INTERVIEW: Fabrizio Grossi of Soul Garage Experience

Fabrizio Grossi has previously drifted through the I Heart Guitar transom via his work in Supersonic Blues Machine, an all-star powerhouse trio with Kenny Aronoff and Kris Barras. Now, with a little bit of pandemic downtime on his hands, Fabrizio has stepped into the spotlight with Soul Garage Experience, a funky, groovy, addictively uplifting outfit who has just birthed the album Counterfeited Blues (for the Soulstice), out September 10.



Peter: 
This this feels like music I’m gonna enjoy over the summer. I’ve interviewed Kenny Aronoff about Supersonic Blues Machine and I was aware of what you’re up to, but this new project is really you kind of striking out on your own, right?
Fabrizio: Yeah. Actually Kenny plays on a couple of tracks on the record. These are some songs that we already had down for a few years, like older songs. Some are songs that I took from the batch that was preparing for the new Supersonic Blues Machine record that I din’t think would fit it no more, for what we’re trying to do, and they sounded more like what I would do. And then some other stuff was written during the pandemic. So, um, I, you know, I think it was about time for me to do this cause I wanted to get more busy. It looks like a busy year next year for Supersonic in terms of touring when we have a new record coming out and all of it.
Fabrizio: But because of the nature of that band and my life, the last five years, six years of my life were dedicated fully to that and I had to set a lot of my production work aside. So I wanted to have another output where whenever I was not able to go out with Supersonic because of the dynamic of that band; everything needs to be planned very well in advance with Supersonic. Well, I wanted to get something that was a little bit easier to handle for the daily tasks. In other words, I would say Supersonic is like Sunday shoes. You know, it’s like your church dress, whereas this is more like your sneakers which are very, very comfortable and which is what you will probably will wear the most of the time.
Peter: You know what, I love the name too, because it’s very evocative. I mean, I want to hang out at the Soul Garage, right?
Fabrizio: Yeah. I will say that has a very hip-hop approach to it because I see it not only as the name of this band of musicians that is playing with me on this thing, but also it’s the name of the studio and the production company; a lot of the stuff that we’re doing is falling under the name Soul Garage Experience, because what we bring with the band, it’s an experience. It’s not just a band at the end of the day, it’s like, this is like my baby but I can not go on stage alone, and I have a bunch of friends that I’m playing along with who also bring their own thing. So it’s a very community-oriented type of type of situation.
Everything that I’ve been sent, it’s always very uplifting. I’m really incredibly humble and appreciative of that response. So I guess it gives me hope that my agent can secure some spots across the planet and especially in your land. I always wanted to come and play Australia! So agents and promoters, if you are there, if you’re listening, Soul Garage Experience will love to come and play in Australia!
Peter: So you mentioned some of this was written during the pandemic.
Fabrizio: So basically the old COVID-19 screwed up everything completely and basically turned the whole thing in an utter clusterfuck. However, I’m a Buddhist, so I believe that behind every wall, there is an opportunity to go even higher. And I see this as an opportunity to do things. I mean, it gave me the opportunity to finish something that otherwise probably was going to get shelved again, because something else would have to take over in terms of priority. And it probably also gave me lot more time to reflect. I mean, at least on a personal level.
So like now that it’s like where they say ‘You don’t know what you got until it’s gone,’ well now, you can’t travel. I have friends, family, and people that I’m very close to all over the world. I’m not kidding. You know, I’m not trying to exaggerate, I’m saying all over the world. So knowing that maybe this summer I’m going to end up in Israel after all and see all my people over there, or this winter going to Brazil. And you just take it for granted and especially for us as musicians, that’s your thing, the thing that you fought all your life for and you cannot do it any more because of this situation.
It makes you really appreciate what we were doing before. I’ve been talking to a lot of friends of mine that have had the opportunity and the blessing to be able to go out and tour right now this summer and they do not approach this as they did before. In other words, they’re way more appreciative and humbled every single time they able to set foot on the stage. So I think those are the good things, but people lost businesses, houses, and being musicians means we do not have the income of records no more because nobody buys records …and the streaming it’s like, you know, pennies on the dollar. No, it’s panties on the dollar, and when you remove your panties, generally you tend to get screwed!
So basically live and merch are the only two things that really allow musicians to make a living. I don’t want to get into a music business masterclass, but it’s quite complicated and not everyone was able to receive the necessary support to face this catastrophe. And I really feel bad for them because it’s just not right. At the end of the day, everybody enjoys music, everybody enjoys concerts, getting together over a particular song or particular movie. But then again with this pandemic, all of a sudden we’re considered not essential no more. Okay, cool. We’re not essential. How about I’m going to shut off the radio and the TV, you know, you can have your news if you want, shut off any movies and entertainment stuff, and the radio, and any source of music for the 2, 3, 4 months that you’re going to be in lockdown, then you’re going to tell me how crazy you’re going to go. And then you tell me if we’re not important.
Peter: Yeah, it’s like ‘Well enjoy spending time with your brain, morons!’. So let’s talk about equipment because I’m a big nerd. I’ve seen you with some cool Ibanez Soundgears.
Fabrizio: I’m an Ibanez man! I never had an instrument in my life that’s so easy to play. It plays by itself. It’s like it shouldn’t be legal. It has its own Ibanez electronics and pickup, and it sounds fantastic. It even has possibly too many options for me! I mean, I understand they make these instruments for everybody, so you need to make everybody happy from the salsa player to the metal guy. But I’d just be well enough off with volume, tone and pick up selector. But I will say that I can dial a bunch of different things and I can get close to a lot of different sounds, in terms of to adjust for different songs, like you will do in a pop session. And I use a bunch of pedals all the time. I never really go clean. My main pedal is the MarkBass Compressore, which is probably one of the best compressors ever made, to a point where I finally convinced Marco, the owner of MarkBass, to make it like studio version, because I used it often on mixes.You don’t hear it but you feel it. And then I have a bunch of different pedals like an old SansAmp which I used to use that back in the days when we were still recording on tape. I sometimes re-amp tracks through that. Sometimes I create a parallel circuit that gives it enough additional bite.I always use sounds and effects and all that. I do not like bass straight from the instrument to the mixer. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic sound for a lot of things, but not for me.

