Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Online guitar legend Keith Merrow.

So, what's new in the world of Keith Merrow?
I'm just trying to keep busy, get through college, take care of my wife and kid, have fun with music... the usual for me. All that keeps me plenty busy, but aside from it, I have songwriting gig I'm doing for Century Media Records, and I'm participating in a few side projects/guest spots on other people's albums. Lots of music-related fun!

What can we expect from your new album compared to your first two?
Well, I think it's a bit darker than the last one. But, it also has some more melodic sections as well. I don't think it's as 'riffy'. I tried to use a little artistic restraint with this one so it's more listenable, and tried to make the songs flow a bit more. It came out more "metal" than 'djent', and that was intentional. I tried to diversify it enough to where there would be something on there for pretty much any metal fan to enjoy, but not to the point that it sounds to scattered across the 7,000 different metal sub-genres. Did I pull it off? Probably not... haha! There's more solo stuff on this one (not a ton).

How did you come to work with Jeff Loomis? Can we expect any other collaborations in the future?
We were talking on the phone about gear one day, and he invited me over to his house to play around at his home studio. I drove up to his place about a week later, we hung out, played guitar, and did some recording. It was a blast. Jeff is not only an insane player, but he's also just a great guy. Being a huge fan of his playing, it was a pretty serious honour to have him play on one of my songs. As for future collaborations? It's hard to say! Jeff is definitely a busy guy.

What gear was used in the making of the new album?
I use a pretty basic setup.
For guitars, I used my BRJ custom 7-strings (equipped with Bare Knuckle Painkiller pickups). The guitar tones all came from the Axe-Fx. I used my Peavey 5 string bass, running through Ampeg SVX. The drum samples were Steven Slate and some custom samples that I've had forever. I use Presonus Studio One Pro for a DAW, which I love. I use inexpensive M-Audio monitors and interface, and a KRK sub monitor. I record with a self-built custom PC.

How did you come to hook up with BRJ guitars? Do you and Bernie have anything interesting in the works?
A good friend of Bernie's, named Wes, told him to check out what I do. Bernie got in touch with me and offered me an endorsement deal. I was, and still am, completely excited about it. Bernie builds the most amazing guitars I've ever played, and he's become a great friend to me. I currently have three more guitars in productiona custom 6, a really awesome 7, and a REALLY cool acoustic guitar.

Are you still using your BbFBbEbAbCF tuning? Have you been tempted to try any others?
All the songs from the new album are in that tuning. People ask me all the time why I choose that tuning. Basically, I just like it. It's probably because my ears are jacked up, but it just sounds right to me. I also like the added tension on the strings. I've used just about any tuning you can think of, but I always tend to stray back to what I like.

Is there any eight-string stuff on the new album?
No. I gave eight-string guitars a shot, but they're just not for me. I don't enjoy the sound or feel of them. There are a lot of people doing some really cool stuff with them now, and there are times when I'll pick one up and mess around, but I couldn't see it being my main instrument.

Given that, like an increasing number of artists, you're rocking the Axe-Fx, do you feel that modelling technology is reaching the point where it's offering serious competition to 'real' amplification?
Modeling has come a long way. It's now possible for DIY/Home guys to get really great tone from even the inexpensive modelers. However, I think a lot of people have just gotten used to hearing them, and have a hard time telling the subtle differences between a real amp, and a modeled tone. The Axe-Fx is about as close as you can get to an authentic amp tone with the current technology. Even so, if I had my way, I'd use something that actually has some valves in it. For what I do (home recording), the Axe-Fx is the only way for me to get a variety of good tones without having a million different amps that I could never afford. I don't expect modelers to replace tube amps anytime soon, but they are definitely a great solution in a home studio.

Given that most people who hear your music for the first time immediately comment on the quality of the production, do you have any tips for those who're new to home recording?
I'm surprised by that, actually! I don't think mixing and production has ever been my strong point. My ears are severely damaged, and I'm partially deaf. I heavily rely on spectral analysis when I mix, because I just can't hear certain frequencies. It sucks!
So here's a great tipTAKE CARE OF YOUR EARS. Don't play extremely loud, wear earplugs on stage, at shows turn your headphones down, give yourself a break behind the mixing desk on a regular basis. Your mixes will be better as a result.

