Saturday, November 29, 2008

Killl Interview

Killl is another Norwegian oddity that – apart from lush namedropping – has crude music to offer. What is also interesting is the refusal to put out any music in conserved form other than the dvd format, given the possibility to visually enhance it. Given this, it was refreshing to share Are's views on metal and its neighbors, high-flown aesthetics and a no-frills approach.

What was so attractive about the thought of abandoning your former bands - some like JR Ewing with a strong reputation and probably having been about to break through - for a project that does neither release albums nor follows any interest to find a label? Also, you play a type of music which to describe as "uncommercial" is still put mildly...
Killl was something that happened on the side of our other projects, not instead of. Some of us have moved on to other bands, some still work with their longtime bands. KILLL was formed on request by a promoter who listened to our drummer Martin talking about the idea. We were booked to play a festival in Oslo based on sheer trust, and we all met at first to take a picture for the program. Most of us knew each other, but we were all busy in different projects and saw the concert as a one-off affair. All the tracks were made in some three days.

Since then, most of our concerts and tours have been based on requests, such as the Norwegian tour when we were invited to expand the visual elements of our show, which now is a crucial part of the experience. The composing of tracks follow the same gung-ho approach; anything else would be too time-consuming and make Kill a too demanding project given we are all busy with other bands and activities

Most of us are central in organizing our other bands (a total of some 14 bands), so Killl is very different, much more democratic and fast - no dwelling on complex ideas. Anytime we have tried that, it has lost in favor of simplicity.

When KILLL was started, it was a way for us to leave our musical habits behind and do something else. It is still an experiment as far as Iam concerned. Part of that is the setup: There are no amps on stage, the drummer plays an electronic kit, and we run all the sources through my mixer, opening up for primitive use of effects and – quite often – silence. The music is made to be played live, a studio record would be completely awkward. Which is why we are releasing a dvd, not a record.

What is your conception of Jazz as opposed to conservative notions about the genre (the American songbook, swing and bop). Do you follow the different currents of contemporary jazz or are you, after all, subscribed to the standards and classics?
The jazz parallel is not really relevant given only one of us has ever been playing jazz.

Do you think - also with respect to the meticulous divisions into "sub-scenes" - that rock/metal and jazz have something in common? Isn't it - on the other hand - rather impossible to reconcile jazz and rock/metal because the free-form- and improvisational approaches per se contradict the thorough compositional principles of popular music?
Yes, very much, and it does not stop there, of course. Basically though, I am more interested in attitude and methodology than genre tags. For example, I don´t really like the Naked City version of jazz and metal fusion. To me it´s still oil and water, it is jazz-informed minds introducing metal elements into an essentially open-ended jazz form - which is jazz nevertheless and not a problem in itself; I just do not appreciate the use of humor. It only underlines the “we know what we are doing” attitude, which is so far from the metal attitude. The metal attitude is about doing ridiculous things without any shame, only occasional insight and brutal energy. Metal is escapist music for the working class, theater for the poor, anger with no address.

Equally problematic is the opposite: musicians all of a sudden “dumbing down” and turning true, gentrifying their t-shirt and record collection to a mint condition grimness, as if they never listened to hip hop or pop. I´m interested in music where the fusing or transcending of genres happens as a consequence of following ideas and experimentation - from whatever limited set of tools you have. Maybe that is why I tend to enjoy bands who are moving from metal into other genres more than the other way around. Experimental black metal moving into ambient and electronic through experimentation with duration and noise textures, death metal moving into frantic free-jazz via the fascination of complex drumming and lightning speed riffs, doom metal moving into minimalism and physical sound through adoration of bass, sustained notes and volume... and equally much, musicians where metal references are nothing but a starting point for an ongoing exploration, such as James Plotkin, Mick Barr and Justin Broadrick.

Given that metal and rock are allegedly popular music styles (I mean, fans even complain if bands do not play guitar solos live the same way they can be heard on studio albums), do you want to break out of pop by stressing the jazz in Killl?
What has been a weird experience with Killl is how easy it comes across to people from all over the place. It is strange how we got an audience through not trying. If it is because of the lights and backdrop, the music or the combination, is hard to say. The unusual aesthetic surrounding and the music do force the audience to reconsider the relationship between the two, maybe making it easier for people to approach it. I really don´t know.

Anyone who has heard Fenriz of Darkthrone Deejay - which he actually did for our first gig - knows that there is no contradiction between having an open musical mind and making specialized music. The semiotic juggling of genre tags is very boring. The use of musical tools from all corners of experience is very natural. Killl does not claim to have anything dramatically new to contribute. We have simply said no to a few dominant elements of these genres, such as the inverted catholic aesthetic, and included a tad of electronics. The rest is very basic, bordering on primitive use of compositional ideas.

Why the three "lll", and brash and blunt choice of band name, which evokes images of nothing but violent (metal?) music rather than sophisticated and allegedly "intellectual" avant-garde stuff?
Musically and visually, Killl incorporates a lot of binary and contrasting action: on-off, hi-low, loud-quiet, short-long, clean-distorted, composed-improvised, bright-dark, color-no color. KILLL was the first and most simple word we grabbed that embodied this type of “no”. Visually there are no curves in it, which is a hint at the digital instruments in our music. The third L is a greeting to our Swedish neighbours in Gothenburg as well as a welcoming to our fifth member, Kyrre, the man behind the lights.

What are your aims with Killl, considering the refusal to act within the common realms of music publishing, advertising and so on?
Again, there is no agenda from our part to pitch ourselves as anti anything, but by not subscribing to the noise of a music market in painful transition we can allow Killl to be a rare yet semi-cyclic event where we can do something we do not do elsewhere. We appreciate people coming out for it but we don´t ask pretty please. There is enough hustling in our other jobs.

Does an artist's aesthetic narcissism ("I have something unique to say musically and will do anything to get it out!") have to outweigh his personal narcissism ("oh look, I am a musician with glossy long hair - please love me!") to create something permanently relevant?
As much as I am a sucker for mythology, be it black metal or Egyptian, I have always felt that the most dangerous music does not need theater - it is terrifying in itself. On the other hand, music is ritual and ritual is visual. The combination of the two becomes ritual with relevance, a rare commodity these days. As author and philosopher Joseph Campbell would say, we are in a time where Christianity has monopolized ritual and we are stuck with an aesthetic not representing the times we live in. Not to say that this was a conscious take on that, but when light man Kyrre developed the stage show we are using today together with me, we wanted to explore an aesthetic that cultivated the rgb color logic of led-lighting - very un-metal. We made a 20 x 4 meters backdrop to frame the stage we play at and create a consistent look for all venues. The colors of the patterns on the backdrop are calibrated to be as close to the rgb color temperature as possible. Switching on and off series of quick color changes, the leds animate the patterns of the backdrop by turning “on and off” colors. The result is a simple but effective optical phenomenon of moving patterns causing occasional nausea. Each song of the set has a different color code, and the concert takes you through everything form one color modes to the full spectrum stroboscopic shebang.

Originality: I am sure all artists feels their music is very relevant, and there is definitely a difference between ambition - which is personal - and result, which is for all. Therefore, when one in addition knows how to evaluate work changes over time, it becomes obvious that pinpointing the relevance of music is only possible after time has passed, especially when it comes to ones own music. Personally, I am not bothered by the thought that KilllL is tossed out with the trash in the future music canon. I am having too much fun doing it, and that is my only aim... Less so with other work I do, which I think goes for all of us.

In return, can you imagine that metal and rock with trivial lyrical subjects and "primitive" musical substance can outlast time, also with respect to the relative youth of the genres?
Easily - if not, I would be a snob. I can get moved by anything that deals with the human condition, basically. Most experimental music is polished formalism, which I enjoy, but it is definitely more a spice than food. Experimentation is no endpoint in itself, it´s a constant reminder, reassessing and reestablishing of the dearest things, the basics. Killl is not a negation of the other music we have done; it´s a cleaning up of the tool box, a cold shower followed by a good drink, a celebration of music in crude form.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview: Next Life

Next Life

Next Life is a duo that touches metal only marginally, or at least: metal how LotFP perceives it. Nevertheless they join the ranks of those recent groups that blend heavy guitars with the odd sounds of old time video game consoles. Interesting enough for me to listen to the short eruptions that form their first recorded effort Electric Violence and contact Hai in Norway, the half of the band with Vietnamese roots.

Is it the short attention span of today's culture that makes for such short songs, or is it the lacking substance of your ideas and ressources?

We have always been very inspired by computer game music and hardcore punkrock. Both of these genres tend to have fast and short compositions. Much computer game music, especially from Japan, has a strongly ongoing drama that keeps progressing until a certain point (about one to two minutes) and then repeats itself. It is possible to recall this in many 2D games where music plays a great role in the narrating of a story, and also it has to keep up with the high tempo of fictional universes built upon simple elements.
In our case as with computer game music, I guess it is a way to keep up a high level of intensity and at the same time not to become monotonous, so that both player and listener become occupied with constant progression untill the next level appears. In a way it should match the tempo of modern consumer culture such as TV and newspapers, but as we try to be untraditional in terms of emotions and drama-building, the songs may - as compared to pop-culture - often remind of "find one/many error(s)"-pictures. There is something wrong that keeps them from becoming TV- or radio-hits, which we find great in terms of being progressive, but also a little bit sad because less people will get into the music.

In terms of longevity, can you think of Next Life as a long-standing outfit that in the future will be revered by a group of fans and spoken of in terms of "classic songs", like bands from the old days of rock?

Hehe, I think that would be the main goal of every artist - to be remembered and to be influental over time. The music scene today has become so big with different artists and styles, and as you said, they most often only succeed for a short time before the next big thing comes up. Even the bands that I am most inspired by such as Zeni Geva, Earth Crisis, Assück and Infest have barely made it to the "history books", so from these observations I cannot see that Next Life will survive any longer than most of today's underground artists. If Next Life or even some of the songs were to to become classics in the future, then we would consider this band project a success.

Is Next Life serious, in that you want to convey anything special beyond the sheer fact that you mix old 8-bit-sounds with elements close to metal?

The mix of 8-bit music and metal has become a style. In Next Life, the goal has always been to mix different genres in order to create an arena to cover our complete musical potential. The style itself is less important other than for maybe describing the music. We actually use anything that we find spine-chilling (again something we have learned from game music), but since me and Trond both grew up and worked a lot with 8-bit sounds plus hard rock music, these genres often surface in our music. The fact that Trond creates many of the sounds we use on Commodore 64, and that many of our base sounds are from Commodore Amiga and various old-school consoles, has certainly put us into the 8-bit metal genre. Actually though, we would more like to call it "electro-violence" as this is a more open and correct expression for us. We are much inspired by digital universes, not only 8-bit, and there has always been a great portion of the hardcore subgenre "power-violence" as we see it.

