Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vinnie Moore - The Pro's Pro - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Vinnie Moore appears to be on quite an uphill climb - he's just released what I believe to be his finest work yet with the stunning debut of his new band Red Zone Rider, he's in the process of completing his six studio outing with heavy rock legends UFO, and he's got a new solo album in the can, ready for mixing and mastering. All of this should add up to a very busy 2015 for the veteran six stringer.

Red Zone Rider might just be the best new band of 2014, and their debut album (out September 16th) will most likely end up on a lot of year end top ten lists. Comprised of Moore, Kelly Keeling, and drummer Scot Coogan, the band has partnered up with Magna Carta Records, and longtime metal guru Mike Varney and they've got a winner on their hands. Every track on the album is rock solid, and the songs and performances are going to raise a lot of eyebrows in the world of hard rock.

Vinnie has been a fixture on the rock guitar scene since he made his first appearance in Guitar Player Magazine's legendary Spotlight column back in 1985. Spotlight was one of the vehicles that Shrapnel Record's head Mike Varney used to literally create the shred guitar movement. Moore was at the forefront of the shred movement, but has long since moved on to a solid career as not just a red hot guitar slinger, but as a songwriter, solo star, and a key member of one of British rock's longest running hard rock franchises.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Vinnie, literally dragging him out of his basement recording studio to talk about Red Zone Rider, UFO, and all the news that's fit to print.

Photo by Jo Ann Jackson/Stardogphotos
First off, I have to say that I was completely taken by surprise by the Red Zone Rider album. No hype, no warning, the album one day showed up on my desktop, and it's been there ever since. It might just be the sleeper classic hard album of 2014:

Vinnie Moore: "Aw man, thanks so much. 
"I saw your review, thank you. I was wondering what people would think of it - you just never know. 
"I've known Kelly for years, I love his voice, and I always had him in the back of my mind as somebody I would want to work with, but the opportunity had never rally come up. I've been so busy with the solo stuff, UFO stuff, but there was some time open last summer, and I just happened to get an e-mail asking, 'Hey, how would you like to work with Kelly?' 
"I was in, but there wasn't a drummer yet, so we started looking at drummers, and we ended up finding Scot. We're really psyched about him, not only does he play drums, he's also a lead singer, and a songwriter, too, which we thought would be a very valuable asset for the band."
Photo by Jo Ann Jackson/Stardogphotos
Vinnie's been associated with producer Mike Varney off and on since the mid-eighties, so I asked about his involvement in Red Zone Rider:

Vinnie Moore: "Well, he had been talking with Kelly, initially, about doing a record, and they had kicked around my name. When I got the e-mail, Mike was like, 'Hey, I'm doing something with Kelly Keeling, I think it'd be great if you worked with him!' 
"So, at the time I had some time open, and a guy I had always wanted to work with, so it just seemed perfect."

Red Zone Rider is, as I said, a stunning debut - everybody knows Vinnie can play, and that Kelly Keeling has a great voice, but what came as a shock was Keeling's outstanding instrumental work on both fretless bass, and keyboards. I asked Vinnie if he knew this going in:

Vinnie Moore: "Actually, I didn't to be honest with you - and he shreds on guitar, too!"
Photo by Tristan Greatrex
One thing that is immediately apparent even on a first listen is that Red Zone Rider is an album of great depth. I hear about twenty new albums a week, and a great many of them sound like they were rush jobs, and that the players had never once been together in the same room. Red Zone Rider comes complete with sophisticated arrangements, very well thought out segues, and tons of pleasing ear candy in the way of solos, backing vocals, and sonic depth:

Vinnie Moore: "Thanks. Yeah, I had written some stuff in advance, and Kelly had some ideas coming in, and we really prepared for it. 
"We then got together in Vegas to record, so we were all together in a room playing together, which was really important. 
"We knew we wanted to incorporate all of our collective influences, and we've all been in the business for quite a while now - we're veterans, I guess you could say, and we have a lot of things to draw from musically. We just wanted to show as many sides of that as we possibly could. 
"The only rule from the record company was, 'We don't want any grunge 90s kind of stuff.' Which was perfect, because I'm not into that - I'm into listening to some of that, but it's not my forte as a songwriter. 
"I actually came in with a bunch of tunes. I'm a guy who is always writing songs, and sometimes for nothing - just because I enjoy doing it! Meaning that there's no intended band, or project that I'm going to use it for. So, I came in with a bunch of demos already finished, Kelly came in with some stuff on his phone, but most of it in his head. We just sat down and listened to all the ideas, and then we started playing through stuff! Some of it we played as is, and on some of it we made small changes. A couple, we made major changes on.  
"It's just that kind of thing - 'We have some material, let's just go play."

The album is being marketed by the record company as a great long lost '70s slice of hard rock, but to my ears it sounds exactly what the classic rock world needs right now - a bunch of great songs being sung and played with great passion, precision, and flair. Still, it would fit perfectly on any playlist from the mid-seventies. There's a ton of great hard rock, some funky and blues touches, of course a bunch of scorching guitar playing, and a whole lot of melody. Since Vinnie had mentioned their collective influences, I asked for some elaboration on his early influences:

Vinnie Moore: "Man - my influences were initially Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen, I like Skynyrd a lot, though I don't think you'll hear much of that influence on this record. Just all the classic rock bands - The Who, The Beatles, of course, I'm forgetting many! 
"The blues stuff was there first, believe it or not, but when I did my first few records, it was really... I was showing more of my classical influences - it was after that whole thing. I think my one regret is going overboard in that direction at the time. I didn't really show everything I was into stylistically, but I showed it later, eventually. 
"I started to show more things on my Meltdown record, which was more rock, and you could hear the blues and funky kind of stuff, too. 
"I'm just big into jazz stuff, and be bop, and then bands like Skynyrd, who really swing, you know? 
"That's taken over more and more of my playing over the years. I'm always swinging, and being a little funky - I never consciously attempted to do that, it just kind of happened naturally. I didn't mean for it to happen on the RZR record, it just did because it's a big part of what I do."