Your idea for your first two albums of making them free for download, but giving people the option of donating money is interesting. Do you reckon this could be the way forward for other independent artists?
I think that offering your music for 'free' is a good way to get your name out there. Taking donations seems like a good idea, because if people like what you do, they will donate to show their appreciation. It's nice to let people decide for themselves what it's worth to them. To be honest, the only real reason the newest album is a paid download is because I had a lot of requests from people to put it up on iTunes. I didn't want to sell it in one place, and give it away in another.

The 'djent' movement; the future of progressive music or a passing fad?
It's hard to say. I personally think it will pass or evolve into something else.

Any big plans for the future?
Well, I'm in the lineup to start working on a side project with Chris and Willie Adler from Lamb of God sometime this year. That will be fun! Other than that, I'm just gonna keep having fun and enjoying life.

Thanks very much indeed to Keith for his time. Now everyone do the sensible thing and check out the new album!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry

First off, tell us a little bit about your musical history...

I started playing the flute when I was 9, and after half a year I switched to playing violin, and at the age of 10—after getting a copy of Kiss Alive II I started playing the guitar, and I stuck with it since. One of my first bands was called Weed, we played a lot of Beatles songs and some original songs as well.

Who were your earliest influences in terms of guitar playing?

I listened a lot to Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Metallica, Accept, Dio, and Europe when I was a kid. In my mid-teens I discovered the shred gods from Shrapnel Records' roster—Friedman, Becker, Howe, Gilbert, all those incredible guitar players, which inspired me to start practicing 6-12 hours a day.

What guitars are you currently employing in Scar Symmetry?

I've been playing Ibanez guitars since the early nineties and today I'm endorsed by them. We play seven strings in Scar Sym, I play a Xiphos, an Universe, and a couple of RGs. I also have an 8 string RG that we've used for a couple of songs. When recording I usually use a six string flower-pattern JEM for leads, it's the most incredible sounding guitar ever.

How about amps and effects?

We're on tour right now where we use the POD X3 floorboards, it actually sounds really awesome. It's a super practical solution for the live setting, doesn't really weigh anything, consistent sound night after night. In the studio we use real amps. For the latest album we used modified JCM900s for rhythm guitars, basically the preamp's ripped out and replaced, and it sounds incredible. We used a Rocktron Egnater amp for leads. We usually have a little bit of stereo delay and reverb on the leads, that's pretty much it.

Do you employ any altered tunings?

We use standard seven string tuning and drop-B tuning.

One of the main things people seem to comment on upon seeing videos of your playing is the apparent effortlessness and smoothness of your technique. Is this something you've deliberately cultivated over the years?

Well I would hate it if my playing sounded strained! I like players who have a smooth sound, like Eric Johnson and Yngwie Malmsteen, even when they're picking every note it's so smooth it almost sounds like legato. So I guess that's the sound I've been aiming for.

What does a typical day of practice consist of for you these days?
I rarely practice anymore, I just pick up the guitar and play every now and then. Sometimes I practice improvising over chord changes, but I never do technique exercises to a metronome, I've done that enough for a lifetime.

Are there any new techniques or approaches you're developing at the moment?
Not really... Well I just ordered myself a Ztar—a kind of guitar-shaped keyboard, a really amazing instrument.

Do you generally improvise or compose your solos?

With Scar Symmetry it's a mix between the two, but perhaps a little bit more composed than improvised. Most of the solos aren't that long so I wanna make sure I make the best use of the time, and make something memorable. I like improvising a lot, and when I get my shit together to do a solo album I will have a lot of looooong improvised solos.

How has Scar Symmetry's new dual-vocalist line-up affected the band?

