INTERVIEW: QOTSA’s Josh Homme & Mini Mansions’ Michael Schuman

Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures – Josh Homme has always followed his creative muse in whichever direction it may lead him, and recently it led him back to Rekords Rekords, a label he founded in the mid ’90s but which had lain dormant for some time since. The first two releases on the label have been Spark by Alain Johannes and the self-titled psychedelic showcase by Mini Mansions (distributed here in Australia through Liberator Music).

“I have no idea when the label started,” Homme ponders. “I think it was around 1996 or so when I started putting out Desert Sessions records. It was basically a home for more esoteric stuff, and I didn’t want to have to ask if it was okay. You’re always fighting that fight when you want to release a record through someone else’s label. Early in 2010 I heard some records which were just so good and which I wanted to release, by Alain Johannes and Michael Shuman. I’d worked with them in Queens of the Stone Age (both Johannes and Shuman) and Them Crooked Vultures (Johannes) and I said to myself, “I want to be around this music.” They’re both just so good… so incredible! Both are great in spite of me! Queens Of The Stone Age is something we all do because we want to, and that’s a great reason, but secondarily, I want to be around my favourite musicians.”

Read More …

INTERVIEW: Les Claypool of Primus

Primus have been entertaining the masses with their off-beat, colourful, twisted, highly virtuosic and even more highly listenable brand of funky avant garde rock (back in the day it was just called ‘alternative’) for over two decades now. The band went into hiatus a while ago, but the individual members never slacked off – oh lordy no. With Primus or solo,Les Claypool is perhaps best known for his incredibly original and technically mind-exploding bass playing within Primus and without, but did you know he’s also a vintner? A keen fisherman? No? Well maybe you can ask him about those things when the reactivated Primus play the Soundwave festival in Australia during February and March.

 

Hello.

Hello there, how are you?

Great!

Spectacular!

So, first question is more of a statement looking for a comment: you’re coming back to Australia, this time with Primus…

[Puts on robot voice] It is very exciting. I always very much enjoy coming to Australia. [chuckles] Any excuse to come to Australia is a good excuse for me.

I know you were down here recently solo, but when was Primus last down here?

Oh it’s been many moons. It’s been at least ten years.

Are you a fan of many of the other bands on Soundwave?

I have no idea who’s playing Soundwave. What happens is, people tell me where to go and what to do, and that’s what I do. My job, when I’m at home, is to tell my children where to go and what to do. When I get back into travelling mode I become a teenage child.

Drummer Jay Lane is back in the band, so now you have like a Primus/Sausage combination. How’d that come about?

Well, ah, it became apparent that the band was not going to be performing much, if ever, any more the way it was and Jay Lane was eager and available and it just seemed like the perfect time to bring him back on board. He’s a very creative individual as well as, hey, a very enjoyable person to be around.

Do you have new album plans at the moment?

We’re in the studio at this time – well right now we’re in Argentina, but we’ve been in the studio for the past few weeks.

How’s it shaping up?

Oh it’s shaping up well. Sounds are being bounced off the walls. Sounds are bouncing and sticking.

What’s it like out there for Primus at the moment?

I have no idea. Do people even put out CDs any more? I don’t know. It’s a digital download world. The only thing I can assure is that whatever release we do put together will be available on vinyl. Something that I find is a mandatory requirement with our releases.

It’s got to the point for me with mp3s where not only am I nostalgic for vinyl, I’m also starting to miss even the detestable act of unwrapping the plastic from a CD cover.

I will never miss the unwrapping of plastic on CD covers. Whoever invented that notion of shrink wrapping CD covers… whoever the bastard is that invented that hard plastic vacuum wrapping that comes on nearly item you get from headphones to steak knives, there should be a global civil suit against that individual because I guarantee there have been many instances of blood loss, if not even loss of digits, in the attempt of trying to open these damn packages.

I actually have a cut on my hand right now from that very malady, so I hear you, very much.

It’s a wretched thing. It just makes it so it’s more difficult to take back to the store if you don’t like it. I’m not talking about CDs, I’m talking about whichever product you’ve purchased in that wretched, horrible shrink wrap. I’m sure it’s really great for the environment too.

I shudder to think what it’s doing to the dolphins.

Yeah, can you imagine how hard it is for a dolphin to open one of those things?

Haha. Okay, my buddy Rohan, who plays bass in my band, is a huge fan and he has a few questions for you. The first is, is the whamola going to make an appearance in Australia?

You never do know. The whamola is like the Sasquach. It’s this ever-elusive thing where when it pops up it’s always exciting. But it’s an elusive beast.

What’s the deal with the whamola anyway? Is it like the bass player’s version of a diddley bow?

A what?

The old blues guys used to make them. It’s like a plank of wood with a couple nails in it and a string stretched across. You play slide on it with a bottle or something. It’s this rickety, homespun kind of instrument.

