Sfogli, Marco (April 2005)

James LaBrie - Elements Of PersuasionYou may have heard James LaBrie's new album. Being a prog fan this would not be unusual. You may be wondering who the guitarist who gives such an impressive display is. Wonder no more, as Marco Sfogli chats to George Heron in this exclusive interview that took place after he finished a rehearsal for the JLB world tour.

GH: How did you get to work with James LaBrie?

MS: I was in touch with Matt Guillory. He was introduced to me from another friend, an Italian keyboard player. We promised to each other that we'd collaborate one day. We got in touch around Jan / Feb of last year and I was preparing my first solo album and Matt was preparing his. We agreed to play on each other's albums. Then I got the phone call in July; Matt asked me if I was interested in doing James' album and I said "Yeah! Great! Sure!" That?s the story behind this gig. Originally it was meant to be 18 months working on guitars, but then James had a busy schedule for October so I was asked if I could work from home. They sent me the scratches of the songs and I recorded a couple of leads from here. James enjoyed them, he called me and I flew to Canada to record parts in October. This is the story of this crazy engagement. I was doing nothing but an instrumental album of a friend of mine. Then came the great news and I was mad. I was in Canada from October 3rd - 17th. I tracked guitars and was at the cottage with Matt, James and Richard Chycki, the sound engineer.

GH: Did you bring a heavier feel to the album or was it already there?

MS: They had all the rhythm stuff written. My main contribution was my leads and some parts of songs like in "Lost" and "Slightly Out Of Reach," which was originally a song without any guitar parts but I added my own from scratch.

GH: What's your favourite song on the album?

MS: "Slightly Out Of Reach," particularly because it was my audition song.

GH: Several reviews of the new album on the net have been raving about your solo on the last song "Drained." I agree that it is a brilliant solo, but what's your favourite solo on the album?

MS: "Drained" is a good solo, but the song that reflects my style best is again "Slightly Out Of Reach." Another song that will not be on the album but will be released on the bonus track is called "Understand;" that has a good, good solo on it.

GH: Nice one!

MS: Very Timmons-style.

GH: There's a couple of songs where there appears to be a duel going on between the keyboards and guitars. For example, in songs like "Slightly Out of Reach," "Oblivious" and "Alone" it sounds like a guitar but I think its keyboard.

MS: Yeah, it's keyboards. Matt had this great idea to wire his keyboard through my Mesa Boogie setup to get a high gain tone. He wanted it to sound exactly like a guitar. He's crazy. We nicknamed him the "Keytarist" [laughs].

GH: Do you think he's tried to copy your style in these parts? It's almost seamless, going from keyboard to guitar unnoticeably.

MS: If you listen closely you'll notice that the keyboard doesn't have the attack of the guitar.

GH: There's no competition element in the solos then?

MS: No, we both have great respect for each other's playing; we don't need to do that. He'll come up with a good idea and I'll try to learn it and vice versa.

GH: You're obviously a big fan of Dream Theater.

MS: Yes. I still have my James poster in my bedroom [laughs]. It was a dream come true. It still hasn't sunk in. I was also a big fan of Matt's band, Dali's Dilemma and his other work with James. As soon as I heard that stuff, I realised I had to buy all Matt's albums.

GH: The latest DT album,Train Of Thought, has been criticised in some circles for having something of a "nu-metal" vibe in parts. This feel is also in parts of the new album in songs such as "Alone".

MS: There are parallels to James' new album and DT's latest album in terms of heaviness. Train Of Thought was really heavy, their heaviest ever. James wanted something similar for this release.

GH: Are you comfortable playing the "Nu-Metal" parts?

MS: Yes. This is the first time I've played this kind of stuff. I'm not really into the nu-metal style. Before I got the gig, I was playing a different kind of music. I was in a Toto cover band, so yes, completely different style.

GH: Are there any songs from the previous Mullmuzzler albums that you're looking forward to tackling on the tour?

MS: James specifically told us not to tell anything about the set-list, but I can tell you that half the set will be devoted to the first two albums and the other will be covering the new one. This is the only thing I can tell you.

GH: That should be an interesting set if it's split in half. Turning now to your guitar technique, how do you achieve the considerable accomplishment of combining technical prowess with an emotional delivery?

MS: I was into shred the past few years. I learned guitar listening to John Petrucci and Yngwie, Joe Satriani as well. I was playing that way and becoming a John Petrucci clone [laughs] at one time. Then I started thinking a different way after listening to bands like Toto. Andy Timmons, for sure, changed my way of playing. I started digging deep, learning his licks and his way of playing and was totally freaking when I was listening to him. I wanted to get to a more emotional way of playing as opposed to pure technique.

GH: Would you say you're a guitarist who needs to practice 10 hours a day to get to a certain level?

MS: Oh no. I practice about 2 or 3 hours a day. In the early years more than that, but when you reach a technical level, to maintain it you need a little bit of practice and I have folders that help. I pick one every day, pick an exercise and practice that for half an hour and then pick another folder and do another exercise. Within a few hours, I have covered all that I am interested in playing.

GH: Have you been watching Rock Discipline [John Petrucci's instructional video/DVD] by any chance?

MS: Yes. He was the first guitarist I was really into and I do recall playing Images And Words every day for years. I woke up with Images And Words and went to sleep with Images And Words. This was around 1994.

GH: At what age did you feel your guitar technique was really taking off?

MS: I think I'm starting to grow up now. This collaboration is a start of something. This is a demanding job and you have to try and get better and better every day, learning as many styles as possible. I want to grow as a songwriter and musician over the next few years.

GH: Are there any specific parts of your technique that you'd like to improve such as sweep picking?

MS: Sweep picking, for sure. I'm a poor sweep picker. Last week I saw on TV Mr Sweep Frank [Gambale], I was really blown away by his playing. I'm a huge fan. I'd also like to improve on improvising between modes.

GH: What's your favourite effects/pedals?

MS: Definitely my Mesa Boogie gear, the most important part of my setup. I'm not sure if I'd sound so good without it. I've tried lots of other stuff. The first head I had was a Laney head and I wasn't too happy about that. Then I spent a lot of bucks on the Mesa Boogie stuff and I never looked back. For James' album, I used all Mesa Boogie stuff, a dual rectifier for rhythm, a mach III for leads and clean parts. It all sounds huge, even the rectifier. I recorded four tracks for the rhythm parts and that's why it sounds so huge. It sounds like a wall.

GH: Do you prefer a band environment or would you rather work on your own?

MS: I've always felt more comfortable being part of band. I don't feel comfortable it being all me. I don't feel like a leader, I'd prefer all the attention to be on the front-man. This is my first proper tour playing electrical guitar and I'm sure James will treat us all like pros. We are all excited, I can tell you.

GH: What do you feel you can bring to the music industry that is original?

MS: That's a hard question. Through the years we are going through a different kind of thinking about music. We are in the "cut and paste" era. This is sad, as they don't let you play a whole song, they say, "Just play this bit and then we'll paste the rest in later." When I got the gig with James, I was amazed, thinking, "Finally, I'll be able to play how I want." I'd like to bring something different into songwriting where if you have a song that has three chords, you then have a cool arrangement over those chords. Let the people see the musicians play like they can. Artists of the 90s copied a lot of stuff from the 70s and now from the 80s, but I think it's important to be true to your own feel and soul as well.

GH: What do you think of the current state of the progressive rock scene?

MS: I'm not really into that kind of music anymore. That last album I bought of that time was 4 or 5 years ago - Scenes From A Memory. I don't really know about any other bands in the genre. I know we will have Evergrey as support - a well known progressive band. They are very good musicians and good people too. The last other progressive album I listened to was Matt's band Dali's Dilemma [Manifesto For Futurism].

GH: What albums are you listening to at the moment?

MS: I'm going back to 80s Toto albums. I'm listening to Fahrenheit, Isolation, etc. I really enjoy them. I'm a big Steve Lukather fan. His technique is simple but effective and logical and emotionally moves me.

GH: What's your favourite guitar riff of all time?

MS: Probably anything from Andy Timmons. He can play everything. He was in a band called Danger Danger and he played hard rock. Then he did his solo album and showcased his blues, jazzy and rock style. He's probably my favourite ever. My favourite riff from him would be from the song "Carpe Diem" off the Ear X-tacy album.

GH: What's your favourite solo?

MS: My favourite Andy Timmons solo is probably from a Kip Winger album. He did a Kip Winger album named ThisConversationSeemsLikeADream and there was a song on it called "Kiss Of Life." It's the first song and in that solo he's great.

GH: You're contributing to the Matt Guillory solo album, right?

MS: Yes, when we came back from Canada, we started writing together and we may do so again when we are on tour whenever we have some spare time. I don't know any release date for his solo album as it is only a scratch idea at the moment.

GH: You're also working with Alex Argento on his solo album?

MS: My contribution will be most of the guitar parts and one song will be either in mine or his album, a song we are writing together that is very much in the Planet X style. He will have Brett Garsed on a solo.

GH: Is your friend Alex in the Derek Sherinian mould of keyboard players then?

MS: He is really into Greg Howe music. He takes fusion to a higher level of technique. He's a very capable player. I really like him as he's what a keyboardist should be. He can play classical, fusion, progressive - almost everything.

GH: How's your solo album coming along?

MS: I'm writing session 2. Putting together songs I've recorded over the years, choosing the best ones. Time permitting, I will have some guest musicians including hopefully, my pal, Alex Argento. He was the one who introduced me to Matt. He's an exceptional keyboard player. I nicknamed him the "Greg Howe of Keyboards" and he'll probably help me build a couple of songs. Another guest I would like if possible is Virgil Donati.

GH: Oh yeah!!! [which I wish I'd said like Kramer from Seinfeld, but I'm not that quick thinking]

MS: Yeah; I've composed a song in his style and would love him to play drums for my album. He's crazy. I've heard all of the Planet X albums. My first one's the favourite as it has Brett Garsed on guitars. Virgil's solo stuff is crazy, too.

GH: Any idea of the direction this solo venture will take?

MS: I would like to cover the genre I enjoy the most so there will be some very heavy songs and some blues songs that I enjoy a lot. I will have the contribution of Matt and Alex so there will be some fusion elements in there, too.

There's Hope (2008)
reMarcoble (2012)

Among numerous credits:
Marco Fasano - E Gi?...!
NCCP (Nuova Compagnia Di Canto Popolare) - La Voce Del Grano
Raffaele Deseo - La Voce Del Cuore
James LaBrie - Elements Of Persuasion (2005)
Jordan Rudess - The Road Home (2007)
James LaBrie - Static Impulse (2010)
Virgil Donati - In This Life (2012)
James LaBrie - Impermanent Resonance (2013)
Alberto Rigoni - Overloaded (2014)

Added: April 5th 2005
Interviewer: George Heron

Artist website: www.marcosfogli.com
Hits: 1337
Language: english

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