Q. What is your current studio recording setup, and live setup?
My main guitar is the purple and yellow strat, which I use on most of my recordings. I also used my 'Ink' guitar (with the painted 'Spastic Ink - Ink Complete' cover) tuned A E A D G B for the lower tuned stuff. I just recently built a 7 string which I will use for the Blotted Science rehearsals and possible gigging. All of the Blotted Science songs are tuned A E A D G B E. I also have a doubleneck which was built for possible live shows of 'Spastic Ink - Ink Compatible' songs, which never happened. I still used the gtr quite a bit for local shows.
All of the Blotted Science recordings were done with my old trusty Johnson J-Station pod (which is what I've used since my solo CD 'Solitarily Speaking...'), then ran the signal in to my computer (totally dry). I record on computer with Sound Forge, and also employ the program to add fx. I currently use ProTools for multi-tracking but am looking for something a bit more PC friendly. I use no outside effects at all for my guitar sound, it is all added later on computer. For live performances, I am now using a Digitech GSP 1101 preamp. For power, I am still using my 20 year old Mesa Boogie SimulCalss 295 power amp which I'd had since the early WatchTower days. I had been using a Line 6 system for live purposes until very recently.
I use Encore 4.5 to compose on computer. For sound modules, I have a Proteus FX, a Roland M-SE1 string ensemble and for drum programming I use an Alesis D4. For all of the Spastic Ink recordings, my main recording source was an Alesis ADAT. I still sometimes use it when I have to refer back to old recordings, or need another recording source other than computer.
Q. Why do you build your own guitars and which components do you use?
I have tried using stock gtrs straight off the shelf but I always end up wanting to drastically change something. As a matter of fact that's usually what stands in the way of me getting an endorsement. I suppose I'm waiting for the day where a gtr company will build a gtr to my specs, but that hasn't happened yet. Maybe if I was in a higher profile band I might get asked, but in the meantime I'll just keep building my own guitars. It's easier for me to build a gtr totally from scratch rather than buying something off the shelf and customizing it. I had been using poplar and maple for the bodies, but just recently I switched to alder. Each gtr is made up of about 5 pieces which are glued together. The top layer (made up of two pieces) is 3/4" thick, the bottom layer (made up of 3 pieces) is either 15/16" or 1" thick.
I have been playing 24 fret necks for the past 20 years and actually get lost on fretboards with 21 or 22 fret necks. However, I do just fine with 27, 29 or 31 frets. Just about all of my necks have maple fingerboards. I first sand off the existing fingerboard, then glue on 1/4" piece of hard maple, then shape it. Next comes in 24 Jim Dunlop "6000" frets, which are the highest frets that I can find (for that somewhat scalloped feel). I'm not sure what the radius is on my necks, but it matches a Gibson Les Paul. The last two fingerboards that I've done have a scale length of 64 millimeters, which is very close to 24 3/8".
Just up until maybe a year ago I started installing DiMarzio Evolution pickups in my guitars. Before that I was using Seymour Duncan SH-6 pickups. Not sure why I switched, but I remember during my S.A. Slayer years I was using DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups, and back then they had a high pitch squealing feedback problem that I never could get rid off when playing at high volumes (probably due to the coils not being waxed). I figured that would have been taken care of by now, so I thought I'd give them a try again, and sure enough I don't have any feedback issues. I like the DiMarzio's tone a bit better but the Seymour Duncan SH-6 (the equivalent of a high gain DiMarzio) isn't bad at all.
One thing that I've done on my last 3 gtrs that I've built is glue a 1 1/2" piece of maple to the very end of the neck. The neck then gets bolted on farther down. What this does is allow for total left hand access when playing all the way up to the 24th fret. I hate playing gtrs and the heel gets in the way, so I took care of that. The top neck on my doubleneck is done like that, as is the 7 string and an upcoming 6 string (with the same shape as the 7 string but painted red with black blots).
Of course an original Floyd Rose bridge is standard on all of my guitars. I haven't really given much thought to using anything else.
