Platinum songwriter and producer Andreas Öberg is no stranger to the music business. With numerous No. 1 releases in Asia (Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand & Vietnam) and millions of physical records sold, Andreas’s talent is undeniable, and he is becoming a sought after writer in pop music. We had the opportunity to catch up with Andreas recently and chat with him about his songwriting, influences, and the guitar work that accelerated his career.
Here’s what he had to say:
I read that you started playing as early as 8 years old. Do you remember what it was that initially got you into playing guitar?
AÖ: Even since I was a very little I wanted to play guitar. I picked up small pieces of wood or anything with a resemblance to a guitar and started banging on it. My parents and my grandfather have told me that and they also said I loved listening to music every day.
Were you primarily self-taught?
AÖ: Partly self taught, but I went to private guitar classes kind of early on where I had a good teacher called Robert Liman. who opened up the door for me to to blues, smooth jazz and fusion music.
Do you play any other instruments?
AÖ: I play bass and piano at a pretty high level even though I don’t get to play that often.
Your playing spans anything from classical and jazz, all the way to pop and rock. Who would you consider to be some of your biggest influences?
AÖ: My biggest influences are George Benson, Django Reinhardt and Joe Pass, when it comes to guitar. Especially Benson is “the guitarist” I’ve always admired. Among other musicians I really like Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson and Woody Shaw. Talking more in terms of pop/rnb music, I’ve always admired Stevie Wonder and I also listen to modern artists like Beyonce and Chris Brown.
You’re a highly accomplished and sought after songwriter. Can you tell us a little about your approach to songwriting? Do you have any tips for young songwriters that are just starting out?
AÖ: Songwriting has become my main focus during the last couple of years and I’m fortunate to have had Nr1’s in 10 countries. The Jpop and Kpop markets in Japan and Korea have been my focus because actual physical cd’s are still selling well over there. I have written for some of the biggest artists on that market like Girls Generation, SHINee, BoA, TVXQ, Sexy Zone, VIXX and many more.. I also like the musical freedom within those genres since I wouldn’t wanna sit and write the same kind of songs every day. My best advice to young song writers is to really try to listen and dig in to the style you are aiming it. Imitate, integrate and innovate…it’s three steps and when reaching step Nr 3 you will be able to come up with really original stuff. Same goes for guitar playing actually!
The right hand technique to playing the Django-style is so crucial. Can you tell us a little about your approach to learning the Django-style playing technique?
AÖ: Yes, when playing Gypsy style on acoustic guitar it’s important to be aware of the gypsy picking technique and the rest-strokes (meaning that to get more power and accuracy, you rest the pick on the next string after doing a downstroke). Most gypsy players also do downstrokes on every string change (both ascending and decending) to get more power, rhythmic impact and volume.
You’re known for having a very innovative approach to incorporating altered scales and harmony to your compositions. Do you have any tips for players that are trying to lean how to visualize the fretboard?
AÖ: Visualizing the fretboard is probably both the curse and the blessing of our beloved instrument. It’s easy to transpose stuff etc. compared to other instruments but a lot of people also get stuck in the same old boxes and positions, relying on muscle memory. That’s why I like practicing scales, arpeggios and melodies on one string to actually hear the different intervals and color of each mode and chord.
Speaking of scales and harmony, can you elaborate on the importance and the role of music theory in your playing?
AÖ: Music theory is good to know. You can analyse what you do, you can communicate with other musicians and also teach it more easily to others. But when I improvise I don’t think about theory, I rely on my ears. The theory is more like a tool box that you always have available if/when you need it…
Can you tell us a little about your practice regimen?
AÖ: These days I practice a lot without the guitar. I improvise and sing lines over different chord changes and tunes. That way i’m not depending on muscle memory and i’m free to play what i hear and not vice versa.
What has been one of your biggest challenges when it comes to guitar playing? How did you overcome it?
AÖ: The biggest challenge has been to reach the level where I can do what I want technically without getting stiff and tense. Also to be able to outline chord changes clearly within a single melody line is something I’ve worked a lot on and it’s absolutely one of my strongest abilities as a guitarist/musician.
Do you have a specific way you like to record guitar? Do you have any specific microphones or mic setups you like to use?
AÖ: I like to combine a good amp like the Henriksen Jazz Amp with a mic in front of the guitar. That way you could blend the accosting string sound with the amp sound.
Your guitars are very beautiful and have a very full, rich tone to them. Can you tell us a little about the guitars you are using?
AÖ: I’m using two different Benedetto arch tops. Both have my signature dark plum color. One guitar is a Manhattan model and the other one is a Bravo. When it comes to acoustic guitars I’m using an AJL steel string made by Ari Jukka Luomaranta in Finland.
What do you look for when it comes to a guitar’s tone?
AÖ: I practice a lot with out amp so I prefer guitars with a rich and crispy acoustic tone.
Do you find a specific kind of wood combination between the neck and the body of the guitar creates a better tone than other combinations?
AÖ: Im not an expert on woods or equipment. I just know when I like a guitar, from the sound and from the feeling when I’m holding it.
When/how did you get into becoming a producer?
AÖ: I got a little tired of touring a couple of years ago and then I started looking into the opportunity of writing/producing songs for other people. The pop world was interesting to me cause I felt I had the opportunity to reach out to so many more people compared to only playing jazz.
As a producer, do you find it difficult to separate your personal taste from a song/album you are working on with an artist?
AÖ: Well, sometimes it could be like that. But I kind of try to just take on projects where I feel it’s fun and where I can contribute in a good way.
Do you have any tips for our readers that are aspiring to become producers?
AÖ: Once again, listen a lot and learn the musical language. Then try to be creative. As a producer it’s also important being able to keep yourself updated on sounds, drums, mixing etc so it doesn’t sound dated.
You’re a highly accomplished music educator. Do you have any tips for other teachers out there that stubble to keep their kids engaged to learning their craft?
AÖ: The key of becoming a good teacher is to be passionate about it and find a reward in seeing hearing progress among the students. Also finding your own way of teaching and not just doing/copying everyone else out there.
I think it’s very admirable that you are sharing your talent through your online guitar education. Can you tell us a little about your ArtistWorks involvement?
AÖ: I first met David and Patricia at a Benedetto event a few years ago. They told me about the plans of starting this online based company, teaching music through a modern platform with video exchange lessons as the main feature. I was immediately interested and we started our collaboration. I’m happy to see the company growing and also proud to be one of the first teachers who got on board.
Keep up with all things Andreas Öberg:
“Vieaux opened ears with his rhythmic clarity and remarkable left-hand facility….He made the single guitar seem like a body of instruments at work in music full of the emotion of loss.” – The Philadelphia Inquirer
This week, we had the chance to speak to Jason Vieaux, a season-music veteran and guitar virtuoso. Vieaux is truly one of great talents to come from the east coast, but don’t just take our word for it…his music, and unique playing style, speak for themselves. We talked about his influences, his technique and how your playing directly impacts you overall tone.
