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Interview: Alex Skolnick - Breaking Barriers

Interview: Alex Skolnick - Breaking Barriers

The Alex Skolnick Trio: Bassist Nathan Peck, Skolnick, and drummer Matt Zebroski. Photo: Jimmy Hubbard.

How did Nathan Peck join the group?

We had a couple different bass players we worked with before Nathan joined us. Our first recording, Goodbye to Romance: Standards for a New Generation, had a different bass player that we met in school. He moved on to play in an indie rock band, even though he was a great upright player. Nathan moved to New York in the mid ’00s and sat in with us a few times. When our first bass player left, we were in a jam since we had a bunch of gigs lined up. We tried a few different guys from the NY jazz scene but as soon as Nate was available, he started playing with us and it just fit like a glove.

On Veritas, the bass is really featured as a melodic instrument. Was that the idea from the beginning?

As I was getting the material together, I started writing specifically for bowed bass and warned Nathan, “You are playing melodies on this record. Get out your bow.” On our first album, I was really trying to make a classic jazz guitar trio album. It was my first attempt at something like that and many people thought I was crazy. Out of respect as much as anything, I wanted to keep it traditional. Certainly some rules were broken in that I was arranging heavy metal songs—plus there are a couple of moments on the first album with distortion—but other than that it was a very traditional album. I think with each subsequent recording of the trio, we wanted to experiment more. We proved we could do the traditional jazz thing and now we had to explore what we had to offer. I think just opening up to these different ideas— such as the bass playing the melody or playing it along with the guitar— makes it more interesting. We even did a couple things like that with the drums. One example was where the drums play a solo in the middle of the song, instead of the end, which is unusual. I started to look for different ways to be expressive compositionally and I think the upright bass is a big mystery for rock fans. Rock listeners don’t really know much about it. I didn’t really know much about it.

It is such a physical instrument.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s this big, intimidating thing. I love the sonic quality of the upright bass since there are so many possibilities, whether it’s plucked or bowed. I like sharing that with people who wouldn’t normally think that the upright bass is such a cool instrument.

Did you use your Heritage guitar for most of the record?

Yeah, I mostly used my Heritage 575, which is a hollowbody guitar. Though my signature Heritage is a solidbody guitar, which is like having a signature Les Paul made in the original factory. It appears on a couple songs where I used it more for texture. I also used my Yamaha LJX26C acoustic, which is a great guitar. I used that guitar to spice up the Indian-flavored tune, “Bollywood Jam.”

The intro to “Bollywood Jam” has some dirt on it. Did that come from the amp?

That was all out of the Budda Budda V40 Series II Superdrive. Even though it’s the first song on the record, it was the last song we recorded. By that time we already had our “template” tone, which was much cleaner. For that tune, we wanted to go nuts and see what happened—just crank up the amps and jam. The song really didn’t have much of a form at first since it really was just a jam. There are some percussion overdubs and Nate played some piano. We definitely took some liberties as far as overdubbing, and in that sense it ties into the experimenting and getting away from the traditional jazz thing. I would say the majority of the album is the three of us playing live in the studio.

Are there certain albums or musicians that inspire you when it comes to creating a “trio” sound?

As much as I love Bill Frisell’s jazz playing, his Americana albums are my favorite. Albums like Nashville, Disfarmer, and Ghost Town are precious, but you couldn’t do that entirely live. For a rock reference, take a look at ZZ Top. It’s just three guys, but there are more than just three tracks and more than the three instruments on those those classic records. Once we spiced things up with the Yamaha, things really took on this whole world music tone.

There is a heavy Scofield-vibe on “99/09.” Was he a big influence?

It’s deliberately Scofield-inspired. He is one of the most sophisticated jazz guitar players of all time, though there’s a funk element on a lot of his music. I have this great Chet Baker album called You Can’t Go Home Again, and it has Scofield, Michael Brecker and Richie Beirach on keyboards, a guy I studied with at The New School. Parts of it are just straight-up funk and I wanted to have a track where I get to play and be influenced by that.
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