Interview by Steven Rosen
When Steve Lukather stopped working as a studio guitarist over a decade ago, long-time friend and one-time bandmate Michael Landau filled his shoes. Landau was of the same musical midset as Luke, drawing from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the blues. So while Steve was recording and touring with Toto, it was a natural progression for Michael to fill in those studio dates.
Since then he has gone on to become one of the A players, a musician combining the best of both worlds remarkable tone and an infallible sense of always playing the perfect notes. But like most studio players, Landau, too, has always yearned to play and record his own muic. This has been developed under the moniker Burning Water, a quartet which released ist first self-titled CD a little over two years ago and the more recent Mood Elevator recorded in 1994. Several years ago Mike put out his won solo album of jazz tinged guitar music but he does not talk much about it.
In the past few months, he has been working with a new band called The Raging Honkies. They have yet to record.
Michael Landau is a quite one, speaking almost in a whisper and a little reluctant to participate in the media ritual photos, interviews, and that sort of thing. But he is honest and sincere and very self-effacing about his own playing (compliment him on a particular solo and he´ll blush). His playing (imagine Hendrix marrying Stevie Ray Vaughan) is brilliant and his tone awesome (he was the second instrumentalist to work with Bob Bradshaw in developing a workable switching rig for effects). Not to mention, he owns a wonderful guitar collection and in the following conversation which took place at his Pacific Palisades home, you´ll learn more about it and him.
S.R.: There are a lot of guitars here so just start talking, Michael.
M.L.: This is a `68 Fender Strat and I play this with my new band, The Raging Honkies. It has two Vintage Rails in it and I kind of change pickups every week and the back Humbucker is a Lindy Fralin. He´s a pickup maker here in town and just for the record I didn´t rout it out. I bought it that way. (Note: the excessive routing around pickup). It´s been re-fretted, (Jim) Tyler works on my guitars, and he did the frets and put locking Schallers on there. It´s a three-tone sunburst with a tremolo (not shown) and a stock five-way (tone control). And volume, tone, and tone controls.
S.R.: Rosewood neck?
M.L.: Yeah, I prefer them but I do have some blond (maple) necks. And I´ve used this with Burning Water but only live. It´s kind of a new guitar, I´ve only had it for a few months.
S.R.: Talking about the last several months, what have you been working on?
M.L.: Solo-wise, we´ve been putting this new band together (Raging Honkies), writing tunes, and playing gigs around town locally. We´ve recorded some demoes at A&M that Chris Lord-Alge mixed. Abraham Laboriel Jr. (drums), my brother plays bass, and some other guy is in the band.
S.R.: Burning Water has had two records out?
M.L.: Yeah. Burning Water came out in November of `94 in Japan and Mood Elevator.
S.R.: Is it the desire of every studio player to have his own band?
M.L.: When I grew up playing guitar listening to the Beatles and Hendrix and Cream, I didn´t know what a studio guitarist was, I didn´t aspire to be a studio musician. But´s it´s something I fell into and it´s been cool, I´ve played with a lot of great artists. So for me, it´s not like going astray and being in a band.
S.R.: No, I didn´t mean to imply that, I was just wondering.
M.L. And I´m bagging on you. I was in high school bands and I´ve just come back to that.
S.R.: Some of your influences are obvious Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan but it´s hard to pin down everything.
M.L.: I´ve listend to a lot of jazz when I was in my teens, Weather Report, Miles Davis. I love Jaco, Wayne Shorter; Jaco was a big influence. So if that stuff comes through, that´s where it comes from. Jaco was one of my heroes.
S.R.: Yeah, Jaco was a funny bird. Did you guys hook up?
M.L.: Yeah, we met a couple times. One time, Weather Report was recording and I had to play ping pong with Jaco before he´d talk to me. I beat him so that was sort of my trial by fire.
S.R.: Even though he was a bass player, you were able to take things from him as a guitarist?
M.L.: Yeah, musically, and compostion-wise he wrote some amazing things. I was a big fan.
S.R.: So your strange sense of timing and the stranger guitar riffs you play were influenced by Jaco?
M.L.: Yeah. I kind of went through a Mahavishnu Orchestra phase when I was in high school. I used to play that shit and try and make people dance to it at proms. Before I forget, this is 1968 Martin D-28.
S.R.: Are you much of an acoustic player?
M.L.: I kind of am lately. I like it.
S.R.: I couldn´t hear any acoustic guitar on the Burning Water records.
M.L.: There isn´t any, none. But I just did Vonda´s record (Shepard, solo artist and Landau´s fiancee) and it´s mostly acoustic guitar and piano. It´s kind of roots thing. No I haven´t played this (Martin) but on a few sessions, I played it live with her (Vonda) quite a bit. I didn´t even play acoustic on James Taylor´s gig (did the recent Taylor tour). He played all the acoustics.
S.R.: Here´s the second of what looks like a bunch of Fenders (Fender cases are stacked all around the livingroom).
M.L.:It´s a `64 Olympic white Fender Strat. This is the guitar I used on Mood Elevator (Burning Water), 90 % of the record. It´s got Lindy Fralin single-coil pickups in it. His pickups are true to single pickups; his thing is doing real true replicas of those old Fender pickups. These are called Woodstock single-coils and they´re a little hotter than normal single-coils, darker and hotter. More like a late-70s Strat as opposed to a 50s Strat. And then he makes the Vintage pickups which are more like a 50s Strat sound.
S.R.: I guess it would be safe to say that you´re a Fender player as opposed to a Gibson player?
M.L.: Yeah. I´ve always played Strats.
S.R.: Was Hendrix the driving force behind that?
M.L.: Probably. My first guitar was a Telly but Strats are so versatile. This is a ´61 black Strat and it´s been re-finished. It´s all stock expect for that and I think it was re-finished at Fender. And it has a rosewood neck but I don´t think I´ve used it on any records. Actually the tuners I think are those staggard Schallers. Oh yeah, going back to that white ´64 Fender, I keep it strung with .O11s through .049s and it´s tuned down Eb so I just designate that guitar for one thing. For sessions, I play in standard tuning and we´ll get to those guitars. This is a ´64 Telly but I think the neck is a `64 and the body is a Schecter.
S.R.: Do you play much Telecaster?
M.L.: Nope, but I just got´ em. I also have a (Fender) `52 which I bought last year. But I knew this one wasn´t a Fender because it was kind of funky and real cheap. And in the back where the strings go through it´s supposed to be inset. And it has Lindy Fralin pickups in it and it sounds good. Blond neck.
S.R.: What string arrangement do you use for the tremolo?
M.L.: I use three.
S.R.: You mentioned you use .011 gauge strings which are a bit heavier than normal (which tend to be .009 or .010).
M.L.: Yeah, I use .010s on standard tuning guitars and the .011s if I tune down. And I´m defenitly into higher action these days and bigger strings. I´ve measured that action and it´s two millimeters at the 12th fret (from neck surface to string). That´s on the G string.
S.R.: So your action has gotton increasingly higher? Why is that?
M.L.: I don´t know. It sounds better and I´ve been experimenting. The guitar rings better and just to try and maybe cop some Stevie Ray Vaughan shit. It definitly makes a difference. The strings aren´t going plink, plink (imitates high tinny sound). This is a (Guild) X160 which I´ve had for six or seven years. Our singer David Frazee played this guitar live with Burning Water. I haven´t really used it on the record but I just thought it was cool.
S.R.: You´re not much of a hollowbody strummer?
M.L. No. I mean I´m kinda into all guitars now but I don´t play all these all the time. It´s still basically just the Strat. But this next one is a ´92 (Gibson) custom shop re-issue. Actually, it´s more like a ´60 because it has the thinner neck; I think the 59s were real fat necks. I can´t afford old ones.
S.R.: Do you play Les Pauls on records much?
M.L.: Yeah, I use this one on sessions a lot for crunch, distorted guitar and for some solos. I used this for a guy named Jamie Walters, an artist on Atlantic. I used it on his album a lot for some solos. Yeah, for sessions I bring this one and two Tyler guitars.