Here’s what Jason had to say:
You started playing guitar at the age of eight. Can you tell us a little about what initially got you into playing music? Do you remember the first song you learned?
JV: My mother bought me my first guitar, at age 5. It was a kid-size classical, but I don’t think any of us knew what that was. Hot Cross Buns was probably the first single-line melody I learned in my first lessons, which were with jazz guitarist Joel Perry. He gave me my first music-reading lessons.
Do you play any other instruments?
JV: No, I never had any time.
Who would you consider to be some of you biggest influences?
JV: Probably Julian Bream and David Russell are the 2 biggest classical influences, but I’ve always been much more inspired by composers and musical compositions that anything else. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Miles Davis.
Do you remember the first guitar you ever owned? Do you still have it?
The aforementioned guitar, and yes it’s at my parents’ house. I had sold it to a family whose 7-year-old boy was studying with me, while I was in college. I probably needed the money so I sold it to them so the boy could have a proper classical guitar. I had forgotten about it, so my father bought it back from them and it was a very cool Christmas present many years later. I thought I’d never see it again.
Can you tell us about your finger-style technique?
Well, it’s a fairly standard classical guitar technique, although I like to use more wrist angles, wrist rotations and thumb angles than most players, I suspect. If your technique is secure, you can get a whole universe of sounds, dynamics and colors, if you experiment.
You have played with so many different orchestras and so many different venues around the world, are there any performances that really stand out to you in all the years you have been touring?
JV: My travels to certain areas of Asia are very memorable, as well as Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, New Zealand. But certain gigs were really different experiences as well, like playing at the outdoor Amphitheater in the Woodlands area of Houston with Houston Symphony, playing an Allen Krantz concerto to 3000 outdoors in Australia.
Sounds like your new album, Play, will consist of a number of songs you have performed over the last 20 years while touring. Are there any pieces on the album that are your favorites?
JV: I always thought “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers was a really beautiful pop song without words. I like how that turned out on the record. And it’s nice to get El Colibri (“The Hummingbird”) by Julio Sagreras on a recording. My favorites to play live right now are the Roland Dyens version of Jobim’s “A Felicidade”, and my Ellington arrangement.
I read that you like to practice at least 3 hours per day. Can you tell us a little about your practice routine?
JV: I have a weekly and monthly outlook of what needs to get practiced, and lower-priority things go into a rotation, higher priority pieces I try to look at each day, although that’s impossible sometimes. Some days you have to take hat you can get.
Do you still primarily play a Gernot Wagner guitar? Can you tell us a little about it and what attracted you to that particular guitar?
JV: It’s a double-top construction guitar, which means it has 2 very thin soundboards with a sheet of Nomex in between. The way Wagner is about to get this style of construction to produce a very loud guitar, yet not have a synthetic sound to it, is amazing. Lots of color and musical flexibility.
Is there a specific kind of wood combination for the body and neck of the guitar that you find produces a better tone?
JV: Not necessarily, it all depends on the talent of the luthier. I find I like spruce for the top more times than not.
What do you look for when it comes to a guitar’s tone?
JV: Flexibility – ability to adapt to musical situations and character.
What kind of strings do you like to use?
JV: Galli Titaniums
Do you have a specific way you like to record your guitars? Any specific microphones or setups?
JV: You would have to ask my recording team about specifics, but I can tell you that Azica Records uses Sennheiser MKH20, in a reverberant space. Bruce Egre is my engineer and Alan Bise is my producer. They’ve tried different things over the years.
I think it’s very admirable that you are sharing your talent through your online guitar education. Can you tell us a little about your ArtistWorks involvement?
JV: It took a few phone conversations for me to fully understand why I was being sought out by ArtistWorks, but I eventually signed on. And I’m glad I did, because it definitely provides a great service to many players for very little money. I’m continually surprised by the amount of information I can communicate to students to help their playing through this medium.
Our readers range anywhere from novice to professional, regardless of ability we all run into those road blocks or plateaus in our playing. Do you have any advice on pushing past those plateaus and getting to that next level?
JV: Lots of practice and lots of patience.
What has been one of your biggest challenges when it comes to guitar playing and how did you overcome it?
JV: Probably overcoming bad habits in my mechanics. But I knew that solving those problems would result in greater freedom and facility, so I was happy to do the work necessary.
Do you have any advice for our younger readers out there that are curious about playing classical guitar?
JV: Listen to tons of classical music (Lang Lang performing with Metallica on the Grammys doesn’t count). Unlike so much of the bad or mediocre music we’re deluged with by the marketplace (some of which I really enjoy occasionally), it won’t rot your brain! If you think about it for a second, it’s called classical music for a reason – because its sheer quality and humanity made it this far and is still cherished by music lovers today. And classical guitar is not merely a style of guitar playing, the guitar is a classical music instrument and has it’s own very rich history of repertoire.
If you could have dinner with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
JV: Mozart… seems like he knew how to have a good time.
Be sure to keep up with all things Jason Vieaux:
“…I’ll tell you the advice that I’ve been giving to myself lately… and that is to learn melodies. I never really did that as a kid. I learned athletic blues licks and chunky rhythms, but I never tried to “sing” with the guitar. I’m really enjoying the discoveries that I’m making by doing this. In my life, I’ve learned a lot of Van Halen guitar parts, but now I’m really enjoying learning the David Lee Roth vocal parts on my guitar. I’ve learned a lot of Richie Blackmore guitar parts, but now I’m learning the Ronnie James Dio vocal lines.”
As GuitarOne Magazine’s “Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time”, Paul Brandon Gilbert is one of the most disciplined, well-versed guitarists that we have ever come across; and as we have come to learn, is not one to compromise on tone…making him a true TONEFREQ!!! We had the opportunity to interview the virtuoso guitarist from Carbondale, Illinois about his days with Racer X, his online rock guitar school ArtistWorks, and of course…TONE!
So sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s Artist Feature Friday!
Here’s what Paul had to say.
Most 5 year-olds are more concerned with putting together puzzles, learning how to spell, etc. What exactly prompted you to pick up music at such a young age?
PG: My parents had most of the Beatles albums, and I loved that music. I played hours and hours of air-guitar to Beatles songs, before I ever played a real guitar. I actually wanted to be a singer more than anything, but I always felt limitations to my voice. The guitar seemed to let me do what I wanted, as long as I put in the practice time.
You have been extremely influential to a new wave of guitarists. Which guitarist/musician influenced your style/tone growing up?