https://youtu.be/bNidpxoycn4

Peter: Yeah. Now I’ve got to ask: you play with one of my all-time favorite drrummers, Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros. What’s it like to lock in with that guy? He has such a cool sound to me.
Fabrizio: I think Stephen is probably the most creative drummer I’ve ever played with. He is very spontaneous. It’s funny because often when he sets up his stuff, it devolves into these jazz rhythms and stuff, but not like what most people think in terms of jazz fusion: I mean almost like a Gene Krupa kind of vibe. I told him if he was not a drummer in a rock band, or probably in his past life, he was a saxophone player in a jazz band from the 30s or 40s.
But also Perkins likes soul music and especially the real trippy stuff. And he’s a major Fela Kuti fan – Fela Kuti obviously being the genius that he was, the black Frank Zappa before Frank Zappa. It has those kinds of elements with Perkins when he sits behind the drums. And the fact that he plays barefoot I think is looking for the most organic approach with his instrument.
Peter: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for your time. This has been a really fun chat and I love the music. And like I said, it’s going to be the soundtrack to my summer.
Fabrizio: Thank you so much. I really, really, really, really appreciate it. Uh, and I’m glad that there is more and more people that like this, and especially in Australia where I really hope I can go and play with the band!
Peter: Yeah, we need all the good, fun, danceable, uplifting music we can get right now.
Fabrizio: Great. Well, thank you so much again, appreciate it.

I Was A Teenage Ibanez Geek

I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1990. I was 12 years old, sitting in the lounge room watching a short-lived music show called Countdown Revolution. They cut to a filmed interview segment with one Mr Steve Vai. You can see it here because the internet is amazing.

I immediately recognised Steve as that cool dude swinging his guitar around his neck in a few David Lee Roth videos that had made a huge impression on me when I was 9 or 10. The interview was about his then brand-new solo album, Passion And Warfare, and he described the process of designing his 7-string guitar, the Universe. I remember him saying it was especially good for rock, blues, jazz or heavy metal, and that he took the idea to “Ibanez, the company that makes guitars for me.”

I immediately filed that away in the mental piggy bank, sure it would pay off later.

