I'm 35. I'm a guitarist. I've been a professional working musician since I was in high school. I played with a number of bigger groups. I used to play with Robert Hazard who wrote "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". I played with him when I was only 18. Just been studying music, et cetera, and finally came to join a progressive rock band called Finneus Gauge. Did a couple of records with them. They did real well. All the while I was doing my own solo material. Quit that group in 1998 or 1999, I forget. Just devoted full time to the solo project. The first band that I had done with this kind of music was called The Hand Farm. I had been doing that. I made a couple of albums with that particular group. Now I'm doing the McGill/Manring/Stevens thing which kind of grew out of The Hand Farm. In fact Vic Stevens was on the second Hand Farm disc. Then we hooked up with Michael Manring and here we are.
You teach guitar, you play guitar. What got you interested in guitar and music in general?
I don't come from a musical family so I suppose it was my older brother who had been listening to what would be considered now prog rock. Jimi Hendrix really got me first interested in playing. He was listening to Pink Floyd and Ted Nugent. It was the '70s. Robin Trower. All that sort of stuff. I was deeply immersed into guitar music so I guess that's where I naturally gravitated. I started kind of late. I guess I was 13 or 14. I'd just got into high school. There was always music about in the house. My mother had a lot of jazz albums and my father had a lot of different records as well in terms of psychedelic records. Iron Butterfly and all that sort of thing so there was always a lot of music. Like I said, there were no musicians in the family but it was hard not to become interested especially with an older brother that listened to all that stuff. That's kind of how I got into it. I guess pretty much the same as a lot of those other folks. Pretty straight ahead.
My parents raised me on The Rolling Stones and Presley so I can see that.
Right. My brother took lessons when I was really young. I was too young to play but I would always pull it out of his closet and strum at it. I was a nipper, five or six years old. I didn't pick it up in earnest until I was 13 or 14. Something like that. But when I got into it, I got into it at full tilt. I had the pleasure and honor of studying with some really great players. One named Tom Giacabetti, one named Sonny Troy, and another one who just died recently named Dennis Sandole who had Pat Martino, John Coltrane, and James Moody and all those huge jazz figures. I studied with him for 10 years until he passed away about a year and a half ago or so. I practiced incessantly and I love music. Just love playing.
You've taught guitar to a couple of guys who've turned up in bands like Heaven's Edge.
Do you know of those guys?
Yes, I have heard of that band.
I taught Reggie for three years. He's a great guy. In fact, occasionally I still see him around. He says hi and stops in to see me once in a while. Also another guy named Neil Petty, a good friend of mine, was in a band called Ruder Than You that was a really big ska band in the early '90s. They did a lot of touring and charted on the ska thing pretty nicely. They were touring around with The Bosstones, et cetera, so yeah I've taught some really good players. That's great.
That must be a pretty neat feeling to have a student who winds up making it in a band.
Absolutely, sure. Oh yeah, I'm always happy for them. I just say "keep in touch". I've been lucky. They keep in touch with me so it's cool. In fact, those two guys, especially Neil, I may be having dinner with Neil in a week or so. He still comes by for lessons and things. I see him on Saturdays usually for a lesson. Still keeping at it and hopefully there'll be more to come. Hopefully more of these guys I'm training at this point will go on to do some great things.
What gear do you endorse and why?
I use these Brian Moore guitars. I've been with them about three years and I really love their instruments. I had been playing an old Stratocaster guitar. One that I had had made for me back in the Robert Hazard days so I had had that thing for 10 or 12 years. I got turned on to these Brian Moore guitars. My label boss, Ken Golden, had spoken with a guy in a band called Soundscapes. His name is Todd Rose and was raving about these guitars and I should really play those. I finally went into a store and played one and flipped. I contracted the company and we worked out a deal. The Koch amps. They're a Dutch amp and I really love those. I discovered those a while ago with the NAMM Convention where they have all the musical instruments and the manufacturers gather every year in California. They're just fantastic. They're great to me. They've been really, really kind to me. I really love their gear. It just has transformed the sound. I had some old banged up stuff for all the earlier records that I had done and it's really made a difference between the last record even and this record. The new album that we're doing using all the Koch gear and it's just transformed it. Everybody in the band seems to like it better too so that's a good thing. In terms of the strings, I have DR strings which are again another thing where I've been using another brand of strings forever and I got turned on to these by a bassist named Sean Malone. I love them. They're the greatest. Again the company's been really nice to me. They last really long. Usually guitarists' strings with somebody who plays, I play at least two or three hours a day at the minimum, so the strings get trashed pretty quickly. Between that and gigs and rehearsals and et cetera, they tend to go pretty quickly. These strings last a long time and sound pretty bright so I don't have to worry about changing strings every two seconds, especially for recordings, et cetera. They actually save money even though the strings are a little more expensive. You actually end up saving. The Line 6 foot pedals I use all the time. I love those. In fact I just got a couple of new toys for the new record so they're on the new album. It's almost like making the records a laboratory of experiments and sounds especially with devices and gadgets and things. They're the best. They get the old sounds, the old sounds from the '70s I guess. The stuff you come up with. Angela, it's like you listen to that stuff and now I'm back to using those old effects that were on all those old records that I like. Like Robin Trower albums and Pat Travers. All those. I'm using some of the same sounds like the old phase shifters and ring modulators and all that kind of '70s thing. The clothing came back in and now the electronics are coming. I don't have any bell bottoms but I've got the foot pedals.
