Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ron Jarzombek interview – The shred veteran talks about his new album and upcoming DVD

What steps have you taken to forge a career in the music industry?
Well, I've hung in there for almost a quarter century now. Perseverance counts for a lot. I've never been able to make a living solely off playing original music, whether it was with Slayer who were a pretty big local band in San Antonio at the time, WatchTower where I still haven't seen a dime in royalties almost 20 years after the release of 'Control And Resistance', Spastic Ink, or my solo projects. Although things on that front are improving because the Internet has opened up new avenues for distribution - digital and otherwise - around the world and helps connect you with people everywhere. These are some pretty exciting times, especially for indie artists, although there is obviously also a major downside with all the rampant illegal downloading. But, hopefully enough people value my music enough to where they want 'the real thing' rather than just an mp3 off some torrent. My latest album, BLOTTED SCIENCE - 'The Machinations of Dementia', with Alex Webster from Cannibal Corpse and Charlie Zeleny from Behold... The Arctopus, is doing quite well and it's still early in the game.

What does a normal Day in your life entail?
I teach five days a week for 5-6 hour each day (which happens in the middle of the day) so I usually have a few hours before and after I teach to work on my own things. If I’m working on a CD, I usually write during the day, then record at night. Alex (Webster) and I started writing the BLOTTED SCIENCE material in early ’05, so it’s probably been a few hundred days of staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 AM writing/recording to get it completed. I also do most of the graphics on my CDs, and just about all of the production, so I take care of that stuff whenever I have free time. Since the Blotted CD has been out I’m taking CD orders and filling them, making a few trips to the post office weekly, doing online interviews, keeping track of the bookkeeping, working with my manager/handling distributors details, website updates, etc.. I gig locally once or twice a week (Fridays and Saturdays mostly) with a Rush tribute band here in town. I’m also working on the guitar instructional DVDs right now, so I’m pulling up tracks from both Ink CDs, the solo and the Blotted CDs, getting remixes, muting out guitar tracks that I’m going to be playing over, doing theoretical animations, transcribing LOTS of my songs and solos, practicing them so I can video tape them soon. And now BLOTTED SCIENCE is thinking about taking it to the stage, so I’m running over that material, too.

What makes Blotted Science unique in terms of style, band dynamics, etc?
For me it was something new because I wanted different influences on this recording. Of course, I had to pull up some death metal CDs since I was working with the chief of death metal in Alex Webster. I had to learn where the music was coming from, and try to get the right vibe across. I also listened to lots of Lamb of God recordings (Chris Adler was the original drummer) and also tried to capture that vibe, and put it all together and create something new and different. Alex brought in the extreme heavy shit and it all just came together. The difficult part was when Chris Adler couldn’t get the recordings done mostly due to time constraints and trying to work long distance, and so we were stuck with the task of finding a drummer to take what was written with Chris in mind, but put his own stamp on the material. I heard maybe one Behold… The Arctopus song to realize that Charlie could cut the gig. And watching him play live only confirmed it.

What are you trying to achieve compositionally?
Alex and I had a few dozen or so parts of songs written but it took a few months before we came up with the brain disorder concept and to fit the musical ideas with song titles. The way we wrote ‘Machinations’ was by sending sheet music and mp3s in attachments via the Internet. Alex uses PowerTab and I use Encore for writing/sequencing, so we both had the program on our computers, and just transferred tunes back and forth. I had a list of song titles and ideas that I wanted to convey with the music, noting what songs I wanted near death metal, which were to be rather quiet and spooky, which were more tech-y and complicated, heavy and straightforward, etc.. Lots of music on ‘Machinations’ follows specific themes in song titles and some follow them as if they are film scores. I’ve always been into concepts, which of course came from Rush. We first came up with the sleep concept, and that evolved into the brain disorders. The whole thing really came into place quite easily. Song titles fit the various music segments with very little effort, and I think it shows on the CD.If there is another BLOTTED SCIENCE album, we’ll most likely stick with the idea of staying very tech, and on the EXTREME metal side of things. As far as the playing on the CD, I’ve always believed that you play what the song calls for, and it’s in the writing that you set that up. I hate when players overplay, and I don’t get much into the whole wankfest vibe. Sure that’s fine for some players, but I’m more into instruments working together to get something across. Having a full band pay a simple vamp while some soloist is blowing his wad never really did much for me. Now if you’ve got all band members playing some wacky shit, all focused on the composition rather than forcing in their favorite triplet 32nd lick that they discovered last week, that’s a great thing. You’ll notice that on just about every CD that I’m on, whether it would be solo CDs, WatchTower, Spastic Ink, or BLOTTED SCIENCE, sure there is ‘shredding’ all over the place, but songs come first, what the players do within those organized structures comes after. Listen to the material on ‘Machinations’ - it’s made up of compositions, not a bunch of wanking going nowhere. Again, I think there is WAY too much emphasis on ‘shred’ these days. I’ve seen too many videos on YouTube where some guitar guys is ‘shredding’ his ass off, then comes in a simple eight note riff with a bit of syncopation and the dude is struggling because he never worked on his timing. And I may sound a bit contradictory here because there will be lots of ‘shredding’ on my upcoming DVDs. However! It will all be within the context of something else. There are already too many guitar videos focusing solely on 5 string arpeggios, string skipping, alternate picking, etc.