I still remember the first Ibanez guitar I ever played – a used JEM7PBK at Custom Music in Lavington. Christmas was approaching and my dad said I could get a good guitar that year. It was now 1993 and my first electric, a Status brand Stratocaster copy, had served me well for a few years but it spent as much time in pieces getting repaired as it did as a whole being played. I was now way into Vai, and I immediately recognised the sound of that guitar’s PAF Pro pickups as being a big part of his tone on several key Passion And Warfare cuts.

But alas, even Santa’s’ generosity has its limits and the Jem was just a few hundred dollars out of his reach. So I looked at the other guitars on the rack. After very briefly perusing a Washburn, I seized upon a pair of Ibanezes just to the left of the Jem. One was an EX series, which to me looked showy and tacky, with fake gold parts and what even I could tell was a fake flamed maple top. I’d seen one of those at school and I knew they were made in Korea and were cheaper models. Hell, the headstock didn’t even have that awesome Ibanez ‘swoosh’ logo. But next to that, I saw her.

There was no model number on the tag, but on inspection I gleaned a few things: This was a Japanese-made Ibanez, with the same Edge bridge as the Jem next to it, and with the ‘swoosh’ logo. It was the same colour (which I later learned was called ‘Jewel Blue’) as the cool pink-pickup-loaded Paul Gilbert model Ibanez I’d seen in Melbourne a few months earlier. I checked the price. I checked with Santas’ helper. Approval was granted, and I marched out of the store with my first Ibanez. After a while, I started to learn a bit about Ibanez guitars, and I noticed that this one didn’t really fit in with anything I knew about its contemporaries. It had an unsculpted block heel neck joint – completely square like a Strat, not contoured, carved or otherwise streamlined like other models. The neck plate said ‘Made In Japan.’ It had a genuine Edge bridge, even though I knew it probably should have had a LO TRS. And the pickups were probably not the V7 and V8 series I’d seen on RG470s at a few local guitar stores, because they didn’t have anything stamped on them and the pole pieces weren’t black – six were steel-lookin’ slot-head screws and the other six were steel-lookin’ slugs.

It wasn’t until a few years later, after I had discovered Jemsite, that I learned I could find out the model number by removing the neck and seeing what was stamped there. I was surprised to see that it was an RG370, a model number I had associated with cheaper, Korean-built models. Occasionally a skeptic will tell me my guitar can’t possibly be an RG370 if it’s Japanese and has an Edge, but I’ve seen the proof myself and I kinda like having a slightly unusual Ibanez, even if it’s not exactly one of the top-shelf models.

I’ve asked around in the industry and nobody seems to have a definitive answer on this but the general ‘I think this is what happened…’ consensus from various Ibanez and associated folk is that it might have been a special order by the local distributor. That seems to be borne out by this entry to the Ibanez Wiki, which says it was just for Australia and New Zealand.

Since then I’ve had a few interesting and/or noteworthy Ibanezes: an RGR480 with reverse headstock and deep wine finish (like a reverse sunburst, with purple on the outside fading to black in the middle); a sparkly silver Talman TC825 with Bigsby tremolo; an RG7420 with the neck stamped RG7620, which has an extremely thin neck compared to my actual RG7620; an RG550MXX roadflare red 20th anniversary reissue; and a Charleston model flat-top acoustic with jazz guitar-style f-holes. Then there are my Jem (7VWH) and Universe (777BK), and my first-year 1987 RG550BK. All great guitars, all with their own sentimental stories.

My poor old RG370 is now in need of an electronics overhaul and a fret job, but I still drag it out every now and then and am always impressed by how the guitar’s character has evolved and enhanced over the years. There’s a tightness to the bass frequencies and smoothness to the attack that are unique to this guitar compared to others in my collection, which I can only attribute to the thicker neck joint. One day, if Ibanez ever makes my signature model (hey, it could happen, right?), I’m sure I’ll take a few design cues from that guitar. Although I’ll probably make sure the model number is printed somewhere that’s easily visible, to avoid a lot of confusion for some poor kid some time in the future.

I’m writing the definitive book on Passion And Warfare

News time: I’m writing a book!

