Text and photography: Anne-Marie Forker
You have been in W.A.S.P. since 2006, but you actually played with them on The Crimson Idol tour back in the early 90s. How did that come about?
When I was in junior high school, through a series of very serendipitous events I was able to meet a drummer called Stet (Howland), who was 3 years older than me and already in a popular band. I kept in touch with him and he always said to me “I’m going to get you in a band!”. I was 16. He was 19. And then an opportunity came up where somebody asked him to reform a trio, and said “Who can we get for guitar?” This was in 1982. I ended up joining this trio called “Run 21”, with Stet on drums and a bass player called Jimmy Carter. We played for a long time. Stet was super talented and got a call from an ace guitarist Chris Impellitteri who also wanted to be in Run 21 but I got the gig! So just to get back at me he called Stet and said: “We’re going to play some shows in Japan at Budokan. You wanna come?” He stole Stet out of the band. Stet moved to California and through another series of serendipitous changes he ended up playing for Blackie on “The Crimson Idol” recording sessions, because Frankie [Banali]’s mom had been ill and he had to take time. So Stet got in W.A.S.P. Run 21 were still going and we had a series of drummers including one who played for Mr Big for a while and now plays with Ace Frehley, and another who ended up playing with Tony MacAlpine who is another ace guitarist. Stet would say to me “Be ready. This is kinda cool, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but you might get a call some day”. So I’m teaching a guitar lesson in Springfield, Massachusetts and somebody knocks on the door and says “Your wife called. You gotta call Stet back in California, it’s really important!” So I finished my guitar lesson and called Stet, who was in the studio with Blackie. He said “We got a plane ticket for you – you are going to be here tomorrow morning in Los Angeles”. I’m like, “WHAT?!” I finished teaching, went home and packed, and told my wife I’m going to audition for W.A.S.P. and needed to learn 3 songs. This was in 1992, 10 years after I joined Run 21 with Stet. They had finished and released “The Crimson Idol” and had a guitar player that didn’t work out, Darren Housholder who had been in Love/Hate. I don’t know why he didn’t work out. But at the last minute they turned to Stet and asked Stet who they were going to get and he said “I know a guy!”. So I was on the plane, auditioned, and got the slot on the Crimson Idol tour all the way through November 1992. What was ironic about that tour, which ties in with the tour we are doing right now, is that it was the 10th anniversary of W.A.S.P. The first gig of W.A.S.P. was about a month away from Run 21’s first gig, just by complete chance. W.A.S.P.’s first gig was in LA. Our first gig was in Vermont. Both me and Stet are sitting on the tour bus thinking this is our 10 year anniversary as well. We did the US, we did England and Europe and that was my first taste. After that, Blackie tried to form a solo project which turned out to be the next version of W.A.S.P. and I wasn’t in it. Which is totally fine.
How did it get from that, to ending up joining the band, and recording 2007’s “Dominator”?