I’m not sure! Maybe I need to get one of these diddley-boos, or whatever you call it, so I can do some comparative performing.

And what envelope filter do you use?

I’m not even sure what it is. Just some old Korg multi-effects thing they don’t make any more… I think it’s a… no, I can’t remember. It’s nothing special though, it’s just an envelope of some sort.

Yeah! So are you much of a gear guy?

I’m not a big gear guy, but from doing this for such a long time, I’m like a couch. All the lint and all the various things accumulate around and underneath me, in my cushions. I have a lot of various pieces of equipment and instrumentation but I don’t actively seek the stuff out. They just sort of end up in my world.

One thing your playing has always proven is that no matter what you’re playing, it always sounds like you.

It’s in the hands and the genitalia.

Well yeah, especially with the bass. It’s a very low, ballsy instrument.

A very sultry instrument.

So what basses are you playing these days? Still rocking the Carl Thompsons?

I have a handful of Carl Thompsons. I have an old Dobro bass – I think it’s a Michael Kay or something, this very inexpensive thing [Actually it’s a Michael Kelly Bayou 4 resonator bass]. http://www.michaelkellyguitars.com/bayou4.html  But I’m actually in the process of designing and having built my own Claypool-designed bass guitar, so we’ll see how that comes out.

Will it be just for you or will it be available for the general public too?

It’ll be for me at first. If it works out we might peddle off a few of them. I just for many years wanted something specifically designed for my particular comfort and playability. I’m working on it right now with a good friend of mine. I should have it by the time we got to Australia.

Without knowing it you must have sold so many six string basses and six string fretless basses to the bass players of the world.

I avoid six string basses and six string fretlesses. I have one of each and I tend to avoid them. I love the four-string. That’s what I’m most comfortable with and that’s what I play the most.

Yeah, John Paul Jones didn’t need more than four strings, goddammit!

Yeah! Nor did Mark Sandman [Morphine].

PRIMUS – Australia: Soundwave Festival 2011

2/26 Brisbane, AU RNA Showgrounds Gregory Terrace
2/27 Sydney, AU Eastern Creek Raceway Brabham Drive/Ferrers Rd
2/28 Sydney, AU Enmore Theatre With The Melvins
3/3 Melbourne, AU Palais Theatre With The Melvins
3/4 Melbourne, AU Melbourne Showgrounds Epsom Rd
3/5 Adelaide, AU Bonython Park Port Rd
3/7 Perth, AU Steel Blue Oval Corner Guildford Rd & West Rd

This is an alternate edit of an interview originally published in Mixdown magazine.

 

NAMM 2011: INTERVIEW: Phil Collen’s new Jackson Supreme

On NAMM Media Preview day I caught up with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, who gave a demonstration of Agile Partners’ AmpKit (check out the video below to hear the huge tone in action), and he also used the opportunity to unveil his new signature Jackson PC Supreme model. [geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]The new axe is a very cool counterpoint to his existing Jackson signature model.[/geo-out]

I know you’ve used the little Rockman in recording in the past. Do you think AmpKit might find its way onto an album?

Yeah! I actually don’t use amps to record guitar any more, and this [AmpKit] is the way to go! It’s very cool!

Now, this is a very sweet guitar. What’s going on here then?

It started with my Jackson PC1. It’s the same woods. [Brandishes guitar] That’s a mahogany body, that’s a maple top – well it would be if you could see it – that [bridge pickup] is a DiMarzio.

Which DiMarzio is that?

That’s a Super 3.

And the guitar’s neck?

The PC1 had a bolt-on neck, and this is obviously a neck-through. There are still some similar attributes, but this has the Sustainer [demonstrates with an extra-long whammy bar dive and some blues licks, then some mega-shred].

Nice! And I notice titanium saddles?

Yeah. I’ve been using them for a while. It really broadens the sound, I think. And I like my necks really chunky. This one is not as big as the other prototype that’s floating around. That one has like a one-inch radius.

LINKS: Jacksonguitars.comAgile Partners

 

INTERVIEW: Lemmy from Motorhead

There are few things you can really rely on in life. In fact, there are really only three: Your dog will always love you; there will always be Simpsons repeats on TV; and Motorhead will always be Motorhead. Their sound hasn’t changed too much over the years, but just as that claim can be made about AC/DC and Status Quo, Motorhead have created so singular a sound that they could put out the exact same album time after time and get away with it, because it works, dammit. Their new album, The World Is Yours, isn’t a million miles removed from the rest of the band’s catalog, but there’s a ferocity to the performances and a wry smirk to the lyrics that demands repeated listens.

 

A few weeks before the albums’ release, I fielded a 5am phone call from Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead’s main man, driving force and only consistent member. We’ll pick up the conversation after the sleep-deprived pleasantries. I don’t want you to read about me yawning in Lemmy’s ear.

