INTERVIEW: Steve Turner
Steve Turner is a hella talented guitarist and vocalist from Melbourne, Australia, and his prog rock power trio launched itself upon the live scene in 2007, including a jaw-dropping headlining set at Shredfest (the opening act was yours truly). Turner has just released ‘Not In Kansas Anymore,’ a 5-track EP which shifts from speedy noodling to epic metal riffs to soaring melodies to hypnotic syncopated interlocking lines. I chatted with Turner about the EP, his gear, and his new endorsement with RJM Music Technology.
PETER: ‘Recalibrate The Solar Wind Generator’ has a lot of atmosphere and restraint. What was the writing process for that one?
STEVE TURNER: Recalibrate came about through a very organic process. I was messing around with a new synth sound I had tweaked, hitting drone notes and playing guitar parts over the top.
The style of the song was very influenced by King Crimson. I am a huge fan of their work – especially from Discipline onwards. When I hear something I like I want to know how it works so the band have learned “Three of a Perfect Pair” which we perform live some times.
Recalibrate was driven by the interplay of two completely separate guitar lines – a compositional technique inspired by King Crimson. I wrote the bass lines as I went and the song came to life as a demo in a couple of long sessions.
When it came time to record I was lucky enough to have real drums and a great bassist willing to breathe life into the parts I had created. Of course, the parts that Evan and Greg came up with were far more interesting than my own on the demo versions.
Evan used a Chapman stick to rework the bass lines for the CD version of Recalibrate. Using the stick gives the bass parts a lot more dynamic intensity and sonic identity. Greg took the drum parts and gave them groove and feel. I think he had a lot of fun recording that song.
The guitar parts for the final version are actually the original demo recordings. Every time I tried to rerecord the guitars it just didn’t sound or feel right so I went with the originals. That has never happened to me before.
The track is very restrained in the sense that there are no blazing lead guitars or vocals stealing centre stage. I wanted the track to be a conversation within itself – each instrument telling its own story. To have an interloping guitar solo just didn’t feel right at all.
PETER: The title track has a very proggy vibe and Dio-esque vocals. How would you describe your vocal approach?
STEVE: It is interesting you picked up on the Dio vibe of “Not in Kansas Anymore”. Vocally I am a huge fan of Dio and I must admit that I was listening to a lot of the “Dream Evil” and “Master of the Moon” albums when I wrote Kansas. I think it shows – hopefully in a good way!
I especially like the way Dio changes key in the middle of songs and makes it sound so easy. Subconsciously, I think that is why I came up with the key change in the middle of the Kansas chorus vocal line. It just kind of happened and it wasn’t until I tried to lay down the harmonies that I realized what I had done.
Vocally my approach was to try and convey a certain emotion which the lyrics describe. The song uses some “Wizard of Oz” imagery as a metaphor for the deeper message. No, it is not about Kansas and I have never been there. The imagery I chose meant that the melodies had to be sweeping and as grand as possible.
The full band version has a heap of layers and hidden little parts. Of course, on the acoustic version I stripped all that away and just kept things as intimate as possible. I like to mess around with sounds and felt there was more than one way to convey the meaning of this song.
The imagery in “Not in Kansas Anymore” also became the basis for the awesome work Aaron Seeto (Moko Creative) did on the album art work. I like to get mileage out of ideas!
PETER: Who are the other musicians on the EP?
STEVE: I was very fortunate to work with great people and great musicians on the Kansas EP. I give people a lot of freedom when they work with me on my songs. If I didn’t value their input, why would I have them on the team? Though the songs are very much my own the other players really bring something extra that I really enjoy.
Greg Limberis (Drums) is a very versatile player who isn’t just caught up on the double kick thing like a lot of players these days. He is more of a rock and fusion influenced drummer with great hands. Given the range of music I had written for the EP and live performance I needed a drummer who could put some feel into the various moods and he has done that very well. Greg does a lot of session work and teaches drums.
Evan Harris (Bass / Chapman Stick) recorded all bass except for the acoustic version of Kansas. Evan is pretty well known on the scene in Australia. He currently performs with Black Majesty but has previously worked with Endel Rivers and was a founding member and main songwriter for progressive metal legends ‘Taramis’. Evan is a very musical bassist and probably one of the most complete musicians I have ever met. Like Greg, Evan does a lot of session work and teaches bass professionally.
Dean Gaudoin (Additional Bass) recorded his parts for the acoustic version of Kansas using an upright electric bass. He has worked with Xtreme Measures, played live on tour with Eric Martin of Mr Big fame and also with a lot of local metal bands in Melbourne. I would describe Dean as a jazz player at heart who has never lost his metal roots.
Christine Ferra (Additional Vocals) recorded backup vocals for the acoustic version of Kansas. She is always a pleasure to work with and has appeared live with us a few times to help harmonise the odd song here and there. I like having other voices in my music and it also gives me time to focus on my strings.
PETER: What gear was used to record the EP?
STEVE: Guitars: I used my Steinberger GM-Pro for 90% of the electric guitar work on the EP. I love the sound of the EMGs and graphite neck. I used my Soundworks Custom in a few places for some harmonies. The Soundworks custom is the love of my life but its tone just wasn’t quite right for this release.
I used a cheap Cort ‘Strat’ rip off for a few seconds of lead break in one of the songs because I wanted to have a $250 guitar on the album just to make a point. I think people get caught up on gear a bit too much some times. I know, I do it myself! I think it is important to remember that you can do amazing things with whatever you have lying around if you have the right approach.
All rhythm guitars were recorded through my Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and a Ceriatone Trainwreck blended together. The Boogie was running through my Soldano 4×12 and the Ceriatone through an Achillies 2×12 cabinet. Leads were mostly done through the Ceriatone and Achillies cabinet combination.