S.R.: Here´s one of the many Fenders.
M.L.: Yeah, a ´62 re-issue, red, with a Tyler neck, and it has two Vintage Rails in the neck and middle position and a Gibson ´57 PAF re-issue (bridge). It´s the re-issue guitar. And it has a Gotoh bridge.
S.R.: Can you hear the difference, say, between a 1961 and a 1962 Strat?
M.L.: The real ones all sound different to me but this one I´ve kind of put together and use with the Raging Honkies live. I don´t like to bring the old ones because we play a lot of shitty clubs.
S.R.: So is there a difference in sound between the vintage guitars and the re-issues?
M.L.: Yeah, and another reason I play this one live is because it has the non-humming pickups which don´t sound as good to me as the single-coil. But the single-coils most of the times are way too noisy in those clubs.
This is a ´63 (Gibson) Firebird. I´ve always kind of been into Johnny Winter but that´s not why I got that. I just wanted a few Gibsons because I didn´t have many. I´ve had it for about five years but I haven´t played it on any recordings or anything.
S.R.: You mentioned earlier about playing in high school bands could you talk a little more about that?
M.L.: I used to play at proms and stuff and at parties, with Luke. There was a little buzz going on about us. The name of the band was Stilllife and Steve Porcaro was kind of the leader of it and actually Jeff Porcaro sat in a couple of times with us. It was a Top 40 band, a cover band.
S.R.: When did the studio work start happening?
M.L.: When I was about 20 or 21. When Toto started, I auditioned for Boz Scaggs because they all stopped doing Boz (Lukather and the Porcaros were Scaggs´ recording/touring band). I did that when I was 19 and I started touring and thas was like joining The Beatles. Because he was huge then, it was right after Silk Degrees. He was played full on packed houses and it´s been downhill ever since.
S.R.: After getting the gig with Boz, didyou feel a sense of confidence? Did you say to yourself, “Yeah, I´m good enough to be a session player?
M.L.: I just started getting called. I started getting them. Lukather was too busy so I did them. But it was rough at first because I wasn´t a reader; I did a movie date and it was a real disaster. I did one and I was really lame and I couldn´t read. It was with a 40-piece orchestra, a documentary on some industrial thins, a full-on classical piece. I blew it! I didn´t play any more movie dates for the rest of my life. But the record dates were always easy to I just kept doing them. This is a ´63 (Gibson ) Country Western. I don´t have that many acoustics but the Martin is the main one I play on sessions. The Martin just sounds great and plays great. I haven´t used this Gibson on any recordings.
S.R.: Is there any single session or certain period where you can look back and say, “That´s the best work I´ve ever done”.
M.L.: Our records, Burning Water and Raging Honkies are the best representations of what I do. But I liked working on the Joni Mitchell records. It´s not like there´s a lot of burning guitar or flashy stuff but I think it´s some real cool music.
S.R.: You mentioned earlier that there´s another Jim Tyler you typically take to sessions; is this it?
M.L.: Yeah, this is like the main one I use. It´s not a maple neck and top and the body isn´t alder or ash. It´s something he calls it southern swamp wood but it has an 1/8th of an inch of maple top like a Les Paul.
S.R.: When people call you up for a session, is this the guitar that they pretty much identify you with?
M.L.: Yeah. Most of these guitars don´t have the bars in them but I do use them a lot. This one is kind of a vintage guitar, it´s foam green with a rosewood neck and it has Lindy Fralin single-coil Woodstock pickups. It´s pretty much stock, volume/tone/tone and a Gotoh bridge. This one has those staggard tuners.
S.R.: So you bring the Tylers to a session but typically you wouldn´t bring any Fenders?
M.L.: Typically not unless somebody requests it.
S.R.: This is different.
M.L.: A (Gretsch) Country gentleman. I don´t know the exact year, somebody told me it was a ´61 and somebody else told me it was a ´68 or ´69. I used to take this to sessions and I used it for funk parts because it has a real twangy sound. I haven´t brought it out in a while but I used it for a Lionel Richie record. It´s got a nice sound. It has those filter-tron pickups in it.
S.R.: Normally, what is your amplifier situation for a session?
M.L.: I use Custom Audio preamp and some outboard effects (see equipment list). I basically have two racks, a lot of shit in one rack and a smaller pedal board I use for the Honkies and Burning Water. For the last Burning Water album (Mood Elevator), I had a different pedal board which was basically a switching system with effects mounted on this board. It had a Voodoo-1 and a Tube Screamer and a Wah-Wah pedal and an old Univibe. It´s like an oversized A/B box: there are three amp outputs that can be programmed to switch on either one or have all three amps on. There´s also a Demeter tremolo on it, I used that on Burning Water. But I´ve since re-vamped it. For sessions, I also bring a 50-watt or 100-watt marshall; I have two plexiglass heads and they´re both stock. They have EL-34´s in them. One of them is a ´67 and one is a ´69 (former is the 100-watt, later the 50-watt). I use those for solos a lot. On Burning Water I used a (Fender) Pro-Reverb for most of it and then the Marshall 100-watt. I´m happy with the sound on this last album. It´s just the Pro-Reverb through a Matchless bottom. I had the amp right next to me so I ran an extension cabinet, a Matchless 2×12, so it matched up with the Pro.
S.R.: It sounds as if you don´t play that loudly in the studio.
M.L.: No, I don´t. It´s just a 40-watt amp cranked up. All the effects I mentioned on that little pedal board are all before the amp so if you plug a Tube Screamer into it before and you have the amp up, it´ll get really dirty.
S.R.: The Wah-Wah is also a big part of your sound. You use it on both Burning Water albums.
M.L.: Yeah. Bradshaw does a little mod to those where he buffers it a little so it doesn´t lose gain when you engage it.
S.R.: Weren´t you one of the first players to work with Bob Bradshaw in developining hese types of pedal boards?
M.L.: Yeah, actually Buzzy Feiten was, he got the first board, and I think I got the second one. We just became friends and started working together. He´s building a lot of cool shit these days he´s building a tremolo box and he´s going to do a re-issue of a univibe.
S.R.: Had you checked out other guitar makers besides Jim Tyler?
M.L.: Well, Tom Andersen makes great guitars but Jim has always worked on my guitars. So when he started building his own we worked together and I just gave him my input and he´s built me a bunch of guitars over the years. They´re great.
S.R.: I´d like to talk about some specific tracks on the records and maybe you could tell us what´s going on. How did you get the sound on “Dream Out, Dream In”? I describe it as a very woody sound, very natural.
M.L.: That was just a 50-watt plexi (Marshall) with an old 4×12. A lot of that is the old 25-watt speakers.
S.R.: A lot of your guitars use different wood maple, alder…can you tell the difference in sound?
M.L.: I think I like alder best. It´s hard because even from guitar to guitar, if they´re all the same type of wood, they can all sound different. I usually go by if it sounds good; I mean I can´t tell the difference between years in guitars. But getting back to “Dream Out, Dream In”, that was a Fender re-issue I don´t have here today, It had Seymour Duncan Classic Stacks pickups. I liked the sound of that track.
S.R.: “Slave To My Passion” had a distinct Hendrix feel to it.
M.L.: Teddy, my brother, wrote that song. Oh, this guitar here is a Dobro, a Zephyr, and it´s not really that old, about six years old. I don´t play it that much and I´ve played it on record. Actually I did play it on one little Bruce Hornsby thing; I tried it but I don´t know if it ever made the record.
S.R.: Here´s the odd Gibson.
M.L.: A Les Paul Jr. that I bought about a year ago. I think it´s about a ´56 or something, sunburst. Stock and I have it set up to open D for slide. I´ve been messing around with that but I haven´t played it on any records yet.
But “Slave To My Passion”, I´m the first person to say I´ve been influenced by Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Beck. And all that comes out in a lot of our stuff.
S.R.: You produce or co-produce all your records. Can you stand back and be honest enough with your playing to know when it´s right?