 

I like the line in Get Back In Line, ‘Good things come to he who waits, but these days those things suck.’

Yeah, right! It’s true though, isn’t it, you know? Compared to a few years back.

It seems to tie in to the title of the album, The World Is Yours. One the one hand it could be an optimistic statement: ‘The world is yours, go out and take it!’ or it could be entirely pessimistic: ‘The world is yours – and look what you’ve inherited.’

Yeah right! Be careful what you wish for, right? There doesn’t seem to be an overall theme to the album except anger, you know? We easily do them sort of songs. Angry is good for ya. Gets the old synapses crackling, y’know?

Are you playing any of the songs live at the moment?

Yeah, we’re doing Get Back In Line, and we’re doing I Know How To Die, which is a cheerful little song.

Well on the other hand you have Rock & Roll Music – I guess you always have to have a real rocker on there.

Yeah, if you like, the Chuck Berry one. I always manage to sneak one past them like that.

I like that it has that archetypal rock and roll lick.

We do a lot of songs in that format. I really like the old stuff because I’m really old!

I do too! I’m 32 and my dad turned me onto all that stuff when I was little.

Right! So you understand!

Yeah, it’s a great place to start out when learning guitar, before students move on to other stuff.

I don’t know that moving on is a good idea, in a lot of cases, but they have to move on to find out which ones you like to do yourself. You have to be offered all of them before you choose anything, right?

Another album track that really jumps out isBrotherhood of Man. I know you don’t like to be classified as metal, and most of the time you aren’t, but man, that’s a metal song right there!

Yeah, I couldn’t think of any other vocal to do with that riff. It’s very metallish, I suppose, isn’t it, yes. All the same, we did it I asked for forgiveness for it because it was the only way I could think to do it. Or get Ozzy Osbourne to do it.

I saw a really cool bluesy acoustic version of Ace Of Spades that you guys did recently for an ad. Do you play a lot of blues?

We did that for Kronenbourg, Yeah. Well we did Roadhouse Blues on Inferno, and I’ve always liked blues myself, and Phil knows how to do it. It’s nice to bring out the old harmonica every now and then. Why not, y’know?

Was it hard to rearrange it?

Nah, it was easy, that one. I was happy to try different arrangements, but I lost!

Your signature Marshall amp is very cool.

The old Marshall stack. It’s most gratifying, y’know? It proves I was doing something right, I think? They just took one of my old amps, which has been on the road with me for years, and fucked around with it. They didn’t remember making it! They said ‘We have no prints for this. We don’t know what this is! Have you modified it?’ and I said ‘No, I’ve just fitted a new output transformer a couple of times, that was it.’ They were like ‘Oh wow.’ The Lemmy stack is a bit more toppy than the ones I’ve got. They made it a bit too much like a Super Lead amp because that was the only one they had a plan for! Hahaha.

I guess you would have seen some very early Marshalls when you were a roadie for Hendrix?

Yeah, I did that for about six, seven months. He used to use a stack of Marshalls and a stack of… what was it… there was a shop in London used to make their own stacks, and he used to have one of those and a Marshall stack… Music City, yeah. They were both really good. He used to link them together, the output of one into the input of the other, so you’ve got what’s known as a slave amp. It was amazing working with him. Imagine, y’know? Fucking Jimi Hendrix, y’know? Jimi Hendrix!

You’re pretty well known for using Rickenbacker basses. Have you changed what you use much over the years or is it still the same basic bass?

Well they made the Lemmy model of that, right, the carved one, and I’ve been using that for years. I’ve got a couple of other Rickenbackers as well. I mean, I just like the shape, y’know? And the old ones, you used to have to replace the pickups, because the old pickups were shit, but now they’re making the new pickups really good.

What are they like to play? Do you like your basses to play easy or to fight you back?

It’s never easy! I sanded the neck down on them to make it a little easier to run up and down the neck, but other than that it’s just from the shop.

Your bass style is really distinctive. Where does it come from?

It comes from being a guitar player before I was a bass player, really. I like to do a lot of chords and a lot of fill-ins instead of just ‘bom-de-bom-de-bom,’ because that’s fucking boring to me. I always wanted to be able to show off like the guitar players do. I think I managed that alright!

This is an alternate edit of an article I wrote for Mixdown Magazine.

Click here to buy the documentary Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son Of A Bitch from Amazon.com

 

INTERVIEW: Bumblefoot


Ron Thal – also known as Bumblefoot – is perhaps best known these days as one of the guitarists in Guns ‘N’ Roses, but long before he was sharing the stage with Axl Rose on a nightly basis, he was an experimental guitarist cranking out such stunning displays of virtuosity as his 1995 debut, The Adventures of Bumblefoot. Long out of print, this instrumental gem comes off as a conglomeration of Zappa, Loony Toons, Spy Vs Spy and a medical dictionary. The album was recently re-released along with bonus tracks (and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to MS research), and a TAB book of every guitar part on the album, prepared by Bumblefoot himself is also out now. I caught up with Bumblefoot to discuss the reissue and what it was like to be an instrumental guitarist recording at home in the 90s.

