What are some stereotypes attached to you or your music that are completely untrue?
That I’m a lover of the instrument of guitar. Musical instruments, and equipment in general, bore me to tears. I’m a song guy, a melody guy, a lover of the magic of music. I don’t care with what instrument its played, or what genre the music may fall into. I love a good pizza but I have no interest in the oven it was cooked in. I just happen to play guitar, and I use it to write for all instruments.
When you play in a completely new location, what do you expect from the audience?
New locations are very rare for me, and I have no idea what to expect in India. From all accounts I’ve heard, the people are just amazing. Judging by your questions, I can tell there is a deep appreciation for music. I am sure my gratitude for being invited to India will reach the audience.
Largely, the world recognizes you as a heavy metal icon. But you’ve actually done things like play with Astor Piazzolla’s grandson, among other things. Not to mention your love for Japanese pop. What keeps you reaching for such variation in your craft?
I keep searching for the magic in music, something new and unique that I could possibly be a part of. I am very afraid that I will find some of that “magic” in India and that will set me off in a whole new direction…
What makes a song a great song?
That feeling you get when you want to hear it twice in a row. How to actually create that, how to make that happen, I don’t know. Luck plays a part. Personally I like a song that has all of it`s innovative technical wizardry well hidden, so you only find it if in fact you are looking for it. When listening to a song, I like to enjoy it strictly on face value–not appreciating or caring about the work that went into it. I just want to enjoy the benefits of the music itself. There is time to analyze and appreciate later, if need be.
Could you reveal a bit more about your dislike for the term “shredder”? Are there any other concepts that you consider equally uninteresting?
I absolutely love a well placed burning ultra high speed solo-when placed somewhere in the arrangement of the song with great impact. The vast majority of “shredding” that I hear, frankly turns me off, because for the most part it is just random overplaying, with little or no regard whatsoever to the music it is supposed to be a part of. Also quite often the music that overplayers tend to write to feature their “shredding” is of little interest anyway. I don`t think many people want to hear 64th notes for more than a couple seconds anyway. That said, I was guilty of some “shredding” tendencies on the Cacophony albums myself. The vast majority of Cacophony was well thought out, and many of the fast passages had a solid musical purpose, but I do think a certain percentage of it was a bit mindless and ineffective. Sometimes when you are really young, you tend to want to show off, especially when you are unknown. That’s still no excuse, though.
I know everyone asks you this, but what took you to Japan? And what keeps you there?
The music. Once I started listening to Japanese music of all genres 24/7 I knew that I really wanted to contribute to it in my own way somehow. I still enjoy it more than ever. The music hits me in a way that I really like. The melodies are front and center. In America, melody is usually in the back seat, and often times not existent at all. Often the melody hooks that become popular in the US lately are annoying to me and I just can`t relate to what so many people see in those melodies. I get the feeling that people in the overall mainstream care less about music than ever, and people on the fringe of mainstream tastes care more about music than ever. It`s always been that way, but that phenomenon has expanded greatly lately. I really don`t know what I`m talking about because I haven`t lived in the US for 15 years, but what`s for sure is Japanese music lives or dies on the strength of its melody and I like that. In the US, there is more emphasis on lyrics and the image of the artist than the melodies. That is all fine as well, its just a matter of personal taste. I am a melody fan.
A metal icon like you has spoken about his love for enka singing from Japan. You’ve also said you would have played with Madonna in a heartbeat. Why do you think more musicians associated with metal are not upfront about their love for diverse music? Could it be an issue of maintaining a certain image?
I think metal musicians nowadays are way more open about being fans of other genres than they were before. Fans tend to be stricter than artists, more “Metal or DIE!” with their attitudes, but even fans nowadays have loosened up on that because they have discovered diverse music on the internet that they like. Its a very healthy time. Ironically Madonna`s guitarist, Monte Pittman is a full on insane metal guitarist!
Have you ever played around with Indian sounds?
Yes. As a teen, I learned and analyzed a lot of Ravi Shankar`s music. It was mind opening. I also am a bit influenced by the unique time signatures in Indian music and I love the unison string lines and exotic motifs that I hear in Bollywood stuff. I’m by no means an expert, and I am not good at replicating it.
In your own words, can you describe your picking technique for our technically minded readers?
