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This article was originally published in issue #69
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The idea of playing melodies on guitar seems like an obvious one, but it really took me decades to get a grip on it. I grew up listening to music where the melody was the job of the singer.
Arguably best known as the virtuosic axeman and co-founder of Mr. Big, as well as a member of Los Angeles-based metal outfit Racer X—)Paul Gilbert has carved out a seriously impressive solo career with a slew of acclaimed albums like 'Alligator Farm' (2000), 'Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar' (2008) and 'Vibrato' (2012). With his latest (and 15th) solo release 'Behold Electric Guitar,' Paul once again took the show on the road all the way to UK shores, where Jonathan Graham caught up Pablo Gilberto himself.
Originally planned only to be released through the online direct-to-fan music platform Pledge-Music (and we all know what happened there), Paul Gilbert's new album 'Behold Electric Guitar' is now thankfully available everywhere, on CD, vinyl and digitally. The album features 12 new original songs, most instrumental, except for his poem, "A Herd of Turtles", where Paul opted his best Liverpudlian accent to recite his poem of hope, and inserted some ferocious funk riffs for musical contrast in between.
The songwriting process on 'Behold Electric Guitar' is maybe not what you would expect from a virtuoso shredder! Paul has confirmed that he started most of the songs by actually writing lyrics to the pieces first, then the melody. With the right chords, arrangement and groove the track is formed, and only then the lyrics are translated to a guitar melody, completely tossing out the lyrics. The result is Paul's most expressive and inspired guitar playing to date.
After his recent move to Portland, Oregon, Paul set out to connect with the best and grooviest musicians in the area, and record an album in his brand new hometown. Brian Foxworth (drums) and Asher Fulero (keyboards) were both obvious choices to play Paul's mix of rock, blues, jazz, and pop flavours. When Paul's regular Portland bassist Kelly Lemieux was unavailable (due to his touring with Buckcherry), Paul reached out to New Orleans bass legend, Roland Guerin. Roland came to Portland weeks before the recording dates for intense rehearsing and arranging sessions.
With the band complete, Paul enlisted legendary producer and engineer John Cuniberti. John is well known for his work with Joe Satriani, but Paul was primarily interested in John's expertise with "one mic" recording. Paul explains, "It's so easy to make albums with overdubbing and editing these days, but I really prefer playing live and just getting the music to sound right because the musicians, the songs, and the performances are good." After hearing Paul's band, John recommended a few more mics, but still agreed that the music worked best as live performances with no overdubs. "There is not one overdub on the record. Everything you hear is four guys jamming, listening to each other, and making room for each other. The music almost mixes itself that way! And it's just a great mindset to have. When you know that you won't be fixing or adding parts later... It keeps your mind very active to get things right!"
The album was not without some unexpected drama. After laying down stunning grooves on three songs, drummer Brian Foxworth collapsed from exhaustion in the studio. Paramedics were called, and fortunately Brian eventually made a full recovery. But the music couldn't wait, so drummers Reinhardt Melz (from Portland) and Bill Ray (from Seattle) were called in to finish laying down drums for the album.
Talking about the songwriting process, Paul explains, "I begin most of the songs by writing lyrics. This gives me a rhythmic and melodic puzzle to solve. I have a really good time working out the melody with the right chords, arrangement, and groove. Whenever the song is feeling like it's holding together, I toss out my vocal sketch, and start playing the melody with my guitar. The challenge is to keep the elements of expression that a vocalist has. The wonderful thing is that the guitar is so easy in other ways. Big interval jumps and high notes are never a problem! It's such a joy to have these limitations removed, and to have the freedom to write melodies as if my voice could make any athletic leap. With my guitar, I can do it!"
Paul continues, "The idea of playing melodies on guitar seems like an obvious one, but it really took me decades to get a grip on it. I grew up listening to music where melody was the job of the singer. The guitarists that I liked tended to play more like guitar players... which is fine. But it just never occurred to me that guitar could handle a melody like a singer could. My first attempt was a few years ago, when I did my 'Stone Pushing Uphill Man' record. Playing melodies on that album was such demanding work, that I did a lot of overdubs and editing to get it done. I had to! The art of the melody was too new for me to tackle with live performances. I'm really happy that my ears and technique have grown to where I can now play live in the studio and get the melodies to sound and feel how I want them. I'm really finding my 'voice' on the guitar, and it's really inspiring to me. I want to play all the time now!"
Paul's unused lyrics not only gave him a creative spark for the music but also yielded some interesting song titles. "Sir You Need to Calm Down," "I Own a Building," "Let That Battery Die," and "A Snake Just Bit My Toe" can certainly pique the curiosity of the listener. The exception to Paul's instrumental guitar theme is his poem, "A Herd of Turtles." Paul opted for his best Liverpudlian accent to recite his poem of hope, and inserted some ferocious funk riffs for musical contrast in between.
Guitar fans will notice that Paul's harmonic vocabulary has expanded considerably on 'Behold Electric Guitar.' "I've been studying blues for years now, and that's just a doorway into the larger house that is jazz. There are so many interesting notes there! I love having new sounds to explore."
Paul's invention of the "Slide Magnet" modification to his guitar, has also enabled some new sounds. "I had my repair guy in Portland install a super strong magnet in the lower horn of my guitar. The magnet holds a chromed steel slide in place, so I can grab the slide and put it back at lightning speed. That way I can use the slide when I need it, and get back to my regular playing in a split second. It's fantastic to be able to use this new part of my 'voice' while I'm playing live."
Paul Gilbert – Behold Electric Guitar - Tracklist
1. Havin' It
2. I Own A Building
3. Everywhere That Mary Went
4. Love Is The Saddest Thing
5. Sir You Need To Calm Down
6. Let That Battery Die
7. Blues For Rabbit
8. Every Snare Drum
9. A Snake Just Bit My Toe
10. I Love My Lawnmower
11. A Herd Of Turtles
12. Things Can Walk to You
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