When you picked up the guitar, how did you go from wanting to do it as a hobby to wanting to do it as a career?
That was from day one when I started playing guitar, I was probably around 14 years old. My mum played guitar, we had this electric SG and an old amplifier. I never touched it as a kid, wasn’t interested, then one day I heard Iron Maiden the first album, I was 11 years old, I dived into the music and I was totally crazy about it as I was before with AC/DC but Iron Maiden really kicked me to get involved with music. I thought ‘How does this work?’ I wanted to feel the energy of the audience when you are on a stage, so I picked up the guitar and started learning all the Adrian Smith licks and riffs, I was into Dire Straights and all this sort of stuff. Then there was a point at school where I realised I was not able to live a life where you get up in the morning, go to work at 9, finish at 5 so then you go to your football club or you go to your bar and that was never my imagination of lifestyle. My imagination of lifestyle was; I get up, if it’s 3am or 12pm, it doesn’t matter, I want to get up with the stuff that I love. If it’s Monday or Friday it doesn’t matter. Every day is great for me because I am a musician and I do what I love for a living. That is why I do it because I am poassionate about it. It’s sometimes hard to keep the passion in the music business today. If you transform the music fan from a fan to msuciian there really is a lot of stuff that you have to put aside here and there in order to make a living. Sometimes it is a case of head over heart in order to survive and keep the balance. But if you get the right balance it is perfect, but getting that balance always depends on you. I could sit here and say ‘yeah the 80’s were the best and today it is bad because the music business isn’t what it was’ I think the music business was always bad. The music business has always been exactly that, a business, from the 50’s to now, you’ve always had the controller at the top giving orders to make money, these people might say ‘oh yes take that guitar solo out there’ and this is purely just to make money but if it damages the song then why would you do that if your passionate about the craft and art that is music? I could argue about this every day but I don’t do it because when I am up on stage and I play a guitar solo the people yell! If I’m playing infront of 12,000 people or to 50 people, I walk into the middle of the stage and people still go crazy! I don’t complain about the commercial element or the chart music because I understand that when a person sees good live music it ignites something that nothing else can.
You’ve played all around the world, how do fans in Germany compare to others?
I think it depends on the musical taste, I think if you play really honest rock and roll stuff it doesn’t matter where you are. Everyone feels that kind of energy. It’s not about the hip stuff or the trendy music, when you play true rock and roll people react to it, because people react to energy and music is energy. Music is a transformation of emotion into tone. The music of today I’m not sure if it still tranfers that same energy in the same way as guitar music did back in the cool days of the 70’s or 80’s or whatever but I think if you play cool music that people like the reaction is the same anywhere you go in the world. People freak out and listen, I always say don’t try and impress people, try and touch people. If you touch someone with your music it goes through their ears and straight to their heart. That is the pure musician in us all. It doesn’t matter if you are the guy on stage like me, the person on the front row or the guy right at the back of the venue, we are all there because we have a passion for music and because we connect with music in a way we connect with nothing else.
I started playing guitar because I loved it, and I still love it. If someone says “hey do you want to grab a guitar and play?” I am IN! If I’m sat at home on the sofa and I get a call to go to a rehearsal or a gig I go for it, I think you have to!
Some people say the worst thing that has ever happened to music is the internet, but also other people say the same reason is why the internet is the best thing to ever happen to music. How do you feel about so much access to music in the modern world?
When I found out about a thing called Guitar Pro it completely blew my mind, that my thing! When I found it 6 or 7 years ago I could not believe myself, some crazy guy has sat and transcribed a classical piece that I could never have played accurately and so quickly before, but now I can, and I can do it whenever the spark of imagination strikes. I don’t have to go and find a music book because it is all there online. I think it is a great thing, everybody has access to it and everyone is able to have input on music. YouTube for example, wow, I am a huge YouTube fan. All the great guitar players use it, if I want to find something really obscure, I go on there and I can find it. It is a gift.
When you’re playing live do you change guitars?
I’m a nerd! To me, there are firstly some very important components that you have. First is your fingers, second is guitar, third is the amplifier. It is a chain that works together, it’s not that one is more important than the others but they have to work in harmony together. I am a freak about the traditional guitars. I love a Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, but here and there I like to play a modern strat you know with a cool tremolo system and I have an endorsement with Comparison which is the most awesome guitars, they’re really good work horse and then at the moment I have a set up of two Comparison, a special guitar made by Fender which is an amazing thing. I use open tuning for certain slide stuff and if I could I would take my vintage Les Paul on tour but it is too precious! I have an oeiginal Joe Perry Les Paul which was previously owned by Joe Perry and is one of only 200 worldwide. The first years I played the big gigs I used to take it with me, which to hear me say now is so crazy. Now I only play it at a gig where I carry it in and out of the venue myself as it is too precious for there to be any chance of it getting damage, stolen or lost!
