Legendary guitarist Alex Skolnick is currently touring throughout Europe with his side project, Alex Skolnick Trio. Prior to their show in Glasgow last Friday, I met up with Alex for a discussion over some food about how busy he is, the new live album from the Trio and his influences for this trio.
[Looks at menu]
Alex: Felicity’s (tour manager) going to moan at me for having another Wetherspoons! I think I’ll have the spinach curry. Something a bit different for a change.
It’s been fantastic so far. We’re only on night three and the crowds have been really great and fun. It’s our second full European tour and also our fourth time in the UK now. Every time we come over, the crowds seem to getting bigger and bigger. It’s also a mixed bunch of people as we’ve got jazz fans that are surprised I can pull this off, Testament fans who are surprised that they can sit and listen and enjoy a concert like this. We’ve been making a lot of new friends as well so yeah, it’s been going great.
The latest album from the Trio was released pretty recently. How do you feel the initial response has been?
It’s been really great. We just got a very nice review in a very established jazz publication which is great. We’d been thinking of doing a live album for a long time as the songs take on a completely different style when we play them live and we’ve evolved a lot since we started. When I first started this project, I wanted to prove myself as a jazz guitarist and these days, now that I can, I pull in influences from here, there and everywhere. You’ll see for yourself later!
I look forward to that! You’re quite a busy musician it seems, how do you find the time to do anything?
It’s tough! There’s not a lot of spare time and a lot of it just focusing on priorities. I’m not up to date on the latest TV shows and I have friends who are obsessed with that stuff. I don’t have time for that with all the musical stuff I do. I have turn down a lot of invitations to hang out with friends as I’m either practising music or I’m touring in another country. It’s all a matter of scheduling things in and Testament stuff is normally booked at least 6 to 12 months in advance. I then fit in things around it and if I can catch up with someone then I will.
When you’re playing and writing the jazz songs, what influences do you draw upon?
Well, we have some songs that are ‘jazzy’ versions of metal songs and if someone walked in whilst we were in the middle of playing one, they wouldn’t be able to tell it was a metal song. There’s a lot of good jazz trios out there though and we kinda wanted to do something different to stand out. There’s classic jazz songs that have been done so much and there’s not really a lot I can add to them. I then found that I can take the metal songs and rework then into a kind of jazz improv style. A lot of my influences such as Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny are known for bringing outside influences into jazz and me being known as metal player, it enables me to add some of that into it. It’s fun for the listeners as well, as they can kinda follow along with the songs. We’ve also done more original compositions as time’s gone on as well, which have been going down well as well.
Let’s talk about gear now. You have an endorsement with ESP if I’m right…
Yep, however they aren’t really suited for jazz. I use the ESP on some jazz songs, but for most of the songs I really need a semi-acoustic one. There’s a company called Godin guitars who’ve hooked me up with some guitars which have been invaluable for the project. I use a lot more pedals in this project than I do in Testament as I like having a bit of fun in this.
Touching on Testament slightly, you’re doing a tour with Sepultura relatively soon. Are you looking forward to that?
For sure! It’s been a while since we’ve done a headline tour in the States, we’ve mainly be supporting so we’re kind of overdue to do a headline run. It’s going to be a lot of fun and both Sepultura and Prong are great bands so we’re hopeful that it will go down well.
It’s hard for me to give advice to bands as the landscape is changing all the time. We just played in Chesterfield last night and there was a lot of pictures of Kiss and ZZ Top and I was thinking “Wow, these bands have played here!?”. Then I looked closer and I found out they were tribute bands! I think I saw more tribute posters in one place than I ever have before.
I really feel for younger bands as that’s what’s popular these days. It’s a tough time and I’ve nothing against tribute bands, but I think we are in a period where rock and metal is becoming nostalgia. Unless you are doing something different, you’re not going to get through.
Anyway, for me I like to have different outlets as a musician as it means I can still have fun and not be dependent on one thing. I teach guitar as well as play with a lot of different musicians. I think it’s key that a musician should be able to play in several different styles so that you have different outlets. Had nothing ever happened with Testament, I think I probably would have become a blues guitarist or something. I would have always been a multi-genre guitarist though.
Describe yourself and then the trio in 3 words.
Oh wow, that’s very tough.
Three words for the trio… Eclectic, dynamic and fun.
For myself – Passionate, dedicated and honest.
Thanks to Mik at Factory Music for organising this interview, Felicity the tour manager for being awesome and Alex for his time and also his honesty and openness with his answers.
Photos by Bukavac Photography
Alex Skolnick Trio: facebook