All through the rest of the 90s I developed a guitar company and guitars, and I was teaching. I started the GuitarCross at the end of the 90s. Looking back on it, I’m glad that I didn’t stay through that period. I think it was more important for me to move on and do other things that got me to where I was playing. In 2001, Chris Holmes didn’t renew his passport or something and again they called me up, 3 days before some shows. Festivals in Europe – Sweden Rock Festival and Gods of Metal in Italy. They called me and asked if I would do a couple of shows in Europe and I said “of course!” So I went to LA and rehearsed. There was no preconception that I was staying. It was just a swing through, but I did get to play Sweden Rock, which was so great. Right after we played those festivals September 11 happened, so the W.A.S.P. tour was cancelled or postponed. The records thorough the rest of the 90s and early 200s, Stet was there, and I was keeping in touch with him, but there was nothing jumping out at me making me want to put pressure on Stet. It was a period post-grunge that was tough for all the bands. In 2001 I had developed this 8 string and had almost stopped playing lead guitar and wasn’t playing in any band. signal2noise started as a power trio, using it as a vehicle for these double neck guitars and then it evolved into the two piece band using the 8 string instrument. During that period, I got so much more accomplished than if I had stayed with the band. That being said, the timing of what happened in 2006, I don’t know where it came from, but it came from heaven, because not only was I ready for more, but I heard that the guitarist and Stet had quit or been fired. I knew the bass player Mike Duda from way back when we were 16. Mike Dupke had been pulled in on drums and they had a guitarist that came with Mike, Mark Zavon, a really nice guy. Mark was the guy! He had clothes made, picks made, everything was all set. Before that I had written to Mike Duda and said to keep me in mind if he needed someone to cover for a short period, I’m here and know the songs. Mike said “Thanks, but we’re all set”. But I knew in the back of my mind that I better be ready, if they say that, as it had happened twice already. Something happened with Mark, a health issue, which was unfortunate, and he wasn’t able to go out on tour, and he would have been great. He ended up playing with the bass player from Pantera (Rex Brown) and has a real cool band called Kill Devil Hill, a super nice guy who we work with a lot and he helps with recording. I get the call to step in, the first is on Friday, and I get there on Thursday. We were supposed to rehearse in California, they set everything up for the roadies to check everything and we didn’t even play a single note. So the first show I played in 2006 there was no rehearsal. It was fine, it was all the songs that I knew, so we just got out there and slammed it! It took a couple of days for everything to come into gear, but I did a summer run in the US and festivals in Europe. The last festival which was in Tampere, Finland, which I fell in love with that very day, after that Blackie came to me in the hotel bar and said “So, you want to stay on?”. I had already decided long before that that if he asked I would, of course. Not only was Mike Dupke a great drummer with a great swing and a great feel, and Mike Duda had matured and grown up, these guys were a great rhythm section, Blackie was completely different than when I worked with him in The Crimson Idol here, much more mellow and solid. I had to give up my teaching, and my second wife was there. What was almost perfect about it was that they had recorded almost everything for “Dominator” except the guitar leads. So there was a record waiting, and that was a real determining factor for me. I had the chance to play lead guitar on the whole record. When we were done with the festivals we went back to California and I started recording the leads at Blackie’s house in Malibu. I had not been playing my regular guitars other than the live shows. When we went to record, I had forgotten all the noodly little stuff. All I remembered was how I really could play, and that’s what ended up on “Dominator”. If I had remembered all the noodly stuff, it wouldn’t have ended up being the right style for what those songs needed. The songs themselves were as good to me as any W.A.S.P. material I had heard. When I heard them, I thought “I wanna be in this band, I like this shit!” Fucking “Mercy” and “Heaven’s Hung in Black”! I remember sitting in the hotel room with my little 4 track recorder trying to find a lead for that, and it was so emotional that it was so easy to find that little thing that ended up being the lead. I don’t know what changed, but I don’t think he had written anything like that since “The Crimson Idol”.
When I listen to W.A.S.P. it tends to be “The Crimson Idol” and the last 3 albums.
Great – me too! I love the early stuff but that’s a different ball game, and that’s fun. Just like Rush, you listen to the first Rush album and it’s like Zepplin, compared to all their other records because they evolved so much. So when I heard the material for “Dominator” and could be part of it, that was the end all, and then the next one and “Golgotha” was just like “wow”.
Your guitar work on “Golgotha”, particularly “Miss You” is fantastic. Can you share any anecdotes about recording that one?
It took a long time. We got started on it in 2012/13. “Babylon” was kind of rushed, but with “Golgotha” we had plenty of time. We almost had two separate stages to it. The first stage was when we did “Miss You”. The second was when we did “Golgotha”. With “Miss You”, my last girlfriend was from Germany and we were breaking up at the time. I was wrecked. That’s part of why I moved to Europe, to get over it. But in hindsight, that went straight into that lead, and I’m so glad.
There’s something real about it.
