Monday, August 18, 2008

Nick Layton Interview - A chat with Nick after his album launch

We get to learn more about Nick, his career and the recording of his debut solo album.

What steps have you taken to forge a career in the music industry?

Well, I have just released my debut CD "Storming the Castle." Having a good CD is a big piece of the puzzle, especially as an independent artist. I have had good response from fans and also from many in the industry. So, all of that is very encouraging and bodes well for the present and future of my career as a recording artist.

In addition to promoting the CD I'm also focused on getting out and playing live...and that will be happening very soon with my new band.

I'm also heavily involved in writing instructional material for guitarists as well as teaching privately.

I think that one's mind set is a critical and often overlooked piece of the success puzzle as well. I have a great musical mentor named Tom Hess ( His example and wisdom has helped me immensely in realizing and believing that my success does not depend on others. I don't need someone to give me a record contract to "make it" in the music business. What I need is a good work ethic, specialized knowledge and skill, a good network of musicians and people, and a belief and passion in what I'm doing. I have taken some positive steps already and will continue to move forward each and every day!

During your formative years, what sort of practice regime did you have?

I was self taught so I had to learn a lot of stuff by trial and error. But back when I was learning to play I was obsessed right from the start. I would literally practice and play all day. I bought books on technique and theory...bought all the guitar magazines and devoured them from cover to cover, etc. I learned to play in the late 80' there was no shortage of inspiration for great guitar playing.

The Vinnie Moore, John Petrucci, and Paul Gilbert instructional videos were big for me.I would practice exercises and licks from those as well as learning tunes by ear all day long. I also improvised a lot. Something in me needed to express all the stuff I was learning in my own way. I think that is a critical part of the learning process--application! It doesn't matter how many techniques you can play or how many scales you know. Unless you can apply it and express yourself all of that is utterly useless.

What advice do you have for beginner and intermediate players who are trying to achieve a highly advanced level of playing?

Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day and great guitar playing isn't either. It takes time...and you have to be willing to put in the time necessary and be patient with the whole process. What I have noticed with many beginner and intermediate players is that they become impatient with the process and as a result their progress is stunted. Mastery of anything requires consistent, intelligent work. As an example, I hear a lot of young players these days with some really good chops...but they can't bend strings in tune or apply vibrato to save their life. Why? Because they thought all of that stuff was unimportant and thought they could be great by just developing technique. Being a great musician doesn't work that way. Musicianship involves many things and technique is only one aspect of it.

So my advice is to take your time, work hard and smart, and don't skip over essential skills like vibrato, bending, improvisation and phrasing. You should also have a clear idea of the style of music you want to play and the type of player you want to be so that you don't waste a lot of time on things you don't need to reach your goals.

What is it like teaching other advanced-level guitar players?

For me I enjoy teaching the advanced players the most. Sometimes, with players of that calibre, I become more of a coach or mentor than an actual teacher. Some of them come to me wanting to work on specific things in their playing...but oftentimes they are not sure where to go next with their playing. I usually end up steering them towards developing their own voice on the instrument, if they haven't already. That leads us back to things like phrasing, note choice, greater self expression, etc. Most of these type of players already know the advanced scales, arpeggios and techniques, so we focus on actually making music with all of that stuff.

What gear do you use and (more importantly) why?

I'm currently endorsed by AMT Electronics make some great pedals.

I use a combination of amps depending on what I'm doing. For small gigs I love the Tech 21 Trademark 60. Beautiful amp with perfect tone for me...fat and warm. I hate trebly amps. I have also used a Carvin Legacy 100 watt head recently...pretty cool amp with a very unique sound. On the record I recorded 90% of the guitars direct with a POD 2.0, and 10% with the Trademark 60.

Guitar-wise I'm a Carvin guy. I'm left handed and play lefty so it's hard finding pro guitars sometimes. Carvin does it right! One of my guitars is made with Hawaiian Koa wood and has an ebony fingerboard, neck through construction. Looks killer and the tone is incredible. I use DiMarzio pick-ups in all my guitars. My favorites are the Super Distortion(Bridge), Tone Zone(Bridge), PAF Pro(neck) and Air Norton(neck). I'm mainly a dual humbucker guy although the sound of a single coil strat is unbeatable for some things.

Tone wise I like a pretty clean sounding distortion...I like to hear the wood and the hands make the music and not cover it with a ton of distortion.
Effects--not much really. I use a boss SD-1 to boost the signal for solos but the gain is usually on zero, level all the way up....and of course the AMT Dt-2 Distortion Station is a part of my arsenal now. A touch of delay and/or reverb and sometimes a Crybaby wah is about it for me.

What are you trying to achieve compositionally?

