Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Paul Gilbert will be releasing his latest solo CD Behold Electric Guitar via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group on May 17th. It’s a dynamic, high-energy CD that takes Paul’s skills as a guitarist to new heights. Never wanting to limit himself or be one dimensional, Paul provide his unique take on mixing rock, blues, jazz, with pop flavors on this CD. Behold Electric Guitar delivers just what you would expect from such an amazing guitarist, explosive solos, songs dripping with melody, some head-scratching guitar playing, and no overdubs. Every track brings you visual stories without a single word being sung.
I had the chance to speak with Paul about the approach he took in writing this CD, the situation with PledgeMusic, and the status of Mr. Big in light of drummer Pat Torpey’s passing.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the musical approach you took for writing Behold Electric Guitar compared to your other solo CDs or even writing for a Mr. Big CD?
Paul Gilbert: I wrote the songs as a lyricist and singer would and the harmony and chords more like that of a piano player. But my best instrument is the guitar, so I take all these melodies and words and translate them through the electric guitar. I didn’t grow up listening to instrumental music, so I always thought it was the singer’s job to perform the melody. It’s so wonderful to be free of the limitations of my singing voice and to be able to express my melodic ideas on guitar. I should have thought of this sooner!
Robert Cavuoto: How long have you been creating this CD and did you have all the songs written in advance of going into the studio?
Paul Gilbert: I spent a few months writing, a couple of weeks rehearsing, and then recorded very quickly. Mixing was also very fast because the band and I played everything live. I love having no overdubs!
I had all the songs written, but sometimes I’ll make small changes to the arrangements. If there are sections where the solos are improvised, those just happen as they happen. For example, the solos on “Havin’ It” are basically just me saying, “It’s a C7 chord, and let’s listen to each other a lot.” When you’ve got a great band, those simple directions can turn into something really cool.
Robert Cavuoto: I first heard about this CD through PledgeMusic last May. With their recent downfall, were fans who pre-ordered the CD able to get a copy and how did it affect the financing of the CD?
Paul Gilbert: I could get all the CDs and other products to everyone who ordered something. I actually love the process of sharing the “making of” the album on the PledgeMusic site; unfortunately, it looks like PledgeMusic was either incompetent or evil, and all the money the fans paid has disappeared. It’s still not the end of the story as my manager is working hard to sort things out. I’m happy that the music turned out great, and that the fans received everything that they paid for. It would be nice if I could receive what is owed to me. In my 30 years in the music business, I’ve never experienced anything like this! So I’m very happy to be back with Mascot. They are a great label, with honest people!
Robert Cavuoto: The CD has varied musical types not just a rock, how important is it not to be one-dimensional with your musical/guitar playing approach?
Paul Gilbert: As far as differences between rock, blues, jazz, soul, etc., they all have good things, and I don’t want to limit myself, by making an arbitrary commitment to one style. I just hope that I have something to say, and the ability to say it well enough where my listeners stay interested.
Sometimes I’ll be in a restaurant, and I’ll hear some modern hit with that overused A-F-C-G chord progression, and it just sounds like lazy writing to me. But as soon as I get critical about someone else’s lack of creativity, I think of all the areas where I am not creative. For example, I don’t have any choreographed dance steps in my live shows. And I don’t care at all about video screens with interesting things showing behind me while I’m playing. Both these things are REALLY IMPORTANT for a lot of artists who are much bigger than I am. So I suppose that it’s unfortunate that interesting chords are more important to me than video production. Because of this, I won’t be headlining arenas any time soon. But I’ll be having the absolute best time while I’m playing my music. I just love what I love.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m always intrigued by how artists come up with titles for their instrumental songs, as yours are quite unique? Are they fabricated or do most have a story behind them?
Paul Gilbert: Well, for this album, most of them were part of the lyrics that I used to write the structure of the song. Maybe the only song that wasn’t built on a lyric was “Blues for Rabbit.” That title is my tribute to Johnny Hodges, who is my favorite sax player. His nickname was Rabbit.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it difficult to write instrumental songs that evoke emotion or is that something you leave the listener to discern?
Paul Gilbert: Playing guitar the way a singer sings is a lot different than playing “plain” notes like in scale practice. Singers slide and swoop, and breathe, and use dynamics and texture, and of course words. My guitar can’t form words, but I still use my instincts for hard consonants and soft vowels when I’m shaping the notes on the guitar. And I practice hard to get control of those other expressive elements as well.
The first time that I played “Let That Battery Die” live, I found tears were coming to my eyes, so at least for me, the guitar was successful emotionally.
Robert Cavuoto: Is there an example of where you outdid yourself on the new CD?
Paul Gilbert: The whole thing! The fact that it had a brand new way of writing, recording live, a good amount of improvisation, and all while dealing with a sudden drummer change; it was a miracle that it turned out so well! “Havin’ It” is a good example of a song where everything really came together. “Everywhere That Mary Went” has an interesting guitar solo at the end. This was recorded on a day when I had to enlist a new drummer and teach him the song on the spot. The chord changes at the end are very challenging for me, and I didn’t plan on recording the song that day, so I was less prepared than I had hoped to be. But I thought it would be a good song for the new drummer to tackle. So my solo is probably the one place on the album where I have a couple of wrong notes. But at the same time, I was in such a state of mental overdrive that I also played some of the best things that I could hope for. This is what happens in improvisation. You take risks. You might get a couple of mistakes, but you also get things that are beyond what you thought you could do. I’m happy to make the trade.
Robert Cavuoto: My condolences regarding the passing of Pat Torpey, will Mr. Big carry on with Matt Starr or another drummer?
Paul Gilbert: I can’t quite believe that Pat is gone. To me, he is NOT gone. He still lives in my memories, and in the music that we made together. Mr. Big did quite a lot of touring last year, so I’m in the mood to do my own music for a while. The future is the future. You don’t know what will happen until it happens!
While you’re here, why not check out our recent review of ‘Behold Electric Guitar’!