It’s about the creation of Steve Vai’s Passion And Warfare album: the concept, the music-business deal-wrangling, the gear, the recording process, the creative exercises involved in getting into the headspace to make this stuff happen, and much more. There’s a lot of great info in the Passion & Warfare tab book which I know a lot of you may have already read, but there’s more below the surface. A lot more.

Steve very generously gave me a chunk of his time to answer all the questions I’ve had about this landmark album over the years, and we had an amazing chat last week. We talked about the origins of the Ibanez Universe, the surprising choice of main 6-string guitar on the album (hint: it’s not a Jem), how many amps blew up in the recording of ‘The Riddle,’ more detail on how the album bounced from Capitol to Relativity Records and some pretty damn deep metaphysical stuff.

Several other people involved in the album or subsequently inspired by it have agreed to be interviewed. I’ll be talking to Darren Johansen and I’m trying to line up time with David Coverdale right now. The final chapter will be about the legacy of the album so I’m working on getting a wide variety of Vai-influenced guitarists from the last 30 years to talk about how the album inspired them.

My original intention is that it will be picked up by 33 1/3 because that seems like a perfect home for it, but to be honest this thing is already kind of outgrowing the scope of their classic-album books so perhaps I’ll shop it around. (I already have a publisher for another book that I just got a deal for). I’d love to see it come out through Hal Leonard because half my damn bookshelf is from them!

This feels like something that a lot of musicians can learn from whether they’re guitarists or not, Vai fans or not, because the lessons involved in bringing this record to the world are extremely inspiring and instructive, and Steve has graciously shared details far beyond anything I’ve read before.

 

Hey there, Ibanez MSM100.

Often on Twitter I’ll post little ‘Guitar Crush Of The Day’ pics. I figured I’d do a little blog post about today’s one because what the hell. It’s the Ibanez MSM100 signature model for Marco Sfogli, who I first heard through his incredible work with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie. Marco’s style is a little similar to John Petrucci – not enough to sound like a clone, but enough to serve as a really strong bridge between LaBrie’s identities in Dream Theater and as a solo artist. His Ibanez signature model is based on the AZ series but with plenty of unique twists. It has a DiMarzio Air Norton in the neck position and a Tone Zone in the bridge, a classic combination that gives you big chunky power chords and plenty of overtones and gorgeous mids on single notes. This guitar is rocking a Petrucci-esque wiring scheme where the middle position is coil-split, and it has a distinctive Fabula Green Burst finish that looks even better in person than it does in pics.

More info here.

New Premium Ibanez Jem Brings Back Ebony Fretboard

The Ibanez JEM7VWH has been Steve Vai’s main instrument since it was released at the time of the Sex & Religion album in 1993. Upon release it had a Lo Pro Edge tremolo, an Ebony fingerboard and Vai’s new DiMarzio Evolution humbucking pickups. Since then the VWH has undergone a few changes, including the switch to an Edge Pro tremolo and then to an original Edge, but by far the biggest change that really riled up the Jem community when it happened was the decision to move from an Ebony fingerboard to a Rosewood one in 2004. Sure, this gave the Jem a slightly warmer tone (which helped to cool down those very aggressive Evolutions) but many players preferred the more direct tone and smooth feel of Ebony. 

Now Ibanez is releasing a Premium version of the JEM7VWH, the JEM7VP, which brings back that sweet sweet Ebony fingerboard. There are a couple of other key differences between this and the Japan-made VWH though: it has Jumbo frets and a 5-piece Maple/Walnut Wizard neck instead of the JEM neck shape and narrow/tall 6105 frets, and the Premium’s fingerboard radius is a little more subtly rounded than the VWH.

I can imagine a lot of players being very happy with this model. A) It’s more affordable than the VWH which is a seriously-priced piece of kit; B) Yay Ebony; C) The smaller frets and flatter radius of the WVH just don’t feel as Ibanezzy to players who are used to the RG neck. One point to note: it does not have scallops on frets 21-24.

This is also pretty smart marketing by Ibanez. It gives players something in between the top-of-the-line JEM7VWH and the budget JEM Jr, a guitar that a lot of folks buy to upgrade to more VWH-like specs. 

