Dave Martone Interview - Aliens and Stuff
The Dave Martone Interview
Dave Martone is probably Canada’s best guitarist right now and likely the best guitarist you have never heard of. Blossoming out of fruit and wine country (the Niagara Peninsula) in Ontario Canada, Dave initially took the serious studied approach to the instrument before discovering rock music quite late by the standard of any era. Dave’s quest took him through a recording degree and a scholarship at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He honed his writing, production and performing skills with stints in various metal bands and recording studios all the while keeping his eye on the prize, creating a unique voice in today’s overpopulated world of instrumental guitar. He has succeeded magnificently, ultimately creating one of the most diverse and sonically appealing works I have heard in years, chock full of wicked and quirky technique, Demons Dream, released back in 2002. He has followed that up with a stunning concert DVD proving that there is indeed no studio trickery behind his jaw dropping technique and sound. The DVD is guaranteed to garner him further accolades and elevate his visibility and album sales to the next level. Dave is currently releasing his next awesome solo project “When The Aliens Come” Lion Records February 23 2007. He graciously took time out from his hectic schedule to chat with me about this latest project: Introduce yourself to our readers. Where you are from, where did you grow up and what are your earliest musical experiences, influences etc.?
I am originally from a small town called Beamsville (Ontario, Canada) on the Niagara Peninsula outside Toronto. My dad started me playing when I was around 5 or 6 years old. He wanted to play music himself, mainly jazz and classical so he decided to also torture me with the same thing. I didn’t even know what the guitar was, didn’t necessarily want to play the guitar and didn’t care about it. All I wanted to do was play with my buddies in the ravine we had down there but he managed to get me going. He bribed me with 10 cents an hour to practice, to get down there in the basement and start practicing. The very, very first stuff was basically chords and folk tunes. Then he started me off on classical guitar and he had me study with a guy named Gary Santucci. Gary taught me kind of flamenco/classical at that point, when I was probably around 7 years old. I was actually starting to get into it! I don’t know why, I guess it was all the cash coming in! I was actually starting to enjoy the style of music.
What have you been up to since we last chatted mid 2006?
Right now I have been busy trying to get the webpage fixed up before the release date. Trying to figure all that stuff out at the moment.
This interview will be more about the new album how about bringing us up to date on what you have been doing in the last half of 2006 and so far this year?
OK, the very last thing is that I have already started on the next album and in fact have 8 tracks already written and pre-produced.
Geez, you are on the ball, always an album ahead, last year when we talked this current album was already long finished.
Gotta keep going. I have been writing non-stop for the next one. I have been in a big creative flow. When that happens you go with it. I have a new way of logging ideas, rather than transcribing or recording things I have started using a digital video camera to record new ideas and play it into the computer then I have all these tidbits of information to work with..
What about tunings?
I state the tunings on video before recording. I gotta make sure we can play the stuff live. On the last album I sometimes had three different tunings in the same song.
You need that new Line 6 guitar with several patch tunings for that stuff.
I’ve heard of that guitar and need to check that out. What I do now I just leave the tuning and don’t touch it. I play a solo in the standard tuning and figure it out so I can do stuff properly live. I just got back from LA, NAMM and am currently making sure I can still play some of the tunes I was playing down there. I went to a session at GIT a guest spot, that was fun to be back in a school environment, cool.
Were you not in Vegas?
Yes just a chilled relaxed time at the Stratosphere Hotel with rides n stuff. It was cool hanging from like 1100 feet!
You also had a clinic tour across the east of Canada and the Maritime provinces.
I did the entire maritime provinces. It was tons of fun because I was never there before. It was very cool and it was awesome to meet all those people true music fans.
You gotta go to St Johns in the summertime, party central.
Yup I went to George Street it was something else! Tons of great music all over the place. Most bars per capita in Canada I understand. Great people and music shops. Just good people overall.
Here was a quote you had about this new album last year: “It is basically instrumental. There are a couple of tracks on there with backing vocal work but not the traditional sense of vocal work, more a hypnotic repetitive chant type phrasings that reoccur if you will. It is very close to being done. There are 10 tracks finished and we want to have 11 or 12 on it. I just need to finish mixing the 10, recording the last 2 and it has to be done before January 2006 because my drummer Daniel is getting back out on the road then with his other group so it just has to be done (drummer Adair also performs with the band Nickelback). The sound I would say is more groove oriented there are stranger textural sounds happening on it. There is a theme or feeling on it how should I word it, like ancient Egypt mixed with aliens. That is the kind of visual situation I am trying to make come up in your brain when you are listening to it. The past the present and the future all combined.