PG: All the rock bands from the 70s and early 80s, and a lot of 60s pop. The Beatles really formed my taste for harmony and chords. But as a guitarist, I really liked Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Robin Trower, Pat Travers, and Frank Marino. There were so many others. I did a lot of listening. KISS, AC/DC, Cheap Trick… and also more complex stuff like Allan Holdsworth, Yngwie’s early records, E.L.P., Rush, and Todd Rundgren and Utopia.
We would love to hear about how you got your first big break into the music business!
PG: My path in the business has been in gradual steps, but each one has been exciting to me. I think one of my happiest days was when I sold out the Troubadour with Racer X. It was our third or fourth show, and we had put all our rent money into promoting it. It felt so good to walk into that club and have it be completely packed. That was the first time that I really felt that my dream was becoming a reality. I always knew that I would be a musician, but this was the first time that other people really responded to what I was doing. Plus, I could pay rent!
We’ve read that you actually sought out a record company exec, looking to play with Ozzy Osbourne. Could you tell us a little about how that all came about?
PG: Well, I was a big fan of Randy Rhoads. I saw him a couple times with Ozzy, and even went to a guitar clinic that he did in my hometown. After Randy’s tragic accident, I thought that Ozzy might be looking for a new guitarist, and I already knew a lot of the songs and was really into that style. I was living in a small town and had no connections to the music industry. The only person I could think to contact was Mike Varney. He had mentioned in an interview that he would respond to anyone who sent him a demo. So I thought I’d see what kind of response I would get. Mike liked my playing, but thought that Ozzy probably wouldn’t want a 15-year-old in his band.
“Technical Difficulties” is an amazing piece of work, showcasing scale runs, arpeggios, string skipping, as well as pitched harmonics. What particular guitar technique do you think makes that track?
PG: It is kind of a lick showcase, which is a little bit unfortunate. I wish I was a better writer and could sell a song because it had a good melody instead of being a display of alternate picking! But I’m working on it. And I’m proud to have written some melodic tunes like “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” with Mr. Big. If anything, for “Technical Difficulties,” I should thank Tommy Aldridge, because the accents of the main guitar part are very similar to Tommy’s drum solo. I didn’t set out to copy his drum solo, but I did listen to him a lot on my old Pat Travers bootleg cassettes. So the rhythms must have stuck in my ears.
Now, it really is unfortunate to read about your loss of hearing, especially knowing how involved you are with developing your guitar tone. Could you explain how you have been able to overcome that?
PG: I just do whatever I can. My hearing loss has been very gradual and happened over decades, so I didn’t really notice it happening. Music really isn’t a big problem. I can still hear pitches, and I can always crank up my amp… although I try to keep it as low as possible. I used to go see live music and sit in with bands, and I really can’t do that much any more. The hardest thing is speech. Recently, I got a set of really good hearing aids. It’s nice to be able to talk to people again! It’s not like my hearing is perfect with them, but it’s much better than feeling like I’m trapped inside a giant pillow. Overall, I just try to listen to music as quietly as possible, to preserve what I’ve got left. It has influenced my musical taste. I listen to a lot of jazz clarinet now. But keep in mind that Eddie Van Halen’s dad was a jazz clarinetist, so Eddie must have listened to a lot of that as well. I’m hoping that the music will have a similar effect on me.
Obviously, your headphones are critical for your live set. How would you describe their impact on you overall tone (live/studio)?
PG: With my headphones, I’m hearing a very direct sound from my amp. I’m not hearing all the reflections from the acoustics of the venue. This is usually very good, because many rock venues are not really designed for sound, and can have too much reverb. I wish I could let everyone in the audience hear my mix. It sounds great!
We’re sure that this may vary, but how would you describe your writing process?
PG: I get my deadline from the record company. Then I procrastinate and play lots of guitar and do some music research. Then I panic, and start to organize the musicians, studios, and try to write something good. After a week or two of writing lousy songs, I start to come up with good things. I wish that writing came easier to me. It’s much more natural for me to be a player and an improviser. I can spend countless joyful hours just noodling around on my guitar. But I do love songs, and sometimes the only way to get them is to write them!
What kind of amps are you currently using?
PG: I mostly use a Marshall Vintage Modern 2×12 combo. It has simple controls but a very versatile tone. I’ve done a lot of albums and tours with that amp.
As you can tell, we have become pretty familiar with your work, including your live set up. Does your studio set up vary much from your live set up?
PG: My live set up is much louder than my studio set up. For the studio I usually use an isolation cabinet with one 12” speaker in it. I plug a variety of amps into that… depending on the song, and plug in whatever pedals I need. The cabinet keeps the sound in, so I can even have it in the control room and still keep things pretty quiet. For a tour, I build the gear around the setlist, which is mostly just picking out the right pedals. And I want my guitar to be as loud as the drummer so I need more speakers. For my solo tour, I usually use a couple of Marshall Vintage Modern 2 x 12 combos, and that is loud enough.
Do you have a specific mic setup you like to use when you are recording guitars? Any specific microphones?
PG: I put the mic right in front of the speaker. It’s very simple. An SM57 is fine. If I want to sound better, I know that I have to play better.
Would you say that your playing style has evolved since your early year with Racer X?
PG: Oh my goodness. The answer is yes. I have so many sounds that I want to make with my guitar. I wish I had ten years to practice privately so I could develop my playing more between records. After nearly 40 years of playing guitar, I’m finally starting to discover what I want to sound like, and it’s going to take some work to get there. I’m excited! I get closer every day.
Aside from your BOSS tuner, which pedal would you not be able to live without?
PG: Well, lately I’ve been using one of those Korg clip-on headstock tuners. So that’s given me an extra space on the pedalboard. Which pedal? Again, it depends on the song, the guitar, and the amp. Some pedals that I use a lot are the Majik Box Fuzz Universe, the MXR Distortion Plus, the Empress Effects ParaEQ, the Fulltone Deja-Vibe, the H.B.E. Bajo Mos, the Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone, and the TC Electronic Ditto Looper. I do have to say that the Ditto Looper has been a life changer. I love making a rhythm part and just jamming and jamming along with it. It’s great having a tireless rhythm guitar player, so I can solo endlessly.
Tell us about how you got the idea about using a power drill in your live set.
PG: That’s from back in the Racer X days. We were just trying to make the show exciting. Picks on the end of drill, was one way to do it. But keep that thing away from your hair.
You have one of the more recognizable guitars in the industry. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Ibanez and the creation of your signature guitar?
PG: Man, I love Ibanez. I’ve been using their guitars for over 25 years, and it’s one of the best relationships I’ve had in my life. My current signature model is called the “Fireman.” It’s an unusual shape… It’s actually their Iceman model, turned upside down, and then contoured to make it comfortable. I came up with the idea just as an experiment, but it turned out to be such a great sounding instrument. I play it every day. It’s got a nice thick neck, a lot of wood in the body, DiMarzio pickups, tall frets for easy bending and vibrato, and the controls are out of the way so I can rock and play hard.
