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Peter Thorn, currently playing with Melissa Etheridge, gathered the group of sidemen for our article.
Peter Thorn: I think that we all switch our gear up out of boredom or necessity, but definitely getting inside and using it to it’s fullest potential comes across in your audition. I don’t know about you guys but I always bring my own rig even if they’re like, “There will be an amp there.” I bring my own stuff and go in there and do my thing. Whenever I go into an audition and go, “Maybe I’ll use this guitar for this song.” That’s kind of what I’ll end up with for the whole tour. I don’t end up switching it up very much. That’ll be it for the next year.
Lyle Workman: That’s generally our domain to figure out. When I was working with Beck he was very specific about things. I had to figure out what he wanted to do and what he wanted to hear. Usually we’re sort left up to our own devices to figure out how we can achieve that. “Can you get a thinner sounding reverb?”
“Now I want a big kinda springy thing.” So I realized I needed to get some kind of modeling thing, but I achieved it with a little Boss pedal. But that’s where it comes from. An artist says I want something and we’re left to figure out how to make that happen.
I’m wondering if there’s ever a case when you show up for an audition because they liked something you did, but showed up with a completely different sound than they were expecting.
Jon Button: I don’t think we necessarily get called because we do a very specific thing. We get called because we can kinda do a lot of things.
Peter Thorn: I think that everyone would agree that 90 percent is in our hands. All of the guys in this room could grab that pedalboard, go to a gig with whatever, and the way they turn the knobs on the amp, and play the guitar, they’d be fine. We’d make it work.
Eric Schermerhorn: Most of it is in your hands, your head, and your heart.
Frank Simes: At the Mick Jagger audition he had a 100-watt Marshall head. He said, “Plug into that.”
Peter Thorn: Which is good because you have to deliver.
Frank Simes: It was a Tele into a Marshall. “Turn it up!” That was it. There were 650 candidates for that Mick Jagger guitar gig.
You guys have an edge that makes you more successful than the guy who didn’t get the gig. What’s the ace up your sleeve?
Eric Schermerhorn: I think it’s a psychological thing because you have to go in and not be nervous, but you’re nervous. We’re all vulnerable because we’re all creative, artistic, sensitive people. At the end of the day you all wanted to be Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, but it didn’t work out because it’s not our era.
Frank Simes: Channeling that nervousness is a talent in itself. Everyone’s nervous. You’re put on the spot. You’re under high pressure. You have to put that energy into your performance.
Eric Schermerhorn: The thing that you hate about your playing, (because everyone has issues about their playing) is sometimes what defines what other people see in you as being different. The shit that you’re trying to overcome is going to make you sound different than other people. Right? The thing that bugs you about your own playing is kinda like, “Whoa! That’s Steve! I can tell that’s him!”
Steve Stevens: I’m the musical director for Billy Idol and every tour there are different musicians. The one thing I always dig is the guy who will tell me he’s having a problem with something, or he’ll be honest rather than bullshit his way through it, or tell me he’s got it covered. It’s better to be honest.
Brian Ray: If it’s an audition, confidence comes from preparedness. You gotta know your stuff before you go in. There’s a little bit of acting too. You know you’re going to be nervous but if you can kind of act as if, “I got this. You’re covered. I have you covered here in the guitar area for this next twenty minute audition. I learned my stuff.” It just projects some confidence. That’s what they’re looking for. They want to know you got it covered.
You don’t want them to worry about you.
Brian Ray: Exactly.
Peter Thorn: You want to make them feel like they could walk out on stage with you right now, play a show, and it would be cool.
Steve Stevens: It would be a short show, but they could trust you.
Peter Thorn: It borders on almost an obsession for me. I don’t know if it’s a healthy one, but I love to prepare so much, and make sure that I go in there and have my game face on. Getting the gig is almost like a really crazy challenge that I almost look forward to. It’s weird.
Frank Simes: Is it almost like picking up women?
Peter Thorn: It’s very similar.
Frank Simes: It’s about the conquest.
Peter Thorn: It’s true.
Frank Simes: Let me say this about Mick Jagger. He didn’t send me a CD or a tape. It was just go in, plug into this, now listen to this song, learn it now, and play it. He did this about ten times. New song that I never heard. Just play it. You’re on camera and he’s recording it. The guy who went in before you is Steve Farris who’s an incredible guitar player, and the guy behind me is the latest guy with the Chili Peppers, and here’s little ol’ me. “I think I got this song. Let’s do it!” There was no time for preparation.