Artist Feature Friday Andy Timmons
“Even if I play something that is completely worked out, in the live moments it still feels fresh. The spirit of the moment of improvisation is the spirit of ‘this could go off the rails any second, or this could be something beautiful’.”
All true guitar greats have an element of passion in their playing that is as unique as a hand written signature. One of the greatest things about being a musician and listening to these great players, the “musician’s musician”, is to be able to hear and identify the different traits and unique conviction of every player.
Andy Timmons is a fantastic and unique example. With his original influences ranging from his favorites The Beach Boys and later to KISS and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Andy’s seasoned approach is heartfelt, powerful, and experienced. Drawing from his experience in Danger Danger supporting KISS and Alice Cooper, and as a session player for Simon Phillips, Kip Winger, Paul Stanley and even Paula Abdul, Andy is an industry veteran who continuously delivers a unique listening experience. He is a “musician’s musician” of the finest form.
Andy is currently on tour in Europe, but we were fortunate to snag an interview before he left. Here’s the transcript of our chat:
Can you describe the moment you knew that music was what you wanted to do?
There were several moment along the way that were rather monumental in different ways. One of my earliest childhood memories was hearing “I saw her standing there” by the Beatles. I remember hearing George Harrison’s guitar solo. That was the part I was always waiting for when I heard that song. I remember hearing that reverb drenched sound and being completely drawn in. That was my first attraction to the guitar.
The first concert I went to see when I was 13 years old was KISS. That was the day that I really thought, ‘wow, this is what I’m doing.’ I felt like playing guitar was what I was meant to do.
When I was in high school I began to read articles about musicians being studio guitar players and thinking ‘OK, maybe this is going to be a way I could play guitar, but still making a living.’ That’s when I started to really absorb everything I could about every kind of music. If it had a guitar in it, I loved it, and I wanted to know how to play it. I’m still doing that [laughs].
We all experience some of the most difficult moments of learning a new instrument in the first few months. Do you have any advice for younger players that experience those challenges?
Everybody learns and absorbs in different speeds. As long as you stick with it and know you really want to do it, then eventually you will push through it. Like anything else, there just aren’t any shortcuts. You need to put the time and dedication in. I never thought of it as a chore to go practice. I loved it so much that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It’s a matter of sticking to it and keeping it fun. You need to enjoy the journey, otherwise, you need to question why you’re doing it.
You’re obviously well versed in blues, with a lot of your writing rooted in blues, what are the sources of inspiration for that particulate style to you?
A lot of my blues playing and inspiration comes from second, third, and fourth hand. I didn’t listen to blues while growing up. I listened to a lot of rock and pop rock. From the Beatles to Beech Boys and all the British pop hits. I grew up with my older brother’s record collection. I didn’t have an understanding of blues music. It wasn’t until the 90’s that I was really exposed to blues and all the great blues players. To me, Stevie Ray Vaughan was the one that really brought blues back to the mainstream. And when I heard Texas Flood, I pulled the car over. I thought, ‘what the hell is this, this guy is amazing.’ I started listening to all the greats like Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, you name it. It was at that point that, that world got opened up to me. Albert King became one of my favorite players of all time. I started studying everything he had ever done and just tried to absorb it. It was guys like Robin Ford and Larry Carlton that I got a lot of my blues skills from. Robin is such a serious blues player. I can’t imagine anyone playing any better than him. He has such an amazing sense of melodic direction.
Then, of course, the blues starts to lead you into all the classic jazz guys like Joe Pass and Barney Kessel. It’s fun to dig into all these players and really see who they listened to and who influenced them.
You mentioned your first experience with Stevie Ray Vaughan was a rather large impact on your life, would you say that he’s had an impact on your playing as an individual, or as a genre?
Ya know, I never got to meet him, but I sure feel like I’ve gotten to know him through people that did get to know him. For me, Stevie is more of an overall influence. Stevie had so much conviction and passion behind every note. That’s what I’ve tried to absorb and take away from his playing.
“Sergeant Pepper’s” is such a significant album in Rock ‘n’ Roll History and is often called one of the best albums of all time. What inspired you to take on such a record?
