Thursday, May 16, 2013
EPs are the new old way of doing things. Not as satisfying as a full length, but a mouthwatering treat if properly applied, and Buffalo Killers have nailed it with their latest release, Ohio Grass.
In the interim between 2012's Dig. Sew. Love. Grow., and the band's next foray into the studio for a full album, they've chosen record day to gift their loyals with a tasty six song nugget that shows the band still growing, and still mining the deep roots of their rich musical heritage. While they remain the same seventies steeped stoners they've been for several years, they also are expanding their horizons with side dishes of Beatlesesque pop, and some Jamaican flavor added to the mix, resulting in an ever tastier stew.
Pressed on 'herb green' vinyl, the 12" EP continues the saga of the Gabbard brothers and drummer Joseph Sebaali - born and raised on a steady diet of seventies rock by their musical father, the brothers have that Phil and Don genetic chemistry that makes their harmonies incredibly rich, and as players, they are getting better with each outing.
Baptized starts things off with some soulful a cappella vocalizing before Andy Gabbard throws down some of the coolest sounding mid-period Stones tones that I have ever heard. He cranks out a delightful wah-drenched solo that sees Sebaali playing in a looser, swinging style that prods the guitarist on into some multi-tracked psychedelic madness. If this is baptism, sign me up.
Next is Nothing Can Bring Me Down, and it continues the band's legacy of channeling The James Gang via CSN&Y circa 2013. The Gabbards have voices that were made to sing, and they've found a sound and style that works perfectly for their instruments. These great pop nuggets seem to just pop out whenever this bunch writes, and there's no cocaine problems to cripple their climb. Keeping it green - hell yes.
Grow Your Own harkens back to the days of Mountain and Woodstock as Zach fuzzes up his bass line and it weighs in like a brontosaurus on this one until brother Andy brings in an acoustic interlude that breaks up the din nicely. Going back in time can be such a cool trip when it's done so well - the Gabbards seem to have completely missed the cynicism and negativity that nearly drowned rock in the nineties and the first decade of this millennium. Go back to the source and grow your own.
The band heads down to Jamaica for track four - Golden Eagle is a reggae jam that saunters nicely through the smoke, and they don't make the mistake of going too Rasta, they still manage to retain their melodic bent - they even throw in some nice psychedelics soaked background vocals, and Sebaali, once the keyboardist in an earlier iteration of the band's development, seems to be becoming a better drummer with each song. I do wish there was some more sizzle to the drum sound here, but the playing is top notch.
Hold You Me comes and goes pleasantly enough, but it's clearly the weakest track here, perhaps cursed by being surrounded by such an otherwise stellar collection. If this is as close as we get to filler from this bunch, we should remain mightily pleased.
I thought for a minute we were getting an instrumental when I heard the cinematic, half surf/half soundtrack intro to Some Other Kind, then a verse comes that evokes memories of Mystery Tours and Lonely Hearts Clubs - yes, the boys encroach upon the fab four for a wonderful tune that may be their best yet. In any case, it's a great way to wrap up up a great snack until we get the next Buffalo Killers album, and a perfect soundtrack or a Summer's day drive.
I hear that some green vinyl is still available at http://www.bompstore.com/servlet/Detail?no=14838 - the band only pressed 700, and they are soon to be collectors' items, so get them while they last.
Thanks to Buffalo Killers, and Tony Bonyata at Pavement PR,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
In rock's better days we could count on Canada sending down something super every so often. It was a helluva deal - we got Neil Young, The Guess Who, John Kay of Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and a little band called Rush. There were plenty more, too - look it up. Yeah, Canada gave us much more than we ever gave them, but then one day the well ran dry.
Ran dry? No, actually, the well got damned sour and eventually all we really got was foul dreck like Barenaked Ladies and heaven forbid - the final insult, Nickleback. Hey Canada, what did we do to piss you off?
Having been an American for the whole of my life, I've come to understand that America can and most generally will piss off everyone - I get that, but the withholding of great rock 'n' roll? That's bordering on the cruel and unusual.
The good news is that evidently, we've been forgiven. Canada has seen fit to pardon whatever our inevitable and multiple sins may have been, and they have delivered a welcome back gift of immeasurable joy. Monster Truck.
Monster Truck is a four piece power rock powerhouse out of Hamilton, Ontario - after a few years of thrilling the Northern section of our beautiful continent with two EPs of pure and fine hard rock, and a stream of great shows opening for such stalwarts as Slash and Deep Purple, the band is releasing their first full length LP, Furiosity, and playing a few select shows in the US this summer opening for the likes of Sevendust and Alice In Chains. Given that Furiosity is a blazing disc full of inspired and genuine hard rock fury, and the band's live shows are the stuff that rock dreams are made of, I'm hoping we can stay on their good side. Their debut single off of Furiosity, Sweet Mountain River is #2 on the singles charts in Canada this week - can America be far behind?
Furiosity is one of the finest hard rock records that you'll put into your machine of choice this year - it rocks like mad, but the band also brings to the table some deeply soulful selections, great singing and playing on every cut, and they care so much about their product that they went to the considerable cost and effort to scrap an entire session (yes, the whole album) when it didn't live up to what they felt their audience deserved. In a day when most groups don't even know what a recording budget is, it takes huge balls and tremendous determination to look your record label in the eye (if you're lucky enough to have one, especially a great one like Dine Alone) and say, 'We've gotta do it over."
To get the full story, I spoke with guitarist/singer/songwriter Jeremy Widerman, an exuberant and generous soul, who was good enough to lay out the tale in full.
Jeremy Widerman: "Man - I am fucking tired! We had a video shoot last night that went all night until 7 o'clock in the morning!"
Given that it's now just nine, I commiserate and ask Jeremy how it is that a relatively unknown band has landed several singles on the Canadian charts, and garnered such highly sought after opening slots on big tours:
Jeremy Widerman: "I'm not sure! Actually, it's just a combination of having a great team - having the right people working with us, pushing the right buttons, and then I think it's also a little bit of people really digging the band. Every time we see a little bit of a door opening, we get the music sent out and people react really well to it, and it just perpetuates us forward and we get these great opportunities.
"Even right now, these interviews in the US we're getting are typically harder for a Canadian band to get, especially one that hasn't done a lot of US touring, which we haven't. Lots of opportunities and we're grateful for everything working out so far!"
I mention that I've just spent a few days with Furiosity, and that I've been blown away by the record from start to finish:
Jeremy Widerman: "Thanks a lot, man! We're really proud of it. It was a lot of struggle to get it to where we were happy with it, but it was worth all the work, and we can't wait for it to release (May 28th)."
