INTERVIEW: Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins never did things quite like other bands, but when Billy Corgan and co announced plans for their latest album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, even die-hard fans probably spat coffee on their laptops. Picture it: a 44-track album, with songs recorded in batches of four and released one at a time for free online. Wha?

It’s early days yet but how is the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept being received by audiences?

It seems to be gathering momentum. I knew that the material I was releasing was strong material, but oftentimes music is so contextual and depending on what’s going on around what you’re doing. With Smashing Pumpkins over the last two or three years it’s been so much about ‘what does this mean?’ and not as much focus on the music. And I feel that just recently, maybe because of the strength of the band live, people are starting to focus on the music again, and a little less on the drama stuff. It seems like now there’s that healthy cyclical thing where people are going to the shows and then they’re going to listen to the songs again, and then they’re writing and they tell a friend in the next city. You start to see this kind of building momentum around the work.

What I really like about the idea is that in one way it’s a rejection of the traditional album concept, but in another way it’s a celebration of it because it forces the listener to give each track full consideration.

I like the idea that it’s my responsibility to deliver something that’s worth listening to. When I would make albums, I’d look at it like, ‘okay, I’ve got these four really catchy songs… well I want to do this really long song, and I don’t care if it takes somebody three months to figure out it’s a good song.’ Because I kinda assumed that they would listen to the album. But once I saw that people stopped listening to records – albums – in a normal fashion like we probably grew up to, then I also started seeing people not listening to that song that took two or three months to get into. As a record person, I actually found that they were some of the songs that I loved the most, at the end of the day. A song like Rain Song by Led Zeppelin comes to mind. You have those experiences where it’s like ‘This is so fucking epic.’ It describes everything you’re feeling. I realised I was really kinda back in the 1950s,  where you were really gonna be judged on your latest song. And rather than get bummed about it, I took it on as a challenge. Slowly it’s evolved into, ‘Can I keep upping the ante with each release?’ And that’s exciting.

Do you have everything written already in loose form or is it being composed as you go?

I have more than enough written but I would say probably half or less than half is worth recording, because I’m still evolving with the quality level and maybe what I’m trying to say. Now that the band has really come together as a unit, I’m looking at the material in a completely different way. We’re sort of back into a dynamic rock outfit. So that opens up my mind. It brings the musicianship back into the equation in a way that maybe it hasn’t been in a while.

It’s been pretty well established that you’ve played the majority of the instruments in the studio over the years…

That’s right.

Has that continued with the new material?

There’s a new song and two more in the can, and those are still pretty much the traditional way, which is just me and the drummer, but the songs we’re gonna start recording probably in October, those are going to be contributed by the band as a whole. Not just who’s gonna play what but all of us working together as a team to make sure that what we’re putting out is representative of where the band is going. We’ve really come together as a unit. It’s been an organic process that’s grown on its own, and I never thought I’d be back in that situation. So it’s surprising for me that I’m actually in a place where I want to get to the ideas, because it feels good and healthy, not like I’m being forced because of an expectation that’s not realistic. It’s a really, really strong unit, and it’s weird, because if you look at – the Ramones come to mind – sometimes it’s that weird thing where it’s the sum of the parts that adds up, and you don’t necessarily know why because it’s not always about who’s the best bass player or something. It’s the way people play together, and it either clicks or it doesn’t. And for whatever reason, from the first gig we just had that thing together and people really seem to be responding. I’ll give you a small inside story. There are people who work on my crew – light, sound – that have worked with me since probably Siamese Dream. They come and go, they’re not always out on every tour, but I always have them back. So my light guy hadn’t worked with me in maybe ten years or something, and he came to a rehearsal and he was like, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe it!’ I said ‘What?’ and he goes ‘You’ve reinvented it!’ and he was shocked. And after six or seven shows he pulled me aside and said ‘This is better than the old band. I don’t know how you did it, but it’s better than the old band!’ And that’s the kinda guy who’s gonna tell you what he really thinks. He’s not gonna gloss it over, I’ve known him for 17 years, we go out to dinner together. He’s not going to yank my chain. It’s a really good feeling, y’know? And that’s been consistent. We see it more if the crowd is over 30, 35 years old. They come in with the crossed arms, like, ‘I love the Pumpkins and I want to see what Billy’s up to,’ but there’s that kind of skepticism. Like, ‘Hmm, I kinda miss the old band.’ But by the end of the show they’re shaking their head and going ‘Fuck yeah! You’re pulling this shit off! I can’t believe it!’ They’re happy because they get their band band. They didn’t get the band back that they wanted to get back, but they got their band back, if that makes sense. It’s a nice thing to see, and it happens almost every night. It’s like, ‘Cool! Let’s keep rocking!’

I have kind of an interesting take on Smashing Pumpkins because I didn’t listen to you guys during the first run. I’m 32 now and when I was a teenager I was all about the shred, so I kinda felt like I couldn’t listen to you guys until the hype had died down…

Hahaha. That’s awesome. Sorry to interrupt you, but that was me at, like, 20 or 17. I stopped listening to certain bands because, like, they didn’t shred fast enough, Clapton and all that. I wanted to listen to Yngwie!

Well that’s the thing, I wanted to listen to Yngwie and I wanted to listen to Yngwie and I wanted to avoid you guys until it’d died down a bit and I could get a bit of perspective on it. And when I did, it was like, ‘Man, there’s some awesome guitar playing here. I can’t deprive myself of this!’

Haha. No, it’s all about the guitar playing. I wish we played better, but we love it. All we do is sit around and talk about guitar players!

That takes me to my next question as a guitar geek. How did your signature Fender Stratocaster come about?

[Laughs] Here’s a great rock n’roll story. I actually approached Fender around 1993, 1994 and I wanted to do a guitar because the band was really popular, and obviously we were playing big concerts full of kids. And they basically told me to fuck off. I think they said ‘We’ll sell you guitars at cost.’ They had no interest in a signature guitar, nothing, and I was really bummed out. And so, through Ginger, the last Smashing Pumpkins bass player – who had a Fender endorsement deal – I had got to meet some of the current Fender people, and I told them the same story, and they said ‘Oh all those people are long gone – we would love to do something with you. We were under the impression you wouldn’t do anything with us. That would be amazing. We were under the impression that you wouldn’t do anything with us.’ So when we sat down to have the meeting, they said ‘Look, we’ll build you whatever you want, we’ve done that with people, but what we really want is something a normal person, any kid can walk in and buy off the wall.’ It really reminded me of when I was poor… I’d go to Guitar Center and I would stand there and look at the wall and think ‘I can’t afford this stuff.’ So they said ‘Can we build a guitar that is a reasonably-priced guitar that anyone can buy?’ And I said ‘I’ll do you one better. Lets’ build a guitar that’s not just for people who play like me. Let’s build a guitar that anybody who plays hard rock or loud alternative music will want to use because it’s a versatile instrument.’ And they said ‘That would be amazing.’ So we worked on that together. It’s not a radical redesign. My whole thing is, I want a heavy guitar that sounds like a Strat. I don’t want a Fender that sounds like a Gibson, with a humbucker dropped in it. So I worked with Steve Blucher from DiMarzio pickups and got my own custom-made pickups from him. He’s a brilliant guy. And nothing makes me happier than to have a musician walk up to me and go ‘Man, I got your guitar and I fuckin’ love it.’ And I’m really proud of it for that. We just had a meeting again and we’re gonna try to do a new-new version with some of the newer technologies that are coming out. We’re really excited about that. I’m actually right now waiting to get some prototypes of the new concepts.