Like when the aliens came to build the pyramids?
Yes (laughs)! I don’t really know how to explain it but that was the feeling I was getting when I was working on this one. There is one track in particular called When the Aliens Come. I have played it for some people and they looked totally shocked after hearing the sounds. I enjoy that.
Now that it is totally done does that sum it up? Any tweaks or changes after that?
No as I first listened to it, it did not have the strong melodic form I originally thought but now the melodies are becoming more aware and out front. The different form of melody is growing on me. This one has a more advanced and less traditional sort of melodic approach. That is pretty much how it might have changed with time. It should open a few new doors for me. I am not imitating much with the music. I work so much I do not listen to a lot of music which is good because ultimately you are what you eat right? I have been starving. On my time off I like silence.
You were at that time just starting the label marketing of this product. You were to look at all possibilities but you ended up back on Lion. Were those other companies less interested than you though or just not give you the deal you needed?
A mixture of both. A friend from Boston was doing the negotiation. For some reason the companies were worried about bidding wars etc. No idea where that idea came from, a couple of those companies stepped down. A real combination of reasons actually.
You said specifically you had had very favorable feedback from Favored Nations, they seemed to me to be a perfect match for your music.?
I agree! I talked about that with Steve Vai late in July in LA and he said they would not be in a position to do anything with me until late 2007 and I mean I am sitting there with a completed product. I talked to my lawyer and we decided not to wait too long. I talked to Jennifer Batten while I was doing some clinics with her during September and her next album will be coming out late 2007. The people at Favored are really nice and they certainly were not feeding me a line. It is just a timing issue. That is why things did not work out. That fuelled me to start working on the next album as quickly as possible. This one will be done by June so I can go see them again and say here is another one it is 2007 now!
My first thoughts on the new album despite the melodic intent and chant vocals etc and new vibe, that this is more shredalicious to me, this is just chock full of intelligent shred.
You think? I didn’t really see that. Not like a Rusty Cooley kind of thing. There are spots in there for it but I really focused on the melody with room for the music to breathe. Not a constant barrage, I do not like that approach.
I did hear a lot of a Greg Howe type vibe in the solos, you must be a fan?
Yes I am, I met him last summer in LA and we had a great time. There is influence from a lot of people. I believe you can get a sense about people from their playing and Greg, like Joe Satriani, is just such a humble easy no attitude fun but yet deep person. It comes across in what they play. I want to model myself after that and not the asshole guy who knows everything or thinks they are the top of the world. He (Greg) is a great performer with great ideas and yes I got a chance to see him perform up close and personal. He always goes for it. Great rhythm and the improvisational aspect of what he does is great.
I have a bud who used to trek to Reading PA for lessons with Greg and he said Greg was the most humble and nicest down to earth guy you would ever want to meet.
I just said the same thing right?
Let’s discuss the CD track by track shall we? Give us your sincere thoughts etc. First is Starz Scarz.
It is an older tune I had kicking around with that bone crunching rhythm that is the way I like to start things with a crunchy entrance just like Big Church on the last album. You put the CD on and two big hands come out of the speakers grab you by the ears and pull you in. That is what I wanted it to be like. The middle, the textural section was a section of minor 7th G chords. I used them in a stylistically different way, diagonal lines. The section starts with all that finger picked guitar running through all those chord changes. Then a weird sound next starts to fade in and out, and then a massive arpeggiated section that took way too long to figure out with a metronome. Took several days before it was recordable and before the normal melody returns . That was hard but fun!
Will it be tough live?
It and I will have to be 100% practiced. It is playable though. Of course it is always harder in front of people right? Hey you gotta show the people how you do it.
Next is Flatulation Farm!!
That is what you get! It is supposed to sound like farts from the future. We wrote that in the studio. After eating loads of pepperoni and beef salami washed down with beer you can only imagine what it stunk like in there, three guys eating like pigs and that’s where the song starts. The chorus is quite melodic moving around. No solo, but a big heavy rhythm section. The bass player came up with the riff. A simple tune that definitely had its birth in flatulence.
You more than make up for the lack of soloing in that tune when you get to song three the Four Horsemen.