Talk about the process of recording your album. Are there any tips and trick that you could pass on?
For me, recording just about always starts with playing along to a click track. Since we all recorded our parts at various times in various places, it wouldn’t have been possible without a click track. I remember WatchTower recorded ‘Control And Resistance’ without a click. Looking back at that I just think “Wow, that was nuts!”. But that’s how we did it. Guitars and bass were scratch tracked while we were playing as a band, and we only kept the drums. Then Doug and I went in an after and rerecorded guitars and bass. For the Blotted recordings, Alex was nearly done recording his bass tracks before we even knew who was going to be playing drums. I was about halfway done with my rhythm tracks when Charlie came on board. Alex records on his laptop, I record at my ‘home studio’ and Charlie also has a studio at his place. I didn’t write or record any guitar solos or melodies until drums were recorded because the feel always changes when going from programming to real drums. I compiled all of the tracks over here, mixed it and did all of the production work.

What’s kinda cool for me is when I listen to the CD - it sounds like we are in total sync, yet the 3 of us have never been in the same room together. We are planning on getting together for a few live rehearsals soon, then possibly doing some shows, depending on our schedules. We are getting lots of invites, and it would be all too cool if we could take them up.

When is your instructional DVD coming out?
I’m shooting for a mid ’08 release but it’ll probably be pushed back a bit. I have so much material that I want to cover. It will be at least 2 DVDs, could be 3. I won’t really know until I start the video taping, dialogue, theoretical animations, all the playing examples, additional technique notes, etc.

What material will you cover in your instructional DVD?
The focus will be the progressive/technical aspect of writing and playing, with examples and insight for material from both Spastic Ink CDs, my solo CDs, and the 'Blotted Science - The Machinations Of Dementia' CD. To be covered (with excerpts/examples from), on the first DVD, will be 1. Common simple scales use and abuse, 2. Changing Keys, 3. Simultaneous Major/Minor Keys/Progressions, 4. Floating Parallels, 5. Timing (Syncopation), 6. Trade-Offs, 7. Starts / Stops, and 8. The A/B Switch. The second DVD will focus on the 12-tone aspect of writing. I started using all 12 tones when writing on ‘Nighty Nite’ on my first solo CD ‘PHHHP!’. This evolved into using multiple 12 tone sets, modulating 12 tone sets, then on the BLOTTED SCIENCE CD, I started using what I call ‘The Circle of 12 Tones.’ The DVDs will not have any chapters titled ‘5 String Arpeggios’, ‘Sweeping’, ‘Alternate Picking’, etc. All of the technique stuff will be played but it will be fitted into the context of other theoretical things.

Many thanks to you for asking me questions that made me think a bit and look into things a bit more. Hopefully your readers will get a few things out of it and those that aren’t familiar with my stuff will be curious to check it out. I definitely want to thank everybody that’s picked up a copy of the BLOTTED SCIENCE disc so far rather than just downloading it for free. We appreciate your support.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Roo interview - The Frenchman talks about the 66 Licks programme

How did you come up with the concept for your 66 Licks lesson

Well, the whole concept isn’t from me but from Ben (Perchard). He asked me if I was interested in recording 66 guitar licks for him and being paid for that, of course.
I thought it would be a kind of sample licks CD. It sounded very easy to do at the beginning. I sent a rough 4 lick demo and he liked it.

It was about recording very short licks, about 2 seconds long, one lick per bar. That was the first challenge, because it’s not that easy to play something interesting that only lasts 2 seconds. The weeks passed and the idea of including them into a program came.

