1. How did you get into technical metal music? What influence did thrash metal have?
When I was a kid just learning to play guitar, I was really into KISS. My brothers and I had a band together and I think we covered over 20 KISS songs. When Bobby picked up a copy of Rush's 2112, everything changed. The whole "concept" thing was just awesome. We discovered cool time signature changes, and began writing our own tunes. We were putting together 8 minute songs with measures of 11/8, 7/4 and such. Later came Yes and then UK. I didn't listen to any thrash bands at all.
2. Before joining WatchTower you played with Slayer (known as San Antonio Slayer) which released a posthumous LP called "Go For The Throat". The musical style has often been compared to Mercyful Fate. How do you look back on that period and how much influence did you have on the songwriting because there are only a few songs that show some of your style (the instrumental TLO22 and Ancient Swords).
Yeah, I was just the lead guitarist in S. A. Slayer. The band was formed by Don Van Stavern and Bob Catlin, so they wrote most of the tunes. I was a pretty straight-laced guy into more of the techno stuff, while the other guys were into death heavy metal. I thought all the spandex and leather stuff was kind of stupid. The only member of the band who was into the Satan trip was the vocalist Steve Cooper, who wrote all of the lyrics. It was funny how we would put a song together, make a cassette copy for Steve, and he would come back with all these Satanic lyrics. The song "Ancient Swords" that I wrote was a techno metal song, but when Cooper got a hold of it, the first lines were "Arise, from the black of hell you shall arise, and with all the creatures of hell at our side, and in the name of Satan himself!" It was like "Steve, what the hell did you do to my song!!!????
3. It is very peculiar that both you and your brother Bobby played with the vocalist Steve Cooper in two different bands (Slayer and Juggernaut). What's the story behind behind Juggernaut and whatever happened to Steve Cooper?
Well, Steve was the most popular metal singer in San Antonio for quite a while. Juggernaut was formed by Bob Catlin a few years after Slayer split up. I'm not sure why he left the band after their first record "Baptism Under Fire". I don't think Steve ever did a gig with Juggernaut. The album "Trouble Within" was more of a studio album. I haven't talked to Steve in a quite a while, not really sure what he's been up to. I don't think he's doing the band thing anymore...
4. Was WatchTower exactly the most suitable band for you when you joined them in 1987? How much did you like "Energetic Disassembly", their debut album?
I wasn't comfortable in WatchTower for about two years, musically and personally. I always felt like an outsider. Billy White was WatchTower's guitarist, and I felt out of place trying to fill his shoes. Actually, when I was first asked to audition for Tower, I turned it down, because I couldn't imagine WatchTower without Billy. I don't think I was comfortable with the band until Jason left and we found a replacement, because then I wasn't the new guy. When Alan joined Tower, it seemed like a new band. I personally liked the old line-up better, with Billy and Jason, they just had great chemistry. The line up that appeared on "Control" was very strong, but the original line-up was the shit, mostly since they had grown up together musically.
"Energetic Disassembly" is a classic, killer album. They're all playing their asses off, nobody's holding back. The first time I saw WatchTower live, I flipped, just brilliant. They had so much energy, character up to their eyeballs.
5. Why did Jason McMaster leave? Did he like the music of Dangerous Toys more?
Jason didn't want to leave Tower, technically. He just had the chance to make records, videos and tour like a fucking madman. He was courted with the money and administration of major recording and management contracts. WatchTower was moving very slow, and a major opportunity arose for Jason and he took it. It was something that he wanted to do his whole life. I was really pissed when he left because he was the guy who called me up and asked me to join Tower. When he left it was like he got me into a situation with him, but then took off himself. And it was hard enough for me to envision WatchTower without Billy, but without Jason!!!? What's the point of even continuing? I think when Billy left the band, it hit Jason the hardest, because WatchTower was his life. He always did everything he could for the band, and I just made matters worse by hesitating to join, and so uncertainty fell over the band. Jason started gigging with a few bands on the side, and was receiving offers to audition for bands such as Pantera and Dark Angel.