It is a waste of time. If you are going to analyze my music, analyze the melodies, the arrangements and the phrasing. That is where you will find endless unique things that you might not learn anywhere else. It doesn’t matter how you pick, what matters is that you learn how to create melodies that represent you, and that you figure out a way to get them out of your guitar. There is no right, wrong, better, worse way to pick. Just get the notes out. A guitar teacher would likely tell you that there is a right and wrong way to pick, but I bet most recording artists would say there is not. The mindsets are totally different.
What inspires your music? I mean, is it the fascination attached to a certain book/film/event/person? Do ideas come to you out of thin air? How does it work?
Pretty much thin air. Sometimes I`ll hear 5 seconds of music in the background somewhere and that will spark me to write 4 minutes of music. Usually the original 5 seconds that inspired me gets thrown away at some point. Anything can be a spark. New surroundings are often helpful. I’m convinced I will be inspired by some new rhythm or melody the second I touch down in India.
What would you be willing to reveal about your upcoming gig in India?
Since its the first time there, I’m going to do a lot more older stuff than I usually do because no one has seen us before. I’m not there just to promote my latest album, so it frees me up to do things I haven’t done in a while, and lets the people in India catch up. Next time I`ll play more of the newer stuff.
What excites you about a potential collaboration? How do you spot someone you can get along with on an artistic level?
My friend Keshav Dhar is a good example. I heard his playing on YouTube, and it inspired me to come up with all kinds of stuff, so when I contacted him and he agreed to work with me, I made use of the differences in our styles and it was a great fresh combination. His interesting chord voicings and unique rhythmic concepts made an extremely fresh new backdrop for my melody sense. We did several songs together. That guy is a star.
How exactly are you deciding upon your setlist, given the vast repository you have to choose from?
Usually it is heavily based on new songs, because the latest album is what I`m usually most proud of at the time of a tour. Those are the songs I’m most excited to share. Also, since I don’t have any “hits” so to speak, I can shape the setlist around the peaks and valleys I can create with the music itself without being forced to play any particular songs. I have romantic ballads as well as violent brutal metal, so it gives me a lot to play with as far as keeping the audience’s attention.
How often do musicians have to compromise their artistic authenticity to stay relevant?
All the time, we are compromising in one way or another. If you don’t, you will never move forward. The trick is to compromise only to the extent that you can still walk away from what you are doing feeling that you haven’t made a complete ass out of yourself, and actually be proud of the overall thing you just did. My last 2 studio albums, “Inferno” and “Wall of Sound” have the least compromising of my entire career. I love them and don`t regret a second of that music.
What’s your response to “metalheads” who turn up their noses at Babymetal?
Everyone has different tastes, and everyone’s opinion is exactly equally valid. I dig BabyMetal. I also like Coca Cola. Maybe you like Pepsi. It’s all good. It would be so boring if everyone liked the exact same thing.
What matters least when it comes to making good music? And what matters most?
There is no good or bad music. The only music in the world that matters is the music you like. The music that affects you to the point that you want to hear it again. That’s it. If you are able to create music that you actually like, that is the best feeling there is. That should probably be the goal of every artist.
Do you think art comes attached to some kind of purpose?
All forms of entertainment are life’s important distractions from reality. Without them, it can be a pretty cold and dark universe out there. I thank my lucky stars that my favorite entertainers took the incredible efforts to work so incredibly hard at their craft for my enjoyment. To be immersed in art that you love is a happy way to go through life.
Given that music is so dominant in your life, how often do you listen to music just for recreation?
All the time. I’m listening to the West Side Story soundtrack now, which is a favorite.
Would you say you have managed to accomplish much of what you have desired?
Not even close. There is much more out there. I have a lot more I want to do.
When do you think a musician should stop making music? For example, should they stop when they start getting bored? Or, when they can no longer offer something new?
Whenever they want. It’s no one’s choice except the person making the music.
Tell us about a few musicians that you are really fascinated with right now.
Hyadain, Deafheaven, Maneki Kecak, Mono (JAPAN0 and PassCode come to mind, but there are plenty more
How have you changed as a person in the last 5 years?
Not much as a person, but in the last 5 years I’ve made the 2 strongest albums of my career by far, and I feel I’m finally getting the hang of how to make my music. It has taken a while.
What is the best compliment your art has received?
If someone says “I enjoy your music” and they mean it, that is all I can wish for.
Do you have any warnings for new musicians who look up to you?
No, I’m just flattered.