Monster Truck had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles to record their new album at the world famous Sound City Studio - only to return home to Canada and find out that they simply weren't pleased enough with the results to hand the record over to their label. They put their foot down firmly, the record company cordially and generously agreed, and the band went back into the studio with producer Eric Ratz, with whom they had already recorded several successful projects, and simply started over:
Jeremy Widerman: "Yeah, actually, he studio we went into was the old Sound City, which is now owned by a different person. We kind of got enticed to go to Los Angeles and record there - we were really excited because of the legendary status of that room, the whole idea of traveling to LA, and things just didn't work out. We had a kind of clash of visions with the producer. It wasn't for a lack of effort on anyone's end, but it just really didn't work out for us.
"We didn't really figure it out until we got back home, and heard the mixes. We really sat with it for a while and it wasn't sounding like our band, and that we really didn't get the kind of takes we were happy with - and that goes for everybody in the group. We just decided that the only way we could salvage it would be by starting over, and that was what we did."
This may one day be looked at as the decision that makes the career of Monster Truck, if there are those moments that truly define a day. Though it had to have taken incredible nerve - the band had the balls to scrap the entire record and start from a fresh new beginning - just as it was equally ballsy for their label to give them the go ahead:
Jeremy Widerman: "Well, you know what? The balls part was easy, because that's the kind of thing we've done since the beginning of the group. We've really stuck to our guns on everything and really took our own pass when it comes to stuff that is that important. But you're right about the given the opportunity part, because the label that we're on, they are the kind of people that allow you to make that kind of decision and rectify it, whereas if we were with any other label in the country, I guarantee they would have forced it out."
Furiosity sounds incredible - I have no way of knowing what the first take sounded like, but the end result is magnificent rock. So I had to ask - just how beneficial was the re-do?:
Jeremy Widerman: "Honestly, one of the biggest assets about that was just upping our skill set when it comes to the technicality of our playing. Everyone got a taste of where we were lacking as far as their musicianship. We definitely learned a few things about the songs and the arrangements, maybe a few ways we could improve upon the actual songwriting, and we learned about which songs weren't working and need to be scrapped, or rewritten into entirely different songs.
"You can't help but learn a lot from failing that largely! I think it had a huge role to play in how it turned out the second time. Not to mention that we went back to our original producer (Eric Ratz), who really 'got' us, and who we really meshed well with. When you put that all together, it was the perfect sum for us."
Eric Ratz has done a great job on the new record - the songs are exciting, and they sound wonderful - in your face production that never strains the senses. Especially noteworthy are the abundance of great guitar tones - it truly sets the band apart for the pack. I asked Jeremy about his approach and the gear he used on the record:
Jeremy Widerman: "I really pride myself on getting something that's classic, but at the same time has something unique about it.
"The gear? Well, that is a bit of a sad story in a way, because my main axe that I used for the entire record is a 1972 Gibson SG Deluxe, and I was traveling with it about two weeks ago, and the airline broke it in half.
"So, right now, it's in the repair shop waiting to have the neck reset - so I'm a little broken up about that, however, it's the kind of guitar that I think has been there before, and it's going to come out OK. That was the main jam for everything - all the rhythm tracks, some of the lead tracks, every time we put it in a shoot out with the other Gibsons, it won every time. Unless we were going for a very different sort of sound from my usual Monster Truck sound - it was used on probably 90% of the record.
"For amps, we had a couple of different key amps. There was never a time in which we were using more than two amps, blended. We have a Radial JD7 (guitar splitter) which is a great little tool for outputting to multiple amps at the same time.
"My main amp is a Soldano SL-60, which is what I use on stage and is basically what gives me that ball grabbing tone - it's one of the first Soldanos to hit the market. It's hand wired, which is pretty rare - it's one of only 300. It helps me a lot in getting great sounds.
"I combined that with a 1974 or '75 Marshall JMP, and that is not my amp. It was one that was in the family of engineers and producers we were working with on the record. It's really a rare JMP - it's a Canadian Marshall, and there's not a lot of those. It's really hard to tell which is which, it's a very weird transitional amp that Marshall made that takes KT88 power tubes, which is very rare, for a Marshall to run with KT88s.
"So that was my main thing, to run those two amps together using the JMP for the clarity and low end, really rounding out the tone, and using the Soldano to blend with it to add all the chime-y highs and the really gritty bite. Combining those two, we were able to get a lot of great sounds."
For The Sun is a departure for the hard rocking band, a smoldering seven and a half minute slab of sultry soul that just drips great tone - from Widerman's feedback drenched intro to singer/bassist Jon Harvey's vocals (which take me back to David Clayton-Thomas's work with Blood, Sweat, & Tears in the early '70s), the tune simmers right on the edge of a heavy boil throughout. The guitars ride over the stately organ work of Brandon Bliss, and Harvey howls his brains out without ever losing control - this is a masterful performance that will be on turntables twenty years from now, mark my words:
Jeremy Widerman: "Dude, thanks. That song drove me to the brink of insanity! I was trying to be so careful to get that right, because that's what I wanted, to to get the guitar to sound right on the brink of feedback - it's really hard to do if you're not in the room with the amps. So, what we had to do with that setup was most of the amps I was tracking with, and most of the stuff we were mic'ing to tape was away from me in the main live room - then we had a separate send going to this tiny little combo amp that was in the room with me.
"We had that cranked up, and if I needed to, I was rolling off the volume knob on the SG and kind of moving closer and further away from that little combo amp, because if I could get that combo amp to start feeding back, it would resonate with the entire chain and cause the other amps to start feeding back, too. So it would all just sort of come together and bleed into each other, and that was the trick we used to get that. It sounds like I'm in the room, right in front of the amps, but I'm disconnected by about 50 feet from the main juice of the tone - it was a cool solution.
"Our producer, Eric Ratz, couldn't be in the room because it was so loud! I even had to wear ear plugs, and we brought in one of the engineers to run tape for that session."
Monster Truck as I mentioned, employees the use of an organ player in lieu of the traditional second guitarist, and while it's a very old school maneuver, it's remarkably effective, and Brandon Bliss's tasteful playing is another high water mark that separates MT from the pack:
Jeremy Widerman: "That came about right from the very first conception of the group. We formed the band in 8 hours! It started with me and Jon on bass, and Steve (drummer, Kiely) at a party, and we said, 'Hey, let's start a band, and call it Monster Truck!'
"One of the first things Jon said as soon as we made the decision was, 'We need a rock organ.' He knew right away - we gotta get an organ player, and he's gotta be a part of the group.
"At that time, I think I was aware of that element of '70s, and even further back kind of rock, but I really didn't understand how it integrated - how it worked, but I had a lot of trust in him and he knows a lot about rock music, so I was just like, 'OK, cool!' The funny part is that I had just met somebody in the last month or two, who played organ! He was in another band. Me and him had been quite good friends, and as soon as he said we needed a rock organ, I literally just said, 'Well, I know exactly who we need to talk to - I'll call Brandon.'"
"We kind of kept on partying, and I woke up the next morning hellbent to get this thing going. I called up Brandon right away, and said, "Hey man, I was talking to a couple of friends of mine' - he really didn't know Jon Harvey, our singer that well - we said we were thinking about this and that - Deep Purple, and we need a rock organ. He's the kind of guy who will jump at any really interesting opportunity, he loves to get involved, and he was like, 'I'm in!'