What is your signal path?
From guitar I go down into the tuner, I use a BOSS TU-3, it’s the only tuner I trust. Then I use a full tone wah pedal, then a dual-drive which is an amazing pedal created by an amazing technician. Then I use a univibe hand made in Germany by a guy called Marcus Bekker. Then I use a chorus which is hand made in Poland which is called EXR, it sounds awesome. I use some BOSS delays, the old tape delay pedals and now I use a new BOSS delay. From that I go directly into my Laney Lionheart L20H and I use the LT212 cabinet also.
When I started I had an old amp from the 60’s, but in the late 80’s and early 90’s the guitar magazines started saying about the new transistor amps “If you don’t play one of these type amps, then you’re not a proper guitar player” so I put it up for sale and then bought a small Laney transistor amp, which I fell in love with and I still love that amps sound, but now I think, you know what, NOW I have the best sound I have ever had.
I have my L20H and when I stand on stage, I am smiling, it doesn’t matter where you are on stage it sounds awesome. I love that amp. I play stadium gigs with a 20 watt Lionheart head. It is so true to the sound of a guitar I don’t need anything more. It is the perfect little amp. And it is still not on the maximum, I play it with about 5 or 6 on gain and volume and it sounds incredible.
How did you settle on that rig?
I realised these were a great combination in the last few years. I played a Bi-Amping system and we changed the set to a more country and rock style and I tested the system which had my Laney TI100 Tony Iommi signature head and the Lionheart together but I found that when I played the Lionheart just on its own, perfect. You know sometimes less is more. I found the Lionheart and it just works. We practice in the recording studio two months ago and my very dear friend who is in the band Claus, he is an amazing guitarist and is crazy about his pedals and gear, you ask him something and he can tell you everything about any piece of equipment. We were talking and he loved the sound of my guitar, which is high praise from a guy who knows so much about equipment and gear and he said: “That sound, that sound is incredible.” So, I knew I had a combination of something very special so I kept it.
What is one piece of equipment you couldn’t live without?
Of course my head. The Lionheart is the base of the sound.The most important compliment is that one thing that transforms your sound. If you don’t have that good clean channel that transports all the signals that you are sending, you can forget about the best guitar, the best pedals or whatever because that has to be the best possible.
Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
I have actually two rituals. The first is a gathering before the show and we have a shot of rum! The second is very important to me and actually means the most to me; every time I am on stage I have this short moment where I look at the audience or the sky and I say ‘Thank You’. Thank you for letting me do the job I always dreamt of. I am convicned that the best guitar player in the world works in a bakery or something and they don’t know they are the best guitar player in the world, they might not even play guitar! But for that reason I have such a deep thankfulness for my job. Not many people can say they love their job but I really do and I am very grateful and thankful for that.
When was the last time you read a user manual?
Oh my goodness! It must be years and years ago, I never read them, I just want to get in to the piece of equipment and check it out. Manuals can be useful but I never read them!
What was the last album you bought or listened to?
Biffy Clyro. I adore Biffy, it shows me that even in the hard times today you can still get great music out there and it can be hugely successful and be appreciated. Shows that you can still headline these huge shows and stand there and actually play a guitar. These bands like Muse, Biffy and Foo Fighters, my goodness look at Dave Grohl, the guy breaks his leg on stage, gets it strapped up and finished the gig sat on a chair before going to the hospital. That for me shows the true consummate professional and passionate musician. He is doing it for his fans, for his love for the music and that is exactly why we should all be doing it!
Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians?
Well we are here in the Rockademy in Cologne, the Rockademy is a future music school, I run this with my good friend and incredible musician Christian Besch, a very successful keyboard player. The kids that come here have the mix of him and me, we teach them all the technologies of recording and we like to combine the good stuff from the future and the past. We give the kids a chance to be themselves, to create music and start their dream with the best foundations possible.
Most important advice I give to my students or anyone who is starting their journey in music is: make your own stuff, be creative! It is the most important thing to be creative. Rock and roll lifestyle is not rock and roll, the music is rock and roll, the music should beam you to another place and not the lifestyle. If you want to be a musican you should do it for the music and nothing else. Music saved my life and I tell my kids this. I got into music just as other kids started to experiment with things and get into trouble but for me I was sitting at home playing guitar. People would make jokes or fun of me but it focussed me and made me realise I had to focus on this dream of playing guitar for a living. I feel a lot of pity now to the kids that didn’t focus their energy and time into something useful and productive.