What do you look for when it comes to guitar tone?
PG: It would be a lot easier to get great guitar tone if the guitar only had one string. Since it has six strings, the trick is to find a balance. I want a tone that makes the high E string sound punchy and thick, and not harsh, and still have clarity on the lower strings. I tend to use a couple pedals so I can vary the amount of distortion. I don’t want to have full-blast distortion all the time. I like to be able to stop and not have the guitar feedback and howl. Most of all, the tone has to work for the song.
Do you find that a particular wood combination for the neck and body of the guitar create a better tone compared to others?
PG: I like lightweight guitars. My Fireman has a large body and a thick neck, and this seems to influence the resonance in a really good way. But I ask Ibanez to choose lighter pieces of wood, so it’s still comfortable to stand up for a two-hour show.
I think it’s very admirable that you are sharing your talent through your online guitar education. Can you tell us a little about your ArtistWorks involvement?
PG: I really like teaching. I’ve been doing it a long time, and I feel that I’m a much more effective teacher now than I’ve ever been. I enjoy getting to know my students who have joined the online school. I hear them play quite often, and it’s amazing to hear how quickly they are improving. My goal is give everyone maximum control of the guitar and really make their playing musical and indestructible. And just keep everyone motivated and excited about playing. My students really keep me excited about playing. I love going to my school every day and living in a world of pure guitar. Artistworks has built a great platform for me to listen and watch the students, and I’m on the site daily, teaching, answering questions, and listening to the students play. I think that anyone who joins will be amazed at what is waiting for them. I’ve made over 1500 video lessons for the students… not just general lessons, but lessons specifically for the people at the school. Every student at the school can watch all the videos… both the student videos where they play and ask a question, and all my video responses. These are called Video Exchanges, and they are all archived on the site. You can search through these by typing in a word like, “picking,” and all the picking videos come up. And of course, anyone who joins can send a video to me directly, and then get an answer to any question, or just a critique of their playing. I actually don’t “critique” very much. I usually respond with a musical phrase that will teach the student what I think will help them. Of course I explain the techniques in detail, but I try to keep as much music and playing going on as possible. And I should mention that there is an extensive rock guitar course that goes from total beginner to extremely advanced techniques. I spent months preparing the course, and I think it is valuable on its own, but really the most exciting thing about the school is the interaction that I have with the individual students.
What would be one piece of advice you would like to pass on to aspiring musicians?
PG: I could write an encyclopedia of advice! I’ve been teaching at my online school, so I interact with guitarists every day. It’s helpful to me, because I can give advice to individuals. Everyone is different, so my advice is different too. But I’ll tell you the advice that I’ve been giving to myself lately… and that is to learn melodies. I never really did that as a kid. I learned athletic blues licks and chunky rhythms, but I never tried to “sing” with the guitar. I’m really enjoying the discoveries that I’m making by doing this. In my life, I’ve learned a lot of Van Halen guitar parts, but now I’m really enjoying learning the David Lee Roth vocal parts on my guitar. I’ve learned a lot of Richie Blackmore guitar parts, but now I’m learning the Ronnie James Dio vocal lines. The way a great vocalist phrases is often very different than the way guitarists play. And I want some of that melody and style that vocalists have. It opens up a whole new world on the guitar.
If you could have dinner with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
PG: I’d be interested to meet any musician from an era when their music was not recorded or written down. I mean… We are able to experience Bach and Haydn because their music was preserved through writing… and it’s fantastic stuff. But hundreds or thousands of years ago, there must have been people making great music that was never preserved. What kind of melodies were the Egyptians making? What was Aristotle’s favorite melody? When ancient cultures were drawing antelopes on the walls of caves, were they singing a tune? I’d love to hear some of that over dinner.
Make sure you stay up to date with all things Paul Gilbert
“Well, we have found that the average time that a player will use our app is approximately 30 minutes. This works out to about 5 lessons. With that said, everyone has different goals. We did a survey of our users, and we found that 81% of them stated their playing improved after using Jamstar.”
One of the biggest factors for creating and maintaining good tone, is of course, your playing. In fact, many would argue that your playing is the only factor that matters when it comes to creating YOUR tone. How you approach the string, accuracy, timing, bending, strumming, etc. are all important elements to developing your tone. Well, good news! Now there’s an app for that.
Earlier this week we did a review of the app, Jamstar. We decided to take it one step further and have a chat with one of the masterminds behind Jamstar.
First of all, let’s refresh your memory a little. Jamstar is an interactive application that presents guitarists of all levels courses meticulously organized by trained music professionals, and provides comprehensive, real-time feedback for each session. The application is a free download, requires no additional hardware, and, unlike anything of its kind, works across ALL platforms (iOS, Android and via the web). It’s simple to use and is compatible with any guitar.
Jonathan Schwartz, who is an avid guitar player and a big fan of Phish and other jam bands, is also the head of business development and marketing for Jamstar. Today, we had a chance to pick Jonathan’s brain about what makes Jamstar so unique, and, how it can help you develop your TONE.
Here’s what Jonathan had to say.
Can you tell us about the back story of Jamstar and how Jamstar began?
My partner, Kobi Stok, is a software engineer. He worked at SAP for about a decade…he is also a pro bass player. It used to drive him crazy when he would see his friends sitting around playing “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” He saw that it was fun, but they weren’t getting any skills out of it. Basically, he went to his garage and started working on the engine that would eventually become the audio recognition piece to the platform. The software hears what you are playing in real time, including polyphonic tones. It’s really a homegrown, grass roots invention.
I met Kobi through a mutual friend. I worked in NYC in the music business for about 15 years before moving to Israel. After a few months of knowing Kobi and believing in the product and his vision, I hopped on board and started doing the business development and marketing.
Jamstar caters to a wide spectrum of players, anyone from beginners to professionals, but Can someone who has never touched a guitar before use Jamstar?
Absolutely. We have courses that are so basic, that it pretty much tells you how to hold a guitar. It even shows you where to put your fingers. We have courses that start with pressing just one fret on one string! I should mention, the guy that developed most of our playback is a Berklee graduate. He’s quite the musical genius. Not only a top-notch educator…he’s a rocker (he tours with Megadeth legend Marty Friedman). He’s a cat.
We have a plan. If you look in the Jamstar market, it’s broken down from beginning, to intermediate, and all the way to advanced. It’s very well marked. You can really follow the course progress in a very easy way.