While you can hear and sense all of these influences across the whole of their new album, you can also hear a pretty vast compendium of examples in the way of sumptuous, glorious guitar tones. I asked Vinnie if he was relying heavily on his signature series Dean Guitars:

Vinnie Moore: "Pretty much - I used my Deans, I have about five of them, and I used them about 90% of the time. 
"But, I also have a few Strats, a Les Paul laying around, I always check, and go back to them for certain things. It's good to have them around, to have some extra sonic tools. 
"But, it's mostly the Deans - I get a lot of tones out of my guitars from using the volume control on the guitar. I'll get half dirty sounds by turning it down to five, and cleaner tones by turning it down to three. I get a lot out of the guitar, tone wise."

Moore has been using Dean's pretty exclusively after long being associated with Music Man for many years. I asked about his relationship with Dean Guitars:

Vinnie Moore: "Yeah, I think it's been five or six years now. It's been a good relationship! 
"We did the signature model, and I was initially excited about going with them because they were very open minded and receptive to my ideas. They were open to doing anything I wanted, guitar-wise, when we were designing the model. I thought that was a great attitude for them to have. 
"It's basically a super-Strat - I've always been sort of a Strat kind of guy. I mean, not exactly a Strat, but the body is shaped kind of like a Strat, the hum bucker with two single coil pickup configuration, the size of the frets, we have a Floyd Rose, and the maple neck, alder body.... 
"These were all my ideas. We just worked together from the ground floor up. I told them what I wanted, explained to them on the phone what I wanted when I initially talked to them, and they made a prototype for me - in fact, it's sitting right here. I went down to the factory in Florida, and I tried it out. They had nailed it. 
"It was about 90% of the way there on the first try, and from there we just made some small changes, like where the volume and tone controls were going to be, moving the pickups just a bit, and shaving the back of the heel of the body to make the higher frets a little more accessible, small things like that. We just tweaked it, but it was really close right away."

As time has marched on, and more influences have made their way into Vinnie's repertoire, I'm always pleasantly moved by his slide playing - it's an occasional treat, but when he applies it, it sings. I asked if he has a guitar set up especially for bottleneck playing, and how he's able to resist over doing it:

Vinnie Moore: "For slide, I have a guitar in the studio set up with the action really high that I use exclusively for slide. It's just kind of a thrown together guitar, another super Strat kind of body with a Warmoth neck. 
"That's because I'm not good enough to over do it! I'm getting better at slide, but it's never really been my forte. I enjoy the sound of it, and I like doing it, though!"

Getting back to Red Zone Rider, I asked if there was any chance of the band playing some live shows:

Vinnie Moore: "Yeah! Right at this moment, we're trying to put some stuff together for January starting out around the NAMM show, then heading back east - I'm hoping that happens!"

Also on Moore's busy schedule is the new, in progress recording of the new album by UFO:

Vinnie Moore: "I'm actually in my studio working on it right now! 
"It's coming out really well, we have some great songs. We cut 14 basic tracks in England - keyboards are done, and I'm working on some guitar stuff at home. Phil's singing in England right now, and it's just going to be rocking - I don't know how to definitively describe it, but it's a rock record! It really becomes UFO with Phil's voice."

The Red Zone Rider album is an excellent primer on the state of Vinnie's guitar work, and I don't think I've ever heard him play better - he's always excellent, but he seems especially sharp in the soloing department. I asked how after so many albums, and so many tours, he manages to continue to grow as a soloist:

Vinnie Moore: "First of all, thanks so much, but really, I don't know! 
"I'm always playing, always listening to different styles of music, and when I've got to do a solo, of course, the chord changes dictate the tonality, and kind of sets the mood - then I just go for it. I either improvise, or I get in the position where I find I'm building a lick or two at a time, and it becomes more of a composed solo. 
"I like when I can just improvise, and it comes out, because it's a lot less work! Then, it usually has a lot of feel, too. I'd say my main problem is having too many things going through my head, and not being able to decide which direction I want to go in. There are so many things you can throw in - at some point I just have to realize that it's only one solo, and just go with it.  
"I still listen to a lot of my old favorite bands for inspiration - The Purples, Beatles, Zeppelins, stuff like that. I went through a phase where I was really heavy into some techno stuff, like Crystal Method, and Prodigy, believe it or not.  
"You know, I'll listen to blues, jazz, just anything good to me is good - it doesn't matter what style it is. I try to learn, and take things from everywhere."
Photo by Franky Bruyneel
Wrapping things up, I asked that since it's been almost six years since his last solo album, if anything was in the wind along those lines:

Vinnie Moore: "Haha, yeah! I have a new solo record that's finished! 
"I just need to get someone to mix it. As soon as I get finished with the UFO record that I'm working on now, that's the next thing I'm going to be working on in October is getting this mixed, and getting it out there. 
"The UFO will be out in January, and I'm hoping to get mine out sometime around then, or just after. We're starting a UFO tour in February and March, so I want to get my record out before that."

Like I said, it sounds like Vinnie Moore is on an upward trajectory. See you in 2015, Vinnie!      

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