The ’80s shred icon opens up about his new industrial-metal trio, the Banishment, trying to avoid old crutches, and seeking out new sounds—including by miking speakers inside ammo boxes and trash cans.
As the lead guitarist of platinum-selling hard rockers Dokken and with his solo group Lynch Mob, George Lynch was one of the most influential and visible guitarists of the 1980s. It's no stretch to say that Lynch played an integral role in defining the sound and aesthetic of the '80s shred guitar hero. He was the first major player to have a line of artist models with ESP Guitars when they initially hit the scene, his charismatic stage presence and look were often copied by hordes of fledgling shredders at the peak of the gunslinger guitarist movement, and his signature instrumental feature, “Mr. Scary," off Dokken's 1987 album, Back for the Attack, is still cited by many as one of the most vital documents of '80s rock guitar.
Unlike many of his peers, who were left rudderless after grunge wholly rearranged the landscape of rock music in the '90s, Lynch has navigated the shifting trends of the post-shred era by fearlessly following his artistic intuition. That intuition, coupled with an open mind and a remarkable passion for the guitar, has seen Lynch explore a wide range of genres and build a staggering body of work as a solo artist and featured guitarist. However, Lynch's latest venture might just be his least expected to date: an electronic-heavy industrial trio called the Banishment, which plunges his formidable guitar chops into the drastically different context of cold, futuristic synths and brutal programmed rhythms.
“Lynch Mob had a specific style and you had to stay true to that," the restless rocker explains. “Anytime we veered away from that or got experimental, people didn't dig it. They were like, “We want 'Wicked Sensation!' So I do all these other projects so I can get away with making different-sounding stuff."
With the Banishment, Lynch has worked closely with producer, electronics, and remixing whiz Joe Haze (ex-Lords of Acid) for over six years. The pair struggled to find the right singer early on—and even recorded some songs with Tommy Victor of Prong and Danzig fame—but finally found the correct voice in Devix Szell.
The trio has been teasing music via an Indiegogo campaign and is anticipating the release of its debut LP soon, but Lynch sounds like he's just enjoying the creative process and describes working with his Banishment cohorts as “liberating." The group's debut single, “Lost Horizon," is a turbulent, angst-ridden stomper that recalls the furious churn and dense layering of '90s industrial, but with Lynch's incendiary guitar riffs at its core. It's an original and surprisingly cohesive sound, not to mention a major departure from anything the guitarist ever released under the Lynch Mob moniker, which he retired last August following what he describes as a social awakening, admitting that the play on his surname was always “problematic," but is now “inexcusable" in its racial undertones.
The last time Premier Guitar spoke with Lynch, he was cruising around North Hollywood, picking up and dropping off gear with some of the most respected names in the business. When he answered our call this time, he was in a similar situation to most of us: working through the monotony of these strange times at home with the help of his guitar. The disarmingly friendly shred hero chatted for hours about the manic, arduous, and inspirational process of crafting the Banishment's exciting new LP, and the killer vintage amps and improvised recording techniques he used in the studio. He also reflected on lessons learned in the court of the tragically departed King of '80s Rock Guitar: Edward Van Halen.
Have you noticed any specific changes in your playing through the pandemic and its isolation? Have you grown as a player?
Believe it or not, I tend to be naturally a bit undisciplined and I find excuses to put off what should be my number one priority—being a guitar player. I feel I have a responsibility to my craft and my gift to maintain my chops, but when it feels like work, I shy away from it, which I think is pretty normal and relatable. The way I look at it is, if the inspiration is there, it's irresponsible to not take advantage of it and I haven't really encountered any writer's block through the pandemic, so I'll keep putting things out. What the pandemic has forced me to do is sit in my studio and play as much as possible, even absent-mindedly, because there isn't much else to do. I think that's a really healthy thing, and something I avoided doing for a big part of my career. I sort of regret that when I look back at some of my playing from back in the day and wonder how I even got semi-famous as a guitar player.
The alone time has been paying off and I feel more confident in my own skin as a player than ever before. I recognize my limitations as a guitarist, but I also realized through this that I have a style, and it's my own style that's genuine and something that I've earned. Also, I feel like I can just play much more honestly now and play things that excite me on an acoustic or an electric straight into an amp, whereas in the '80s, I needed all my crutches, like tons of gain and effects, to feel good about what I was playing. I used to rationalize that by saying “it's all part of my tool kit," but I'd put too much weight on amps, pedals, and processing for making me who I was as a guitarist and there was always a big gap between the version of me that sat down with an acoustic guitar and the version of me that got into a studio with all the bells and whistles. I always felt like that gap made my playing a little disingenuous and wanted to be able to express myself fully by relying on just my hands and my head.
That sounds like a serious breakthrough. On the other side of that, the Banishment places your guitar work in the deliberately sterile and processed context of industrial music to really interesting effect.
It's anything but raw. This project is very processed and I wanted to do something influenced directly by industrial music and embed what I do as a guitarist in that world. I love industrial and I've always listened to bands like Ministry, Prong, Prodigy, Lords of Acid, and Nine Inch Nails. I love machine music where the humanity in it comes from the singer's inflection and attitude. That contrast of a singer that sounds wild and unleashed against music that's extremely locked-in rhythmically and in tune has always been really interesting to me. It's tricky when you see the beauty in and love the energy of a style of music and want to do thatthing because you also have to be true to yourself. While I've definitely been accused of trying to do this before, you can't just wear every single hat in the store. It reminds me of when Garth Brooks tried to be a rock singer out of nowhere with that Chris Gaines record. Loving a style isn't enough to pull it off if it isn't authenticto you. So this project was done with love for that style, but while trying to stay true to myself as a guitarist.
The Banishment's upcoming self-titled LP includes the lead single “Lost Horizon," which starts out with Lynch's lone, unmistakable guitar-riff stamp before launching into industrial programming by Joe Haze and vocals by Devix Szell.
The guitar on the Banishment songs still sounds very much like your work, but not glaringly out of place.
You have to be careful about hating who you are as a player. Everything I have ever done is rooted in rock and blues, and while I've never tried to do a lo-fi Delta blues record or something drastically different, I always try to stretch the boundaries and reach out of my comfort zones through different types of rock music. The truth is, I just can't see myself being happy doing Dokken and Lynch Mob records for the rest of my life. Even when I try to do those records and capture that sound intentionally, it's hard to pull off because that's just not who I am anymore. Those were made with different molecules decades ago. It can seem just as disingenuous to try and make the same record over and over again as the universe changes around you. Unless you're AC/DC, it's really hard to pull off.
What was your point of entry to industrial music? Has that been a sound you've wanted to explore for a long time?
I started listening to stuff that was a little heavier in the '90s and branched out into the industrial stuff then. I was really into the tribal rhythmic element a lot of that music had. It was groove-oriented and had a sexy thing driving it that I just loved. That late-'90s period of industrial really spoke to me, and if you ask me who I'd want to play with if I could play with anybody, my answer would often be Nine Inch Nails. I love the sound of those records, but always imagined what the kind of guitar playing that I do would sound like as a part of it. The guitar on industrial records is often an afterthought and can be really hard to differentiate from the keyboards. I always imagined what Nine Inch Nails might have sounded like if Eddie Van Halen joined the band and that's what I tried to do with the Banishment, though it developed into its own thing. There's always that Zelig effect when you collaborate where it all changes around those characters.
What was the songwriting process like for the Banishment tracks?
The initial process was Haze and I writing and mapping out the music. Haze and I have worked on this project for six years, and the tracks were first written just by riffing and shooting from the hip, then building on it with layering. We spent about a month working every day and it was very productive and really wonderful, but also very intense, and we had this massive amount of material at the end. Eventually, Haze connected with Devix [Szell, vocals] and he fit the project perfectly. Devix is a world-class artist and is deeply, genuinely sincere about everything he does. That guy is consumed by his art and it shows.
Ninety percent of the time, things started with a riff, which was layered by Haze to get the desired effect. One thing that might not immediately jump out at people is there's a lot of guitar on these songs and the guitars are tracked in a very dense way with many different colors and sonic textures, so if you stripped away the synths and programming, there'd still be tons of guitar holding these songs together. I really like the density and the intricacy in the layering of these tracks. There's a lot of colors in there and that depth begs for repeated listens and its production really makes it a piece of art much more so than a typical rock record. I feel so fortunate that we found Devix, because he's such an intense artist and really fits and completes what Haze and I have been trying to do in a wonderful way.