That’s gotta be fun.

Yeah! I’m really happy because it makes me feel good that I’m giving some people the options I wanted from Fender guitars in the 90s. Fender was putting out guitars that were very specificly for certain things, and I’d have to do all sorts of crazy stuff, or buy vintage guitars, to try to get the sound I was looking for. I felt like they didn’t think about people who were playing like me at the time. They kind of missed the boat on that whole alt-rock generation, which is why a lot of us played vintage guitars, because the current ones [in the 90s] weren’t doing it. Anyway, I’m happy, I’m really happy with my relationship with them.

INTERVIEW: Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares

When Dino Cazares left Fear Factory in 2002, the band carried on without him. It was a messy split and it seemed nobody could ever imagine him returning to the fold. Even less likely was the prospect of Fear Factory carrying on with an entirely new rhythm section, especially given the respect given Raymond Herrera in metal drumming circles. Yet in the spirit of the band’s whole cyber-techno-deconstructionalist ethos, in 2009 Fear Factory tore itself down and built itself back up. This year’s Mechanize is a brutal return to form that sees Dino and vocalist Burton C Bell join forces with Strapping Young Lad rhythm section Gene Hoglan and Byron Stroud. Fear Factory are returning to Australia this month to perform some shows with Metallica, so I started my chat with Dino by asking about Fear Factory’s association with metals’ most high-profile ambassadors.

 

Have you played with Metallica before?

Yeah, we did about ten shows with them in Europe, and that was earlier this year. They turned out to be really, really cool guys, very down to earth, and they really know how to treat their support bands, y’know? They treated us really well and it’s an honour they asked us to come back.

Did you get a chance to sit down and talk rhythm guitar with James or anything like that?

Yeah! Definitely! I actually let James jam on one of my guitars. He was interested because I have seven and eight string guitars. He was like, ‘Wow, look at this guitar!’ and he started playing it. He would come into our dressing room pretty much every day and shoot the shit. We went out partying with Lars one night, and Robert Trujillio. They took us out to dinner and stuff like that. Really nice guys. You wouldn’t expected them to treat bands like that, but they treat them really well.”

You guys were just out here earlier this year. You seem to be pretty regular visitors, you should rent a shack or something.

Hey, yeah mean, trust me, I wouldn’t mind! But yeah, we’ve definitely been there quite a lot over our career. Australia was one of the first countries that really embraced Fear Factory back in the Demanufacture days, back in early 95, 96, when we did our first Big Day Out. It’s been really successful over there. We love Australia, we love going there – it’s like our second home.

And the reception to Mechanize has been huge.

It’s been very positive. Everywhere we’ve been, all around the world. It feels great. Y’know, I was a little nervous at first because I was first coming back into the band, I wasn’t sure how it was gonna be received, you know what I mean? The typical stuff when you put a record out, you’re a little bit nervous about it, but I was a little bit more nervous because it’s my first time back in so many years. But it’s been great. The response has been really, really good. We’re all stoked.

When you came back to the band, I guess everyone wondered if you would all get along, but I saw you guys all hanging out at the Baked Potato in LA earlier this year when Mike Keneally played a gig with Brendon Small and Gene Hoglan, and I thought ‘Fear Factory are hanging out together for fun – everything’s gonna be alright!’

Yeah! You were there? Yeah, we all hang out, we all go to gigs and support each other. That was a cool little gig that Gene did. Gene’s one of those kinds of drummers that can adapt, and if you remember that was, what, 70s music?

Yeah, it was half a Stevie Wonder album, some Jeff Beck songs, Steely Dan…

Yeah, yeah! That was one of the cool, exciting parts about me coming back to Fear Factory, was actually getting to jam with Gene. The guy is such a very talented musician. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, he’s a big fat guy,’ but dude, that guy can play! Doesn’t matter how big you are, man, the guy has the heart, the soul and the knowledge! He can play everything. When he came into Fear Factory he was like, ‘What do you want me to play? I can do it all.’ We felt limitless.

I remember when I first heard that you guys were playing together, and it wasn’t announced that you’d be called Fear Factory yet.

Yeah, at that time we were still in a lawsuit and when we played the Big Day Out this year, we could use the name Fear Factory but if we used the name Fear Factory we’d have to give the other Fear Factory some money. So we didn’t use the name at that time. We were called Fear Campaign on that tour. But everybody knew it was Fear Factory!

Let’s switch to guitar talk: what was it like to switch to Ibanez eight strings?

It was very natural. I remember when they first made it: it was 2005 and they made the first prototype. They actually called me and a few other musicians to come down and try it. When I went there and picked it up and started jamming on it, they were like, ‘Wow, you’re the first guy who actually knew what to do with it.’ Well yeah, I’ve been playing seven strings for so long that switching to eight was exciting and fun, and it came natural to me.

Do you have many of them? What are they like?

I have four eight strings. I have two that are the RGA8 – one of them I’ll be bringing with me – and I have two of them that are the regular RG.

How do you tune them?

They’re tuned standard F#, so the first six strings are standard tuning, then the next lower string is B, still standard, and the F# is the low one. I’m one of the lucky guys that gets his guitars custom made, so I get the necks a little thinner. We’re talking millimetres, but millimetres make a big difference. So I can make it a little thinner, I can make it neck-thru. A lot of people don’t have neck-thrus. I can experiment with different types of woods, lighter woods, heavier woods, maple, basswood, bubinga, rosewood, ebony, things like that. And every piece of wood, you’re going to get something different about it. I believe I’ve found what I like, but I love my eight strings. I do have quite a lot of seven strings.

I remember seeing you guys in 99, you had the Ibanez UV777BK Universe with an EMG humbucker in the bridge position.

Yeah, what was that, the Obsolete tour?

Yeah.

Back then when you saw us, they got stolen. All my Universes got stolen. All of them. I didn’t have one left.

Have you ever got anything back?

Nothing. When I first was out of Fear Factory I was a little upset – okay, I was a lot upset – and I got rid of some of my guitars. I made a mistake I sold some of my LA Custom Shop guitars. And there have been a couple of them that you see that collectors keep buying and selling. I was recently in Poland and there was a collector out there who had a couple of my guitars and I tried to get a hold of him to sell them back to me because it’s a bit of sentimental value, but the guy never responded to me. They’re really nice necks. I have double truss rods because when you’re touring, every country’s different and the necks have a tendency to move a little bit. You have to constantly keep adjusting the necks, especially when you go from extreme cold to extreme hot, so I have double truss rods to keep them solid.