I used to have a VWH and while it was a phenomenal guitar, eventually I traded it for a Strat because it just never really felt like ‘mine.’ But I’m certainly tempted to get the JEM7VP because there will always be a place in my heart for the white Jem, and I think I would like this model’s neck a little more. What do you think?

Shredfest ’93, Or The Paul Gilbert Duet That Never Was

Mr Big

I’m a daydreamer. I always have been. One of my current favourite hobbies is going to zillow.com to check out super-expensive homes for sale or rent in Laurel Canyon, then kinda just blissing out over the idea of waking up there, making a coffee, strolling out to the deck with an acoustic guitar and tweedling out some licks while while taking in the aroma of the eucalyptus trees. I’ve met people who don’t daydream at all, or who mistake daydreaming with goal-setting. I’d bloody love to live in Laurel Canyon but I’m not actively working towards it and I’m not fussed if it never happens: it’s just nice to go there in my head for a bit. Anyway, while pondering the nature of daydream recently, I remembered one of my favourite daydreams.

It was in December 1991. My family used to go to the seaside town of Bermagui every year right after Christmas. The seven-hour drive was always pretty brutal, but by ’91 I had a kickass tape deck that fit right behind my seat in dad’s four-door Ford F-150. Jam some headphones in that sucker, crack open a MAD Magazine and zone out until the next pee/snack break (my favourite was the town of Adaminaby, with its giant Rainbow Trout sculpture. Seriously, you’ve gotta go see that thing). That year my brother Steve gave me Mr. Big’s Lean Into It album for Christmas, and I brought it along for the ride, along with a few of my other favourites at the time: Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare, Metallica’s ‘Black’ album, Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

img_0161So here’s where the daydream comes in. I remember this as clear as if it happened yesterday. As I listened to Lean Into It‘s opening track “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy” I started to think about how awesome it would be to record a song with Paul Gilbert. I could picture it all so clearly. It would be an instrumental shred duet. We’d both be playing Ibanez PGM models because Paul would totally have given me one because we’d be best mates of course. Our song would start with a driving riff then kick into an awesome call-and-response verse. Then badass harmony chorus. An even wilder call-and-response second verse. Badass harmony chorus again. Then we’d each take extended solos. Paul’s would be really cool. Mine would utterly wipe the floor with him. I mean it would slay that dude. Poor Paul. And he’d be cool about it, of course, because he’s such a nice guy. And we’d make a video for it. It would be Paul and I, walking along a highway (the highway we happened to be driving along while I was having the daydream), kickin’ dirt on the side of the road. The camera would focus on a nearby snake before re-focusing onto me and Paul shredding on the road in the distance. We’d do some takes of us shredding in the middle of grassy fields. Maybe put a foot up on a fallen tree for a killer rockstar pose.

And the name of the track would be “Shredfest ’93” because I was a realist and I figured I wouldn’t be good enough to wipe the floor with Paul Gilbert within one calendar year, but I’d probably be able to do it by ’93.

Of course part of the thing about daydreams is they’re allowed to be impossible.

https://youtu.be/OD-C-oS–xQ

INTERVIEW: Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares

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The mighty Fear Factory is touring Australia this June in support of their latest album Genexus, but this tour has a twist: fans have been invited to submit songs for the setlist. It’s a cool opportunity to hear some less-common tracks and to feel like even more a part of the show than the typical Fear Factory fan frenzy allows. Last week I caught up with riffmaster Dino Cazares to chat about the tour and, of course, guitars.

So you’re letting fans have a say in the setlist. Read More …

The World’s First 24-Fret 7-String Shred Machine?

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I was just scanning some recent guitar auctions, as I am wont to do, and I saw something super cool at a Guernsey’s auction from February 27: Tony Mottola’s 1952 7-string, 24-fret Gibson Custom Super 400CES. Mottola was a legendary session musician who played with Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also played in the Doc Severinson Orchestra on The Tonight Show. This guitar has a carved spruce top with maple back and sides, and custom P90 pickups with seven pole pieces. It was offered for auction with its original hard case and a copy of the production ledger for March 1992. The serial number is A 9934. What an amazing piece of history. Following are some more guitars – including instruments belonging to Eddie Van Halen and Richie Sambora – but first here are some more pics of the 7-string: Read More …