M.L.: I´m critical to a point but what I´ve heard and read about other guitarists, I definitly don´t work things out before I go in and do solos. I don´t get too anal, if it´s a little fucked up that´s OK with me. I don´t think playing the greatest solo is the point; I think it´s nice to show the non-superhuman side. I mean you hear about Eric Johnson and stuff and that´s great but I don´t have the patience. I am pretty critical though; I´ll do a few of ´em ´til I like it.
S.R.: How much of your soloing is live as opposed to overdubs?
M.L.: Some if it is live on the last record. “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” was live.
S.R.: I´m curious why you picked that Hendrix song to cover?
M.L.: Because it´s obscure and I just always loved it. Our singer sounded good singing it. We tried “Spanish Castle Magic” but it´s been done a lot. I read somewhere recently where it was the second or third song he ever done it blew me away. It´s a pretty fuckin´ deep tune. Getting back to the live thing, “Save Sweet Sister” was live. And this is another Gibson, a ´68 Les Paul Gold Top. It has PAF´s in it and the rest is pretty much stock. I bring this to sessions too sometimes; I played it on that guy, Jamie Walters´ record. I played it on Vonda´s record through a Leslie. This is a ´56 (Gretsch) Duo Jet. I used this on Curtis Stigers record which isn´t out yet. That´s the only session I used it on.
S.R.: How does a session typically work in terms of guitar selection? Will you just bring the standby guitars or bring an instrument they specifically ask for?
M.L.: It totally varies. Sometimes I´ll get a request for a certain kind of guitar sound. Oh this Stigers record, I just brought some different things just to mix it up a little bit.
S.R.: Have you learned how to use the studio as a tool to improve your guitar sound? That is, is your sound on the Burning Water records better as a result of doing so many sessions?
M.L.: Yeah, and I´m thankful for that. Being able to work in studios, you get to know mics and preamps. Most of it is just experimenting, mic placement. I normally use (Shure) 57´s and sometimes 414´s. I just try and get the best sound that is needed, on my record or for a session. Some people like that processed sound and I know how to get that real easily or straight ahead amp sound. Just from doing it so often.
S.R.: What about “I Herja”. The opening lick is cool because it´s overdriven and yet you can hear all the notes.
M.L.: That´s an Octavia which is mounted on that pedal board we talked about. Tycobrahe. And here is another Gibson, a Les Paul Special double cutaway. I took the pickguard off. It´s all stock except for the bridge which is a Badass bridge with the intonating things. Not on any records. This is a Fender I played live with Burning Water and on the James Taylor tour. I have another re-issue like this but it has a Humbucker in it in the bridge position. The pickups in this are Seymour Duncan Classic Stacks.
S.R.: Is there a big difference in sound between Duncans and the Fralins?
M.L.: Yeah, these (Duncans) are stacked and don´t hum but they don´t sound as good as single coil. This Fender was made in Japan, they make good shit. And that other one, the red one, was made in Japan. I use these a lot live.
S.R.: On “I Wish You Were Mine”; is that the tremolo unit you talked about on the opening lick?
M.L.: That´s the Demeter but I´ve since replaced that with the Custom Audio Tremolo that I like better. Have you heard of this band called the Screaming Blue Messiahs? The guitar player is Bill Carter and I was a big freak of their stuff. They´ve had a few albums out (Elektra) and he was a tremolo nut. Like a Telly and really rude tremolo stuff. I heard it about five years ago and I really loved it. This is another custom guitar made by Don Grosh, a sparkle Telly. I haven´t used this on any records and I´ve only had it for about a year. But I couldn´t resist it.
S.R.: The solo on “Hot Blood” was great it really built. How did that come about?
M.L.: I try to get a whole take. I don´t do much punching. If I like the beginning of a solo or the first half of something, then I´ll punch in. But I think that one was all one pass. That´s just a Tube Screamer and Wah-Wah, a Custom Audio extravaganza. I don´t know what he does to them but they sound good. This is a Tyler 7-string Telly. Not only have I played it on records but I´ve barely touched it. I´ve only had it for about a year or so and I haven´t really had too much time to get into it. It has a standard low B string. No tremolo, Seymour Duncan pickups which I guess are custom wound for a 7-string. And here´s a ´63 Fiesta Red Strat (Fender). I used this one on the first Burning Water album.
S.R.: Is there an ideal Michael Landau guitar tone?
M.L.: No, I wish I could stick to one thing. But I am pretty happy with most of the sounds. Sadly, the guy who engineered that first Burning Water record, Greg Edward, shot himself last week. The main difference in sounds with most of these guitars is just single coil versus Humbuckers. For instance, on “Yes Man”, that´s the re-issue Strat with Humbuckers, that´s what that sound is. That´s more like a Les Paul sound than a Strat.
S.R.: On the last Burning Water album, Mood Elevator, “Brave New World” is track one, side one, so does that in a way set the tone guitar-wise for the rest of the record?
M.L.: Yeah, pretty much. We did that one, that whole record, in about three days. The first Burning Water album were a lot of demos and the recording of that album actually spanned about three years because we were just using demos we loved and fixing them up a little bit three years later. But on the second one I brought my guitars and pedal board and we did it.
S.R.: Is the guitar sound on Mood Elevator better than the first album?
M.L.: Yeah, I think it is. We wanted to do something more cohensive that sounded like a band playing. Before I miss this one, this is an Epiphone Sorrento, a ´63. I play it around the house a lot, it sounds great; it´s got these mini-Humbuckers in them which are brighter than the regular-sized ones. It feeds back pretty easily so you can´t crank it up too loud. I haven´t played it on any records yet.
S.R.: The title track of Mood Elevator was a powerful sound.
M.L.: That´s the ´61 black Strat, the one that was re-finished. Yeah, I like that sound, I did it at my house. The black Strat through a 50-watt Marshall and one 4×12 cabinet. I have a Soundcraft board but API mic-pre´s so I just go straight to tape.
S.R.: Mic preamps are a big part of producing a good guitar sound?
M.L.: Yeah, that´s the part that usually suffers with those cheaper kinds of boards. So basically I was using the board for playback. It´s like having a $300,000 board. Everything is so modular these days that it´s pretty easy to get a good sound. This is another Tyler Classic Strat, Shoreline Gold with a maple neck and Lindy Fralin pickups (Woodstock). This one has a Wilkinson bridge.
S.R.: Do you do anything special to your guitars to keep them in tune?
M.L.: Tyler does certain things and it´s mainly the nut to make sure nothing´s binding. If the bridge is pivoting OK and nothing is getting caught up and the nut is cut right and it´s kind of lubed up a little bit, it stays pretty much in tune. They go out of tune a little but I don´t like those Floyd Roses. No good. I tilt my bridges a littel bit so I can pull up a little on the bar. Like 1/16th of an inch or something from the body.
S.R.: Can you notice any difference in sound with different nut materials? Bone and metal and that type of thing?
M.L.: Not really, I can´t tell. With open strings I try to get it to sound good and if I don´t like the sound of it, I change it.
S.R.: “Can´t Buy My Way Home” is a good example of your right hand very active, very mobile.
M.L.: I kind of learned from playing off Hendrix records and he was definitly a brilliant rhythm player. So that´s where that probably came from very early on. Just trying to learn all that shit.
S.R.: So Hendrix was the main guy for you?
M.L.: Yeah, definitly. When I was growing up, yeah.
S.R.: Did you listen to the other guys, Beck and Clapton and….?
M.L.: A little bit but I was always into Hendrix. You know how you took sides when you were a kid, like ´Hendrix is better than Clapton´. Since then I have appreciated Beck and all those guys.
S.R.: Do you listen to any more contemporary players?
M.L.: Yeah, Bill Carter (Screaming Blue Messiahs) and I love Nirvana. Not so much Green Day, they´re lovely lads, but Nirvana and some Pearl Jam. No one really sticks out. I was a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan.
S.R.: And another Strotocaster?
M.L.: A ´59 maple neck three-tone Sunburst stock Strat as used on James Taylor live recording album. All original and stays in tune; the frets and tuners have been changed and this one also has the staggered tuners on it. That helps it stay in tune a little better.
