to see where it brings him.”
Andrew Foerch can be reached at email@example.com