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Photos by Lee Millward/GRTR!

Paul Gilbert, photo by Lee Millward

From graduating from the Guitar Institute of Technology and becoming one of their youngest instructors to pursuing a career as a supreme guitar shredder in the Heavy Metal and Speed Metal genres to playing chart topping melodic hard rock and complex instrumental music, Paul Gilbert is not a guitarist to rest on his laurels.

Aside from penning his own columns in leading guitar magazines his playing career has so far included the would be super group Racer X, the commercially successful and MTV friendly Mr. Big and the successful launching of his own solo career that has latterly veered towards two instrumental albums.

On top of that last year Paul toured as part of the sell out G3 tour in the company of company of fellow guitar instrumentalists Joe Satriani and John Petrucci, further evidence that he continues to follow whatever path it takes to bring new expression to his form of rock music.

Now comes the brand new album on Mascot 'Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar', arguably one of his best ever efforts. Paul shared his thoughts about the new album and his career in advance of a typical explosive opening set as special guest of Joe Satriani at the Hammersmith Odeon.

Is the title track of your new album a reference to the moment before you switch on your amp?

Ha ha, I can't remember where the title came from but once I heard it I loved it and actually I came up with it before I had the song. But I liked it 'cos it sort of obligated me to somehow to produce the 'Deafening Roar'. The silence is easy enough to make but now I had to make the 'Deafening Roar'.

In fact the Jimmy Page style violin bow ended up being the solution. And that's a lot of fun live both visually and sonically.

Did you always have it in your mind to work towards a solo career, all those years back?

No, in fact I always wanted to be in a band, but I guess Mr. Big cured me of that (laughs). It's still nice to travel with musicians and try to use the same people as much as I can and form some kind of personal and useful camaraderie.

Back in the 70's when I was growing up and listening to music, bands were the only way you could make music. I had no concept of multi tracking or over dubbing. I just thought you might get the opportunity to play and that would be the sound.

It's funny the way technology has changed. You know people can really make a record in their bedroom and they do! But it's a whole new process. For me as a teenager I was always searching for human beings - like where I could find a good drummer, a good vocalist or bass player? etc.

Paul Gilbert, photo by Lee Millward

For someone who once professed to be bored by instrumental music, you seem to have suddenly embraced it as you are already on your second album. How did you get to that point?

Yeah, it surprised me too. The first time I really gave it a chance was when I was doing a tour for my 'Spaceship One' record, which was the last record I sang on. I found myself adding more and more instrumental songs to the live set, and they seemed to work pretty well and got just as good an audience response.

They were also just as much fun to play, so that worked me up to the idea of a whole record of it. Also a lot of people had asked about it and I thought it would be an interesting challenge, especially as in my role as a listener of music I'm not a big fan of instrumental music. So I thought my standards for my own instrumental records are going to be not necessarily higher than anyone else's but certainly different. And what I'm going to want out of it might even be different from what my fans want. Really want I want is for it to rock.

I don't want it want it to be just a record for a guitar player but a record that any rock fan can listen to. And so as inspiration I started to think about what existing instrumental things do I like? And I realised that much as I'd come to appreciate Joe Satriani for example, I didn't go to him for inspiration.

Initially I went to my old Rush albums, XYZ or I'd got to old Van Halen records that weren't instrumental records as such but would have really cool instrumental breaks. You know the guitar solo section would not just be strict guitar solos, but the bass and drums would be doing cool stuff too.

So that was sort of my starting point and after doing the G3 shows and through osmosis and picking up on some of what Joe was doing that expanded it even more for me. He certainly is a master of the art and hopefully I will keep expanding it from there

From a compositional approach is there a different way to approaching your material when it is solely guitar based?

Definitely, it was frightening at first being used to having the vocal formula, you know, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/ middle eight or some variation on that. And realising that if I did that as an instrumental song the second verse would be really boring as you couldn't change the lyrics! And other little problems like that.

Actually I was doing a co-interview with Joe once - we were both being interviewed at the sale time - and I started to interview him, asking 'How, when you write how do you do it, is there some kind of formula'? And he said no, not at all.

I was really surprised by his answer as he is the master of the art, he's probably figured out some formula by now. And to find out from him that there wasn't a formula was kind of liberating to me. So I thought OK there doesn't have to be one, its OK to not have these rules and approach it song by song.

Paul Gilbert, photo by Lee Millward

The album is both complex and but rocks and delivers more through repeated plays. Are you aware of that?