Would human vocals work well with your music?

We tried that in 2006 after “Electric Violence“ was released, and it did solve some problems live-wise, as it is easier to create high energy on stage the more people are on it. But we did it too fast and without a vision that was clear enough. It resulted in an electro-clash and kitschy musical expression that we simply could not live with, being so proud and happy with developing music purely based on rhythm and melody. Instrumental music is really an abstract expression that will become unique more easily than if you add a person's voice, face and lyrics to it. We want to explore music as an expression itself. Alos, we never stop being fascinated by the fact that there is no real answer to why human beings react how they do to different tone combinations, rhythm progression, the way songs are composed and so on

Do you sample sounds only or do you also actively implement and manipulate them?

We do whatever it takes to fit any of our sounds into the music, both sampled and generated. We never sample tone combinations or a complete rhythm, as we want to compose as much of our music as possible on our own. Manipulation is most often necessary for sampled sounds to fit into our songs, but we do sample voices from movies and computer games. In these cases the samples have not been altered much except for some EQ-stuff.

Where do your musical roots lie, and why do you think that guitar music, the attitude behind it and old video game sounds match one another?

I guess this has partially been answered above, but here is the story concerning myself: I got a Commodore 64 in 1984 and became addicted very fast to the games and sounds. I remember playing Exploding Fist so loud that I blew the speakers on the TV at home. In 1987, I learned to play guitar and got into better and better bands by the years. However, it was hard keeping bands together for a longer time in the small town I came from, either because people needed to do other things, or just because they were too bad musicians. So in 1995, I started using my Amiga as drum machine to play really tight riffs together with my older brother and a friend. In 1999, I visited my home country Vietnam for the first time. Driving by car through the entire country and at the same time listenening a lot to The Last Ninja 1 & 2 and Zeni Geva who used synthesizer in metal music in a way that I found very innovative and inspiring, the vision became more and more clear. What really meant something to me at that time was experimental punkrock and game music. These also had something in common, as game music has many connections to rock and metal, after all. Then I went back to Norway, and voilá.
It was hard to predict if Next Life would succeed in getting any listeners, but I chose to do it simply to cover my own needs to listen to very hard, dynamic and melodic music. It was only when my friends convinced me to do a show that the project became a band.

What is "Kampfkultur"? - It sounds kind of martial.

In order to earn money from art and music in Norway, one must have a registered company. I decided to call mine "Kampkultur" instead of "Next Life", as I also do other things such as theater, gallery, film, and so on. Next Life is a division of the company Kampkultur. I like distinct and straight-to-the-point music and colours, I have also always been inspired by political art, although I mostly work without words or lyrics. It felt natural to name the company after that. The company itself is not supposed to be a war institution, but as war and politics obiously are reasons for people to do anything, the art around it has become very strong as well. It is this art that Kampkultur draws its inspiration from – alongside more positive stuff as the divine, friendship, astrology and technology.

Is it necessary in post modern times to gather elements from various fields to create something that is supposed to be "new", or do you see any possibility for an artist to produce original art just out of him- or herself?

We live in times of much information; you cannot grow up without getting into the many music styles that exist, and that in itself can become a limitation. The culture around you becomes the universe in which you can choose and to which you relate when creating own stuff. But how did the earlier composers come up with new styles? I guess it happened over time (with some exceptions), and we will hopefully see over time that our generation will bring orginality to different fields in one way or another. That aside, I quit watching TV at the same time I founded Next Life to not be too informed. I can say that it has left me with a certain lack of knowledge about society and social development, but hopefully, it also has done or will do something to Next Life that is positive.

In this context, how do you see your band's abilities to progress - are you a flight of fancy as a musical entity, or can we expect a certain development? Have you already said everything you wanted to say, and if not: what is there in addition?

We want to keep the future open for Next Life. In that way, it can perform dramatic changes more easily if desired, and we may become influenced by things left unconsidered so far. However, I also admit we always try to lay out strategic plans in order to forsee problems regarding the music industry and our audience to legitimate the name Next Life, which for us means many things. To be one step ahead of ourselves and the music buisness is one of them, and as we see it, that won't come out of pure improvisation.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Falcon- Die Wontcha

Die Wontcha
Liquid Flames Records – 10 – 53:18

As I am writing this, two years have passed since this album has been recorded. However, Falcon did not release Die Wontcha until a couple of months ago and even now are not going to receive the exposure they deserve – mind you, I am not talking about currying favors with the many potential buyers of all the things currently perceived as “metal”; neither do I expect that the retro craze appreciates the band's second release more than the eponymous debut. Hypothetically though, Falcon could appeal to both audiences, only if some smart label marketed them as cool and authentic – which they are, only that these people won't know without getting it shoved down their throats by some tastemaker. Let us play that part, then.

Live in the backlash of hipper times
When music had much more to say
Not just faceless brutality
A vicious cycle revolves today

No trapdoors. No look beyond any horizon, and not over anybody's shoulder either. This bird perches in backwoods devoid of irony and would rather bite its tongue than put it into the cheek to betray its own cause. The reason for this lies in the respective backgrounds of the band members. Rock.

Trio rock, this is. Singer and guitarist Perry M. Grayson delivered some power metal greatness with Destiny's End before moving on to Artisan and Isen Torr, where he displayed a fond love of more classical forms of the genre. Darin McCloskey is also the skinsman of Pale Divine and now teams up with no other than Greg Lindstrom, former bass player of Cirith Ungol, as the rhythm section of Falcon.

As the band's backbone, Lindstrom and McCloskey do not waste any time with frills and decorations, giving Grayson space to develop his equally heave-ho riffs and especially some delightful solos and leads. This is where one strong influence of Falcon becomes obvious: Thin Lizzy's signature guitar sound, which was both sweet and beefy, thus making for a nowadays rare kind of heaviness - it is refreshing to hear riffs that are actually given a chance to unfold and in return allow bass and drums to be individually discernible... not that Falcon are in any way progressive, but as they do not indulge in redundant staccatos as the conversation-enders and no-brainers of modern metal, their four-on-the-floor beats will do...

...and this already in the energetic opening Jimmy Clark. Why a band of this stripe writes a song about a race car driver (Primus may do that) I don't know; maybe it is because Clark died at the peak of the hippie movement in 1968. Anyhow, Grayson's eulogy sounds familiar immediately to those familiar with the debut. The mention of Tim Baker is almost inevitable with respect to the band's four stringer as well as Grayson's personal preferences, although the two voices are less comparable in stylistic terms than because of their crudeness. Corporate whore shows the frontman as not particularly versatile in his angular approach, but if these melody lines are not catchy, then what is? Actually, the fluent shift between melodic and rhythmic passages is admirable and shows nothing of other bands' frequent ineptness to reconcile both without predictable interruptions. Instead, the breaks in this and the other songs pick up on the lost practice of changing between contrasting (thematically, rhythmically, etc.) motifs without losing the compositional red thread... cool as well how the track returns to its initial motif in the end.

Accordingly and apart from the occasional hint at an harmonic extension especially in Elfland's Daughter, Lindstrom plays in unison with the guitar and locks in tightly with McCloskey, all the time keeping his characteristic plucky tone, which is not as prominent as on the classics of his old band. The song refers to a story of Lord Dunsany; the title says it: fantasy stuff in the old vein, and a love story, too. Cirith Ungol were similarly prone to myth, legend and the more imaginative spheres of storytelling, while Falcon also admit the Grand Funks and Blue Cheers from a better past as influential peers. This branch of hard rock (often tagged “obscure” maybe for the respective groups' lasting status as commercial also-rans) has often procured the kind of frank but brash lyrics that make for a certain embarrassment on the listener's side. Get an impression of it during Corporate Whore, an accusation of former rebels turned conformists, featuring hilarious rhymes of “Hendrix” and “cocaine fix”. However, Grayson's at times clumsily simple truisms ring true in some ears. After all, Finger-pointing to the moneyed usually works from the position of an alleged has-been. Personal hardships read well on the suffering artist's CV, so if you have not encountered any so far, you might dramatize a little – it is all for the sake of good music... did I mention that the bass and cripsy guitar spots here make up for all that?

As an instrumental, The Wreck of the John Deere sidesteps any such issue and pads along bluesy paths in the lead guitar section, adding some keyboard strings for texture: a nice break or alternately the intro of the hypothetic b-side – which starts with a cover version of Leader the opener of Buffalo's 1972 album Dead Forever. The Australians' song passes as one of Falcon's own, being rhythmically simple and lyrically pushing the right buttons once more to blame all the world's wrongs on the movers and shakers. The midsection of the eighth song – named after the band – returns to pushing some synthesizer keys as well as emotional ones, being of a dreamy quality that allows the listeners to drift away for some time; he will be back spot on for the highly memorable Everything There Is To Know with a (fake?) hammond more burning than Grayson's natural organ. The singer stays as distanced from his audience as his lyrics permit, being the straightforward display of basic feelings they are. This text is probably the best on the album, since it is open to at least a bit of individual interpretation.

Finally, we have Show You All, apparently a 1970s tune by Lindstrom for which Robert Garven drew the background image in the CD booklet. Where Cirith Ungol had Michael Whelan, Falcon grabbed an image by sci-fi artist Virgil Finlay for the front cover of Die Wontcha. This rounds up how the band wants us to see them: Falcon carry the torch of the likes mentioned, not to forget Pentagram and Sabbath as the usual suspects. What makes this album so appealing though is of course not its novelty, but the fact that it is a cut above the lasting vintage buzz; Grayson may be in his mid thirties only, but he plays and thinks not like one born too late. The music will seem beyond criticism anyway if you like the references, as it does not force any strained novelty. However, only through Grayson's mouth, the messages turn into truths timelessly valid rather than pushing for mock authenticity and faux nostalgia.

To paraphrase what The Lamp Of Thoth recently sang, doom has nothing to do with laughing, but when I hear sullen reality depicted in such warm colors as on Die Wontcha, I can do with this and any other stereotype. I have been living with this album – this reality – now for some weeks, and I could not prove Falcon wrong so far; rather than belittling what is a dying breed of rock music, I admit it has grown on me.

I'm going through the motions of having a good time
I'm trying to like it, but something just ain't right

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review: Conquest of Steel - Hammer & Fist

Conquest of Steel
Hammer & Fist
10 – 40:04
(review by James Edward Raggi IV)
I must say that when true/traditional heavy metal is presented with absolutely no thought, there really isn’t more embarrassing music on this planet.