It’s a lot of fun. You know, I’m an intermediate guitar player at best [laughs]. I never played lead though. Now, with Jamstar, I find myself going back and learning scales, and actually learning how to apply them. My fingers are stronger, my speed is faster, and I have calluses on my fingers for the first time in 12 years again [laughs]. Even the easy versions of songs are fun and challenging. It’s almost like a game, but you’re playing a real guitar; no cables, and no additional hardware needed.
The songs that we license cost $.99. It’s like iTunes, except instead of just buying a song, you’re learning how to play it. We wanted to keep it affordable for the kid that just got his first guitar and wanted to learn how to play. There are competitors out there, but what I think is different about us is that you don’t need to buy a dedicated gaming console to use it. You don’t need to buy a special adapter to plug your guitar in. You don’t need to buy a special piece of software or a game in order to use Jamstar. If you have a computer, tablet, phone, or any other device, you can download the app for free and login to Jamstar without paying a dime. We have close to a 100 free lessons on Jamstar. A lot of them are exactly the basic guitar lessons that beginners need to learn.
Obviously there are a lot of factors from the users end, and everyone learns at a different rate, but do you know what kind of an average turn around time someone could expect to see results and be playing songs after using Jamstar?
Well, we have found that the average time that a player will use our app is approximately 30 minutes. This works out to about 5 lessons. With that said, everyone has different goals. We did a survey of our users, and we found that 81% of them stated their playing improved after using Jamstar.
We all know the first few months to a year of learning a new instrument can be difficult and trying. How does Jamstar help cut into that learning curve?
That’s a good question. We like to position ourselves as, is a play as go kind of learning app. Whenever you want to learn, you don’t have to schedule a lesson. No matter what time of the day it is, you can pick up your guitar and learn something. Based upon the flexibility and the ease of use of Jamstar, we really look to narrow the gap of the learning curve for players.
It sounds like your team is actively involved with your constantly growing community. Can you tell us a little about how Jamstar and your team help provide musicians with feedback and let them know of their progress?
Sure. After each lesson, you get a mini report card. It tells you your accuracy, hits, feel, etc. We also have a leaderboard that you can share with your friends. This allows us to analyze the data and provide the user with valuable information about their playing.
We also give you feedback within the lesson as you are playing. It’s that real time feedback that we have found to be so useful for our users.
I think it’s incredible that you don’t need any external devices in order for Jamstar to work thanks to the audio recognition algorithms. Can you explain a little about the polyphonic algorithms and how that helps to set Jamstar apart from other apps out there?
We have a patent pending technology that listens to what you play in real time. There is a big problem with latency in android devices. What our team has done, is create a virtual zero latency environment. We are the only application on the android platform that has polyphonic audio recognition. Jamstar is a true, cross platform solution…we work on iOS and Android devices, and the web.
Can you explain a little about Jamstar for teachers and the benefits it provides? How does a user upload/create their own lesson?
We expanded our existing application, and created a SaaS application called Jamstar for Teachers. It’s a practice tool. It’s a way for a teacher to monitor and motivate their students outside the lessons. What Jamstar for teachers enables teachers to do, is upload their own personal lessons into the platform. Plus, it automatically creates a playback for your lesson. From there, your students can practice when they’re not with you. The teacher can then login to the backend editor and see when the student practices, and where in the lesson they had difficulties. It’s meant to provide additional information for the teacher to help educate their students more effectively.
We’re actually working very closely with DR strings on this program. If you noticed, we have colored strings in the player. DR has a new line of colored strings that are phenomenal. Not only do they look good, but they sounds good, and they feel good. One of the reasons why they did this, is that there have been a lot of studies done that shows color increases the learning process. We felt by incorporating the color strings into the player, and coupled that with using a guitar that uses the colored strings, it helps with the rate of learning. We really thought this was a natural fit to use colored DR strings with our platform. DR strings are incredible when it comes to music education. They work closely with music schools and stores that have music education programs. They have also done a very good job at explaining about the correlation between their multi color neon strings and the Jamstar app. We’ll even be demoing Jamstar and Jamstar for teachers out of the DR Handmade Strings booth at NAMM. To talk for a second about DR, they really do make the best strings out there. Players including Sting, Adam Clayton (U2), Bootsy Collins, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers/Tedeschi Trucks Band) etc….all use DR strings. They are great strings…and even better are the people behind them. I really enjoy working with them on this project!
Speaking of guitar teachers and education. We actually created a few courses for Jamstar with Marty Schwartz from guitarjamz.com. Marty is the #1 guitar teacher on YouTube…with nearly 300 MILLION views! He developed some blues courses for us and we would love to do more with him in the future. He’s such a fantastic teacher and player.
What do you think is the key to keeping a user engaged to learning a new instrument?
I think it has to be fun. People want to learn how to play musical instruments because it is fun. That’s the key with Jamstar. We want to make our courses fun and interactive for the users. I also think it needs to be easy and convenient for students to practice.
Jamstar is designed around the guitar player, but it seems as though the instrument possibilities are endless. Does Jamstar have any plans to incorporate bass, drums, and vocal lessons?
Yes. The technology is instrument agnostic. Meaning, that this software can work with any instrument whatsoever. We hope to incorporate other instruments in the future.
If you could have dinner with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
We can’t thank Jonathan for FREQ’n out with us. We welcome him to the Tone Freq family with open arms. We wish him and the rest of The Jamstar team nothing but the best on their future and can’t wait to see what’s next!
Make sure to stay connected with Jamstar with the following links! While you’re at it, DOWNLOAD JAMSTAR!!
All of my life, I have been a fan of music. Whether it was discovering music on my own, or a friend that was blaring a new album, it was just something I always gravitated towards.
Let me paint a picture for you. It’s cool November night at roughly 8:00 p.m. I’m at a house in downtown Mankato, MN that’s been turned into a venue called, The Cherry Pit. It’s the kind of venue that screams “music scene.” From the creaking wood floor and paint chipped walls, to the loud music and hand drawn signs that read “venue downstairs.” I walked down the un-even staircase only to find a sea of bodies packed shoulder to shoulder. The reflection of a red light illuminated the graffiti painted walls and the faces of devoted fans alike. All of which shared the common ground and passion of pop-punk music. After overlooking the room and scanning the crowd, I found my way back up the creaky stairs. I entered the living room where I saw Nick Diener, the lead singer and guitar player for The Swellers, who was sitting on the couch prepping his Ernie Ball Music Man Armada for the show.
The Swellers have already had a career that most bands dream of. From touring the world and opening for some of the biggest acts in the music business, to working with renowned producer Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag, Rise Against). They recently released their newest album, “The Light Under Closed Doors” which is filled with catchy hooks, memorable melodies, and raw emotion. The Swellers are certainly no strangers to the road. They have played anything from living rooms and basements, to some of the biggest venues that bands only dream of. They have also found their spot on the highly regarded Warped Tour.
