One thing I noticed working with you was the strength of your rhythm playing. How did you develop such a solid feel?
I was really inspired by Keith Richards, but even more so by Pete Townshend. I was such a huge fan when I was a kid, and I used to sit next to the record player and figure out every Who song. What amazed me was the way Townshend did his multiple strums. Playing a lot of Who music really helped develop my right hand, which helped with not only my rhythm technique but my leads, too. I remember also—though I haven’t thought it about in years—I used to hang out with this crazy black dude when I was a kid. I was about 15 and he was 22 or so. We used to play in the veterans hospital on Kingsbridge Avenue in the Bronx. He loved the Stones, and I would go over there with him and a drummer, and he made me play the same song over and over for like half an hour! He’d dance and sing and go crazy to the point where my hand was falling off. We weren’t getting paid. We were just trying to make these guys happy. Since I was the only guitar player, I couldn’t play a lot of lead, so by the end of the set my hands hurt. But I have to thank him for that, because he pushed me and it just made me a stronger, better guitar player.
You brought Anton Fig—who played drums on a lot of your early solo work— back for this album. Does playing with him help you play better?
Ace with his doubleneck tracking “Fractured Quantum.” Photo by Rich Tozzoli.
I met Anton around the time I was putting songs together for my first solo album when I was with Kiss. He had only been in the country for a few years, because he’d grown up in Cape Town, South Africa, and had been around that amazing beat his whole life. Eddie Kramer heard his demos and asked if he wanted to work with me. Ironically, I had another friend, Larry Russell, who also heard Anton play and came to me independently and said he had a great drummer for me. To me, that’s karma, so I jumped at the chance to jam with him. We’ve been close friends ever since. The greatest things about Anton are his fills and the space he leaves. He doesn’t try to fill up everything, and I really like the fact that he plays slightly behind the beat, à la John Bonham. A lot of drummers play on the beat, and when they get excited and the adrenaline is pumping they play ahead of the beat, which gives some songs a nervous feel. I like to have a relaxed feel, and Anton always holds the song back with a solid rhythm. Me and Anton have been playing so long together we almost have this telepathic communication, where I’ll think something and he’ll do it, or I’ll just look at him and he’ll know what I’m thinking. Things come together so quickly, and it’s just a joy to work with him.
You used some of the players in your live band on the record as well, didn’t you?
Yes. When we first started tracking at Schoolhouse Studios, Anthony was a big part of putting this all together. I developed a lot of these songs with him. He’s a real strong bass player and added a lot to these songs, as did Anton Fig. Then we moved up to Ace In The Hole Studios, and it was a whole different mix. Derek Hawkins, who plays guitar with me, helped a lot when we started tracking there. He helped me think through a lot of the parts, and he showed me the dropped-D tuning for “Outer Space.” Derek also did the slide runs on that song, which sound great. He laid down the original bed track of that song and really helped with it. Scot Coogan, who also plays drums with me live, sang background on “Pain in the Neck.” He really helped me with “Sister,” which he also played drums on and sang on. Scotty is more of a live drummer, and he really bought that track up.
Sometimes you liked to track in the control room and sometimes in front of the amps. Why?
Well, you play differently when you’re standing in front of an amp and are bombarded with the sound, especially if it’s loud. It’s great, but sometimes you struggle with hearing the track in the headphones. Actually, sometimes I don’t care if I can hear the track, as long as I can hear the beat. But, most of the solos I chose to track in the control room, because I wanted to hear what was going into the computer. It’s a little less insane, too. There are advantages to standing with the amp, but there are advantages to sitting in the control room, if you know that what you hear through the speakers is the real sound. When you’re out in the room, you’re not exactly sure what the recorded sound will be.
How was it working with different engineers on various parts of the record?
The basic tracks were recorded at my live bassist Anthony Esposito’s Schoolhouse Studios on 27th Street in New York. It’s really live feeling in there, and Jay Messina did those tracks. Working with Jay is always great, because I’ve done so many projects with him, going back to Destroyer and so on. He always adds something with the way he mikes things, and his room miking technique with drums gives you more flexibility when you’re mixing later on. So that was a great way to kick off the album. Then I moved everything up to my studio in New York, which is a different room sound, with different gear and so on. That’s when I started working with you and Alex Salzman and Tim Hatfield. All of you guys added something special. When it came to tracking guitar solos, I thought working with you was probably the most exciting, because when I started playing great solos and getting great sounds it made you excited, which would make me more excited! It was a good marriage there, and you kept pushing me to do more takes. Those were probably some of my best solos. Marty Frederiksen also mixed the record and did some engineering, in addition to playing bass and singing backgrounds on “Fox On The Run.” He really helped the guitar parts breathe better. But everybody did a great job. I learned so much by watching you guys on Pro Tools. It’s the best education I could have gotten. It’s not only a good feeling to be more knowledgeable now, but it also helps me because now when I go into a studio with an engineer I’ve never worked with before, I know whether they’re doing it right or not! When I think about editing, say back with Eddie Kramer and Bob Ezrin, it was all on two-inch tape. We’d have to slice the tape and put it back together to see if it worked. If it wasn’t cut exactly where we wanted, we’d end up with little slices of tape all over the machine. It was such a nightmare. Now, it’s amazing. I really appreciate how great it is to edit with programs like Pro Tools.