"We ended up setting up a practice for the next day, and that's when I actually introduced Jon to Brandon - 'You two were asking for each other, and here you are meeting.' We started writing right away."
Speaking of singer Jon Harvey, I asked Jeremy how they hat thrown in together:
Jeremy Widerman: "I've known him through the Hamilton music scene for, ooph!, over a decade, and we really 'got' each others' vibes - he'd always been in heavier, almost metal bands, and I'd always been in more like kind of pop/rock bands, which was the result of just my wanting to get out on the road.
"I think he always kind of poked fun at me, that I was not in a heavier rock band, because that was what I really liked to listen to and he knew that, and I kind of made fun of him because he was in these really heavy, heavy kinds of hardcore metal bands.
"It was like we both should have been doing something more in the middle. He should have been softening up a bit, and doing more hard rock, and I should have been toughening up and doing some harder rock. So, we joked around about how we should start a band one day. I think we probably talked about it for years and years, but I was always so busy on the road, and he was doing his own thing.
"Eventually, I heard this new band he had put together called Eagle Fight - it was kind of his project, an it was actually very similar to Monster Truck in a lot of ways. I thought it was great, great music, and I couldn't believe how good he could sing - he had never done that before in any other bands, he had either screamed, or someone else sang. So, I'm listening to this record and I'm blown away by how good it is - as soon as I heard it, I wanted to be in a band with him. I couldn't believe how awesome it was, and it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so we kind of poached him from that band!"
|Jeremy Widerman and his 1972 Gibson SG Deluxe|
I explained to Jeremy that in the digital age, I am seldom granted the luxury of detailed liner notes, and I asked how the songwriting and creative duties were split amongst the band:
Jeremy Widerman: "Jon and I basically create the seeds through either a riff or two, or just a general concept for the idea of a song, and how we're going to approach it. Then we usually either take the song and make an entire arrangement that ends up getting changed, and we take it into the jam space, and the whole group sits down and we check it out - from that point everyone starts putting in their input, which I think is a crucial aspect of our group - everybody has some really great ideas.
"We work on it with all four members, and usually if the song comes together in one practice, we know we have something - if it takes more than two practices to get a demo together, we usually scrap it and move on to something else, because we find that the songs that come together quickest are the best ones.
"Steve always has some great ideas for arrangements, even where vocals and guitar parts are concerned., and Brandon always adds his special sauce on the organ. He just kind of plays around for a while, until he finds his riffs, or what he wants to play - it's a really collaborative effort, and is honestly one of the huge reasons I love playing in this group, because everyone brings something a little different to the table."
Monster Truck is brutally honest rock 'n' roll - they are loud, they can play, they have soul, and they put on a great show. I was curious as to how Widerman would describe his own band:
Jeremy Widerman: "For me, it's kind of something I've come to realize after the fact.
"It wasn't something we were striving for, but it kind of ended up feeling to me like we were bordering and leaning on all of our favorite classic rock bands from the '70s - whether it be Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, or even Grand Funk Railroad, and we were also adding in, I felt we were adding in some of our own favorite elements of grunge and punk, which we grew up with.
"So, for me, it's kind of a hybrid of classic rock vibe, the stoner rock vibe of the '90s - we combined it with our own influences that we grew up with when we were learning to play our instruments, and blending it into a solid foundation of classic rock.
"For me, it's a hybrid of all things rock music. We just try to make it our own."
Monster Truck's Furiosity is out on May 28th on Dine Alone Records.
Thanks to Jeremy Widerman, Monster Truck, Steve Karas at SKH Music, and Dine Alone Records.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Udo Dirkschneider is back and he is as vital as ever - he's unleashed a new lineup of his long running U.D.O., who have just completed a successful and sold out tour of the United States and Canada (their first in 12 years!), he's set to release a new album, Steelhammer in just two weeks, and things couldn't look better for the German metal field leader.
The last year has presented several challenges that would have slowed down, if not stopped a lesser man - first, the band lost their longtime second-in-command, guitarist/songwriter/producer Stefan Kaufmann, who has had to go on an extended hiatus given to health problems related to the onetime Accept drummer's back injuries that have long hindered Dirkschneider's musical partner of over three decades. Then, on the eve of recording the band's 14th studio album, guitarist Igor Gianola resigned after nearly fifteen years with the band. Certainly, no one could have blamed Dirkschneider for hanging up his boots at this point, after so many seasons of lineups changes, band breakups, and the incredible downturn of the industry at large, but Udo is back with a vengeance.
The first matter of business was to promote longtime bassist Fitty Weinhold to co-producer/songwriter, and the fifteen year U.D.O. veteran has stepped up and delivered in exemplary fashion. He and Dirkschneider have taken a look back at the band's history and returned to a looser, live feel that fits the outfit like a glove. Next was the matter of replacing the guitar team. After receiving more than 300 audition tapes, the pair decided upon Andrey Smirnov - the Russian metal veteran has performed with such notables as Paul Di'Anno, Blaze Bayley, and his own modern metal outfit, Everlost. Smirnov supplies all the guitars on Steelhammer, and it's obvious that the band has made a great choice. He's joined by Kasperi Heikkinen from Finland, and judging by the seamless success of the new guitar team on their first tour, U.D.O. has never been in better hands.
As a live act, U.D.O. seems a little looser (in a very good, rocking way), a little less militarily regimented these days, and judging from the crowd reactions - it's working. It was disappointing to see them only include one song from Steelhammer, but as Udo explained, AFM Records would not be too pleased to see the whole album up on YouTube as live videos before the albums release, so I concede the point and add that after a twelve year absence it's great to have the band back on North American soil playing at all. U.D.O. completely tore the roof off of every house they played and every fan went home thrilled to the bone - what more could you ask for? The tour can only be called a huge success, and the band's management is already hard at work making plans for the band's return after the summer festival season, which will see them busy in Europe and Russia.
Until then, Steelhammer should thrill those who weren't able to see any of this tours shows. As soon as I heard the new single, Metal Machine, I knew things were well in the house of Dirkschneider - the Germanic riff, the classic lockstep bass and drums grabbed me, and they held me. Udo is in fine voice, and this would have fit on any classic Accept album, or U.D.O. record. The real gift is Andrey Smirnov - the Russian veteran is new to American ears, but he's been honing his amazing chops for many seasons - he's equally adept at churning out the metal rhythms and embellishing them with melodic solos and interludes. The new guitar team came together on tour, but the album is the work of only Smirnov, and he did a fantastic job.
|Photo: Woodwick Photo Services|
Along with the mass of metal we've come to expect from U.D.O., Steelhammer contains some surprising treats, such as the piano and strings ballad Heavy Rain, or the Basque inspired Basta Ya. This record primarily oozes classic heavy metal. Track after track finds the formula working to great effect. Weinhold's writing stands proudly beside anything in the Accept/U.D.O. catalog, and tracks like Metal Machine become instant classics.