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and jump back to back in the day when you recorded The Adventures Of Bumblefoot.

Let’s see, this was the early 90s – god, can I remember that far back? I was teaching music at a school, every grade from pre-school up to 18 years old, and they didn’t have a music department, so I set up an entire music department for them doing music for children and doing music history, I set up a jazz band, a choir, everything for the whole school. The school ran out of funds and it reached a point where I was just looking at life and I thought, ‘There’s no such thing as job security. You just have to follow what you love.’ And I did love doing that, but I would do that during the day then I would put braids in my hair and jump in the car and go and do some gig out in New York City at night, then get home at 4 in the morning and an hour later get up and teach again. It was at a point where I really needed to make a choice whether I wanted to have the more normal, safe life, or did I want to really be a full-time musician and jump in and learn how to swim. And I took the leap and six months later I had the record deal with Shrapnel Records. Originally we had spoken about him signing my band and doing vocal music, but to start off he wanted me to do an instrumental album to keep in line with everything that Shrapnel does. So I had a few songs already existing, just a small handful of them, and one of them was the song Bumblefoot. And I figured it could spark a nice little theme for the the album. And from there I started writing other songs that were also named after animal diseases and in the same vibe, with this bumbling spy kind of vibe to it – something between Pink Panther and Get Smart, and very quirky and comical, and just me, because I was a pretty quirky and comical human being. The album pretty much flowed out naturally and easily and quickly. By then it was the end of 1994, and it was out by May of the following year.

How was it recorded? Beavering away in a home studio?

Yes, it was more home than studio! At the time I was still living at home with my parents, and I had a little spot in the basement where originally I had a 15IPS reel-to-reel 1/4″ eight track and a tiny little eight channel mixing board, and I did everything from that. When I got the record deal with Shrapnel I invested in two ADATs, a 24-channel Mackie board, two Alesis 3630 compressors … did I even get more mics? I think I just used what I had, which was a couple of Shure 57s and a Sennheiser 421. I had everything stacked against the wall of my parents’ basement, and that was it! I can still picture it. I didn’t even have studio speakers or anything like that. It was too noisy – it would have interfered with everyone trying to sleep at 3am – so everything I did was through a pair of old headphones. After that was just a Marshall half stack with a blanket over it and a little SM57 under the blanket. Every now and then you’d peek under the blanket to make sure the weight of it didn’t move the mic to some funky angle or anything like that. I had a little footswitch that was very simple, just Record/Play. That’s all it did. It had a slight delay to it, so I would always have to hit it a little bit earlier to have it kick in where I wanted it to. It was never on beat, and you’d just have to smack your foot down at this awkward spot and it would manage to kick in at the right time right on the right beat when you needed it to.

I believe you used some pretty freaky guitars back then.

Yeah, I used to make my own stuff, just my own little monstrosities. Usually I would just take some guitar and modify it until it was a freak. I’ve still got them all. Don’t use them all any more. Since then I’ve graduated to playing guitars that professionals have built, and it’s certainly a lot better trying to find your way around a guitar that’s built by people that know what they’re doing, as opposed to me who just closes his eyes and starts drilling holes.

Do you ever get people bringing you replicas of the ‘swiss cheese guitar’ and stuff like that?

Yeah, that used to happen a lot! I used to have a page on my site where people would send me photos of their own versions of the swiss cheese guitar that they’d made.

What was the deal with the one that had the bass neck bolted on it?

(Laughs) Looking back I probably shouldn’t have done those things to the guitars I did it to. That one was, I think, a reissue of a 50s Stratocaster. It was a really nice Stratocaster, but the thing would not stay in tune. It was real squealy. The neck was constantly bending all over the place, and to me the value of a guitar comes from how it is in your, hands, not the name or the date. So I took the thing and I just chopped it up, and on the bottom horn I took a bass neck, I cut it in half at around the 7th fret, pulled all the frets off and refretted it to have the spacing that would fit a guitar that was starting at the 12th fret. I set it into the bottom horn of that Stratocaster and had a little Badass bridge that I spaced at the right spot, put a DiMarzio Super Distortion in there, and had this little mini guitar sticking out of the bottom horn. Everyone once in a while I would flick a toggle switch down to it and hit these notes that would just squeal and scream so hard. It was just brutal. Just that tone that would go right through you. I was playing at this place in Brooklyn, and at the end I was using that guitar, and I switched to that neck and was holding this one note, and the whole audience was holding their ears in pain. I was just like, ‘Yeah.’ I was loving torturing everybody. It was cool.

