Saturday, September 3, 2016

interview: Al Joseph

The guitarist Al Joseph (U.S.) first came to the attention of this publication with the band The Great Gamble and the album Book I (2012, according to Metal Archives; on Bandcamp it says it was released in 2015 in that format), a serious and promising work of progressive metal, in the traditional style with melodic singing, but with quite a bit of crunch on the guitars. Today said band, unfortunately, is no longer active, but Al has continued working on his passion: progressive guitar. His first solo instrumental album is called Out in the Open (2013), a work that showed his songwriting abilities, combining thoughtful, melodic guitar with shredding. Nowadays he has several interesting plans in the works, as you will read in this introductory interview. At the end of the interview there are links to hear some of Al’s songs and to learn more about his biography and music. In the meantime, let’s begin the interview.
Al, can we begin with an update of your recent activities and your near-future plans? Have you been doing live shows, for instance? Where are you based at the moment and how has that city been for your music? Are there opportunities for your music?
Well I just recently moved to Los Angeles about a month ago from Boston, MA. Planning for that while working on my next solo record has been such a challenge, but I'm happy to say that I'm settling in just fine.
LA is definitely a better place for musicians. I'm in the final mastering stages of my new solo record which will be called All of Creation. I feel that this is my best work so far considering the songwriting and composition. I really feel that this album will cover a much wider palate of styles and grooves and I'm already having a lot of fun rehearsing for later gigs and appearances.
As far as shows go I'm setting that up with some friends in the states and across seas. There will be updates on my website after the release of the album.
How many albums have recorded so far and where can people hear them? I ask because Metal Archives has listed only one album of yours.
I released Out In The Open back in 2013. For my debut record it had some success, but after touring with my band we thought it would be better to recut the record with a full live band. We finished recording, but just couldn't find the right press to release it again. Seeing as it's been 3 years, it was just time to move on and cut a new record.
Who knows, we might revisit Out In The Open in the future.
What about instructional dvds? How many do you have so far?
I do quite a bit of work with Jam Track Central. Right now I have about 10 different products with JTC ranging from masterclass to demonstrations. I definitely plan on continuing down this road. Linking up with Jonny and the guys has been the single best move I've made for my career so far. These guys support their artists and take all 65 instructors with equal respect. Gotta love a company that does business like that. I couldn't be happier.
You have a band and it's called Al Joseph Group, correct? Who are the members of the band? Do you have a rotating cast of players or a steady line-up?
Because I just moved to LA, I have to search for a new cast and crew. I know the original members plan on making their way over at some point in time, but for now I'm going to patiently continue shopping for new musicians with rotation in mind till the band clicks just right.
That takes a lot of planning on my end. Making sure musicians get paid and don't have to worry about eating and sleeping is the toughest part of touring. So this time I think I'll reach out for help in that area and plan things more thoroughly.
Can you explain the objectives or mission of Jam Track Central? Do you have a specific role with JTC? I'm not sure that I understand what it is.
As for my role, I'm an artist. I simply use my talents to create products that our fans need. The guys that run JTC are 100% connected to our fanbase through running various surveys to gain feedback on how our fans are learning. Because of that our products have evolved into what they are today.
Jam Track Central was originally and still is a backing track company. But instead of just creating random tracks themselves they had the genius idea of calling upon legitimate artists like myself to create tracks and demonstrate how to play over them. This points the artist directly to their fan bases seeing that there's a high demand for quality tracks.
However, JTC has evolved into a site where musicians can learn as well, hence the Masterclass and 20 Lick Packages. It's a great way for artists to share their musical experiences with their fans, fund their various career endeavors, and gain worldwide exposure.
At this point in your career in 2016, what is your assessment of the development of your career as a professional solo guitarist? What achievements are you pleased with and what are some things that remain on your short list of things that you seek to do?
Well I would say that in this short time I've learned a great deal about how my fans see me as both a composer and musician. You see, as an aspiring guitarist growing up we have this picture in our heads as to what kind of guitarist we want to be seen as. A lot of us (I include myself) grow up trying to write the most wowing guitar lines for the musicians, neglecting key elements like song form and arrangement. We risk missing the mark of a true songwriter. But music even in the world of guitar is changing, it's evolving.
I'm glad I took the first step and put myself out there, continuing to release music because now I have a great deal of feedback from both fans of guitar music and the greater public. That is to say I now see my strengths from both sides. That's not to say that I don't cherish my roots as a guitar player, but it's my deep desire that instrumental music makes a greater impact on more than just guitar players.
I've become even less particular about the content of my solos concerning virtuosity and more sensitive to the vibes and emotions my lines give off. You'll see that in my next record for sure. Yes, it's still guitar music, but I'm excited to see the crowd’s reaction to the show we're planning to put on.
As far as the future is concerned I really want to gig and tour much more which is why I moved to LA. I enjoy educating people and sharing my musical experiences, but I feel like there's a side of myself I really need my fans to see. That side can and will only be seen on stage.
What are some specific obstacles that solo prog guitarists face in the music industry nowadays? Some of today's most successful guitarists established themselves decades ago, like Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine, Steve Vai and others in the pre-internet days, when the industry was set up differently. What are some things that you have discovered that you needed to tackle in order to move forward? Business aspects, social media, sponsors, equipment, the music press and its coverage, so on and so forth?