I was miserable! I remember being in the studio trying to cut that and the guys were there and they are like “What’s wrong with you? Can you play?!” They didn’t really know what was going on in my head. I was bumming out from the time difference of nine hours, and where Blackie lives there is no cell phone coverage anyway. So when I go to record there I’m cut off. The drummer Mike would record me on to 2 inch tape, so he was really good at pushing the buttons, as drummers are, and Blackie was inside working on lyrics. Blackie would say “If you get something good, let me know. I’m going to wear that other hat and go write my lyrics”. So we would be out in the garage trying to record this lead in the sweaty hot summer and I remember with “Miss You” we’d turn it on, and I played one, which was pretty good, maybe played another. Most people record on computers now so you have endless tracks to play as many thousands as you want and pick the best parts. Blackie gives me two tracks on the tape machine. It’s a great psychological advantage. You had to get it right, like when you are young. So with two, you try to get it down the best you can, so you have it, and then try to outdo it. I think I tried one, and then this one came out, and that was it. After it was done Mike said “I think we got it”, so he went inside and got Blackie, who said “We got something here. We got something here.” That lead, the way you hear it on the finished record, is almost exactly how it came out. There are a few little spots where I didn’t play it as clean and me and Blackie went in and cleaned it, but the main lines, everything happened in one shot. Don’t think about it, just play, and that’s when the best stuff comes out. I didn’t have the same anguish for the lead in “Golgotha” but it also has a magic to it that we cut in one shot. We fixed a few little things but we left it.
Any anecdotes about recording “Dominator”?
Blackie lived in Malibu, but during “Golgotha” he moved to West Lake. In Malibu you had to drive past the Baywatch Beach and there was only one road that went up to Blackie’s house and no cell phone coverage and cliffs on both sides. That’s where the studio was. It was so hot. He was on the end of the electrical line, which came from the road by the beach, the Pacific Coast Highway. All the houses on the road were hooked up to a power line that came from down there and came up the canyon. Blackie was the last house on the wire. Everybody had their air conditioners on. There was a heat wave. The voltage that was reaching his house was lowered. It was supposed to be 110. It was 90 or 95. So the tape machine that we used to record, the same one we used for all the records, was stopping. So we would be playing and then it would stop because it sensed there was not enough power. The guitar amps were also running on this low voltage. They sounded better than we ever got them to sound again. “Heaven’s Hung in Black” is a great example. That sound the guitar has – we have tried forever to get it to sound like that again. Same amplifiers. He’s always used the same Marshalls that he has in his collection. But they sounded that way. The same with the lead in “Mercy”. I was cutting the leads during this really hot heatwave and the amps were running on 98 volts and they had this really amazing slew, and it has to do with the way voltage lags. The amp is sucking and it can’t get enough, it’s almost like it is suffocating for power. So that’s what was happening. After we finished and went to mix it we thought it sounded great, but you can’t get that sound on full power.
There’s no way to manipulate that?
We could, like Eddie [Van Halen] did with his Variac, but it would damage the amp. So we haven’t gone that far. But the sound on “Dominator” is different because those amps were just starving for power. Man, I wish I could make that sound with a pedal!
You are also involved in signal2noise, a progressive power duo?
“Power duo” is what I came up with a long time ago. I have yet to see it in print, that somebody has called themselves a “power duo”, but there should be more than one. I’m sure it will come along sooner or later. It comes from Rush being called a “power trio”. A band with fewer people but still with enough power. Cream and Jimi Hendrix were all power trios.
Ah, Rush. One of my favourite bands of all time.
Me too! I saw them many times starting in 1977. Ah, what tour was that, the one with the blue cover….
Yes, on the Hemispheres tour. Unbelievable. They had a giant video screen behind the whole stage. It was beautiful with those colours, back then, all from a regular projector. Us little nerdy kids would walk behind the stage, as they didn’t close it off, and we would look at the back of the amps and the projector was bigger than your umbrella!
The stage was wide open, so did you see Alex Lifeson’s pedals?
Yes and we would watch the guitar tech test all his stuff. This is a regular sports arena, with a round shape, so if you walked up to the mid-level you could walk all the way around the perimeter and look down in there. They sold that area in a lot of concerts. I saw U2 from behind the stage and it was fucking awesome because you got to see the audience at the end of a song cheering, and we felt it. That was “Unforgettable Fire”, 1985, the only time I ever saw them. That was when “Pride” was a big hit.