When I think of England, I think of the ridiculously sensational media, from the Daily Mail all the way down to the language-mangling juggernaut that is Terrorizer. In that proud tradition comes the outspoken waivers of the metal flag, Conquest of Steel.

(I couldn’t decide which opening paragraph to use, but they both fit, and we’ve got a minor mess of an album on our hands.)

First, credit where it’s due: musically the album is pretty good, very Iron Maiden-inspired, at its best everything the band says it is (“Britain’s finest heavy metal warriors”), and at its worst merely some different ideas that don’t pay off. Vocalist Dan Durrant has a solid melodic voice and never once tries to do anything that he can’t – these guys are pros. If you’re not paying attention, there’s not much to complain about on this album.

Really, the band has a sharp sense of how to place hooks within their songs, and every single number is memorable and unique within their narrow style. So they succeed there where so many fail horribly. The only complaints I have involve their little sonic experiments, the little bits where they go to high harmony guitars and leave absolutely nothing filling out their sound below, in order to highlight a vocal passage. It’s not bad at all, but the drums and bass seem so inadequate here and they can’t make the idea work. Cheers to them for not filling in a phantom extra guitar track that would never be played live, at least.

Yet I still have a dirty feeling after giving Hammer & Fist a close listen and seeing what the band is all about in their lyrics and image. Every single member of the band is clad in denim vests adorned with a various patches, both in the band portrait and in the live shots. The singer runs around with a sword on stage, apparently. When this happens, there is no middle ground – it’s either pathetic or awe-inspiring. Shall we examine exactly what this band is singing about?

Metal. Heavy fucking metal. Heavy metal songs that surely “go down a storm” at their live shows as well as with people that consider Manowar their religion, and other unfortunates. It’s fan pandering, populist bullshit, like somebody with Down’s Syndrome got hold of Lost Horizon and Manowar albums and decided he wanted to be in a band just like them.

The problem is the juxtaposition of individualism and collectivism within the lyrics. The band, in all its metal fervor, pushes two completely opposed ideals and I wonder if they understand their Manowar albums at all.

It’s very simple. Lost Horizon was talking to its audience, commanding them, if you will, not to join together in some homogenous mass of metal, but to stand up and excel. There are no armies. Manowar exalts themselves and themselves only, even when they seemingly give praise to their fans. Read those lyrics from Army of the Immortals. It’s something akin to jingoistic manipulation for anyone to think that Manowar places true importance on their thralls. They sing about them a bit and laugh all the way to the bank. Perhaps this is why I like Manowar, but only the songs where they aren’t singing about heavy metal – they know what they’re doing and they do it well, but I don’t like being manipulated. In the Manowar world, that scary guy on their DVD trailer had it right. “Manowar is my religion!” he screams. And in a religion, there are gods, and there are the not-gods. It’s a frighteningly brilliant thirty-year campaign to build and keep a following, if you think about it.

Conquest of Steel either can’t figure this out, or think they can run around the truth of the matter. Time for them to be on the receiving end of the Clue Hammer:

You are a leader or you are a follower.
You are free, or you are not.
If you are in a crowd, you are not standing alone.

Which brings us to the brain-dead collection of words that are the lyrics to “A Million Strong.” They look the contradiction right in the face with the line, “Part of the pack you stand alone,” and there is no evidence to be found that they realize how silly that is. No effort to give meaning to or explain what that means. So I have to take it at face value. They’re idiots. The song starts by talking a good game about self-reliance and realizing one’s potential. It’s all about the individual and pressuring him to not be a fuck-up. Right out of the Lost Horizon book of tricks. But it goes from there directly into the chorus of “A million strong we are the ones / Who live our lives wild and free.” Say what? The next verse confuses everything further, going on about how a person, presumably the listener, is this alone-standing person who is part of the pack and becoming a great leader. And back to the chorus. And then it starts going on about a “primal tribal movement.” Ah yes, the primordial age of man, that great time for individualism. Really, the band is telling some mythical million listeners (do they actually aspire to be a pop band to have that many people listening to them?) that they are all capable of being leaders. Reminds me of my days working in an office when some middle-management fucktard was delivering a message from on high about employee empowerment. Yes, Conquest of Steel is the musical equivalent of the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert.

“Born in Hell” reveals even more troublesome issues around this band’s philosophy. Check out the final bits of words that will inspire confidence:

All for the glory, all for the whores
All for the king of heavy metal
All for the glory, all for the whores
All for the glory, all for the whores
All for heavy metal
Pure heavy metal

Now, women haven’t been mentioned at all in this song, or on the album at all up to this point. But out of nowhere, “whores.” Classy. Just what we need from leaders of men, or a million-strong group of nitwits. Now I can understand completely if someone doesn’t like women, but I’m hardly going to take inspiration or advice from someone that doesn’t mention women, at all, aside from their being called “whores.” The chorus is full of elegance as well: “Show me the way, metal god of hell I pray.” Repeat. But there is more hidden idiocy here. First verse:

The metal god who burns inside
Born before the dawn of time
Almighty overlord we crave
To be the greatest of warrior banes
Fighting ‘till death, on our knees
All for heavy metal’s greatest deeds

That first line makes me wonder if these guys aren’t just a bunch of heavy metal Scientologists and if Hammer & Fist isn’t just a musical Battlefield Earth. I really doubt the band has a solid enough command of advanced literary techniques like metaphor to be saying anything of substance here. And the little bridge with “I’ll fight for the one, I’ll bleed ‘till the end,” I just know the band isn’t intending to say that heavy metal is just one big suicide cult run by some “overlord,” but damn their intentions, that is actually what their words are saying.

Third verse:

Born in hell metal’s son
Master of the sword number one
Leader to the ranks of men
Who live for metal ‘till the end
With steel we ride never to die
Victory burns in our eyes

Compare carefully the verses. Note the use of “we” and “our” in the first verse, as the song tells us we crave an overlord and we’re going to fight until we die. In the third verse, note that the “we” are the ranks of men, not the leader, and we get a contradiction of whether we are going to die or not for heavy metal. Fight ’till death for heavy metal? Live for metal ‘till the end?

This is the problem with singing about heavy metal. Heavy metal is a bunch of malcontents guys sitting in a cramped room (or by themselves!) fiddling around on tools made of wood, plastic, and yes, metal. Heavy metal is a tool, heavy metal is a servant of its makers and of its listeners. If all you’re using heavy metal for is to glorify heavy metal, you’re caught in a feedback loop of worthlessness, because you aren’t creating anything of yourself with this tool… you’re just glorifying what other people have done before you, and you can’t rise to the level of the gods if you won’t even stop kneeling before them.

How about “Taste the Metal”? It’s all about the devil possessing you. Check out the chorus:

The beast declares your soul
Your mind your form his own
Forever now your (sic) dwell
Blackened tainted realms
Bleeding raping
The sadist feeding taking
Burnt and twisted your life
Belongs to him now

Now this isn’t some 80s Satanic Panic advisory. I’ve got albums that are more blatantly Satanic and if you take your metal seriously, so do you. The problem is these same lyrics are grouped in the same song as this shit:

You’ll taste the metal, you’ll taste your tears
You’ll be forever the pilgrim without fear
You’ll kneel and worship before the
Altar of steel You’ll know you’re worth it
More than any man can feel

See, if they’re a Satanic band, whatever, but this kind of confused thinking reminds me of Christian zealots who think Satan is so much more powerful than their own God that the faithful are going to be tricked, tricked, tricked into wickedness and only by pointing out how insidious the devil is, and only by getting rid of everything that might even sort of have a passing resemblance to deviltry can the all-powerful God be safe from that powerless trickster Satan. And these British Boneheads take this Satanic philosophy as described by people who hate Satan and apply it directly into their art without comment, without sarcasm, without irony. Imbeciles!

Then there’s the bog-standard lyrical topics like valkyries and pirates and stuff before the final proper song, “Warrior’s Decree.”

Ever in this night we belong
This stage is ours by right
Never fading the flame is gaining
Souls rising with strength beyond

At least here (and on the opening song) they seem to realize the artist/audience divide, but really, I’m just done. You’ve been cool and you’re the best reader of this issue. Give yourself a hearty round of applause for all your support of LotFP – I really appreciate it.

The shame is they have the potential to be producing solid, non-dairy heavy metal. The song “Lamentations of War” (even this band wouldn’t dare put the word lamentations on a bunch of bullshit) is great. It’s an effective and powerful condemnation of… war and the manipulation of people by their leaders. You know, the shit they spend the rest of their album glorifying.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Losfer Words

Why isn’t instrumental music more popular amongst heavy metal listeners?

The fact that it isn’t should prove that the long-chanted mantra of “only the music matters” is just a load of shit. I suspect that many heavy metal listeners require an image and focus they can identify with in order to properly enjoy listening to music. I believe that many heavy metal listeners secretly want something close to guitar-driven, pop-oriented albums that allow them to listen to music effortlessly. Neither of these are crimes (although I wish the pop-focused listeners – and musicians – would choose another scene to fool around in), but the overall difference between what heavy metal listeners say, and what they actually listen to, would seem to be at odds.

The most divisive element of any heavy metal composition is the singing. The vocal style and the actual words used in the lyrics embellishes every last thing that a band does. Fact: If Metallica was a neo-Nazi band and had released Master of Puppets with nothing changed except for the lyrics being harshly fascist and racist, very few people would know the album. That’s an easy, and extreme, example, granted… but a band’s lyrics are often in close alignment with their overall image, and right now every one of you reading this can think of some ways to creatively insult Rhapsody of Fire, Cannibal Corpse, and Cradle of Filth that would be both accurate and unrelated to any sounds that come out of the speakers.

It would seem that removing that entirely from a band would create a situation where all barriers to enjoyment are removed. Different corners of the metal scene have at different times wished that heavy metal would be afforded the same respect given to jazz and classical composers, citing the similarities of instrumental prowess and compositional complexity. This is perhaps a laughable idea in these days of chart metal and “metal” bands involving kids with emo swoosh haircuts, but in metal’s less popular days these ideas had merit for the scene as a whole.

(It should be noted that metal’s compositional complexity (at its most advanced) is definitely exaggerated in comparison to orchestral music simply for the sake of writing music for a three-to-six piece ensemble versus writing for a full orchestra… and musicians who can improvise, a standard quality in jazz, should probably be considered better than those who can not. But this does not make metal less, it just makes it different.)

I do believe metal’s image and absolutely abrasive nature has been the reason why this didn’t happen in the 90s, which is a shame. I feel that in the eyes of most outside observers, metal’s lyrics and image destroys its musical credibility, while in the hearts of the metal faithful, it is musical credibility that elevates the lyrical concepts and often makes ridiculous themes palatable. Which brings us back to “it’s the music that matters.”

