The Aristocrats, from left to right: Marco Minnemann on drums, Bryan Beller on bass, and Guthrie Govan on guitar.

The Aristocrats’ music requires an extremely high level of musicianship beyond just physical chops. How do you suggest a fan go from, say, picking exercises to being able to handle such complex musical situations?
You might be asking the wrong person because I’m not a shredder who suddenly realized one day, “Oh, hang on—there’s music as well.” Music has always come first for me. Shred is such an ugly word, isn’t it? I play a lot of notes because I’m a skinny, twitchy, blinky, coffee-drinking person, and the music I hear in my head really does contain that many notes. So if people are looking up to me as some kind of shred figure, then to some extent I worry that they might be missing the point. The music has always come first, and then I inject some of my own personality into it. Maybe I play more notes per second than some other people do because that’s who I am.

On “ZZ Top” you play some chromatic fusion-sounding phrases. How do you suggest a rock shredder incorporate more adventurous note choices?
I would say listening to music is really the key. Before you try to introduce any new elements into your playing, it’s important that you have a feel for those elements and actually like them. I think things start to go wrong if a shred kid who listens to metal all the time decides that they’re going to start using jazz elements or chromatic elements because they read somewhere on the internet that that’s what you’re supposed to do. I think the main thing is to listen to music that incorporates these elements and develop an ear for them. That way, when you learn stuff about chromatic playing, you have more of a concept of where exactly you would apply these things.

“Maybe I play more notes per second than some other people do because that’s who I am.”

Although Bryan wrote “Through the Flower,” your solo’s phrasing and melodic use of fifths remind me of Steve Vai’s playing.
That’s not really a solo part—Bryan wrote it. He didn’t do charts this time. He recorded it to an MP3, and all of that fifths stuff was there on the demo.

Considering Bryan’s long history with Vai, that makes perfect sense.
With that section, Bryan recorded a whole guitar part there, and we had a Skype conversation. I was asking him, “Bryan, how much of this is composed, and how much of this is filler? Because I can’t always tell which phrases I have to replicate because they’re part of the song, and which phrases are just you suggesting a fill or something in between.” So in the intro section, the actual fifths line is composed, and the stuff in between was like “insert fill here.” And then do the fifths again, then insert fill.

If I caught myself deliberately playing something because I wanted it to sound like Steve Vai, I would stop and say, “Let’s do something else.” Steve Vai is fantastic, but we already have one of him. I never really set out to rip off anyone else. In this case, yeah, I can hear how the stacked fifths might remind someone of Steve Vai. It reminds me equally of someone dropping a violin on the floor. It’s a popular interval.

Guthrie Govan's Gear

Guitars
Charvel Guthrie Govan signature model
Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster
Fender Custom Shop cedar-bodied Telecaster

Amps
Victory V100 head, Victory 4x12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers
Victory V50 head and cab
Victory V10 combo
Friedman BE100 old
5-watt Gibson combo

Effects
Xotic Wah
Dunlop Volume X
Boss volume pedal
Providence Anadime Chorus
Xotic Robotalk Envelope Filter
Xotic EP Booster
Boss Blues Driver Waza Craft

Strings and Picks
Rotosound Yellow (.010-.046, but with a .052 as the lowest string for dropped-D tuning, and the Strat had .011s throughout the Tres Cabelleros sessions)
Red Bear Guthrie Govan Big Jazzer (extra heavy)

What are you working on nowadays?
Right now I’m not playing a great deal of guitar.
I’m doing a lot of programming.

Programming music?
Yeah.

What kind of stuff?
I’ll let you know when it’s all finished. I’ll share a little observation with you: There’s a guy I went to school with called Tom Jenkinson. He now makes electronic music under the pseudonym Squarepusher. It’s really complex, bewildering, challenging electronic music somewhere between Weather Report and Aphex Twin, I guess. We get together every now and then, have a beer, and
just talk about our respective musical worlds. Something I always find fascinating about him is how quickly he can work. You listen to the results, and there’s some really in-depth, involved programming. I think to myself, “If I tried to program
something like that, it would take me a week just to program the first 10 seconds of it.” And by the time you’ve done that, you’ve forgotten what that initial seed of inspiration was. I would say to him, “How do you do this stuff so quickly?” You know, he’ll make a track in a day. He said it’s like any other instrument. It’s possible to attain virtuosity in programming as well. He’s thinking of the
computer or sequencer as another kind of instrument, and that stuck in my head. So in terms of writing music or being able to produce a demo of something while the idea is still hot, how quickly can you translate non-guitar ideas into a computer? So I guess I’ve been working on that kind of thing.

Let’s talk gear. I assume you primarily used your signature Charvel on Tres Caballeros.
Yes. Mostly the Charvel GG signature model, with guest appearances by two Fender instruments: an American Deluxe Stratocaster on “Kentucky Meat Shower” and “Texas Crazypants,” and a Custom Shop cedar-bodied Telecaster on “Stupid 7” and “Jack’s Back.”

How about amps?
I used a Victory V50 head and cab, Victory V10 combo, and a smattering of a Friedman BE100. At any given time, two of these three amps were running in parallel—the exact combination and blend varied from track to track. We also mixed in some signal from a very old 5-watt Gibson combo on “Smuggler’s Corridor.”