Achillies is a local Melbourne company and the owner, Labros, built the 2×12 for me with V30s. It is a gorgeous cabinet finished in a dark red snakeskin look. He takes real pride in his work and is a real craftsman.
I didn’t use any effects on the dry signals that I recorded. They were handed to David Carr at Rangemster clean, so anything you hear in that regard was all his magic. He really did a phenomenal job and his resume of past artists really speaks for itself. David loves guitar music too which made him a great choice for me as an artist.
I used Cubase for all audio recording purposes. Everything except the drums and Evan’s bass were recorded at my home studio. I have built up a few channels of reasonable gear including a JLM Audio 99V and TG dual channel microphone preamp. I used the TG channel of the JLM mic preamp with an SM57 for all heavy and lead guitars. I tried other more expensive microphones but the SM57 just had the right sound.
I used a Red Type A Vocal Mic through the JLM and a Crane Song Trakker (compressor) for all vocals. I like what that combination does for my voice and the Red microphone has switchable capsules for different sounds.
Evan used a Music Man 5 string bass with Moses graphite neck, a Dean Rhapsody 12 string bass and a Chapman stick made (1976 model recently upgraded with new pickups). The Dean 12 string has 4 sets of 3 harmonized strings – much like a 12 string guitar has 6 sets of 2 harmonized strings.
Evan used the 12 string on “Surfing With the Tsunamian” and it helped really fill out the riffing with a fat, warm sound. It has a huge output and he tells me it is responsible for sending more than one cabinet cone to Valhalla. All I know is that when he plays that beast I have to turn UP!
PETER: How does your recording setup differ from your live rig?
STEVE: Live I use my Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier head running into my Soldano 4×12 cabinet. The Soldano cabinet is really beat up but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I run a G-Major through the effects loop of the Mesa and a midi controller switches my amp and effects unit presets with the aid of an RJM Amp Gizmo. Recently I started using an X2 Digital Wireless unit which I think is the cleanest wireless device on the market.
I keep my live tone very natural – I don’t use much in the way of effects on my tone. Some times I use effects pedals but between playing guitar, singing and tapping pedals my attention span is already challenged enough. Usually I just stick with the midi controller and forget the pedals as they are too much work.
My recording setup isn’t that different except that I never apply effects when recording and whist the Mesa is my main amplifier I might use whatever else I have lying around if the song needs something extra.
PETER: You recently scored an endorsement with RJM Music Technology. Tell us about your switching system.
STEVE: At the moment I am using their base model Amp Gizmo. You could think of it as an interface between your midi floor board and your non midi guitar amplifier. RJM make a bunch of different cables to connect the Amp Gizmo to the pedal input of your amp so it can be used with all sorts of guitar amplifiers.
You basically tell the Amp Gizmo what each midi patch will do to your amplifier. When you select a particular patch it triggers your amp mode, solo boost, effects loop or whatever else your amp can do via standard pedal input.
For guys out there struggling with multiple foot controllers this should really be ringing some alarm bells… It also has a ‘midi through’ to connect to whatever other midi gear you are running.
From one midi floor board I can control my effects processor as well as the switchable settings on my Mesa Boogie. I don’t need to run the separate Mesa Boogie amp controller floor board anymore as the Amp Gizmo replaces everything it does. I control my amp features via midi. Amp and effects changes that used to take me three or four foot taps now take only one.
When I am singing I don’t have the luxury of being able to look at my feet and perform an elaborate tap dance. Actually, dancing is not something I can do at the best of times! I would rather grab a beer and watch the ladies go for it.
I struck up a friendship with Ron from RJM and when I expressed an interest in upgrading to the RG-16 and Mastermind floor board he offered me an artist endorsement. The RG-16 does everything the Amp Gizmo does but also has 8 effects loops through which I will be able to run my analog pedals.
Once I integrate the RG-16 to my live rack I will be able to use my analog pedals and have everything – the amplifier, the effects processor and my individual pedals –controlled via the Mastermind midi controller and RG-16. Allan Holdsworth and Dweezil Zappa use RJM so that has to say something about the quality and design!
PETER: Tell us about your Soundworks custom guitar.
STEVE: The Soundworks Custom was made for me back in 2000 and is a Brazilian mahogany body with Canadian rock maple top. The body is reminiscent of a music man crossed with a PRS and I totally love the arch top flame finish. It hosts an LR Baggs Piezzo bridge (which was used for the brief flourish in Tsunamian) and I have loaded it with Seymour Duncan pickups in HSH configuration.
The Soundworks Custom has a fixed bridge and 22 frets and is, for me, the ultimate guitar. I don’t use it live too much but given it was built to my exact specifications it will always be special to me. It is a great rock guitar with a lot of dynamic range. If I give it to anyone to play I always have a lot of trouble getting it back.
PETER: What can we expect from future recordings?
STEVE: Currently I am working on some new material and have started writing with a 7 string Ibanez. Evan has also recently acquired a new instrument which is really exciting – an NSStick – which is an eight string cooperative design by Chapman Stick and Ned Steinberger. Between Evan and myself, that is a lot of strings!
I still have a decent number of songs that the band play live but have not been recorded. I want to get those down but also record some of the new material. The new stuff has a darker and more progressive sound. I will also have other guest musicians and vocalists on board to add a bit of variety.
I think I got a whole lot of different sounds onto the Kansas CD EP and look forward to doing the same on the next one. I have been playing music for so long I really need to keep it interesting for myself, and hopefully the listener as well.
The ‘Not in Kansas Anymore’ CD EP can be ordered from Steve Turner’s website. While you’re there, you can listen to the track ‘Surfing With The Tsunamian’ for free.