Lyrically, Dirkschneider and Fitty continue the tradition of 'band versus the powers that be' to great effect. This spoken word rant comes in the CD's opening track, Cry Of A Nation:
More important news on the global meltdown.
The Governments of the world have issued the following statement:
'All persons with less than 2 million of their local currency, yes, that's less,
must report to their local Euthanasia Department for disposal,
women and children first.'
You heard it here first on Global Meltdown.
Udo is in fine, fine voice - how does he do it, year in and year out? The man is amazing - Cry of a Nation is a great opener, and it displays the band's wares in fine fashion. Smirnov is off and running as his billowing bursts of melodic fill and his nimble fingered soloing announce a new hero. And Udo's voice - you either love it, or hate it, but it is as distinctive as ever - he remains alongside Judas Priest's Rob Halford as my favorite voice in classic metal.
|Photo: Woodwick Photo Services|
Metal Machine is the album's lead track, and as I said, it has instant classic written all over it. When I saw the title, I almost fell over with disbelief that this perfect title had not previously found its way into the Dirkschneider catalogue, but he was obviously saving it for something special - this tune may be the man's new anthem - of course, there is no superseding Balls To The Wall, but MM defines the band's new chapter. The writing is again brilliant, and the tune's teutonic swagger captured audiences across the continent on the band's just completed tour. When the song's chorus erupts into the classic gang vocals, we're hooked. Andrey Smirnov's solos and fills are magnificent as the new guy manages to combine old stylistic trademarks with his own single string manifestations - he sounds like he's been waiting for a chance to expose his playing to a worldwide audience, and he certainly makes the most of the opportunity.
Steelhammer is filled to the brim with quality rock - the band seems to have completely reinvigorated its creative muse, and this album comes across as a greatest hits album you've never heard. If you love classic lineup Accept, and you're a fan of U.D.O., you are going to be completely thrilled by the content you'll find here.
|Photo: Joe Lohr|
Udo Dirkschneider has once again proven to be an unstoppable, and apparently unbreakable force in the world of hard rock/classic metal. The world has a new guitar hero in Andrey Smirnov, Fitty Weinhold has stepped up audaciously as a writer and producer, and Francesco Jovino may be the best drummer in his genre. There is nothing to not love about this record if it's up your alley.
U.D.O. Steelhammer release date: May 21 (may be pre-ordered now on Amazon)
Thanks to Udo Dirkschneider, Fitty Weinhold, U.D.O., AFM Records, and Dustin Hardman.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Click Here To Hear The Single "Mad Talkin' Man"
Rod Melancon can't miss - he writes great songs, sings like a bird, and looks like a young Elvis. I don't know exactly what it is, maybe reincarnation, maybe fate, maybe destiny, but while I may not know what it is, I know it when I see it. He's got star quality, and he's fairly steeped in it. He was born into this.
Melancon started an acting career when he was barely out of the crib, and his theater director mother had him hamming it up, and reading classics from an early age, and he definitely paid attention. He moved to Los Angeles at 18 to become the next James Dean, but he fell into his guitar and the Hank Williams songbook, and out came a new Country/Americana prodigy at 22.
His songs come across as world weary tales told by the participants, sounding like good books read, and great film play. After releasing his debut album, My Family Name, in 2012, he has now followed it up with the Dave Cobb produced, Mad Talkin' Man EP. Where My Family Name echoed the tones of Hank Sr., and the solo Springsteen years, the new EP is a raucous rock ' n' rolling trip through Americana. The hell of it is, both products manage to simply sound like different facets of the same diamond - the lyrics and the tales are still the key, and every song in the kids canon sounds like a mini novel.
When I first agreed to talk with Rod, it was me buying a product sight unseen. He came so highly recommended that I agreed with no prior knowledge - and to be honest, I thought I had stepped into a mess. He was so handsome and so well presented that I thought he was a pre-packaged, Hollywood designed, reality show product, and I cringed and bit my lip. However, a deal is a deal, so I dove in - I had to admit - the bio was intriguing, and when I put on the records when they arrived, I realized that I had made the age old mistake of judging the book by its cover. Rod Melancon turned out to be the best singer/songwriter I've heard in ages. The writing is timeless, his voice is outstanding, and he's managed to surround himself with some fantastic players on both outings.
After I did my research, and got my bearings, we had a chance to chat on a warm Los Angeles afternoon:
Rod Melancon: "I've been walkin' dogs! That's how I've been making a little money during the days, playing weekend shows and getting gigs, so that's been good, too."
Well, so much for the handlers, limousines, and pre-fab stardom. I was curious to hear how he transitioned from the solitary, stark country soul sound found on My Family Name to the audacious rock and Americana found on his new EP:
Rod Melancon: "Well, that was when Dave Cobb got involved, and wanted to produce me. We went to Nashville, and I recorded a few songs with him, and you know, the song Mad Talkin' Man was kind of like a solo Springsteen, State Trooper, kind of song.
"But we were in the studio with all the guys who played on it, and Dave was like, 'Hey man, let's maybe move that capo up some and speed it up a little bit.'
"So, I kept moving the capo up higher and higher - I had never really tried to sing like that, I just usually try to sing in a low soul voice, but I really didn't think about it too much, I was just, 'Aw, screw it' - all these guys are looking at me, and stuff, waiting to see what I'm gonna do, I might as well just belt this. Basically, thats how it happened. It was all Dave Cobb's doing, hahaha!
"I think he's one of those producers who 40 years from now, they're going to be talking about and studying his recordings in recording schools, and whatnot. I think he's one of the modern greats!"
I believe Rod's got a point there - when I first put on his new EP, the first thought I had was, damn, that sounds like Dave Cobb's work, and it was!
Rod Melancon: "I've always wanted to play rock 'n' roll music, but I was always a little bit nervous to, for some reason. I just didn't know if I had it in me. He's the one who brought it out, man. I like that guy a lot!"
They do form a formidable team, and we'll talk about that more, but first, lets go back in time a bit. I wanted to hear about how Melancon's mother had developed her son's skills as a youth, back in South Louisiana:
Rod Melancon: "Yeah, my mom played a huge part in that, because I grew up in a small town in South Louisiana - it kind of had like one red light, and we lived just outside of town. It was a very conservative environment, you know?
"But my mom, when I was younger, she put me in her high school plays that she directed when I was just a kid, I'd be in like Little Shop of Horrors as a homeless kid, or something.
"She kind of threw me in there - I remember she had all these plays in her classroom, and all this stuff. I used to skim through those and I remember one of the big things for me was when she showed me Streetcar Named Desire when I was just a kid, the Kazan movie.
"She would explain to me what the symbolism was, like the mirror cracking in that last scene with Blanche and Marlon Brando. She explained to me the symbolism to it, and that's what got me goin', man! I'd watch a film, I'd watch plays, I'd kind of look into it, and try to see what it was trying to say. So I owe her a lot, because that's what I try to do in my writing as well, you know?"