How did you initially get into metal? For me it was around 91, I was 13, Megadeth had just released Rust In Peace, Metallica put out the Black Album…

For me it was before that, back in the late 70s, I would say. I was definitely very much influenced by what my older brothers and sisters listened to. Everybody liked something different. I came from a big family, but one of my sisters was more into rock, borderline metal stuff. I first heard AC/DC when I was nine, and I saw them on TV and I was like, ‘Wow, I wanna be like that guy,’ and I was Angus Young. ‘I wanna be that dude,’ y’know what I mean? That first got me into it, then I heard Black Sabbath, and then Judas Priest, and then all of a sudden, in the 80s all the newer-school metal bands came out like the Metallicas and the Slayers and stuff like that, and it just got heavier.

One of the cool things about metal is going back and finding the bands that influenced your favourite bands.

I’m influenced by all of it. I’m influenced by the music, not just the player but the whole sound. I don’t look at what I do just as the guitar, I look at it as the whole. When I’m playing guitar I’m thinking of the drums as well. I’m thinking of a cool melody line that’s going to go along with it. I’m thinking of a cool keyboard sound or some sort of sample, y’know what I mean? I think of it like that. I might start with a guitar but it doesn’t finish with a guitar.

That’s something Fear Factory captures so well – the band’s sound is much more than just the guitar sound.

Well we definitely wear our influences on our sleeves. For Fear Factory, a lot of the stuff that influenced us was the early speed and death metal, grindcore, mixed in with the industrial, stuff like Killing Joke, Godflesh, stuff like that. But me and Burt were also fans of other music that was really big, the alternative stuff, so that’s where a lot of the melodic vocals come from. We decided to put the melodic vocals into our heavy music and we were able to create our own style that other artists could be influenced by, positively.

LINK: Fear Factory

INTERVIEW: Birds Of Tokyo’s Adam Spark

The new self-titled album by Birds of Tokyo – Ian Kenny (Karnivool), Adam Spark, Anthonny Jackson and Adam Weston – is a melodic, atmospheric, at times rocking, at times psychedelic affair which balances pop and indie song craft with ambient experimentation and a sombre edge. It’s a real light-and-shade album, with more melodically upbeat tracks like Plans balanced out by darker tracks like The Gap and The Saddest Thing I Know. I caught up with guitarist Adam Spark to talk about his role in the band.

 

What’s your background as a player?
Nothing fantastical, really, I just sort of learned to play at a late age. I didn’t pick it up until I was in year 12 in high school. Most of my friends played, but I wasn’t interested until that point in life. I was surfing until then! But I started there then I played and played and played, and I tried various things at uni, then ended up doing audio engineering and studying music. The only formal training I’ve had was doing WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), all the while just learning and playing.

What’s your approach to guitar, having started so late?
I guess I came from a funny perspective on it. I first picked up guitar when I was about 13 because a lot of my cousins would try to get me to play Metallica songs, but I never really took an interest until I was 17. But after about six months of playing I thought ‘I don’t really see the point of learning other peoples’ music.’ Of course, now I see the point in it! Because I probably would have developed a hell of a lot more finesse and technique. But I just started writing straight away. I don’t really approach guitar as a guitar player, to be truthful. We have a lot of guitars and a lot of gear, but …I’m really not that interested in it! And I don’t say that to be condescending of anything to people who are, but just for me, I see it as a songwriting tool. If I could carry around a piano I probably would! But guitar is the instrument that helps me express what we do.” That’s not to put down the guitar, but it’s kind of more about guitar being a supportive thing in our band. We have an ethos of ‘as little as necessary to get the point across.’ I never like people hearing what’s going on with the guitar, not that there’s nothing good going on but we’re a songwriting band. Even though we’re kind of like a pop band, it’s incorporating that sort of element into it.

So which players have influenced you?
It’s more music in general, to be honest. I’ve never really been interested in terms of guitar players with technical prowess. My interest is more in growing up watching people like Billy Corgan or My Bloody Valentine, where there doesn’t seem to be a massive emphasis on the playing itself but what’s coming out of the rig. I think My Bloody Valentine, with these crazy bent chords, delays on top of delays… or The Edge, hitting three notes, but what comes out is marvellous. I love the texture that comes out of guitar, rather than playing full-on solos.

How do you approach your tone live?
I’m always changing my setup. I tried a rack system and that didn’t work for me, and now I have a pedalboard with a switching system. I always have all these pedals but then I look down and think ‘Wow, all I’m really using is a distortion and a delay.’ Just a couple of cool little delays like maybe an old Electro-Harmonix thing and maybe a newer kind of one, and a couple of distortions. I find it really interesting and fascinating that people can pull off having so many different and unique pedals. I can never get it to sound good live. It’s a real funny one. As for amps, we’ve got this cool Reeves head. It’s kind of like a Hiwatt. I really like the sound of it. Everywhere we’ve travelled recently I’ve been hunting and hunting for new distortion pedals. I always find myself attracted to ones no-one else uses, and I think, ‘Am I on the right path here?’ For the record we had a little Expandora pedal going into the Reeves head, and we also had a mid-80s ProCo Rat held together by pliers! But they don’t work live, so I’ve got this Radial pedal – I think it’s the Trimode. It’s got stickers and shit all over it now for all the tech stuff and it’s covered up the title for a while! But they’re really cool. My big thing with distortion pedals is getting that midrange and the balance of all the bands in a way that you like them. It’s easy to turn it on and you’ve got tone or volume, but sometimes if you’re stepping on your biggest channel – and I generally run a clean, a lightly dirty, a dirty and one which is called ‘Boom’ on the pedal switcher – and to have it so those gain stages all work and sound relative to each other. If you have all different distortion pedals, sometimes you’ll find one of them that sounds really good but the bottom end’s completely gone in it. With the Radial you can really tailor it because you can screw around with it so much that it really creamily bites your head off.

And guitars?
I’ve been travelling with a few Fender Telecasters at the moment. We’ve tried a lot of guitars but I’ve found myself coming back to these ’72 Tele reissues all the time. So mostly those, but I’m going to bring out a Gibson 335, a Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster. I just bought a Fender Stratocaster just the other day – I wanted to get something with a bit more of a modern feel but there’s a certain type of body and neck I like. So I bought the Billy Corgan signature model, which for me is perfect. You’ve got the fixed bridge on there and more modern DiMarzio pickups. I’m really excited about that, actually.

Birds Of Tokyo’s new self-titled album is out now on EMI.

LINK: Birds Of Tokyo

 

INTERVIEW: Stone Sour’s Jim Root


Jim Root is one of the most versatile guitarists in rock. He gets to explore the darkest corners of metal – thrash, death, grind – in Slipknot, and he stretches out even further in Stone Sour. The band was formed in 1992 by future Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor –Root joined in 1995 – and after a four-year hiatus it was reactivated in 2002, quickly establishing huge critical and fan acclaim. The new Stone Sour album, Audio Secrecy, was produced by Nick Raskulinecz [Alice In Chains’ Black Gives Way To Blue, Deftones’Diamond Eyes, Rush’s Snakes & Arrows], and is released by Roadrunner in September (September 3 in Australia and Germany, September 6 in the UK, and September 9 in the US).

I understand you and Josh Rand recorded most of your guitar parts at the same time?

