Iíve been a guitar player for a number of years. I got my start back in í82 when a bass player named Bruce Turgon saw me playing in my hometown of Redding, California. Northern California. He asked me to come down and do a recording with him which a guy named Billy Thorpe who wrote the song ďChildren Of The SunĒ was producing. Of course we did that as a demo and everything and it turned out great. Billy Thorpe was going to go out on tour in support of his record at that time back in 1982 so he asked myself, Bruce Turgon, and Frankie Banali who was just finishing up with a Quiet Riot record at that time to go out and tour. So I went from playing backyard parties to playing in front of 15,000 or 20,000 people. Thatís how I got started professionally. Since that time Iíve played with King Cobra and with Vinny Appice. Iíve written songs for artists such as Foreigner. Iíve done records with everybody from drummers like Vinny Appice, Carmine, Randy Castillo from Ozzy, James Kottak from The Scorpions, and bass player Tony Franklin. Wrote some songs with Sean McNabb. Tons of great singers. Did a couple of records with Paul Shortino when he was with Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt. I was in XYZ with Terry Ilous. Iíve done three records with Terry through the years. I was in a band with a guy named Johnny Edwards for about three years. He was the guy who replaced Lou Gramm back in 1990. Iíve been on numerous CDs with all these different recording artists. Thatís where I am today. Right now Iíve got my own recording production company called Alien Productions. I just finished co-producing with Ted Poley his new CD for Frontiers Records which I recorded, mixed, and mastered and co-produced. I played all the guitars and bass. I do a lot of session work and that kind of stuff as well.
Youíve had one heck of an awesome career.
Well, thatís only a part of it. Iíve done a little bit of everything. Iíve done commercials for companies such as Disney, Earthlink, HDTV, and Microsoft. I wrote songs for Highway To Heaven, Michael Landonís television show. And currently Iím promoting my new Wired In My Skin CD and Iím very thrilled about it.
I always ask people to give a brief synopsis about themselves so that any of my readers or my listeners on my show who might not be familiar with you yet, after reading or hearing your interview they might want to be familiar with you.
I would hope so. Thatís part of the idea here. I would hope through my past releases and what Iím doing right now that people will go out and pick up the CD and Iím sure theyíll enjoy it. Itís got some great musicians and singers on it.
There are a lot of young kids out there that are going back into the past for their music which I think is awesome. We just had that Rocklahoma thing in Oklahoma and someone told me there were a lot of young kids at that show.
Yeah, I work with a lot of younger talent both locally and elsewhere. Theyíre bringing it back. It never really left so much but people now are looking back to the days when singers were great singers and guitar players were guitar heroes and that kind of stuff. It will never go back to quite what it was in the í80s as far as that sound goes to be really popular but I think a lot of kids now are appreciating and revisiting how great so many bands from that era were. Theyíre getting due recognition again.
Absolutely. I was wondering. You have been in so many different bands and youíve worked with so many different people. Was there ever a time in your career where you really wanted to be in one particular band or have you always enjoyed just being a guitar player for hire?
No, actually I really started with the full intent of getting a band started and continuing on and just the luck of the draw, it didnít work out quite that way. The closest I came with that was with the band with Johnny Edwards. We had everybody from Geffen Records to Atlantic Records just coming out to our rehearsal studios to hear us and they were very much ready to sign us. In fact, now that I understand it, the truth is that they did offer the band contracts and our manager vetoed them without us knowing about it. Different long story but if I had my druthers, yeah I would have stuck with one band. Itís worked out just fine. Iím playing on all sorts of different records and Iím into some production and engineering now too. Iím getting into that part of the industry.
Do you feel that having played in so many different bands makes you one of the most sought after guitarists?
Itís been that way for a while and the irony is that the older I get, the more Iíve learned and the more I know and the more Iím even getting more and more comfortable as a guitarist/producer that itís becoming more so than it was then. Iím starting to do more records with more artists right now. In fact, Iím sitting here in my recording studio recording guitars for this girl who is signed to a major label in Europe and like I said, I just finished Ted Poleyís CD for Frontiers. I just did Terry Ilousí Best Of Terry Ilous CD as well. A lot of things are just happening right now more than ever.
