Joe Bosso musicradar.com, intro/12
Paul Gilbert talks Vibrato track-by-track
His bold, adverturous new album discussed in full
On October 15th Paul Gilbert will release Vibrato, a wildly entertaining, surprisingly diverse (and wholly cohesive) collection of instrumentals and vocal-based songs that sees the guitar superstar artfully mix blazing rock, delicious funk, stone-cold blues, righteous gospel and shades of jazz into what just might be the artistic triumph of his storied career. (Note: Vibrato was released on 19 September in Japan.)
For the eight studio tracks, Gilbert assembled an ace band that included his wife, Emi, on keyboards, bassist Kelley LeMieux and drum star Thomas Lang. Three live tracks from Gilbert’s 2010 Fuzz tour, covers of Yes’ Roundabout, Muddy Waters’ I Want To Be Loved and AC/DC’s Go Down, see the six-string virtuoso throwing it down with Tony Spinner (guitar, vocals), Craig Martini (bass, vocals) and Jeff Bowders (drums).
Gilbert sat down with MusicRadar to discusses the writing and recording of Vibrato, and on the following pages, he goes in-depth, walking us through the album track-by-track.
What was your agenda in making the record? What did you want it to say that was different from other albums of yours?
“I didn’t have any single large goal making Vibrato, but I had about 25 small ones. Some involved specific sounds, like using an octave pedal or my newly discovered stereo Phase 90 trick. I also wanted to use some of the new chords that I had been working on recently. After 35 years of bone-crushing rock guitar playing, I’m finally starting to get my head out of the harmonic sand and learning how to play over chord changes.
“One of my biggest inspirations came from a quick e-mail exchange with Neal Morse. I mentioned to him that I was getting ready to make a new album and that I was dreading the writing process. In the past, that has always been my least favorite part – I love to play, I love to record. Writing is a chore.
“Neal wrote back and said something like, ‘Writing is my favorite part of the process! I don’t have to worry about playing everything perfectly, and I can just enjoy sketching out new music and ideas.’ Just knowing that one person can enjoy the writing process inspired me a lot. I decided to enjoy it, too. It was a forceful decision, and it worked. I had a really good time.”
Lyrically, there’s a lot of sides to the record, but the spiritual message in Atmosphere On The Moon is striking. Are you a spiritual guy – it seems to have come out in the song.
“In my daily life, I tend to be very literal and unsuperstitious. But music gives me an outlet to be very emotional. I’m very careful with the word ‘spiritual’ because I think it’s often used so loosely that no one knows what anyone means, and alarms start going off in my literal brain. But if being ‘spiritual’ is like being ‘emotional’ but cranked up to 11, then yes, music takes me there all the time.
“Every rock face that I make is connected to those wonderful emotions. Also, I love the contrast in the song between being extremely sincere and cynical at the same time. In the lyrics, I sincerely say, “Ask all the children” to study science in order to install a breathable atmosphere on the moon, so I can get my cantankerous self up there and get away from all the annoying, crazy and violent people on earth.
“Singing this misanthropic message in a big, sincere, gospel-style chorus and a Philadelphia soul chord progression puts a big, giddy smile on my face. I am sincere and cynical all at once, and this song gets it across better than I had hoped. It even has a couple of Barry Manilow-style modulations to really crank up the emotion – and a guitar solo that would singe Barry Manilow’s eyebrows.”
There’s a palpable element of ‘70s funk to a lot of the album. This might surprise some of your shred fans.
“I grew up in the ‘70s, so I even love the music that I didn’t like from that era. I found some YouTube videos of George Duke playing with Billy Cobham and John Scofield, and I liked the vibe and the sound a lot, so I chased after that a bit.
“Also, I’ve just been fascinated with the art of rhythm, space and syncopation lately. Whenever you start using those tools, things tend to get funky. I did some detailed studying of Chaka Khan’s version of Night In Tunisia to give me some new chords to use for my songwriting, as well. Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan were inspirations, too.”
Can you describe the recording process? Also, how did you choose the players?
“As usual, I gave myself a nearly impossible deadline to make the record. My solution was to organize everything – the band, the engineers, the photographer, the album art designer, the mastering – and then write the album as I was recording it. I gave myself a week to write each song, and then I got together with the band every Tuesday to record that song live in my studio.
“We would rehearse it a few times, tweak the arrangement and then go for the ‘real’ takes. Thomas, Kelly and Emi were really fantastic to learn these complex songs so quickly and do some amazing improvising with little or no rehearsal. I did overdub a few guitar solos and most of the vocals, but the majority of the record is live. We even did Enemies (In Jail) live, without a click track!
“This is the first time that I recorded with Thomas Lang. He’s an unbelievable drummer. He does the Rock Drums school at Artistworks, which is the same company where I have my online rock guitar school. I met him through that, and after one quick jam session, I was blown away at how much he listens when he plays.
“If I improvise and start doing any rhythmic theme or accents, he immediately picks up on it and starts supporting me. It really makes me play better, or at least makes me sound like I’m playing better. And Thomas has the rare ability to play a world-class groove, in addition to having his arsenal of face-melting techniques.
“Then there’s Kelly LeMieux, who I’ve toured with before, but this is our first recording together. Kelly plays in the pop/punk band Goldfinger, and he has such good bass tone, energy and instinct. He has tons of technique as well, and it’s just a joy to pull up his bass tracks when mixing. He’s always playing the perfect part with the perfect tone. Those elements are often surprisingly hard to find.
Let’s talk about the enormous contributions of your wife, Emi, who is utterly magnificent. What’s it like collaborating with her?
“Emi has played keyboards here and there on my last few albums, but this is the first time that I’ve really let her loose, and man, she played great. She started playing classical piano when she was three years old, but has been working on jazz, blues and funk for the last few years. She actually improved my ear for those styles a lot because I could listen to her practice.
“Emi always amazes me with her perfect pitch, because she can just play what she hears. I wish I could improvise like that. I’m working on it. Also, she has a really good sense of dynamics and tone. I usually have an idea for the basic keyboard part of a song, but she comes up with variations and really makes it grow.”
What were your main guitars on the album? Any new pieces of gear?
“I used two of my Ibanez Fireman guitars. One is the stock FRM100, the red one. The other is my custom shop Korina prototype Fireman. I also used an Ibanez PGM401 customized with a Wilkinson-Gotoh tremolo, like on the Andy Timmons model, and with Ibanez locking tuners to help the tremolo stay in tune. Plus, I used a vintage Ibanez semi-hollowbody that I bought on e-Bay.
“For pedals, I used an Foxrox Octron quite a bit. Octave pedals work better with a compressor before the input, so I used an Empress Effects compressor. I had an assortment of overdrive pedals – my Majik Box Fuzz Universe, an Ibanez Tube Screamer reissue, an Xotic Effects AC Booster and a Way Huge Green Rhino. I used different pedals depending on the song and my mood.
“At the end of the chain, I used a Lehle P-Split to go into two MXR Phase 90s, with the speed knobs set slightly different from each other. I ran these to two amps for a huge stereo effect.
“The amps were Marshall 2061x and 1987x heads, both running into THD Hot Plates and then into the speakers of two Marshall Vintage Modern 2 x 12 combos.”