Yeah, about 90% of the songs were recorded at the same time. We record what we call ‘stripes,’ which is basically the entire band with the exception of [drummer] Roy Mayorga, playing to a click track. Then Roy can play along to these tracks and play around them. He kind of pushes and pulls around the click track a little bit anyways. We wanted a polished but still live-feeling record. When me and Josh started tracking live next to each other it was cool because we would kind of lock in with each other a little bit tighter rather than me going first and then him trying to lock in with the way I play or vice versa. You can hear everything that’s going on, I play a little bit more like him, he plays a little bit more like me, and it’s all very organic.

I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, a lot of the bands I’ve interviewed have gone back to more traditional ways of doing things – making an actual recording rather than a production.

And that’s the thing that freaked me out a little bit when we were working with [producer] Dave Fortman. I saw him and his engineer cutting and pasting stuff and I just about fucking freaked out! ‘What are you doing!?! No, we’re not doing that!’ I’m a guitar player. That means I play guitar, you know what I mean? You’re not going to get one good round take of a measure then stretch it out over eight bars, you know what I mean? That’s not how we’re doing this.

Nick Raskulinecz has produced a great albums for Alice In Chains and Deftones lately, and he did Stone Sour’s last album, Come What(ever) May. What’s he like to work with?

Nick, he’s cool, man. I’ve worked with a few different producers and Nick’s like a combination of a few different guys. He’s not like ‘my way or the highway.’ He’s very hands on. He’s very involved with everything from the beginning until the end. Sometimes he can be a little disorganised, but it’s rock and roll, you know what I mean, we’re not punching a clock. We just figure out what we’re gonna do that day. He’s a little bit like Ross [Robinson] in the fact that he gets you pumped up and he gets you excited about what you’re doing, and he’s a little bit like [Rick] Rubin in that he’s a little bit precise and if shit isn’t sounding good we’ll go back and do it and do it until it does. And he’s really involved with pre-production too, which is a cool thing, especially for us because we don’t have a whole lot of time for that type of stuff. Corey and I are juggling Slipknot and Stone Sour so it’s basically right off the road and into the studio.

So your approach to guitar in Stone Sour – obviously you have a lot of room to throw in different styles and things.

I kinda get to do a lot of everything in both bands. I don’t really go into a record with a certain goal, like I’m going to do this, or I’m going to play this certain way. I just live in the moment as it comes, and it’s a lot more natural and organic. If there’s a tune we’re working on that someone else has written, I like to approach that song – like, I’ll learn that song in preproduction, obviously – but when it comes to laying different guitar tracks and coming up with different melody lines and stuff, I like to hit that on the spur of the moment, because usually what happens is, nine out of ten times, the first thing you come up with right off the top of your head ends up being the best thing. And then you’re chasing that the rest of the time. You can always take that first thing, as long as it’s been captured on the computer – I was going to say tape but you don’t use that any more! As long as it’s captured and it’s there, even if there’s a clam or a bad not you can be like, ‘That’s the vibe of what it is,’ and you can build on it from there. To me that’s where the most natural and hookiest stuff comes from.

I notice that too. If I improvise a solo it’s always way better than if I try to write it.

I’m the same way too. I never write solos out. I’ll have a general idea of what I want to do: I’ll have a melody line hummed out in my head, and I’ll have to find it on the fretboard, and I’ll just go from there. Nick hates that. He wants everyone to write everything out, and Josh is that way. He’s a writer. I’ll ad lib my solos live. To me that’s a little bit more edgy and punk rock and flying by the seat of your pants, and it keeps people wondering. For me it’s a million times more interesting than watching a guitar player that plays a solo note for note like it is on the record. Unless you’re going to see a band like Dream Theater or something like that.

Plus you always surprise yourself, like, ‘Hey, I’m better than I thought!’

It’s true, man! The more you play and the longer you’ve been touring and the longer you’ve been playing the songs, the more fluid you become – I call it liquid. You don’t even think what you’re doing, it just flows out as soon as something pops into your head. It’s almost like the Force takes over! Something will pop into your head a nanosecond before you’re going to play it or before the beat happens. You just find yourself doing it. That’s a great feeling. I love that feeling, man. It’s second to none. To me that’s way more interesting than ‘Here’s your solo, it starts on the 22nd fret and you’re going to do this arpeggio, and the third, and blah blah blah.” I like to change the shapes up a little bit, y’know? Or throw a delay on. Fuck it! (Laughs).

That was something I was going to ask about a little later, actually: the MXR Carbon Copy analog delay you use. I have one and I love it.

I have two of those in my rack right now, on the same pedalboard. I’ve got one set a little bit faster than the other one. I love those pedals, man. When we’re with Slipknot, at the beginning of the set I’d come up while the intro tape is rolling and I’d play with the rate and it would repeat all over itself and you’d get some really cool sounds. And it’s never the same thing twice.

I like to use it as a dirty reverb kind of sound.

Yeah you can do that, you can get really good rockabilly sounds out of it. It’s just a great pedal, and it doesn’t colour the tone. There are so many of those pedals out there, the analog delay pedals, that make everything a little bit leaner-sounding. The Carbon Copy sounds very analog, and it’s a cool little green pedal. It’s awesome.

What’s it like having your own signature Fender Strat and Telecaster?

I’ll tell you what, man, it’s a big honour, you know what I mean? In a million years… I mean, I put off doing a signature model for so long because there are so many things I wanted to achieve out of a guitar and it really took me eight or nine years to troubleshoot guitars. I went through a few different companies, then I kinda went back to what I learned to play on as a kid which was Charvels. I went through the PRS thing, I tried Jacksons for a while, and they’re all great guitars, but there are so many different things that I wanted to achieve with a signature model. I wanted it to be a workhorse live, and very road-ready, something that’ll stand up to months and months – if not years and years – of being on the road. For instance, my number one Tele that I use on stage is the number one prototype, the white one. It has an ebony board on it. That thing, I’ve had on tour with me since [Stone Sour’s] Come What(ever) May and it looks like it’s a 30-year-old guitar, and it’s the best sounding one. It’s all over the [Slipknot] All Hope Is Gone record. It’s all over this new Audio Secrecy record, and it’s our sound guy’s favourite guitar because it’s got such a rich, thick, bold sound to it. But I wanted them to be a workhorse live and I also wanted them to be a tone machine in the studio. I really wanted to record with them and that’s why I chose mahogany. That’s the wood. Over the years, the more records we did, I found a lot of the guitars we would pick, me and producers or me and first engineers, whether it’s Ross Robinson or Greg Fidelman or even Nick, we would always go to Gibsons and mahogany guitars, so I’m like, ‘Okay, so why don’t we do a mahogany guitar with a rock maple neck?’ And I’m on the fence between maple and ebony – I love the feel of both of them. Different days I like the feel of different ones. So Fender was cool enough to let me do two different colours and give you the option of a maple board on one and an ebony board on the other. I wasn’t really able to make up my mind, but now that I’ve had the guitars for a few years and I’ve been touring with them for quite a while, and even the Strats, I’m starting to favour the darker boards, the ebonys and rosewoods. If you see me playing a guitar that should have a maple board on it but it’s got an ebony board, that’s why: I’ve had the guitar tech swap the necks on them.

They’re very stripped down and refined guitars – they’re so simple but there must have been a lot of work to getting them to be that simple.