There is no substitute for enthusiastic support - that's clear to me when I speak with someone of Rod Melancon's age, and I am presented with a humble and confident character. Still, it had to take some nerve to head for LA by yourself at age 18. I asked Rod was possessed him to take such a leap:
Rod Melancon: "When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an actor, or filmmaker - that was what I was working towards in school. The thing that was most successful at our high school was the speech/drama department, and my mom was the head of that.
"So, we'd do all these plays and it just felt so good to hear people say that they thought I was great, so that's what I wanted to be.
"When I was 18, I was like, 'I'm going to move to LA and just try to really do this.'
"The big thing for me was that I had read a James Dean biography, and I really got into him, and how he was from a town very similar to mine in Indiana. I was reading about him, I related to him a lot, and that's what made me move to Los Angeles - really getting into James Dean, he was a big inspiration to me."
Listening to Rod's records and songs, I got the impression that while maybe he hadn't listened to much modern music, he had listened to a lot of great music:
Rod Melancon: "Oh thanks, that's what I like to tell myself!
"I always liked music growing up when I was young. I'd listen to whatever was around. I remember my grandma really liked Patsy Cline, so I heard her when I was a young kid, and I thought she sounded cool. When I was 18 and out in LA, my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, to just kind of fill my time, I guess.
"One of the guys I listened to was Hank Williams Sr., because I had just seen Peter Bogdanovich's Last Picture Show, and Hank Williams' music is all through that, and I liked how it sounded, so I started learning his songs because the chords are basic - I was just learning chords as I went through his songs, y'know?"
Between the Hank Williams songbook and a childhood amongst great books and plays, I asked what writers had gotten inside his head, and influenced his work, and his stories:
Rod Melancon: "Oh man, I love Sam Shepard! I love Shepard's journals, and I love his plays, too. I love Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurty - when I was writing Mad Talkin' Man, I was reading this book called Dirty Work by this guy named Larry Brown - a kind of Southern Gothic writer from Alabama. That really inspired me to write Mad Talkin' Man, because the story was about a kid, and he goes off to Vietnam, and he comes back - so that has a lot to do with Mad Talkin' Man - I'm really very influenced by books, plays, and movies, just as much as I am by music.
"I do kind of like the stuff that my mom taught me when it came to acting - before we'd do a scene, she's say, 'Rod, try to envision what this guy would be doing before the scene starts. What would he be feeling, thinking, and all that.'
"Now, when I write my songs, I'll try to do a similar thing. Kind of like character songwriting in a sense. Of course, there are personal touches in it, but I don't know, maybe that's how I kind of get my acting fix these days!
"It's just by trying to slip into some character and write it through song, Y'know? Like method acting songwriting, hahaha!"
I asked Rod if with all this background, picking up a pen and trying his hand at some fiction was a temptation:
Rod Melancon: "Yeah, I have. I've tried to write a couple of plays, trying to write a collection of short stories - I want to start working on that, and that guy I was talking about, Larry Brown, he started out writing a collection of short stories in a book, and that's really something I could see myself doing. I'm ready to start diving into that, I think."
Getting back to the rock 'n' roll, I asked why he had switched producers after such a great sounding debut album, which was produced in Los Angeles by Chad Watson, and a group of stellar session players:
Rod Melancon: "I was a big fan of Dave Cobb's. This is actually a kind of interesting story!
"I met Dave Cobb for the first time three years ago when he was living in Silver Lake. This guy who was booking shows for me, he took me over to Dave's to kind of pitch me to him.
"I hadn't really written much yet, I was still figuring myself out - so I went there, played some songs, and Dave was like, 'Man, I'll be honest - I just don't think you're ready yet.'
"So I was like, 'Oh Goddamnit. I screwed it up. My big moment to work with this guy who creates big records, and I screwed it up. So, I went, and I finished that album with Chad, all my country songs, or whatever. I was going to the Americana Music awards in Nashville, and Dave got a hold of me, and said, 'Hey, let's get together and maybe just talk about stuff.'
"We got together, and he said he wanted to record me - there was no way I could turn that down!
"I had a lot of trust in him, so I was like, 'Man, do whatever you want, whatever you feel.' He was like, 'Well Rod, I just want to say this. We're not making a boring country record.'
"I'm like, 'That's how you felt about the first one?' Well, that's OK.
"Looking back now, he was totally right when he told me I wasn't ready yet. I was far from being ready.
"I have nothing but love for Dave Cobb, that guy has done a lot for me. I can't help but respect that he did that. He told me I wasn't ready yet, then three years later, I guess I was ready."
Vocally, Melancon has the depth and chops of someone twice his age - he's a soulful crooner, who has a molasses thick tone, and he brings a world weary sense of phrasing to his tales. I was curious as to his vocal influences:
Rod Melancon: "Vocally? That's a damned good question. When I recorded the first album, I was listening to Steve Earle a lot, Waylon, I like Keith Whitley a lot. When I was young I listened to Keith Whitley a lot - I think he was one of the great voices of country music. Sadly, his life got cut short, I think he died back in '89.
"Now days, I really like Springsteen's voice, that's who I listen to the most. He belts it out when he needs to, and he keeps it soft when he needs to, and I really think he conveys the power of his songs, lyrically and vocally. Like on Born In The USA, he does ten seconds where he's just screaming at the top of his lungs. You can't help but feel the angst of his character - he came back from Vietnam, getting treated like shit, I'm sure the guy would want to scream, and that's what he does in the song! I get inspired by things like that."
"I really like the characters Springsteen creates - they're almost like the characters in a Sam Shepard play. Like on the Downbound Train Song, when he says - 'Now days, I just work at the car wash, and all it ever does is rain,' that's one of the saddest things I've ever heard.
"That's the kind of stuff I like, those kinds of characters. That's why I get inspired by film, as well. I just saw this movie called, The Place Beyond The Pines, which was amazing! The main character is played by Ryan Goss, and he works for the circus. He runs into this girl in a town they had gone through, and she says she got pregnant by him last year. He's like, 'How can I take care of this kid?' and then he's like, 'I guess I'll start robbing banks.' Now, that's a terrible decision, but you can't help but be intrigued by those kinds of decisions, y'know?"
Getting back to the recording on Mad Talkin' Man, I was not just shaken and stirred by the growling guitars and thunderous drums that accompany Melancon on the opening title track, there is also a co-lead vocal that came as a surprise:
Rod Melancon: " That's Kristen Rogers - she's from Nashville, and that was all Dave Cobb's idea, actually.
"Man, I was so excited about that, too. When he said he wanted to put a girl soul singer on the song, I was like, 'Man, I don't know about this!' But whatever - she came in and did it, and I was like, 'All right, I get it now!'
"The whole session was just filled with moments like that, where I was just like, 'OK, I'm just going to trust him.'"
