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Interview: Alex Skolnick - Breaking Barriers

Interview: Alex Skolnick - Breaking Barriers

Skolnick onstage with the Trio for a show with Rodrigo y Gabriela in Paris in April 2010. Photo: Franck Simon.

Do you feel that you are influenced as much by your contemporaries as you are more historical players?

Oh yeah. That’s what happens as you get older. You meet people your age or even younger that have developed these skills and taken in their own influences—and in some cases, your influence. That is something I never imagined. Rodrigo y Gabriela, this instrumental supergroup I first saw on Jimmy Kimmel, credits the stuff I did with Testament as an influence on what they do. I had no idea, but that was a huge honor and acknowledgment that I wasn’t so crazy—it really felt so out of left field to be into jazz but be in a speed metal band. Seeing the result of that and the fact that it could influence people like Rodrigo y Gabriela is very gratifying. The stuff they have done has also influenced me.

Is there a specific track on the new album that demonstrates their influence?

“Alone in Brooklyn” has this buildup to a very “rock” section on the nylon-stringed guitar. That is probably something I wouldn’t have thought of if it weren’t for them. I’m not saying I wouldn’t of thought of doing a nylon-stringed guitar piece and having it be ambient, but where it goes is something I thought, “Well, Rod and Gab can do stuff like that, why not me?”

A fair amount of your past albums included jazz arrangements of classic rock and metal tunes. On this album, you included Metallica’s “Fade to Black.” Do you feel you are moving on from that material?

I think we are moving on. That is one of the reasons why I chose that tune. I think the title was appropriate, but also I wanted to do a Metallica tune for a while. It seemed a shame not to do one and it was only a matter of time before someone else did. We are sort of in a period where I could just imagine a younger, competent jazz musician taking on a Metallica tune like “Enter Sandman,” or the song from Mission Impossible. “Fade to Black” is a tune that is unequivocally great. No matter of what period of Metallica you like, it’s a great song that helped make them a supergroup.

What elements do you look for in a song when you go to arrange it?

Mainly, it has a great vocal melody, that’s absolutely memorable and open to interpretation—which is very unusual for speed metal. Interestingly, I don’t think a tune like that would have worked on our first album. During that time, I was really looking for tunes that I could work into traditional arrangements, similar to how Coltrane approached “My Favorite Things.”

Where you thinking more of “How could the Alex Skolnick Trio approach this tune?”

Exactly. At this point, we have found a comfort zone. What could we do with that? Instead of looking specifically at classic jazz from the ’60s, which is mostly what I did with our early stuff, I am looking at modern music.

What modern artists do you look at for inspiration?

I mentioned Esbjörn Svensson’s band e.s.t. earlier. He tragically passed away a couple years ago but is one of my favorite musicians. His band was very innovative and modern, and had the jazz aesthetic, but worked so many different elements into the music. I consider them an influence. Bill Frisell is an influence, but not so much as a guitar player. Even though I love his playing, I never sat down and learned one of his licks. On the other hand, I have transcribed a lot of Scofield and Metheny. I have entire solos from those guys that I have learned but I have never learned a Frisell solo. It would be so difficult. The moods he creates are so amazing, so I was really focused on mood for the Metallica tune. I just thought, “How can we get the most out of this tune and reinterpret the mood?” Just taking the feeling inspired by the original, we can look at it from our vantage point of experienced improvisers.

Alex Skolnick Gearbox

Heritage 575, Heritage Alex Skolnick signature model, Yamaha LJX26C, Yamaha NCX2000R

Budda V40 Series II Superdrive Alex Skolnick Signature model prototype Fender Vibrolux

Dunlop Carbon Copy, Line 6 DL4, A/DA Reissue Flanger, Ibanez Tube Screamer, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Boss DD-20 Giga Delay

All made by D’Addario. Archtop: EHR 360 Halfwounds (.013¬–.056), Solidbody: XL Nickel Wound (.012–.054), Nylon: EJ44, Acoustic: EXP .012s

Dunlop Jazz III Tortex

Monster Cables, Planet Waves
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