There really was. Honestly,there was a good six or so years of going back and forth between Charvel and Fender, and I even took the Flathead, and that was the basis of what the model was going to be: it was going to be based on the Custom Shop Flathead. And that’s what they were trying to push me towards in the beginning, and then the Charvels came out and I started to play those, because they were the USA San Dimas’s just like the ones I used to play when I was 13 or 14. They’re really cool guitars and I used them for the Subliminal Verses tour, but when it came time to design one, I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right. I crawled on my hands and knees back to Alex at Fender and said ‘Please, just let me do a Tele. Please, please, please,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, but it’s probably not going to be a Custom Shop model with the specs that you want. It’s probably going to have to be a Mexican one to keep the price down.’ My big thing at the time was to keep it under $1,000, which was extremely hard to do. Now they’re well above that which is a shame, but I did everything in my power to keep it around a thousand. I definitely wanted it to be something that anybody who wanted a good quality guitar could get their hands on, and I didn’t want to load it up with tribal S’s, number fours, or SS logos from Stone Sour, or bleeding-eye angels or whatever. I wanted it to be a little bit ambiguous. If you’re playing one, you wouldn’t really know it’s my model.

Last thing before our time is up is, you guys are coming down to Australia for the Soundwave festival – that’s going to be pretty kickass.

Any chance we get to come to Australia, especially a tour like Soundwave! We did the Big Day Out a few years back, and that was one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done. Everyone on the tour called it the Big Day Off because it’s three days off, play a show, then three days off. And Australia’s such a friendly place, everybody is so awesome and everybody just wanted to have a great time and good fun. It’s a pleasure to be coming back down there and I hope we do more than just Soundwave.

And Soundwave’s really overtaken the Big Day Out these last few years, especially for heavier music. This one’s got Slayer, Iron Maiden, Primus, Slash, Queens of the Stone Age…

It’s going to be killer.

Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia

INTERVIEW: Zakk Wylde

Black Label Society’s new CD, Order Of The Black, is one of the ass-kickin-est albums of Zakk Wylde’s long career of ass-kicking. Whether with Black Label, Ozzy or Pride and Glory, Zakk’s never been one to hold back a killer riff or searing lead line, but Order of the Black has really hit it out of the park – as evidenced by its #4 Billboard debut. I caught up with Zakk on the eve of the album’s release.

Last time we chatted you were still building your studio. Now that it’s all done, what’s it like?

It’s killer, man. We test-drove the Black Label Bunker – we recorded the record in there and mixed it. I couldn’t be happier, man. Because the thing is, a lot of the time you could record in the studio but you want to mix somewhere else, but this just sounds great. We took it out of the bunker to mix it in another studio with a big SSL board and all that sort of stuff, and our studio sounded better. It’s one stop shoppin’, ya know what I mean? I can make the donuts in there, wrap ‘em, box ‘em and send ‘em out.

Do you feel there’s an energy there that you couldn’t get if you were watching the clock all the time?

Um, well no, to be honest with you, I never watched the clock anyway when I was recording. Nah. The way we make a Black Label album, we go in and we knock ‘em right out. It’s just like, me and you going down to the studio today, we could hear Zeppelin on the radio, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ or something like that, and go ‘Dude, let’s do something like that, that pounding driving riff, then we’ll start with the drums, come in with the vocal,’ you know what I mean? It’s like, by the time we get to the studio, everyone’s just chilling and next thing you know we’ll start tracking. So I mean it’s like, if we want to do a mellow thing we’ll do something mellow. I’ve never had any problems recording anywhere. When we did a lot of the sessions for Hangover Music, we had about eight days off in the middle of Nashville so I was like, ‘Tim, just book us some studio time. We’ll go in and do a bunch of mellow stuff.’ Cos I’d been playing a bunch of acoustic guitar in the bus, as opposed to us doing the heavy stuff, because we were touring at the time. A lot of those sessions ended up on that record. The way I look at it, it’s just like when you’re going to any studio – Olympic, where all my favourite bands recorded, Abbey Road studios, Electric Lady Land, as soon as you get into the studio you’re just like a kid with a million crayons and you’ve got a massive colouring book. It’s always a good time, man.

Speaking of mellow stuff, track four on the new CD, Darkest Days… I have this thing where track 4, no matter what the band is, track four tends to be a sweet spot where I find my track, y’know? The really melodic stuff always seems to happen at track four.

I dig it.

What can you tell us about that song?

I was writing that on the guitar after I heard the Stones on the radio. It might have been Wild Horses or something like that. I was just jamming on the acoustic and I just ended up writing that one.

There’s some cool whammy bar stuff at the start of Black Sunday. Is that the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple?

Yeah, that’s the GD. He wanted to get his chance on the record! (laughs).

I can just imagine it there. ‘Pick me! Pick me!’

Like I said, man, the Epiphone guys did a great job with the guitar. I use it live now and everything. It’s cool! I’m diggin’ it.

Now, Time Waits For No One. I’ve gotta be careful saying that one because in an Australian accent it sounds like I’m saying ‘Tom Waits for no one.’

(Laughs) Tom Waits for no one! Well he doesn’t, man, because he’s too busy winning all these Academy Awards! Oh man! But yeah, I was just listening to a lot of Mowtown and stuff like that.

It’s cool! I love hearing the piano stuff because there’s some really heavy stuff on this album, but there’s always something to break it up.

It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.

And once again, on this acoustic thread, Chupacatra. That track’s awesome!

I love Al DiMeloa, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and I listen to a bunch of flamenco guitar players as well. They’ve just got such amazing musicians. If you can’t get inspired listening to those guys… you know, like when I’m not doing the metal thing or the hard rock stuff it’s just something new to play. I like watching jazz videos. I’ve got some Allan Holdsworth stuff and John McLaughlin’s instructional video. You can always learn something new and just incorporate it into your playing. But I was sitting on the tour bus a while ago and I ended up writing that thing. I’ve had that sitting around for a while.

Yeah! When I was about 13 my high school music teacher said ‘Stop listening to that metal crap’ and he taped the Guitar Trio album for me. Of course being 13 I didn’t want to listen to it because at teacher told me to, but deep down I thought it was cool.

Well the metal crap’s cool too but it’s all good, you know what I mean? But when you hear the Guitar Trio, McLaughlin, Paco and Al, it’s pretty insane.

Godspeed Hell Bound – I love that one. It’s got that almost thrash thing happening.

Yeah, well you talk about metal! That’s your stock heavy metal song! We were just goofin’ in the studio, just a pile-driving fuckin’ metal death march. That’s what that thing sounds like to me, man. I was watching the military channel writing that riff, watching footage of World War II.

Another one I really dig, and you’ve tucked it towards the end of the album, is Riders of the Damned. That’s like a classic Zakk riff happening there.

Thanks a lot, brother. It reminds me of Zep and Sabbath and my love for all those riffs, you know what I mean?

Now being a guitar geek, it’s time to ask the geeky guitar questions.

No problem at all!

First is, I wanted to know the origin of the pinch harmonic for you. Where did you get it from?