I believe that heavy metal bands themselves have devalued the instrumental. While there have been stunning examples of well-planned instrumental compositions on well-regarded albums (to cut to the chase: “Call of Ktulu” and “Orion”), they are not the norm for heavy metal instrumentals. Far more representative of the early heavy metal instrumental album is a guitarist’s solo album. Commonly regarded as nothing more than “wanking,” the view is that the only value of such albums is for fellow musicians to compare their abilities. It’s nothing to actually listen to, right? “Yeah, he can play, but when is he going to join a band?”

What is amusing is that the very things that cause shred albums to be disregarded are the same things that drive the reputations of “real” bands. You know, the ones with singing. Technical instrumental ability? Check. Speed? Hell yeah, lots of bands, especially in the old days, made reputations based on how fast they played. General sonic chaos and lack of easily digestible hooks, melodies, and chorus? Yeah, some of those guitar player instrumental albums are something else. Perhaps the real problem is the public perception was that those guitar players were complete loudmouth pricks whose entire world was their guitar and their belief that their ability to play it made them superior human beings.

Many “normal” albums contain instrumentals. But they are completely devalued and shown to be nothing more than preparation for the “real” music. Intros, interludes, “instrumentals” that are nothing more than a quick musical idea that hasn’t been fleshed out to reach “composition” status… they are everywhere in metal. This isn’t a bad thing by itself; many examples are completely justifiable and make sense within their context. As a whole, they do send the message that instrumental work, in the context of a heavy metal album anyway, is not the “real” music.

An instrumental album is more difficult to create than a “normal” heavy metal album because of the expectation of vocals. The space in the listener’s head must be filled by some unusual sound. Because of this, many instrumental albums are performed by advanced musicians, and this destroys their credibility with the general metal listener. It’s all good and well to be a great player, but the really good ones don’t just listen to metal, and they don’t just idolize metal musicians. As soon as the words fusion, jazz, progressive, or any sort of talk on theory escape from a musician’s mouth, people tune out. Look what happens to the most capable players in heavy metal. Spiral Architect. Cynic. Atheist. Psychotic Waltz. Watchtower. This entire segment of heavy metal is barely a blip in the overall landscape, and that’s with vocals. Why?

The easy way to answer this is to say, “Heavy metal fans are just stupid and don’t recognize talent when they see it.” But that isn’t true. Does anybody who chooses not to listen to Spiral Architect claim them to be untalented? No. But a perceived lack of “hooks” and “real songs” is definitely a common opinion. And to take away the singing? Instrumental albums are not easy, passive listening experiences. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “Heavy metal fans as a whole have little interest in truly top-level musicianship.” Be good enough, be worshipped. Be too good, be shunned. I think the “most metal listeners want pop music on steroids” theory is a pretty good one.

The impact of the surrounding culture can not be ignored. Popular music in the Western world has been vocally-oriented for the last century. The mass opinion can have an absolutely crushing influence on individual tastes, no matter what one does to counteract it. For all the unoriginality throughout rock and metal’s history, and complaints that people are trying to ride a bandwagon to success, the truth is most of it is done by people who think they are being really cool and expressing their unique selves. Making that separation from groupthink is difficult and often painful – how many iconoclasts and free thinkers lead miserable lives filled with self destructive behavior? – and the rewards for doing so are private and personal. Masses of people are just not going to follow a severe diversion from the usual path.

The instrumental metal album wouldn’t quite have such a burden, as by definition it is staying within the parameters of heavy metal. But what keeps an instrumental band metal? A lot of metal is defined by lyrics, or vocals, or imagery. It’s hard enough to determine if top bands in the genre these days should really be considered metal (Nightwish’s current Eurovision-ready singles, anyone?) without examining the more obscure, and decidedly different bands. If you go by the guidelines of LotFP’s Scum, it might seem like instrumental music is unable to be heavy metal. “Lyrics are the biggest key to discovering whether a particular band, album, or song can be considered heavy metal,” and all that. Of course that’s not the case; heavy metal does have a purely sonic component. “Heavy metal is in the motivation. It isn't in the noise.” It’s obvious when listening to Behold… the Arctopus or Electro Quarterstaff that these bands are metal. Mastery is all about pure thrash; they just have no singer. If bands like Dysrhythmia and Canvas Solaris have outside influences, that’s just natural, but enough to make them non-metal as a whole? That debate can get messy.

In the end, instrumental metal is about one thing: Musical excellence in its purest form. It doesn’t blend into the background, and it doesn’t just hand you anything. It requires, and rewards, close and attentive listening. Maybe that isn’t what the general metal fan wants, but it should be what music listeners demand.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proof that Heavy Metal Sucks the Life Right Out of You

Me: I've seen Fudge Tunnel live.
Matt: Wow. Too bad.
Me: Opening for Sepultura, so it makes sense.
Matt: Right.

I mean, really. Knowing why Fudge Tunnel opening for Sepultura makes sense without even having to think about it? Even a little bit? Think of how much more we could have accomplished in our lives if all that brain capacity which has been wasted on frickin Fudge Tunnel trivia was spent on something productive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interview: Ron Jarzombek

by Matt Johnsen

I used to think Ron Jarzombek was the greatest guitarist of all time. I don’t think that anymore, having lately acquainted myself with the works of the late Shawn Lane (among others). Ron is an excellent guitarist, no doubt, but he’s not a be-all-end-all, king of technique, guitarists’ guitarist. He is, however, among the most creative musical minds ever to grace this musical ghetto we call metal. He’s a special kind of genius– a heavy metal savant, a visionary sequencer of notes, an unrepentant bender of musical rules. With Watchtower he more or less created the microgenre of “tech metal,” and in fact approximately half of the undisputed albums in that clique were written by him. His albums with Spastic Ink and as a solo artist, along with Watchtower’s Control and Resistance, are all essential listening and fundamental influences on such bands as Cynic, Spiral Architect, Necrophagist, Behold... the Arctopus, and pretty much any boundary-pushing, chops-intensive metal of the last 15 years.

Ron’s latest project is Blotted Science, and for the first time in a long time, this project veers dangerously close to being an actual band. Always featuring Ron and bassist Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse (don’t hold it against him), Blotted Science cycled through a small army of drummers before finally landing on Charlie Zelany of Behold... the Arctopus (and Jordan Rudess, ha ha!), and their sole album, The Machinations of Dementia, is as classic as anything Ron’s done (which is to say: highly). I’ve spoken with Ron many times, on the occasion of every release he’s made since the first Spastic Ink album, but I never have trouble coming up with new questions for him, and we’ve never had the same conversation twice. Ron is a silly guy; he’s tightly wound but not uptight, if that makes much sense. He’s full of energy but never serious. We could probably spend an hour talking about the genius of Tom & Jerry composer Scott Bradley, and after all, this is the guy who recorded a metal medley of the Bambi score, but only from the scenes in which Thumper appeared. What more do you need to know? Ron is insane, but in the best possible way.

Matt Johnsen: What was the genesis of the Blotted Science project? Did you approach Alex? Did he approach you?

Ron Jarzombek: I was trying to get more of a band together rather than just a recording project. I wanted a singer, maybe two guitar players, bass and drums, and do more of a not-so-tech kind of thing. Chris Adler [Lamb of God] was involved very early on and I was trying to tap into more of that style, that heavy groove kind of a thing, with all that double bass, rather than doing the whole techno thing. So Chris came onboard and then Alex came on board after that. I was writing parts of songs that were not so technical, and then I had a couple of little technical things in there and when I gave the tunes to Chris and Alex they both liked the more technical things. So it was like, “Okay, here we go again!” We’re going to do another tech-metal thing when what I was trying to do was the other way. And then they didn’t want vocals, and it just kinda turned into what it is right now: an extremely heavy Spastic Ink but not quite as technical. But what I wanted to do in the beginning was to get someone from the technical metal side (me), maybe some one from the death metal side (Alex Webster), and then Chris was from the extreme metal or thrash, and put that all together and see what happens. Then when Chris didn’t work out, we tried Derek Roddy [ex-Hate Eternal], so that was two death metal guys, and that was not really what I was going for at the time. Then Charlie came along, and he’s even more technical than Spastic Ink! So then it was three different guys, but it was a different mixture from what I wanted.

MJ: It’s obvious that when you’re trying to do a technical project, you’ll need to go farther afield to find musicians, but when you decided to do something simpler, a little less complex, wouldn’t it have been easier to just find local guys? Or were you specifically trying to find other “names” in the scene?

RJ: I think I was looking for a different kind of drummer. The drummer that I’m playing with now in a Rush tribute band, he’s a great drummer but too left-field to where he’s more of a fusion guy and he’s not really on the tech heavy side. The other drummer I was in a local band with was just a stock metal drummer. Neither guy can read music, and I find it VERY hard to communicate with any players when they can’t read. That was the good thing about Charlie - he understood everything that I was trying to convey to him musically, plus, as far as his input on parts, he’s such a great communicator and that really helped with him. Some people aren’t open to critique or suggestions. When Charlie came into the picture, all the songs were written and he had to try to capture what I was going for very early on during the writing stages. I originally wanted input from all of the guys but Chris (Lamb Of God) doesn’t work that way. He wanted me to write tunes and he’d make up drum parts. The way Bobby and I wrote Ink Complete was he would make up drum beats and I’d put guitar parts to that, and it went back and forth that way. The main reason things didn’t work out with Derek was he wanted to re-write parts that were already written. I had tunes that obviously worked and they were fully constructed songs and everything, then he came in. I have that problem a lot with drummers for quite a while now; it’s real hard for me to find the right drummer. I went through I don’t know how many people for “Ink Compatible” before I came out with Dave Penna and Jeff Eber. Some people are just good at taking what’s there and putting their own stamp on it, and other drummers just want to change everything, and they end up changing the song. And that’s not what I wanted. If the song hasn’t been written, then I like all of the input, but I don’t like it when things are re-written.

MJ: So, you never work with a drummer by presenting a guitar riff and asking, “What would you play here?”

RJ: I think when I make up tunes I already have the beat in my head. Actually, sometimes the groove/rhythm comes first. I might present it in simple form but Bobby is such a good writer with rhythmic ideas, I’d say, “Make up a beat!”, and I’d have freedom to do whatever I wanted over that. But when I gave him a part, he didn’t mind learning the programmed part because he’s a mofo of a reader, very technical and can pull it off. Some drummers don’t want to do that. If I did work with a drummer that way, I’d probably give him a click track that I made up the guitar part to. But, I’d know in my head where I wanted the snare, how aggressive I wanted it, if I wanted double bass or a reverse gallop. I would know, so I’d have to present it that way.

