The first Rush album I ever owned was Moving Pictures.
What is your favorite Rush album and why?
My favorite Rush album is Moving Pictures. I felt like that was the one that bridged the gap between the later '80s stuff where they started bringing in a lot of synthesizers and electronic sounds and the early stuff which was just very raw rock and roll. I felt like on that album, Moving Pictures, they started to bring in the synths but it still had a lot of that rawness to it and also just the songwriting. Those are I think some of the strongest songs.
What kind of a musical influence did they have on you?
To be honest I was not a huge Rush fan. I have friends that have every Rush album and wouldn't miss a concert. I had a couple of albums. I learned a couple of parts. I learned a couple of songs like "The Trees" and stuff like that. As far as guitar playing, I was more into Randy Rhoades at the time but musically, I really appreciated what Rush did and I felt like they really opened the door for me as far as playing with odd time signatures. Getting a really big sound from just three people. And just going against the grain. It was so inspiring that somebody could be so left field as far as what was going on in music as far as the mainstream. They never had the type of image that would normally sell records. They didn't try to write hits. They did what they did and it was great.
How did you get picked to do the tribute album?
I got picked to do the tribute album partially because I have a trio of my own. It's my jazz trio. The Alex Skolnick Trio. We're signed to Magnitude which is a division of Magna Carta who put out the Rush tribute. They contacted me about it and I normally shy away from tribute albums because I feel like there's a lot of them. I felt like Rush is somebody I could definitely relate to and then the track that I was doing, I was able to do a lot of what I do on that track which is "Bastille Day".
Did you get to pick the song that you did?
Yeah, I had a couple of options and I ended up choosing that one.
Why did you pick that particular song?
It's funny because it's not a song that I was very familiar with. I thought that the way the rhythm section played on that, it allowed me to stretch out more than if I did one of the more straight ahead tunes.
Why do you think that Rush is so influential today?
Well I think it goes back to what I said earlier. They've always gone against the grain. They've always played more for their fans than for what was expected of them. At the same time I think they've been very smart because they haven't ignored trends at all. I know some of the albums they did in the '90s had a bit of a heavier feel to it. As a listener, you could tell that they had been listening to Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. When U2 first came out in the '80s you could hear a bit of that influence in Rush's music so they've been aware of what's going on and able to adapt it. They always kept it as Rush and it's great to see them still going after all these years.
I guess it was a case of listening to what was out there and incorporating what they liked into their music.
That's true and I think another reason is they've always aged gracefully. Some other rock bands try to be young forever. And I'm not going to name names. We can all think of some examples. They do what they do. I think they've always acknowledged that they're whatever age they are and they don't try to do what they did before. They don't try to be hip and current. Also they were never hip and current to begin with even when they started. It's great. They're a real inspiration.
I understand you've been a columnist for three different guitar magazines.
It's true. I haven't written a guitar instruction column in a while. Occasionally I'll do one but for a while in the '90s I wrote for three different magazines: Guitar World, Guitar For The Practicing Musician, and Guitar Player.
What sparked your interest in doing that?
I guess it was an opportunity that came up. I think it was on the second or third Testament album. Shit, by then I just started doing interviews with the guitar magazines and I guess at the time speed metal wasn't so much about the musicianship. I mean it definitely takes musicianship to be able to play it but it wasn't really about the guitar solos. I was somebody that had studied with Joe Satriani and studied Randy Rhoades and Eddie Van Halen extensively so I think when I did my first interviews with the magazines, they realized that I could talk about music even though I was doing this heavy, heavy music. I was still very serious about it and studying it a lot. They thought it would be a good fit. It was perfect for me because I like to read and I've always liked to write as a hobby. When they offered me the gig, I said great. It was perfect.
A literate heavy metal musician.
Yeah, it's kind of an oxymoron. Like corporate responsibility. Military intelligence. What's funny is I think there's a bunch more literate people in heavy metal than you would think. It's a stereotype. Stereotypes sometimes exist for a reason but that's another thing that I wanted to prove. That you could be in heavy metal and be literate at the same time.
Yeah, I know. I'm told heavy metal guys are such morons but I've talked to my fair share of them and they don't come across that stupid to me.
There's also morons in every genre of music and business.
Tell me about the Alex Skolnick Trio. This is something totally different from the heavy metal thing. This is more jazz and fusion.
Yeah, it's definitely more jazz than fusion. Fusion really makes me think about electric jazz which I like and I first got into jazz because of that. The trio is definitely more influenced by straight ahead acoustic based music. My favorite musicians and some of the biggest influences for the trio are guys like McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson. The real classic jazz guys. The trio started when I had moved to New York. I got fed up with living in the Bay area and I was studying at the New School and getting my music degree. Initially I was inspired by Randy Rhoades. He had always talked about going back to school one day and getting his music degree but tragically he wasn't able to do that. That was always in the back of my head and I had some close breaks in the music industry that didn't quite work out. I did a gig with Ozzy Osbourne. He hired me and Sharon unhired me. Before that I played with The Spin Doctors and came in second. I just realized that I could wait around for some big break like that to come along or I could just study music and not worry about it and just see where it goes. While I was studying music at the New School I met my drummer, Matt Zebroski, and we just put this group together just to jam on jazz standards. That was the whole idea and then one day I actually had a dream where I heard a song by The Scorpions done as a jazz guitar piece. I brought it in and it seemed like a completely hilarious idea but it worked. It not only sounded good, it made a nice melody, but it just inspired improvisation on a whole new level because this was a tune that was ingrained in me. In jazz, this typical repertoire consists of these old pop tunes and show tunes which are great songs. Songs like "Autumn Leaves" and all that genre but there are so many groups playing that. Within a few weeks we had a whole repertoire of these classic metal tunes that we'd grown up with. People really seemed to love it and we did our first album. On a certain level we even got accepted just from the jazz community. Down Deep gave us a great review. Jazz Is gave us a great review. Billboard did a piece on us and we got a lot of radio play and we're now on our second album. It's great. It's like we started this crazy thing and we're running with it.