LINK: Bumblefoot.com

INTERVIEW: Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s latest album – and his first for Roadrunner’s Loud & Proud imprint – is a labour of love which sees him sharing stage time with greater and lesser-known blues heroes. Live! In Chicago. The album is the exclamation point on a project which stretches back to 2007. Shepherd has performed with a lot of legends – he participated in G3 tours with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, after all – but when you listen to Live! In Chicago you’ll really hear a man in his element.

 

Could you tell us about the project that led to this album?

My last project, which I released back in 2007, was called Ten Days Out: Blues From The Backroads. That was a documentary film and a record where we went down through the south of the United States looking for the real deal blues musicians and wanting to go to them in their own environment and play with them. So we went to these guys’ houses, got set up on their front porches or in their back yards, and just played the blues on site and made an album and a film doing that. So basically there were a lot of my heroes on that, and also a lot of blues musicians that I was experiencing for the first time as well. So I put that out, and then we went out to do a tour in support of it, so we asked some of the musicians to go on the road with us. So we had Hubert Sumlin from Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith who was in Muddy Waters’ band came out on the road with us… Buddy Flett, who was a guy from my home town who I watched growing up as a kid – he was like the hometown guitar hero –  and this guy Bryan Lee, a blues guy from New Orleans who let me get on stage with him for the first time when I was 13. Then we had Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. We were on the road supporting that project and we recorded this show live at the House of Blues in Chicago.

What’s it like working with a legend like Hubert Sumlin?

Hubert Sumlin has influenced so many people. He’s probably one of the most influential guitar players ever. And he’s one of the greatest guys. If you ever get to meet him, he’s just one of the sweetest men you could ever meet. One of the greatest things about getting to play with him was developing a relationship on a personal level. We became very close, and that’s really one of the most valuable things I could take away from meeting and playing with him. It was a wonderful experience to stand there and hear him play all these guitar riffs.

What was the particular show like, as a performer? I understand from the liner notes that you almost had to cancel the gig?

Yeah, that was the first time that I could ever remember actually feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to play. I think I just came down with an overnight flu virus, a 24 hour thing, but it was horrible. I was on the couch in the dressing room just really sick, almost debilitating, and I just forced myself, picked myself up off the couch and got out on the stage, and I felt the power of the music and energy of the band. When we were listening back to the show I couldn’t believe it. I was really anticipating the worst from my performance but I was really thrilled. It was a great night. We actually recorded the night before when we were in Milwaukee too, but Chicago was actually the better performance of the two shows, which is kinda remarkable after how bad I felt.

What gear did you use for the live shows? The tone on the record is amazing.

The basic setup was two Fender Vibroverbs – the 1964 Blackface Vibroverb reissues with 15″ speakers, handwired – they’re built in the Fender Custom Shop. I’m running those in stereo, and then for the majority of the show I’m playing my Fender Kenny Wayne Shepherd signature Stratocaster. My pedalboard has a Dunlop wah wah pedal, then I have the Analogman King Of Tone pedal. I had the Ibanez TS808 hand wired Tube Screamer, then I have a chorus pedal that Analogman makes called the Bi Chorus, which is like two different chorus pedals with two different settings. Then I have the TychoBrae Octavia pedal and an Analogman delay pedal. That’s about it. Most of the time I just use the Tube Screamer and the King of Tone pedals. The other pedals are just there for one or two songs throughout the show. I’ve got one song I might use the chorus on, a couple of songs where I might use the Octavia, and maybe a couple of songs where I’ll use the wah wah pedal. But the primary sound is just the guitar, the Tube Screamer and the King of Tone pedal.

What were you after when you designed your signature Strat?

I modelled some of it after my 61 Strat, although the neck on my signature Strat is a lot thicker than the 61, but the rear profile is kinda similar, and the headstock and the way it kinda tapers towards the headstock. I went to a 12″ radius fretboard because initially I was having a problem with the 9″ radius when I was bending like a five-note bend which was just dying, so they said I should try a 12″ radius, which is flatter. Then we went for the jumbo frets because I play really heavy gauge strings, and those big frets really help you get a grip on the strings. I worked with them for like a year and a half trying to develop the pickups, trying to develop a big, fat round sound. Also trying to get the second position and fourth positions, where you’re using the combination neck and middle pickups, I wanted to get those sounding the way I wanted, because I’ve never been entirely happy with those sounds. So the pickups were something we worked a long time on. Then Graph Tech saddles – I’ve been using Graph Tech saddles since I was 17 or 18 and they really helped me with string breakage. It’s an alder body – my ’61 Strat is an alder body. Then we just went for a couple of different appearances. I’m a big car guy so I wanted to do one with racing stripes on it. I wanted a sunburst as my ’61 Strat is a sunburst, then we did this white guitar with a painted chris that my wife hand painted, then they transferred that to the guitar. I was a real pleasure doing that, a big honour. I’m looking forward to hopefully designing a couple more in the future.