Terry Ilous is such an awesome guy. Iíve talked with him twice before.
I know that youíve produced a lot of peopleís CDs. How did you get interested in getting into the more technical side of recording?
Even when I was learning guitar and working with my first garage band and then going into the bands like Billy Thorpe and with Johnny Edwards and so forth, Iíve always been interested in the recording process. Iíve always sat there with the engineers and watched what theyíve done and that whole both the engineering side and the producer side of it, which was something that I was naturally drawn to. It was just a natural decision for me so to speak and I guess in a way Iíve done this almost the same time I started playing guitar.
When you started playing with bands, after you got done recording on a record were you curious to go into the recording booth and see what all was going on in there?
Oh absolutely, yeah. My first recording experiences were back when I was still in my teens and quite frankly Iím a late bloomer. Iím self taught but I really sucked. But it was amazing to me to go into the recording studio and have somebody sitting there roll tape and youíre playing and youíre playing it back and hear yourself play. I think the whole idea of my music and my songs that Iím writing at this moment are now being recorded and I can get to take them home and open up my cassette player and pop them in. It was intriguing, amazing, and a lot of fun. I learned a lot from it.
Sometimes when you tape yourself talking, you play it back and you get this weird feeling because youíre hearing yourself as other people hear you. Did you have that same sort of weird feeling the first time you heard something played back that you recorded?
No, I felt really actually way prouder than I should have. In listening back of course when youíre first learning how to play and itís your first recording, thatís usually the case. I never felt uncomfortable listening to myself play back. Iíve always had a comfort level at least with myself even at the abilities that I had or did not have per se at the time. The time that I started listening to stuff is when I sang because Iím a singer trapped in a guitar playerís body. I can sing. I can sing in key. Everybody goes ďman, you sound so great. You should do the whole record by yourself.Ē No matter how hard I try, I cannot listen to my voice. It bugs me so much and then of course Iíve known all these great singers all my life like Terry or Ted or Kelly Keeling or John or Paul Shortino or the various singers I work with. Thatís the way I envisioned the songs when I wrote the songs. I guess Iím not crazy about hearing my own singing voice. As far as guitar playing and the songs and all that kind of stuff, itís always been a pleasure.
When you started getting involved in the production side of things, was that on the job learning or did you take any kind of courses in that?
No, it was all the same thing with the guitar. Iíd pick up the guitar and listen to records. Start picking out notes and start drawing on a piece of paper what notes work with what chord. As far as recording, yeah Iím not very hands on but at least paying attention to whatís going on. I got into a situation when I was down in Los Angeles for a while. I was actually hired by this company because of my skills as a producer and guitar player but didnít know the music audio software so they showed me the steps of learning. Itís called Logic. A lot of people use Pro-Tools but I use Logic and itís probably the most difficult to learn. Iím really happy that I learned that one first because other software is basically easier. Working with different engineers, with analog and especially digital, there are people who have shown me things. You can go to school and be taught everything and then go into a high class or high cost recording studio and you donít have the ear. Itís going to suck. As the old saying goes, itís not the gear itís the ear kind of thing. I think thatís where part of my talents are. Not having a million dollar studio I can achieve really good sounds.
I know a lot of people have told me that they think the best producers out there are people who are actually musicians themselves. That makes sense to me because if you donít know much about actually playing instruments then I donít think you can produce records for people being really good at that.
Thatís definitely true. Just off the top of my head Mutt Lange is a perfect example. Heís a musician, heís a songwriter, and he was never a successful musician per se but his instincts for music and production were based on the fact that he knew music really well. That is very important. You have to have that in you to really get it out of somebody else.
During the time period that youíve been producing records, of course a lot of technical advances have come about. What kind of new stuff do you like the best and what kind of old stuff do you like the best as far as that goes?
