WILTOTWTWT: Fear Factory, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

So I just realised that if you turn ‘What I Listened To On The Train To Work Today’ into an acronym, it looks like an onomatopoeic interpretation of the sound a finch makes.

Okay, this morning seems to have been one of polar opposites for me. I started my walk to the train station cranking Fear Factory’s ‘Obsolete’ album. When this one came out, I got to interview Raymond from the band (for Curio, the student magazine for the University of Canberra – I was the News & Reviews editor). Allow me to slip into self-indulgent journo mode for a second…

When Fear Factory toured Australia to promote this album in 1999, I was lucky enough to get a backstage pass and a photo pass to shoot the first 3 songs. The band opened with ‘Shock,’ the first track off ‘Obsolete.’ After getting a bunch of shots of the band (including Dino with an Ibanez UV777BK Universe 7-string with a single EMG active humbucker), I turned around to get some pictures of the mad wall of mosh happening behind me. Suddenly I felt ‘a presence’ and I realised singer Burton C Bell was right behind me, getting the crowd to go extra psycho for my photos. So I turn around and we sing the chorus to ‘Shock’ together into his mic. Awesome. Awesome.

Anyway, ‘Obsolete’ is my favourite Fear Factory album. The production is sharp, hi-fi and aggressive, with monstrously tight grooves and direct songwriting. Dino’s guitar tone is clear even when he plays complex chords on tracks like ‘Descent,’ and Burton strikes the perfect balance between his screamy voice and his singing voice. Fear Factory made other great albums before and after ‘Obsolete,’ but this is the one for me.

Anyway, after getting to the train station and stopping at the kiosk for a coffee this morning, I switched over to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s ‘Raising Sand,’ which won every single one of the Grammys yesterday, with the exception of the Best Rock Instrumental award which went to Zappa Plays Zappa.

This is a cool, low-key album which reminds me in parts of Page and Plant’s 1998 ‘Walking Into Clarksdale’ album (not only because both albums include the song ‘Please Read The Letter). There’s lots of cool tremolo-drenched guitar playing by T Bone Burnett, and the whole atmosphere is very laid back and real. I would consider this one a bathtub album, or maybe a quiet Sunday afternoon album, sprawled out on the sofa with a sunbeam slowly crossing your bare feet as you read Oliver Sacks’ ’Musicophilia’ or something. Man I wish it was the weekend.

By the way, anyone else notice that T Bone Burnett looks a lot like John Hodgeman (Daily Show correspondent and the PC in those “I’m PC” “And I’m a Mac” commercials)?

NEWS: Top 10 Guitar Related Twitter Users (Shadrick Guitar Blog)

So this morning I noticed I was getting a whole lot more Twitter follower notifications than usual. I was wondering why, before finally realising that the Shadrick Guitar Blog (the blog of Jason Shadrick from National Guitar Workshop) had posted a great article entitled Top 10 Guitar Related Twitter Users. Among the names were yours truly, as well as my buddies Guitar Noize and Mad Stratter, not to mention Living Colour’s Vernon Reid.

Head over to the article for the rest of the names and all of the Twitter IDs, and CLICK HERE to follow me on Twitter. I have a feed set up to publish my headlines and story links automatically, but I also post random things such as what articles I’m working on at the time, and stuff like that. Recently I called for readers to submit questions for my forthcoming interview with Dimarzio pickup designer Steve Blucher (There’s still time to submit questions, I might add).

NEWS: Fender University – James Burton, G.E. Smith, John 5

Just saw this one over at Premier Guitar: the spring 2009 session of Fender University. Looks to be a very Telecaster-heavy lineup. Cool.

Corona, CA (Feb. 9, 2008) — For its spring 2009 session, Fender University has announced that the March 4-8 education program in Corona, Calif., will be topped with special appearances and performances by guitar heroes James Burton, G.E. Smith and John 5, and legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer.

Fender University’s “guest faculty” also features guitar aces Gary Hoey, Greg Koch and Wolf Marshall, plus Fender signature artist bass masters Reggie Hamilton and Tony Franklin. Fender University will also feature a special private concert with guitarist/vocalist Philip Sayce (Jeff Healey, Uncle Kracker) and “class photos” taken by world-renowned rock photographer Robert Knight

Burton, Smith and 5 are all Fender signature artists with their own distinctive Telecaster guitar models.

Fender University offers a five-day behind-the-scenes music education experience to guitar and bass enthusiasts worldwide at all skill levels. Students experience a hands-on immersion in the world of Fender products and people, with exclusive access to Fender’s manufacturing headquarters and to the world-renowned Fender Custom Shop, all presented through a series of music workshops, hands-on educational experiences, facility tours, performance opportunities and special guest appearances.

The weeklong music education program was an unqualified success when it was launched in 2007 with a summer session that featured guest artists including Yngwie Malmsteen and Dweezil Zappa.

NEWS: Dweezil reflects on Grammy win

Dweezil Zappa has blogged about the Zappa Plays Zappa/Steve Vai/Napoleon Murphy Brock Grammy win yesterday in the Best Rock Instrumental category.

To see Dweezil and co accept the award, go to THIS LINK and skip to 2 hours 53 minutes. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy, it gets a little emotional.

In a post on the ZPZ website, Dweezil says:

Hello Friends,

Would you Bleev it? We actually won a Grammy last night. I’m quite pleased that “Peaches En Regalia” has finally received some significant recognition from the music industry itself.