The Four Horsemen, that song originated from a project that was supposed to happen with the gentlemen who guest on that track, At that time, those dudes are from the National Guitar workshop that I work at in different parts of the US and originally we were to do a 30 minute fun song of wicked interaction and playing etc. I started it off by offering the first song groove and unfortunately because of personal schedules and lack of time etc we only got what ended up as one song out of it. That track was recorded with a Digitech GLS 3 or something like that, messing with a patch and that is how that started it and the melody followed. It is essentially a simple piece with some weird chord changes at the end but the most interesting aspect of the tune is how every player interpreted those chord changes because as you know you can interpret them in any way you want many ways. So different players can bring many different things to the same music. Certainly not routine pentatonics but more shapes and shades to explore more inside that rhythm.
Did you ever hear the set of albums David Chastain did where several stars from his Leviathan stable riffed over the same rhythm tracks? Players as diverse as Joe Stump, Gus G, Michael Harris and John Hahn? Those recordings were marketed two ways, an album for each individual player and also an album for each track.
Never heard that sounds like an interesting idea!
Yeah was cool to hear how Stump can put a neo-classical stamp on any rhythm thrown his way, man knows his theory inside out.
Well we do have a similar sort of idea here just contained in one song. Everyone got there 2 minutes and fifty three seconds, no one knew what the other person was doing and yet somehow it came together and cohesively works.
Next up is Really Now!.
I really like that song! Number one, when I wrote it I was thinking strictly as a three piece, really pared down not a major production song, not a produced number like Starz Scarz. I just really love the melody that is going on. It is just kind of a totally discombobulated thing with Daniel’s drums and there is a cool tapping bridge happening in there. I also really like the solo passage that happens some interesting chord changes to solo over. The slow down section is fun to do live, makes it sound like we are just spiraling down and just opens up with beautiful chord. Live, I sort of use a whammy pedal to make that slowing down effect.
So that is one you are definitely doing live?
Oh yeah and we do Flatulation live too!
I would expect nothing less! Real sound effects?
I don’t personally down beer and pepperoni before I play so those come later.
OK burning question who is Mike Crow mentioned in the next song title (Mike Crow’s Mailbox Of Doom)?
He is a fictitious character. If you say his name fast enough it turns into “microse” and microtones are the idea here. When I played it people said it is a guitar bar tune and I said yes it is supposed to be just that! It is dealing with that bending vibe eastern musicians deal with all of the time and that one as you are probably aware came from a Shawn Lane Tribute on Lion (Shawn Lane Remembered Vol 1 2004) so I reworked the tune and added Cassius Khan on tablas. It is kind of unique that acoustic sound and a bit of a chant thing. I really enjoy developing a different kind of sound in the studio. Believe it or not, that lead break is a nylon string guitar processed totally and that is how you get that kind of keyboard like weird sound. That is the Parker Spanish Fly playing that so
Next is Fumble Fingers with another guest Prashant Aswani a one time student of Greg Howe I believe?
Yes he went to study with Greg for a year or two, a great experience I am sure. He is a great friend and a greater player. Originally that song was written for Liquid Note records (The Alchemist II recently released) That track also appears on there with a different guest, Chris Buono, who also provided the really weird kind of sounds to the Four Horsemen. I talked to both Liquid Note and Lion and Liquid wanted a different soloist contractually so I asked Prashant to do this. Originally, believe it or not, I asked Joe Satriani to fill in the spaces on that and he was totally into it but just too busy so maybe sometime in the future.
Like the next album that is almost in the can?
I have a track ready with him in mind. (Squeegee”) Anyway, Fumble Fingers was a lot of fun because Daniel was not available for the kit so he suggested (Gene Hoglan) a real double kick monster from Strapping Young Lad and I remember asking him if he thought he could handle the tempo of the song with maybe 170 or 180 bpm and that I needed double kick and he said “That’s all you got?” You trying to hold me back or something?” LOL! In the end, it is a pretty simple song that we play live also. I added a nice tapping section and in the end it is a nice tight song with those kick drums, heavy guitars and bass. I filled all the empty spaces with heavy guitar so you get that aural punch and tight sound.
Then we have Pung Yao.
Pung Yao….Our first attempt at a bass solo. That actually came about when I was teaching a student, an oriental student named Chris Foo and he always says Pung Yao which in Mandarin means “My Friend” He is a very young and talented guitarist and bass player so one time he brought his bass in and said hey I want to learn something different on the bass. So I thought how about I try getting a little flamenco trills on the bass happening and I just improvised something on the spot what became the start of that song. We were both pleasantly surprised how it turned out. That night I came home and worked on it for a couple of hours in the studio and then the whole song just came flowing out so I recorded it and that was the end of it!