It was a bit of an ongoing process. I had done an arrangement for Strawberry Fields. We started playing it when we were on tour and it was going over really well overtime we played it. People really liked it and the version we were jamming. The promoter heard us playing this song and the reaction we were getting. He actually ended up suggesting that we come back and do a whole set of Beatles songs. My first thought was ‘yea, I can’t pull that off’ [laughs]. I guess I looked at it as a challenge though. The next tune I started messing with was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. The furthest thing from my mind was to actually do a record of these songs. It was almost like a hobby for me. It was more about my personal love of the music. I do remember the day being able to sit upstairs in my house and listening to the record from start to finish. It was very emotional. I was proud of myself for being able to do it. It was fun.
I started thinking, ‘OK, what do I do with this?’ It was literally a couple of years of toying with different ideas. I was in the studio working with my original trio, and we were at the end of a second batch of sessions. We were working on what would eventually be the follow up to Resolution. It was the end of our second stint in the studio. Two extra days became available at the studio. Mitch said ‘what about those Beatles tunes you’ve been talking about?’ I showed them all of my arrangements and literally in two days all of the drum tracks were done. Mitch is one of the only people that I have ever played with that can replicate what is special about Ringo. I never had to discuss approach or feel with him. It just came together so quickly. Half the tracks were done over those couple of days and the other half took a year [laughs]. Once it finally started coming together, I realized it was worth getting it out there. I will always be really proud of it.
After seeing many videos of performances, especially of “Electric Gypsy,” it seems like you enjoy completely live improvisation to break up monotony. Live improvisation is obviously an often-used method for you. Does this help keep the music fresh for many years?
Even if I play something that is completely worked out, in the live moments it still feels fresh. The spirit of the moment of improvisation is the spirit of ‘this could go off the rails any second, or this could be something beautiful.’ It’s tension and release. When you are on the same page as the band and the crowd is engaged, the you get a feel in the room that is just magical. That’s what happened the first time I saw Jeff beck. His recordings are good, but what you get to see and experience live is incredible. There’s nothing like it when everyone is feeding off of each other. That’s what is so incredible about music in general.
Do you have any key aspects of your tone that were surprisingly effective for the cost they entailed?
The key is that if it sounds good it is good. I love some Boss pedals I have, I love some of the boutique ones that I have, too. I don’t get too caught up even in tube/solid state. You have to use your ear. I’ve been trying to hone in on my jazz tone for quite some time and I really love how solid state amps sound for jazz. One of my favorite clean tones comes from a Yamaha T100 solid state amp.
Guitarists known especially for their tone like Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray, and Hendrix all got their somewhat signature tone from similar instruments. I’ve seen you using Ibanez guitars. Do you use anything else as well? What drew you to Ibanez?
I’ve been using the Dimarzio Cruisers in my signature Ibanez model. I started working with Ibanez back in the 80’s with my band Danger Danger after Kramer went out of business. Ibanez had Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert and many other incredible players at that time. I actually met Chris Kelly from Ibanez in an earthquake at a hotel, and he got me started trying to develop a model. I wasn’t sure what I wanted and eventually I sent them a strat that I loved the neck on. That was what they started with when developing my AT100. Eventually I let my contract lapse with Ibanez because I wanted to play whatever I wanted to play and the AT100 was a limited run. It turns out after playing a ton of custom shop strats, les pauls, etc. I realized I was still playing that AT100. Then after several years I ended up getting invited out to play an anniversary show for Ibanez with Paul Gilbert and many others, and after that, they, Ibanez Guitars, started talking to me about releasing another run of the signature model. I thought it was funny because that’s the guitar that I really play the most. It was awesome to start developing prototypes again and they have a model developed in Indonesia that really is a great guitar. I was nervous at first about cutting corners but this model is really great. It’s awesome. I didn’t want to change the prototype one bit. The neck profile is awesome and I think they changed the tuners and the bridge, but I loved that prototype. It’s my guitar. The thing is I couldn’t cover as much ground with any other guitar that I have. It is super versatile.
How would you say your tone has evolved over the years? Have you changed any key aspects?