We sat down with Nick Diener and discussed songwriting, life on the road, gear, and of course, TONE.
You started The Swellers with your brother. What was it that initially got you guys into playing and making music?
All of my life, I have been a fan of music. Whether it was discovering music on my own, or a friend that was blaring a new album, it was just something I always gravitated towards. I actually was a big fan of wrestling. However, the part I liked the most was the entrance music!
I got a keyboard when I was 6 or 7. I started taking lessons around the same time. One of the first things I figured out was that I really didn’t like reading music [laughs]. I really just wanted to figure out things on my own. One day, I told my dad that I wanted a bass guitar. He said I should get a guitar instead. He said they were a little more versatile and they were prettier sounding. So that was it. We just went to the store and picked out a guitar. My dad then turned to my brother and asked him if he wanted a drum set. Of course, what kid is going to turn down drum set [laughs]. That was it. That was around 1996.
I loved to play guitar. I actually ended up getting really good at playing within the first year. It was something that I devoted a lot of my time to. My brother, on the other hand, didn’t really enjoy playing drums or practicing. However, once we discovered punk rock, he became really excited about playing and devoted a lot more of his time to practicing drums. We began jamming more, and by the time we were 14 and 15, we decided we needed to create an actual band and write all of our own material. That was when the Swellers started. We haven’t looked back since. We’re going on a little more than 11 years now, and every year has been a blessing.
You got started with music at a really young age. Who or what would you consider to be your biggest inspirations?
Well, it was weird. Like I mentioned, wrestling music was kind of my start. The Star Wars music was a big source of inspiration for me. I then started listening to even more random stuff. I remember our mom bought us MC Hammer and Michael Jackson. Of course, I gravitated more towards Michael Jackson [laughs]. I was really grabbing onto the song construction, melodies, vocals, and harmonies. One of my friends from school had Nirvana, Meatloaf, and all of these other kinds of bands that were a lot heavier. I remember listening to them and thinking, “Wow, this is so cool!”. I remember buying “Bat out of Hell 2” at a record store when I was 6. That was the first thing I bought with my own money! Of course, by the early and mid nineties I got into all of the MTV stuff. My dad was listening to a lot of southern rock kind of stuff like Lynyrd Skynyrd. He basically said, “if you like guitar, then you got to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd”. I was learning Stevie Ray Vaughan and Nirvana riffs at the same time. I think that actually really helped to shape how I play today. That was probably why our band sounded so weird in the beginning; we didn’t know what to sound like! [Laughs].
Can you tell me a little about the song writing process within the band?
Basically, it’s just my brother and I. Our whole lives we’ve been able to write with each other in the same room, however, as of recently, we have moved away from each other. So this is the first time we have had to write without being in the same room. We always wrote 50/50. In the beginning, I was the one that wrote a majority of the parts, but, as time went on, my brother really started to pick up on guitar and how to play chords. This, of course, lead to him being able to finally create the melodies that he was hearing in his head. We’re the same when it comes to the creative process. We have the chords and the melodies in our heads. It’s just a matter of getting them out. We’re one of those bands that will write the whole arrangement first and then add lyrics later. I like to look at myself as more of a composer instead of a singer songwriter. I will then figure out how the song feels and sounds and put the rest of the puzzle together. Lately it’s been 50/50 when it comes to the writing process. We really work well together and pick and choose what we like from what we each bring to the table. Even though we didn’t live together through the process of writing this last record, I’m still happy we were able to create what we did, even though the collaboration was a little different this time around.
You and Ryan seem to complement each others playing very well. Can you tell us a little about the collaboration process between you guys when it comes to writing and recording guitar parts?
I write both guitar parts. I’ll actually write both parts at the same time while I’m writing the song. After you demo it, you begin to hear all of the empty space. I’ll then go back and listen to the tracks and try to think about what Ryan would play and how he would play it. I’ll usually run something by him, which usually he will alter it or change it to fit his style a little more. He holds down the big heavy power chords and I’ll usually play an alternate version of the chord. That way, when you listen to the recording, you tend to get a wall of sound.
What was it like to work with Bill Stevenson?
It was pretty incredible, man. Ya know, he’s one of our favorite drummers of all time. He’s also produced some of our favorite records of all time. It was just a great experience. I want to do another record with him down the road under a different mind set. At the time, we were on a major label. They didn’t necessarily tell us what to do, but we ended up making a couple sacrifices that we wouldn’t have had we not been on the label. I really want to go do a record with our newfound freedom. He taught me a ton about pre-production and many other aspects to producing and being in the studio. Now, I’m a producer and I find myself using a lot of his tricks [laughs]. I have a rather natural tendency to be a producer. I love cutting the fat on our own songs. Basically, I acted as the producer on our records.
From my understanding, you did the entire recording for “Running Out of Places.” Can you tell us a little about that recording process? What DAW do you prefer to use?
For “Running out of places to go,” we did the drums in a studio in Rochester, Michigan. We used Pro Tools and did all of the music at my own personal studio. We pretty much just mic’d up our live rigs and used them for the recordings. We made a couple tweaks to it, but for the most part, it was exactly like our live sound. For vocals, I recorded with a friend that did a lot of our older records. We did all of the vocals with him in 2 days! It was really fun doing it on our own. We were able to learn a lot, and save a lot, all in the same process. We put the record out on our own and we were very happy with how it turned out.
Do you have a specific microphone you like to use to capture your vocals?
I figured out that I work well with the SM7. I just sound better through a condenser. I sometimes have to put the pad on the condenser because I’m so loud [laughs]. In order for the notes to happen, you need to have volume and support. I’ve used a lot of other kinds of mics, but my voice just works best with a SM7.
You guys spend a fair amount of time on the road. Do you find time to write on the road? If so, do you use any specific tools or gear to capture your ideas?
We used to write a lot on the road. We were touring so much that we had to write on the road; otherwise we wouldn’t have had time to get the songs done for the next recording. For this record, we actually took off 5 months. We just sat down and worked on music. I really think that is how we are going to do future records. I don’t really like being rushed.
About a month ago you guys released “The Light Under Closed Doors”. How was the process of recording this album different from other albums?
Every record that we have done in the past has been trying to make our sound be the best that it can be. There was certain level of production that went into them that we always tried to achieve. For the new stuff, our goal was to simply sound like we do live. We recorded the guitars with ribbon mics. We didn’t replace drum sounds. I just made sure I sang my ass off and got it right without having to go in and fix the pitch. Basically, what you hear is what we did in the studio. We are very happy with that sound. We’re a pretty raw band when we play live, so we thought it would be good to capture that. That’s the biggest difference.
What kind of guitars are you using?