It does sound great, and Rod's trust in Cobb was well placed. In fact, the EP sounds like the soundtrack to 5 books or movies that I've never read, nor seen:
Rod Melancon: "Man that is so good to hear you say! Because that's what I want to try to do. That is what I set out to do.
"I really hope to finish this thing up this summer. I really hope we find a way to get to finish it. It's my intention to do a ten song album with Dave."
While I had originally thought that Rod was a pre-packaged product, in fact he has done it all himself through a series of lucky breaks. I asked him how he made such headway in such a tough town in such a relatively short period of time:
Rod Melancon: "It's kind of like, the way I look at it is that the people that come into my life, and I'm not a super spiritual person, or anything, but I just kind of believe that they all come into my life for a reason. Basically, it's been lot of good people that have had my back, inspired me, and helped me out. The kind of world I want to live in contains mystical elements - I like to think that things happen for a reason, and I just feel like all these people have come into my life because they are supposed to.
"A lot of the songs I write, the stories I come up with, almost all of them are inspired by stories I heard as a kid. Things I saw my family go through - especially on my dad's side, the Cajun side, y'know. There's a lot of interesting stories in there, I had a second cousin who died in prison - a lot of crazy things like that. The song South Louisiana is based on a thing like that."
Another influence Melancon notes is that of country legend Kris Kristofferson:
Rod Melancon: "Oh man, I love Kris Kristofferson! The thing about Kris, I love the honesty in his songs - especially in a time when maybe country music was not necessarily being as truthful as it should have been. He came along, and wrote songs about sex, about being stoned on a Sunday morning, which is a holy day, and it didn't sit well with a lot of folks in Nashville. He was just an all around bad ass, basically!"
"He became an actor, worked in film, people were covering his songs - at the time, one of the things I like about him was that he was kind of a drifter, cowboy guy. I got nothing but respect for that.
"He speaks his mind in a kind of conservative genre of music, where I'm sure the labels told their artists not to say certain things, but Kris never gave a shit. He always said what he thought was right. I got nothing but admiration for that."
Speaking of acting, I asked what the chances were that Rod would at some point make a return to being an actor. I can't imagine that given his looks and skills, it's only a matter of time before the offers roll in:
Rod Melancon: "People bring it up. People that represent me bring it up from time to time. I haven't necessarily had any offers yet, or anything like that. I think some of the people representing me, it's in the back of their minds. I think in a sense they kind of expect things like that to happen. And, if something came my way that I thought I would be good in, I'd probably do it!'
"The thing about it is that I've worked so hard over the last few years to prove myself as a songwriter, I'd be nervous to screw it up, by giving some crumby performance, or something, hahaha!"
So - what's next for Rod Melancon?:
Rod Melancon: "My number one mission for this year is to get this record done. Dave Cobb has sent it to some pretty big folks, and they're like, 'Oh, this is great,' but they want to hear a full album. I'm sure more doors are going to happen, it's just a matter of getting the album done now. That's what's on my agenda."
I asked if he's be getting out of LA for some festivals, or State Fairs this summer, what his management had lined up for him - his answer rather shocked me:
Rod Melancon: " Well, I don't have a manager! I've got a publisher, and a publicist. At SXSW I got on some really good showcases, so they have been helping me out a lot. My publicist, she's really great, I really love her a lot - she's been there from the get for me. You can tell she really believes in it, y'know?"
Yeah, this I do know. Rod's publicist is amongst the most revered in the country, and her passion is how I came to stumble across Rod Melancon, who if I'm not mistaken will soon be one of the bright stars on the American musical horizon - he's got it all - all the tools, the talent, he's a great looking guy who writes like a Pulitzer prize winner, and not only is he a great guy, but the cards also seem to fall rather heavily in his favor.
Friday, May 3, 2013
"You could plug me into any guitar and a $50 amp, and you'd know it was me playing." ~ Wilson T. KingWilson T. King has been lauded by every guitar mag from here to there - he's probably being read about aboard some alien starship as I type this. King is one of the very few 'blues rock' guitarists I can listen to without shuddering - mind you, I've loved blues rock since I first heard The Jeff Beck Group's Truth back in the very early seventies, but that's about the last time anyone pushed the genre further along. Don't start on me, SRV fanatics - I love Stevie Ray, but he didn't really take Albert any further than Albert did - he just did it better than anyone else, and while that's admirable, it's not particularly innovative.
Last year I labeled King's latest record, The Last Of The Analogues, one of my top twelve albums of the year, and in my review I coined the phrase, 'Blade Runner Blues.' Wilson T. King manages to take a wealth of well steeped blues history and meld it with many years in the creatively rich British indie rock scene, dip it in some solid psychedelia, and come up with something new, exciting and vibrant. His playing is audacious, melodic, edgy, and at times shocking - his bends are closer to to Coltrane than some 'same thing as yesterday's' neophytes seem to be coming up with these days. His songs are closer to Radiohead and Philip K. Dick than the three Kings.
I had the opportunity to catch up with King a few weeks ago, and we spend some quality time hashing over his history, what he's doing now, and where it's all going. He has as sharp an intellect as you'll find, and he has no shortage of opinions - he reads like a professor of real music and musicianship - as I transcribed this interview, I realized that it reads like a great lesson in what to do, what not to do, and how to get there with your soul and pride in tact. I wish every budding six stringer could read his words.
After some friendly chat, we got down to brass tacks, and I asked him to tell me in his own words exactly what it was that he did, and how and why he does it:
Wilson T. King: "I liked your description, Tony - Blade Runner Blues, I couldn't have come up with better myself, that's brilliant.
"I think the reason for what I'm doing is two-fold: I didn't play a lot of lead guitar for a long time from the mid '90s to the late 2000s. I was doing indie bands, and trying to get record deals, touring, and it just wasn't part of the equation. Through that period, I just didn't buy many blues records, or many guitar records - they just didn't interest me.
"I was moaning about it to my friend Wayne Proctor, who plays drums on my records, and he's a big blues producer in Europe, and he was like, 'Shut up and play guitar. Stop moaning and make the record that should be made. I think that was the challenge of the first record (2010's Follow Your First Mind) - could I find spaces for the guitar and the blues to resonate in for me that were new and fresh, not just going over the same old ground?
"I did that first record, and it got a lot of critical acclaim, so I thought, OK - this gave me encouragement for this record (2012's The Last Of The Analogues), which is inevitably a cross pollination between the music I was influenced by in the '90s - The Black Crowes' The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Radiohead's The Bends, in that period of time, from like 1989 to 1997 there was like three classic rock guitar albums, or four coming out a year. And those were a huge influence on me as a songwriter. Obviously, my musical influences were John Coltrane, or Led Zeppelin, they go back through the space and time of rock music and blues."
"There was a period of time where I had to get my songwriting chops together, and I started to become a producer, as well. And that era was very melancholic - it was that, mixed in with my guitar playing, sort of Hendrix, Gilmour, Albert King, Jeff Beck influences - this all sort of served to make a Wilson T. King sound come about.