There's something to be said for going back to the old sounds because newer is not necessarily better.
Absolutely and what's good about the way they're making these now is, they get you the sound of the old pedals without all the noise. The modern technology has been able to get rid of the kinks in it but you get the sound and there's analog. There's old analog and the latest Line 6 pedal I have has analog synth like the old synthesizers. It just sounds great. I can make the guitar sound like a harp or a moog but without using digital synthesizers. Without using the new stuff. It's very cool.
With a lot of the equipment they have now, you don't even need a band. Just bring the machine with you.
I know. Certain artists do that really well like Depeche Mode, but it's kind of left me cold. I'm not a real big fan of electronica although I think you can do real creative stuff with that. Like the Chemical Brothers and Radiohead. They do some really amazing stuff that definitely can't be denied. That's just not for me. I tend to like the retro stuff a little better although bands like Radiohead have managed to combine that. That real retro sound also with this new sort of electronica, for lack of a better term, sort of tune to it. It's cool.
It's interesting to do stuff like that in the studio, but when you go to a show you want to see real, live human beings.
Absolutely. Yeah, that's what bummed me out about Depeche Mode. I had an old girlfriend who was very into Depeche Mode and she was like "oh yeah, check out the concert" and I saw it. It's three guys with a bunch of Revox tape machines and keyboards. Where's the drummer? Occasionally a guy would grab an old guitar but it was no bass player, no drummer. It was kind of a drag. They were in a stadium too and it was odd seeing a band in a stadium and brightly packing the place too. Can't deny it but it was just kind of odd. There was no drummer and there was no bass player. No nothing. It was like a guy spinning around with a mic stand and a couple of guys with keyboards. Sequencers all over the place. It just seemed a bit incomplete. It's a far cry from watching Ted Nugent swinging around in a loin cloth.
That's the kind of stuff I'm used to.
Me too, me too. I can somehow relate to that a little more. I don't know how but...
The crowning glory for me was back in 1996 when KISS decided to put the makeup back on and I actually got to see them that way.
Yeah and they're still out doing it. Those guys, they're still doing it. It's a great thing to see sort of a resurgence of interest in that '70s kind of deal. Something real honest about it. It didn't have the advances, et cetera, but people were really playing. They were really stretching the music I think, even in terms of rock and roll, et cetera. There was a lot of stuff going on in the '70s. A lot of innovation. I think it's happening now but I think it's happening on a different sort of level that I can relate to in one sense but in another sense I can't. I like some rap obviously because we were kids then and it was more of an emotional connect for me to Yes or Frank Zappa. More of a connect than some of the newer stuff although I'm a big Rage Against The Machine fan and I was a big Soundgarden fan. I really like Tool a lot. To me a band like Tool seems to be taking that creative '70s thing and bringing it into the new century. They're playing and they're doing creative things with what they're doing so I dig that. Longer tracks and expanding it. It's very cool.
I saw an episode on TV just recently. They were talking about these artists who lip sync. Why would I pay anywhere around $85 to $100 to see Britney Spears or Janet Jackson? They're not actually singing.
You're absolutely right. Even in those days, I was a kid, Leif Garrett and the Osmonds would lip sync on TV, but when you went to see Leif Garrett the guy was singing at least. Even if the guy wasn't that good it was happening. Now, with a Janet Jackson concert, you don't know what's canned and what's live.
Apparently none of it is live. They were saying it's a tape and she's just mouthing the words. Technology is a good thing but why don't you just charge people $85 and let them watch a two hour video?