6. Why was Alan Tecchio selected as a replacement and why did he quit after "Control and Resistance"?
Jason actually did quite a bit helping find a vocalist for Tower. He was friends with Alan and he encouraged him to move to Texas, and take the Tower gig. Alan was a great frontman, very charasmatic. We first heard a tape of Alan when he was in Hades. A few fans knew that we had been looking for a vocalist when Jason left, and Alan's name came up a few times. I somewhat liked his voice when he sang in a mid-high range, but his lower range didn't do a thing for me. When we were putting vocals down on "Control", we ended up using a lot of Jason's melodies, that were in a naturally high range for Jason, but when Alan sang the pitches, it sounded forced. I have received a few letters from Tower fans who heard that Alan quit because we wanted him to sing even higher than what he did on "Control"! I don't know where the hell that came from. The bottom line is that the songs that Alan sang on, already had melodies lines and Jason voice was in a higher range. I think Alan left WatchTower because musically, it seemed that he was looking for something more straight ahead. His personality also clashed with the rest of the band's, but it was nothing too drastic. It also appeared that he just wanted to go back home, maybe a little homesick, I'm not sure. He did leave at a good time because a month or so after he left, I went in for my first hand surgery, and Tower was at a standstill for quite a while.
7. You have been mentioning different directions in which WatchTower were heading to in 1992. Can you be more specific, in which way did you want to go and what were Rick's and Doug's wills?
I didn't understand what was happening musically with the band. Everything just started getting so watered down. None of the parts were challenging or too interesting. I kept hearing lines like "It might not be difficult to play, but its a good song". Yeah, well so is "Old McDonald had a farm" but it doesn't belong on a WatchTower album. We had a few songs that somewhat picked up where "Control" left off, but overall, the songs were very weak. When we first starting writing after recording "Control", there were tons of concepts being throw around, album cover ideas, hidden messages in songs, and then for some reason, everything just got so average. We were just writing songs. No direction, no aggression or attitude, just tune after tune. What was really frustrating for me was that I had just totally recovered from being unable to play (4 surgeries on my left hand) for over two years, and we were writing bubble gum pop garbage. I first thought that Rick and Doug were giving me a break because my hand was so wasted, but when my hand finally recovered and I was very capable of playing some scary shit, nothing changed. We just continued writing bland songs.
8. High-pitched vocals and too twisted music usually are mentioned as two main reasons why progressive technical metal is hard to get into. "Control and Resistance" has both these elements. Spastic Ink's debut has got no vocals, but Jason is going to sing on the second one. Are any compromises towards accessability possible in future?
I just recently heard a tape of Jason's new band Godzilla Motor Company, and he is doing all sorts of shit. He still can do all the high shit, but he's got a lot of power in his voice. He does a mean Gene Simmons, and that's pretty low. Some really cool harmony stuff, too. He has so much control of his voice. I think he learned quite a bit from the years he's been in Dangerous Toys. It's different than what he did on "Energetic". It's hard for me to tell Jason to try to write lower melodies, because I love his highs. I'm interested to hear what Ink's going to sound like. As far as the music calming down because there are vocals, that won't happen. It's very true that a band with vocals will appeal to more people than an instrumental album, but I couldn't write "Ink Compatible" without words. I have a strong concept in my head, and there needs to be lyrics.
9. Do you like high-pitched vocals?
Well, the band that had the most influence on my musical life was Rush, and so I grew up worshipping Geddy Lee. His voice was just naturally high, and it wasn't some blatant attempt at hitting high notes. A lot of the metal bands of the '80s had vocalists that would sing in a normal range and then for some reason would start shreiking. I always liked the aggression that was in Geddy's voice. The vocals that I really don't care for is all the low barking.
10. "Control and Resistance" was probably the most successful techno thrash album, many consider it a classical release... Do you think that Noise Records expected even better sales or were they satisfied?