We were in a pretty miserable state before kicking Christian out of the band. Basically, we couldn't agree upon anything with him, and especially the last album we did with that lineup was a real nightmare. I actually almost quit the band at that point. Having Roberth and Lars join the band has been amazing on many levels. They are incredible singers, and the easiest-going people you could ever think of. No diva bullshit there! We've had a kind of dual-vocals style since day one so when we searched for a replacement for Christian it made so much sense to get two guys instead of one. When we write songs now, we don't have to think so much about if we can pull things off vocally live, and live it sounds so much better having two guys sharing the singing duties.

How does the band's song-writing process generally work?
Jonas and I write all the music. Most often, either Jonas or I come up with a complete song—riffs, the basic drum patterns, the song structure—and then we write the vocals melodies and arrangements together. Then we have Henrik writing all the lyrics.

Any chance of a solo album in the future?
Yes. I would love to do a solo album, I just need time and a budget for it. There's a lot of things I'd like to do that don't fit the style of Scar Symmetry, and it would be nice to have an outlet for that.

Do you generally prefer recording or touring?
I prefer writing and recording! It's just such a fun, creative process. Touring is a completely different beast, I mean I love performing on stage, meeting fans, having a few drinks with my boys, but there's so many backsides to it... Airports, dirty buses, waiting, no showers, bad food, waiting, crappy backline (sometimes), bad sound on stage, waiting, being away from home...
What's next for the band?
We've started writing for the next album, though we haven't decided when we're going to start recording it. We'll be having time off most of the summer, and in November-December we will tour North America again, in support for our Nuclear Blast labelmates Epica.

Thanks very much to Per for taking part in this interview, and a two-horned salute to Scar Symmetry!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

French eight-finger guru Daniel Peroine

First off, tell us a little about yourself and your music...

I'm 43 years old, I'm living in Nancy (France) and I’ve been teaching guitar for twenty years now.

I'm a graduate of CMCN (musical school in France) and of Los Angeles GIT.

I played in many rock, heavy or top 40 bands in the east of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Deutschland and Switzerland.

In February 2007, I created my own band which is instrumental progressive rock.

Actually, it's a solo project. I recorded in May 2009 at 'Mon Studio' with Yann Klimezick as sound engineer, Olivier Baldissera on drums and Philippe Chevallot on bass guitar.

It's an instrumental album with nine original songs.

Who were your earliest musical influences?

When I was a teenager my first influence was the heavy metal bands of the 80s. When I started to take some guitar lessons, I began to be interested in the fusion guitar players like Allan Holdsworth or Scott Henderson. The Allan Holdsworth sound was like a revelation to me, especially with the Metal Fatigue album, and I was very interested in the legato technique too.

At what point were you introduced to the eight-finger tapping style?

One day I found the tapping book of Jennifer Batten. I listened to it and I thought it sounded like Allan Holdsworth. But when I was looking at the exercises, I couldn’t understand how to manage with all the fingers on the neck. Finally, I’ve practiced a lot and my sound began to be legato which was very motivating.

How long did it take for you to develop the technique to the point where you felt comfortable with it?

After two years (practicing with two hands tapping), I met T.J Helmerich at the M.I. of Los Angeles. He corrected all my bad habits. For example, I used to play with my right hand all the "pull-off" downs. He recommended me to play "pull-off" inside the hand. It's easier and the sound is definitely better.

He helped me a lot and after six months, I could improvise with major scales.

How do you approach visualizing the fretboard when employing the eight-finger style?

Actually I visualize the right hand. The left one is well trained enough, and I’m practicing with the right hand only which is a good exercise.

Do you tend to compose or improvise your solos?

Fifty-fifty. I like following a melody way and then improvising the end, for example. But before recording a solo, I prefer improvising on rehearsal or on a gig, to find some new ideas on the same solo.

Do you have to modify your guitar setup to accommodate the technique (with super-low action and/or light strings for instance)?

I use low action; I feel comfortable with the right hand.

Six months ago, I used to play with light strings 008-038. Now, I play with 009-042 strings; it's better for the rhythm part. In the future, I would like to play with 010-046 strings, to get a brighter sound.

What initially attracted you to Steinberger guitars?

Because Allan Holdsworth and T.J Helmerich are playing with it and I like their sound.

And a great thing with Steinberger Guitars is that the graphite neck doesn't move. That's why I can play with low action.