MJ: So, to a large extent, the drum parts Charlie is playing are parts that Chris had originally composed.

RJ: What I composed with Chris’ style in mind.

MJ: So, as with most of your things, you plotted out what the drums should be doing.

RJ: I do all of the programming and everything, just like on my solo CD. Pretty much a constructed drum part. Then I want drummers to take those ideas and elaborate on them a little bit, but I have a problem when the parts totally change. If I wanted snares on all of the downbeats, and he’s doing a blast beat, or a half-time groove it’s like he’s changing the song. There are peaks and valleys in songs, and when those change, your storyline gets distorted, and the song is ruined. Drum fills and stuff like that, all of that’s fine; throw that in wherever you want to but as far as the basic grooves - that needs to be there. I think that’s what makes the Blotted Science stuff stand out - because it’s techy and instrumental but there’s tons of groove to it. With a lot of technical bands, I just don’t get a sense of something moving along. It’s just a lot of notes happening. I’m not trying to make Blotted Science sound more mainstream, but there’s more to grab on to rather than just a bunch of notes.

MJ: But let’s say someone was listening to Spastic Ink or Blotted Science without access to the liner notes and song explanations, not knowing the concepts that underpin your compositions. Without a pretty solid grasp of music theory, they’re not going to be able to detect these things on their own. Do you think that someone listening to your music sight unseen could come away with the proper appreciation for it?

RJ: For instance, with my solo CD, if they have the liner notes they’ll probably get more out of it, but if they don’t they can still take it for what it is and what it sounds like. That entire CD is based on what goes into the tunes theoretically. Same with Blotted Science where I use different writing systems. If they’re not aware of those things, that’s fine; they can listen to it for what it is.

MJ: You don’t think that not knowing this information is a fundamental disadvantage when listening to this music?

RJ: No, I think it’s an extra advantage when they are aware of it. And another thing - with all of the downloading going on these days, a lot of people listen to this stuff and they don’t know why certain things are written a certain way, and they’re losing out on a lot. And that’s just so rampant these days. People don’t read liner notes, they don’t pick up the full CD; they just listen to what’s there on their mp3 player and think they’re getting everything; but they’re missing out. They may be missing the whole point. When I was a kid, I wanted to pick up the albums, see all the bands’ pictures so I could get the full information about what’s going on. But nowadays, people just don’t care about that stuff.

MJ: You said that you wanted originally for this to be not as technical, did you devise this Circle of 12 Tones thing after Alex started pushing you in a more technical direction, or were you using this system even when you were writing the more stripped-down material?

RJ: No, the Circle of 12 Tones came in a bit later. I had the idea for the band, then we started putting tunes together and we had just started when the Circle of 12 Tones writing system came up. Originally, the tunes were a little bit simpler but it seemed that Alex and Chris - everything they liked was more technical and heavy. I had kind of had my share of technicality, and I think I’ve done so many technical CDs that I’ve been labeled as a guitar player who can only write and play this certain type of thing. But on my solo CD I do a lot of different types of music. I think I get lumped in that category as “only a technical guy.” So, I hopefully the Blotted Science thing, being a lot heavier, will appeal to more people.

MJ: When we’ve talked before about these systems and methods you use to generate riffs, you said it was hard for you to just sit down and jam, just shit out parts with no plan. Did you try that at all when you were trying to bring it back to basics?

RJ: I’d have to think of the individual tunes. I don’t know, sometimes I’m just driving or whatever and I’ll make up a tune in my head, then I can grab my guitar and play it, that kind of thing. But I think I come up with better tunes when they’re based on other things, not just what’s going on in my head. I think I get more out of that. But if I make up something in my head, I’ll know what tonality it is, so I’ll know what kind of scale to use for it. But with the Circle of 12 Tones, it forces a lot of different types of tonality, to where you have to figure out something that works over it. Then it takes that system even further in a different direction, and that’s what I wanted to do. You don’t get lumped into the same set of notes to work with all the time. You get these different clusters, and they might not fit into a diminished or a whole tone or a major, or a harmonic minor or whatever. You have to think of something else that works with it. There’s a song called “The Insomniac” from the Blotted CD that’s got all this weird tonality stuff and it kinda came out sounding like Danny Elfman but that was unintentional, although I love Elfman’s work. Those were the notes I was presented with, so I had to work with them, so I came up with a different tonality in that song.

MJ: But at the same time, there’s a lot of great metal that’s made completely without forethought of this sort. If you boil it down to its essence, it’s almost boneheaded in its simplicity, but it could never arise from an orderly pattern. Don’t you worry that if you force everything into some system that you’ll miss some cool riffs that can only come from blindly screwing around on the guitar?

RJ: There’s a couple songs on the Blotted CD that don’t use a specific writing system. But for me, if I hit a set of notes, I’m going to subconsciously know where it came from so I’ll be steering myself in a certain direction. It’s like, if you get in your car and you drive north, you know where you’re headed. I’m gonna go to Austin. South, I’m going to Corpus. You know when you’re headed in a certain direction that something’s gonna be out there.

MJ: I know with serialized music, pure 12-tone stuff…

RJ: Honestly, I’ve never written with the real Schoenberg 12-tone system. To me, that sounds extremely structured. You don’t have a lot of freedom with it. But, I’ve never written with it so I’m not one to say it’s a limiting system. I supposes I’m not too high up on it because I’ve never used it. The way I do things is - I’ll have certain notes that I need to work with, and I can do whatever I want with them. Like in “See, and it’s Sharp!”, the Spastic Ink song, we wrote a four and a half minute song with only two notes! And you have a lot of possibilities with a certain set of notes, so when you work with the Circle of 12 Tones, and you have four or six notes to work with, you can do so many things, just with those notes. And then when you use the notes that you’re not working with to complete the system, then you’ve got the full 12-note system completed.

MJ: I was just going to mention that with Schoenberg specifically, some people complain that he never followed through with his system to its logical end, he never followed every rule he made for himself. When you’re using your system, do you ever allow yourself to bend the rules in order to say what you’re trying to say?

RJ: I follow them. If the song was set up with a structure, that’s what I follow. Really, when you do that, the notes are dictating where you’re going. But if I was writing a piece for a film or something and I had to create a certain mood with certain types of notes, I don’t think the Circle of 12 Tones would work. I think I lucked out on “Vegetation”. I wanted it in 3 parts: First, where someone is laying on a hospital bed obviously been through something tragic; then the reality that they will be in a vegetative state for the rest of their life; then the end where you try to make the best of it. I used the real Circle of Fifths layout for that but abused it with the Circle Of 12 Tones system and it worked out perfectly. But you need to have a certain tonality to get a certain mood. With this system you make this tune with this set of notes, that tune with that set of notes, and that’s going to take you in certain directions. But if you have to specifically go in a certain area, tonality-wise, you might not get there with the couple of notes you have left, so yeah, you’re right, you can’t use it all the time. But for Blotted Science, it worked out REALLY well.

MJ: Are you an obsessive-compulsive type in other aspects of your life?

RJ: Yeah, kinda sorta.

MJ: So, if I ask if your car doors are all locked, you’ll have to run outside to make sure they are?

RJ: Yeah, a couple of times I’ve done something like that!

MJ: Do you have any rhythmic equivalent to your Circle of 12 Tones system? Do you have any method for serializing rhythm?

RJ: No, you have the freedom rhythmically to do whatever you want, but with your notes, your pitches, you’re using whatever’s been presented by the system. But sometimes you can force yourself to do certain rhythmic things if you’re going to use Morse Code, or if you’re going to spell out a phone number. That will dictate your rhythm but then you’re free to use whatever pitches you want. Sometimes you can mix them together.

MJ: When you do your solos and leads, do you follow these rules as well?

RJ: That’s where you have to get more notes. For instance, if the Circle of 12 Tones gave me G-A-B, that could fit into G major, E minor, it could be a G whole tone. I could make an Eb augmented chord work out of that because it has a certain note pattern that works well with those notes. So, you get the three notes to work with the system then you do whatever else you want with it. That’s where the fun part comes up! I’ll get this explained in depth on my upcoming DVDs, that’s for sure.

MJ: Obviously Alex contributed to a lot of these songs. You’re not really used to writing music together with someone.

RJ: Yeah, that’s what I wanted. I wanted more input from the band members rather than basically handing out sheet music and saying, “Here’s how the part goes.” That’s also what I originally wanted with the drummer, but Chris didn’t really work that way. He wanted to make up parts to existing guitar lines, and I wanted beats and stuff like that for me to make parts up over that. But Alex came in and he had a lot of tunes, and he’d send them to me, then I’d say, “Okay, here’s this tune”, and I’d have some parts that were the same tempo and we’d start constructing songs. On the song “Brain Fingerprinting,” I did a 12 Tone pattern and I told Alex, “Make up a tune with the notes Bb, Eb, A and G,” or something like that, at 140 bpm, and make it pretty aggressive. So he made up a tune, sent me the mp3 and sheet music for it, and we stuck it in there, and that was how the song was constructed. Same thing with “Narcolepsy.” I was using whole tone scale, and wanted it to modulate to the other whole tone scale (the way I see things there are only two whole tone scales), I told Alex to write something in 5/4, 150 bpms, in C whole tone. The next day, we had that section completed. That type of thing happened quite a bit.

MJ: Does it alternate between his riffs and your riffs, or did you just cram his section in?

RJ: LOL. No, “Brain Fingerprinting,” that’s a good mix of our riffs. He did his tunes and I did mine, then I arranged them all together in a certain way.

MJ: Was there any point at which he completed a song?

RJ: No. We didn’t write that way. Spastic Ink didn’t write that way either. Alex and I would write individual parts for songs, then they would find their place in the ‘songs.’ That’s how we wrote these tunes. I know a lot of bands have one guy who will write a complete song, then he’ll present it to the whole band, but I’ve never worked that way, and the reason is WatchTower. In WatchTower, you’d bring in one part of a song and then they’d change everything and then it’s nowhere near what it was when you first brought it in. So, when you write a complete song, they’re gonna change this part, the next part is gonna change, and then those two tunes that originally fit really well together have no place following each other after they got done with it. So what I learned from WatchTower is - you bring in one little part of a song, present it and see where it goes, get that on tape, and then that’s the tune. And then bring in another one, and you’d keep doing it that way. But if I tried to write a complete song with Rick [Colaluca] and Doug [Keyser], it would never turn out the way I wanted it to.

MJ: Since I assume you were trading the music written down, was there anything Alex gave to you that you just couldn’t play? Or vice-versa: did you give him a bass line where he said, “Look man, I can’t do that”?