I would imagine that Noise was disappointed that our seven album deal with them turned into one album. We still don't know how many copies of "Control" were sold. Some figures indicate somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000, but who knows. All I know is that we didn't make a dime from any record sales.
11. Can you recommend any old technical metal releases? Perhaps you don't listen to such music much now, but how it was back then, in 1987 - 1990, when record companies signed bands like Hades, Sieges Even, Toxik, Coroner...?
I was never in touch with any of the technical metal bands. I had heard of Sieges Even because we received letters from Tower fans saying that there is some band ripping off your songs.
12. Isn't is strange that you were the mostly motivated one to put out the third WatchTower album? You were not original member of the band; at what point did you realize that WatchTower really means a lot to you? Who was the driving kernel of the band in 1987, when you joined?
More than anything, I just wanted to have something to show for all the writing that was done over the few years after "Control". I'll always remember driving to Austin for rehearsals with a splint on my left hand, doing my best to play Tower songs with two fingers, because my ring finger and pinky were fucked up. We have over 11 songs written, but I don't really care for the "new" musical direction. I wanted to write at least two more progressive songs, and drop some of the other songs, but it didn't happen. Rick and Doug couldn't find time to work on tunes in between work and family. I really thought the third album "Mathematics" was going to happen.
WatchTower "meant a lot to me" immediately when I joined the band in '87. Jason was doing all of the PR for the band, setting up shows, answering fan mail, and Rick, Doug and I were trying to write new songs. I guess everybody was pulling their own weight.
13. Do you have hopes that technical progressive music can have a wider recognition giving it more promotion or is it destined to be praised only by a certain circle of people?
Yeah, I'm waiting for that to come around, but chances are that we are all dreaming. When Dream Theater released the video for "Pull Me Under", it was on MTV's medium rotation. I was hoping that a progressive wave was coming around, but nothing really happened, which was unfortunate.
14. Can you give example of a band that does not express technically but appeals to you? Is there any pop bands that you would consider at least tolerable?
Sure, there are a lot of artists that write great songs that are simple. A melody might just weave it's way through a really cool chord progression, or a groove might get your head banging. And then there are some songs that just sound cool. "Heart Shaped Box" by Nirvana (believe it or not) I think is a song that just rocks. I use it for teaching students all the time. If a beginner student practices, they can play that after a month of lessons. The Beatles wrote amazing songs that seem very simple. A few favorites of mine are "I Am The Walrus", "Eleanor Rigby", "Mr. Kite", and "Something". Beatle songs are for great for theoretical analysis. Trevor Rabin's solo album "Can't Look Away" is probably one of my top 10 albums ever. The musicianship is top notch, the production is mint, and the songs are very "pop" sounding (although there is an instrument song "Sludge" that is pretty wild). I also like listening to James Taylor songs. No crazy time signature changes, or syncopated rhythmic patterns, just great songs with great melodies and cool chord progressions.
15. What do you like in Pantera music?
I just think Dimebag is cool, he writes some killer tunes. Very mean, aggressive, powerful shit.
16. What do you think of the Rush tribute "Woking Man"? Which song would you have covered given the opportunity and with which line-up apart from yourself on guitar?
Chris (Leibundgut) called me up and informed me that Mike Varney was putting together a Rush tribute album. Varney actually had called him up about getting a few suggestions regarding singers, and Chris mentioned Jason (McMaster) and in the same breath brought up the idea of either a WatchTower reunion for a song or having Spastic Ink do an instrumental, but by that time, most of the basic tracks (including guitars) had already been cut. I was thinking about what tune Ink would have covered for the album, and I thought it would have been wild to do a combination of 2112 Overture and YYZ, but play them simultaneously, calling it 2Y1Y1Z2. If you put the two songs side by side, the "storylines" are very similar. I wanted to go back and forth and back and forth between the songs. I even mapped out the whole thing! As far as what do I think of the Rush tribute album. Well, some of the players do turn in nice performances, but overall, it sounds like a rush job (no pun intended).