I'd say it's songwriting and business savvy.
Artists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and many more had to do it outside the bedroom. No home studio camera with editing and 100 takes. I'm am very guilty of this Lol. For so long these artists have overcome the challenges of being a working musician. Not to say that those challenges ever went away, but at this point where they are the ones who manage these challenges, not the other way around. They have just become very aware and smarter over the years I'd say. Musicians these days I've found just don't understand or cherish the business mindset. I will go as far to say they fear it. I am always testing for this quality and have to say most just lack the tenacity.
Others think because they're very good at playing guitar they should "make it". It's all a balancing act, all the way up. You have to maintain your chops, but you also have to be open to putting out lots of music, receiving solid feedback from your fans and peers. Just because you have a unique sense of writing doesn't mean it's any good. You're fans decide that eventually as you grow with them. I've found those who possess the deep inner urge to connect emotionally with their audience usually have better results, whether pop star or virtuoso.
So with that being said surround yourself with successful people both business and musically. Learn how they talk, how they vibe, and take massive action.
You probably have told your story many times in interviews, but I have not read it anywhere. How did you get interested in playing an instrument and what do you remember how your interest in guitar started? Did you go to a concert or did you watch a video of a particular guitar player?
I've always been a musician. From the womb. I grew up playing in churches and with friends but it never became a true direction in my life until I ran into the music of my favorite artists.
To sum it up it was my first listen to Joe Satriani's Surfing With The Alien record. Just pure genius, from the songwriting and guitar playing all the way to the production. To this day I take notes on that album and just about every other record he's ever put out. The man still sells out theaters. If you want to make it as a guitar soloist, sit down and have coffee with this guy. (On my to-do list)
John Petrucci is another guy that set the bar high for me for obvious reasons. He's just a powerhouse and another amazing songwriter. I personally think he doesn't get enough credit for his songwriting. He's another example of someone with incredible skill but also through his work with Dream Theater, has a catalogue the size of Texas Lol.
And lastly, my journey continues with inspiration I receive from the guitar players of today. There's just too much to go around but I manage to keep up somehow Lol I'm loving music at the moment!
This question is the most annoying to you, most likely: why have you chosen to go instrumental? Is there no room for singers in your music? Are there any circumstances in which you would be open to the idea of having singing in your music?
The funny thing about my career now is that I hit up JTC with the intention of bringing more fans to know my band The Great Gamble at the time. In fact, in that band I was the lead singer, so there was no reason to look for one. We've since then broken up so I just continued doing what I loved most. I'm not a singer, I'm a guitar player, but I'm not opposed to being in a band with a singer. In fact, I recently started a new band called The Atman Project in which we'll have a singer, a damn good one by the name of Josiah Baker. Amazing talent that guy and VERY business savvy which is very refreshing. But as for my solo music who knows what the future may hold. For now I prefer it strictly instrumental.
Do you feel a sense of freedom in doing your music without vocals? You don’t have to worry about whether someone will not like the singing style, you don’t have to make the music simpler with lots of choruses so that people understand it, you don’t have to get into current topics like personal, social or political problems/issues and other things like that. Do you feel like you have more freedom to let your guitar playing do the talking?
Wow, this is a great question. I am extremely picky when it comes to vocalists, actually. I don't usually care how they sound within reason, but how well they gel with the music. Most singers think the job is to just sing over the band as opposed to singing with the band. It's extremely irritating for me as someone who plays and actual instrument. Lol
But back to your question. As a guitarist I feel I want the freedom to "let it all out" on the guitar so to speak. But, with newer artists surfacing like David Maxim Micic and Jakub Zytecki having singers on their solo records, I'm starting to see that it's possible without being too corny. There are some solo artists out there I won't mention that tried it and for some reason I find they continue to contract some of the worst vocalists you could possibly imagine for a record. But It's hard to find that balance as a solo artist without becoming a "band". It just depends on the mentality.
I guess for the most part it comes down to the compositional style. I tend to want to keep things more simple when there's a singer involved and I usually play solos in particular spots in that situation. But I love playing the melody so much that I feel there will always be songs on my solo records that will feature only guitar as the "singer". If you gig with me a lot you'll know that it's usually simpler melodic lines I favor the most. There isn't much room for sexy vibrato in shred, so when I compose guitar music I make it a point to compose hooks way before solos.
I do write lyrics, though. I love it, actually. I'm not afraid to be controversial or touch on topics that may offend people. I'm not a particularly "nice" person in that regard Lol. But I avoid being overtly offensive. If the message promotes positivity in any way I'll allow it. If it's nonsense then back to the guitar Lol
Finally, do you have any news or things that you would like mention? Anything else going on that you want to say to the readers?
Yes! Be on the lookout for my new solo record as I mentioned before. It will be called All Of Creation. I wasn't going to say this, but I'm featuring artists Marco Sfogli, Per Nilsson, and Jack Gardiner on this one so it should be a heavy hitter for you guys.
Also be on the lookout for my new band called The Atman Project at the moment. It will be very djent and Dream Theater influenced so I'm very excited to get started on that.
Lastly, I'm back online so gonna be teaching Skype lessons again for those who are ready to start getting to that next level!
Thanks for inviting me guys. It's been a pleasure!
Al Joseph 'Wastelands' at 'I Just Wish' Al Joseph's inspirational rock ballad! |

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