Premier Guitar

Interview: Marc Rizzo

March 26, 2009
Marc Rizzo is a busy guy. I won’t be sacrilegious and call him the hardest working man in show business, but his schedule is enough to make you exhausted just thinking about it. While I get bent out of shape simply taking a plane trip to visit my mom, Marc Rizzo’s life consists entirely of traveling around the world with his guitar. As the guitarist for the thrash metal bands Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy who also tours with his own solo projects and does clinics, Rizzo gets serious frequent flyer miles.

Marc’s played on three Soulfly records, Prophecy, Dark Ages and Conquer, and written two solo instrumental albums, Colossal Myopia and The Ultimate Devotion. His other gig, Cavalera Conspiracy, is a side project with Sepultura co-founders Max and Igor Cavalera. The band’s debut record, entitled Inflikted was released in 2008.

When Rizzo takes a break from instigating mayhem in the mosh pit, he likes to kick back and study the masters -- Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Paco De Lucia and Al DiMeola. When he’s not thrashing away on his day gigs doing theatrical jump kicks on stage, Rizzo becomes the neo-classical Shred Master General from Mike Varney’s (Shrapnel Records) stable. His two solo records are the stuff of guitar magazine super licks. We’re talking mind-boggling chops here! His 2007 solo release titled The Ultimate Devotion is a lexicon of high technique shred styles and nose bleeding metal. He mixes it up with a flavorful blend of flamenco and jazz phraseology on various acoustic and electric guitars for spice.

Although his guitar playing and songwriting is primarily rooted in the genre of contemporary metal, Rizzo likes to make quick left turns -- his compositions will give you whiplash. Just when you got strapped in for a brutal metal assault on your synapses, he quickly veers off into the world of jazz, classical and flamenco. It separates him from the pack and gives you a panoramic view of his artistic musical vision. The way he arranges his music allows the heavy compositions to sound even heavier and the delicate nylon string flamenco and classical workouts to really shine. I caught up with Rizzo just before his trip to the 2009 NAMM show.

What’s new?

I’ve got a new solo record I’m working on.

What’s it called?

I don’t know yet [laughing]. I usually wait until I’m done with the music and then look through the dictionary and try to find some cool words.

How much have you recorded so far?

I got about eight songs recorded. I’m going to try to figure out if I’m going to do more because I’m running out of time. I’m leaving for the NAMM show on Wednesday and then I’m home for a week, then I’m off to Europe for like almost three months.

Wow.

I’m almost always on tour between Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy and my solo stuff. We just tour all year around.

How different is the new record from The Ultimate Devotion?

I think it’s going to be a progression. It should be very similar to that, although it seems like this record is more on the acoustic side. I’ve been listening to a lot more jazz guitar players and doing some clean electric guitar things. I’m trying to incorporate a lot more jazz phrasing into the music and key changes and stuff.

You shred with the best of them but what I like about your playing is how you incorporate a bit of flamenco in what you do.
That’s really cool, where did it come from?

A couple years back I really got into listening and playing flamenco. I was really influenced by The Gypsy Kings and Paco De Lucia. That probably just stems from listening to Al DiMeola and tracing back his influences and the Friday Night in San Francisco CD. I think this was all during the era when Nu-metal was big -- ten to twelve years ago. Nobody was really into solos anymore, so I really got into pursing flamenco. It became my outlet for musicianship since nobody was into solos at the time.

Do you play any traditional flamenco repertoire?

Yeah. I really studied hard. Those guys are phenomenal to me. I’m definitely not on their level but I try to memorize some Paco De Lucia pieces and try to incorporate it into my set. I play a little Paco piece here and there between the heavy stuff.

I can hear that influence in your electric playing as well. When’s the next Cavalera Conspiracy record coming out?

We’re talking about doing a new record this year. This summer we’re going to go back to Europe and do all the festivals. It’s going to be back-to-back Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy on the same bill.

Wow, double duty.

Yeah that’s it basically. Two shows in one day. Then come September I think we’ll probably start a new record with Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy.



What’s an average day for you like?

I wake up and usually work out and go to the gym or go for a jog, depending on whatever part of the world I’m in. Then I spend the rest of the day just practicing. I really put a lot of time and effort into practicing and working on new music and memorizing new pieces. Most of my day is just spent playing guitar.

Are you practicing songs on the set list, doing exercises, or working on your own songs?

Usually I work on things that are in the set list with Soulfly or Cavalera Conspiracy and tighten up on things. Either that or I work on learning some of my favorite guitar player’s music. I’m always studying Yngwie Malmsteen, Paco De Lucia or Al DiMeola’s music.

Do you have songwriting sessions where you sit around and try to incorporate that into your music?

Yeah. It’s pretty funny. I like to try to learn their songs, memorize them and then try to incorporate it into what I do. I have a little hand held tape recorder and I like to record my ideas on that. Nothing too high-tech. There are all these gadgets and things for recording at home. I just like the old fashioned way. You just hit record on the tape recorder and you get the idea down. When I get to a studio I’ll record it.

When you practice, do you jam to backing tracks or do you have picking exercises with a metronome?

I spend a lot of time with a metronome. When I first pick up the guitar early in the day I usually start my practice routine with the acoustic guitar. I set the metronome to a certain tempo and work on my picking technique and scales. I play with my fingers in the classical and flamenco style too. I usually do that for a half hour trying to speed it up to get it as fast and tight as I can. Then I work on flamenco pieces. When I’m done with that, which takes about two or three hours, I switch to electric guitar and do the same thing.

After practicing like that you’re probably off to band rehearsal.

