Dan McAvinchey oer at Guitar 9 put up an interview with me a few days ago. Thanks Dan!
How cool is this – the badass videographers over at 999lazer used my music in one of their videos recently. In 36 hours it’s hit over 20k views!!! Killer video. Check it out!
I’m sitting in a recording studio in Germany with one of my heavy metal idols, The Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch, and she is singing one of my songs.
The Queen of Metal… singing my song.
It was pretty amazing.
Have you ever met someone you’ve admired your whole life? Sometimes it can be a double edged sword. Fortunately, Doro is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met – she told me loads of stories from her career and how things did and didn’t work out. It was really cool.
In fact, every time I read about someone meeting her, I read exactly the same thing – how awesome she is.
And of course, hanging out in the studio with her, working on the song, hearing her take the lyrics and turn them into a song… it was breath taking. It was like being in a dream.
But… it took me a while to get there.
Many auditions. Several bands. Years of practice. I even got fired from a couple of bands – once for being too ambitious (how is that even a thing? lol) and the second time for not being good enough (fixed that with a few years of practice). I must have spent a year or so trying to find a band to join. Why did none of these bands work out? I was looking for other people to build the dream that I wanted, I was trying to find a short cut.
I used to have this attitude that “I was the lead guitarist. I’ll play the solos”. Ironically, I wasn’t good enough to justify this attitude. In retrospect… it was really arrogant. The folly of youth? The truth was… I didn’t know how to write a song. I was too scared to write a song and have the whole world tell me I sucked as a songwriting.
I mean… really scared. I nearly deleted my album after making it because I was worried that everyone would hate it!
I digress. I had this dream… of making records. But it wasn’t happening. Eventually, I realised that the only way this dream I had was going to come true, was if I busted my ass and built everything that needed to be built, myself.
I had to work, to practice, to learn the skills I needed to learn.
I couldn’t rely on others to fill in the gaps in my ability.
These bands not working out, getting fired, these were all messages, signs that I had a weak point, not just in my playing, but in my character, that I had to work on.
Have you ever found that? The world gives you what looks like an ass kicking… but really it’s a call to arms, to go take the action you need to take.
You only have two options when that happens. Roll over and die in the gutter, or take a stand – for yourself.
The thought of being in yet another band, where we rehearsed but barely did anything, no decisions ever got made, where entire practice sessions got wasted arguing about what cover song we should play, where everyone was too scared to take a real chance on themselves… I couldn’t face that.
The thought of going through that process… again… was awful.
I wanted to make records and play awesome shows. I didn’t want to mess around any more.
One band I got fired from, we got an opportunity to play a sold out show in London. About 1500-2000 people show, as a support for an internationally touring power metal band. One of the support bands had cancelled last minute and the promoter was desperate for someone to fill the slot. I had a friend that knew the promoter… I talked to my friend… and they said they would make the phone call if I wanted.
Awesome. I mean… isn’t this what every band dreams of? That opportunity that comes up to play with bigger bands, to a great audience… ?
At least… that was what I had been dreaming of.
So I call the guys in the band, tell them to take a day off work the next day, we’ll rehearse all day then play the show in the evening. To me, that made sense. I was ready to go. I wanted to get out there and play my guitar. These opportunities don’t happen every day.
Except… they weren’t. They didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to take a day off work.
The band wasn’t ready. Maybe it was because rather than rehearse the set… the band spent the previous rehearsal arguing over a cover song. I suggested we spend rehearsals running the set over and over so we would be ready in case something came up… but apparently playing songs twice was more than enough.
Or maybe the reason the band wasn’t ready was becuase other guitar player turned up to rehearsals with a hangover from an all night cocaine binge…
In retrospect it’s easy to see this band wasn’t going anywhere. But I did really like the music, and like I said… I couldn’t write a song.
Anyway… the day after presenting this gig to the band and pushing to do it… they fired me.
What the hell.
I knew I had to be able to write my own songs rather than rely on other people. That I had to bring my own band together rather than join someone elses. But I still evaded it.
I joined a second band a few months later. After a few rehearsals, they fired me because I couldn’t keep up, my skills weren’t good enough.
I tried to find other bands to join. To be honest, most of them sucked. The bands I found that had good songs, the people (they were cool, don’t get me wrong), but I could see the band wouldn’t go far.
So I started writing my own songs. I learned how to write lyrics. I found people to collaborate with. I practiced, intensely, every day, for hours.
I reached out to people and asked questions. Asked for help. Asked to work together. Some ignored me… some said yes.
But I kept pushing, kept trying.
And eventually it lead to me being in a recording studio, in Germany, with one of my favourite musicians (and one of the most amazing people I’ve met).
So I’m confident that I did the right thing.
And I’m confident that as I keep going, and finding my own weaknesses, there is going to be more awesome experiences on the horizon.
I hope you enjoyed the story. Leave me a comment below.