Just from Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top – how he used it in La Grange and everything like that. I asked my guitar teacher ‘What is that he’s doing? How does he get that sound?’ I didn’t know how to do it, but my guitar teacher showed me how to do it. I was like, ‘That’s like the coolest thing.’ But I got it from Billy Gibbons.

So many people do it in the middle of the neck and stuff, and you’re probably the first guy to come out and really hit it on those low notes.

The running joke is, whenever the guys hear other bands do it now, they’re like, Zakk, you getting any royalties for that stuff? When we were out on the Ozzfest, every kid was doing a pinch harmonic and Nick [Catanese, BLS second guitar] was like, ‘You get a quarter for each one.’ He was adding up. ‘Dude, you made $14.50 today!’ That’s like the running joke now. So every time someone hears a pinch harmonic they throw quarters and nickels at me.

Something I like is really cool is the way you use Twitter – you’re almost like a guitar teacher, handing out advice. Have you ever thought of sharing the knowledge through a DVD or something?

Actually yeah! Now that you mention that, I’m actually working on a guitar book right now. So it’s Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Guitar Bible. I’m working on that right now. It’s going to have everything. The players I love, all the gear, all my guitars, just everything. And also, everything from every scale, modes, everything. We’re going to balance it. It’s also going to have a DVD with it. It’ll go through my solos and show you how it works with the scales. So everything correlates and makes sense. And I love doing it. Put it this way: back in the day if I could have got a book by Randy Rhoads when I was 15 years old, I would have been the first one in line for that one.

The new Marshall: what can you tell me about that?

It’s just gonna be another Marshall JCM800 2203, a 100 watt top on steroids. We’re talking about maybe putting together a combo amp, the little baby Marshall, the whole nine yards. The cool collectible stuff. It’s just an ass-kickin’, balls-to-the-wall JCM800 with no bells and whistles. The running joke is, it’s hysterical because it actually goes to eleven. The actual volume knobs all go to eleven. Just for the cheese factor.

I saw something on Twitter the other day you mentioned a Jimmy Page Telecaster replica?

Yeah, it’s my old Telecaster that I used when I did Farm Fiddling [for Guitar World’s Guitars That Rule The World CD in the early 90s]. I’ve got a guy out here who’s going to do the work for me. I’ve got tonnes of pictures of Jimmy using the actual guitar, and I’m going to have one of my buddies, Dan Lawrence, do it. He said ‘Zakk, just give it to me, I’ve got a million pictures of it as well.’ I love Jimmy Page – who doesn’t? – so it’s just something cool to have around the house, you know what I mean?

So what guitars did you use on the new CD?

I just used the Gibson Grail, the ZVs, the GDs, the Rebel.

How’s the Rebel looking these days?

She’s fine, man. The headstock’s been broken off three times but she’s fine.

Do you have any plans for any other new signature stuff coming out soon?

Yeah man! With Dunlop we’re working on another pedal right now. I’ve got this ass-kicking idea for a new pedal. And the chorus pedal, we just put that thing out. I’ve got some other guitar designs I came up with so we might be doing that pretty soon. I’ve got a tonne of stuff going on right now.

How do you use the chorus in your rig?

It’s kind of wide – just to widen everything and sweeten things up. But you can get all those cool sounds. Andy Summers with the Police, he has great chorus sounds. And I love Father Randy with his live tone. Randy’s live tone I thought was even better than what they actually got on vinyl. His live tone was amazing, with the chorus on it. I’ve heard bootlegs that blow Tribute away.

Have you had a chance to check out the new Ozzy CD?

Yeah, what I’ve heard sounds great. Ozz is sounding great, Gus is playing his balls off, I’m happy for Blasko – he’s a Black Label brother – they’re doing great.

Order Of The Black is out now. Here in Australia it’s released through Riot.

 

INTERVIEW: Tony MacAlpine of Seven The Hardway

 

Photo: Alex Solca

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.

 

Photo: Alex Solca

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!

LINKS:
G-Taranaki
Seven The Hardway
Tony MacApline
Ibanez
DiMarzio
Hughes & Kettner

 

INTERVIEW: Slash

Slash’s live juggernaut is soon to hit Australia for Soundwave Touring (as well as New Zealand’s G-TARanaki festival), and the legendary top-hatted one is riding high on the success of his self-titled solo album. It’s not Slash’s first solo project, of course – there was of course Slash’s Snakepit – but it’s his first under his own name, and this particular set of songs, performances and guest vocalists has captured old and new fans in a way not seen since Santana’s Supernatural-led revival. I caught up with Slash to discuss his forthcoming Aussie shows. Incidentally, if you missed out on tickets, Slash has been confirmed for the 2011 Soundwave festival!

I caught the MTV Classic show here in Melbourne recently. That was really cool!
Yeah! That was actually this band’s second live performance. We’d done one a couple weeks prior to that at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and the band had been together for two weeks. It was ‘here’s the songs, learn them and we’ll just go.’ I think that’s the way I like to do things. But it was a cool show!

It really felt like a band already.
I know! I was very fortunate. When I made the record I knew that at some point I was going to be touring on it, and I didn’t know exactly how I was going to put that together. It was going on in the back of my mind as I was putting together the album. At the tail end of the record I met Myles Kennedy, and he did a couple songs on the record, and I was just completely blown away at his vocal abilities, and also as a person. I asked him to do the tour and he signed on. So I knew in myself I had a really capable frontman, and so the most important element in any rock band, aside from the vocals, is the drums. I started looking for drummers, and I got all these references for this guy named Brent Fitz. I took a few drummers into the studio to see which one I wanted to use, and I also met Brent Fitz and had him come down, and he just turned out to be a great drummer. And it was just ironic, getting these references for him from unrelated sources, different people from all over that suddenly knew I was looking for a drummer and recommended this guy. Then I had a bass player in mind, and he came down and did about four rehearsals and I realised he wasn’t the guy, and it was only going to be about a week before our first gig at the Roxy. I was sort of in a pinch, and Brent recommended this guy that he knew from Las Vegas, and Todd Kearns showed up the next day, and he was perfect. And he could sing. And they’re all really, really good blokes. They’re like, f**kin’, great work ethics and obviously great players. We had a chemistry instantly, and that’s really what gave me the confidence to go and do that sort of impromptu Roxy gig then to come to Australia and do the MTV launch. And now we’re 11 gigs into the tour and the band is just pristine. And that to me just seems like a blessing, because you never know what’s going to happen.

That was pretty ballsy, to take your second gig and broadcast it all over the world!
(Laughs) See, a lot of people misconstrue and confuse ballsiness with ignorance! (Laughs) No, I’ve always been like that. You just go for it and see what happens. And maybe it might be ballsy, and a lot of it has to do with just the eagerness to get out there. If you think you have it together to do whatever it is you want to do, just go for it.

The response to your solo CD seems huge.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where I didn’t have any major expectations, I didn’t try to figure out any kind of numbers or anything like that. I just was happy with the record and put it out. But I have to say, in the first week, to get that kind of response on a global level is really way better than having the opposite!