I’m currently playing an Ernie Ball Music Man Armada. It’s a brand new guitar for Ernie Ball. It’s their first venture into the neck through style guitars. It has a beautiful maple cap V on top of the body that is set underneath the pickups to brighten it up. The body is mahogany. This is basically a completely different instrument for them. I was so excited when they came out with it that I just had to have one. They were nice enough to send me one for the warped tour. It’s become my main guitar. I am also playing the Ernie Ball Albert Lee model. For the longest time, the Albert Lee signature model was only offered with P90 single coil pickups and a maple fret board. I told Ernie Ball I needed one with two humbuckers and a rosewood fret board, so they built me one.
What kind of amps are you using?
I have a Mesa Boogie Mark V head. It does so much. I needed an amp that could do everything and offered a shapeable tone. I’ve played it for roughly two and a half years now with absolutely no plans to change it. I play that through a cab that I’ve been using for 11 years which is a vintage Marshall cab loaded with Greenbacks.
Is your recording rig the same as your live rig?
When we record, we like to use whatever is available. I did use the Mark V on about half of the record. I changed a few things here and there to fit the studio more, but for the most part, the settings and sound is pretty similar. I believe I used a Bad Cat head for a few parts as well. We recorded at Rancho record in Michigan has some really cool gear laying around, so naturally, we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.
Do you like to use any specific effects?
I use different kinds of distortion and overdrive. I’ll use the Full Tone GT-500 to help cream up the solos a little. I really like to get the distortion as nasty as possible [laughs]. The only thing that I’m using on this tour is a little delay. I like things pretty straightforward. Whatever my amp has to offer is usually good enough for me.
You guys have had the pleasure of touring and supporting so many incredible acts. Are there any tour memories that stand out as some of your favorite moments? Would you share one or two with us?
It was pretty incredible to get the opportunity to go over seas. Paramore has taken us out a couple times and they always treat us so well. A lot of the bands we have toured with have become close friends of ours, so it’s always nice to just be around your closest friends and just have fun. It’s hard to pinpoint any specific memories.
If you could have dinner with one musician, DOA, who would it be?
Meatloaf! I just really want to meet that dude! Of course, I would also love to chat with Kurt Cobain. Actually, recently passed Tony Sly from No Use for a Name would be great also. I would love to just tell him what his music meant to me.
We can’t thank Nick for FREQ’n out with us. We welcome him to the Tone Freq family with open arms. We wish him and the rest of The Swellers nothing but the best on their future and can’t wait to see what’s next!
Check out their newest video for “Got Social”
Make sure to stay up to date with all things The Swellers with the links below!
Overall, I find that being able to record and produce my own stuff allows me to have a more holistic view of the songs that I’m making and gives me a lot of freedom to try new stuff.
One of our favorite things to do here at Tone Freqs, is to discover the methods, techniques, inspirations, and stories behind the musicians we interview. Each interview gives us a little peak inside what helps to make that artist or bands sound. Sometimes we found out it’s the gear that makes their sound, other times, it’s something that money can’t buy.
Chaser Eight are an up and coming rock quintet from North Haven Connecticut. Vocalist/songwriter *AUDRA*, and guitarist/songwriter Pat Walsh have been writing music together since the ripe age of 10. Since then, *AUDRA* and Pat have honed their craft and created a sound all their own. From opening for the London Souls and The Radiators to auditioning for Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones former Manager), Chaser Eight have certainly found a chemistry with each other that doesn’t go unnoticed.
This last October, Chaser Eight came out with their newest EP, “At the 426” which is an homage to their home/recording studio. Naturally, we found it rather fitting to interview Pat Walsh about his musical background, songwriting and recording process, gear, and of course, TONE.
Here’s what Pat had to say.
Can you tell us a little about your musical upbringing and when you started making music?
I have three older siblings who all listened to a lot of music, so I heard quite a bit of stuff around the house growing up – classic rock, grunge, jam bands, some jazz even. I got my first guitar and amp before I was a teenager (11 or 12) from the JC Penney outlet store. It was really crappy equipment, and for the first year or two I mostly just made noise and had little understanding of how to properly write or play music. When I became a teenager, and noticed that some of my friends were much better, I started to get more disciplined and took the time to teach myself how to play properly. Around that time I started playing with other musicians as often as possible. *AUDRA* was certainly my main collaborator, but, I played with a lot of people. Up until my late teens I was primarily just a lead guitarist. It wasn’t until about 18 or 19 that I became interested in songwriting and music production. Since then, those two areas have been my main focus. I don’t practice guitar much anymore but my work as a teenager gave me the foundation.
Both you and *AUDRA* have known each other for a long time. When did you guys start making music together?
Since our early teen years. We were neighbors, and not a lot of people in our neighborhood were all that interested in making music. So, naturally, we bonded. We would both play in cover bands and other bands around the neighborhood. I would also record her stuff on a 4-track tape recorder and play over the songs and experiment with my ideas. I didn’t write much at that time. Then, by the time we were 17, we had a fully formed band playing a mix of covers and originals.
Some of your influences are cited as David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Killers, and even Lana Del Rey. Have you guys always shared similar tastes in music? Is there one band that has had the bigger impact on you than the others?
I certainly love most of those artists (particularly Bowie!), but I would say that is probably more of a list of artists that our band as a whole agrees upon, rather than a list of defining artists for me personally. Everyone in the band has different influences. For instance, Bill, Aaron and Peter are all fans of metal. I listen to just about everything. I’d say my home base is in contemporary big-tent indie bands like Wilco, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, Susan Tedeschi, etc.
Being that you and *AUDRA* have known each other for so long, can you tell us a little about the songwriting process between you two and how it has evolved over the years?
Well, at first it was almost entirely her. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my late teens, and I wasn’t very good for a while. I just kept working at it. I have a hard drive full of my musical attempts over the years. One of these days I’d like to listen back and see what some of this stuff sounds like now. Nowadays, our writing is split more or less 50/50 in aggregate, but we write our songs separately. Usually we don’t make a lot of changes to each other’s songs, but sometimes we do need to make edits. We don’t usually write together either, but occasionally we’ll do a few sessions together.
When/how did you get into recording/producing/engineering music?
I was always obsessed with recording my stuff and listening back to try and find where I can improve. I started using 4-track recorders and a Minidisc recorder when I was a teenager. I then moved on to Firewire and USB interfaces for the PC. Some of the early models sounded pretty bad though! I definitely got more sophisticated and better at recording/producing/engineering over the years. I would pick up tips and tricks from friends, online tutorials, YouTube. It was a lot of trial and error. I have no formal training. Overall, I find that being able to record and produce my own stuff allows me to have a more holistic view of the songs that I’m making and gives me a lot of freedom to try new stuff.