What other guitars and gear are you currently using?

I use Steinberger guitars only. I have a MESA/Boogie amp, the Mark IV. I use a Roland VG 88 in effect loop for the reverb, delay and chorus. I have a little box called the Axess, which drives the channel switch of the Mesa with the VG 88.

What musical projects are you currently involved in?

Actually, I do the promotion of my album and I try to find gigs or clinics. I begin to think of the second album too.

How do you feel about the current state of progressive music? Are there any new bands or artists you feel have promise?

I am listening to famous bands like Planet X, Dream Theater, Opeth or early Genesis, and a lot of instrumental guitar players too...and I'm always happy to hear a new band. The last musician I've heard who was exceptional was Alex Machacek. He's just amazing; I saw some videos when he plays with Planet X, and his sound is like Allan Holdsworth’s.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Another album, an instructional DVD...

Daniel, thank you for your time!

Thank you Tom for this interview.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Fusion Master Derryl Gabel

Most afficionados of virtuoso guitar have long been familiar with Derryl, be it through his guest spot on George Lynch's Sacred Groove album, his series of instructional products, or his solo fusion albums. He was kind enough to provide us with a short interview on gear, technique, and his personal musical evolution...

First off, thanks for your time Derryl!

Thank you for the interview!

Can you pinpoint when you first began your transition from neo-classical shredder to fusion player?

I would read interviews from some of my favorite players and a lot of times they pointed back to jazz and fusion players as influences and mentors. I suppose during my brief lesson period from Richard Medel he got me into listening to horn players like Parker, Coltrane, and Cannonball. That was back in the very early 90s.

How did your studies with Derek Taylor influence your style?

Derek and I became friends through mutual admiration but I have to admit he was a lot better than me at the time (While he was practicing all day I was having to work a day job outside and come home exhausted). We were doing similar things because we were studying the same Shrapnel players and just putting our own touch to it. He showed me the two-fingered tapping approach initially. He was doing these Paul Gilbert-inspired string skipping arps and extending them by tapping the two notes on top. I took that idea and started using it with pentatonics on every string and scales as well as arp sequencing. Just last year I saw an old video on Youtube of Steve Lynch from Autograph using the technique back from the mid 80s.

In terms of your legato technique, do you tend to use the Holdsworthian 'all hammer-ons' style, or the more traditional 'hammer-ons and pull-offs' approach?

I think the all exclusive hammer-ons thing is misunderstood. I personally don't use that technique exclusively. I don't pull-off as hard as maybe a rock player like Paul Gilbert would. It's more subtle. I do however use hammer-ons in places where one might think I'm using pull-offs though. This type of thing kind of happened naturally though through just the pure physics I suppose. As an example, if I were decending a pentatonic scale using the 313313 concept at a very high speed the descending hammer-ons would just naturally occur. It's not something I sat down and worked on.

What guitars are you currently using?

A Steinberger GM4-S, Carvin H2, and a DC145.

What about amps and effects?

Currently I'm using a Vox Tonelab, PS Systems Power Tool, and a Digitech 2120. Actually my 2120 just died and I bought a GSP1101 to replace it. Haven't got it yet so I don't know if I will keep it. If I can't get it to sound like the 2120 I'm thinking about maybe a TC Electronics G Force.

What sort of setup do you favour on your instruments (strings, pickups, action etc.)?

I like the action to be as low as possible. My action is .025 of an inch at the 12th fret. I use .09 guage strings. I use the Labella on the Steinberger and D'Addario on the Carvins. For picks I use the purple Dunlop mini stubby 3 mm.

Have you been tempted to go the seven or eight-string route at any time?

I tried a seven-string and liked it but had to sell it for financial reasons. I will get another eventually when I can afford it.

How much of your practice time is currently devoted to pure technique compared to theoretical study and improvisation?

I mainly just practice improvisation. I don't really work on technique for technique's sake anymore.

As a teacher, what are the most common problems you encounter when students first begin delving into fusion playing?

Typically I find students don't practice with backing tracks enough. They are still hooked on the metronome. Also, they tend to think more scalularly and not chordally. Meaning that they haven't memorized all the arps all over the neck in short forms and in sequential, cyclical forms.