RJ: Sometimes I do that to myself when I write on the computer. I’ll write something and like how it sounds on the computer, then I’ll have to play it. You do run into that sometimes. I’d imagine that Alex runs into that sometimes with Pat O’Brien with Cannibal tunes. I mean their tunes are hellacious. Alex wrote a couple Blotted tunes where it’s easy for him to play because he’s finger-picking it with his right hand, but I have to do these huge string skips with a pick. But that’s going to happen with any band if you have a bass player playing with his fingers versus a guitar player playing with a pick. And them death metal guys, they have this thing where they HAVE to pick every note! I’m telling Alex, “Look, you don’t have to pick every note - it’s cool.” I think you get a lot of different phrasings when you don’t pick every note. It is harder to pick everything because of the left and right hand coordination, but I like how it sounds better when you’re not picking everything. Of course, some tunes sound much better picking every note, and some of them HAVE to be picked with all downstrokes, too. And if you can’t play something picking everything, then you just say it sounds better when you don’t pick every note! LOL

MJ: You said before that one of you goals at the beginning was to break the association between ‘Ron Jarzombek’ and ‘super technical’, but have you ever considered doing what your brother does and doing more session work? We know Bobby can do the craziest crap imaginable, but he also has a reputation as a rock solid utility man. Surely he had contacts that could put you in touch with someone needing a guitarist.

RJ: Yeah, if that came up, I’d look into it. I’ve had a couple bands that have contacted me, or the opportunity was there, and I didn’t pursue it, but I wasn’t interested for whatever reason. I don’t want to knock any bands, but some groups I wouldn’t get much out of it. There have been a few times where I still kick myself for not going for something though.

MJ: You wouldn’t do something with a band if you just thought it was “okay”? I don’t know how Bobby feels about the music of Sebastian Bach, but certainly no one thinks less of him for playing with that guy.

RJ: If somebody offered me a gig like that, I may think about it. But that hasn’t really happened so far, so I’m just doing what I do. But I play somewhat straightforward tunes in the cover gig: I’ll play Pantera, Godsmack, System Of A Down, Alice In Chains, Van Halen, Pantera tunes, or Tool or whatever. Shit, I don’t mind playing that stuff. I’m doing the Rush tribute band right now but we’re doing other bands as well.

MJ: Are you covering the full spectrum of the Rush discography, or are you just playing the classic stuff?

RJ: Mostly the earlier stuff. We do a lot off of ‘Moving Pictures’, “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, “La Villa Strangiato”, “Spirit Of Radio”, “Freewill.” Anything past ‘Moving Pictures’ we don’t really touch.

MJ: You don’t like the synthesizer stuff?

RJ: That stuff’s okay, but I grew up with the earlier albums. We’d do “Subdivisions” but there are too many keyboard parts to play. However, we do play “Tom Sawyer.” By the way, if you want to mention the Rush tribute, it’s called Exit Stage Left.

MJ: Do you get a lot of gigs with the Rush tribute band?

RJ: Yeah, that’s why we do other bands. If you do just a regular bar gig, you can’t just play Rush. We have to do three hours of music so we’ll mix in other things.

MJ: Do you dress up? Do you wear the white robes and all that crap?

RJ: LOL. We’ve done a couple gigs with the cloaks and all that. I had a black ‘cloak’, but it was really one of those black nighties from Victoria’s Secret! LOL My wife picked it up at some thrift store for 10 bucks or so. Hopefully nobody could tell I was wearing lingerie! We’ve only done a few Rush tributes like that. Every other gig is a regular three-hour bar gig where you play from 10:00 to 2:00 with breaks.

MJ: Is it just three guys? Does someone play pedals?

RJ: Yeah, the bassist and I play the pedals, but actually we have a hot chick singer.

MJ: Posers.

RJ: LOL. It’s a four piece, yeah.

MJ: Back to Blotted Science, then!

RJ: Yeah, yeah, let’s get back to that!

MJ: How far into the writing of a song do you start incorporating the story or theme? With Blotted Science, at least, the titles and the music work pretty closely together. Do you come up with those first, or, after you’ve gotten a little ways into the song do you ask, “What’s this going to be about?”

RJ: That varies from song to song. “Oscillation Cycles,” that song is about the different stages of sleep, so I wanted one tune that sounded cool at four different tempos. So, I had to write that tune. But I didn’t write a song and say, “wow, this song sounds great at four different tempos, let’s see what kind of sleep thing I can come up with to fit it.” In that case, I had to make up a tune that fit that story. But a song like “Laser Lobotomy,” that’s pretty general.

MJ: But, “Amnesia,” for instance, the trick with that song…

RJ: Yeah, a good example of a song that follows the specific title. That song is divided into two parts. The first half is a few tunes played normally, then the second half is the same set of tunes, but a bunch of notes are randomly missing. As if a guy is basically living his life, then got amnesia and forgot everything or gradually forgot more and more until there’s nothing there. “Narcolepsy” is another example, where I wanted a tune or a couple of tunes played, then I wanted to drop out in certain sections, as if the guy is falling asleep. So I got a bunch of tunes that sounded cool when they were played with bells and strings, but also sounded good heavy and aggressive too, and so that song had to be “Narcolepsy” because that’s what it was written for. But “Synaptic Plasticity”, “Laser Lobotomy,” those titles could have been alternated. Those are just cool tunes that have cool titles, but some songs are really specific.

MJ: Did you write the “Adenosine” songs specifically to play backwards?

RJ: Oh yeah. I knew what I wanted to do. I’d make up a tune and then make sure it sounded cool backwards. Both songs have 6 parts (or tunes). The first tune I had to make a really slow, soft tune to start the first song and end the second song. The heaviest tune was at the end of the first song, and the first tune in the 2nd song. And it had to have a gradual slope where it was soft, but picked up and got heavy. The all of the tunes were played in reverse order for the 2nd song. So that one had to be pretty specific as to how it was built up and came back down. I knew that song was going to be played backwards before I wrote any of the tunes in it.

MJ: So there wasn’t one song that was written first, per se. Did you write “Adenosine Breakdown” as it is, and then learn it backwards?

RJ: The ones that were forward were written forward. I think I know what you’re saying.

MJ: Which way is forward?

RJ: Actually, “Breakdown” is forward and “Buildup” is backwards. It took me a long time to figure that out! It’s a chemical in your head that does something but when it breaks down that’s when something is accelerating. So the words are reversed from what the action really is. Quite confusing.

MJ: Are the drum patterns backwards?

RJ: No, just the melody lines.

MJ: There’s a lead in that, too.

RJ: It’s more of a melody, but yeah. And that song does follow the Circle of 12 Tones. The songs on the CD that don’t follow the Circle of 12 tones are “Activation Synthesis Theory”, “Night Terror”, “Amnesia”, and “Narcolepsy”. “Oscillation Cycles” is a 12-tone pattern but it’s just a simple row. “Brain Fingerprinting” doesn’t follow the Circle of 12 Tones, but used what I call multiple 12-tone sets, that’s pretty specific. “Activation Synthesis” doesn’t follow any specific system at all - it’s just a bunch of cool tunes, mostly whole tone and half whole tone. The question that you asked me about 10 minutes ago, about just making up tunes, that’s an example of that.

MJ: That’s about as close as it gets?

RJ: Yeah, and even then, on “Flight in Space” I wanted that to sound like something floating, so that’s all whole tones. But “Monsters in My Closet,” that’s just tunes that were written and didn’t follow anything in specific. “Night Terror” is constructed solely with a half whole tone scale, the whole song.

MJ: Were these songs written early in the process, before you came up with the Circle of 12 tones?

RJ: Just somewhere in there. I’d make up a tune or whatever and it would sound cool, and I wouldn’t want to force it into a system so I just made up other tunes that fit with it.

MJ: Before you even started this project, had you settled on this neuroscience angle?

RJ: It came in pretty early. The whole sleep thing was a WatchTower carry-over thing. We were going to do a song called “The Sleep Trilogy,” and the song “The Eldritch” (from “Control And Resistance”) actually started that, but we never completed the other two parts. I’m pretty fascinated by the whole sleep thing where your body shuts off and all that. I think it’s pretty cool. And then we needed some more scary stuff, so we got into the mental disorders and all of that. Got the brains and the skulls and all on the cover. But the concept came pretty early, when we started to put tunes together.

MJ: When Alex gave you riffs, did he furnish drum parts, or just the music?

RJ: Some of them had drum parts, but they were pretty basic. He would have snare hits and bass drums and where the downbeat was on the metronome.

MJ: Is he responsible for all the blast beats in the album?

RJ: No, I wrote all of “Night Terror” and there’s quite a few blast beats in that. He wrote maybe 85% of “Bleeding in the Brain”, possibly my favorite tune on the album.

MJ: I guess I first encountered blast beats in the late 80s, with bands like Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower, but it took me a while before I was able to come to grips with that as a valid rhythmic choice. Did you always like blast beats, or did you have to go through a similar adjustment?

RJ: No, actually, all of the Cannibal Corpse stuff was just way too brutal for me. I couldn’t tell what was a good blast beat and what was a bad one. I had to ask Alex, “Hey, is this band good because they’re doing all this blast stuff?” And he’d say, “Yeah, this is good,” or, “No, this is bad,” and it was kind of hard for me to tell the difference. LOL. I just knew it was this really aggressive thing. I can’t handle too much of it. That’s not what I grew up with. And all the death metal picking, the tremolo picking - I had never recorded anything before this that had tremolo picking. I just never did it. I never wrote a drum beat where there were snares on all of the downbeats either. Never happened. And that’s a thing I picked up from Lamb of God, listening to Chris Adler a lot. So I’d kind of take that in, then all the blast beat stuff, the Cannibal stuff, and I’d see what direction it was going and coming from, and I incorporated that into the tunes I was writing. I just think that anyone who knows how to read music, you can listen to other things going on out there and be able to deal with it. If you have somebody that doesn’t know how to read music, you can find out by listening to that band’s albums. They write a bunch of songs using this type of groove and this type of a scale because they don’t really know what they’re doing. They’re going to sound the same. But when you’re aware of what you’re doing musically, I think you can take certain things from other types of music and put that into what you’re doing, because you know what they’re doing theoretically or rhythmically.

MJ: Have you found that since you’ve tried your hand at this sort of thing that you’re more interested in hearing more extreme forms of metal? Have you bought any black metal albums?