S.R.: Getting back to “Can´t Buy My Way Home”, the first note of the solo is a long sustained note. How did you do that?
M.L.: We did that album at Conway and I was out in the room with the amps. I did it with headphones on. I was right near the amps and I could pretty well sustain any note. Normally I cut solos in the control room and listen to the music over the speakers. Sometimes the band is milling about when I do solos.
S.R.: Do you take input from them?
M.L.: (laughs). My brother helps out a lot, he´ll say do that one again, that one sucked. Here´s another Strat, a ´69 rosewood, black, and I´m not sure if that´s the original finish. I´ve had that one for about a year or so and it´s stock except for Duncan Classic Stacks.
S.R.: All these guitars have tremolo bars but you don´t use it the same way as, say, Van Halen, might.
M.L.: Right. I do use it a lot for chords and shit.
S.R.: What type of effect are you using on “Watch It Burn”?
M.L.: That´s a Univibe turned up to create a Leslie-type effect. An old Univibe.
S.R.: So does a song evolve, for instance, from messing around with a Strat and a Univibe, and the sound will suggest a certain type of lick or song?
M.L.: Yeah, Carlos (Vega, drums) kind of sparked that one day. He started playing a groove and I started playing that. That was just basically a blues tune, a kind of Stevie Ray Vaughan blues. And the shuffle on “Can`t Buy My Way Home” was a Stevie Ray kind of trip. And this is a ´63 Lake Placid Blue Strat and what they did was shot the color right over a regular ´burst Strat. If they didn´t have a blue one there, they´d paint right over a sunburst. And this is all stock. This one I used for the solo of “Brave New World”. This one is tuned standard with a low D; I leave this one set up like that so for the tunes like “Brave New World” I would use this guitar. I also take the little string tree for the high E and B strings because they bind the strings up. This one has staggard tuners for tuning. I do that on a lot of them (remove the string trees, use staggared tuning assemblies) because it´s a tuning mood I´ve had done on a lot of them.
S.R.: Here´s a rare Gibson.
M.L.: A 1959 dot neck 335. (Landau picks up the guitar and starts playing with it and a brief discussion starts over his picking technique).
S.R.: I noticed just now that you play with four fingers do you use a pick?
M.L.: Yeah, but I use my fingers a lot. If I´m holding the pick with my thumb and first finger, with my thumb I´ll move the pick between my first and second fingers. I hold it about halfway between the fingernail and the base of the finger and it just rests there. And that frees my fingers up to a fingerpicking type of thing.
S.R.: “Killing Time” is a cool sound.
M.L.: That´s the one with the sitar on it. There´s no real solo on that one, I just kind of layered a few guitars.
There´s an Octavia part, the same sound as on “I Herja”. And most of the tune is played with the fingers. The main guitar part is that white Strat with the tremolo and the Fender amp. And some of the real dirty stuff is the Marshall. I just kind of layered stuff on that one.
S.R.: Do you tend to layer guitar parts?
M.L.: No, usually not. Usually I just do one overdub at most. When I do rhythm guitars, it´s just one track, live. Oh, and this is the sitar, a replica of that Coral sitar, only it plays in tune. This is made by Jerry Jones and I only used it on that one small part on “Killing Time” and I used it on Vonda´s record. I just thought it would sound good on that song and we tried it. I mean I didn´t write the song around this sound, with this sound in mind. Generally, there´s not a lot of overdubbing. I don´t think I used any acoustics on this album. This is another Jerry Jones guitar, a copy of a Danelectro. I haven´t used this on anything.
S.R.: The vocalist in Burning Water plays rhythm?
M.L.: Yeah, he plays guitar on “Mood Elevator” and he played on the first record on a couple of songs. “Slave To My Passion” and “Yes Man” I think.
S.R.: Live, do you like playing with a second guitar?
M.L.: (waits a moment before answering). Yeah, it´s OK, he does a lot of tremolo stuff live. So it works out good. I usually try and do both parts (rhythm and solo) but we usually drown him out so…It´s a prop thing! This is a Ferrington baritone acoustic/electric. I used that on that solo record I did, Tales From The Buge, on a song called “Judy” . I just did the one solo record in ´90.
S.R.: How different is a solo as opposed to a group effort like Burning Water?
M.L.: It´s not that different. The solo record was all instrumental and I guess, it was different. It was definitly different. It was more jazzy, freaky jazz Weather Report kind of music.
S.R.: So there are really two distinct sides of your music personality that edgy jazz thing and the more vocal side?
M.L.: Yeah, that blues thing. With this new band, it´s all kind of in there (Raging Honkies). There´s a little bit of everything in that band. That one is a ´56 Les Paul Special, all original with a TV finish. And this is a Hector Pimental gut string. I use that for sessions when I need a gut string. It´s more a classical guitar sound. I use fingers mostly with that. I mic it pretty much the same way as the steel-string acoustics, a condenser mic about 6 or 8″ away, Pretty straight ahead.
S.R.: So what are you working on at the moment?
M.L.: The Raging Honkies album which should be out in the next month or so. And some miscellaneous sessions here and there.
S.R.: Do you still actively pursue the session work?
M.L.: I only turn it down if it´s a person I don´t like. I just try and find the time for my band but I won´t turn down a date just to turn it down. But if we have a gig, I will turn down a session.
S.R.: When you look back at your body of work, do you feel good about what you´ve done?
M.L.: Some of it, yeah, but yes and no. Some of it was just basically what was necessary for the pocket and maybe I wasn´t particularly a fan of the music or the artist but it was a job. On some projects, they still want to play certain parts and certain sounds and on others it´s free reign to do whatever I want.
S.R.: Were people like Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour contemporaries when you started in the studio?
M.L.: No, I was right after those guys. I was working with Lukather and Dean Parks who has always been doing it. I still work with Paul Jackson a lot and David Williams and Dann Huff; I worked with Mike Thompson once in a while.
S.R.: Tim Pierce?
M.L.: I haven´t worked with Tim but he´s a great player, I like him a lot. I haven´t heard his new album but I heard it´s really cool (Guitarland on PRA Records). He´s a good dude.
S.R.: At a point in time, would you like to do another all-instrumental guitar record?
M.L.: Most of our records have so much guitar on them anyways, but I would maybe like doing an instrumental record?
S.R.: Keyboards are conspicuously absent from your records.
M.L.: I like piano, jazz piano, but I don´t like synths. I would maybe do that on an instrumental record.
S.R.: How would you characterize the state of guitar playing?
M.L.: I don´t know if it´s exciting for the fact that no one is doing a whole lot of new stuff. Including me. One good thing that is healthy is that a lot of young players are forming their own bands and putting their own records out and that whole do-it-yourself trip is great. There are a lot of people playing now who maybe wouldn´t have started playing ten years ago or five years ago even. With all the disco shit and Whitney Houston. It´s more open now and it´s a lot better.
S.R.: Did you know that you´d be doing this years later when you first standard?
M.L.: Yeah, I just wish I had started a lot sooner. Started my own band.
S.R.: Talking about people who have started their own bands, do you still stay in contact with people like Steve Lukather?
M.L.: Yeah, we´ve been best friends since the age of 13. I remember when he was 14 and I was 13 he was riding his bike and he had a t-shirt on that said, “Born to Raise Hell”. And he was riding into trashcans and knocking them over. That was it and he hasn´t changed a bit. He´s more crazy now than ever. He´s one of the sweetest persons I´ve ever met.
S.R.: In general then you´re happy with the direction your career has gone in?
M.L.: Yeah. I just wish we could tour more and play more. But it´s hard to play around town with any consistency and try and get people to come out.
S.R.: Are you a better guitarist now than you were five years ago?
M.L.: I am different. I´m not as technically conscious as I was but I´ve replaced it with other things. Trying to get down to the core, more meat.
S.R.: What is it that people want when they call you for a session as opposed to someone like Tim Pierce?
M.L.: It´s the sound, I consistently have a good sound. I try and come up with good parts.
S.R.: Do you save your best playing for your own records?
M.L.: No, I try and play and come up with stuff as best I can.