You invented the 8-string GuitarCross. Could you tell us the story behind this, from when the seed was planted into your mind, and what it is now?
It had to do with being in our trio, Run 21. To expand our sound we all sang. I had built an acoustic guitar to go on my stand so I could play it solo and then switch to the electric strapped around my neck. That was the typical Alex Lifeson, Rush thing. But Rush also used these MIDI floor pedals that you stood on and made synthesizer sounds. The new modern ones are really cool and let you select any sound you want on any of the keys. But then I heard the band called Filter from America, who had a great song called “Hey Man, Nice Shot”, and they were produced by Trent Reznor. They had this great sound where it was two guitarists sounding really industrial. I couldn’t have another guitar in my trio, but it occurred to me, what if I put a guitar string on his bass? I’ve played 12 string guitars forever. There are 8 string and 12 string basses. Doug Pinnick from King’s X uses a 12 string bass, and Pearl Jam’s hit song “Jeremy” has a 12 string bass. There have been basses that have bass strings, and guitar strings, but the difference is they haven’t split the sound of the guitar strings and sent it to a guitar amp. Those basses, everything goes into one amp. I thought if I could put a guitar string on his bass, it could have its own little pick up, and go to a guitar amp. We tried it and it worked. I added 3 more strings, and the four bass strings went to the bass amp, and the four guitar strings to the guitar amp. It is complicated to split the sounds. The strings are right next to each other, you press them down with your finger, and play them with your pick or your finger, but the bass string goes to the bass amp, and hears a little of the guitar, but not much, and the guitar amp hears a little of the bass, which was kind of cool. There is good isolation but it was technically difficult to get that to work. He played that in Run 21 and the first versions of signal2noise. But then I moved to Boston to take a job at a guitar company and I got up there and had no bass player. I had a drummer, and I could have found a bass player but they are all already in 25 bands and don’t care! So I thought, okay, I’m just going to learn how to play this thing and write on it. That was a great decision to make because then I was able to look at it almost as an acoustic guitar. I’m going to write something on this instrument that I’m going to sing and I’m going to play with a drummer, and it’s going to be a song. The only thing I couldn’t do on it was play lead guitar but I didn’t care because I’d been playing lead guitar forever. I don’t need to play lead guitar on this thing. I want to write on it, play a cool riff and have a cool sounding two piece band, which basically sounds like a trio but there’s only two of us. It evolved to being 3 bass strings and 5 guitar strings, which really let me play almost full guitar stuff, clean parts and dirty riffs, and even some leads using the synthesizer pedals, to fill in when I go into a lead sound. That whole exercise of doing that became more of a journey into song-writing and becoming a better rhythm player, and singing lead. I’d never been the lead singer and writing lyrics and all that other good shit! I did all that during the gap between getting back before “Dominator”. I do wish that project would have and could have gone further but I think the real reason I invented it was for the next guy to take it. Some young kid to take it and become a Devin Townsend with it or something.
Devin borrowed it for a while?
He did, and he recorded a song on it, “The Mind Wasp”. When I showed it to him he said “Dude! Give me that thing! Can I borrow it? I’m doing a new record!” I lent it to him and I didn’t see it for three years.
Can I please have my hammer back some day?! He ended up leaving it with a friend of mine in Sweden. So I finally got it back. He understood the concept of it and what you could do with it, and he did write a really cool song with a cool riff. I knew someone like that could make super music out of it. I need people like that to find the instrument and say that’s the instrument I want to work with. I got it started, but I need to find some younger guys that want to do something more than just play guitar, or just play bass. Now you have Animals as Leaders and the new proggy bands that are ready to do that. Meshuggah plays their 8 string guitars. Its time will come, and as the technology gets a little better it might be easier to make it. You can do it with computer shit now. What I did organically with the strings and the pick-ups, you can do it virtually. But it doesn’t sound as good because you need to go with real guitar strings and real bass strings, to have any real response. It’s like playing a fake drum set. You are always going to play a real drum set even if the technology gets better behind that. So we’ll see what happens.
