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Tony MacAlpine - Pushing the Envelope

A good way to describe Tony's the new CD, Concrete Gardens, is epic. The compositions are amazing and grab hold of the listener and never let go. It is hard to categorize the sound since it artfully blends so many elements together. Tony is a true virtuoso, not only on the guitar, but also the piano. Concrete Gardens will take you on a musical joyride that will leave you craving for more!

Check out this video of Tony and Jeff Loomis on EMGtv:

1. The CD sounds amazing Tony! What are some of the main inspirations for these wonderful compositions?

Tony: This new album "Concrete Gardens" was written over the past summer and winter and comprises really a continuation of the Instrumental journey that began back with my first album "Edge of Insanity" with Billy Sheehan and Steve Smith some years back. Much time has been spent on the road traveling and playing in many cities and countries since then of course, and much of what I usually write about is a reflection on those experiences that in one way or another becomes a primary motivation and inspiration to compose music. I suppose it's all very much the same for most music compositions to have this inspirational base, but I would also say my writing procedures are very organic, where as it is free and natural, as I often work on many songs at the same time. I've never really been a formula person in respect to creating music, and it would seem that those types of musical moments are nurtured from pure creative exploration. Each song in one way or another has its own unique story behind it.

2. With digital technology these days, musicians don't even need to record together and have more freedom and flexibility to lay down their tracks. Could you describe the recording process for Concrete Gardens?

Tony: Right, but you know this was true back in the very early days also because really not much has changed from what we do now in comparison to what we did then. For example, we never tracked all instruments simultaneously on the early records, and once I got to the point where I was using early multi tracks to record demos, it was very common to have the drummers track to the demo when I was not there. And we of course sent slave copies of multi-track tape to various studios as we did with "Maximum Security" to allow some guest players to record in their own environment. Later, on different days, we would start the overdubs of other parts such as bass, keys and then perhaps guitars back at the main facility once we received those copies. I think more so what the digital age has made easier is the ability to be creative at your own moments, rather than a studio clock and budget dictating where and when you need to be present at a session. And of course the non-destructive aspect of recording has made the studio environment a much happier, safer place. Remember also that by the time the mixing engineer gets the tracks at his studio it's a fresh project for him and he is not burned out from hearing the tunes since day one. The sessions for "Concrete Gardens" were recorded in my home studio and that includes all guitars, keyboards and some bass, with the rest (drums) recorded in Brazil at Aquiles Priester's favorite studio. Jeff Loomis recorded his solo in his studio. We then had the album mixed by one of my favorite engineers, Adair Daufembach in Brazil, and mastered in Nashville by the one and only Seva.

3. What are some of your favorite moments from the CD?

Tony: I like all the songs equally which is normal. None are my favorites more than others. Songs are like children if you will, you feel the same about all of them or at least you should... I think anyway. Without a doubt though, it's always very exciting and thrilling to hear the contributions of the wonderfully talented players that worked on "Concrete Gardens" because they were in complete freedom to create as they wished to. This is always the best manner in which to be creative and play music - to do so at your own pace. I thought Jeff Loomis did an incredible job on both the album and the live EMGtv video. Sean Delson and Lucky Islam were terrific on bass. It's not surprising to me that Aquiles Priester plays live and in the studio as well as he does - he is on another planet. Pete Griffin's bass work is absolutely stellar!! Much of the initial recording process was hindered as I was switching between updating computer hardware and software that had decided to fail at the wrong time. Musically speaking however, I found learning the music for the EMGtv videos to be a bit challenging, because I did not have the luxury of sitting with the finished album for some extended period of time and learning the songs mentally. I had to organize and prepare the actual live performance of the music, which of course takes on a completely different understanding of the material, and I had to that in a relatively short period of time.

4. When I record nowadays I prefer digital modeling so that I don't have to commit to my sounds. Could you talk a little about how you got your great tone on the CD? Did you use amplifiers, digital modeling or some other technology?

Tony: I utilize a rather simple setup of Hughes and Kettner Tri-Amps into one 2 x12 Speaker enclosure loaded with Greenback 25 watt speakers and from there I mic them from strategically placed locations. Usually I like to work with a Shure SM57 for very close mic placement and a Shure Beta 57 at an entirely different location for tonal variety and different blending possibilities. Often times though, I alter the mics for the solos as I generally like to use a Sennheiser E 609 because it captures a tone that is pure in a different sense than the 57 or some other mics I like to use. I feel it's much more interesting for reproducing the tones in the mid frequencies, and the bass is not overpowering. It feels very good for me as a solo mic whereas the 57 is often much more at home with the fuller louder frequencies that are generally associated with rhythm tracks. The signal chain is very simple also, as I only use the Ernie Ball Volume Pedal and a Ernie Ball Wah. Occasionally I like to use a Source Audio Multi Wave Distortion box for some cool colors. I prefer to be committed sound wise to where I'm going with my recordings otherwise I may risk the possibility of never being happy with the end result!