I am a huge fan of the Mesa Lonestar. I’ve always been a fan of hi gain lead guitar. It turned me on from day one. The trouble is having a hi-gain amp that isn’t harsh to listen to. I really feel like the Lonestar is warm and smooth. When you’re tracking one guitar and not doing any ‘multing’ or layering in the studio you really need a setup that’s going to sound strong. The Lonestar is one of the few amps that whenever I plug in I can get tones quick and go. The Lonestar allows me to focus more on my playing (a great engineer didn’t hurt either). My dedication to tone has definitely matured over the years to answer the question, however. I’ll spend more time with the engineer on mic placement and trying to get great tone without too much compression or too many different add ons just going straight into the preamp of the board. There’s a feel thing and a delicate balance. There are times where you’re playing and you’re just in such a groove and everything sounds amazing, and it’s not like I change my settings, but sometimes it just sounds great, and sometimes you get frustrated. It’s a feel thing when the whole thing comes together. I’m always working on my tone. I just also try to keep the rig simple enough that I don’t stress over it.
You told me you had a new album coming out. What is the title? Official release date?
Are you talking about Resolution 2, Protocol 2, the Fusion record, the untitled Andy Timmons record? Hahahah.
Wow you’ve got a whole bunch going on, dude!
Hahaha! Yeah. The record we did last January with Simon Phillips, Steve Weingard, and Ernest Tibbs coming out in October in Europe but it isn’t coming out in the states or online for a while yet. We have 14 songs tracked and we might rework them before they get released in the states. Optimistically I’m hoping mid 2014 for the US release.
What would you like to tell listeners about the new record for them to look forward to?
I’m excited about the songs. I am going to try to play them good. Haha, just kidding. No, I just want people to know that I’m continuing on my journey and really doing my best to write songs that convey emotion and connect with people. I really hope people like them.
Describe the writing process for the new record.
The Resolution record was pivotal with me for direction. I really liked not doing any overdubs but it wasn’t the intention, that’s just how I did it. I arranged the tunes with each instrument respectively in its own space, with little overdubs and production involved. I’m really enjoying the new process. I did “Seargent Pepper’s” much similarly. These new records I’m enjoying composing somewhat the same way. There are a handful of tunes written with the band in a rehearsal room. It’s funny how the first few moments you get together in a rehearsal room is always something organic and unique and a lot of those things the band and I wrote in those moments get used. I record it all. I have dozens if not hundreds of tunes tracked this way that I say “Oh I have to finish those someday” and never do. Then of course there are moments that I pick up a guitar and I’m inspired by a particular type of tone or voicing of the instrument and I’m writing on my own. I could just sit down right now and write a tune, but the good songs that I am proud of tend to be inspired by a particular moment or emotion. Maybe myself or someone I know is having a really rough patch and I can tap into the emotion and inspiration of that and develop something I am proud of. I carry something to record with at all times, even if it’s just a little digital recorder or my phone. I must have a ton of examples of just melodies recorded with my voice on my phone. Man… I should really back those up. Hahaha.
But seriously… I was raised on the idea of writing full albums, but it seems like the reader’s attention span is lessening and I’m starting to play with the idea of releasing more material sporadically.
Just so you know, our readers are the type of people that dig full albums. There are communities of musicians that love music that musicians can appreciate. I think I can speak for everyone at Tone Freqs when I say that we love that style of writing.
You know, that’s who I’m writing the records for. I appreciate that.
What is your favorite signal chain for guitars in studio?
I love API stuff. My engineer/producer has an API board that he just got that sounds phenomenal. I also love Neve preamps.
Do you use an SM 57 as your main mic?
Aaaaaand the cheapest mic wins! Yeah man. Haha. I really like the SM 57. It mixes itself. I also really like the Royer R121.
How does your rig vary from studio to live?
Not by a whole lot. I love the Lonestar. I love taking it into a studio, setting up the mic, and hearing the engineer say “well, I’m happy”. So not really, I use a lot of the same stuff live as I do in studio. I have a lot of special or old equipment too that I break out on occasion, but usually not. My live setup is stuff that I really like to use.
Do you have any equipment at all that you lock away except for special occasions or in studio?
I do have some vintage stuff that doesn’t leave home much, but honestly most of it is just heavy! Hahahaha! You know I have a ‘54 Vox AC30 and a ’65 Fender Twin I like if I need a particular tone and I have some other stuff, too, but they’re just not as portable. But I do love that Vox in particular.
If you had to pick 1 musician dead or alive to have dinner with, who would it be?
Wow. That is a tough one. Paul McCartney would be pretty cool… You know… I think I am going to have to say Wes. Darnit.. Yup. I’m going with Wes [Montgomery]
We can’t thank Andy enough for his time and hope his tour went well. Below is a link to his facebook page and website to keep up with everything Andy Timmons and pick up his records!