How did you meet Devin?
He was playing at the Palladium in Worcester. Somehow I had met his guitar tech beforehand. I had written and asked if I could bring some guitars to show Devin. I brought him 4 guitars. One GuitarCross, and one double neck acoustic electric guitar I had built – which is why I got the W.A.S.P. audition back in 1992 – The Crimson Idol was 50 per cent acoustic. A 12 string acoustic which I wanted to get to Steven Wilson as he wanted to try it out – it’s the same idea as the GuitarCross – it’s a 6 string acoustic guitar with pairs of steel and nylon strings, so I took a steel string guitar and matched it with a nylon string guitar. One body, one neck, but each pair steel and nylon next to it and you press them down together and they are amplified separately, so it sounds like a wall. I wrote to Steven about it and he said he had to try it out. The fourth guitar I brought to Devin was an electric guitar with a sustainer device which I use all over “Golgotha”, “Dominator” and “Babylon”. It’s one of Blackie’s favourite devices. After the show I brought all four guitars on to the tour bus and he sat there any played all of them. He loved the GuitarCross and wanted to borrow that. The 12 string acoustic – he grabbed it and was playing some unbelievably beautiful thing in about 4 seconds. We’re all sitting there thinking “What the fuck?!”
I shall ask Steven about that 12 string if I interview him again one day!
He’s my hero! But I think he has moved on from that direction already. He might have used it for a song like “Pariah” and it would have sounded great. Nothing sounds like it. It’s got the attack. The razzle kind of sizzle of the steel string and the real mellow bottom of the nylon string. When you play them together, it’s beautiful. Steve’s drummer Craig Blundell came to our Rock Academy in Finland in 2017 and did a clinic for Roland and I got to play 2 songs with him, signal2noise songs, on my GuitarCross, with Craig Blundell. It was insane. I sent Craig two songs recorded. He didn’t even listen to them until the morning of the clinic. Later he told me that’s his best way of working, last minute, that morning, then he chartered it on paper, on a music stand. He played them perfectly and he had his thing on top of it. He is so good at reading, he played the songs like he had played them 50 times. He would glance at his charts every four measures or whatever he needed, and he knew where he was going. I couldn’t believe it! He kicked ass on those instrumentals. They are on YouTube.
I will check those out. I’ve seen the You Tube stream you did with Sonic Temple.
That one was good. We did a few streaming videos and studio videos and we released that 5 song EP. Now that I have all this touring with W.A.S.P. I’m having to see where I can slide something in. Get a single in here….
So it’s still very much on your mind.
Absolutely. We have 7 songs that haven’t been released and another whole record that’s yet to be released. I just hope I don’t get too old!
You’re not old!
Give me another 20 years right now, damn it! We have a lot stuff already recorded so we need to get to the mixing stage, and I need to do some singing. With my drummer in Boston, not the one in Finland, we recorded about 35 songs. I have few ideas about duetting with a female vocalist, like Steven Wilson does.
You are involved with the Rock Academy Finland – is that how you ended up living in Finland?
I moved there through that programme. We played Turku in 2012 and two festivals in 2008 and 2010. The serendipitous part was that the same local stage manager was at all 3 shows, Mark Bértenyi, a really cool Hungarian guy. He’s got dreadlocks down past his knee, a really funny outgoing guy. At the third show, he found a good dentist for Blackie and he was really happy. I asked him about doing in clinics in Europe, and he told me about a youth services programme that coached bands. They had a band contest and each year there were winners. The winners would be brought into a programme where they would make a CD, record a video and get trained how to do gigs, and start learning the ropes. They got silly money from the City and got started in 2011. He asked to come back after the tour and do a clinic. I can’t do this in America, and they had the programme running in 4 or 5 cities in Finland already. This was at the same time I was doing Golgotha and breaking up with my ex. I was already on the opposite side of the US to the guys, so I always had to travel to see them anyway. So it all made sense and I moved there in 2014.