Can you tell us a little about the recording process to “Up and UP”?
At the time I was living in Boston, and *AUDRA* was in CT so we actually would meet up about one or two weekends a month and record. I play pretty much every instrument on it including drums. Some of the drums are acoustic but I also used a bit of digital drums. I primarily used Superior Drummer by Toontracker. We would compare notes via the internet and swap different mixes back and forth. Certainly a 21st century effort.
How was the recording process of “At the 426” different from your past recordings?
By the time we decided to record “At the 426”, I had moved back to CT where we had our fully formed band. Everyone in the band is on that album. When we recorded Up and Up, we didn’t have the fully formed band, so I ended up playing every instrument. So ‘At the 426″ was a much more collaborative effort in that regard.
When musicians record/producer their own work, they end up wearing a variety of different hats. Do you find it challenging to separate yourself as a musician, producer, and an engineer?
The roles don’t generally blur together for me so much. I try to always remember that I am a musician first and if I don’t have honest and compelling music to begin with, no amount of engineering is going to fix that.
Did you find any challenges or benefits to producing an album for a band that you’re part of?
On the plus side, there is definitely a lot of freedom to experiment and try just about anything you want without having to worry about criticism. However, different perspectives are very important to have as no one has all of the answers with this stuff. On our next EP, we are going to use more outside resources to help with producing.
What do you see as one of the most important aspects for new musicians to understand before they enter the studio?
Make sure that you have a very good game plan of what you want to do before you step into the studio. Have your arrangements and production details mostly ironed out beforehand. Some experimentation is definitely a good thing, but if there is a ton of that going on, you aren’t ready to record a final product. If I can use an analogy, a friend of mine lamented that he thought too many indie filmmakers nowadays don’t storyboard their films enough and end up improvising too many scenes. Alfred Hitchcock by contrast would storyboard every shot and knew what he was going to shoot before he turned on the camera. I don’t think one has to be that extreme, but planning definitely helps foster a sense of confidence and also keeps costs down.
Can you tell me a little about your studio setup and the gear you like to use? What DAW do you prefer to use?
We record in the basement that we practice in. We’ve done as much sound proofing as possible and built a little vocal booth as well. I record everything through a PreSonus Audiobox USB interface. I plug it into my Lenovo laptop and my DAW is Acoustica Mixcraft 6. Any strings or synths that you hear on our previous recordings are usually played by me with a MIDI guitar plugged into my laptop. For monitors, I have M-Audio AV-40’s and I also have a bunch of different Bose headphones. I really enjoy listening back on headphones as much as possible.
Do you have specific outboard gear that you like to use with your setup?
I only have two mic pres – The Focusrite ISA 110 and the ART Tube MP Studio. The first delivers a more transparent sound. If I want some grit, then I will use the ART with any number of different 12AX7 tubes which I can swap in and out pretty quickly. PreSonus provides some monitoring software that includes compression, equalization, filters, etc. I use that quite a bit, but mostly rely on VST plugins.
Are there any pieces of gear that you really enjoy using and act as “staples” to your recording process?
Aside from the hardware I just mentioned, I like a lot of the software and plugins from Waves – the C6, Jack Joseph Puig suite, and DeEsser are all staples in my book. I like Soundtoys EchoBoy and Decapitator plugins as well. For mastering I use the Izotope Ozone 5, which I really love quite a bit.
I know each situation has a variety of variables, but do you typically gravitate towards a certain microphone for *AUDRA*’s vocals? What about on Chris Grillo’s vocals?
I only have the Rode NT-1A for a vocal microphone. The way I get different sounds is from swapping my two mic pres in and out and using different software plugins. I plan to get another vocal microphone though (something a little less transparent sounding). The Rode is a solid workhorse, but it tends to get a little harsh from about 2-4k on the frequency spectrum. I often have to use my Waves C6.
I love the guitar work and tone on “Heart to Heart”. Do you have a specific way you like to record guitars?
Thanks! Glad you like it. I use a combination of digital amps and real ones when recording electric guitars. For digital amps, I like the Waves GTR3 and the Shred Amp Simulator that Acoustica provides. I sometimes record through my Fender Hot Rod using a Sure SM57 as well. On “Heart to Heart” I use both methods If I remember correcly. I don’t ever alter the way I record acoustic guitars. I just make sure that I have a good sounding room and stick my Rode NT 1-A about a foot from the 12th fret.
Do you have a specific way you like to record bass? Drums?
For bass I plug right into the DI input on my Focusrite ISA 110. I sometimes will use digital bass amps, but not always. For drums, everything goes right into my Presonus Audiobox. We have a Shure drum mic set and I usually use 8 microphones in total. I find that our basement gives a nice sound to the drums. Not too big or too small. I generally always beef up the snare, toms, and kick with MIDI drums by using a program called Drumtracker by Toontrack. It gives the drums a much more contemporary and punchy sound.
Your recordings have a nice, even, full sound. Do you do all of your own mixing and mastering also? If so, do you have any tips you would like to share with our community?
Thanks! Yes I do it all myself. I’ll provide the community with two tips that I find helpful. First, if you don’t have a good piece of mastering software, then go invest in one. I like Izotope’s products, but there are others out there that will work. Secondly, check your mixes on a variety of different speakers and headphones. I actually like to listen on really bad monitors and headphones because I know that if I can get our stuff to sound good on them, the songs will sound really great on high end speakers.
Do you have any advice for other musicians that are looking at getting into the DIY recording process?
In 2013 it is not especially costly or technically demanding to record and engineer your own hi-fi recordings. All you need from an investment side is a few good microphones, one or two decent mic pres, a reliable interface, and a couple of solid software plugins. The rest is just learning good recording and engineering techniques, which the internet has a wealth of information on. A lot of people are afraid to dig into that part of it though.
What can fans expect from Chaser Eight in 2014?
We will have a new EP out in 2014. We are going to put a lot more time and resources into making it than we ever have before. Right now, we’re writing a lot of material and recording a ton of song demos. The goal is to narrow down to just the 5 or 6 best songs to push forward with for the EP. This time around, we are going to use more studio resources and seek some outside production help. Besides that, we are also planning to play some festivals in New England and also create at least one elaborate music video based around a narrative concept.
If you could have dinner with one musician, DOA, who would it be?
The entire Rat Pack. Not because I am some avid fan, but because I think both the one-liners and cocktails would be stellar! However, if you’re being strict with your rule, then everyone but Sammy Davis Jr. can leave.
As you can see, Pat has certainly helped establish Chaser Eight with a unique and fresh sound. We can’t thank Pat for FREQ’n out with us. We welcome him to the Tone Freq family with open arms. We wish him and the rest of Chaser Eight nothing but the best on their future and can’t wait to see what’s next!
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“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!