Michael Landau & Raging Honkies Part 2
Interview by Steven Rosen
Raging Honkies is the newest incarnation of Michael Landau´s Burning Water project. In this trio format, he explores the outer limits of the guitar and for the first time we hear the studio rat singing his heart out. Rounded out by brother Teddy on bass and Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums (son of the great bassist), the band borrows from Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan but the songs and lyrics are uniquely their own.
The debut Album titled We Are The Best Band (they have a cutting sense of humor) combines excellent playing with true feel. Landau´s playing here has far more urgency than his work on the Burning Water records though they stand up strongly on their own merits and it wouldn´t be stretching anyone´s imagination to see them teamed with a band like Green Day and Soundgarden. In fact, this is a bridge the group is trying to cross can studio dudes break out ot those preconceived notions and make it in the real touring and recording world.
The three Honkies gathered one evening to talk about this and many other subjects. In a way, they represent the great hope that music played well can find an audience amongst the groups with average chops and maximum image. They don´t take themselves seriously but once people hear the album, they should find themselves directly in the beam of the spotlight.
S.R.: So, a new band, a new day. What happened with Burning Water, or is it still going? What´s the deal?
TEDDY: It wasn´t really like a mutation, it was like more kind of, me and Mike have really always wanted to do this kind of a band. It´s like a trio, just blazing all the time. So, it wasn´t so much like we thought ´let´s do something new´. It´s kind of like what we wanted to do and just finally had the balls to do it I guess.
S.R.: So, musically this isn´t the kind of stuff you could have done with Burning Water?
MIKE: No, this is completely different. We wanted to do a trio.
S.R.: So, you definitely wanted the trio. That was a big part of it?
TEDDY: It´s just a cooler way, it´s just a real cool way to, I don´t know. For the stuff we´ve kind of always been goofing around with, it was a way cool way of expressing ourselves. You know, I mean it´s a blast to play in a trio and not have to worry about fitting certain this or that.
S.R.: So, is the approach any different as a bass player or a guitar player or drummer playing in a trio? Is it more open, is there more room to cover?
ABE: It´s both. It´s a lot more open, but at the same time, it gives us the ability to be, to get a lot more creative with trying to fill not necessarily a void, but making it sound just as full. And uh cause most of the stuff, you know especially most of the stuff on the record was really just done straight live you know.
S.R.: It is?
ABE: Pretty much. I mean like most of it was just like the three of us doing the track, solo at the same time, all that stuff. And then we would do the vocals over that. You know, to try and just really get that kind of a full basic sound, but full nonetheless you know.
S.R.: And most of those tracks were keepers? In other words…
MIKE: Our first demos are four tunes, and we did the live, completely live. We did solos and just played the tunes. And then I sang them, sang on them afterwards. And they ended up being the masters.
TEDDY: The second time we ever got together, you know we heard Abe was happening and we tracked him down. We jammed for like an hour or two and then we met like a few days later in a studio, and we still hardly don´t know each other. So, the second time we ever played with him, we cut “The Sun”, which was on the record.
S.R.: “The Sun”?
TEDDY: Yea. In like two or whatever. We played them like twice. I don´t know. There are a couple of other things that aren´t on it.
S.R.: So I mean obviously Hendrix is somebody you listened to? Cream? I mean, do you in any way see yourself as contemporaries of what they were doing? I hear stuff that sounds like you´re just kind of jamming. I realize there´s a chorus and changes and things, but I mean it´s pretty open. Is that part of what you´re trying to do?
ABE: Yea, just playing you know. Not too much over-thinking about it. You know, not trying to get the super radio friendly approach to it. It´s more just you know, just uh getting it to where we can play on it and be comfortable.
TEDDY: We definitely got more into like writng some cool, you know trying to write some cool songs. We´re all totally into that. We´re totally into having really bitchin´ songs, which was like you know Hendrix. I mean he had shit where he could just like blow for ten minutes and it sounded awesome, and then he had a song that was two minutes long. And it was a killer song, no solo, nothing, just a song.
TEDDY: And it was awesome. You know, it was killer. And we´re definitely into that. I mean the first record was pretty, it was basically like we just met and we just like jammed, recorded it, and then it was a record. So it was like really we didn´t spend as much time writing the tunes and all that.
S.R.: You didn´t?
MIKE: We jammed.
S.R.: So, it´s not like you had a pocket full of riffs when you came in? You just kind of really jammed basically?
ABE: Basically, yea. We all kind of had ideas and came in and fucked around a bit.
S.R.: Could we talk a little bit about the tracks themselves? You know, “Don´t Make Me Hate”. It´s track one. Does that kind of set the mood for the record? Do you see things like that?
TEDDY: As far as that, no.
S.R.: What´s it about musically? I´m just trying to get an idea of what´s going on here.
MIKE: I kind of came up with that music and the riff of that one. That´s Abe´s title. And um I like to think that yea, we´re like that. You know, we´re not fucking some hate band you know.
TEDDY: We´re like don´t make us hate, don´t make us hate in a good way. It´s like you know, everything´s good so why make us hate? So why should we hate?
ABE: We´re not so much into the angst rock-n-roll, you know? It´s just about playing really.
S.R.: I understand. So, is that where you differ?
TEDDY: Well we are the best band in here.
S.R.: So, what about sound-wise, sonically as a guitar player. Let´s just start there.
MIKE: Yes sir.
S.R.: Is it a different guitar sound than Burning Water?
MIKE: Um, not maybe so much no.
S.R.: Same basic guitars? I mean the Strat thing?
MIKE: Basic Strat, Fender and Marshall sound, Vox.
S.R.: What´s that stuff we talked about, that same kind of gear? Could you give me kind of the main setup here?
MIKE: Pro Reverb and it´s actually through a Matchless 212 bottom, and then a Marshall 100 watt, 67 Plexi Marshall.
TEDDY: You dog.
MIKE: Superbass II
MIKE: And the effects are like a Voodoo I and a Tube Screamer and a wah-wah. Custom Audio wah-wah.
S.R.: Right. It´s a Custom Audio. Every time it comes to the wah-wah it´s like wow.
ABE: He gets bigger, a fourth member of the band.
MIKE: Yea, it´s really Bob. Bob is basically in the band, but he´s just not here right now. And it´s actually a tremolo box that Bob built, it´s customized tremolo.
S.R.: we talked about that, right.
MIKE: And he now has a Univibe remake, we´ve been trying to use it recently. It´s called a Black Cat Univibe.
S.R.: So, you mix the Fender setup and the Marshall setup. Are they both set up?
MIKE: It´s either one or the other. When we´re doing the tracks live, I would do you know rhythm on the pro Reverb. I just switch. I never use both of them at the same time. And more recently, I´ve been using just Bob´s head. He makes a channel-switching head that I can use.
S.R.: Oh, really?
MIKE: So that´s just, it´s made it easier. We´ve been doing a lot of hurry on, hurry off kind of gigs. So I´ve been taking just his head and a 412. Just kind of do-your-own cartage.
S.R.: I mean the guitar sound was really great.
MIKE: It´s more aggressive I think. I mean you know playing with Abe is just definitely fucking, kicking everyone.
S.R.: So that´is a big difference.
MIKE: You know our jaws dropped when we first started playing with him, the first three seconds we were playing with him you know.
S.R.: So you kind of knew?
MIKE: Yea, I mean it was very obvious, very quick. That´s not to diss anyone else, but you know that´s what we wanted to do. We´ve always wanted to do a trio.
TEDDY: Nice songs, just some good ones you know.
MIKE: You know we kind of threw them together. I had riffs, Teddy had riffs, and now Abe´s writing a bunch of shit. The next record is well, it´s going to be even better.
ABE: Yea, the songs, well we´ve definitely grown as a band. The songs are starting to take more of a shape and really more of a direction. I don´t know what the direction is, but we can tell like when we play ´em live, even the old songs are starting to take that shape.
S.R.: Right. So, when you jammed with these guys, I mean obviously you´ve probably heard this guy play once or twice before, you know?