5. How about guitars. What was your axe of choice?

Tony: I used my custom Ibanez 7 and 8 string guitars that are outfitted with EMG pickups. Some of the instruments have 808 x units and some have 707tw-r units. Basically I'm not afraid to use various instruments for a collection of tonal opportunities, and then still I may generally prefer to use the 8 string guitars only to create a very full harmonic range. I like the fact that my 8 string guitars have Floyd Rose bridges on them that really relaxes the string tension across the neck. I have played some other 8 string guitars that felt very cumbersome and bass-like, but my instruments do not exhibit any of those issues. For example on the track "Poison Cookies" I used only one 8 string for all the parts, and was very happy with the outcome of that song. I am not so sure I would have felt the same if I had used various guitars to build the track with as sometimes it’s quite desirable to focus on one sound and feel and build from there.

6. You are known for creating great guitar instrumental records. What keeps you inspired to release in this genre as opposed to focusing on writing pop songs which are known for having more monetary incentives?

Tony: We all wear different hats that might not coincide with what people might know and remember us for. I also have other aspects in my life that are focused on financial security in the event no one ever chooses to listen to guitar recordings any more, but for now I will continue without guilt or remorse to be a student of the arts and lover of musical freedom and keep contributing to this art form we call guitar music. While it's quite evident that we all have very unique incentives and reasons for why we are involved in or play music, for me there are so many other things to be concerned with, musically speaking, that my plate is full, and just having the freedom to compose material that I have a such a strong connection with, makes it all very worthwhile. This way of thinking all started when I was just 5 years old, and decided with my parents to start piano and music study at the Springfield Conservatory of Music in Massachusetts, and focus on that, rather than be a child singing pop star..hehe. But I stayed there for 12 years, and furthered my study at Hartt School of Music and still ate well and made many lifelong friends. I possessed then, as I do now, a very strong desire to follow a course of music study and performance. And I am still learning and enjoying it! I have however been involved in some pop material, having worked for a few years with French pop legend Michel Polnareff. While that was nice, there is and always will be something truly special about communicating to music listeners in an all instrumental format.

7. What makes a great instrumental CD in your opinion?

Tony: Well, I think back to when I would listen to the early Return to Forever albums, or wait to hear one of my favorite solos on the radio, and the one constant and compelling factor that's always there is imagination. When music is imaginative and full of promise and emotional channels, then that is when it has the attributes of relating and connecting with the human side. All of this being done without words just music. That to me is the similarity also shared in the great piano works for example, and also in the many great guitar oriented records of any music genre, for that matter. If I can become immersed in the entire content of music, or even just a few songs on an album, then to me that is very important and will define whether I truly like something, and further it will determine whether I walk away singing and not forgetting a melody from that particular album. If I cannot get the melodic ear candy out of my head, then it has done its job.

8. It looks like you are doing some extensive touring for the CD. Could you talk a little about the tour?

Tony: The band will hit the road this summer and into the fall and will play shows in the USA, Asia and Europe. The drummers will be Aquiles Priester in the USA and Europe, and Thomas Lang in Asia. On bass, I will have my good friend Bjorn Englen rounding out the trio. The lineup of Bjorn, myself and Aquiles has performed a great number of shows, so we are quite used to performing together, and look very much to meeting the folks that come out to these shows. Listeners can expect to hear a wide range of material from my discography including many tunes from the new album as well. Everyone should always check out my website for the latest and most accurate news about touring and other music related info.

9. I get questions from users about if your offer any teaching services through Skype. Do you plan on offering Skype lessons or releasing any teaching materials in the near future?

Tony: I have been teaching lessons through Skype for many years now and occasionally people might see information in regards to that on Facebook and Twitter as well as my website www.tonymacalpine.com. You can always get in touch with me at the website and from there we can arrange lessons. I have students from all over the world and is quite a dance to tackle those time zones of other countries, but you know, we get it down and they all really enjoy it. Future teaching materials and guitar instruction type information can also be found on the web as well when that is available on my official website

10. Are there any up-and-coming guitarists that you enjoy listening to?

Tony: I have to say I am really not one who has his ears and eyes on the internet looking for new players. I spend such a great deal of time reading and writing and touring, as that is something that I really feel is a necessity. If I am not playing guitar and writing music, than I am probably practicing piano and adding to my repertoire. After that, it's usually a long break in Spain with my wife where we have a place in San Sebastian that we call home for the 10 years now, and when I'm there it's all about clearing my head.

11. In closing, could you offer some words of wisdom to other guitarists interested in breaking into instrumental guitar music?

Tony: Sure - I always think of this great quote from the legendary composer, musican and conductor Leonard Bernstein in regards to that. I first heard it in music school at Unversity of Hartford Hartt College of Music and I never forgot it. It's this: "To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." So I always insist that you love what you do, and when you do it use your time wisely. The rest will come naturally if it's meant to!

For more information on Tony Macalpine visit his official Website