This is just my opinion but I believe our note for note performance of the “Hot Rats” version gave voting members a chance to reflect on the real impact the original “Peaches” made to the world of music and the science of recording 40 years ago. They seized the opportunity to create a tiny tastefully decorated condominium sized place for it in music history.

I am honored to have been able to bring it to their attention and even more grateful that they saw fit reward the efforts of all of the exceptionally talented musicians in my band as well as the contributions from our special guests. Without all of their hard work and dedication this perverse twist of fate could not have happened.

Thank you kindly to all the voting members who gave us the nod.

Regards, DZ

Congratulations Dweezil! You’re doing a great job in getting your dad’s music out there for everyone to discover.

CLICK HERE to buy the Zappa Plays Zappa Brilliant Box CD & DVD set from Amazon.com

CLICK HERE to search eBay for Frank Zappa stuff.

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

INTERVIEW: Michael Angelo Batio

Michael Angelo Batio may be most visible as ‘that guy with the double guitar,’ a high-speed virtuoso with a cool gimmick, but he’s much more than that. A long-running Guitar World columnist and a former guitar teacher, he’s dedicated to all aspects of guitar playing: It just happens that he hit it big with his ultra high-speed picking and wild over-and-under-the-fretboard technique. Recently, journalist Joe Matera and I sat down with Michael Angelo backstage for an extensive interview. You can read Joe’s account of the discussion HERE at Ultimate Guitar.

IHG: What is it that attracted you to Dean guitars?

BATIO: The reason I’m such an advocate of Dean guitars, it’s not just an endorsement, it’s what I’ve really used. Back in my career I’ve tried not to do too much company-hopping to get guitars. For example, my first promo shots are Dean. Then Dean’s owner, Dean Zelinsky, was more of an artist than a businessperson, so he couldn’t keep it running, but he made these fantastic guitars. So he sold the company. So I went with Wayne Charvel, but Charvel annexed with different companies, so Charvel through BC Rich, Charvel through Gibson, then Charvel’s own company. Then I went with Washburn because Charvel went out of business, then I went back to Dean because that was home.

IHG: So what do you look for in a guitar?

BATIO: I wanted to be different. I wanted to be unique. Not to be better than other guitar players, but really, I play different, I came up with different things live, I just wanted to be unique and have my own voice. Dean came up with the ML shape. That’s the baddest-ass metal shape there is! And it’s a Dean! I like Gibson Les Pauls, I like Strats, but I mean, you’ve got Angus Young playing an SG, you’ve got Page playing a Les Paul, you’ve got Jimi Hendrix playing a Strat, and I wanted to play something different. Dimebag felt the same way. So that’s how I started using Dean: Their shapes were really cool, they’re high-quality USA, and they came up with this – it was called a blueburst, this dark blue into light blue burst finish, and that guitar just freaked me out. I looked at it on the wall when I was teaching guitar at a music store in my home town of Chicago, and “I gotta have that guitar, man!” So that’s how it started.

IHG: Some people like the guitar to fight them. Others like it to get out of their way and let them play. How do you prefer your string action?

BATIO: If you listen to my sound, I’m the opposite of the Dimebag midrange scoop. In fact, my EQ is so midrangey, and I like that, but the way I get that is my action’s actually pretty high. I don’t use low action, in fact these guitars are set up so low here in Australia that I had to have them raise the action. But that’s my tone. Higher action doesn’t stop me from playing fast.

JOE MATERA: When it comes to speed playing in general, what do you think are the integral elements a guitarist needs to be aware of?

BATIO: I would say that in order to play fast, you have to first learn how to play slow. It is all about coordinating both of your hands so that they’re able to play together. I used to make my students play slow first. I learned this technique from having taken piano lessons and I used that to teach speed playing on the guitar. When you slow it down and force people to physically and mentally concentrate, it gets more ingrained in their heads and because of that, they can become a better and fast player. And only then would I show them other exercises. So it really comes down to the discipline of concentrating on what you’re doing really slowing and getting that right movement correctly. I did a study of lot of different guitar players and found that though there are some that pick from the wrist or elbow, I found that its not that important. The majority of players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, myself and anybody who plays really fast and accurately, when they’re playing medium to fast speeds, they never move their thumb and index finger. So it doesn’t matter if you use your wrist or elbow, what matters is the motion of your thumb and index finger. It has got to stay stationary. There are exceptions to the rule though but 95% of all guitarists do use this common technique.

IHG: What about when it comes getting a guitar tone, what do you look for?

BATIO: For me I have to separate it into three sounds; distortion rhythm, distortion lead and, clean. Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifiers are cool for my distortion rhythms but because they don’t have the mid range that I like for lead playing, I usually gravitate towards Marshalls for my leads. And for clean sounds, you can’t beat any old Fender amp. So what I look for is a really good mid-range tone. My lead guitar tone doesn’t have a lot of bass and a lot of treble, but it does have a lot of mids which in the process creates a lot of presence. You know for humans, even if you’re hard of hearing you will always hear the mids. I have people say to me all the time how clean my guitar sound is and it is because there are so many mids in the tone, that when you play live it really becomes more present. I used to get so pissed at all these engineers, as whenever we would record and mix an album, they would then master it and add all this brightness to it. And it made my tone too bright. I was like, ‘No that’s not my tone, I don’t want a bright guitar sound. I want bright drums and cymbals’. So ever since, I have not been a big fan of mastering.

Photo: Dan Machnik

CLICK HERE to buy the T-Rex Michael Angelo Batio Overdrive Guitar Pedal from Guitar Center