And you’ve got a lot of metalheads listening to Fergie, and she kicks ass on that track!
I know she does, I knew she would! I got familiar with her voice a few years back and I knew she was going to be awesome for this. And she brings a certain amount of sex appeal to a sort of rock n’ roll song, not only because she’s a girl, but because as a person she’s innately got that sort of … I don’t want to put the wrong light on her, but she’s got a certain amount of street smarts and she’s got a certain amount of sex appeal. And her mentality is a little more dark than maybe you might think of her in the Black Eyed Peas, so when she does rock n’roll it sort of drips of lusty sex as opposed to more romantic sex. And that’s her personality for real. I knew it was going to work, and when she delivered the lyrics I was like, ‘wow, that’s perfect.’

Let’s talk about guitar stuff! Could you tell us about your new Seymour Duncan signature pickups?
Yeah! Seymour Duncan is one of those discoveries, that, f**k, it was in 1986 that I first discovered the Seymour Duncan Alnico II, right? And I was familiar with the DiMarzios and Bill Lawrence pickups, and also Seymour Duncan’s, but I hadn’t really picked a favourite at that point. When I got the Chris Derrig Les Paul it had the Seymour Duncan Alnico IIs in it, and that was just one of those sounds, the combination of the guitar and the amp or whatever, that I was really, really pleased with. After the record was done, that guitar became my guitar. It was great sounding, and that was the only guitar I had! And later on, whenever I put a guitar together, like I ended up getting these two Les Paul Standards in 1988, and I put those same Seymour Duncan Alnico IIs in it, and it’s been my main pickup ever since. But I’ve never had a Slash model pickup because I really couldn’t conceive of anything to do to the Seymour Duncan Alnico II design to expand on that. So I never did a Slash model until just recently, when we were doing the Gibson model of the Derrig guitar. I had the idea of going in and re-inventing the original Alnico II from 1986, because everything evolves over time, and now theyr’e using a couple of different components and what-not. So we put together these old-school Alnico IIs, and that became the Slash model, which are really, really great. So when you buy a Gibson ‘Appetite’ guitar, that’s what’s in them: the USA and the Custom Shop, and they’ll be in the Epiphones when they come out too. But you can buy them separately now too.

I saw you using a Les Paul with a Floyd Rose live.
Oh the Axcess! Yeah! The tremolo bar is something I don’t use all the time, but there’s always one song per record where I’m like, ‘I need a tremolo bar!’ And I’d been using a BC Rich Mockingbird for years for that particular purpose, and the only thing about the Mockingbird is it’s not as thick or aggressive volume-wise as the Les Pauls, so I’ve always felt from on stage that there was a dip in the overall attack of my guitar sound as soon as I put on the BC Rich, and I always sort of grinned and bore it, for years, just because of the tremolo bar. Anyway, Gibson came out with the Axcess Les Paul, and I always felt it was kinda sacrilege to rout out a Les Paul for a Floyd Rose, but since they had done it themselves, y’know, I thought I’d give it a shot!

What can you tell us about your ‘Brauerburst,’ the modified Les Paul you bought from Andy Brauer?
He sold me one of his reissues, which was a specific year for a certain kind of reissue which was very spot-on with the original guitar. It’s a really nice Les Paul Standard ’59 reissue. It was set up great, and it’s actually one of the only times I haven’t replaced the pickups with Seymour Duncans [ed. note: the guitar has Sheptone AB Custom humbuckers). And it has a really nice, old school kind of feel to it. And that’s the main guitar from him that I have. I had him set up a couple of guitars when I was in the studio. He’s really good.

How’s the new Marshall AFD100 coming along?
It’s great! It’s basically done but I had a couple tweaks I wanted done to it. It’s ready for me to hear now but I’m in the middle of this crazy festival tour so I haven’t had a moment to sit with it. So I’m going to hear it at some point between now and the middle of July. [NOTE: A week after the interview was conducted, Slash got to try the latest version of the head, and liked it so much he used it on stage that night]. It sounds f**king amazing. Santiago over at Marshall really outdid itself. The whole reason for the AFD amp and the Appetite guitar, it was a novelty for all these super fans who a really gear-heads who are trying to emulate the sound from the Appetite for Destruction record. We did it for the guitar but the key component to that sound was the amp. And back in the day it was just an amp that sounded good. Amps really are inconsistent when it comes to time. It might sound good at one point, and sound completely different, not having changed a thing about it, five or ten years later or even in a different venue. So I never really treated amps the way I’d treat a particular guitar. So I knew that all these people were trying to recreate the sound from the Appetite record, and the thing about that record is it was a particular amp with a particular studio with a particular studio and particular guys at a particular time, and it is what it is. But there is a recognisable tone that comes directly off of the amp that I decided, let’s have Marshall go to the source and try and recreate what that identifiable tone is. So I stripped some tracks off of the actual Appetite masters. I used ‘Night Train’ and ‘Welcome To The Jungle,’ and I used those as a reference and gave it to Santiago, and he delivered an amp that has this particular harmonic structure, and a gain structure that has a particular harmonic value to it, and a certain kind of a midrangey thing, and also a certain kind of a gain that gives it a sort of …it’s hard to verbally describe but it’s a very attacky, but very midrangey and soft-sounding, honky-sounding tone which really sounds great. He managed to reinvent that, and he’s really succeeded. The final tweak was I wanted more bottom end. It’s already got a really tight bottom end and I wanted to get a little thicker-sounding without getting muddy. And then it’ll come out. It’ll come out some time before the end of the year. It’s going to be a limited edition, I’m not sure to what extent but it’s not going to be as limited as the Custom Shop Les Pauls are, but the last time I did a run of limited Marshalls they did a sizeable run.

And finally, could you tell us a bit about your signature Crybaby?
The key thing about the Slash model Crybaby is it’s got this boost in it, a gain button which is really an ‘out of control’ button. You really have to be set up right to be able to use it without taking everybody’s heads off. But it’s wonderful in the studio. I did a recording with Alice Cooper recently and I did a song called ‘Vengeance Is Mine,’ and the guitar tone is just my Crybaby into a Marshall, and it’s really f**king intense sounding, and it’s just that boost button, which is adjustable – you take the plate off the pedal and adjust those frequencies and that kind of stuff. But without the boost it’s really more of an adjustable Crybaby. Pretty cool tone though!

Well that’s our time up. This has been really cool, thanks so much!
I know, it’s good talking to you, it’s been really cool to do a guitar interview in the midst of all these other f**king publications! I enjoyed it, thanks.

 

INTERVIEW: John 5

John 5′s resume reads like a who’s who of hard rock and heavy metal frontmen. Having held down jobs with such diverse acts as Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth, Rob Halford, and now Rob Zombie, John 5 is well versed in the art of playing on other peoples’ records – check out his killer work on Zombie’s latest CD, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, where he adds all sorts of greasy blues-influenced licks to Zombie’s brand of dark rock. For his own solo work though, John 5 combines his equal loves of metal, rock, shred and even country into a distinctive sound, capped off with the stunning displays of guitar technique that he rarely got to show off in his various high-profile day jobs (well, maybe with DLR). I caught up with John 5 to discuss his fifth CD, The Art Of Malice, which is out now.

 

Did you start with a concept for The Art Of Malice?

