Photo by John McMurtrie
Do you have to get in a certain mood to do overdubs? It’s a little more scientific than playing in the room with the other guys, right?
Murray: Yeah, it is, but it’s not like you’re in a lab with a white coat on. I go in, I plug straight in, put on a Uni-Vibe or a Distortion +, maybe a flanger, and then I just feel it out. So no, you don’t have to sit down and cross your legs in a lotus position and go, "Ohmmmm.” [Laughs.] It was basically, have a couple of cups of coffee, get some adrenaline going, and then go for it.
Speaking of pedals, Janick, you’re not a big fan.
Gers: To me, they compress the guitar. And plus, it always feels a little bit too easy. I’d rather look for melodies and find other ways of making it interesting rather than just pressing a button. I’ve got no problems with that, although there are certain guitarists who will use pedals as opposed to trying something different. It’s just not for me. I’d rather turn the guitar down, let the amp scream, and change the sound that way. Kind of old fashioned, I suppose.
Smith: Yeah, but you still have racks—delays and all those things are in the racks. As for myself, I like to bring in one thing I haven’t used before per album. A few albums ago I went mad on the Whammy pedal. This time I brought in an Eric Clapton Crossroads pedal—a few settings on that sounded quite good. Sometimes it’s fun to let the sound take you somewhere. You spend a morning messing around with effects and you’ll probably get an idea for a song out of it. I know I do.
Did you use any new amps on the album?
Murray: Yeah. In fact, I started playing through a Fender Super-Sonic 100 2x12—you know, one of those tube amps that sounds absolutely amazing. Colin, my guitar tech, brought in a Victory amp—that was a new thing for me. I used one on the tail end of the album, and it was tremendous—very tubey, very old school.
Smith: I chop and change. When I rejoined the band, I was using an ADA with a power amp. Then I switched to the Marshall JMP-1s, which Janick and Dave were using. And then I thought I’d do something different and I went back to the Marshall heads. It’s a different sound.
Gers: I use Marshalls. The one I was using in the studio wasn’t a standard Marshall amp—it’s been picked around on by Mike Hill and a few other people at Marshall. It’s basically got two 100-watt slaves on it, and it’s got a front-loaded rack. I’m pretty much straight in there. That way, you’ve got more control over it, it doesn’t thin it out. I like to keep it live sounding and real. Then you can just turn your guitar up and down, whatever you want.
Dave, you said “tubey” before. Is that you doing the first solo on “Speed of Light”? That’s got a big tube vibe.
Murray: I think I do the first solo, and Adrian’s playing a lot of the melodies. I’m using the Super-Sonic on that, I think. I have to be honest: I got the album about a month ago, and I’ve played it several times, so I’m still hearing new things that I don’t even remember playing. [Laughs.]
Adrian, I read you were inspired by Eric Johnson for certain parts on “Speed of Light.” Also, you said that you rediscovered the pentatonic scale, which you use in the song.
Smith: Yeah, years ago I went through a phase where I was trying to figure out Eric Johnson, but I couldn’t even get close. He’s brilliant. Trying to say what I do sounds like Eric Johnson is a bit presumptuous, I think. Joe Bonamassa’s another one—the stuff that comes out of him, those pentatonic runs, is just incredible.
Janick, let me ask you about “Shadows of the Valley,” which you wrote with Steve Harris. There’s some beautiful guitar harmony parts toward the end. Is there a specific way you go about recording those parts?
Gers: When it comes to three-part harmonies, if Adrian is doing the song, he might put them all down himself. If it’s one of mine, I might do all the harmonies myself. Then later on when we come to do the song live, we work out the harmonies between the three of us. It’s whatever’s the simplest, whatever sounds best, really. Other times we might do a three-part harmony with all of us. You never quite know what’s going on.
It’s like the Stones: When you listen to what Keith is doing and what Ronnie’s doing, it doesn’t really matter about the individual parts, because it sounds brilliant. I love that when they ask Ronnie who’s the best guitar player, and he says, “I am.” Then they go and ask Keith and he says, “I bet Ronnie said he is. Well, he’s wrong. No one can beat us when we’re together.” And Keith’s right.
Adrian, the riff to “Death or Glory” is great. How do you know when a riff is just right?
Smith: Yeah, it’s interesting. There’s an intro and then a second main riff—I changed that a bit and made it double-time, because originally it was kind of Thin Lizzy. I made it sound more Maiden. I was just trying to write something that sounded immediate but with a big chorus.
Let’s talk about “Empire of the Clouds.” Guitar-wise, how did you guys wrap your heads around an 18-minute song?
Murray: When we went into the studio, Bruce was playing the melodies on the piano, and we started learning it, just by listening to him. He’d say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got an idea for this bit and that bit.” So basically, when we sat down for the very first bit, I just wrote down a couple of chords and we jammed. It went from there—Bruce playing and us jamming live. We recorded it, because you should always document everything and keep it. You never know when you’ll have a keeper bit. We did the song in sections because, you know, it’s 18 minutes long! [Laughs.]
Smith: We did out parts in bits, and every so often Kevin and Bruce would say, “No, that’s too bluesy. Try it a bit more classical.” It evolved and turned into something pretty great. It was good fun to do.