And you had a replica made of your ’61?

Well basically I just got a little too paranoid about bringing my guitar on the road any more. It’s irreplaceable, and things can happen when you’re travelling – things can get lost on the flight, sometimes things get stolen – so I’m not too comfortable about bringing that on the road any more. So I asked Fender to build me a clone. They’ve got so good at this over the years, building guitars to look like the original. So I sent them my ’61 Strat, and they had it for about a year, and they sent me my original back along with the clone. I think only I would be able to tell the difference between the original and the clone. They really captured the soul of it. So I’ve been using the clone on the road now, and it’s like the best of both worlds, because it allows me to keep my original at home. Actually it’s supposed to go stay at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but at the moment I have the original at home and the clone on the road.

Well you know what you’re going to have to do is, if the clone gets dings and scratches on the road, you’ll have to get Fender to replicate them on the original.

Yeah right! Hahaha. That’s bound to happen!

LINKS: Kenny Wayne ShepherdRoadrunner Australia

 

INTERVIEW: Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge

AB III is a landmark album in the still quite young career of Alter Bridge. Far more than just ‘Creed with a different singer,’ the band has always had its own thing going on, but AB III kicks it up a notch. It’s loud, angry, hurt, dark, mysterious and heavy, yet at times it’s also bright, optimistic, reassuring, even straight-up happy. I spoke to guitarist Mark Tremonti, who was in the midst of a European tour.

You know how good the album is, right?

(Laughs) Thank you very much! Appreciate it!

How do you feel about it?

We feel great! It was a good time that we put into writing and recording it, and it turned out the way we wanted it to. The response from fans has all been overwhelmingly positive so far.

You’re releasing the album yourself in the US on November 9, but it’s in the very capable hands of Roadrunner for the rest of the world and has already been released in other territories. Why?

We had to look at all our options, and our managers deal with that side of things, and they felt that was our best option for the States. At first we tried to be on Roadrunner both in the States and internationally, but I don’t think they thought we had a radio single for the States, that it was more of a European-sounding record, so we went a different route.

It is a very European-sounding, dark album.

I think it’s just a combination of where me and Myles were at. I grew up listening to heavy, dark music and I’ve always been a fan of darker music. Not that we’re dark people, but we like to evoke emotion, and either write a song that makes you feel really good or write a song that makes you really think and feel really moody. It’s just a combination of me pushing dark-sounding atmospheric music and Myles writing the darkest lyrics he’s ever come up with, and it’s just a perfect storm.

Well everyone needs their Empire Strikes Back, y’know?

Yeah! Hahah!

Just don’t go filling the next album with Ewoks.

Haha, exactly. Yeah.

There are lots of cool middle eastern-sounding scales on the record.

I think both me and Myles just played to fit the song. We weren’t really thinking of any scales in particular. I know that on my end, for the guitar solos and whatnot I was just trying to fit the chord changes. I just played for the song.

Do you have a favourite guitar part or solo?

I think the solo for All Hope Is Gone is my favourite solo. Favourite guitar part in general would probably be the intro to Life Must Go On. It’s a part that’s been floating around for quite a while.

What gear did you use on the record?

I used pretty much the same gear as the last album, except this time I used a Fender Tonemaster layered on top of the Bogner Uberschall and Mesa Rectifier.

What’s your approach to tone? I notice you’re using amps that have a shitload of gain on tap, but you’re holding back.

Yeah, it’s something I learned from Elvis on the last record: to record with a small amount of gain to really get stuff to cut through, so you can hear every bit of whatever riff that’s happening or whatever part that’s happening. If there’s too much gain you lose that clarity. It makes a big difference.

What about guitars?

I just used my signature model Paul Reed Smith. I think the only other guitar I used – other than acoustic Taylors – was on some clean tracks. PRS made me a guitar, like a Strat-style, three single coil, maple neck guitar that sounds really good on clean stuff. Sometimes I’d layer with that. That was about it.

Have you tried the baritone 8-string Taylor?

No I had not. Didn’t know it existed. Wow, I’ll be calling them when I get off the phone! I need to get that for sure!

You have a lot of guitar technique – how did you develop that? Were you always technically minded or did you hit a point where you decided to really work on that stuff?

I just always try to learn something new every day. I’m a big fan of the guitar so everywhere I go I have tonnes of guitar instructional DVDs. I still look for new ones that come out. No matter what style it is, I’ll buy it. If it’s something I don’t have, I’ll get it. If I’m getting on a plane I’ll watch country chicken pickin’ DVDs or whatever it is, because you can learn something from everybody. I’ll also get on sites like guitarinstructor.com or bluesjamtracks.com or YouTube or I’ll search everywhere I can looking for inspiration. Sometimes you’ll find it in the least likely spots, from some guy you’ve never heard of.