ABE: When i first moved back to LA, I came back here with a couple of other guys that I was trying to start a band with. We were looking for a guitar player. And I kept saying, ´Man, you know it would be great if you know Mike was into playing in a band´. You know, cause I didn´t even know the Burning Water thing was going on or whatever. And needless to say, the other guys took off nd you know I was bummed, I didn´t have a band. And then when I got a call to do this, it was like ´wow, this is exactly what I´ve been looking for this whole time´. So, it just immediately clicked. We got in there and just went for the throat you know.
TEDDY: It´s weird. You never, you know you should like always try everything, because when we first heard like someone said ´yea, he´s great, he plays great, you´ve gotta check him out, but I hear he´s only doing´, like someone told me when I asked, they said that he was on tour with En Vogue. Okay? And that´s all he wanted to do.
ABE: Was be a session guy.
TEDDY: I was like En Vogue? They said, ´yea, I swear to God, he´s on tour with En Vogue´. I said all right.
ABE: It was a line. They didn´t like me. You forgot the other part of it. I was only good for a day and then they fired me the next day um because they didn´t think I was a good player.
S.R.: Get outta here.
ABE: Okay, here´s the story. They got me to do the gig, right? Now first of all they were looking for a drummer for likea month. They went through like every drummer that lives in Los Angeles. They called me up, I come down and they´re like ´cool, you´ve got the gig´. Next day, we rehearse. They don´t have any music, they don´t have a tape for me to listen to. I don´t know who the hell En Vogue is expect for that stupid song, whatever it´s called. So, they´re like, you know the girls aren´t there and they´re like ´oh don´t worry about it, we´ll just yell out what happens, we´ll yell out the hits´. So I was like this is ridiculous, why don´t you give me a tape and I´ll go home and learn it and rehearse tomorrow. And they go oh no no no, we have to rehearse today. So, needless to say, we go through the whole day and it´s horrible, because they´re yelling ´anticipate the one here´, and that stuff. So, you know I get the tape, I go home, I transcribe all of it, I´m learning the stuff. I go back the next day and thy tell me, the musical director tells me, ´well i played the tape, you know we taped yesterday´s rehearsal and we played it for the firls, and they just don´t think you got it´.
S.R.: They told you that?
ABE: Yea. It was like ´cool see you later!´ I forget man.
ABE: And they ended up hiring the first guy they fired in the first place.
MIKE: Joey take orders? I think that´s him, he always takes orders.
S.R.: Wow, that´s amazing.
ABE: Sorry for that tangent.
TEDDY: We want a long article, so we´re trying to know you.
S.R.: Um, running down your rig.
TEDDY: Basically a Fender Jazz Bass
S.R.: What year?
TEDDY: It´s actually like a reissue that I can speed up, switch pickups in it and stuff; but a Fender Jazz bass and an Ampeg SVT.
TEDDY: Um hmm.
S.R.: Is that what you use? I love those. It´s great, I love it.
TEDDY: Basically that. I have also a bass that Jim Tyler, he made me a bass too, so I have one of those too. It´s basically a Jazz bass, it just looks a little different, but it´s set up exactly like a Jazz bass. Basically just that. You know, a few kooky pedals here and there, but nothing, just try to get a nice, fat brown sound. You know, you´re thinking you´re supposed to play more in a trio when you´re playing bass. But the more I play in a trio, it´s like totally the opposite. At least in this trio. Totally the opposite. It´s like totally the opposite. At least in this trio. Totally the opposite. It´s like you just try to have the fattest sound and try to play the most steady groove, because these guys are just you know I mean.
MIKE: We´re flailing.
TEDDY: Well, Mike´s soloing you know if he´s not, we´re not, you know he´s soloing. I mean that´s just the nature of the instrument. It´s so much more interesting to hear the drums start going totally off while the guitar´s soloing. To me, you know. And having the bass really totally anchored. I mean I love like Band Of Gypsies, it´s like one of my favorite albums. And the more out there the solos get and shit, the bass is just totally pumping. I just, I get into that you know.
S.R.: So in that respect, I mean this band is a lot more like a Hendrix band than like Cream were. It´s kind of like the opposite?
TEDDY: I don´t know, I mean we´re totally, I mean we love Nirvana, we´re a trio. We´re totally into that. I mean they have like great songs and so that´s almost as much as what we´re trying to do. It´s not like we´re trying for anything, just bitchin´ songs. We repeat the format, where a guy sings and plays guitar. And there´s a drummer and bass player. We´re not a bunch of crap with all this fluff.
ABE: We´re just a punk blues band.
S.R.: So there is a space out there for Raging Honkies next to Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins?
MIKE: That´s what we hope.
TEDDY: I would think. I mean I don´t know. I mean you know, who knows.
ABE: I see these guys play and I don´t know.
TEDDY: I mean I wish honestly there was a gig and they put us on with Green Day. Green Day, the Raging Honkies, Smashing Pumpkins and whoever else you know. There´s definitely some great bands. But I´d like to be playing out, so people could hear our shit. I mean the way we play live is a lot different than the album, because we take it out there. It´s very cool.
MIKE: Basically, these people won´t let us play because they´re afraid of us. Because we´re the best band.
TEDDY: Yea. I mean we´ve had opportunities to open for some of these bands, and it´s like. Is it the truth?
ABE & MIKE: Yes
ABE: Bands like Alice In Chains and stuff like that.
S.R.: No kidding?
TEDDY: And I´m a fan of theirs man. I love them, I think they´re a great band.
MIKE: And they´re like ´oh they´re too good to open for us man´. You know.
S.R.: Wow, that´s kind of a slap in the face.
MIKE: Even Lukey won´t let us open up for them. There´s too much equipment on stage when they play, so they don´t like switching.
S.R.: That´s interesting.
TEDDY: It´s hard. Don´t you think?
S.R.: Oh absolutely.
TEDDY: You won´t see us out on some Lollapalooza tour in summer.
S.R.: We were talking about it earlier you know and I said wow man it´s like…
ABE: But you know there´s going to be a Lollapalooza in Europe. Can we get on that?
MIKE: Let me talk to Lon (Cohen, their manager back then)
TEDDY: He can rent us an amp for the tour.
MIKE: We´ve got a weird thing going because of the studio kind of thing, I mean I´m not usually the one to bring this up. But this is like what we grew up playing. This style of music and this is what you know I am and Teddy is and Abe is more than anything else. And we´ve done sessions to eat, yea, to pay our bills. And that´s cool, but I mean it´s either people think we´re, it´s like yea like were saying like they don´t want us to open up for them because they´re afraid or whatever. Or it´s like oh no, you guys are just a studio band.
TEDDY: That´s always when they see us, they see us and they don´t have any idea who we are and they´ll say ´I saw some band play, what the fuck was going on´? You know. They think you crawled out from under some log or something.
MIKE: The guy from Alice in Chains was telling Luke one day, ´I saw this dude, this 19-yr-old dude, Mike Landau. This new guy Mike Landau. And it was a killer band´. We were just fucking cracking up you know? It´s like people don´t know me that well you know. People who buy fucking whatever.
S.R.: You think maybe that´s why, and I don´t know the answer but maybe that´s why Europe grasps you into their bosom more than America does because maybe you´re not as well known over there as studio guys, and it´s more like…
MIKE: Bad guys?
ABE: Well we´re really not known here as studio guys you know. Especially this generation doesn´t sit there and read an album cover and say oh wow Abe Laboriel played drums on that track. That´s a different generation where people would buy the record and like, that´s the first thing you´d go to while you´re playing the record. It´s like wow who played on these tracks?
S.R.: Right, exactly.
ABE: You know?
MIKE: It´s helped us to get gigs overseas, but they don´t have like a thing about where oh because you played on this record you must be a fucking fart you know. Yea, it´s here.
TEDDY: It´s a Catch 22 sometimes, cause they´ll say, they won´t even listen to it and they´ll say ´oh you played on that? Oh really´. And then they´ll book our band with some like pop or whatever, just some wrong thing. And then we play and they´re all ´oh God we should have had you playing with Green Day last weekend with the thing and the deal´, and it´s like great. But you know whatever, you go and play and eat shit for a while just like everyone else.
