Interview with guitar legend Paul Gilbert

- May 15, 2007 at 01:21PM
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He might not be as much of a household name as the legendary guitarist Joe Satriani but guitarist Paul Gilbert might be one of the top guitar players in music today. Paul is best known for his work with the bands Racer X and Mr. Big in the 1990s, but since his departure from Mr. Big in 1996, Paul has pursued a solo career. Paul has become so well respected within the guitar community that none other than Joe Satriani asked Paul to join him as well as John Petrucci on this year’s edition of the G3 Tour, a regular tour that consists of Satriani and two other guitar players strutting their stuff on the guitar. The invitation for Paul couldn’t have come at a better time with the recent release of his debut all instrumental record titled Get Out Of My Yard, released last summer. We recently caught up with Paul in the midst of the G3 Tour to ask him about his new record, the tour and what’s it like to share the stage with the renowned Satriani.

The G3 Tour consists of you Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci and the legendary Joe Satriani. Even though you’re only a few dates in, how has the tour gone so far?
Paul: The tour has been amazing, it’s a great audience and a great format for the music I do and it’s just been a really nice way to re-enter playing in North America. Since I played in Mr. Big in the ‘90s, Mr. Big became very big in Japan and after I left the band I continued to nurture my solo career there and locally tour in Japan, South East Asia and South America. So this is the first tour I’ve done in America since the Mr. Big days so it’s been great.

The G3 Tour has been going strong now for over ten years and has consisted of some pretty amazing lineups of musicians every year. How and when did you first get approached about playing on the tour and what was your initial reaction to being asked?
Paul: I think the thing that made it happen for me was I finally made my first guitar instrumental record and so the music that I’ve got now sort of makes sense to fit; you know on the G3 Tour, it features a lot of guitar. And before that, I was doing more pop or rock music that has a lot of crazy guitar in it, but this is really one hundred percent in your face guitar that I’ve got on this new record. Also, recently I did some sort of one off jam sessions with Joe Satriani and it went really well so I think he liked the chemistry of us jamming together and really that’s the best part of the G3 shows, we have our individual sets but at the end we all get together and jam on a few tunes and that’s incredibly exciting.

The tour is of course a pretty extensive trek of North America, but are there any shows in particular on the tour that you’re looking forward to playing and why?
Paul: I’m looking forward to playing my home town. We’re playing in a venue that I’m really surprised about because it’s in Greensburg, Pennsylvania which is the town I grew up in. It’s not a big city at all, but there is a nice little venue there and when I saw it on the itinerary I couldn’t believe it because my junior high school is two blocks away you know, my dad still lives there on the corner, it’s right where I grew up so it’ll be amazing.

Joe Satriani is of course a huge name in the guitar world so I must ask what’s it been like playing and rehearsing with him?
Paul: It’s been great. I really enjoy listening to his set, he’s playing on his own set some very melodic stuff, plus you know you can rip your face off with the faster stuff as well. And ah, a huge vocabulary of sounds from the whammy bar stuff to weird guitar effects to playing very softly and beautiful to playing loud and huge and just stuff that you can’t even describe, you can only understand it by hearing it for yourself. But of course every night I get to interact with him because we do this jam where we sort of have a friendly guitar battle between the three of us, John, Joe and me. And that’s fantastic, we all push each other to higher and crazier and more musical levels than we would if we were just on our own so it’s been very inspiring. I’ve been taking the time in between my set and the jam just to practice, just to warm up for that because it’s very intense.

Do you guys just improvise your jams or do you rehearse at all together?
Paul: The song structure stays the same, you know we know when the verse is going to happen, but sometimes the solo, we’re not sure how far it’s going to go, we go until we’ve exhausted our musical vocabularies.

This tour actually fits in well with what you’ve been doing lately as you just released an instrumental album titled Get Out Of My Yard this past summer. Now that it’s been out a while, how do you personally feel about the record and are you happy with how it turned out?
Paul: Actually, it was a really good surprise for me because as a music fan, I don’t listen to guitar instrumental music very much. I really like Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien, when that came out that blew my mind and everybody else’s. Besides that, even some of the great guitar players, I’ve kept up more with what they do in a rock band format, I’m not really knowledgeable about guitar instrumental music. But of course I am a guitarist and the style of guitar that I play tends to be associated with guitar instrumental music so it’s sort of an obvious thing to try for me which is maybe why I’ve stayed away from it for so long. Finally I thought ok, you know I’ve got these tools, and I’ll see what I can build. And I really enjoyed the process, it was a good challenge and I thought that the album was pretty listenable which was really my main goal to make it listenable to even a rock fan like me because I’m use to hearing singers, you know, I like the Beatles, the Stones and Van Halen and stuff like that. So even though it is guitar, I don’t think you have to only be a guitarist to check it out and enjoy some of it.