Absolutely. That's not knocking those records because a Janet Jackson album represents a state of the art in recording technology and some of the finest musicians you'll find on there, but you don't know exactly. I watched on her on TV once and it was flawless but what am I getting live and what's the sequencer? What's coming at me through a tape and what's coming at me through a speaker live?
Is it live or is it Memorex? You've released a few albums. Tell us about those.
The first record, The Handfarm, was the first instrumental trio record that I did. It was done on a real shoestring budget. I had gotten a deal in Italy to do it. I never saw any money from it. I guess you've got to start somewhere. There are two albums by Finneus Gauge that I did called More Once More and One Inch Of The Fall. More like progressive rock with female vocals. Actually the first record that I did for Ken at The Laser's Edge is called Ripe. I think that was put out in '98 or '99 or so. This is back to the instrumental trio. It's not a Handfarm record. I really like that album. I started to build up a little more confidence in what I was doing with playing and the writing. I like that record a lot. I've started to guest on a couple of records as well. One by somebody named Guy LeBlanc from Canada who now plays with Camelot. I played on his first record. Just like a progressive rock thing. I've done some jazz records. All that stuff's out of print. I did them in the early '90s. I did one around '98 or '99. I don't know if it's still in print or not. I don't know if they still exist or where they are. The latest record which was Addition By Subtraction was done with Michael Manring, who we had come to know, I guess the best way to describe it, through correspondence. I've always wanted to work with Michael. We were looking for a bass player for the new record. I always admired his work. I was really thrilled about working with him. Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater is a guest on that record. He's a great guy and just played fantastic stuff on three tracks I think he's on. Neil Kernon produced it who was just an amazing person. It makes the second album that I have worked on with Vic. Vic lives about an hour from me and Vic's just a superb musician and just a great friend. I'm really thrilled about the new that we're doing which is called Controlled By Radar. It's not mixed yet but it's already been recorded. It's me, Michael Manring, and Vic Stevens. Again Neil Kernon's going to mix the album. I'm really happy and thrilled. It's more of an improvised record so it's a little more of a jam band I guess oriented record. It's really kind of going in that direction. None of the tunes were prewritten before we went into the studio. We did a whole disc of electric material in three days and we did a whole disc of acoustic material in three days so we have a double album set. One will be electric, one will be acoustic. That will be out I think in September. I think it's around there. Sometime in the fall on a subsidiary of Ken's. Ken started a label called Free Electric Sound and Addition By Subtraction was the first CD on that label so I guess this one will be the second CD on that label if I'm not mistaken. I just try to push the playing. The music and the playing and going new directions like we were talking about with all the new devices. I'm starting to accumulate different foot pedals. They make you play different and they make you think different. Conceive of music in a different way as well as just constant practicing and pushing yourself into different directions. Vic and I also played on another record. We just completed a record for a progressive rock band called Triggering Myth which will be on Laser's Edge. I think that's called Forgiving Eden and that's one track that's 45 minutes long. That was a lot of fun to do. We did that in record time as well. I got sick right after doing it. Angela, from doing the two CDs in six days, 18 hour days and all, then doing another one. My body broke down. Luckily I finished tracking on that last one. We just finished the third day on it and I got the flu the next day. I was just terribly sick. Lymph nodes and the whole deal. Fever, everything. That's kind of it. I'm looking to do some other projects coming up as well with some different artists. There's always things in the works. Generally I can't stand listening to my records. I don't listen to them. It's uncomfortable for me to listen to them actually because I hear all the dings. Somebody played me and "oh yeah listen to this thing. I remember this record". It was an older record. It's like a different person. When you constantly evolve, you listen to your older stuff. Even stuff that's only two weeks old I can't listen to, let alone three years or something. It's a different person. It's uncomfortable.
It must be kind of strange to listen to your own stuff and think "this in somebody's house".
Absolutely. I think that translates into other idioms too. I guess authors or persons such as yourself. You run a webzine. You're writing. You're doing things. You're editing. Maybe things that you did four or five years ago, you're like "okay but that was me then. That's not me now". It's uncomfortable. It's like "I can see where I was then but geez I'm all the way over here now. I'm much more advanced and much more whatever".
My very first website was a KISS oriented one dedicate to the three drummers who played for the band. I'm still proud of that. People look at it and I still keep it up.
That's a good feeling though. That definitely makes you feel good about what you're doing. Obviously you're a KISS fan.