Then we have your take on that famed Hendrix tune Angel tell us what you brought to it?
I think I tried to redo the song in my own fashion. Why would anyone ever try to cop a classic song like that note for note? Especially a song from the master Jimi Hendrix which of course is already perfect? So I changed the voicings around quite a bit. I tried to make the melody and the chorus very vocal-like. For the chorus there were three lead guitars playing the same thing which of course really bulks up the chorus. I tip my hat to another song at the beginning of the solo break. I really enjoy that song and it is another that we play live. He recorded that in E-Flat and I need to carry another guitar in that tuning just for that song because chorally it just don’t sound right in any other tuning.
That is followed by O My God I’m Swelling”
That one is just strange. You don’t expect it to go where it goes and it was a heck of a lot of fun to write that one. It starts off a little kind of countryish then it goes into a funkier fusion kind of thing, a nylon string guitar solo happens. The solo is constrained because I used a traditional nylon string where you could only reach from 0-12. It was difficult to play all the legato technique on that but it was fun to come up with that solo section. Then you get this whole totally bizarre like a swelling sound that happens over a bunch of interesting chord changes. I remember hearing something once by Pat Metheney that had a similar kind of pulsating swelling sound and that was how I was inspired to that idea. I was thinking about putting a solo at the end but the band said no and for once I listened to them and now kind of agree that it finishes quite nicely as is.
Knowing you, I am kind of scared to ask what the inspiration for the song Double F’s is?
A lot of people of course think the way your mind does but that is a trick title and it has nothing at all to do with what you are thinking. Actually it deals with the tenet of the hypnotic lyric repeated during the middle section of the song by the lovely Nenah Barkley, my girlfriend, who I love very much. The song was written when we were going through a rough patch and the lyrics basically say I don’t want to fight and fuck with you. Obviously I didn’t want to put the word fuck in the title so Double F’s it is.
This is an album of double F’s you’ve got Flatulation Farm, Fumble Fingers and Double F’s (Fight & Fuck)
Just a coincidence. At the end I love the song and the range of emotions it runs through. It of course recalls a very emotional time for me. At the end you get this very anthemic melody, I am very proud of how that particular melody came out, kind of finishes the tune with the idea that everything will be ok.
Then we have a song which involves getting some coin for Daniel because of course he doesn’t do very well with Nickelback and needs an additional songwriting credit here and there right(Maneemanaw)?
Yup Maneemanaw is a word we sometimes use in the band to replace the phrase “you frikkin jerk”.
Well Daniel wrote it so who is it directed at?
Possibly himself or just representative of the fun we have when we hang together. I told him to come up with the total concept for a song on his own and so while on tour for a couple of months with Nickelback he put the whole thing together on his Pro Tools system and I think it occupies a really cool spot on the album because it provides a space that is needed between some different aural sound songs. He played great bass on there himself and put all the samples on too, it was just the funest time. It did take a long time to do and ended up as the longest song on the album between 9 and 10 minutes long.
Then of course we have the wonderful party piece Techno Bee’z
Of course Rimsky-Korsikoff. I have of course been playing that song in clinics for years now and people would always ash where they could find that on record and of course I had to tell them it is not recorded just something I do at clinics. That is usually the last tune I perform at clinics to go out with a bang so to speak. I just finally decided to put it down and actually it turned out to be quite fun to do because all of the melodies are double tracked.
And then, the title track!
It is very different the entrance of it has a sound that is very cool and is actually only one guitar playing it despite how it sounds. I had the two channel sounds of the Parker going through different processing with a whammy pedal turning the volume on and off and it ended up sounding very bizarre . At first I really liked the song then I went through a period where I did not like it at all and now I am in a period again where I like it for what it is. You know usually in pop the title track is supposed to be the strongest and most sellable track and this certainly is not that. It does however kind of sum up the whole idea of the album. The overall weirdness, vibe and different styles of the thing. The ending is really cool how we kept creeping up the volume while squishing the sound more and more making it really intense. I considered putting a solo into that ending but decided to just let it build out to its natural ending of nothingness.
Other than your plethora of Parker’s what else did you use in this recording?
Oh My God has a fat Strat for the main melody, Starz Scarz has of course Les Pauls for the heaviest riffs on there. So basically Parkers for virtually all of the solos, Strats for many of the melodies and Les Pauls for all the heavy riffs, punchy rhythms and grooves on there. You have to use the right spice to season the sauce.