RJ: No. You don’t want to know what I’ve bought lately! Actually, it’s really funny; Charlie listens to a lot of pop stuff, and we were talking the other day and I was like, “Dude, did you hear the new K.T. Tunstall record?” And he said, “I love that!” That’s been in my truck CD player for quite a while. She’s got a song on her first album that’s in 5/4 called “Silent Sea.” It’s a great tune, cool melodies, awesome chord progressions. But that goes back to the cartoons, listening to that. Spastic Ink had a lot of stuff from cartoons and that kind of wacky music. All I did was figure out where it was coming from, what scales it was using, and incorporate that into what I was doing. If I had never listened to Carl Stalling [the music director for Warner Brothers’ animation wing in the classic period] I wouldn’t have done any of the Squeakie tunes, or “Oh No, Mr. Kitty.” That’s where all that stuff came from. It’s the same thing with Cannibal Corpse and Lamb of God. Without that influence, I never could have written the Blotted Science material that I came up with.

MJ: Tell me about your first all-hands meeting with Charlie and Alex at NAMM this weekend.

RJ: It was cool!

MJ: Did you do a photo shoot?

RJ: Yes we did!

MJ: Did you all wear black t-shirts?

RJ: Yeah, I didn’t want to but everybody else did! I wanted to do something scientific, wear glasses for that scientists look or something fun, and they’re like, “We can’t do that! We’ve got no time!” And they made up a bunch of excuses and shit. LOL So I said, “Fine. Let’s wear black shirts and black pants.”

MJ: Alex was afraid he’d lose cred with his fans? If they found out he had a sense of humor, it would all be over.

RJ: He can’t be caught smiling either! LOL! A while back, when we had the CD released, a friend of mine took a picture when we were all having a great time, and Alex was like, “Dude, you can’t put that photo up on the net.” He said, “You can put it up, but I’d rather if it wasn’t up.” LOL But yeah, the 3 of us finally all meeting up at NAMM was pretty cool. Everyone got along great. What I liked is that when the three of us got together, everyone had input. It wasn’t like I was dictating things. If there’s a Blotted Science 2, I think Charlie’s going to have a lot of ideas, whereas on this first CD he wasn’t involved early on, so he didn’t have much of a chance to write with us. He even writes some Behold… the Arctopus songs. This is a different type of tech than what Behold… The Arctopus is doing, but when I was working with Charlie as far as rhythmic ideas and stuff like that, we had no problem communicating whatsoever. Everything was pretty straightforward without any complications. He understood where I was coming from and I knew where he was going with his ideas.

MJ: Do you think if you did another album you’d consider writing in a rehearsal-room scenario? Get everyone together and see what happens?

RJ: That’s what we were supposed to do with this and it didn’t work, with Chris’ touring schedule and everything. We were going to meet up several times within several months and it just never happened. Chris had to bow out because of Lamb Of God’s touring schedule, so Alex and I were just sending tunes back and forth via the internet. We couldn’t find a drummer and the next thing you know the whole album was written. But we’re supposed to have some Blotted rehearsals in April. We’re probably going to go to Alex’s, over at Mana Studios in Florida, and get together. We’re picking three or four songs that we’re going to try out, see how it works. It’s going to be a new thing for me!

MJ: So, you might do some live shows?

RJ: Yeah. We’re getting too many invites to play. People want to check it out. It’s not like “Ink Compatible”; this is three guys doing their thing. It’s not like I have seven guests on here. It’s the three guys that recorded the CD - that’s it. With “Ink Compatible”, if we were to tour, people would be like, “Well, who’s playing bass?” There were five freaking bass players on that album!

MJ: If you guys did some shows, would you play other songs from your discography?

RJ: It might be cool to play “See! And It’s Sharp” from the first Spastic Ink CD. I think it would fit in pretty good. We’d probably play something Cannibal, like “Hammer Smashed Face” might be fun. But I don’t think we could play a Behold… the Arctopus song!

MJ: You don’t have enough strings!

RJ: Yeah! That would be too tall of an order!

MJ: It would be pretty manly if you could learn the touch guitar parts on a regular guitar, though.

RJ: I don’t want to go there! I’m too old to figure all that out. Anyway, it’s not that we wouldn’t want to play it - I think the challenge would just be too great. But I think “See! And It’s Sharp” would be good.

MJ: “Just A Little Dirty” would work.

RJ: Yeah, stuff like that that’s real heavy……….

MJ: ….and doesn’t have as much layering.

RJ: Right, we couldn’t do “Squeakie” or any of that kind of shit. It just wouldn’t fit in at all. We’ll have to see what happens in April when we get together.

MJ: You could do a “Nighty-Nite” / “Night Terror” medley!

RJ: Exactly! Doug and I tried to do “Nighty-Nite” one time at a WatchTower gig but we got to the part and he just left the stage! It was a bit much for him to remember all that, I guess. “Nighty-Nite” has that chordal part underneath and I was playing the melody. It was in Rotterdam, on the Coroner tour we did. We started playing it and we were both on the stage together, then he forgot that came up next and he just left! LOL “I’ll see you later, Ron!” I’m serious! We didn’t attempt it any time after that. [laughs]

MJ: What’s going on with your DVD?

RJ: Actually, I put that on hold for the last few weeks because I had to get tracks together for Charlie and Alex to rehearse to. But I’m going to get back to that pretty quick, probably this week. I was working on that pretty hard a bit over a year ago but I had to put it on hold when Charlie finished recording his Blotted drum tracks, then I had to write all of my solos for the CD. I also had to do all of the production stuff and everything. I was shooting for the middle of ‘08 for the DVD, but I don’t think I’m going to make that at all. Just too much going on right now.

MJ: Your DVD is going to be more like a compositional DVD than a guitar-instruction DVD, right?

RJ: The focus of the DVD(s) 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 upcoming 'Blotted Science - The Machinations Of Dementia' CD. DVD 1 will covering various things like common simple scales use and abuse, changing keys, simultaneous major/minor keys/progressions, a few writing tools that I call “Floating Parallels”, “Trade-Offs”, “Starts/Stops”, and “The A/B Switch”. It’s not going to be “The first chapter is five string arpeggio sweeps” and all that. Everybody has already done that. That type of playing will be on there for sure, but it’s going to be within the context of something else. I’m not going to make a big deal out playing arpeggios. Who doesn’t play arpeggios these days. It’s going to be a lot of note stuff, like, “Here’s how to construct a tune with this scale coming from this writing system, and here’s how this tune was written, then I play it with examples. Lots of timing examples/exercises, too. The second DVD is going to be all 12-tone stuff. All of the material on both DVDs is from Ink CDs, Blotted or solo stuff. It’s all what makes up these songs, what’s going on theoretically. Each DVD will be over 2 hours. If I have too much material, then a 3rd DVD may follow but I’ll have to see how everything is going when I get there. I imagine that some guitarists will pick up the DVD just for the playing, but again, there’s much more to the material than that. But if they just want to check out the playing of the tunes, that’s fine with me.

MJ: Since Blotted Science, as much as any group you’ve been in, is a stable thing with a future, do you think you’ll do another solo album? Is there anything you’d like to do, musically, for which Blotted Science wouldn’t be the right venue?

RJ: Yeah, I think any other band thing that I would do, as of right now, would be Blotted Science. I don’t know if anything is going to happen with Marty Friedman, but I could do some live stuff like that. Some live shows or something. Any band thing, I don’t think I’d be writing for another band; it wouldn’t be anything but for Alex and Charlie. I might do a solo thing. I wanted to do a multi-media CD that was more aimed at the video game market. Maybe even have a couple songs that don’t have guitar. Just a different avenue for musical exploration. Not so band-oriented. That might happen.

MJ: I know that you were collaborating with a computer animation company. Did anything ever come of that?

RJ: No, they were doing it on their own time and they got too busy with their regular jobs. That was supposed to be a 24-minute piece, but that was, shit, seven years ago. They’d finish a minute long clip and send it to me and say, “Put some music on this,” then six months would go by and they’d say, “Here’s another minute of animation.” You can’t complete a thing like that. ‘Ink Compatible’ took four years. That would take as long as ‘Mathematics’ probably!

MJ: Infinitely long?

RJ: Exactly. Non-existent cooperation. It wouldn’t work.

MJ: You said that you listen to a lot of pop music: do you ever play that kind of music? Do you write pop songs?

RJ: I don’t write it, but I play it a lot for lessons, if someone brings it in. I have to teach a lot of different styles; I don’t just do metal. But I grew up with The Beatles, James Taylor and stuff like that. I like all those tonalities and chord progressions. I have to be aware of that stuff. That’s why I like K.T. Tunstall - a lot of her chord progressions are pretty spacey. Like a lot of the John Lennon stuff, just “Where is this coming from?” She does a lot of stuff like that, very non-traditional. She’ll break a couple of rules here and there.

MJ: Have you ever studied jazz or improve theory?

RJ: This might sound weird to some people but, I don’t like jazz - never have. Probably never will. Don’t like blues either. There are a few popular (and I mean POPULAR) blues guys that I have no idea why people think they are great. No freaking idea whatsoever. Sure, I can play like that if I have a single coil Strat and put the pickup selector on the neck pickup, too, and do that trill on the G string 2nd fret, then play for an hour in the E minor blues box. LOL. It’s come up several times talking with fellow guitarists that are thinking the same thing. I honestly think there are some current guitarists that say they like certain blues guys just so they’ll be in that “guitar club.” It’s like, “Yeah, I like so and so, etc. - let’s jam.” I hate that shit! It’s totally not me. LOL

MJ: You like a lot of fusion guitarists. Holdsworth?

RJ: Yeah, he’s cool! But what I like mostly about Holdsworth is how when you hear a Holdsworth tune, you know it’s him, his progressions are just so wacky. Sure his lead work is godlike, but he’s just got this tonality about his songs that stands alone. Of course when you put it all together you’ve got something pretty special. Actually, I’ve learned a lot about myself just in the last decade or so from other players. It mostly happened when trying to find drummers for Ink Compatible. Too many guys coming in, playing a bunch of crap over tunes that doesn’t work but let’s them get in their favorite tom-tom lick while totally destroying the groove. I’m into concepts, themes and how things work together within a band. I’d rather hear a band playing something wild that involves all players, not just something wanky where one guy is blowing his wad and everybody is playing something simple underneath. It’s the absolute worst when it’s the drummer, totally loses the foundation of everything. That probably comes from growing up listening to Rush. They all could blow their wad but it was always done within the context of something. It wasn’t just a wankfest showing how fast somebody could play some new triplet-32nd lick that they discovered last night and they forced it into a song somewhere. For instance Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato” - that’s pretty close to jazz but it’s all where it should be. Themes, solos, intricate parts, improv, the intro, the whole thing, soft sections, etc.. Take Behold… The Arctopus for example - those guys all play their asses off, and it’s necessary because that’s what the song requires. That’s what the song is - it’s how it was written. I grew up with Rush, Yes, UK, and you have concepts and themes all over the place, a lot of thinking stuff, parts intertwining with other parts, and that’s how I am, that’s what I think music is. I’m not really a guy who rips out all these solos, although there are solos all over the place on my CDs (and I’ve even been accused numerous times of wanking too much myself), but there’s so much more to it than that. Everything works together, and if you’ve got some killer leadwork or soloing on top of that – awesome! But yeah, to contradict myself, I totally dig Holdsworth.

