INTERVIEW: Ratt’s Warren DeMartini
To partially quote Elton John, remember when rock was fun? When you could crank up the car stereo, hang out the window and scream the lyrics to ‘Loving You Is A Dirty Job’ with a smile on your face? Then the 90s happened and music got kinda depressing. Then the 00s happened and music got kinda homogenised and computerised and just, y’know, boring. Well the 21st century is in its teens now and has started sneakin’ out to parties, kissin’ girls, fighting boys and rockin’ out. Hard. And that can only mean one thing: Ratt’s back, baby. This classic Sunset Strip band is kicking all sorts of ass with their new CD Infestation, and I had a chat to guitarist Warren DeMartini about it.
The response to the new CD has been huge!
It’s really, really exciting, Peter. It really reminds me of the feeling we had when we started. It’s just been great.
Why the long wait?
That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer for it. It’s a really weird art form that just kinda falls together when the planets line up, I guess. It’s not something we really could have done any sooner or any other way.
It also seems like a really good time because, well, for me I was a teenager in the 90s and I loved 80s rock and you were not allowed to love 80s rock in the 90s! And now nobody cares about stuff like that any more, now you can like what you like.
Yeah, I absolutely know what you’re talking about. It’s like someone’s switched the light on.
I understand you recorded Infestation in a mansion?
We did, we’re really big fans of records that have the stories behind them, like the band will rent a villa in the south of France, live there for six months and cut some timeless piece. We always talked about doing it but it really didn’t merge with opportunity until this record.
Did you use the space in creative ways, like do the Led Zeppelin thing of putting the drums in the stairwell, or was it more of just an environment to be in?
What happened was, our producer Michael Baskette basically bought his family’s home on the Chessapeake Bay and turned it into a recording studio. So it was already set up for recording. It just kinda evolved. He was cutting records in his living room, the as he got more and more successful he had more and more modifications done to the place, then he finally totally redid it to be a studio. It worked out perfectly, having the remoteness of getting away and moving into a place for a while, and the technical aspects.
So it’d be a very different album if you recorded it in LA or something.
I think so. It was more of a wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and get to it, then take a few breaks, get back to it, go to sleep, wake up and do it again. It was a little different not having to drive somewhere, and not having the kind of distractions you typically get when you record in LA.
Well that’s kinda like me except it’s a laptop and a Pro Tools MBox in the corner of the lounge room.
Yeah! It gets easier and easier, doesn’t it! (laughs).
So were you trying to make a classic Ratt album or did it just happen?
You can’t really try – the second you try it just doesn’t work. The only thing we were semi-conscious of going in was we wanted to recreate the energy, spark and colour of the stuff that was coming out around the time of 84, Out Of The Cellar meets Invasion of Privacy kind of thing. It was a kind of a ‘not spend too much time on any one thing,’ go-with-the-gut kind of approach to those records, that changed as we had more time to spend in the studio.
And it sounds like you guys are having fun.
Yeah, you can get great results with either approach, and on this one that almost through-and-go kind of approach really worked this time.
So what gear did you use on the CD?
There were two parts to the recording, because we were doing the 25th anniversary Out Of The Cellar tour in between the whole thing, so I cut the record with the reissue San Dimas-style Charvel, and I also had a Performance Koa and a Nashville Gretsch. Then we went back and did about a month’s worth of gigs, then we came back and that’s when I brought another Charvel, so I had the black French graphic, the white French graphic, a Performance Koa and a Gretsch Nashville.
It’s really cool to see Charvel coming back over the last few years since Fender bought them.
Yeah, they really got great again. Fender bought Charvel several years ago so it’s all assembled in Corona, which is a very similar result that they had with the San Dimas plant, so it’s something I like being involved in.
And Performance, how did you hook up with those guys back in the day?
I was at Frank Zappa’s studio and his guitar was sitting there on a guitar stand. I said ‘Can I try it out?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ and I played it and I was astounded how good it played. I was like, ‘What? What is this? Where did it come from?’ and he told me about their shop. At that time it was by the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I called them up and said ‘Do you still have the specs on the guitar you built for Frank Zappa?’ He said yes and I just ordered one right there. That was the beginning of many collaborations.
Is that the same neck shape you use today?
Yeah, the Koa necks were all more or less based on that neck they made for Frank. I have several of them, and the Koa was one of those lot, yeah.
You just don’t see them in Australia so I was really stoked to try out a bunch at NAMM.
Yeah, the skill and the extra time in them can be very impressive.
And what about amps?
On Infestation I did the basics with a Diesel, then when we went to overdubs we hooked a Soldano and a Diesel together. The Diesel filled out the bottom, the upper mids and highs, and we blended that with a Soldano which had taken most of the mids, and it was just a nice combination.
Did you talk about gear choices with Carlos Cavazo, or did he do his own thing?
There were many amps which were part of the studio, and I think Carlos used one of those, possibly with the Soldano, I can’t remember. I know Carlos used a Marshall that belongs to the studio, and I believe the Soldano.
You guys have some great twin-lead stuff on the album. It’s great to hear that again.
Thanks! Yeah, that was kind of another loose thing we were keeping in mind doing this record: keeping the twin lead stuff that Robbin Crosby and I crafted early in the band’s career.
So Australian tour plans. Are you coming back any time soon? Please?
Definitely! We were there a couple of years ago and it well, and basically the word was, when you come out with a new record, come on back! So I’m counting on that happening. So while there isn’t a definite plan at the moment, I know it’s in the works. There’s a festival in Tokyo that happens every year, and we got added to that last week, so it would make sense to take it to Australia.
And I hear you were recently added to Download.
Yeah! The Infestation tour, we’re doing some warm-up stuff here but we’re going to sort of officially launch the tour in Europe at Sweden Rockfest on June 10th, then Download’s on the 13th.
Cool, hit the ground running!
Yeah! That’ll get the blood pumpin’!
Photo from the Ratt website