MIKE: We´re just here to pay our dues.
S.R.: So, you mentioned the SVT´s, so the cabinets are just miked? Were you going direct?
TEDDY: Yea, both. Mix both to get a nice little sound.
S.R.: Of Course, Chris Lord-Alge, obviously you worked with him before?
MIKE: Not that much.
S.R.: Oh really?
MIKE: No. He came in the last minute. He came in and saw the old band and was a fan.
ABE: I´d never met him.
S.R.: Oh really?
ABE: And he dug it, cause he´s like the fucking Strat gig.
TEDDY: He´s the full guitar freak hero. I mean he is like the full guitarist.
MIKE: He hadn´t even heard the Honkies, and he said ´I´ve worked with them once´, after the Patty Smyth thing and he said, ´Anytime you´ve got something to mix, bring it down and then I´ll do it´. And so I called him up a couple days later, we had these tapes lying around. And he just mixed them.
TEDDY: Yea, he wants to do another record. He mixed it like so fast.
ABE: A whole song in an hour or something.
TEDDY: A whole album in nine hours.
S.R.: Get outta here.
ABE: No man for real.
TEDDY: He would do a song and go bam bam bam. He´s hardcore. We wish we could have started from scratch and done everything. He didn´t track everything. He pieced together what was done. You know, we´d get free time here and there, where we would just go record. Ended up we put out a record.
S.R.: Right. And where was this recorded Mike?
MIKE: A & M. Can we say that, Yea, I´d like to say that we did it for free at A & M, all the basic tracks. And now we´re selling the record for a profit. And we´re dividing it up ourselves. We´ve made 30 dollars each so far.
TEDDY: They made us wait, cause we went there for free. And they said that we had to wait until they cleared it, they get their tracks first. And it was like a couple weeks went by and no one even wanted to listen to it. So they just said go and do whatever you want. And then they end up in the meantime…
ABE: Well because it has to pass through them, since we did it there, and they have the option to say ´wow this is great, let´s pick it up´.
S.R.: Do they really? I thought A & M Studios were…
TEDDY: Well the engineer that worked there was a great cool guy, this guy Chad.
S.R.: Right. But I thought A & M was just like a studio that happened to be on their lot where a band signed to Polygram could go and record.
TEDDY: No, anyone can record there.
ABE: We did it specifically kind of underneath the A & M conglomerate so they had the first right to appease it.
TEDDY: A guy who works there said you know I´ve got this band I want to record, and he got time in the middle of the night, go in there at 2:00 in the morning and play till daylight. And they said we´ll give you free time, we just need to hear it first and if we like it, we´ll sign it or whatever. And they just didn´t even listen to it.
S.R.: And they didn´t listen to it? After it was done, they didn´t listen to it?
TEDDY: That´s what we heard.
ABE: It just sat around, kicked it around.
MIKE: And the guy who did it, Chad Munsey, was cool you know. He´s trying to get his portfolio or whatever you call it together. So we did it, it was a mutual thing. We´d never worked for them before, it was our first time going in there, so we just did it. I mean it´s cool, it´s definitly a first effort and it´s…
ABE: Yea, I mean we´re proud of it, you know. It´s good.
S.R.: Well that sounds great. That´s very cool. Let´s go through some of these other songs real quickly. “Save Me Some Love?”
ABE: That´s our hit.
S.R.: Yea, seriously?
S.R.: How much singing have you done in the past?
MIKE: I did a little background. No I haven´t really, no.
S.R.: So to keep the trio situation happening it was ncumbent upon you to become a singer?
MIKE: You´ve been telling me for many years.
TEDDY: I´ve been just bugging him. I mean how cool is it to see the guitar player walk out there, play his fucking guitar, and then sing? You know? For a guy who plays like that. I mean there´s a few guys who could pull it off. If you´re some wanker, obviously you´re not going to pull it off.
ABE: I just always thought for the type of, for the way that Mike plays, it´s like it would be perfect. We just play and he´d sing until he felt like not singing anymore, then he could fucking play and sing some more. I thought it was way more interesting.
MIKE: I actually really like it too.
S.R.: You do?
MIKE: Yea, I really do.
TEDDY: Whether you solo like Hendrix or Kurt Cobain, you know you do your thing and you get into it.
S.R.: “What Am I Doing?” Is that the big ballad?
ABE: Yea. The big production ballad, to make allthe girls cry. It´s a love song.
S.R.: It´s got a real serious Hendrix kind of vibe on that one.
MIKE: In the kind of solo thing, but the rest of it´s kind of, I like to think it´s not.
ABE: That was pretty much Mike´s song. We just walked in and played it. It was basically like that, without the rest of us on it.
S.R.: We had mentioned earlier, Abe, that it´s not just all four stuff that you´re doing. There´s kind of symphony, I mean not waltz but…
TEDDY: Oh definitely.
ABE: It´s a different sound to make it a little more interesting. You know actually conceiving on the drum part. Not just sitting back there brainless. I mean I don´t know, I consider it as much of an instrument as what else is going on. So, it´s kind of like trying to think melodically in a way, but keeping the groove and trying to make it sound again fuller. You know, if I just sat there and did that the whole time during the song, it´s like, you know, bedtime by that point. It´s just something to give it movement and what not.
S.R.: I mean where do some of your influences lie?
ABE: For me? Specific drummers: Jeff Porcaro, Matt Cameron from Soundgarden, Terry Bozzio. Those are like my three guys who I tend to go back and listen to over and over again.
S.R.: You study those guys.
ABE: Yea, yea exactly. It´s all a different vibe than all the vibes that I dig, and try to stick it all in one.
MIKE: The drummer in Vixen?
ABE: Oh yea. She´s rocking. Great trivia band.
S.R.: I mean obviously you must have picked up stuff from your dad?
ABE: Oh yea. I´d be hanging out in studios and stuff, just hanging out you know. I grew up listening to jazz and then to the Beatles, you know Genesis and all that trip you know. It´s like my record collection is from A to Z of styles. It´s like completely random, but I just love everything.
MIKE: Seeing his dad play, I mean…
S.R.: Oh absolutely.
TEDDY: Have you seen him play, I mean…
S.R.: Oh absolutley.
TEDDY: Have you seen him play live?
S.R.: Many times.
MIKE: There´s a similarity.
TEDDY: You´ve gotta see us!
S.R.: Well, I guess there´s people who I get that sense from musically.
TEDDY: I wanted to play in the band so I can just watch.
S.R.: Can you run down real quick what kind of kit you´re playing?
ABE: Yea, DW. It varies as far as setups. Sometimes I use toms, sometimes I don´t.
S.R.: You don´t use toms?
ABE: Yea sometimes.
S.R.: So it´s just like a snare and cymbal?
ABE: Yea, cymbals and stuff.
S.R.: That´s amazing.
MIKE: I´ve seen him do it.
S.R.: I mean is that something that other drummers do?
ABE: I don´t know really. It´s just something that I like to do to really force the music out of the instrument you know.
S.R.: Do you go back and put in tom fills? Or is the song based around snare and bass?
ABE: I mean I don´t know if any of that is actually on the record, but sometimes live it´s like you know ´I don´t feel like playing toms today´. Basically, it´s a real standard 4-piece kit. It´s like one rack, one floor, 18″ high rats. They´re normally 14″, but I like them real big. I told you guys I´m going to get a 26″ kick drum, that´s going to be my next trip. I love those things! Both heads on?
TEDDY: They sound awesome. They´re hard to play, like they´re hard to get…
ABE: Actually, no. I did this session out in New York man und used them on the whole week. 22″, so it´s like that tall, and it´s with both heads on it. Just digging it. So yea it´s a total Bonham sound, full out, you know wide open. I really dig that kind of a thing. We didn´t have it together to get that going for this record, but it will be very soon. I think very soon on my end, I mean I dig the sounds on it, but there´s definitely things that I…
TEDDY: Yea, this was so, I mean this album is like we literally did it for like a couple thousand dollars as opposed to you know. And that was just to buy the CD´s. I mean any record that´s out there is you know 100 or 200 thousand dollars. We literally did it for nothing.