Nothing can really ever replace two inch analog tape. Iíll admit that straight up front. The disadvantages of that of course are with computers you can record something and if somebody is slightly off on their tempo or hit a bad chord or something like that, you can take that part and cut it out and take it from some place else in the song and replace it. The song is flawless. There have been so many things you can do with the digital realm that you cannot do with the analog and what a lot of people are doing now is actually recording digital and then taking the recordings and then putting them on two inch tape to get that old sound saturation and then bring it back to digital again. Definitely the advantage for an engineer like myself or a producer is to do the digital recordings but your analog stuff, it doesnít get better than that.
Iíve had a lot of people tell me they like the analog thing better. I just had to ask about that.
Thereís a thing called tape saturation. You can actually record to a two inch and go into the red on the meters and it wonít distort. It actually sometimes will sound better. But if you go into the red on digital you get digital distortion and you canít do stuff with that. Itís confining in that respect but there are ways of getting around it though.
Tell me a little bit about your new record Wired In My Skin.
The last record I did was back in 2004. I did a record with Paul Shortino. I did one with him back in í93 I believe and it was a time that I was going through a very depressed period of my ex deciding that she wanted to be my ex. So the CD was really dark and melancholy and it got great reviews and itís got some great songs and everything but even to me itís very depressing.
They say that peopleís pain makes some of the greatest music.
Oh man, it was painful let me tell you. I have not even had the desire to write and record and play. I did go out and do some tours with XYZ and some other people and still kept doing commercials and whatnot. Finally I said hey, Iím feeling pretty good about myself right now and itís time to get my butt back out there and show people that I can still do this and I can do it better than I ever have in the past. So I went in the studio and I said this was going to be hard and it was going to be heavy and itís going to show how I feel today and how I am today. Thatís very positive, more aggressive, and more focused. The first song that was written for the CD is the title track. What that means, wired in my skin, lyrically is that Iím finally comfortable with who I am again and with the skin that Iím in at this moment and I wanted to project that. I feel like the record is all about my coming back.
People always ask me as I grow older why I embrace every birthday that comes along and I always tell them that Iím comfortable in my own skin now. Iím going to be 40 years old next month and Iím comfortable in my own skin.
Thatís precisely the meaning behind it. It was a different way of saying it. I like to speak in kind of poetic terms. Iím saying exactly that but Iím making it a little more graphic because there are some modern overtones and sounds on the CD. Yeah, I sincerely feel better now especially musically. Spiritually and musically I feel that Iíve got a lot more to offer and I feel better about everything that Iím doing now. In a nutshell thatís really what this record represents.
There was a song I was listening to called ďBlack MoonĒ. Can you tell me a little bit about that one?
Yes, play it very loud. I believe that was the second song that I worked on for the CD and Iíve been working with a lot of younger bands. Some kind of nu-metal heavier bands and like I said, I was feeling good and I was feeling aggressive. I said I wanted to do something thatís just low down dirty, in your face, but keep it instrumental because I wanted to like I said get back out there as a guitar player and say look, Iím back and I think Iím better than I had been in the past. I put that song together. It was meant to be very aggressive, in your face, and grabs your attention right from the first few notes.
Yeah, thatís the one I liked because I like really heavy shit.
Oh, good. Thatís why I felt that it should be first. When I put that song in I felt that would be a great opening track. It grabs you right from the get go and it doesnít stop until the end of the song.
What three songs on your record do you feel best represents where youíre at right now spiritually, musically, and physically?
Itís kind of odd. I know this is a strange song but the third song is called ďBig Blue SkyĒ. Itís a song I wrote because I go to Montana at least once a year to dig dinosaur bones. Itís my big hobby and Montana is called big sky country. Thatís what that song represents. Thatís what itís all about and it was the last lyric of the last song I wrote for the entire CD. I wanted to end the record as far as the writing process with this really positive song. Itís very personal to me and to the people that go up with me on this little trip. To me itís one of my personal favorite songs for that reason. I will tell you that probably my personal favorite instrumental song is ďMark My TerritoryĒ.
Weíre not talking about urinating on anything.
Thereís an interesting story about ďMark My TerritoryĒ. My brother in-law is Mark Valentine and almost on every record I have a song which mentions his name. On my previous one there was ďMark My WordsĒ. I wrote a song called ďMark For MarkĒ before that. I decided I was going to write another song. This time Iím going to make it so heavy and I want this to be where my guitars go over the top and beyond something Iíve ever done before. And that was what I was trying to accomplish and hopefully I did accomplish that. I felt I did and Iím very satisfied with it and Iím very proud of that song. It starts off with the Black Sabbath heavy kind of thing and it builds and builds and builds. In a round about way I would say that ďBig Blue SkyĒ represents me right now.
How did you get into digging up dinosaur bones?
Well, way before I was into music or pretty much anything else in my life, I was five years old and my oldest brother had come in from school and had a book with a picture of a dinosaur on the front of it and I became very intrigued by the monster of a thing. I asked him to bring more books back and ever since then Iíve really got into it. I did a lot of reading on paleontology through the years. I became an amateur paleontologist just through that. It wasnít until back in 2003 that I actually got to go for the first time. One of my great friends, in fact heís one of the lyricists on this record. His name is Ed Balldinger. He and his wife own some property out there in Montana and when I found out that they had this ranch out there and thatís where the dinosaur bones are, I was in heaven. When I first got out there and walked around and found my first what you call dinosaur bone, it was an amazing feeling for me. Itís so the opposite of what I do for a living. What Iím doing right now in the recording studio where youíre really creative, analytical, technical, and everything. A lot of sound coming out and you go out to a place like Montana and there is desolation and no sound except for the rattlesnakes. Itís just an emotional getaway and like I said thatís why ďBig Blue SkyĒ is such a personal song for me. Because itís a place I go to get away from everything and not worry about anything but finding these amazing 65 million year old pieces of bone and fossils.
I think thatís absolutely awesome. I bet a lot of people donít know that about you.
Well, most people donít actually. Thatís why to me itís very personal and not everybody is into dinosaurs or wouldnít even want to just get out there. Youíre literally about 35 miles out from anywhere and it can be scary at times when youíre out there by yourself or one or two people are out there. If something happens thereís a good chance that you donít come back. At the same time itís a very comforting thing. It helps me to refocus and realign myself so when I get back Iím a little more reenergized and recharged.
I think thatís really cool. Life is full of risks so what the hell.
Yeah, the rattlesnake thing because Iíve been out there a number of times. We just went half a year ago or so. The very first day I stepped out of the truck, walked about 100 yards, and almost stepped on a rattlesnake. Then two hours later there was another one. The first one didnít warn me. I would have stepped on it and that would have been it. Then I found three of them within an hour. Thereís so many of them out there. Thatís scary. It keeps you on your toes let me tell you. Like I said, you get bit out there and youíve got no chance. You canít do anything except say well okay, bury me out here and dig me up in about a million years.
Are you going to do any kind of touring for your record?
If I get a chance. The producer side of me has taken over right now because Iíve gotten involved on like I said Terryís CD. Working on his thing which is done now. I just literally today at two oíclock, the masters went out to Frontiers Records. I just finished his CD. Iíve got two other CDs Iím working on right now or two albums. Whichever you like to call it and theyíre all on deadlines. Iíve already been committed to doing it and Iím concentrating on them at the moment. When time allows, I will give that consideration. Going out and playing shows. I do love playing live. I miss it right now but circumstances are I have to be right here in my room.
But itís good. Like I said I just got back from Montana so Iím focused. Iím doing okay.
Heís in the place he needs to be. Well, I guess weíve covered everything from production to your new record to rattlesnakes. Any other thoughts or comments?
Visit my website at www.jknorthrup.com. I can be contacted there by fans and/or other players or musicians that are looking for production, guitar playing, or whatever. I hope the fans will go out and if they havenít bought the new CD, I hope they will buy it and listen to it. Itís available on iTunes. Check it out and Iím going to keep going. Iím not slowing down at all. When itís all said and done and I get another opportunity, Iím going to start on the next one. I think thatís pretty much it.