Well it was my fifth instrumental record, so it was very special for me. It was something that was… I wanted everything in there. Everything and the kitchen sink. All kinds of music, all bits and pieces going everywhere. Country, heavy rock, metal, acoustic, Spanish flamenco, everything is in there. So I wanted to do it all.

And also, Steve Vai’s got his whole ‘seven’ thing, how the seventh track on each of his albums is the big ballad and all that stuff. You’ve managed to beat him by having your number be five!

(Laughs) That’s true!

One of my favourite things on the album is the title track, where we can hear you flip the pickup switch…

Oh yeah!

I love that because usually you’d edit that kind of thing out, but hearing little details like this is just great!

Oh yeah! I like doing things in one take, not chopping them all up but just doing certain things and not overdubbing.

What can you tell us about that track?

The true story is, I was doing a clean guitar part for the song The Nightmare Unravels, and I was testing the clean sound and I was playing around with some licks and stuff like that, and we were recording it to see how the clean sound was, and so I could listen back to it, and it sounded so good the engineer was like, ‘We should make this a little track.’ I kept working on it and doing a couple of different things to make it a little longer, but I think it came out really good. So it was kind of an improv thing, a spontaneous piece of music that really came out really nice.

How much of your work is improvised?

None! (Laughs) None! Really, it’s all, everything is planned out and everything is thought out and tried and turned around, and things like that. WIth this kind of stuff it’s very difficult to do so I don’t improvise at all!

Where did you record the album?

What I did was I would write at home, then I would rehearse, rehearse, rehearse at home. I would just get it all down, then I would go into a studio, and usually the track would get done in somewhere close to an hour because I was so rehearsed. I knew what I was doing, so it was mostly getting it down at home.

I hate being one of those journalists who is like ‘Well I read on Wikipedia,’ but…

(Laughs) No, that’s fine!

But I read that with David Lee Roth, when you recorded the DLR Band album, that was only two weeks?

Yeah! We recorded and mixed it and everything in two weeks. And it was all done at like 6 o’clock in the morning, too! I was playing with Rob Halford too, so we would rehearse at noon, and Dave would want be before Rob Halford, so we would rehearse at six in the morning. True story!

Speaking of DLR, your track Ya Dig, with Billy Sheehan, has a bit of the same vibe as Slam Dunk from the DLR Band album.

Yeah! And the reason it’s called Ya Dig is because Dave’s a good friend of mine, and when he talks, when people say ‘y’know,’ they say ‘y’know’. But what Dave says is ‘ya dig?’ like ‘Maybe we should go to the beach, ya dig? They have this great food there, ya dig?’ And there is nobody but Billy Sheehan who does the Billy Sheehan bass playin’. It was incredible. Incredible. Oh man, he’s the best.

There’s a bit of slide on the album. When did you get into slide?

I love slide. I’ve always been into slide. I love Pink Floyd and David Gilmour, but everyone always looks at me as this crazy shredder and stuff like that. But I really wanted to show people that I love music, and I love guitar playing, and I love guitars. Can I Live Again, with that nice melody and all that, that’s one of the most popular songs on the album. It’s really cool because I’m reaching everybody. There’s everything on there for everybody.

I love the little honky midrange tone at the start of Steel Guitar Rag.

 

I’m using my Fender Broadcaster on that. We just took a lot of the lows out in the studio, and then it kicks in with that nice steel guitar rag, and it’s one of my favourite tracks on the record. It’s hard to play with a clean tone but it’s one of my favourite things to do. When I’m on tour I always have a guitar in my hand, and I have a little battery powered amp, and it doesn’t get a lot of distortion, so it’s always clean.

There’s a cool cover of Ace Frehley’s Fractured Mirror

I loved KISS when I was a kid, and that was my introduction to instrumental music. It’s my tribute, saying thank you to Ace.

And Last Page Turned sounds like a tribute to Jimmy Page?

That’s right. My favourite stuff was always his acoustic work on Physical Graffiti and Led Zeppelin 3. That’s where I got it. He’s amazing. I love him.

Now: guitar talk! The Fender J5 Triple Tele Deluxe is awesome!

Thanks! Everybody knows I love my Telecasters. It was the first solidbody electric guitar in 1950, and I just started playing Teles early on in my life, but no-one really played them in rock and metal that much, so I kinda wanted to design them so more people were able to enjoy this incredible instrument. So that’s why I designed the Triple Tele. It’s kind of like the Black Beauty Les Paul. And there’s a lot of chrome on it and it looks amazing and it sounds incredible. But I just put out a Squier version of my main model, and it’s priced to sell. Everyone can afford one of those, and they’re great guitars. You’ll have those forever. I have one with me in the studio. All the guitars Fender produces for me are unbelievable.

Yeah, the quality of Squiers is so much better than the stuff I started out with!

Absolutely, of course! They’re great, great guitars, and they’re very inexpensive so everybody can afford them, but they’re fabulous guitars. I’m online playing them, and I love it. I love it.

And the Telecaster in general is such an immediate-sounding instrument. Why do you think they’re not so much associated with rock?

I think because when it came out in the early 50s, rock n’roll wasn’t even around yet – y’know, rock n’roll didn’t really come in until 1955 – and everybody played Teles and they just played country music. So I think they got pigeonholed really quickly as being a country guitar. But y’know, in the 60s and 70s, Steely Dan played a Tele… the Stones of course, the Beatles, Jimmy Page. I started playing it in Manson, and Jim Root plays one in Slipknot and Stone Sour, so it’s my favourite guitar. It’s the best in the world.

The J5 Bigsby Telecaster is very cool.

I just play with the Bigsby a little bit for vibrato and things like that, and at the ends of songs you’ll hear me shake it and things like that. But I love the Bigsby, y’know? I really love it. I think it looks rad and I think it sounds rad, y’know?

And I believe you’re using DiMarzio D Activator pickups?

Yeah. To be completely honest, I’m not a huge tone chaser. I love guitars, but I’m not a huge amp guy. But pickups …Larry DiMarzio’s a friend of mine and he’s always like, ‘Oh you’ve got to check these out.’ And they just sounded so good. That’s how I am in the studio: if it sounds good, ‘alright, cool!’ Some people will fiddle with sounds for hours and hours but I just don’t think I have the patience for it, for just trying to find that perfect sound. But I think that’s why I have great engineers to do it for me. Because I’ll plug into a little battery-powered amp and play, just as long as I can play. Your fingers will get that tone for you. Eddie Van Halen says ‘I can pick up any guitar and I sound like Eddie Van Halen,’ because it’s in his fingers.

Any guitars on your wish list that you don’t have yet?

Yes! A Fender Nocaster. What the Nocaster was is, Fender came out with their first guitar in 1950, which was the Broadcaster, and they got sued by Gretsch, who had the Broadcaster drum set. So Fender had to take the Broadcaster part off of the headstock. So the collectors call them Nocasters. This was in 1951. So that’s what I’m looking for!

Do you have any plans to come down to Australia any time soon?

Actually yes! We might come down there with Zombie in February. I’m hoping, because it’s one of my favourite places in the world, but that plane ride’s a son of a bitch! It’s a long one.

The Art Of Malice is out now via Riot Entertainment. Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is out now on Roadrunner.