Well thanks for listening to it several times. It reminds me of the first time as a kid when I was exposed to what we now call Prog Rock, maybe the first Rush album, it blew my mind.

I couldn't take it all in after one listening. It wasn't like a blues band kind of album or even a Van Halen album or even Mahogany Rush and Frank Marino. But I found after a week of playing it, the Rush album would be my favourite. It was like the pay off for investing your time in it. With any kind of complex music I suppose that's the test you have to pass as a listener.

You career has taken in Heavy Metal with Racer X, Melodic Rock with Mr. Big, Blues with your uncle Jimi Kidd and now instrumental guitar music. Do the changes in style reflect the changing music scene at anyone time or are they steps towards you becoming a more mature musician?

I think with the music scene one of the things that affected me most was probably Nirvana and what happened in the 90's. Not musically at all but visually. For the first time it was OK to dress sloppy and not care about your hair (laughs). And what a relief that was!

In out Racer X days in the 80's we had to hire a separate hair person. We all had crazy spandex and it was a lot of work getting it together, though it was a lot of fun actually. But because I fancied myself as a serious musician I preferred to put my time into the creative music, than to have to put so much work into the visual side of things. You know if you look at the photos on the new record, I'm unshaved and a mess, but hopefully an interesting mess!

Was Racer X your youthful exuberance attempting to show just how how good we were?

Yeah I think I really wanted to have a band with the best musicians I could find and I wanted it to be some kind of musical super group. At the time the bands I was into always seemed to have the one guy, Rush had Neil Peart, Van Halen had Eddie, the other guys to varying degrees were great as well but they all seemed to focus on one person; I wanted Racer X to be across the board and for everyone to be amazing;

And of course you reformed the band later?

Yeah it was great to play with the guys again, especially as we had built the band from nothing into SOMETHING! And when we got together we really had a connection. While with Mr. Big we shared a lot of experiences together on the road, but we were already established beforehand, there wasn't that same struggle.

Did Mr. Big give you both the financial clout and confidence to go solo?

Yes, being in Mr Big was an incredible jump in the industry. Suddenly we had a big manager and an MTV hit. I mean you could take your rock star check list and go right through the card from the tour bus onwards. So yes it was the springboard for a lot of things.

How do you account for instrumental music doing so well lately including G3?

If anything I was surprised by it as if anything the ingredients of a rock and roll band have been separated out. Back in the 70's and early 80's all my favourite guitar players were in bands and they had singers. Van Halen had David Lee Roth, Randy Rhoads was with Ozzie and Glen Tipton was playing Rob Halford. Then maybe the one guy that single handedly focussed on the guitar aspect was Mike Varney the producer. In fact without him Racer X would have been something more like a normal band.

Whereas Mike was more, no, do more guitar solos, faster guitar solos, that sort of coaching us to be as extreme as possible. But I didn't mind you know, I was a teenage kid. Faster? Oh, OK that's crazy but crazy is good. Actually Racer X was one of the few Shrapnel bands that had a singer. Most of them were like Vinnie More, Tony McAlpine or pure instrumentalists. To me that was a little too niche, I always wanted to be in a band and I was really hesitant to join the instrumental world. But when I finally did join that world I found that the niche had been round long enough where it had grown to the point where it was significant.

And it blew my mind during G3 tour of the States last year that the audiences were so great, and also the gigs with Joe in the UK, all the shows are sold out. The really great thing is the age range of the audiences, people older than me and kids too. I would never have predicted that. In fact I would have been the worst record company guy in the world as I wouldn't have any idea of predicting what people want.

Paul Gilbert, photo by Lee Millward

How did you hook up with Joe then?

Well we both endorse Ibanez guitars so we did a couple of shows together. But the main gig we hooked up was a benefit gig in LA, and Joe invited me to play a couple of songs. It went really well and I think we had a good jamming chemistry at that show. And at that point I think I had improved a lot and if I dare use the word matured as a player. And I think Joe really heard that and I'd released an instrumental record, so what I was doing maybe made sense, especially with the G3 formatting.

Moving on to the album you've already explained about the bow that you use at the beginning of the first track.

Yes, that's the roar

You seem to use that as a top and tail to the song. Is that how the whole thing was originally conceived?

Well it becomes a kind of a sonic hook and when you have a whole album that focuses on guitars the more sonic variety you get the more kind you are to the listener.

If on the other hand you use just one sound and one texture, then the whole album becomes boring, especially if you give the listener the same distorted guitar sound for 40 or 50 minutes, that's cruel.