What musicians (guitarists or otherwise) have caught your ear recently?

I really like Tom Quayle, Alex Hutchings, Daniele Gottardo, John Stowell, Pat Roos, Nick Kellie, Patrik Berggren, Scott Jones, Marshall Harrison, and Floyd Fernandes... I'm sure there are more just can't think of any more at the moment.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on making a few more DVDs and an album.

I just got a Roland GR-20, M-Audio 2626 and have been experimenting with having the computer notate what I'm improvising in realtime. Still trying to tweak it though and get the bugs out.

Derryl, thank you once again and best of luck!

Thank you!

For anyone interested in developing their grasp of modern guitar technique and advanced fusion concepts, I'd highly recommend you investigate Derryl's series of instructional products. See his website for details.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Derek Corzine of Cosyns

First off, thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Yeah man, no problem at all.

What first inspired your interest in music and the guitar?

I found an old acoustic guitar in my sister's closet at her house when I was 11 and was definitely interested in attempting to play it. I really loved what I was hearing with the older Metallica songs especially the guitars in 'Master of Puppets'. I just HAD to do that! So really, just the intensity and energy of metal just got to me.

Who were your earliest influences guitar-wise?

That would be Kirk Hammet and Dimebag Darrel. I kept wanting to hear more and more guitar solos, but then I started listening to actual songwriting within metal with bands such as Extol (whose older material is still some of my favorite to date). Ole Borud from Extol/Schaliach probably had some of the biggest influence on me as far as songwriting goes at the time. Later I discovered Meshuggah and crazy heavy bands and also started listening to a bunch of soloists like Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, and Vinnie Moore.

What bands and projects are you currently involved with?

Wow, okay, the main band I'm with is called Bloodline Severed. We released a CD on Bombworks Records back in April called Visions Revealed. I've also been doing a project with my wife called Whisper from Heaven. Currently, it's me on all instruments and my wife singing. Kind of a darker symphonic progressive style. The other major project I'm working on at the moment is called Quester. This project is the brainchild of former Torman Maxt singer Martin DeBourge. I'm basically writing all the music for it and Brian Beller (Steve Vai, Dethklok, Mike Kennealy) is playing bass and there is another drummer playing on there as well. I also do guest solo spots for a few different projects.

What gear are you currently using live and in the studio?

For performances I use a Laney head with a custom built 4x12 cab. A noise suppressor and a Tube Screamer for soloing. Fairly minimalistic... Guitar-wise, I use my custom Halo XSI 'Alpha Omega' eight-string, an Ibanez seven-string, Steinberger guitars and basses, and a custom fretless guitar for a select few songs. In studio situations, I use mainly the Ibanez seven for most of the rhythm parts as it has passive pickups and string-thru design. Very easy to change tunings if needed... also what I use more as a backup guitar in case I break a string on stage...

What tunings do you use on your six, seven and eight-string guitars? Do you employ specific guitars for each of your bands, or switch between them on a song-by-song basis?

For some of my higher-tuned stuff, I'll use a standard D tuning, everything dropped down a step. The Halo-8 is standard F... everything dropped down 1/2 a step. My Steinberger I play in drop C and use custom gauge strings so it stays put! The fretless will have different custom tunings depending on the song, and that's more to adapt to playing chords without them sounding out of intonation. My bass tunings fluctuate depending on what I'm recording. I only play bass live for church... everything else is recording purposes.

How did you become interested in fretless guitar? Did it take you long to adapt to it?

I was attending the Dallas Guitar Show back in 2002 I believe. I visited the Vigier booth and they had a fretless guitar up there with a brass fretboard. First time I had even seen or even heard of a fretless guitar. Definitely dug it because I always want to try and do something different. The fretless I use now is actually a completely reworked version of a St. Louis Music Anniversary guitar. It was my first electric guitar and it had a run-in with a concrete floor and messed up the frets badly. My guitarist at the time, James Urias (ex-Echoes of Eternity), he is a wizard when it comes to guitar building and modifications etc. He was so great to work with and I trust his work so much that it made it very difficult to trust anyone else after I moved from Texas to North Carolina. Anywayz, I basically took it apart and stripped and sanded the guitar and he did the rest...his first attempt at converting a fretted to a fretless. It turned out FANTASTIC! The feel of playing a fretless was definitely a lot different. No more rigidness... and when you put your fingers on the upper register strings, you barely notice it's there. You definitely need to be more accurate in your finger placement because even just a little off and it will sound awful to a trained ear. The hardest part was playing chords... you can't do the typical chords with a standard tuning without it sounded horrible out of tune... hence the reason for alternate tunings. Took about a day of good solid playing to really get comfortable with it.

What do you generally go for in your guitar set-ups in terms of action, string gauges, pick-ups, etc?

I like the action as low as I can get it. I utilize a lot of two-handed and 8-finger tapping techniques. String gauges depends on the guitar. I like thicker gauges on the lower strings because they're used mainly for rhythm anyways. When playing power metal and thrash, you definitely want the tightness there for accuracy. In the higher register, I like to go with lighter gauges on my 8-string because of the extended scale. Bending is much easier. For my seven-string, I use 10s. Pickups... I use DiMarzio pickups in all my guitars, except the eight-string, in which I use EMG 808s.

Do you still find time to practice a lot?

Haha! Not really. The most practice I get is if I'm recording. Anytime I have a guitar in my hand, I'm running through scales and other techniques to kinda warm up.

How did you develop the idea of using Morse Code as a songwriting tool?

My dad is a Texas Sheriff, so I grew up with law enforcement radios all around the house. Every 30 minutes or so, the radio towers would emit a Morse Code signal as a tower identifier, something like that, not sure exactly what it was... I was like "Hey, that rhythm could be a cool metal song!" and just couldn't stop there apparently...

Tell us a bit about the Cosyns EP?

Xtreme Progressive Instrumental shred-metal. Kinda like a cross between Meshuggah, Blotted Science, Steve Vai, and Textures in a way. The music uses various interpretations of Morse Code to present 'lyrics' while everything remains instrumental. I am a devout Christian and the lyrics definitely reflect that. As far as the interpretations of Morse Code goes, for those not familiar with what Morse Code is, it's a series of dashes and dots that represent letters and numbers. The 'dashes' might be an open chord and the 'dots' a palm muted note, or the dashes could be a series of four notes and the dots a series of two notes. Other ways I do it might be the bass playing a pulsating bass line or the bass drums or cymbals making the patterns while everything else is more simplistic over the top of it. There are many different ways to play it so everything sounds different from one another.

Even though you played all the instruments on the EP, do you have plans to turn this project into a full band and take it on the road?

I don't have plans for a full band. I do have plans for future releases to be sold at shows of other bands I'm performing with. So the best way to see me on the road is with another group, whoever that may be (I also fill in from time to time for various bands if scheduling permits). Right now it would be Bloodline Severed.

Do you tend to compose or improvise your solos?

If I'm filling in for a band, I would usually improvise because it tends to be spur of the moment type gigs. In the studio, I'll improvise over something a gazillion times so I can get the right 'feel' of it. Then, once the whole solo is completed, I'll go back and relearn it for performance.

Are there any new progressive acts that you've been especially inspired by recently?

Blotted Science is new to me. Just found out about them late June of this year ('09). That project totally blows my mind! To-Mera has also been an inspiration because I have a project with my wife called Whisper from Heaven which she sings on. We're both prog nuts so we really enjoy To-Mera. I respect the amount of talent it takes to compose music like that as well as for anyone to sing over it as good as Julie does. Other than that, I'm constantly inspired by bands like Spiral Architect, Circus Maximus, Dreamscape, etc.

What can we expect next from your various bands?

BLOODLINE SEVERED: We are in the middle of writing material for our 2nd full-length to be released sometime next year. We're very excited as it's much heavier and much more cohesive.
WHISPER FROM HEAVEN: We are finishing up vocals for a few tracks and hope to have a similar EP out by the end of the year. Dark Symphonic Progressive Metal.
QUESTER: Still currently writing and recording for our first album. A slow process but we want to get it right.
COSYNS: Future plans for a full-length hopefully sometime next year!

Derek, thank you once again for your time!

Thanx a bunch and God bless you!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Tom McLean of To-mera

Since their debut in 2006, To-mera have fast become one of the leading lights of the UK progressive metal scene. With a new line-up, and a new EP on the way, I caught up with guitarist Tom McLean to talk about his history, gear, technique, and the future of the band.

Tell us a little about yourself and your musical history...

I started playing classical guitar aged 10. I studied it formally up to grade 8, then made the switch to electric, which has been my primary focus ever since.

Which guitarists were major influences on you early on?

Way back in the beginning, it was Slash. I maintain to this day that he's never played a superfluous note. He made me take up the guitar to begin with actually. When I discovered shred, it was the likes of Marty Friedman, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci and Steve Vai, the latter of whom had a particularly strong influence on my style and phrasing (hence the UV777, which I got back in 2000 and was my first seven-string).

How were you introduced to jazz? Did you ever formally study it?

That's a funny one. I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I got into jazz. In fact I think it was something that grew on me gradually until one day I woke up and realised I actually enjoyed it! I think mainly it came through studying at Cambridge. I wanted to form a metal band there (and eventually did, in fact - the aptly titled "Forlorn Hope"), but I really couldn't find any like minded musicians. I was so desperate to play, that I joined a saxophonist friend of mine to form an avant-garde jazz-rock band. The music was pure self-indulgence, but I learned a lot about improvisation.
After finishing my neuroscience degree, I was set to do a postgraduate medical course, but decided to spend a year learning more about jazz, which by that point had become an obsession. So I went to Trinity College of Music for a year. I learnt a lot about harmony and theory, but to be honest my improvisational ability was so primitive compared to a lot of the kids there that it made me realise I was probably never going to be a jazz pro :P

How did To-mera originally come about?

This already seems a distant memory, but basically a chance encounter at a Dillinger Escape Plan concert with Julie (whom I knew from her previous band Without Face) and Lee (original bassist) set the ball rolling. This was whilst I was at Trinity and desperate to form a metal band that would be interesting in trying out a jazz approach. I think Julie and Lee were the only people crazy/ foolish enough to indulge me!

What gear are you currently using live and in the studio?

Well, I'm still using the Framus Cobra head and cabs. I have a couple of pedals, namely the Holy Grail reverb, a Boss chorus pedal and the ISP Decimator. Guitar-wise, the LTD SC607B is still my favourite for chug, but I've recently acquired a JP7 which I'm hoping to make use of on our upcoming EP.
Studio-wise, the guitars will be DI'd through and M-Audio interface, recorded on Logic, and will be reamped at a later date.

Do you use any alternate tunings, especially for the super-heavy sounds on Delusions?
On Delusions there were three seven-string tunings: dropped F sharp, dropped A, and standard B. Now we've settled on dropped A as the standard tuning.

How do you get your fat jazz-guitar sounds? Is it your regular set-up?

On the album I used a Hamer Studio GATSSO for the jazz tones. It's a lovely warm-sounding guitar that I bought with the original intention of becoming the next John Scofield/ Pat Metheny, but that project has been shelved for now :P

What does a typical practice regime entail for you these days?

I haven't had a serious training regime since 2007. Life has been pretty hectic and disruptive since then, but when I find time I try to just enjoy playing the guitar for the sake of it, and focus more on being creative than technical workouts. I guess it's a phase I've been going through for a while, but that said, I feel a new technical regime is just about due.

What would be your advice to metal-heads interested in exploring jazz for the first time?

I guess venturing down the fusion route, via players like Greg Howe, Brett Garsed and Tony Macalpine, would be the most enjoyable and immediately relevant. It's from there that you can take it further and delve into the origins of this kind of music.

Have you considered doing some form of instructional video in the future?
Honestly, no. I don't feel I'd have much to offer that hasn't already been done much better.

Are there any new bands or players that've caught your ear recently?