What are your favourites at the moment?

Right now I’m putting a lot of time into Robben Ford. Years ago I would have thought you couldn’t use a lot of his approach in hard rock, but I think you can if you learn the right tunes. He does a lot of blues-based stuff that you can use right away. I’m into him lately, I’m into a guy named Matt Schofield that not a lot of people that I’ve talked to have heard of, but he’s great. Audley Freed is a big one for me over the last few years. Warren Haynes. I went through all my shred years and just kinda switched gears a couple of years ago, going for the more old-school approach to bluesy phrasing and chord tone soloing. Lately I’ve been trying to step into the jazz world, not to play jazz but to try to understand more of the theory side of things and to have it readily available whenever I’m playing. I’ve looked at some piano lessons and there’s a guy named Charlie Banakos that taught a lot of jazz guys, so I’m trying to dig out some old exercises that he’s taught.

Any plans for a solo album?

I’ve started to put together some songs. With the last couple of years with everything that’s happened – Myles going out with Slash, the Creed reunion and everything else – there’s going to be some downtime when we’re waiting for Myles to get done so we can get back out on tour, so in those times I’ll be putting together a solo record. At this point I think I only have about five songs I’ve demoed, and every time I have a couple of months I’ll put together a handful of songs and see what happens with it.

What kind of direction?

It’s going to be mostly just melody, song-based stuff. It’s not going to be like a progressive instrumental record. It’s going to be more of a melody-driven, song record. I do want to do it at some point, I’ve just got to find the time.

What are your favourite instrumental albums?

Alien Love Secrets was a big one for me. I spent a lot of time with Tender Surrender. I spent four months learning that song, and now I’ve forgotten it! I like a lot of the Larry Carlton stuff, the Robben Ford stuff… for me it’s like, songs instead of records. I’ll just dwell on one song for a long time. There’s just so much of it I don’t know where to really hone in on! Paul Gilbert had a lot of influence on my learning to pick and shred. Intense Rock was probably my favourite DVD for a long time.

Any plans to come to Australia any time soon?

We actually just talked about that with our agent the other day. They were talking about maybe targeting October of next year. We’ve just gotta see what happens next year. We have to plan so far ahead with the Slash tour and our tour, so we have to just let our agents point their finger in the right direction for us.

Yeah, I guess you couldn’t force Myles to do double duty and wear the poor guy out.

We’ve talked about it – have Alter Bridge open for Slash.

INTERVIEW: Joe Satriani

Fresh from the success of his band Chickenfoot (with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony from Van Halen and Chad Smith from Red Hot Chilli Peppers), JoeSatriani recently hit the studio to record Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards with longtime drummer Jeff Campitelli, bass player Allen Whitman from The Mermen, and Frank Zappa/Steve Vai multi-instrumentalist and solo artist Mike Keneally on keys  It’s a different album for Satch, with the liveliness of The Extremeist minus the Led Zep stomp, and the melodicism of Super Colossal but with a more human element.

Hi Joe! This is our fourth interview together – I feel like I should put you on my Christmas card list.

Oh wow, please do!

First question: what prompted you to pursue such a live feel on the new album?

I guess I had these two extended live periods between the two records. We finished the Satchafunkilus tour, then went right into recording and touring with Chickenfoot, and right after doing a number of shows that spilled over into this year I also went out with the Experience Hendrix tour. So there was a lot of variety of live performances that were informing what I was trying to do. Initially I was just trying to figure out a way to get my music and performances to reach people more deeply, and I thought I needed to make sure we recorded a band playing real vital performances around me, and that I become part of that process, so the record would have that kind of feel to it. I wanted it to be a really nice-sounding studio project but I wanted the feel to be very lively. I brought this subject up to my co-producer and engineer, Mike Fraser, and he put together a plan about how we were going to do it that he didn’t really discuss with me, so he could surprise me when we got into the studio. I usually start the recording process at home. I do a lot of the guitars, bass, keyboards and solo material and home and I bring it into the studio with a band, and I add parts live as the rest of the band plays those performances. Some of the songs were done that way and some were done completely live. Mike made them all fit together very well, and it turned out really well. I’m really happy with it.

Mike Keneally is great on the album.