If you want to hear how I did with learning to write songs, working on my playing and working with the Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch, you can check out the album that started it all here – Impetuous Desire.
“I’m terrified, my legs are shaking from nerves… I can barely move them to use the pedalboard… fuck”
I was at university, playing my second ever gig.
Have you ever had stage fright? I had it. Big time.
But I’ve skipped some stuff. This gig was the second time I played on stage at university. The first time I played on stage was at the freshers week.
(in the UK, when all the new guys start their first year at uni, or “college” as the Yanks call it, it’s called “freshers Week”. Basically, everyone spends a week getting crazy drunk and giving themselves acid burns on their oesophagus)
with the University Band Society. It was an open jam sort of thing. I had my back to the audience and faced the drummer – I had never played facing an audience before! Being on stage was terrifying enough, let alone actually looking at the people I was playing to.
We made up some riffs and improvised over the top, it was pretty fun. It seemed to go ok. I must have played better than I thought I did, because someone asked me to join their band. First week at university and I’m in a band?
He didn’t have to ask twice.
So I join this band, we hang out, I start learning the songs and we have some rehearsals.
And then it came round. The crowning moment in every amateur bands career – The Battle of the Bands.
So we enter the competition and we practice for that. The date gets closer and closer, we submit our stage plan to the people doing stage management… and the nervousness starts to build.
This is probably a good place to mention that, as a child, I had two big phobias:
- Dogs. As a small child, big dogs had a habit of jumping up at me. Terrifying. When you’re only 3 foot tall as a child, a big dog is like a T Rex coming at you. Maybe I read too many books on dinosaurs?
- Stage fright. Even theme park rides were intimidating because other people watched! Once, I was in a school play when I was 8 or so… on the night of the play, I actually locked myself in the toilets and refused to come out – going on stage was too much for me.
I still had a lot of stage fright, but it wasn’t as bad as when I was a kid. Having a big amplifier and a band with me helped a lot. I still get an enormous adrenaline hit before playing live, but it is much better now. So the battle of the bands is getting closer. Eventually.. the night arrives.
The crowd was pretty good, about 100 people or so. Friends, other bands, usual sort of crowd for a university event like this. We had practiced loads for this (well.. you know… once a week… that’s all a band needs to do, right? Have you ever been in a band and asked them to practice more often than this? People totally flip out, it’s pretty funny).
So we get on stage and kick into the first song. And the adrenaline hits my system like a tonne of bricks. I’m absolutely terrified! I can play ok but that is all I am focussed on, I can’t move at all.
In fact, I’m so nervous my legs are twitching! haha! Then the first solo comes round and I have to hit the pedal board to change tones – I barely managed to do so without falling over! But as I hit those first few notes, I hear a cheer come up from the crowd, that sounds like thunder breaking overhead – what a rush!!
I play the solo too fast, end a few bars early (quick note – rather than play a solo in time, I would play it as fast as possible), then wait for the chorus to come round again to join in with the rhythm part.
But – I made it! I was still alive!!
The rest of the show went ok after that. It was a lot of fun.
…and I was hooked. I knew I had to push for the next one. Push myself to the next level with my playing. See if I could learn how to play a solo in time rather than as fast as I possibly could!!
This was the first major experience I had on my journey to being a musician. In a few days, I’ll tell you about the next one.
If you’d like to hear the more recent milestone of that journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, “Impetuous Desire”.
Thank you for being a listener and making it all matter.
As a young guitar player, one of my first “woah that’s insane” moments into what was possible on guitar, was when my guitar teacher started getting me into cool guitar based music. I must have been around 13, 14 or so.
He introduced me to records by Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai; and these three players quickly became my guitar heroes.
I remember hearing Joe Satriani’s “Surfing with the Alien” for the first time, and having my mind blown – I ran to my my mum and dragged her into the living room and said “listen to that, it’s incredible!”
I remember when my guitar teacher got me “Facing the Animal” by Yngwie Malmsteen and I was completely blown away by the tone of his guitar, the clean speed at which he could pick – the lead lines and the riffs were mesmerising.
(Embarrassing story: For the first few months of listening to Yngwie Malmsteen, I called him “Marmsduke”… I get a bit mixed up with names sometimes….)
I remember listening to Steve Vai’s Fire Garden record, and wondering how on Earth he made his guitar make those sounds. The songs on that record were awesome, it’s still one of my favourites.
I just knew that one day, I had to play guitar like those guys.
I always wondered what it would be like to meet these guys… but I never thought that, one day, I would ever play guitar on stage with any of them…
I would day dream about it while I was at school, but I didn’t think it would really happen…
At least, until it did happen… and I found myself playing on stage with Steve Vai.
