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!