Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Detroit rocker, Sammy Boller, released his instrumental CD, Kingdom of the Sun, back in March 2020, right before COVID-19 locked down the world.
A powerful straight-ahead instrumental rock CD that vibrates with heart, soul, and melody; a combination rarely found in music these days. Sammy takes listeners on an emotional journey, expressing himself and his feelings, bending sound as well as listeners’ minds. The impassioned 11-song release features the dynamic “Cloak of Light,” “Awakening from the Daydream,” and the epic debut single, “Kingdom of the Sun.” His music is a melting pot of all his heroes Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eddie Van Halen.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammy about the new CD, how his technique impacts his songwriting, the love of instrumental music, and his touching tribute to Eddie Van Halen!
Robert Cavuoto: Can you describe the creative process of being an instrumental artist and composer?
Sammy Boller: It was a little bit of a departure for me; at least in the beginning, I was more of a guitar player with traditional rock bands. A few years ago, I started working on some new guitar techniques and arrangements to expand my playing. As one thing led to the other, I started creating demos of music trying to figure out what they would sound like without vocals. After I had a few songs, I showed them to a few friends; they all felt I should peruse the instrumental approach. It was a learning experience for me as I never composed a record like this or even considered it. I’m really proud of how it turned out and feel I just scratched the surface of instrumental music.
Robert Cavuoto: On future CDs, would you ever consider adding a vocalist?
Sammy Boller: I’m loving this so much now, but I never say never. It might be cool to do what Slash did and have a different vocalist on each song. Exploring instrumental music is so exciting and to write an entire record with only the guitar being the voice is something I enjoy.
Robert Cavuoto: What are some of your strengths that you relied on when creating this CD?
Sammy Boller: A lot of the songs and arrangements are based on two-handed tapping, and it grew from there. Going back to the creative process, I try to get the entire song down on guitar before bringing in the band. I can make it sound like a piece of music once the drums and bass are added to the initial idea.
Robert Cavuoto: I hear some influences like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Yngwie Malmsteen on this CD.
Sammy Boller: I love those guys! I was a big Yngwie fan when I was a kid.
Robert Cavuoto: We lost Eddie Van Halen the other day, what are your thoughts on him and his playing?
Sammy Boller: Eddie and Van Halen were my biggest influence, and this week has been heartbreaking for me as well as a lot of guitar players around the world. Eddie was my first guitar hero, and after that, it’s Randy Rhoads. Eddie was the ultimate guitar hero. He not only changed guitar but music, and I don’t know if that will ever happen again. It happens only once in a generation. It’s the end of an era for guitar now that he’s gone because he changed things so much no one will ever come close. It’s hard to wrap your head around his passing. People said he was sick for so long, but no one was ready for it. I wish I could have seen him play one more time.
Robert Cavuoto: That’s a great sentiment. Is it difficult to write instrumental songs that evoke emotion, or do you leave that to the listener to decide?
Sammy Boller: That’s a great question. Anything you play has inherent emotion. Just because there are no lyrics doesn’t mean you can’t evoke different emotions, which is the intent when I’m composing and writing melodies. That is something I try to dig into and have at the core of my music. The other thing I love about instrumental music is that it can mean one thing to me when I wrote it and something completely different to each listener. With lyrics, it can still be open to interruption, but with instrumental, it’s even wider.
Robert Cavuoto: What are a few things about your approach to the guitar that you feel are your own and tend to define what you do?
Sammy Boller: That’s another great question [laughing]. At the heart of what I do is to search for the perfect melody. No matter how crazy the guitar gets, the heart of it, for me is a strong melody. That is what I tried to do with this CD even though it’s a guitar album, I always try to go back to having melody.
Robert Cavuoto: When you are recording songs, are you big on improvising, or are all your songs laid out and structured?
Sammy Boller: On this record, it wasn’t note-for-note structured out; I did have elaborate demos. Then I had my drummer, Dylan Walsh, jump in. We worked out all the parts before we went into the studio. The structures were all there, but there was improvisation on some of the takes. To me, that real Rock n Roll, where everybody does their own thing, and it’s not parted out. I think on the next CD it’s going to be a little more collaborative that way.
Robert Cavuoto: One of my favorite tracks was “Mirror of the Heart,” as it has a neo-classical guitar style. What can you tell me about its creation?
Sammy Boller: I’m glad you like that one, as it’s one of my favorites too. That was one of the last songs we wrote for the album. I had that into riff a few years, but I never ended up using it for anything. One day I just started playing it and thought I could make it into a song. I like it because it starts out bare-bones rocking and in the middle goes to neo-classical. There are other points on the CD where it does that too. Dylan really shines on this song, as well. We only played it live once, and I can’t wait to play it again. It was during our last show before the lockdown. When we get back out there, we will certainly play it again.
Robert Cavuoto: How have your touring plans been affected by the pandemic?
Sammy Boller: We were supposed to be out, but nobody is out now or in the foreseeable future. I hope to be out next year, but it’s pretty much up in the air.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you challenge yourself in any other way on this CD that you have never done before?
Sammy Boller: One of the biggest things of being a musician is challenging yourself. I was just so excited about it because I never did anything like it before. When we started, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. It was fun and with music, it has to be fun. I feel like I’m just getting started and have a long way to go. Whenever you are in that space, it’s a cool thing.