MJ: John McLaughlin?

RJ: No. I’ve heard him a few times before; didn’t do it for me. Don’t print that!

MJ: Are you afraid he’s going to come get you?

RJ: [laughs] No, Neil Kernon will be like, “Dude! You don’t like McLaughlin?!” Although, to contradict myself again, I really like Al DiMeola. He was my favorite guitarist for probably two years when I was growing up. But I don’t really view him as a typical ‘jazz’ guitar player. He did a lot of harmonic minor, all that Latin groove. Bobby thought the same thing. DiMeola won the “Best Jazz Guitarist” award in Guitar Player or something, and we were like, “He’s not even a jazz guitarist!” For me, I think jazz is like Larry Carlton, Lee Ritnour, although those guys are awesome, too.

MJ: Tribal Tech?

RJ: Scott Henderson? Yeah, that’s pretty cool stuff. Cool playing, and pretty cool tunes.

MJ: This is obviously all fusion. What about Gambale?

RJ: Yeah, Gambale’s great.

MJ: But he’s improvising!

R.J. Yeah, and you can tell when it’s him, too. I think that’s what also bugs me about typical jazzer dudes. Don’t they all kinda sound the same? Blues dudes, too! I mean how many solos can be played in one pentatonic box!? Man, I’m going to get crucified for saying all this fun stuff! (laughs). Sometimes I hear jazz dudes and it just sounds like they’re noodling around trying to figure out what notes to play. Figure that out on your own time, dammit! When you figure it out, THEN hit the record button or book your gig! Man, I can see the cross being put up with nails and a hammer close by. (laughs) Even my manager, I was talking to him the other day and I said, “I don’t like jazz,” and he was, “What?! What are you talking about?”

MJ: Did you build yourself a 7-string guitar for Blotted Science?

RJ: Yes, I did! But I recorded the whole thing on two six strings. I’m just now getting used to the extra string on there.

MJ: Did you build it with a longer scale than usual?

RJ: I bought a BC Rich guitar off a student of mine, extended the neck, made a different body for it, got a pickup. I still have to paint it, but it’s a working guitar now.

MJ: Did you carve it in some crazy death metal shape? Is it pointy?

RJ: Yeah, it’s pretty pointy!

MJ: Alex should be happy!

RJ: Yeah, no shit! It had the BC Rich headstock, with the devil horns up top, but I didn’t like how it was four pegs on top and three on the bottom, so I cut it up, bondo-ed it and glued it so it’s seven in a row. So, some death metal guys aren’t going to like that.

MJ: Did you use an amp on the new album, or did you use a modeler of some sort?

RJ: I just used a Johnson J-Station. The whammy bar solos in “Amnesia” and “Quicksand” where I needed to get a lot of feedback - I had to have an amp in my room. But everything else I pretty much ran the straight signal from the J-Station to my computer.

MJ: Do you do that because it’s easier and you don’t feel like taking the time to set up and mic an amp?

RJ: No, things change too much as far as mic placement goes. You have to be at a certain volume. Plus, I can get a pretty good tone without bothering anybody. If I want to record at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning in my underwear, I don’t have to bug anybody with serious volume or worry about any of that stuff. I would imagine that a lot of record like that now too; they don’t have the full amp setup. But if I need to get feedback or something like that, then I’ll have to use an amp.

MJ: What sort of gear do you use live?

RJ: Right now I’m just using Line6. I’m kind of amp shopping right now. At NAMM I was looking at some things, a Digitech preamp in particular. But for Blotted, I may just stick with the setup I’m using with this Rush tribute band. I’ve got a Boogie Power amp that I’ve had since the WatchTower days. I use that in any live purpose. On the Marty Friedman tour, we had the Engls from Germany. Pretty cool amps.

MJ: Have you ever been courted by manufacturers who want you to endorse their product?

RJ: Yeah, I had some opportunities with guitars. I had a possibility right between the Marty European gigs and the Japan show. I tried one of their guitars, but I wanted to shave off a certain part of the body, change pickups, extend the neck a certain way, and guitar companies don’t like that. It comes down to the fact that I’ve been building my own guitars for so long that I want them a certain way. It’s not knocking these other guitars - they’re just not what I’m used to. Ibanezes are pretty close, Jacksons are pretty close, but other brands, I just don’t like them. A long time ago, when WatchTower got back from Germany years ago I had an opportunity to go with Fender, but I’m not going to play with a single coil pickup and 21 frets! A great guitar, but just not for me This was in the dark ages; it just didn’t fit. Even though it was Fender. They sent me a $700 guitar, which was a lot for back then, and I sent it back. I took pictures of how I had my wireless system mounted in the back, and they were like, “We can’t do that!” Actually, they said, “If you want to do all that stuff you might as well just make your own guitars!” And I said, “I do!” So I sent it back.

MJ: It looks like you use a lot of Fender necks, though. A lot of your headstocks look like Strat headstocks.

RJ: They’re not Fenders, they’re off-brands like Ventura or something like that. I made a double neck and one of those was a Peavey, and the other was just some no-name. I needed to get a left-handed neck for the bottom neck. And then I made another six-string a few months ago and that was straight off an Ibanez guitar. But I don’t buy the real Fenders - just something that looks like it. But with Fender guitars, it’s the pickup configuration and the 21 fret thing. I can’t work with that.

MJ: Have you looked at Warmoth parts?

RJ: I was going to get one of their necks but I could have picked up a whole guitar for cheaper, so that’s what I did! A neck from them is like 280 bucks! That six string that I just built, I got that Ibanez guitar for like $200 bucks, and all I wanted was the neck. Buying the whole guitar was cheaper than just buying a neck somewhere else.

MJ: So, you actually remove the fret board, make a new one, and slot the frets?

RJ: I’ve done that for most of my old guitars, but the new ones, I didn’t do that.

MJ: That seems like a lot of work. What makes it worthwhile to do that?

RJ: The scale length on most of my old guitars is between a Les Paul and a Strat. A Les Paul is 24 ¾” and a Strat is 25 ½”, and I wanted something right in between there.

MJ: Did you ever do that and discover that it wasn’t properly intonated? Or did you always do the math right?

RJ: No, it’s a pretty accurate system. Take a distance and divide it by 17.817 and you keep doing that until you get all the way to 24. It’s pretty accurate, but you have to be careful with cutting and everything. That’s another thing on the DVD - I have video from when I built the double neck. On that, I did put a new fingerboard on the top neck. From gluing the ¼” piece of wood to cutting the slots. I have to edit it together, but I wanted to have that as bonus footage on the DVD because everybody knows I build my own guitars.

MJ: How did you get the Marty Friedman gig? Was he aware of you or did you audition or what?

RJ: That goes back all the way to when I was sending Mike Varney tapes to get into that old ‘Spotlight’ column. Do you remember that?

MJ: In Guitar World magazine, right?

RJ: Yeah, I sent him a tape and one of the songs I sent was “Kill the White Noise,” and Marty actually told me that he and Jason Becker heard that and they based Cacophony’s “Go Off” on that. But he remembered that, I think, and also there was a connection because with WatchTower, Billy White’s last gig was in San Francisco and I think that’s where Marty and Jason were doing Cacophony at that time. And later from “Kill the White Noise” they knew I was in WatchTower. So I think he was aware that I was out there. But the way I got the gig was I sent him my solo CD, “Solitarily Speaking…” My manager said, “Hey, send this to Marty - he’s got some new thing coming out and I think he wants to tour.” So I sent him that and sent him an e-mail that said, “If you need a second guitarist - let me know.” It was a couple weeks later that he wrote back and said, “How long would it take you to learn an hour of my material?” It was kinda hard learning those harmony lines, and Marty played everything on the disc but didn’t know what parts he was going to play live, so I had to learn both parts in a lot of cases, and when we had rehearsal he’d play one and I’d go, “Oh! Gotta play the other one here!” Also, to prove that I could do the gig, I made a recording where his stuff was on one channel and I played along with one of the parts on the right side, and I sent him that. He wanted to hear rhythms and everything because these days a lot of people are so concerned with shredding that they can’t play a simple rhythm. Marty even told me that some guy who tried out for him could do all the lead stuff but couldn’t do simple rhythmic stuff.

MJ: Does Marty Friedman read music?

RJ: We didn’t communicate that way.

MJ: I remember reading an interview with him a long time ago in some guitar mag, it was a dual interview with him and Alex Skolnick, and Marty said then that he didn’t know how to read music at all.

RJ: I asked him about all those exotic scales that people always say he uses, and he said he has no idea. He has a great ear. With me, if somebody plays something cool and I like the way it sounds, I want to know why. I want to know what scale it is. But Marty just knows what sounds cool and he’ll know the form on the neck where those notes are; but I want to know the theory behind it.

MJ: Was it an odd experience playing Japan with him? He’s something of a celebrity there, no?

RJ: It was pretty close to Europe. We’d go walking on the streets in Tokyo and people would recognize him but they recognize him mostly because he did a guest thing on some cooking show. Like Martha Stewart. He brought his guitar on there, and it was a real popular cooking show, and he’d play a lick while he was stirring a pot with one hand! We’d be walking down the street and people would be like, “You’re on that cooking show!” More people saw him on that than knew him as a real artist. So yeah, he’s pretty well-known over there.

MJ: Did you get to eat any weird food?

RJ: He tried. Jeremy Colson, he was going along with all this, eating all this whacky stuff, and as soon as we were on the plane to go home he was like, “Where’s McDonald’s? I want some Chicken Nuggets!” (laughs) He was playing the social game and pulled it off well, but I’d tell Marty, “I’m not eating that sushi shit!”

MJ: But, it’s like technical food! Progressive food!

RJ: Yeah, I know, but I just want a burger and fries! I’m not interested in that intellectual food.

MJ: Oh! One last question: where is the “brain Jello mold” on the CD?

RJ: It’s actually on the CD face itself but DiscMakers had a problem with the coloring on it. That label on the CD came very close to being pink! I Photoshopped in a real cool, ugly brownish-orange tint but they sent me the proof and it was pink. And I said, “We can’t have a pink CD,” so I had them make it greyscale. It’s supposed to be color; it’s a Jello mold that my wife made.

MJ: What flavor was it?

RJ: Strawberry.

MJ: Did you eat it?

RJ: Yeah, it was awesome!