The underground Shred-Metal king is about to release a new solo album. Read what he shares about his career, the music industry, and chop building.
What steps have you taken to forge a career in the music industry?
One small step at a time. Start with a small goal, perhaps creating a demo that creates a good buzz that lands some press from a guitar magazine. Then move to the next goal, start with what is thought possible and eventually move to the goals you once thought impossible. A love of music and creating it for personal satisfaction instead of lusting for a result is still the most important way to approach it, one shouldn't pursue music for specific outcomes, one should create because they are driven to create. My longevity in the business exists because I release any attachment to results, then opportunities actually start coming my way. I've noticed bands/musicians that want to "make it" so bad, it just seems to guarantee they never will.
What advice do you have for people looking to get into the music industry?
Realize that getting signed only puts you in the category of the tons of bands that have record deals and you have to work much harder at that point. The music industry is a dangerous place at times. Touring is not the thing people think it is, it's grueling and in the underground metal scene, touring conditions are terrible. Getting into the business only guarantees you will be able to serve an audience your music, and the privilege of doing so is the only guarantee for a musician. If you want materialistic rewards you are barking up the wrong tree.
What are the pressures in the industry and how do you cope with them?
I really am not to pressured at the moment, there's nothing in my musical life I need to cope with at the present, and if there was I would probably abandon the situation. When Onward was at it's height, there was pressure, there was problems and I drank way too much. I've changed in that aspect. If I want longevity, self-preservation is the highest law.
Tell us how you got onto the Shrapnel label.
When I was 17-20, I recorded music constantly and I figured it wouldn't hurt to send the demos to Mike Varney. I never received a response from him, but I sent demos anyway. After three years of doing this, the phone rang and it was Varney saying "keep working on the music, I think you are about ready to do an album". Within a few months I signed the contract and flew to Las Vegas to have my album produced by one of my favorite guitarists, Tony Fredianelli and of course Ray Luzier, who is now with Korn, played drums. It was surreal.
During your formative years, what sort of practice regime did you have?
I picked up the guitar after watching the Led Zeppelin concert film "The Song Remains the Same". I spent alot of time learning Jimmy Page solos, he was and still is my biggest influence and inspiration. When Yngwie and the whole Shrapnel era was new, I began practicing around eight hours a day. Warm up with chromatics, spend an hour on blues, an hour on legato, an hour on sweep picking, etc. every day.
What advice do you have for beginner and intermediate players who are trying to achieve a highly advanced level of playing?
Do not underestimate the importance of being a well versed blues player whether you like it or not. Look to Clapton, Beck and Page before you try to become Paul Gilbert or Jason Becker. Get a teacher who will actually respect the direction you wish to go and they will help you get there, anybody can call themselves a guitar teacher so make sure you are not wasting money on a punk with a guitar. Instructional videos are fantastic, I learned so much from videos by guitarists like Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, Greg Howe and Marty Friedman. Most importantly, love the process and have some self discipline.
What gear do you use and (more importantly) why?
I am a Strat man, nothing else. I even like the good Squiers. I don't do much modification to the guitars, once in a while I'll throw in some Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan pickups, but I think Fender stock pickups are great too. I collect the instruments as well, some I don't play, I'll buy strats when I have extra money simply if it's a unique looking guitar. Marshall amps are a mainstay as well and through the years I've used various varieties. There was even a pont when I used the Marshall Micro-stack head as a pre-amp. I dig the 80's Mosfet heads and I had a great, vintage Marshall Mk. 2 fifty watt head, Unfortunately it blew up and a friend swapped me his Laney head for the burnt out Marshall, so I must say Laney is pretty damn good. I've endorsed small things like guitar strings and such, but I've never pursued endorsements, I do believe Fender should give me a Yngwie model strat for all the years of dedication I've put into their intruments. Maybe one day......
What parts of your playing reflects your personality and self expression most accurately?
My playing and composing represent the frame of mind I am in at that point in time and on each album, I can remember what I was feeling. I know I have been described as a technical player, but it's really feelings and raw emotion I try to capture rather than a display of manual dexterity. If i record something and there is a mistake but it conjures an authentic feeling I will leave it. It just depends, sometimes I am a perfectionist, sometimes not.
What are you trying to achieve compositionally?
I think every artist wants to achieve a great work, something that will inspire musicians and entertain listeners. I like to create sounds that are not always comforting, sometimes I play/compose very icy things that will have the listener at the edge of their seat. I think that's why I'm such a massive Jimmy Page fan, his music has that effect on me. It's also good to challenge yourself, take chances and challenge the listener. Respect the listener's intelligence. A dipshit once tried to insult me by calling me "nothing but an underground shredder", I take that as a compliment, especially considering the source. Take your listener on an adventure at the expense of being an underground musician, the fans I do have are small in numbers but very devoted. I am proud of that. I am not Slipknot or Nickleback.
Talk about the process of recording your latest album. Are there any tips and trick that you could pass on? How did you choose the other instrumentalists (if you did).
I am recording "The Campaign" in a very small room using a digital six track and an alesis drum machine, but the sound is very big. The reason for that is, I don't waste time second guessing everything, I use minimal effects/gear and just hit the record button. Keep it simple. One tip I can offer is do your mixing/mastering using very bad speakers.....I use a terrible stereo when doing the mixdown and I just do the best I can getting a good balance on everything. Then when you put the cd into a good stereo system, it will sound great, at least that's my experience. Don't spoil yourself with fancy/expensive moniters that will lie to you.
How did you get involved with Shredguy Records?
I received an invitation from label president Mike Mcdowell to participate in his "Shredding Across the World" compilation album series and we just started to hit it off well through e-mails. Then I mentioned I was ready to record a new album and asked if he would be interested in releasing it and he just gave me the green light and the process began. I highly respect Mike and the way he runs his label. No bullshit. He just encourages the artist to make some good music and works as hard for me as I do delivering a strong album to him.
What is happening with your band Onward?
Onward has been inactive for quite awhile and I think everyone has moved on to new things, speaking for myself, I am happy with what I am doing and don't foresee any reunion in the near future. However, if there was to be one, It would have to be with the Michael Grant, Jon Pereau and Chris Payette line-up. I doubt it will happen, but I can't predict the future either.
What does the future hold for Toby Knapp?
I want to listen to more music and I want to create more music.
Thank you very much for giving me a chance to voice some opinions here, hello to all your readers and a big thank you to those who have followed and supported my musical journey.