|Few guitarists can burn their sound into your brain like Steve Stevens can. You know his solos, grooves and ray gun effects from a slew of hits. Think Top Gun and suddenly his Grammy-winning anthem is playing in your head note-for-note. Every project he touches – including work with Robert Palmer, Vince Neil, Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell among others, movie soundtracks, prog rock releases, even a flamenco album – are a testament to his ability to put a definitive tonal stamp on a piece of music.
Stevens' hooks are more memorable than the iconic ones Billy Idol threw with his left hand in video after video. His tones have a certain bright, full-body signature to them that is identifiable, yet fitting for the project at hand, regardless of whether he is rocking, backing, complimenting visuals on the silver screen or stirring emotions with nylon strings
Needless to say, we were stoked to hear Stevens’ latest disc, Memory Crash. His first solo effort in eight years, the album delivers the fist-pumping grooves you expect from Stevens while taking you on an expedition of sounds that are a true kick in the ass. The impact comes from his ability to craft sonic textures as well as deliver mind-bending notes and runs.
Due out March 4th, you can preview some tracks at Stevens’ myspace page, but trust us – the way the full-quality CD punches you in the chest and takes you for a ride, this is a record you have to spin in order to fully appreciate.
We recently caught up with our friend to pick his brain about Memory Crash and his gear.
Steve, what have you been up to?
I took about the last eight months to do this record and now that I’m finished, I’m back to doing Billy Idol stuff. We have a new Greatest Hits record coming out that will have four new tracks on it. We head out on tour to support that in June and then there’s an all new Billy Idol record after that.
That’s exciting. Tell me about Memory Crash and the concept behind it.
Well, I was approached by Magna Carta records – and I’m not really that hip on guitar instrumental records, I don’t listen to them a lot – so I said send me some of the things that you’ve done. Obviously that label is known for a lot of that, and they sent me a lot of stuff that was very shreddy.
That's Mike Varney’s thing, right?
Yeah, exactly. So I started thinking about it and you know, as of this year it’s been 40 years for me since I picked up the guitar, so what I thought I’d try to do with this record is hopefully express the stuff that excited me when I was just starting … I started getting really excited about players that made a huge impact on me when I first started. I surrounded myself with as many different guitars, old effects pedals and old amps as I could, and wanted to buck the trend and do a record that expressed a lot of different guitar styles – guitarists that maybe people don’t initially think of when they hear my guitar playing, like David Gilmour.
I started seeing stuff about him playing pedal steel on Dark Side of the Moon so I got on eBay and bought an old pedal steel and learned how to play it, and that kind of dictated the direction of the record. I’ve always felt that the great records that I bought immersed you in something. So I wanted to build a lot of segues and things into the record. You know, I didn’t really care about how long a song was. If it was eight minutes then, that’s cool.
I’d love to know, and I’m sure our readers would too, who some of those players are in addition to Gilmour.
At the time that I started playing, it was the early seventies. That’s when you had all the brilliant prog rock guitar players, like Robert Fripp and Steve Howe, who was just starting, and Brian May came along, so I’d say the majority of them were from the early seventies. Robin Trower. Steve Hackett from Genesis. For those guys it was a different time. Musically, bands were expected to be adventurous and produce concept records. You know, have one song per album side. So, I thought – well, if ever I’m going to do a record like that, now’s the time.
This album is so well-rounded. It’s cool to hear you talk about exploring Gilmour and lap steel and doing all these things, yet you’ve still got your ray gun signature thing happening. It’s a cool mix but I’ve also noticed that as you run the gamut of all these things there’s still a consistency there. It really works.
Yeah, the one thing that really came out in this record is a very strong Hendrix vibe. It’s not something that I planned. When I did [the track called] "Cherry Vanilla," it was like I was just digging on some Hendrix stuff and for me that’s a new thing, having that kind of sound and playing a Strat. That’s certainly not something that I’m known for. For the entire record I tuned down a half step only because a lot of my favorite guitars players did that. I dug the sound of it. It gives the guitars a sort of weight that you don’t get with standard tuning.
It’s cool with that song in particular. It’s such a mean, groovin’ blues. It’s really working. We get to hear you kind of stretch out and get more organic with your playing.
Thanks. You know, I think after 40 years, the one thing that I’ve gotten better at and concentrated on is really developing a great vibrato. And you know, back in the eighties there was no time for vibrato. Everything was about playing 168 bpm and chunking eighth notes. But all of my favorite players, you could identify them just by their vibrato.