I think that's absolutely fantastic.
Changing gears, let's talk about Testament. What's this thing about a reunion?
Well, the thing about the reunion is it's true. There's going to be a week of shows in Europe with Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson who have been doing Testament all along. Then I'll be coming back. Bass player Greg Christian is coming back. We have a different drummer. We have John Tempesta who is the drummer for White Zombie and Rob Zombie. Louie Clemente who is our original drummer is going to come and make a guest appearance on one song but he hasn't played drums since he left Testament. He just basically is out of the business. He's working on getting his chops back and he'll be there but John will be the drummer. Other than that, it's going to be all original members.
That is absolutely awesome.
Yeah, we're excited. It just came up when they had these shows booked and they've been through a lot of lineup changes lately and we've gotten to the point where we have a good relationship again and they know I'm busy with other projects and they respect that. To be honest, it sounds like they would genuinely appreciate it if we could make this work. I feel like it's a good time to come back to it. I feel like I've built up a life outside of the group. I wasn't happy when that was all I was doing. I'm a little bit restless when it comes to music. I think I need to be doing more than one thing. We're just at a point that they really appreciate that and it's great. I'm really looking forward to it.
I know a lot of the fans are looking forward to it too.
Yeah, and who knows? Maybe these won't be the only shows.
Hopefully not. Hopefully there will be more.
Yeah, we're getting a lot of requests to do some shows in the States.
Yeah, there's a thing going on with Anthrax. All these cool heavy bands getting their ducks in order.
Yeah, that's another interesting thing. Anthrax is getting back together and they're going to be doing some of these same shows. They say it's going to be interesting.
That's going to be fantastic I say.
Yeah, we're all excited. Everybody is older now and in a place where I think everybody appreciates each other more and knows how to work together better. A lot of us were really young. I was 23 when I left the band. They're all a few years older but still we were very young back in those days.
You were 23 when you left the band and you did five albums together.
That's right. One was an EP and one of them the first album.
It's better that everyone is older and more mature and getting back together. So many good people have passed on and it's always good for folks to reunite before something like that happens.
It's true. You never know what's going to happen. You can't take it for granted that everybody's going to be alive and healthy forever. I think that's part of it. Everybody realizes that and also I think there's a general feeling that in the music scene, at least in the metal world, there's not that much going on for these fans. Even young fans. I'm hearing from guys that are 16 to 20 years old all the time that are just discovering Testament and they love it. They're not into what else is going on. They're not into these other groups like 3 Doors Down and stuff like that. Not to single them out. The popular metal bands out there. Everybody has their own taste and there's always going to be generations in a way. People who grew up in the '70s were fans of KISS and Black Sabbath and Motorhead. They could get into Metallica and Megadeth when they came out. They were a continuation and it just seems like lately, and again this is mostly in metal, there just hasn't been that continuation of a tradition. There are a couple of newer bands that I appreciate. I actually like the band Lamb Of God a lot and I like the group Slipknot a lot.
I like a band out of Finland called Children Of Bodom a lot and they're a death/black metal band. I like really heavy stuff. There is some good stuff out there that has that Metallica/Megadeth vibe going.
There are some groups like that but it seems like most of the groups that you see on MTV and hear on mainstream radio, they don't have that ingredient that made the music so special back in the day.
Bands like Lamb Of God are more underground than they are mainstream.
That's true. Although Lamb Of God did do Ozzfest last year.
That stuff is starting to get into the public eye a little bit more.
It's an interesting time for the music industry in general just because so many things are changing.
What's so funny is I find myself right now, I've always known about bands like Deep Purple, and I'm listening to their stuff in recent years and find myself getting more and more into them. A blast from the past kind of thing. I think a lot of people are looking back into the past at some bands they may have overlooked or they weren't around at the time.
You mention Deep Purple, I'll must mention that on the new Alex Skolnick Trio album, Transformation, we actually have a version of "Highway Star".
That is such a cool song.
It's a lot of fun. Yeah, we take it to interesting places. When I was getting that together, I went back and listened to the original a lot and the musicianship is so great. This is also a time where you didn't have digital editing in the studio the way you do now.
Right, it was a lot more raw.
Yeah, I'll be honest. I think it's helpful for all of us to have that technology. We all use it. I think there is a lot of music out there that over uses it. There are groups that really just cannot physically play what you're hearing on those records.
They aren't going to able to reproduce that in a live arena someplace.
Yeah, and some obvious examples are like some of the big pop singers out there. It's very interesting to go back to somebody like Deep Purple where they did not have that.
Yet they had such intricate technical passages in their music.
Exactly and I think there is a lot of good albums out there. They're edited but they don't necessarily sound overly edited.
Rush was like that too. They were around long before all that technology.
Absolutely and I'm sure Rush edits in the studio but they can also go out there live and do it. i think that's what really makes the difference.
Outside of the Alex Skolnick Trio and the Testament reunion, are there any other projects you're working on?
Yeah, I'm doing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour for a few years now. I just got done with that in November and December and that was a lot of fun. That's just gotten bigger and better. We just sold out Madison Square Garden. We played on Good Morning America. It's great. It's good. It's growing and it reaches all types of people. The types of people that I wouldn't reach any other way. Whole families go to see that show. It's great because you can still do screaming rock guitar but it's done in this context that everybody can appreciate.
Any other thoughts or comments?
I think we covered it all.