Tony MacAlpine is guitar royalty. From his classic early solo albums such as Edge Of Insanity to the M.A.R.S project with Tommy Alrdige, Rudy Sarzo and Rob Rock to CAB (with Bunney Brunel and Dennis Chambers) to Planet X with drummer Virgil Donati to Steve Vai’s The Breed with Billy Sheehan, Jeremy Colson and Dave Wiener, MacAlpine’s resume reads like a who’s who of virtuosity.MacAlpine and Donati have crossed paths with Mark Boals before via Boals’ Ring Of Fire projects but but they’ve now formed a new band, Seven The Hardway, a heavy-hitting, prog/metal/rock hybrid who released their debut album on August 30 on Mascot/Provogue Records (Click here to buy Seven the Hardway from Amazon.com). I caught up with MacAlpine amid rehearsals for Seven The Hardway’s European tour.
How are rehearsals going?
The rehearsals are going quite effectively. Just piecing a lot of the stuff together and determining what we want to portray live. Everything’s going as planned.
What kind of stuff are you going to play live?
Well, we’re going to do probably about seven or eight songs from the new Seven The Hardway record, and we’re gonna do some stuff that Virgil Donati wrote, some stuff from Edge Of Insanity and Maximum Security, and get into a couple of things from Lapse of Reality, the Ring Of Fire record, and a few covers.
How did the band come together?
Well it was started with Mark and I. We really got the whole thing together and we’d worked with Virgil before in Ring of Fire, and we decided we wanted to get into something a bit different. Estefania Daniel is a student of mine. She was 16 when she started and she’s 21 now. She’s quite accomplished, quite a player. Doug Shreeve, we’ve known through the Planet X organisation.
How is writing for Seven The Hardway different from writing your solo material?
Well, every vocal record is a lot different from any instrumental project that you’re gonna undertake, because you’re writing things that have different types of foundations for lyrics and melody lines. In that expanse it’s way different. The instrumental music is not really built along those lines. I always say it’s more of a sonata form. So it’s a much different approach but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. It’s wonderful to work with these guys in that format. Mark’s such a wonderful singer, so it’s really a lot of fun.
Did you guys write independently? Together? Both?
We did both. We did some things together, some things independently, some ideas were written independently then brought together, Virgil wrote Guilty… different things, different approaches.
Liar’s a really great opening track.
Liar was a song that took a lot of different shapes and different turns. Working with [producer] Roy Z who produced it and got this thing together. There were a lot of midnight hour changes to that song and it was really quite a surprise to see where it started and where it ended up. We really enjoy that song also. It’s a double guitar lead song also, so it really should be exciting live.
Guilty was an interesting choice for the first video. A few fans were a bit thrown off. Why did you pick that one?
Well, y’know, controversy is something that’s applicable to anything that comes out that’s new. Somebody’s not really going to hear something that maybe they thought they would have, so that was the most controversial tune on the record, we thought, so we went with it. But it’s so funny now, because we see that a lot of the guys who didn’t like the song or didn’t really understand it now have turned around and say they like it. That’s pretty much the approach. That’s kind of what you want to do. Start with something like that then work your way to the more direct work on the record.
Yeah, you guys have enough of a fan base that even if they don’t like that one song at first, they’ll still give you another chance with the rest of the record.
Yeah. It’s really an energetic song. Mark and Roy tried many different approaches and they ended up with that one. It’s full of energy.
Solitary Man is one I really dig. It has those cool Alice In Chains type vocal harmonies.
Solitary Man was a song that Virgil created. He created the verse line and I came up with the chorus line. It’s really a combination of his rhythmic ideas, and Mark came up with the melodies, as he did for the entire record. That song is based on a lot of Virgil’s rhythmic feel, and just a freshness. We wanted something that had a bit of a twist to it but had a fresh vibe that didn’t deter too far from Liar or The Wall or any of those tunes. We wanted something that was short and tight.
And the solo’s obviously improvised?
Yeah, all the solos are improvised. We just went for the best take that we could. The lines aren’t improvised but all the solos are freeform.
And you always work that way?
I’ve always improvised, yeah. I never did anything structured and worked out. I just kind of go for it. I love improvisational things. It’s the nature of what I’m doing, especially when I’m playing in Planet X and C.A.B and things like that. Improvisation is just something I love to do.
I notice that when I improvise a solo I invariably come up with something that’s much better than if I consciously try to write a solo.