You commented on my photography Facebook page that you play most songs from Extreme’s III Sides daily for guitar practice, and that you played with them many times in Boston in the early days. We also have an interview with Nuno Bettencourt coming up in this issue. Can you share any anecdotes from that time?
Oh yeah, I always play that stuff. Me and Stet got Run 21 together in 1982, all original tracks. But the agents said we had to play covers. In 1985 we played in the area of New England, out in the suburbs, but we did go and play clubs in Boston, all originals. Somehow we ended up opening for Extreme before they got big. We used to go see a band called The Dream who were nice guys. They were Extreme without Nuno. They had a hit called “Mutha (Don’t Want to go to School Today)”. We had heard about this hotshot Nuno, and come in and replace two guitarists. He came from a band called Sinful down on Rhode Island. Stet made friends with Paul Geary who booked Extreme. We ended up playing with Extreme may 10-12 times in Boston. And we played with Gary and Nuno’s brother. We would trade gigs with them. We played at the big clubs with Extreme. We would also drive out from Connecticut to see Extreme as they were head and shoulders above any of the unsigned bands in the area and everybody knew it. The songs were killer. There are tons of songs they have never released that are incredibly good. People would copy their cassette demos. I have about 50 songs by Extreme and only about 20 of them have been released. There was one called “Americocaine”, and another one “Strong as You” – fucking so good! They played hundreds of times around Boston. They would play a show, and then go straight to the studio. They never partied, never went to bars. They were totally private. It was really inspiring. What was interesting at that point is that Gary was the star. Nuno was in the dark with Pat. They sang backing vocal. Of course Nuno ripped on guitar but he was not the star. Gary had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Things shifted because Nuno kept getting guitar magazine covers and everyone started falling in love with him because he is so good looking. Now Nuno is the star and Gary is just the singer.
They are both 10/10…
I’ll give you an anecdote. We knew they were showcasing for labels. We were playing with them at a place called Paradise, and I was warming up with my briefcase in the dressing room. Nuno comes in and says to me “Hey man! Play good tonight – there’s six labels out there!” I’m like “Fuck you! Ohhhhhhh.” So we went out and really kicked ass, and they did too. They got signed, we didn’t get signed. We had good songs, but we didn’t write the way they did, together. They already had “More Than Words” then, this was 1985/86.
I had no idea that song existed in the mid 80s!
We saw it for the first time at a club called The Channel in Boston. I had driven up there with my ex-wife from Connecticut. This was even before Pat Badger was in the band. They stopped the show and said “We’re going to try something different tonight, tell us if you like it”, pulled out some stools and played “More Than Words”, but they played it really fast. It totally worked and everybody loved it. They may have slowed it down to make it more different to “Hole Hearted”. They inspired everybody and lifted the whole scene up, as all the other bands would agree. Then when they came out with the first record, everybody just slammed them as another hair band, which sucked. “Oh yeah, it’s another fucking Warrant!”. Come on man, we knew they just burned those bands into the ground. And here we are 35-40 years later, and they have proved they are still burning those poor bands. I also remember going to see them up at Bunratty’s and both Gary and Nuno had black eyes. It turns out that they often fist-fighted over songs, and how they should go, and of course they are brothers so they made up and everything was fine. But how they worked hard after gigs, instead of running off with girls, that was an example to the rest of us that if you are going to work that hard, things will come around, and they did.
What comes next for WASP and signal2noise?
We started writing songs in January and February. Now that we have a US run in the summer that will be pushed back. We’ll get the drums and bass started in the summer before the US stuff, but that’s hard to tell. We have already demoed everything so that will be the next step. Hopefully I can do guitars in the fall or the end of the year, but there isn’t any big rush. I think we’ll have a new release in 2024. With Signal2Noise, we are trying to release the right material in the right way, and I have my great drummer Tuomas [‘Toxy Cruz’ Lehtonen] over in Finland. So when the touring cycle is done, I’m really hoping to get Signal2Noise out on stage.
Originally published in Norway Rock Magazine #2/2023