I recently got Satch’s latest DVD and guess who we see in there?
Yes I had a small role singing in the studio there in Vancouver (Crowd Chant) and I still have not seen the end result. That was tons of fun to do of course.
And it is great that you guys have struck up a bit more of a personal relationship and now he may in fact guest on your next project!
I really hope so. He is just so busy though. He is such a great player and such a nice man and person.
I think some younger guns like yourself, Bumblefoot or Andy Timmons need to be asked to the next G3 to keep the whole world of instrumental guitar alive, you?
I agree there are a whole group of players at that next level down just bubbling below the surface that need that big exposure but at the end of the day with all the managers and record companies etc it may not even be Joe’s decision to make eh?
Yup it is business. I recall talking to Lars Eric Mattsson at Lion and asking him what kind of numbers some of his more well known artists move in terms of product and he said Mike it is next to impossible still to make a living as an instrumental guitarist today.
Oh God yeah, I mean for someone kind of placed where I am right now, I still have to do many other things to make ends meet. I mean look at Greg Howe, despite all of his fame he is probably just starting to make some cash from his online lessons.
Where are you at, do you still give lessons because you like to or do you still need that cash flow?
It is a little bit of both right now. I have some awesome students who I enjoy interacting with. Of course they keep me on my toes as both a player and as an instructor. The downside of it is that after say 5 or 6 hours of teaching you sometimes have nothing left that day to create your own music. I am also starting to do more production work for others here in my Brainworks studio. I really love that whole end of things and was recently discussing just that with T.J. Helmrich who of course is both a brilliant player and equally brilliant producer/engineer.
Now I have few questions from your Winnipeg drinking buddy Mark London. He wanted to know if you had any interesting news from the recent NAMM? He also wants to know when the prototype Martone Parker, with the bottle opener , will be available?
I will have three beer openers on my prototype. Sadly I just learned that my main artist rep at Parker is in fact leaving the company next week so who knows where that leaves my prototype guitar project we will just have to wait and see. I was really looking forward to creating something unique. I did attend a cool 20th anniversary Steve Vai thing by Ibanez where he had Paul Gilbert and Andy Timmons up there then he had Herman Li (Dragonforce) and Tony Macalpine and then he had Matt Roberts from Three Doors Down and of course Joe. It was tons of fun and of course I wish I had been up on that stage. NAMM was just as usual full of cool events and people. Playing every day I had to be a little more restrained than usual in the evenings. I did meet Buckethead but of course he did not speak just impressed with his nunchucks zipping all over the place. Then he proceeded to wicked shred legato with his left hand after firing that nunchuck into the drum kit while continuing to whip that right hand nunchuck, a cool performance. I did have my guitar and amp at the ready to jam with Joe but it just did not happen because of time constraints. I did record a little bit for him that I am told shows up on one of his Pod casts.
Mark also wanted to know if Kadabra (flamenco sidegroup)are planning any recording?
There is a video of us doing a flamenco version of the Spiderman theme on a recent interview I did. We have several others including a flamenco version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia and also several regular flamenco songs I have written too. I just have not had the time to focus on that stuff much at this point. I have also been playing some bass at some country gigs. I love bass the sound is just so huge and I love moving air. Getting back to Kadabra, I love those guys and I definitely want to get something out with them in that whole spirit of improvisation.
And Mark being Mark also has a beer question. What was the beer of choice in the studio during the recording of this album?
Samuel Adams a fine brew, a lager I discovered in New England during my time at Berklee. We also consumed several bottles of a fine tasty beer from right here in Vancouver, Granville Island – Island Lager. If you had it you’d be hooked it only comes out between December and February, it is just the best tasting stuff ever.
You should get together with Vinnie Moore he is a real beer connoisseur and has his own Vinman’s Brew.
No doubt, I just love the taste of a good beer and of course Vinnie is just an awesome player too. There is another great local beer, a strong one called “Face Plant” coz that is what happens when you drink it, you face plant in the snow.
Dave we wish you the best of luck with this one. To me it surpasses Demon’s Dream which was itself just an awesome CD and a hard one to follow up I am sure. Have you had any feedback from Lars Eric how he feels about this one, he of course loved Demon’s Dream?
Well he really wanted to do it and he told me he thinks it may be a little bit, how did he word it “where the future of guitar might be going”.
Wow can’t top that compliment! Thanks and good luck man looking forward to meeting you out on the road! – Cheers Mike and thanks as always.