For me, music, guitar playing, and composition is all about expression. I have to "feel" something or it doesn't interest me. So when I'm composing that is first and foremost--it has to move me in some way. Many of my heroes certainly influenced these tunes, indirectly...and I'm actually quite pleased with that. Why hide it? I never spent much time copying other people's licks or tunes but I certainly listened to a lot of great music that inspired me big time. I think you can hear traces of Vinnie Moore, George Lynch, Criss Oliva, a little Yngwie and John Sykes (especially the vibrato), and maybe some Queensryche/Maiden as well. But I think what you get is my voice coming through the loudest...just a nod here and there to my heroes.

I ended up having a lot of sweep picking sequences as part of the tunes...and that's a technique that I've really only mastered in the last year or so. Probably my favorite sound is smooth legato so you hear lots of that on the record as well.

Most of my songs start out as small ideas. Maybe a riff or chord progression. Sometimes a melody. It's usually one or the other and the initial seed usually comes pretty quickly. Then I go about crafting the song, much like a writer would go about writing a novel. A little here, a little there, etc. And all along I have to be happy with each "draft" of each section or it gets revised or dropped. So, I'm always trying to express some feeling, or some idea and a song is never "done" until I'm satisfied. A song like "Storming the Castle" or "Snake Charmer" happened in many different sections over quite a bit of time. If I got stuck I just moved on to something else. Other tunes come quickly and easily. "Daybreak", for example, just sort of rolled right off my fingers...but even that took a lot of work before I was completely happy with everything.

Talk about the process of recording your album. Are there any tips and trick that you could pass on? Who are the guests on it, where was is recorded, how long did it take to compose and record, etc?

I knew very little about recording when I started this album. I had to basically teach myself how to use Pro Tools from scratch. I did get help from some cool people like my buddy Paul Tauterouff and also Rob Perez. That helped immensely when it came to things like panning and mixing.

The best advice I have is to take your time and learn your equipment/recording software. Even if you have the greatest tunes in the world, and the most insane guitar playing , a bad sounding recording will kill it. So take the time and learn how to record and mix your own stuff. And you don't need a million dollar set up either. My entire CD was recorded using Pro Tools and an MBox 2 in my house. I'd say the whole process took a couple years from start to finish. Of course next time should be much quicker but the learning process was invaluable.

I had some talented friends play on my CD.

Paul Tauterouff ( played bass and also did a guest guitar solo on "Deceiver." Dave Cardwell ( sang lead
vocals and co-wrote two songs and also tracked the drums on the whole CD.

I'd also like to mention Rob Perez ( who mastered the CD. I consider mastering an essential part of finishing a CD and Rob did a killer job!

Thanks for the cool interview and to everyone reading this. The Shred Academy is a great site and I'm honored to be a part of it. If anyone has any questions about guitar playing, phrasing, recording, composing, etc please email me at:

If you'd like to know more about what I do including instructional products, articles and of course my CD please visit

Nick Layton

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Album Review - Zack Uidl "Insomnia"

Zack Uidl’s solo album, Insomnia, is a show stopper for anyone into progressive music and a high level of musicianship. Oh yes, there is also a truck load of shredding. The record is a mind bending aural assault that is simultaneously pleasing and terrifying.

The entire album is essentially one song, broken into 8 tracks, perhaps for easier navigation to the listener’s favourite part, or maybe it's a map of Zack's own experience suffering from insomnia. My favourite track is the near-on 15 minute epic “The Crossing”. Crazy time signatures, brutal rhythm guitar, razor sharp leads, chilling melodic break-downs and insane harmony sections, it’s all there, and it’s all great.

Zack is well known as an instructor and for his instructional material, however, he is fast becoming just as well known for his astonishing technical prowess as well and Insomnia is a great show case of his playing skills and melodic ideas.

I hear a strong Dream Theater influence in the heavier songs, though not so much the Petrucci style solos, but rather the rhythmic stabs, climaxes and crescendos.

I’m not going to break the album down track by track, because it’s meant to be listened to as a whole.

The track listing is as follows:

1 Insomnia
2 The Crossing
3 Reverie-The Aspiration
4 Disillusion Theory
5 Reverie- Seize The Accolade
6 Turmoil
7 Reverie-Reminiscence
8 Collapse Of The Depraved

The 3 tracks called Reverie serve as mellow and contemplative transitions between the heavier feel of “The Crossing”, “Disillusion Theory” and “Turmoil” (where Zack’s playing really comes alive) while the last track “Collapse Of The Depraved” revisits and completes the musical themes introduced in the opening track “Insomnia”.

This is an excellent one-man album, and a fantasic debut for Zack as a solo artist. I have listened to the album a lot and I'm sure I will continue to do so.

Zack has also recently received his new 8 string guitar through his Conklin guitar endorsement, which should yield some interesting results, so watch this space.