Get Out Of My Yard is of course your first full length instrumental album. What made you want to do an album of instrumentals in the first place?
Paul: I think the challenge of it. For a long time when people would ask me if I’d ever do one, I’d always say oh I don’t like instrumentals and I thought it was time to give up whining and just you know see what I can do with the art to make it to where it fit my tastes. That’s what I did, for a lot of the songs I went back and kind of did my own version of the instrumental sections of songs that I like, you know I’d listen to bands like Rush or Van Halen and listen to what they would do in the instrumental sections of the songs and try to emulate that style because I love those kinds of bands.

What do you find more challenging as an artist in terms of songwriting, writing traditional songs with verses and choruses or writing instrumentals?
Paul: To me it’s really different. I sort of had to throw out all my rules and formats and writing habits that I’ve developed from writing songs with vocals and just start with a clean slate when I was doing instrumental songs which was scary. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to do a lot of trial and error and there were a lot of times when I thought I don’t know if this is going to work you know, the things that normally work when I’m writing a vocal song don’t apply here, I can’t just repeat the first verse with different lyrics because there aren’t any lyrics. But I liked it, it really challenged me and it made me sort of kick start my imagination and try to come up with solutions to all these musical problems that I had and the solutions were interesting so it was really an enjoyable challenge.

It certainly requires a lot more creativity because you know; you don’t have the vocals that people mostly pay attention to...
Paul: Well it’s a different kind of creativity; I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s more. I mean in a way, the easy part of the album was when it was done I thought I don’t have to write any lyrics! [laughs] And actually, I’m so use to that process of writing lyrics that in the liner notes, I just ended up writing some unusual liner notes for every song because I still felt some obligation to write some words down.

Being such an accomplished guitarist, you’ve played with all sorts of other amazing guitarists but who in your opinion today is the most talented or your favorite current guitar player?
Paul: Well first of all, I have to mention yesterday I met one of my biggest guitar heroes while I was in Toronto, a guy named Kim Mitchell and I went down to his studio, recently he became a DJ as well and I went on his radio show and I did a short jam session with him on the radio and it just blew my mind.

Oh yeah I do know of Kim Mitchell. About a year ago he became an afternoon DJ on our classic rock station here...
Paul: I just love his playing, I’ve listened to him since I was a kid and I figured out so many of his songs. There’s an old Max Webster song called “In The World Of Giants” and the intro of that song is this really fast guitar line that’s always been a technical goal of mine ever since I was a kid, like if I can play that I can play anything. It was fantastic to meet him, I was really awestruck meeting one of my heroes. Other than him, touring with John and Joe I’ve been able to see deeply into their styles from playing with them every night and both of those guys are unbelievable. Let’s see, who else do I dig... I guess the other G3 guys too, I love Erik Johnson’s playing, he’s been on G3 before. But of course Eddie Van Halen was a huge influence, especially because of the age I was when I first heard Eddie, I was about twelve years old when the first Van Halen album came out and that opened up all kinds of new doors. I love some of the sort of Hendrix based guitar players that came out in the ‘70s like Robin Trower and Frank Marino and Pat Travers. I really like the vibrato guys from the ‘70s too like Brian May. And even Lesley West, he had a fantastic vibrato in the ‘70s and I’m kind of trying to emulate that style now.

Aside from the current G3 Tour, what else do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Paul: Lots of touring. I got a European tour coming up that I’m headlining, I got a South American tour that’s in the works that we’ve almost confirmed and if Joe invites me for more G3, I might do that.

Any albums or writing and recording planned?
Paul: Well Get Out Of My Yard definitely turned out better than I expected and the process of it was fun and certainly after doing G3 I’m in the instrumental groove so I may see if I can top my first effort and see if I can do another instrumental record.
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