S.R.: So ideally the next one…
ABE: Just put a little more into it. I mean like we would do three to four songs at a time. You know, sit there and track four songs and we´d like ´okay cool we´ll mess with those´. And then you know maybe go back and do another batch of them. So it´s like always for me anyways it was the same kit, same sound, and just throwing it out there. Luckily, Chad was able to mix it and basically put a great bad-aid on the drum sound, you know. Because he really got into not only sounding big and full, but also to make it fit each song in different ways, which is great. Yea. So he saved my butt big time on this record.
MIKE: Yea, he was griping about the sound, which is cool.
S.R.: Was he really?
ABE: He would like to hear the basics a different way than Chad did. But Chad did a great job.
S.R.: “I´ll Get Away”. Your tune?
MIKE: The music.
S.R.: The way you play, and I don´t know how to describe this, it sounds as if like when you´re playing, it´s like a bluesy thing but it´s almost like you´re bending sharper or flatter. I don´t know how to describe it other than…
MIKE: In my solo?
S.R.: Yea. Well I´ve only heard this tune a couple times so I don´t know exactly what the notes are, but I thought it was an interesting solo. Then you´re bending sharp and flat of where the notes are, I mean not like out of tune whatsoever, but the effect is amazing. Do you know what I mean? It´s almost like that sloopy kind of, it´s not the Steely Dan deal is what I´m saying.
MIKE: That´s kind of more a Beck thing to me.
S.R.: Cool, definitely. Is that where it comes from?
MIKE: Overbends, underbends. Yea, I love that rich sound.
S.R.: Yea, because Teddy and I were talking earlier and he mentioned that Jeff was like one of your main guys.
MIKE: Later on though.
S.R.: Later stuff?
MIKE: No I mean later on in life.
TEDDY: Mike likes his work on cars a lot. Yea I always thought I mean it was like a goffy kind of funk jam I thought, that was kind of like cheesy. That´s what I thought when I played with them. But then the way they both interpreted it, it was totally different. So it´s cool. Yea, it´s almost like a blues thing. When I first started playing it, it was like I heard kind of like a Chili Peppers´ type of funk. Not dumb but cool. The way that Abe plays it and especially the way Mike is playing thythm guitar parts, it´s totally not a lame straight funk thing like every stupid band is trying to play, funk guitar part.
MIKE: It´s a funky guitar part, not a funk part. Like Beck. His fucking playing is funky, not funk. He does it great live, that´s why I´m really into him. I spent many hours.
S.R.: “Don´t Tell Me How To Live”. That´s a tune with no rhythm guitar.
MIKE: No that was live. Live in the recording studio.
S.R.: See, I dig that. I think that stuff is really cool. I think that´s how the band really shows less is more. Especially when you do it live, when It´s real bare, that´s when I think the real personality and character of the players shine through.
MIKE: Totally. When Abe was talking about like playing less drums sometimes, I can totally relate to that, because it forces you to just fucking suck the shit out of the music you know. If you have one fucking amp and a fuzz box, you gotta do other things.
ABE: You can´t rely on your old faithful…
MIKE: You do that automatically. If you have more shit, you´re gonna go ´okay´. Instantly, if I´m playing here, oh I´ve gotta go over here. That will pacify it or whatever.
TEDDY & ABE: Right.
MIKE: I´m sure you like play snare fills and shit if you don´t have any toms; you play these violent fucking snare fills.
S.R.: Right, that´s interesting. Which is maybe why music from that era when those guys didn´t have all the racks and all the tons of mikes, samples and whatever, there wasn´t all that kind of…
ABE: They just stuck to the basics and made that sound just as huge. You know, and for me, it was like then when I go back to play with the toms, it makes me use them in that manner and not just to use them as ´oh cool, I can do this really cool amazing fill´, and it has nothing to do with the song. It´s like ´okay, this works here, so if I do something like that with both sounds, it´s cool´. But it doesn´t really interrupt the flow of it.
S.R.: I remember reading Mick Fleetwood years ago would just play his snare and bass drum part through the whole thing for like “Rumors” and then he´d go back and put in his tom fills, and he´d do his crashes and stuff.
ABE: Copeland did that too, Stewart. He´s another one of my biggest ones.
S.R.: Really? Interesting. Did you see that “Tyson” film on HBO?
TEDDY: I saw it.
ABE: I saw some of it.
S.R.: Well, what I like about that is Stewart Copeland wrote the music for it. But the guitars, I listened to the guitars and like most guys, you know you wait until the credits go by, and I said ´man this has gotta be one of a few guys´. At first, I thought maybe it was you doing it, and Tim Pierce, and you know. Anyway, it was Michael Thompson who I think is a great guitar player. Do you know Michael? I thought it was good what he was doing, it was real simple stuff. It was at the very end. It´s like a gladiator thing. It´s just real simple.
MIKE: It´s real refreshing for a studio guy, you know. He´s great.
S.R.: So, what are the plans at the moment?
MIKE: More tunes. We´ve got a lot of new tunes.
S.R.: So you´re writing?
MIKE: All the time. We have almost enough for another album. We want to play, we want to tour as hard as we can. We´re trying to get to Europe.
S.R.: So I understand that some Magazine will release the CD soon?
ABE: I don´t even understand how that´s working.
MIKE: We put it out on our own little label under a distributor, mail order through a magazine.
S.R.: Are you pleased with what you´ve put together here?
MIKE: Oh yea.
S.R.: It´s a first step?
TEDDY: Yea, we´d like to get out on some tours and shit, but like we said earlier, it´s really bizarre. It´s weird. It´s hard for us too. We can get gigs no problem. Like these little headline gigs at a club or something. But like we want to get out and play for some people, it´s hard.
S.R.: You know obviously nobody can predict what´s coming next. It´s never going to be 1969 or 1975 again. But ideally, it would maybe go from you know being able to have super chops, have great chops with great songs, and then it kind of evolved into the Nirvana thing.
MIKE: With no chops.
S.R.: Now maybe it´s coming back to chops and songs, but attitude and passion. You know maybe it combines things from both sides. Am I making any sense?
TEDDY, MIKE & ABE: Yea.
S.R.: The musician has a chance again, with really good tunes.
Well the whole chops things seems weird. I mean it´s like, yea if
you´re a musician, you should like play your instrument good. But I mean
I don´t know as far as like chops in the 80´s when everyone was like
studying some kind of weird, I mean all of the sudden it was like every
guitar player was crawling out of the woodworks and playing some tired shit that was like who fucking cares?
S.R.: Yea, which went by the waste side. You know?
TEDDY: Yea whatever. But to say to not have chops, I think like guys who you wouldn´t consider technical, to me having chops, to me is that they really play their instrument really bitchin´.
ABE: As far as the consideration of having chops is knowing when not to play, is knowing when to just do tasty stuff so that maybe it´ll stand out. But you know there was a period of time when all these guys were just overplaying and doing all this stuff to the point where it didn´t sound amazing anymore, because it was just this barrage, this onslaught of you know just garbage hitting you day in and day out. And it was like who cares anymore, because there was no real basis to it and no heart, and nothing to set it apart from the core. You know it was all over here, rather than it being like this where it filled the spectrum.
TEDDY: Yea, the chops should be the song. And it´s like ´well let´s put some shitty little song together´, and then
(imitates guitar riff).
MIKE: Playing some riff that I learned today.
TEDDY: On whatever instrument. I mean not only guitar
but everyone. You´ve got all these drum and bass freaks. It´s just
like, then you hear some guy who went through it all and just plays his
bass like funky, jamming, just plays cool. It sounds great. And then
you´ve got some guy over there going (imitates guitar riff), crying because no one will come to his gig anymore, you know? Some guy will play every note on his bass.
S.R.: Okay, cool. Any last comments?
MIKE: See you real soon.
TEDDY & ABE: Yea, se
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