Hmm.... well, the UK seems to have quite a healthy underground progressive scene, although it's been growing for quite some time I suppose. There's a big emphasis on rhythmic precision these days, which I quite like. Bands like Tesseract I think could have a lot of potential, although at the moment perhaps their influences are a bit too raw. Also, check out my friend Nik Wolf's project, at . This could yield some interesting things I reckon :)

What can we expect from the new To-mera material?

I'm quite excited about it. I suppose, logically, we're following on from where Delusions left off, but I think the style has started to boil down to something quite fresh for us. More groovy but more melodic. And, dare I say it, perhaps not quite so dark anymore :P (but, don't worry, it'll be anything but power metal!).

Tom, thank you once again for your time, and good luck in the future!

My pleasure!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Tymon Kruidenier of Cynic and Exivious

First off, thanks for taking the time to speak to us!

Tell us a little about yourself and your musical background.

I've been a big music fan for as long as I can remember. We always had a lot of music around the house as I was growing up, with my father being a guitar player too. When I was 16 I got my first guitar and haven't stopped playing since. I'm mostly self taught even though I studied music production and composition later.

Were there any specific players who influenced your style during your formative years?

Yes, my first big influence is without a doubt Chuck from Death. I basically learned to play metal by figuring out all Death songs on guitar. After that it went into jazz fusion stuff pretty soon so I ended up with Allan Holdsworth being the main guy.

At what point did you form Exivious?

Way back in 97 actually. Needless to say it wasn't much with me just playing guitar for a year. It was just me with a friend trying to play fast and heavy death metal.

What gear did you employ during the making of the album? Did you use a different set-up compared to what you use in Cynic? Any seven-string content?

Guitar wise I used my Steinberger GM-4S. Amp wise it's 99% Fractal Audio's Axe-FX. That's the same setup as I use for Cynic. I love it's simplicity and diversity. There's also some synth guitars and Roland VG-88 going on as well as some cool boutique stomp boxes.

What factor does improvisation play within the band?

That depends on the section and the player. For example Stef uses a lot of set rhythmic patterns but he improvises around them, especially obvious in fills and stuff like that. For guitar it's mostly the solos but in a live context I see this expanding to our riffs as well.

Are you planning on taking the new material out on the road?

We'd all love to tour but touring is so ridiculously expensive that it's hard to put into practice as an independent band. Besides that we have the issue of Stef touring a lot with Textures and Robin and I are touring a lot with Cynic. But aside from all this, we're trying to make it happen sometime!

Are there any newer guitarists or bands that've caught your attention recently?

Not really to be honest, but I'm not home a lot to check out new stuff. I can't wait to have the time again to dive into some new music!

How does writing with Michel in Exivious compare to working with Paul in Cynic?

Paul and Michel are very different personalities and that reflects in the way they approach music and composition. Paul writes in a very intuitive way, Michel is more of a thinker and planner. I think I'm somewhere in the middle so both work well for me to work with.

How do you feel about the state of progressive metal right now?

I'm glad to see a lot of people in the metal scene are open to it these days. It's crazy to see 6000 prog fans at the Dream Theater shows we're doing now with Cynic. Other than that, I'm not too much into prog metal anymore. There's not a lot of bands in the genre that can hold my interest.

What does your typical daily practice regime consist of?

I haven't had one for years, I should get back to it and get my playing to the next level though. I hope I can make that happen sometime soon! When I do get into practicing a lot I usually focus on new things only. Or there's a certain technique thing that got sloppy that needs some attention. I always have a clear goal when practicing though.

How does the composition process for Exivious generally work?

In a pretty normal fashion. Michel and I write our tunes at home, send them over to each other if we need some help or feedback. After that we get into the rehearsal room and flesh them out with the four of us.

What's next for Exivious and Cynic?

We're in brainstorming mode both with Exivious and Cynic, there's a lot of ideas and talk about new albums for both bands. How this will work out time-wise, we'll have to see. I'm very much looking forward to get into writing for both bands! I think it's safe to say that both albums will sound pretty different from the ones we just released.

Tymon, once again thank you for your time!

No problem! Thanks for the interview!