Mike is a genius. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging around with him when he’s been out playing with Steve Vai, and we’ve done a lot of touring together but this is the first time we’ve really worked together. I started thinking about getting a keyboard player when we were noticing a lot of the songs on this album had a very strong keyboard presence, and I was adding a lot of the keyboards in the home recordings. Some of them, because I don’t play very well, they take on a background or static quality to them. So I kept thinking, I’ve gotta find a keyboard player, but who’s going to understand the kind of guitar record I want to do? I generally do rock and roll instrumental things – they’re not fusion records or jazz records – and it’s hard to get other musicians to really understand the style of the record that I make. Mike’s name just popped into my head and I thought, if anyone can get it, it’ll be Mike, because he’s such a brilliant guitarist, he makes a lot of records, his solo work is great… so I just called him out of the blue and was very fortunate to find out that he was available. I was able to say ‘when we get to these 64 bars, that’s all you. Do whatever you want. Surprise me,’ y’know? It was all brilliant and it was all different, so we could just have fun picking the ones he liked.

Now, I’ve been a Joe Satriani fan for long enough that I know that when you call a song something simple like Dream Song, there’s probably a non-simple reason for it.

That one, I literally dreamt. I’ve never done that before. I had a dream that we me playing, writing and recording a song, and the sonic imagery was so strong that when I woke up abruptly that I remember turning to my wife and saying ‘I just dreamt an entire song! I’ve gotta go downstairs and record it!’ I just went right into the studio and before it evaporated from my memory, I recorded all the parts I had been dreaming, and in a few hours it was done. It was just incredible. After it was done I started to develop a lot of emotions about what I thought the song was about, but I thought it had to be called Dream Song because that’s as close to the truth as you could get.

What on earth are you doing in Wind In The Trees?

There are two things happening there. In the solo section I’m using a Sustainiac pickup on the guitar, with affords me the opportunity to play a little bit more like Coltrane or Jerry Mulligan or something like that, and less like a guitar player. And in the verses and chorus, I’m using this much-maligned piece of software called autotune. It’s a funny thing with me: when I get presented with something  that I dislike, I very often think, ‘what would be the contrarian approach?’ We had that process back in 2000 when I did the electronica record Engines Of Creation. We used autotune on a few songs to try to make the guitar sound more robotic, and what we found was that people really weren’t affected by it. They just thought it was either a keyboard or something else. So I never thought about it again. But I was having a conversation with my manager just about general music business and he had brought up the fact that he noticed that in the top 10, in every pop song a vocalist was featured using the autotune software to its most grotesque. He said ‘When was the last time you were playing with it?’ and I said, ‘Well yeah, back in 2000…’ But after the conversation I thought maybe I should revisit it in a different way. Because most of the time people record their performances and then they use the software afterwards and it’s sort of like a producer’s tool to get people to sound like they can actually sing in tune when they can’t, y’know? So I thought, ‘What if it was a pedal?’ Guitar players are always plugging into pedals – choruses, octave dividers – and when we do that our performance reacts to the pedal. And I thought maybe that was what was missing. I’m not reacting to the autotune software. So I’ve gotta figure out a way to set it up so I could play with it live. That wasn’t so hard to set up. And so I realised after programming the software to be in the proper key that if I played really bad, really out of tune, the software would react violently to get me in tune, but if I finished the phrase completely in tune, then the software would back off. So that’s what you hear: me purposely playing out of tune and then in tune. The end result is this sort of very vocal, throaty-sounding melody that is going through scalar movements, and then at the very end it does its own natural vibrato. It took a while to get used to it but I started to really dig it after a while.

So what other guitar gear did you use?

I had a relatively small stable of amps and guitars I used. I was primarily using the Marshall JVM at home and in the studio – the 410 and the 210. I also had some handwired Marshall 100 watts and a 50 watt as well that I used quite a bit. They were doing about 80% of the work. And then every once in a while we’d use something different like a Wizard amp. They wound up being pretty nice for some rhythms. I used a Two Rock amp that the guys at Two Rock made for me. That’s got a really great tone for Stratty kind of things. And I used some plugins, actually. I used SansAmp or Guitar Rig. It’s all about balance. If the songs have several guitars on them, that’s when you’re gonna find a Marshall amp on one side, a SansAmp on the other, a Wizard tucked away just for the bridge or something like that. I was using my very first Ibanez JS2400, I had of course my 1200s, and I had the prototype of the JS guitar that I brought out on the Hendrix tour, which is a three single coil-style guitar that we haven’t put into production yet, and my usual assortment of pedals and things like that.

Any chance of another G3 tour some time soon?

I certainly hope so. I’ve been talking to Steve Vai about that. I know he’s doing some touring next year and he’s starting to work on a solo album. We might be able to get that together again. But in the future for me is the world tour for Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, then I’m right in the studio with Chickenfoot recording the second album. Somewhere after all those tours we’ll try to put a G3 tour together.

Are you hitting Australia on the solo tour?

Y’know, I’m hoping that right after the recording of the Chickenfoot album and before we start any touring there might be time for me to hit the southern hemisphere.

LINK: Joe Satriani