You seem to set your self little musical puzzles with resolutions of tensions etc. Is that part of your song writing technique?
Well you have to balance a surprise a long with connecting things, that's the art of writing whatever style it is. It's to first gain the trust of the listener and then throw in the surprise once in a while and keep them interested.

Is an album like 'Silence' all pre-written or is there room for the band to be spontaneous and breathe a little?

Well on the last couple of albums I've been in such a hurry to finish them, that I've done them very efficiently (laughs). And the thing that has worked really well is that I'll make demos of the songs so I have the idea of how it would sound - the basic structure - and then actually the first thing I do is to record all the guitars to a click track.

And these are the key guitars lines, the ones I'm going to stay with, and then I'd let Jeff and Mike listen to them for a couple of weeks and they'll build their parts and the details of their parts. And so far working that way has been great. It sounds like we worked out a lot of stuff and in the end you try and do it live in the studio, especially before we go on tour and stuff. Then what happens is a lot of magic is created that way.

And there's more magic on stage?

It's a different kind of magic on stage, The magic on stage is that you are all listening to each other at the same time and then of course there is the energy of the audience which is a huge thing, as well as the feeling of being in THAT moment.

'Bultaco Saturno' is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Isn't that a name of a motorbike and what's the connection to the song?

Yes, it's is a bike and the title of the song came from my Dad who used to race motocross when I was a kid. He had a Bultaco, in fact I think it was a Saturno - I can't quite remember -but I looked at some Bultaco web site and I always liked the name and Saturno seemed like the coolest model. So that song kind of reminds me of things, like having a really good time and that whole era of growing up in the 70's with my Dad.

Another of your songs 'The Gargoyle' puts me in mind of Rush and were you trying to convey happiness by use of the term Eudaimonia in the 'Eudaimonia Overture'??

Oh yeah, well I guess The Gargoyle is a little a little more Progressive so I can understand the Rush connection. And with Eudaimonia I discovered that word - 'cos it's certainly not a common word - by researching Aristotle for some reason and I guess in Aristotle's philosophy he refers to this concept of Eudaimonia which loosely translates as happiness but I think it's the difference between happiness and Eudaimonia, would be that Eudaimonia would almost be the process of happiness as a lifestyle, that is the specific actions you can take in order to lead the life that in the long run will make you happy.

And that resonated with me, 'cos even though I'm a rock and roller if I follow my peers I should be drinking too much and punishing myself physically with chemicals, to me in the long run that's not for me. I've always been more focussed on music and trying to stay as healthy as I can be on the road. (laughs)

Paul Gilbert, photo by Lee Millward

When you came to the material for this album did you pay particular attention to sequencing as part of a bigger picture?

Yes sequencing is really important I think.

The album is almost a suite?

Well from having had so many records before as a solo artist and going back to Racer X, certain albums have been easier to sequence than others and the ones that have come together most easily have tended to be the best records.

I remember 'Lean Into It' by Mr. Big, that was so obvious where to put things and that was one of our best records. And even with this album where some of the music is arguably more progressive, there's still a flow and it seemed pretty obvious where to put things.

Another interesting track is the 'Suite Modale' by Ernest Bloch. How did you come across him?

Well I love the piece it comes from. It was actually a flute piece. I was listening to a series of cassettes that were actually a lecture on the history of Western music. And it was some very educated person lecturing away about the Gregorian Chants, then the dissonant composers such as Schoenberg and then he came to Modal Music and he played a little bit of this Ernest Bloch thing and I was immediately really drawn to the piece and tracked it down as a fan of music.

And I always wanted to play it on guitar and finally I found a guitar with a sustainer in it to make it sound like a flute; With a regular guitar you wouldn't have that flowing big breathy kind of flute sound.

What's the main difference between 'Silence Followed Buy A Deafening Roar' and your previous instrumental album 'Get Out Of My Yard'?

Intellectually I concentrated a lot more on melodies and actually I didn't want to!!!

My initial thought was I want to stay away from melodies, 'cos melodies are for singers and I thought riffs and fast bluesy licks are for guitar players and I was very opinionated and stubborn in my divisions. Then intuitively I started writing melodies, and I thought well I like it, I guess I'll keep that one and the more I wrote the more melodies kept coming out. And finally I took my barriers down and threw my stubbornness away and followed my instincts that are what came out.


Interview © May 2008 Pete Feenstra

Photos by Lee Millward/GRTR!

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