That's great. Those old records, like we were talking about before, they had that one something. In fact Bob Ezrin was involved I think in a few older KISS records. I remember liking what he did on some older Alice Cooper.
I grew up with all that stuff. I was a kid in the '70s.
We were old enough to get it. We weren't old enough to be totally into it but we sucked it all in at the same time.
That's when things were starting to change and a lot of new, interesting stuff was coming along.
Absolutely. That was almost like a pioneering spirit there for a while which was very healthy. Which came out of that late '60s thing.
When our parents were growing up, people would release two or three singles and they would go off and become an accountant or something. It wasn't until the late '60s and early '70s when people were doing it for the long haul.
Back then a label would sign a band and they would expect to get five or six good records out of the band talentwise. You would a sign a band and the bands that got signed, The Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, like them or not the executives felt "okay guys have enough talent where we could get five or six good records". It was more of a long term thinking like KISS. Let's get a decent amount of records out of these guys. Not to say there weren't one hit wonders back then but now it seems like the industry's kind of predicated on that. If they can get one or two albums out of these groups, great. Then they're out of here. It's more disposable now.
They've gone back to getting one record and when the popularity wears off they go to somebody else. It's not that much of a money making thing anymore.
It's more short term investment. In other words, music by mediocre musicians is cheaper and easier to supply to people than music by people that have more talent. The more talented people are more of a hassle so let's go get guys who can barely keep their thing together and they're easier fleeced. You can fleece them easier although even the smartest guys have been fleeced by the industry. Billy Joel and Sting. I love music. Obviously I don't do this for commercial consumption. I just make music and if people like it, great. If they don't like it, that's okay too. I will just continue to do what I'm doing. I like making records but I'm going to do it making records or not. I did this before I was making records, I'll do it after I'm making records. I'm happy I'm making records but I didn't get into it to do that. I'm just a musician. I love music.
You took part in a CD that Randy Coven did. He was with Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai.
He made some solo records in the '80s as well. He played with Steve Vai for a while. The new album he did was called Which Way and John Maculuso had actually gotten me involved in that and introduced me to Randy. John used to play drums for Yngwie and TNT. He's in Arch now. He's doing real well with Arch. John's a sweetheart. Randy's a great guy too. Randy asked me to come down and play some guitar. Leslie West is on the album and Al Petrelli. There's not too much of me on the record but I'm there. He's a great guy. I just saw him at the last metalfest down in Atlanta. That was a blast, seeing him again and John. I'm kind of a metalhead at heart because when I first started playing guitar it was copying Ozzy Osbourne solos. No matter what I do, I'm kind of anchored in that. I've got the hair. I don't get too many jazz gigs because I've got the hair. Even though I can play that stuff and I teach it. Everybody looks at me coming in with the amps and the hair and they go "oh my God". As far as metal goes, half of my CDs are metal CDs. I like anything done well. I listen to classical music a lot. I'm a big fan of contemporary classical music like Olivia Nesean, Elliot Carter. I've got Pantera's stuff. I'm into death metal. I'm into glam. I've got bluegrass albums. I'm into anything done well. If it strikes me as being done well and it strikes a chord with me then I buy it. Nothing beats the sound of a cranked up guitar.
I'm a huge fan of drummers. I run Drummers Spotlight and I even have some Gene Krupa CDs.
You need to talk with Vic. He's studied with some of the best guys. Joe Morello, Kenwood Denard. He's a phenomenal player.
He's released a couple of albums.
Absolutely. He's brilliant. It's an honor to be playing with somebody on that level. I just try to keep up with him.
Michael released a CD called Book Of Flame.
Michael's made a lot of CDs with Wyndham Hill and Michael Hedges. Those guys are legends. Michael's a legend really. That's why I'm laughing. I'm playing with these top caliber guys and I'm some schmuck from Medford, NJ. Some guy living out in a cornfield.
He was also the subject of a PBS documentary.
Absolutely. You're interviewing the wrong guy.
Nah. Are there any tracks on Addition By Subtraction that reach out and grab you?
There's a slower one called "Sheila" which was very hard to write and I think it really strikes an emotional chord. I also like the first one, that track "Zimparty". I like that a lot. Really the wackier kind of directions that we've gone in, the more free directions, are things like "Purging Mendel's Beasts" which is pretty much an improvised piece but it's just wild and it goes through all these different dynamic twists. Even when we get loud or get soft, there's dynamics within our music. It gets really loud and heated and then it gets soft. You really have to be aware of those sort of things so I like that track. Also I like the title track, "Addition By Subtraction". Compositionally I think that was a real accomplishment. It's very subtle but there are some really interesting and advanced compositional techiniques, serial techniques, and set theory techniques going on there that the listener knows on a certain level but at the same it's very cleverly done. I'm proud of that. I guess those would be the ones.