I’m usually in a bus or in a dressing room. We try to sound check every day and work on new stuff, but usually I’m on tour. Whatever time we have we try to fit in a jam.

We play the same guitar.

What? A Peavey HP Special?

Yep.

I love that guitar! I’m obsessed with that guitar! I did have the stock pickups in it, which I really like but I just got an endorsement deal with EMG, so I’ve been throwing some EMG pickups in there. It makes it sound even better. I’m using the 81 and the 85.

That thing has an awesome neck.

I love it. Soon as I picked up that guitar I think it made me a better player. I don’t think I’ve ever played a guitar before where I pick it up and I feel so comfortable. Things just come out so much easier when I play that guitar.

Are you still playing through the JSX?

Yes. I’m still using the Peavey JSX head.

Which cab are you using with it?


I use the Peavey JSX 4x12 cab with that. I use a full stack. On my solo tours I use a half stack.

What does your pedalboard look like?

My pedalboard is basically a mish-mash of pedals. I have the Morley Wah pedal, a Boss Digital Delay, a Boss Tuner, a Boss Noise Suppressor and a Digitech Whammy pedal. I usually just go straight into the amp.

You don’t use the effects loop?

Nah, I really don’t. I kinda like the sound of everything going right into the front of the amp.



Do you use a distortion pedal?

No, I don’t use one. With the JSX I get plenty of gain going straight through it. I just go right through the head.

Do you have problems with the delay going straight into the amp when you switch channels?

Nah, I just use a little delay. I don’t use much. I just use it on some of the solos here and there and it seems to be working. I’ve been told it works better going through the effects loop so I’ll have to try that.

No reverb?

No reverb. Our sound guy hooks up a lot of delays and plays with my sound. I like to keep it pretty dry.

Any new guitar players you’re listening to?

I just saw Al DiMeola the other night in New York City. He’s really not a new guy -- I’ve been listening to him for a long time. He’s amazing. I’m actually going to see him again tomorrow. I’m really excited about that. As far as new guys, I love all the new bands out there. They’re all great. Trivium, Shadows Fall, Lamb of God… I’m really impressed with all of them.

Whose CDs do you have in your car?

Right now a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen ]Laughing].

[Laughing] Which CDs?

The new record [Perpetual Flame], which I like a lot. I think his last couple of records have been really amazing. He keeps getting better and better with every record.

Which Yngwie tunes do you whip out to practice with?

After my metronome practice I like to jam along note for note with “Black Star” and “Far Beyond the Sun.” I read an article and he said, “If you learn those two songs, then you’ll have my style down.” I took him up on that and started learning those two songs. I’m going to work on more too.

How do you feel about the last Soulfly record, Conquer?

I liked it. I thought it was definitely a progression for us. Every record seems like we keep going more into a thrash direction and Conquer represents that. I hope we keep going into that direction because we’re all really big fans of old eighties thrash metal bands.

What’s the hardest song to play on your various set lists?

The biggest problem is writing these songs for my solo records and then going back and re-learning all the solos note-for-note. A lot of the stuff is improvised and then a lot of it I write in the studio so I have to go back and re-learn everything. I really try my hardest to get everything note-for-note.

I would probably say right now we’re really working on getting “The Riddle of Steel” [from The Ultimate Devotion] perfect, note-for-note live and it’s just been pretty difficult. It’s such a long song. It’s close to ten minutes long and I really want to play the whole song live. Right now we’re only playing half of it. I recorded it two years ago and then I left for a Soulfly tour, then the Cavalera Conspiracy tour. Then I made the Soulfly record, the Cavalera Conspiracy record and I had to learn all those solos. I’ve been incorporating “The Riddle of Steel” into my solo band recently with a couple of shows I’ve done in the last month. We were only able to get about halfway through it.

That’s one of my favorite tunes off The Ultimate Devotion. Do you compose based on jamming at all?

It’s half and half. A lot of rhythm guitar and chord progressions are written at home. When I come into the studio, some of the solos are improvised. I’ll keep it if I think it’s a good take and I nailed it. I’d say like 50 percent is improvised and the other 50 percent is where I will take the time to work them out while I’m recording them to get them tight.

Are you using any other guitars besides the Peavey HP Special?

On this record I pulled out a 1990 Gibson Les Paul Custom.

A Black Beauty?

Yeah, the Black Beauty. I forgot how much I love that guitar. I haven’t used it in ten years. I pulled it out because I was looking to get some real jazzy clean tones. I’m using it on the record and I’m loving it. It really adds a whole other sound to this record. This record is starting to come off very organic.

Have you bought any new pedals lately?

I’m really not into the whole pedal thing. I just spend a lot of time just practicing and trying to go straight through an amp.

Is there anything on your pedal board that’s indispensable?

The tuner [laughs]. I like to be in tune. I love my Boss Chromatic Tuner. I love it because between songs I can throw it in front of me and right between songs I can tune up right there on the spot. I like the Boss Noise Suppressor too. I like having that because it really cleans up my sound a lot.

Were you happy with the last Cavalera Conspiracy record Inflikted?

That record is probably one of my favorite records of my career. To get to play with Max and his brother Igor for me was just unbelievable. I was a really big Sepultura fan when I was a kid. They were one of my favorite bands ever. For them to reunite after twelve years of not being together and to ask me to be part of that record and the band, was a dream come true. I went into the studio to record that record with that in mind and I knew I really had to step it up. I really do think that record has some of my best guitar solos on it.

For more on Marc, check out myspace.com/marcrizzo.