(Laughs) Yeah, it seems like that’s how it always works out. The funny thing is that in the end, after you’ve improvised it, you’ve got to learn it for the tour, and then it’s worked out!
Where I’m Going has some cool soloing.
That’s going to be an interesting song because Estefania’s going to be playing that on acoustic, and I’ll be playing piano except for the guitar solo. That’s a very moving, haunting kind of ballad. I really like that one.
You recently started using an Ibanez 8 string RG. How was that transition?
It’s such an extended range, with Estefania playing 7 string and me playing 8. I play 7 too on some songs too. It is such a full spectrum of sound. Getting way down there into the range of the bass creates such a big wall of sound, and it’s something that we really haven’t experienced before. Other than that, it’s the same guitar. It doesn’t really faze me going either way. It took a moment or two to get used to things down that low, and realising how you can go so much lower than the 7 range and make things sound so much heavier. It took a little bit of tweaking around with, but other than that it’s the same guitar set-up and everything. The thing just plays great.
So what is the guitar like? I notice it’s different to the production models?
Yeah, it’s a little bit different. I’m still incorporating a clear cut volume pot that makes everything go clean and cuts down the volume. I’m using a combination of alder body wood, ebony on the fretboard, a double truss rod neck, the Floyd Rose-style bar. It’s pretty solid, done in Ibanez’s Custom Shop here in California. They’re cool axes. I have a 6 string too, and they all look exactly the same. It should be some fun for the guitar tech, when he hands me the wrong guitar!
What pickups are you using?
I’m using some different windings that DiMarzio is making for me, and we’re going to narrow it down before the tour starts. On the studio version I used EMGs on the 8-string, but I use DiMarzio and we’re in the process of coming out with the 8 pole pieces for the 8 strings, and I’ll be checking that out.
So what made you leave Carvin and go to Ibanez?
Actually I wanted to get into the 8 strings, and the time was really right, the climate was right for us to make some changes. That kind of thing happens and we both wanted to try something different. Carvin is a great organisation and Ibanez is also a great organisation, so it’s a very peaceful change. Nothing stressful!
What amps and effects did you use on the CD?
I used Hughes & Kettner – what I always use, the TriAmps, and no effects. Everything’s just mixed in later. It’s recorded dry like I always did, just blasting out the HKs. I really enjoy them. We use them live too. I’m also getting into the Coreblade because it’s got the unified effects inside of it. They’re sending a couple of heads and I want to experiment with that, see what that’s all about. It really saves a lot of setup time on the road for guitar techs, and if you can get the same sound, why not go with it?
What acoustics did you use on the CD?
I used a couple of different things. I used a Carvin and Takamine. A couple of different guitars with different tones.
Do you play much acoustic around the the house?
Oh yeah, I always did. I practice on acoustic, sitting around watching TV, playing on the acoustic.
What’s your practice schedule like?
Well these days I’m learning a lot of Vinne Moore music because I’m doing the G-Taranaki festival [in New Zealand, August 11-15 2010] with him. I’m doing a lot of his stuff and some stuff I’ve recorded with him before. So that’s got me practicing a little bit, and I’m learning all these cover tunes that I’m going to be doing with Hail! at G-Taranaki. Normally I’m just working on projects and doing things for different singers and all different styles and stuff, so I’m always playing, but it’s not like I sit down and practice. But I do find myself doing that now.
So Hail! – That’s pretty cool!
Yeah! With Ripper (Owens, ex Judas Priest), Scott (Travis, Judas Priest) and Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, Whitesnake, The Firm). It’s gonna be pretty cool, pretty fun.
Are you a big metal guy? Between Seven The Hardway, Hail! and other stuff throughout your career you’ve had a few big metal moments.
Yeah, that’s how I started. Edge Of Insanity was a really heavy record and I grew up playing all that stuff. That’s where I started from, that’s my background.
Who are your favourite metal players?
I’ve always liked Randy Rhoads. He’s always at the top of my list. I never got a chance to see him live, and even today I find myself still listening to some of the things he did, especially live. He was pretty amazing. His playing had so much energy.
G-Taranaki sounds amazing!
Yeah! I’ve only been to New Zealand a couple of times, and this is going to be a really interesting event. I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of the people I haven’t seen in some time, and get a chance to see Desiree’ Bassett play. It’s going to be exciting.
And the options for jamming are going to be incredible.
Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun!