Exclusive Interview: Alex Skolnick

Bloody-Disgusting has scored an exclusive interview with Alex Skolnick (guitarist of Alex Skolnick Trio, Testament). We talk his newest album, ‘Veritas‘ (review here), from his Alex Skolnick Trio project as well as gear used in the studio, his works in Testament and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and how horror influences him and his work. Check after the jump for the full scoop.

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Make sure to check out Alex’s Top 10 Horror Soundtracks.

1) During my first listen of ‘Veritas’, something that popped out to me was the scope of emotion in the pieces. The title track is a beautiful, melancholic piece while ’99/09′ is as jazz/funk as it comes. Are there any limits to what the three of you come up with for an album?
 
Thank you. The idea was to capture a wide range of emotions, a sense of depth and honesty. All three of us have diverse musical tastes. We try a lot of ideas regardless of style and focus on the ones that feel right.  As musicians we are not easily labeled or placed in neat little boxes. I think that’s true of most people. Yet we live in a world where everything is categorized and people are molded into these cookie cutter types. This pressure, which comes from numerous sources, is unfair, unhealthy and dishonest. This album is a declaration of truth (hence the title ‘Veritas’ Latin for ‘truth) and a reaction against this form of typecasting, in music and in life. 
2) One of the things that I noticed was that even with the multiple tracks, ‘Veritas’ still sounds very intimate, almost like I was sitting in the room with the three of you while you were jamming. Was that something that you were aiming for?
 
The three of us were playing almost everything at the same time. For a few songs, such as Song Of The Open Road, Path Of Least Resistance and Fade To Black, I’d been using a loop pedal to get the extra tracks live.but in the studio, I played these as extra tracks (without the loop pedal) simply for the sake of sound quality. Then there were occasional embellishments, such as my added acoustic guitar and Nathan’s Calimba (thumb piano) on Bollywood Jam. But the majority is just the trio live in the studio.
 
3) Bringing up the title track again, there is a moment towards the end where a guitar note seems to come in a beat late. Rather then see this as an error, I heard it almost as though it were a voice that choked for a moment before being able to continue, caught up in the emotion of the moment. Is this something you try to convey? An almost vocal-like personification to the guitar playing?
 
That’s a very good observation. Too often these days, music is so precise and ‘correct’ that it loses the human element, the very thing that makes music great. That’s one of the purposes of embarking on the journey of becoming a professional improviser, to be able to express on a deeper, more human level.
 
4) A question for our guitar lovers on the site: Some of the tones you achieve sound so natural, woody and warm. What guitars, amps and effects did you use for the recording process?
 
My main instruments are Heritage Guitars, built in the old Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Heritage guitars are a bit harder to acquire than most- you won’t find them in Guitar Center or Sam Ash. But they’re the only new guitars I’m aware of that give you the feeling of shopping in a great vintage guitar shop like Mandolin Bros in New York or Gruhn Guitars in Nashville.  Mostly what you hear is a Heritage H575 archtop, similar to a Gibson 175. There is also my signature ‘Alex Skolnick’ model, which is like a Les Paul- it stands toe to toe with any classic Gibson Les Paul.  There are also a couple of great acoustics on there, both made by Yamaha. One is an LJX steel string and the other is an NCX Nylon string. 
 
For amps, I used my signature Budda, which is my main amp live. It’s a compo amp with one speaker. For effects, I used a bit of delay, the Carbon-Copy, manufactured by Jim Dunlop.  Live, I’m using loop pedals from Line 6 and Boss, but in the studio, we mimicked the loops on actual tracks, for the sake of sound quality.
   
     
5) You’re not only a member of The Alex Skolnick Trio, but also very well known for your work in Testament and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Considering that each of these groups has a very distinctive musical style, what do you take away from playing in these varying genres?
 
It’s been really interesting. I always hated the concept of having to be exclusive to one musical genre and social scene in order to be accepted. Only at this stage in my life (not quite a ‘veteran’ but no longer ‘new on the scene,’) am I able to comfortably express myself in multiple scenes, verbally and musically. I enjoy taking on the challenge of shattering preconceptions from anyone who thinks otherwise or underestimates. Being a part of these three very different projects has helped make that possible.  Testament has enabled me to communicate in a high energy, high volume situation that runs on ’10’ most of the time. TSO gave me experience playing in sold out concert arenas, including  moments where all focus of the 14,000 or so people was on me. With the special guests, I had the experience of starting the Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ with Roger Daltry right next to me and even more challenging, Yes’ ‘Roundabout’ while standing next to Jon Anderson. And finally, AST has enabled me to prove myself as a composer, bandleader, producer, improviser, frontman and everything else that no one would have ever guessed when I was this awkward kid who joined Testament at sixteen years old. 
   
 
6) You submitted a fantastic Top 10 horror movie soundtrack list. How long have you been into horror and what, if any, influences has it had on you, both musically and more in general?
 
As a pre-teen, my friends and I used to love going this movie theater in Berkeley, the UC Theater (which has sadly closed down). They played a different classic movie everyday. Our favorites were the double feature of ‘Pink Floyd:The Wall” and “Heavy Metal,” The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Saturdays at midnight) and of course, horror movies! We got to see movies we’d missed, like ‘Friday The 13th’ and ‘Halloween’ on the big screen.  I still enjoy a good horror flick,  but I don’t pretend to be a horror aficionado like some friends of mine. The drummer from AST, for example, Matt Zebroski, is a walking encyclopedia of horror films- he can tell you where they were made, who the director was and all kinds of other facts.   
 
The soundtracks definitely had a huge influence on my when I was composing for Testament.  The dark mood of the melodies is a prerequisite for the type of metal we were doing and I’ve often looked to these themes for inspiration.  If I wrote a riff,  I’d often ask myself if it would work in a horror movie.  If so, I knew we’d be able to use it.
 
7) Horror and metal have long had a strong association. What do you suppose attracts these two genres to each other?
 
Horror and metal are outside genres, in film and music respectively. They exist as mediums to go where more mainstream creations don’t dare to go. There is a lot of overlapping imagery. That which is expressed visually in horror is expressed verbally in metal. There is extensive use in horror and metal of macabre fantasy and shining a light on the dark side of humanity  Both have occasional successes that manage to invade the mainstream like a knife-wielding Jason or Freddie.
 
I’ve heard it said that the very group that arguably is responsible for metal’s existence began when, after playing gig after gig with little luck drawing a crowd, they noticed a long line down the street for a horror film.  They changed their name, their sound and became the first band directly influenced by horror. In fact, their first album ‘Black Sabbath’ is like a horror film encapsulated in a record, from the cover, to the opening, to the songs.
 
8) Your Top 10 list gave us some of your favorite horror soundtracks. However, I’m curious to know if that list also matches your favorite horror movies. Are there any others that stand out to you? 
 
‘The Amityville Horror’ was really scary, at least when I saw it as a kid. I’m not sure if ‘Alien’ counts as a horror film, as its more Sci-Fi, but that scared me as much as any horror film. I also really like the ones that are more psychologically scary, like ‘Silence Of The Lambs,’ ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Stephen King’s ‘Misery.’