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What was it like growing up in Croatia?
Growing up in the Socialist regime at the time, it was very hard to get a hold of any foreign-made music. I mean, we had a few shops, you could find the Beatles, but that was about as good as it got. If I wanted to buy anything cool like Van Halen I had to figure out how to travel to Italy or Austria.
The way it started with me is, there was a lot of old footage of Deep Purple, you know—they would show old concert films at the local clubs. So it went from that to AC/DC and from AC/DC it went to Eddie Van Halen. And that just blew my mind because Eddie, at that time, had just elevated guitar-playing to the “nth degree” at the time. And that was my first big true influence on the guitar. Anyway, that’s kind of how I got acquainted with all these great guitar players of that era.
So what brought you to America?
Those guys also inspired me to move to The United States of America, which I did back in ’91. It was a really far-fetched idea for any 22 year old to move to LA—even if you're from Wisconsin, that's a big step in your life. In a country like where I was growing up, it was almost like saying “Hey dude, I'm gonna move to the moon.” So I sold all my gear at the time, when I moved here I had like, I don't know, $5000 in my pocket, which was like the most amount of money I’d ever seen in my life, which really wasn’t that much money. But it gave me enough money to come to the American soil, to rent an apartment, to start living and paying for my food. I enrolled into the summer session at Guitar Institute of Technology, which was the easiest way for me to obtain a visa.
Right after I got off the plane, I was featured in a guitar magazine back in ’91, and that was like the first recognition for me. Then, when I signed a deal with Warner Bros, I had basically been two months on American soil. It was just like a dream come true! So everything appeared to be like phenomenal right off the get go. The problem is that a few months later Kurt Cobain came on the scene, and when he did, he single-handedly removed guitar soloing from the mainstream. Since then, for the most part, it did not exist. And soloing only just recently started creeping back in maybe in the past three, four years. And with Guitar Hero, the cool thing to do is to imitate soloing. So I think things are actually as good as they’ve been since 1991.
How did you feel when soloing ended, did you think you needed to switch gears?
No, not really. I never really had any serious thoughts of joining any band or doing any band project. I cannot see myself playing rhythm guitar 90 percent of the song and have maybe my 16 bar solo.
So to me it's irrelevant, I always knew that the size of the guitar following is relatively small, and I always liked to compare that world with boxing. Like you got a champion, and the guy’s making millions of dollars and you’ve got the contender, and that guy gets paid pretty darn good for doing one fight. Then the number five or seven guy on the list is a guy that boxes at a local gym, teaches kids how to box, struggles to get some endorsements so he gets his like free gloves and whatever.
So you can translate that exactly to the shredding instrumental music too, it's exactly the same. You’ve got guys like Satriani and guys like Eric Johnson, but after that all the guys that you may see now in guitar magazines, it's like everybody’s basically struggling to get their acts together, get it across, they're stretching themselves to various other venues, how to make money with music. Whether it's like doing clinics, whether it's writing articles for magazines, whether it's giving private lessons. But that being said, I know I'll be playing guitar until I die, whether I play it in my room or on stage in front of 200, 300, or 500 people.