17. Tell more about Sean Malone's Guardian Knot project. Do you participate in the songwriting process? What your contribution will be?
I'm going to play on maybe 3 or 4 songs. Mostly solos, but some chordal and rhythmic stuff too. There will be two other guitarists, Trey Gunn and Adam Levy. Sean is writing the album by himself. When we first started talking about playing on each other's next project ("Ink Compatible" and "Gordian Knot"), I was hoping that we could collaborate on the writing, but so far, I'm totally focusing on Ink and Sean's working on "Knot". When we get to the recording stages, I'm sure we will both have input on each others work.
18. Do you like spontaneous albums where skilled musicians get together, jam for a couple of days in the studio, and the material is used for a CD?
Dream Theater is doing a lot of that. I just picked up a copy of "Liquid Tension Experiment" with Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. Some cool stuff happening.They put everything together in a week! I don't really care for all of the "jamming" on instrumental albums. I am into the writing of the songs, not just the soloing. It's cool to be spontaneous, but I want to hear some organization, structure and discipline.
19. Do you like to polish songs? How long usually does it take to have a song ready?
Well, of course I try to get the song sounding as good as I can. I took 4 track recordings from "Ink Complete" and did my best to make them CD quality. "Ink Compatible" will be recorded on ADATs. Sean has an ADAT, and we'll be mailing tapes back and forth from Florida to Texas. As far as writing goes, I usually work on a few songs at the same time, so if I get stuck, I can move on to another song. I'm somewhere near the halfway point with the music for "Ink Compatible", and want to get it completed and released by the end of '98.
20. What review of "Ink Complete" did you like the most?
Just about all of the reviews that I have read have been very supportive, thanks to some people with very open minds. I don't have a "favorite" review, but some lines that I like are: "this album is not for people with weak nerves", "despite the overblown technique there are highly enjoyable melodies as well", "every drum-beat, every guitar note and every bass-tone thoroughly put in it's place, not a tenth of a second too late or too early", "continuously shreading through 11 amazing songs", and "bustin' through the limits with wicked time changes, radical musical instrument abuse".
21. Can you compare "Ink Compatible" with "Ink Complete" musically?
Yeah, I always whip out "Ink Complete" and cue up "Data Race" and "Mosquito", just to see what I'm up against. I just feel that whatever I write should be better than my previous work. Although sometimes a song will dictate how it should be written, and making it more progressive or complicated isn't always what's best. "Ink Complete" is a collection of songs with various concepts going in all musical directions. Some heavy stuff, some progressive stuff, classial, a cartoon score, while "Ink Compatible" is based on a strict theme - computers. Musically, it will be more focused. And if anyone is wondering, the music will not take a back seat to the vocals.
22. There will be vocals on "Ink Compatible"... Will it be possible to view the album as a continuation of WatchTower?
When WatchTower was trying to get together to finish up "Mathematics" a few months ago, I wrote a few tunes that were supposed to be in new Tower songs. They were a bit "Ink" sounding, because they were challenging and required precision. It was a bit of a stretch for a Tower song, but I wanted to hear what it would sound like with Rick and Doug. We never got to the point to try the tunes out, so I'm using 3 or 4 of the tunes for the "internet" song. Even though Tower and Ink are "progressive" bands, they are miles apart musically, to me anyways. WatchTower was always bring in a tune and see what the others do with it. Ink tunes have carefully thought out parts that interact with the other parts. Jason never had the slightest problem working out any timing with Tower songs, and so I have no doubt that he will heavily contribute to the sound of the next Ink record.
23. Most people know you from Spastic Ink and WatchTower but even before and during your WatchTower days you were already making instrumental demos like PHHHP! and Happy Kitties. How would you compare these to Spastic Ink? How has your style changed during these years?