"I can't explain it, other than I try to wrote stuff that is interesting and, can I put some great guitar in that? That's what I'm looking for all the time.
"The next record is probably is probably going to shock people. It's very sci-fi. You have some Amnesiac/Radiohead keyboards in with some of the heaviest guitar playing I've ever done in my life. Some New Order type grooves in songs with some incredible guitar playing - there's drony synths with harmonicas and slide guitar playing! I'm just going to keep pushing it. That's the challenge for me - can I keep pushing into these new spaces?"
New spaces, indeed - one thing I love about Wilson's records are that they sound very topographical, like a full tilt travelogue. I was curious as to how he has arrived at such a retelling of the blues - if the blues had a spaceship, this is what it would sound like:
Wilson T. King: "My thing is, I love listening to the blues, but do I need to hear another blues record where somebody's going to play the same blues, the same old lyrics that they change just a bit, and I don't need to hear Albert King, I've got him - Clapton, BB, Stevie Ray records, what are you going to do in that genre?
"In terms of playing, some of it is composition - on the records there is this weird composition. Like Dave Gilmour - because it's clear that he writes his solos, they are composed, but at the same time, it's a free form as well. Jimi wrote his solos, you can tell that also, that he worked on them, but at the same time you have this free form thing going on.
"I'm somewhere in between the two, I'm not saying I'm as good as those guys, I'm saying I approach things somewhere between the two. Some of the solos on Born Into This, I did in a few takes and it took me a week. Every night, I'd go in for a few hours and figure out what I was going to do. I did that - I wrote it, replayed it a few times, got it better, and on the end solo I did like three takes. So, it's really between those two approaches.
"But it's gotta be good. I think that what you find is a lot of players with a ton of technique, who can phone it in. Does that make sense to you?"
Phoning it in is not a possibility with Wilson T. King. In a time in which every guitar player talks vibrato and bends more uniformly by the moment, King is boldly invigorating - his bends swoop, they scream, they squawk, they whisper and howl - more akin to a great jazz sax player than most guitar playing. In fact, his technique is so compelling, I had to enquire as to its origin:
Wilson T. King: "To me, that is the apex of the guitar player. There's a lot of people that can bend a lot of notes, but the technique I have, there's more than a slight time where I've mimicked Jeff Beck - he does it with his bar, but I do it with my fingers. I bend and pull off from these odd, different fret positions - they are not normal fret positions. I play a lot out of position - I'm pushing and pulling the notes into these different places and using vibrato in a different fashion. And I get all these myriad different sounds. I love doing that - it feels freer."
It's not just his technique, Wilson also employs sound tremendously to his advantage - it's a strange and beautiful beast, his tone. I wondered if he had intentionally abandoned the more obvious blues rock tones:
Wilson T. King: "I think for me, and that's a very interesting question, because it comes to the whole boutique amp and guitar thing. I've got a '69 Fender Strat that's great. I prefer a Gibson plugged into a Fender amp, and I prefer a Strat plugged into a Marshall.
"They just seem, those combinations seem a little bit more aggressive, they seem more exciting and the midrange is more....Brit. The Fender amp is too smooth sometimes, I think they sound too conservative. And the guitar, to me, is something to prime people - something to jolt people out of normal life. You can say that David Gilmour has that sweet tone, and that works on Comfortably Numb, but the lyrics are so dark - the solo is sort of soothing. But the second break he takes you off! It's all balance.
"Mountains of Fire, a track on the second album - the vocal is quite drifty and dreamy, but the solo is very aggressive. I try to have all these elements in the tracks."
In addition to a barebones rig, King has also followed in the footsteps of Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, and other greats who have abandoned plectrums for the intimacy of using his fingers alone:
Wilson T. King: "I'll tell you something now - I got rid of the pick after playing for probably near 20 years, OK? And, I always played with my fingers, but I used to pick mainly.
"I used my fingers more and more, and suddenly it was transformative. A huge difference for me, especially in my mid 30s when I got rid of the pick. Over two or three years, all of a sudden the style came - I started working these bends in....
"The only way I can describe it is sort of like a John Entwistle vibe! You'd watch him play bass, and you're like, 'What is he doing?'
"If somebody said to me, 'What kind of fingerstyle technique do you use, I'd say that I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing, but it works! I still practice a lot, even while I'm doing my other businesses, at the end of the day."
King's music avoids cliches and challenges the listener in ways that are incredibly refreshing in these days of crass radio conformity, so I asked if it was a problem to get his rhythm sections onto the same page:
Wilson T. King: "Well, I write all of the bass parts on the records - so a lot of the songs start with the bass. The way I demo, it might be that I have a song finished before the drums are on sometimes, and I'll put on the drums last.
"Wayne Procter, the guy who does the drums on the records, he and I have been working together for almost twenty years, and it can get a little crazy. We're always trying to push - I think he's one of the finest players out there, he's a world class drummer, and we're always pushing each other with new ideas.
"Live, (bassist) Jim Hartley and Wayne - when I play with them, the low end is Band of Gypsys, do you know what I mean? They've got that vibe!
"It is difficult, and I've played with a lot of musicians over the years and it''s hard to find that synergy. These great bands, The Beatles, The Who, it's four people - they may even hate each other at times, but they're making something musically and they all know it's so important - it creates moments."
Breaking all the rules is not an easy task - I asked Wilson how much time he invested in learning the ropes before he cut them:
Wilson T. King: "A lot of time. I was a blues head, completely, a massive blues head, and then, when I started doing originals after years and years of playing, I did all this stuff - I learned the SRV records, I learned the Hendix songs, Clapton tunes, BB, Albert, Freddie King, I learned all that stuff.
"So, I had all that down - so when I started being in original bands, there was no use for it. Do you know what I mean? Throughout my musical career I've always tried to write original riffs and original ideas that I'd not heard before.
"I still kept playing the blues, working on my leads and stuff, but that wasn't the dominate thing. There was probably six or seven years, maybe longer of doing indie music, and it's more Radiohead type stuff we were doing.
"That helped me to write songs, write lyrics, and produce records, which made me play better. Because it made me realize what is not worth playing, if that makes any sense. I played a lot of bass in that period as well, so when you're writing you get the idea of context. What's the point of great solos if what I'm playing over is a load of rubbish? Without that experience, I'd probably be another blustering blues guitar player, but there's a million of them.
"There's so many guys out there who I look at and go, 'Wow!' There are some young kids in England who are amazing - great players, awesome. But after about twenty seconds, you go, 'What's going on there musically?' They are just playing blues licks over blues licks."
Clones. That's what drives me away from blues rock as a genre so often, the dull repetition of pentatonia from vapid, but dextrous youngsters (and many not so young). I asked Wilson what he thought responsible for the mountains of blues CDs that merely echo the past:
Wilson T. King: "Well, that's interesting, because I've been a little harsh on some people, and some genres. I think it goes back to that 90s period of time, where all my peers - people who were making it as musicians were doing something new. Whether that was Kurt Cobain, or Radiohead, U2, they were all making these challenging records.