It was about 3 different levels, from very easy to pretty challenging. I sent back a few samples but my licks were too difficult. Then came the idea of licks combos. I was asked to record 12 different examples to demonstrate them in a "live" situation. So I realised that I would have to do everything in the same key, making part of the previous work useless.

The concept was now to have 66 licks of 3 levels, that would fit in any order, to build little solos. The 12 examples had to be recorded "live" (no copy/paste) and the licks had to flow together. That was actually the biggest challenge we had between Ben, the programmer and me.

The program had a glitch, leaving a small gap at the beginning of each lick, so they didn’t flow properly. It took time to solve this problem and the fact that I added a metronome click into the licks helped to check the time accuracy.

I also had to re-record some of the licks that were cutting abruptly. Some lick chains sounded great in a certain order but sucked running in a different order. So I had to work on having the licks fading at the right time and removing the "bad licks".

When I finally played the finished program, with the tablature appearing in perfect time with the lick combos, playing in any order, that was a great feeling. I felt "It's alive! Alive". The concept of 66 Licks lesson programme was born. Ben really did a great job.

How is 66 Licks different to the average guitar magazine or
guitar video lesson?

I'd say 66 licks is a “Tool” which includes musical material, so it's a new concept.
It's an enhanced vocabulary of licks, phrases and ideas to incorporate into your own playing, song writing and improvisation. You increase your ability to construct your own solos from the licks provided and perfect or learn new techniques. The program comes with backing tracks so that you can jam with what you've learned. It's also very easy and fun to use. It is definitely interactive. I can not compare this to a stock standard magazine or video lessons.

Will there be an upgrade or maybe a version 2 for the 66 Licks?
Yes, I have a volume 2 in progress and as you know there are other Shred Academy artists working on their own version. The program will receive plenty of regular and cool updates to make its use even more enjoyable. So it's constantly evolving. Joe Stump's 66 licks will be out soon, I heard a preview, it's absolutely killer material! I ran through a few licks, it was so awesome that I instinctively picked up my guitar to try them out.

What does a normal/average day in your life entail?
The winter, I go to the lake, make a hole in the ice and fish till dusk, hehe. Well, life is always in motion so I can't tell what a normal day for me is. I wish I could do more physical activities and get rid of all the boring daily duties...

Is Finland turning you into a blackmetal fan?
Hehe, yes indeed! Finland is a kind of promised land for metal lovers and there are countless bands here who have international success, especially those from Spinefarm records...

Sure I see the other styles aren't as popular, but as far as the material and the musicians go, they are good. I don't really think "is it BlackMetal or something". When you gig, it just feels great to perform before a lot of metal fans who express their enthusiasm.

What is it like living in Finland as a Frenchman?
Oh God! Haha, they forbid me to eat frogs and garlic snails! I was forced to eat reindeer and moose instead! Hehe, they’re gonna trash me now... Seriously, I'd say Finland is worth the trip!

It's a very modern country, but with strong traditions. People might talk less but things are done more efficiently somehow. Women are more respected here. There are actually a lot of female bands, more than what I figured before.

I like the Finnish way of life very much. Sure, sometimes I am surprised by some culture difference, but I learn how to behave from my experiences... I have a bunch of funny anecdotes. For instance, as we talk about music now: In a musical instrument shop, you can try instruments without asking the salesman. You are being too polite if you ask or else it means you're somehow interested in buying... In France, you can't come in, say nothing, and plug a limited Les Paul in a Mesa, hehe, otherwise it's a lack of respect for the salesman ( "S'il vous plait monsieur")...I even test drove a car alone, the salesman left me the keys.

That's it. Thanks for the interview.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The History of Shred in a Nutshell, Part III: The Shrapnel Guys

Let your practice be your pleasure and let your fingers match the speed of lights, in other words - Happ New Year! All right, shredheads, here we meet again. Coming back to the history of our beloved music genre (at least I assume it’s so), today we’re examining the record label which’s impact on the guitar world in just impossible to overrate. Of course, I’m talking about Shrapnel Records.