Some of the songs on PHHHP! are my all-time favorites. Right when Bobby and I first started Ink, he suggested doing "Kill The White Noise" and another solo song I did called "This Nice Blonde". (I don't think anybody's ever heard that one). I kind of thought about it, but wanted to do all new material. I was working on another solo tape but it got cut short because WatchTower took off to Germany to record "Control". My hand started scewing up during the recording of "Control" so I never completed the solo songs when I got back. Some of the tunes were "Electrical Stud", "Dead Machine", "Zits In 3D", "Blink For Me", "Pre-Slam Discussions" and "Oh No, Mr. Kitty", a song that I'd like to rerecord, but this time on computer with orchestral instrumentation.
As far as comparing the solo stuff to Ink, I would say it's very close, maybe even a continuation. Spastic Ink became a combination of WatchTower and the experimental solo stuff. Some of the parts on "Mosquito" and the groove on "To Counter" were headed for solo tapes, but they were presented to Bobby and that's when Ink took off.
The Happy Kitties tape is just two songs ("In Mind" and "Hammer At The Ready") that Bobby and I put together just for the fun of it. All that happened with that is it got some radio airplay here in San Antonio.
24. Bobby is with Riot again. Who is better, he or a computer?
Brilliant question! Let's see... Well, Bobby's timing is impeccable, maybe just a notch below a computer. Writing songs with Bobby was great, but it had a few drawbacks that you don't have with a computer. A computer won't argue with you over the arrangement of a song, but if you want feedback, it doesn't give you shit. A computer will play a part exactly as you write it, but it can't write anything on it's own... kind of like a few musicians I know. A computer won't change a part because it wants to and it doesn't fit the song. Kind of like... anyways.
The major drag about writing drum parts on computer is that I have to input every single note with a mouse, the duration, velocity, and try to achieve a good feel. It's a bite in the ass. I'm trying to make the drum parts sound as realistic as possible. With Bobby, I just said "Give me a 9/8 normal time groove with accents on the 2 and a half, and the 5", and it was like...presto, a fuckin' killer beat. Just what I was looking for. I wrote some of the drum parts for "Ink Complete" on drum machine, and then gave Bobby what I wrote, and he spiced it up, and did what he wanted with it, and 95% of the time, it was what I was looking for. I'm spending quite a bit of time on the drum parts, and am doing great, but I'm not knocking myself out because Bobby might come around and get with the program. And then there is always a possibility that I'll get a call or email from Terry Bozzio or Bill Bruford and they'll want to play on "Ink Compatible" for free (HAHAHAHAHAAAA!). What really bothers me that I don't understand Bobby's decision to drop Ink and do what he was doing five years ago. I mean, it sucks that he isn't with Ink, but I would totally understand it if he left for Trevor Rabin, Steve Vai, Chick Corea, or any artist that lets him show what he's capable of. Seriously, what is he going to play with Riot that he hasn't already done on previous albums. Bobby came up with so much of the music for "Ink Complete". He's a great writer as well as a player. I guess he's doing it for the same reason I give guitar lessons. It's just a paycheck.
25. You are interested in making music for movies, cartoons, computer games. Do these entertainment forms give additional freedom to you as a musician?
Oh yeah. With a "band" instrumentation you're limited to guitar, bass and drums (and maybe keyboards). With movie/cartoon scores, the posibilities are endless. There will be a little bit of orchestral scoring on "Ink Compatible", mostly atmospheric intros, setting up the songs. I'm thinking about releasing a CD after I'm done with "Ink Compatible" that will have some songs with all scoring, and some songs with progressive metal mixed in with orchestral instruments, but it will not be a "Spastic Ink" record.
26. Name 5 web sites that you visit regularly.
Well, I have to check my web page builder @ www.ronjarzombek.com to keep the Ink site happening. There are a few sports sites that I dial in @ dallascowboys.com, cnnsi.com and www.espn.com. Steve Vai's site @ www.vai.com is very cool.