"That made me think, 'I've got to work my ass off here,' and I don't think these young kids today have got any musicians like that around them. You've got people like Joe Bonamassa who do this conservative, sort of Gary Moore/Clapton blues thing really well, but it's not anything new. So look - these kids really haven't got anything - there's no one in their age group challenging them."
Not content to be just a shit hot axeman, King is also a very compelling lyricist and singer. His tunes are filled with dark, cinematic tales that reflect our times. I asked if he relied on books and films for inspiration, in lieu of cliched blues tunes:
Wilson T. King: "Oh yeah, of course! Totally, I mean the lyrical inspiration on Bukowski with Born Into This, with his books - He's a big influence in that area.
"You touch on an interesting point there - if you look at any of the real rock stars, Lennon, Cobain, they are all well read people, they may not have had a great education, but they are inquisitive and well read. That's part of being an artist, you can't just play music - if you play an instrument, then you are a musician - if you write and create new ideas then you are an artist.
"A lot of ideas can be grabbed from other art forms.
"So yeah, it is cinematic, and I'm sure if I listed my film choices, it would be things like The Hill, Apocalypse Now, those sort of things, when that revolution in Hollywood started happening. That was a big influence on me."
While searching endlessly for an inspirational ocean, King choose to stay grounded in his choice of gear. He's been with his trusty '69 Strat and Marshall setup for some time, and there's no change coming in the foreseeable future:
Wilson T. King: "Yeah, I've actually just bought a '77 Marshall JMP off a guy who is a fan of my music. I am actually going out to get a 2X12 cabinet for that today.
"See I think the thing is, Tony - you play guitar, and we've all been down that tone indecision mayhem and literal depression, and we've all did it as guitar players. And you know, if you came up to me and said, 'I'll build you an amp that's the end of the world,' I'd say, 'No thanks, I'm happy with my Marshall and Strat.' If someone brought me 16,000 different pedals, I'd say, 'Sorry, I'm happy.'
"Because the last thing I want to do is mess up something that I think is really exciting and makes me happy. We've all swapped amps, we've all swapped guitars, and then six months later go, 'Why did I go and do that?' I'd rather focus on the playing and writing. Really. I can't even think about it.
"You need good gear if you are recording. But you could plug me into any guitar and a $50 amp, and you'd know it was me playing."
And you would. Wilson T. King is nothing if not recognizable - he sounds like no one else on the scene, and how many guitarists can you say that about these days? I wanted to hear some of the details of the new record that he's currently prepping (remember, he said it would shock people):
Wilson T. King: "I'm demoing this record, which I think will take me....see, one of the luxuries I have is that I can produce a record. I don't have to go into the studio in four days and cut it, or two weeks, which doesn't always bring out the best.
"I have my laptop, I have an iPad, I have ProTools on there, if I'm home for a few days, I get my guitar out and work out some solos - I can work on the record. Then I'll get together with the guys, and we can work it out. It's not something where it's two weeks, and that's it. I have the luxury of being able to do the record on the same budget as other guys, but I can do it by myself, and get a lot more out of it.
"These kids that contact me, I've told a few of them - go in, put down your backing track, get yourself ProTools, and do it at home. Give yourself all that time to make it sound amazing! It's not rocket science!
"I think this new record is going to be interesting, because it's going to be something more. I think it's going to bring in a lot of people who used to buy guitar records, but have really not bought any for 20 years.
"It's interesting because I have so many guitar friends who just never buy new records. They still love that music, but there's nothing for them - they think that anyway.
"This record is going to widen what I'm doing, so I'm very excited. The last record, I am so proud of it, this record is just going to take off into space! The guitar playing is stupendous, so I'm already happy with that. Hopefully, you'll think the same!"
As King goes about his business of never repeating himself, and challenging himself and his listeners, I wondered what his thought may be on why more artists are not doing so, instead relying on homogenized, staid product:
"You're right - it's become a little safe, and predictable, but the focus, as we've spoken already, is on the wrong areas. The focus should be on originality and ideas - taking risks, not on, 'Can I play Joe Bonamassa's track better than him', or playing better than Gary Moore, it doesn't matter. There are literally hundreds of guitar players out there who can really, really play, but without ideas, you are not an artist.
"It's tough on guys. If you've got an engineer, a producer, and mixing guys - if you are on a budget, there's definitely a lot of compromise there.
"Look - The Beatles took a lot of time to cut their records. Look at Yesterday, or Strawberry Fields, those records went through tens after tens of renditions. Jimi - Voodoo Child (Slight Return), he worked on that tune for a year, jamming it, doing different versions, getting his solos down - he was working on it!"
The state of the art now gives way to the state of the industry - as you may know, I've recently been asking every artist I interview what they think about the current state of the music business:
Wilson T. King: "I think it's disgraceful the way that the music industry lost control of its intellectual property. I think it's disgraceful that governments in the west have been so slow to protect the industry. I think it's disgraceful that people think that music is something they can download for free and steal, while spending $6 on a pack of cigarettes, or $8 on a beer, $20 on a video game.
"There's no excuse for it, it's disgraceful. Music is something that can help - incite change and growth. For the last 60 years, from where it was to where it is, it would probably be the only thing the aliens would be interested in if they landed. Surely not the iPad - they'd be interested in Coltrane, and Hendrix, Miles Davis, Beethoven.
"But I can tell you one thing - they are not going to be interested in the Internet, iPads, etc., etc....
"Music - it's the greatest pure thing that man has come up with - it's just been treated badly.
"I'm very passionate about this. The state of music, there's just no excuse. I get it, I get it, but how many times have I bought Achtung Baby, Electric Ladyland? On CD, tape, vinyl - I must have bought seven versions of those records over my life. From that perspective, home taping is one thing, but stealing new records you've never bought? Completely wrong."
We covered a lot of ground on that Saturday afternoon, and I had just two more things to ask Wilson T. King. If there was anything else to communicate to young guitarists and musicians looking to make their mark, and if he had heard from King's X frontman dUg Pinnick - I had recently spoken too dUg, and he had asked for an introduction, as King was a new favorite on Pinnick's home playlist, he thought maybe King's death defying guitar would sit well next to some Pinnick solo material:
Wilson T. King: "Make sure these young guys out there are taking risks, and trying new stuff. It's one of the big things we try, and if I can get any message across, it's to take risks, don't be afraid - that's what it's all about, you know?
"Yeah, I did hear from dUg! He's very cool and we had a great chat - I said to him, 'I'm here if you need any help!' And he said, 'If I come across a chromatic, cyclical Band of Gypsys bass line, I'll be sending it to you. King's X - those guys have never gotten their due - that guy is unbelievable."
Well, that makes two. Wilsson T. King is the real deal - a Hendrixian wizard of a guitarist/songwriter/singer who is looking fearlessly into a brilliant musical future.