It was at an event that Steve Vai ran called “Vai Academy”. The idea was that Steve Vai and his band hang out with everyone at a nice hotel for a week. There were talks on different aspects of the music industry – Vai brought in different guest speakers who talked about topics like album production and mixing, to management and publishing deals. All the guest speakers were part of his personal team – his lawyer, his manager, his mixing guy, his guitar tech; it was a fascinating insight into how things ran behind the scenes.
There were also a few different guest guitar players; Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Guthrie Govan and Vernon Reid were there. They each talked and did some jamming with the attendees.
It was pretty cool. I remember seeing the event advertised and just knowing that I had to go. It was being held at Saratoga Springs, New York State. So I go onto the website, re-read the order form 50 times or so, enter my information and press the “buy now” button…
… and I was signed up to goto the event.
I had already bought a ticket for Hellfest Metal Festival that year, which is an awesome heavy metal festival in France. Hellfest ended one day after Vai Academy began… so it looked like I was going to be leaving Hellfest a day early. This around the time I started to write the songs for Impetuous Desire.
The logistics of getting from Hellfest (France) to Vai Academy (USA) were a bit crazy. I road tripped to Hellfest with some friends and took an extra bag in the car. I left the festival a day early, leaving my camping stuff in their car (I would collect it back in the UK a few weeks later). I got a train from Clisson (the small town in France where Hellfest is located) to Nante (the nearest airport), and flew from Nante to Madrid International Airport in Spain – my route was slightly longer than it needed to be so that I could get a cheap flight.
I ‘slept’ on a bench in Madrid airport overnight, and flew the next day to Boston, USA. My connecting flight from Boston to Saratoga Springs was on a tin can inter-state flight… and terrifying!! Every 15 minutes the plane would horrifically lurch in the air, yawing from side to side or dropping a few metres. The pilot flew most of the flight with his knees and didn’t seem too bothered… I held on to the seat in-front of me pretty tightly. The old lady next to me looked slightly amused.
Eventually I arrived at Saratoga Springs, jumped in a taxi to the hotel, checked in, took a shower (I’d been travelling for 48 hours… ), and goto sleep. A comfy bed made a nice change from a campsite in France and a bench in Spain.
At the event, we had lectures / talks during the day, then Vai and his band would jam with everyone (one at a time!) in the evening. They would often stay up until 3am or so to make sure everyone got to jam with them, which was really cool of them.
There were some intimidatingly good players there, but after a couple of days, I managed to pick up the nerve to have a go and play on stage. I figured I wouldn’t get many opportunities like this again, and it might be now or never, so I got up early that day so I could spend 2 hours with my metronome warming up.
The day slowly rolls by, well I say slowly, there were the great talks at the event, but I was finding it hard to focus, knowing that later in the evening… I would be going on stage with Vai… the evening draws closer, and I found myself in the que to get on stage…
And then I did it – 2.5 minutes on stage, playing with a guitar player I had admired for nearly my entire guitar playing life.
The idea was we get on stage, and play a riff, Vai and the band would pick it up pretty quickly and jam on it, we could improvise over the top and then Vai played a bit with you over the riffs, with the band jamming. I modified one of the riffs from the bridge on Tonight, from my record Impetuous Desire, played it to Vai, and his band picked it up pretty fast, so I started to play…
Oh man was I nervous! I think I must have come down with a bad case of “nervous shred syndrome”, because I tried to play every note I could!! When I finished and walked off the stage, I had to sit down because I was shaking so much.
I think I played ok. I played some cool stuff. I didn’t use much note articulation (at that point I didn’t think about or practice that aspect of my playing very much), but it was cool. I had a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did it.
It was the most fun I’d had with my trousers on (at least… at that point… I’ll tell you more about that in a couple of days).
Being there for a few days, I got to get a bit of a feel for who Steve Vai is. He was just a cool guy… I struggle to think of any other way to describe it. He made time for everyone, answered every question. You could tell he was getting very tired towards the end of the events, staying up to 3am each night jamming with everyone who wanted a go, but he kept going. it would have been very easy for him to say “that’s the end for today” and get an early night, but he didn’t, his band and himself just kept going.
As fate would have it, his hotel room was on the same floor as me, and I bumped into him a couple of times in the hallway and stair well. Which was the most bizarre thing…
… can you imagine meeting one of your heroes, someone who inspired the course of events in your life… in a hotel hallway?
Unfortunately, every time I bumped into him, I said exactly the same thing:
Me: “Err…. hey, you’re Steve Vai”
Mr Vai: “…Yes, thank you”
… he would politely smile then walk off to whatever he was doing.
Cue me banging my head against a wall. Talk about being star struck – I think my IQ went negative every time I talked to him!
Still, it was pretty awesome. Playing on stage with him was such a blast.
I made a promise to myself – that would not be the last time Vai and I play on stage together.
I don’t know when the next time will be… but I’m looking forwards to it.
In the meantime, here’s a video of myself and Mr Vai, from that jam session we had, I hope you enjoy it: