Paul Gilbert Interview for PlanetMosh, January 2015

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PlanetMosh is celebrating our tenth anniversary in 2015, so to start the year off on a page of good notes, here’s the first Featured Band! And he’s a good ‘un: none other then internationally-acclaimed guitar player and instructor, Mr. Paul Gilbert.

“From platinum album sales and number one chart success as a founding member of Mr. Big, to astonishing the guitar community with new levels of ferocious picking technique with shred-pioneers Racer X, to exploring punk, pop, classical, blues, jazz, and progressive instrumental styles in his solo career, American guitarist Paul Gilbert has recorded a massive amount of stunning guitar music, all while circling the globe to play sold-out arenas from Japan to Jakarta.

Paul’s style stands out for it’s rare combination of accuracy, creativity, and power – all which are balanced with Paul’s sense of humor and pure love of music.

In addition to his solos tours, Paul has also toured with Joe Satriani’s G3, played in a host of tribute concerts with legendary drummer Mike Portnoy, and been integral in the design of his signature Ibanez PGM and Fireman guitars. Paul was the youngest instructor at Hollywood’s Guitar Institute of Technology (now Musicians Institute) at the age of 18, and still finds time to teach there, as well as at his Online Rock Guitar School for Artistworks, and by writing columns for guitar magazines all over the world. The UK’s Guitarist Magazine chose to give Paul the honor of “Solo of the Year” for his song “Atmosphere on the Moon” from his album, Vibrato.”

Anno 2015 marks Gilbert’s 40th anniversary as a guitar player by choice. Partially to celebrate this wonderful occasion, PlanetMosh collaborators David Farrell and Iris North conspired to obtain this brief, warm, and insightful interview from Mr. Gilbert himself. From wildfires to music lovers, from work’s time blur to soothing jazz clarinet, a humble and honest Gilbert waxes poetic. It’s not even just an interview: interrogator Iris and subject Paul played the song title game, instead of a working on business-as-usual set of closing remarks. Peruse, consume, and enjoy!

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2014 was good to you! You have some stories to tell – let’s start with the pyrotechnics! What happened at the Guitarfest in Valparaiso?

Oh man, that was a huge fire. I remember taking a tour of the city during the day, and everything was beautiful. But at night the same places that I had been walking… were on fire! The promoters said that it was still ok to do the show, but after playing for an hour, the venue started to fill with smoke, and the local firemen made us stop. I was worried about getting out safely, but I was fine. I know that many people lost their homes, so I’m so sorry for what happened in that disaster. It certainly was surprising to me. I just came to play guitar!

What motivated you to switch from self-producing your solo material, to enlisting M.I grad Philip Naslund to work on your solo disc, Stone Pushing Uphill Man?

I originally hired Philip to help me with editing videos for my online school, but as we worked together I discovered that he was a really good musician with a great ear. I showed him a couple basic Pro-Tools things, and he soon was good enough at engineering to help me produce the album!

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When the Stone Pushing Uphill Man “to be released on vinyl” announcement was released, the chorus from “Vinyl” floated through my head. It looks like …The Stories We Could Tell is getting a vinyl release too! Some bands have made separate mixes (or prepared other “goodies”) just for the vinyl edition; did Mr. Big, or you, do this?

The mixing is out of my hands. I put my effort into playing guitar and writing songs. I have a lot of hearing loss, so I don’t really trust myself when it comes to mixing. I think vinyl is a great format though. That’s what I grew up with.

How did you end up on Nick Johnston, Jacky Vincent, and Adam Malicki‘s releases, and how do you get studio work like that?

They are all great guitar players, and they just contacted me and asked if they could hire me for a session. I’m hoping that AC/DC will contact me about the drumming gig next.

The big news this year is Mr. Big’s release, …The Stories We Could Tell, supposedly the “release you were threatening to make”. How’s the cycle going so far – the reviews, the tour, the fan feedback? (You only had one UK date!)

I just got home from touring Europe, Russia, Japan, and some shows in Asia. The tour was fantastic, and the audience responded well to the new songs. Next year, we plan on touring in South America with a few shows in the U.S.A. as well.

How much pre-production or demo work did you do for …Stories, and what song(s) did you contribute a majority of the music or material too?

I don’t really count the hours or the days… I just work on things until they’re done and they’re as good as I can make them. Maybe it took a couple months, but it’s really a blur. In addition to the album, we did a karaoke project for Japan where we re-recorded a bunch of our most popular songs, and I’m always making videos for my online rock guitar school, and my wife was having our first child… all around the same time. Plus we were getting ready to go on tour. Somehow, we got everything done!

Is your ArtistWorks online rock guitar school continuing, with Marlon’s arrival? (By the way – congratulations!)

Thank you! Yeah, I love making videos for my online school. I’ve made well over 2000 of them since I started a couple years ago. I can make them while I’m at home, so I’ll still keep going with them as long as I can. I really enjoy hearing the students improve. There are some guys that we’re total beginners when the school started, and now they sound amazing!

A bit ago, I saw a guy playing bass with his teeth. At a pop gig. Seriously. It had a killer “this bassist is at the wrong gig” vibe for a few seconds. It reminded me of you, and your gear trickery! What are the latest gear tweaks or innovations you’ve had a hand in or are ‘researching’? The major change seems to be… “No headphones”. You’ve made a leap to IEM’s – why the switch?

Actually, I’m just wearing ear plugs. In-ear-monitors drive me crazy. They don’t block out the stage volume very well. I think it’s something with the shape of my ear canal, because I’ve talked to other people that love them. But on this recent tour, I just cranked up my guitar in my monitor wedge, and wore ear plugs. I can’t hear the details that well, but I don’t really need to. I’ve been playing so long, that I can play without hearing! My latest gear discovery is not as dramatic as playing bass with one’s teeth, but I still like it… I decided to use an effects loops switching pedal to turn my wah-wah on and off. That way I can tell if it’s on by looking at the LED on the switcher. Since I’m wearing ear plugs, it’s really important that I can tell visually if the pedal is on or not.

This takes courage! Every time you reinvent yourself, your ‘purists’ complain. If you don’t copy what you did in 1986 or 1992, you’ve ‘lost your edge’, ‘forsaken your roots’, and so on, ad nauseum. Why does it stay important for you to explore music, and how do you quell the purists’ cries?

I’m actually really surprised how much my musical taste has changed recently. For the longest time, I liked the same things… Beatles, complicated pop music like Todd Rundgren, and 70s and 80s hard rock and metal. That was enough for me for decades. Now I find myself researching old Artie Shaw clarinet solos, Jimmy Hamilton clarinet solos, and listening to music nearly as much as I used to, but listening more for what I can pull from my guitar and my imagination. Some of this could come from my hearing loss. Loud, fuzzy guitar is kind of painful to listen to for long periods of time, where the tone and texture of the clarinet sound really good to me. And don’t forget that Eddie Van Halen’s dad was a jazz clarinettist, so Eddie probably got some of his music instincts from growing up hearing his dad’s swinging jazz.

Anyway, I’m lucky to have a job as a guitarist, so try to play things that the audience will respond to. Fortunately many people in my audience are musicians and music lovers, so tend to be flexible and listen with open ears. It’s also a great challenge for me because anything new that I do needs to be as high-quality as whatever I’ve done in the past. So I’ve got to keep practicing!

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 You mentioned you’d completed the “rock star checklist” as far back as the Lean Into It tour, so, where do you go from here? You mentioned working on improvising – in what context? (rock, blues, jazz?)

Rock, blues, and jazz are all great styles for improvising, and I’m working on all of them. I don’t know if I’ll ever get into jazz standards like “Autumn Leaves.” I just don’t listen to that stuff very much, and it really needs to be in my ears, if I’m going to play it with any authority. But I love how jazz players play blues. It’s still a musical language that I can understand, but with more sophistication than I grew up with. So it’s a good place to explore. That’s much more of a musical goal than a “rock star” goal though. Being 48 years old… I don’t know if I can expect more rock star goals to happen. But I’ve had more than expected so far, so I don’t worry about it. But I’m not forgetting that AC/DC drum gig.

Are you still Satan, an Older Guy, and a Terrible Man?

Thanks for remembering those song titles. I’d just like to be a lot better musician than I am. I’ve still got some time, so I’ll work on it. And maybe my boy will take over where I leave off. I’m making sure that he knows the best Beatles songs, some Stevie Wonder, Badfinger, Carole King, and Elvis.

Thank you very much for indulging me, for your time, your art, surviving the fugu, and continuing to love your job.

No worries! And if you visit Japan, make sure to have some fugu. It’s good stuff!

Thank you,
Paul Gilbert

This wouldn’t be a feature without a few hundred high-quality images and videos, now, would it. For said extravaganza, check out the Mr. Big & Paul Gilbert One-A-Day Photoblog!

Mr. Big’s new album, …The Stories We Could Tell, is released by Frontiers Music SRL.

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You can catch Paul Gilbert, live in concert, playing guitar with Mr. Big! They’ll be on tour in 2015. Tour dates are as follows:

South America
Feb 06Pepsi On Stage — Porto Alegre, Brazil
Feb 07 — Studio Verona — Sao Paulo, Brazil
Feb 08 — Fundicao Progresso — Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Feb 10 — Theater Metropol — Bogota, Colombia
Feb 12 — Teatro del Banco — Asuncion, Paraguay
Feb 14 — Teatro Flores — Buenos Aires, Argentina
Feb 15 — Teatro Nescafé de las Artes — Santiago, Chile

Feb 17 — Capitol Theater — Clearwater, FL
Feb 19 — Arcada Theater — St. Charles, IL
Feb 20 — B.B. King Blues Club — New York, NY
Feb 22 — Saban Theater — Beverly Hills, CA

AND… Gilbert will be performing a special set with Amazing Journey, (his and) Mike Portnoy’s tribute to The Who, on January 24, 2015 at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA.

Visit Mr. Big on Facebook, here and here.

Bio source: SRO Artists, Inc.

The End.

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!