Firstly, it would be no Shrapnel without the great MIKE VARNEY. Being not a player, but a producer and the label’s founder, he made indescribable services for the guitar music, promoting hundreds of talented guitarists from all over the world. Everyone who found himself good enough, could send his demo record to Mr.Varney and get rated – thus have many extraordinary players been discovered. Before the actual “shred explosion”, in 1980, establishing a guitar-oriented label might have seemed insane, but today we all know it was just hitting the bull’s eye and the name “Shrapnel” is one of the magical words for the six-string warriors. It was Varney who helped the teenage Yngwie Malmsteen start his career, but hiss further history is connected with another label. However, there are tons of other masters of the instrument which are strongly associated with Varney’s company; here I’ll present just the biggest few:

MARTY FRIEDMAN – Yep, THAT Friedman, that amazing guy from Megadeth. The Dave Mustaine’s band is with no doubt the most famous act he took part in, however, the guitar fanatics praise him equally, if not more for his solo career and the legendary Cacophony. It was a band, in which Marty crossed axes with the great JASON BECKER, providing some of the finest, coolest shred solos ever recorded. Although one can argue about the Cacophony songs’ musical value or the singer’s abilities (which were actually poor), the awesome legato lines or arpeggio sections created by Friedman and Becker have their unquestionable place in the history of shred. The band has released just two albums – “Speed Metal Symphony” and “Go Off!” which are necessary listens to every shred fan. From Marty’s solo work, I’d recommend the debut CD “Dragon’s Kiss” and “True Obsessions”. It’s also worth mentioning that on his latest release, “Loudspeaker” (2006) you can hear him “dueling” with Steve Vai and John Petrucci! Last but not least, Marty has developed very distinctive tone and phrasing, and he’s definitely got much to say, so we can still expect loads of fabulous music from him.

JASON BECKER, whom I’ve mentioned above, was more than the epitome of prodigy. Not only had he played some of the craziest shred lines ever heard being 17 years old on Cacophony’s debut CD, not only had he replaced Steve Vai himself in David Lee Roth’s band being only 19. When you listen to “Altitudes” from his first solo album, “Perpetual Burn”, you’re simply floored and the fact he was only 19 when composing that piece makes it only more impressive. The later history of Jason’s life is like a movie script – at the age of 20 he’s diagnosed with Lou Gehring’s disease, and lands petrified in a wheelchair. Despite that fact, he manages to compose further, and the album “Perspective” on which he didn’t manage to record all the parts, is one of the most marvelous and underrated CDs ever, style-regardless. Presumed to die ten years ago, Jason is still alive and waits for the cure to his disease. And no one knows how the story of the strongest warrior of shred will end.

Jason's MySpace profile

In my humble opinion, no other guitarist in neo-classical genre has a flair for melodies comparable with TONY MACALPINE. He’s widely known to be able to shred like hell and praised for his extremely precise use of alternate and sweep picking, but that simply doesn’t matter when you hear the moving “Tears of Sahara” or “Edge of Insanity” themes and simply can’t get’em off your head! You thought only silly pop hits can do that way? You were wrong! On the other hand, Tony likes to experiment with the harmony, unusual scales or timing, which can be heard on his “Chromaticity” solo album. He is also an excellent keyboards/piano player – it became a kind of tradition that each of his solo releases includes some works by Chopin… Many people first hear of Tony as a member of Steve Vai’s tour band, when he plays keyboards and sometimes grabs the guitar to duel the leader, too. I recommend to you “Maximum Security”, as in my private rank it’s the finest example of melodic shredding of all time !

One of the most important acts to be discovered by Mike Varney was RACER X, where PAUL GILBERT and BRUCE BOUILLET made, along with Cacophony, the coolest shred duo of the time. They easily harmonized some parts that sounded unplayable for average single player and mastered all the modern electric guitar techniques to formerly unheard extent. Their first albums, “Street Lethal” and “Second Heat” are nothing but a sheer shred fest, that still make jaws drop after two decades. Paul became later known as Mr.Big guitarist (each of you have heard him on your radio in “Wild World”…) and successful solo artist, whereas Bruce is still known mainly as “Paul Gilbert’s bandmate”. Today, Gilbert is one of the greatest names in shred industry, and steadily provides his fans with new exciting music. I’m sure you’ll see his name on this site many times!

Those mentioned are in my humble opinion the most important names to come out from Shrapnel, however, the label has “created” dozens of guitar stars and is still discovering new talnets. Some more Shrapnel guys every six-string—fanatic should know: Vinnie Moore, Joey Taffola, Richie Kotzen, Greg Howe and David T. Chastain. But remember – they’re merely the tip of the iceberg!

Uhm, maybe I became too “talkative” this time… If you want to read about some more Shrapnel guys, or have any questions and comments, just mail me! And wait for the last part of “Shred in a nutshell” series, covering the most recent years.