When you guys set out to do a song, do you write on different songs or do you sometimes collaborate on one?
On the last record I pretty much wrote everything except for the improvised pieces. On the new album and that includes all the parts, what was interesting was the three of us got into the studio, Angela, and had no preconceived notions except for a basic idea of what we wanted to do and we all set about improvising and writing our own parts as we went. We would play something and they'd go "hey that was pretty good. Let's do a little more of this, a little more of that, and then let's record it". On Addition By Subtraction, tunes like "Purging Mendel's Beasts" and "Post Hocto-Proct" were done like "hey let's do something slow. Let's do something frantic. Go here and go there and go there". They're all in general directions so the music that you're hearing is literally a first or second time conception of those ideas. Everybody gets to do their thing but yet it works together. That's a very scary but exciting thing. It's scary when you go to a studio and there are no tunes and you have three days to come up with an album of 50 minutes of music. It's pretty spooky. You gotta go quick but you gotta really focus. That's how we're doing the stuff right now. We're going with that. Sometimes at breakfast I would come up with a little nugget of something and then I would go to the studio and go "hey guys, what do you think of this? Does this stink? Can we work with this you think? Yah or nah". Michael would be like "Yeah I got a thing for that". Vic would be like "oh I like this feel. Let's go in and bang". In those 18 hour days we recorded a lot of music.
You got to work with Neil Kernon who's worked with bands like Judas Priest and Queensryche. It seems pretty important to get a really good producer.
It is. What was great about Neil was it's always good with a producer when they know to lay the hands off too. I've worked with a bunch of producers on everything from jingles to just recording projects. A lot of guys get too involved in everything. They forget that you gotta go with the musician. You gotta go with the feel. A lot of producers want to just get involved and micromanage whereas a guy like Neil is just brilliant because he knows when to step in and go "aw this isn't really happening. Let's go this direction." There were times when he said "yeah it's great. Yeah fine. Yeah put a little of that. Yeah no need to do that again." He knew when to keep the momentum going. When the band's on a roll a good producer sits back and let's it happen. They don't step in and go "well, I have to put my footprint on this" for the sake of doing it. Neil was brilliant with guitar sounds and vibes and getting a good take of the songs and just really knowing how to sit back and get the most out of the group and he's just brilliant with that. Of course mixing, he's a wizard. He can just mix things at light speed and they're brilliant. You can hear everything. He's very gifted. It was great. It was an amazing experience. I look forward to him mixing the new record too.
Somebody had asked me what a producer does exactly and I said he's the guy who keeps things going and if he thinks something needs some assistance he does that. Kind of like a movie director.
Absolutely. Somebody that comes in and it differs. We came in with all the tunes and they were all rehearsed. Neil came in and just made sure that the takes were happening and he was engineering it along the way as well. Helped me a lot with guitar sounds. He was brilliant with "hey let's try this tone for this tune." He was just amazing at that. He wasn't there for preproduction so he wasn't there working with the tunes specifically. The tunes were already done so he came in right at the point of just recording the record so he was producer/engineer at that point. I would have loved to have had Neil in on preproduction but we just didn't have the funds to so it so we had to go with what we had. Yeah, a producer can do everything from helping a band with songs literally, like "hey why don't we do the chorus again. It's a little monotonous. Why don't you do that there." Guys like Rick Rubin get totally involved in that process. "Hey drummer why don't you do this and that doesn't feel right. Do that and that bass line." Everything from being there when the band starts recording and says "hey do another take of that. Not enough energy. That's a little off. You sped up at the end. That take didn't have it." Producers can run a pretty wide gamut. It's important I think in a sense because you have another ear there. Sometimes when you're too close to something, you're not objective about it. You get so wrapped up in your guitar playing or your bass playing or your drumming or your keyboards or your vocals that you can't stand back and look at the big picture. You have to have a producer to go "hey yeah you screwed up a little bit there but listen to the overall result. That's brilliant." It's important I think.
Any other comments or ideas?
I thank you for having me on and allowing me to share the forum with everybody online, your readers. I appreciate you taking the time.