Q. How do you get your swirly paint jobs to look like they do?
First thing is to mask off the front of the gtr, lay it down, and paint the back. I take a few different colors of paint, pour them into baby food jars, then take spoons and pour some paint onto random spots on the gtr, smearing around all the colors. After the back dries (usually the next day), I then mask off the back and paint the front. I paint the back first in case there is paint bleedthrough from paint seeping into the masking tape, it will be on the back.
The drag about these paint jobs is sometimes things get out of control, and there's nothing you can do about what colors bleed into each other and where. Usually the results are favorable, but I've done a few where I had to let the paint dry then sand it down to redo it days later. I video taped the painting of the green and white swirl gtr, which may appear as bonus footage on the upcoming gtr instructional DVDs.
On the doubleneck (with the printed circuit board painting), I painted the gtr a solid red color, then took racing stripe tape and ever-so-carefully cut the tape with a razor blade to where it resembled the lines on a printed circuit board (mimicking the Ink Compatible cover). This also may appear as bonus footage on the DVDs. Actually, the building of the entire gtr was videotaped. It's about 14 hours long so it needs a severe editing job.
Q. Which gauge strings do you use and what brand do you prefer?
I've been a Dean Markley guy for a few decades. I've also strung up with GHS a few times. On my normal tuned gtrs I use .010 - .046, on Drop C or D gtrs I use .011 - .052. On the 7 string I just add a .056 (for the low A) to a normal .010 - .046 set.
Q. Besides your own projects are you producing other bands in your home studio?
I've been asked a few times, but it comes down to I'd rather write and record my own material, and do the engineering/producing because it has to be done. And I don't want to pay somebody else for something that I can do myself. I absolutely HATE working with drums. Doing all the gtrs, panning things wherever, figuring out harmonies, etc... all of the creative stuff I love, but sometimes the engineering aspect wears me down. I remember all too well working with Charlie's drums for the Blotted Science CD. It took over 200 hours. Pure torture. I may produce/engineer other bands somewhere down the line, but not right now.
Q. Do you still have a regular practice routine and what does it entail?
Not really. I'm lucky if I get in a few hours of practice a day. Right now I've been doing pretty good with practicing because we've got the Blotted Science rehearsals coming up in a week, and I'm making time to run over several songs a few hours every day. I'm also running over lots of the DVD material. But there have been times where weeks will go by and I won't touch a gtr because I'm doing other things. For example, during the last few months of the Blotted Science production, I barely played at all. As far as a "routine", I just about always start off by twirling around my Chinese Health balls for 5 - 10 minutes, then working with a metronome before tackling anything too difficult. What I work on various on what I'm practicing for. Honestly, I don't really pick up my gtr to play just for the hell of it. I also teach several hours a day and have a gtr in my hand working with students.
Q. What do you like to do for fun when you're not playing/recording/gigging/teaching/taking CD orders/building gtrs or otherwise occupied with music?
Figure out how I can make a living besides doing something other than music! LOL! Seriously, that never happens.
Q. What led you to create Blotted Science?
A combination of factors. For one, I realized that Spastic Ink was pretty much over – or at least on hiatus – with my brother living out in California. ‘Ink Complete’ had been a true collaboration but ‘Ink Compatible’ was basically a solo album where I wrote everything myself, then went on a mad search to find players to play what I wrote. After that I was ready to do something with more of a band vibe again where I could bounce ideas off someone else and collaborate on music. I was finding myself lost within the “prog metal” genre, and decided to go a heavier route. Since I had already done quite a few recordings via the tech route, doing something heavier only seemed like the right direction for me this time around.
Q. Desribe Blotted Science's sound?
BLOTTED SCIENCE is technical/progressive all-instrumental borderline death metal. Kind of like Cannibal Corpse violating Spastic Ink! LOL I spent quite a bit of time immersing myself into Cannibal Corpse and Lamb of God’s music (since Chris Adler was our original drummer and I wanted to take his style into consideration) to get into the proper frame of mind when I started writing. I wanted to combine the extremeness of death metal with what comes naturally to me. Obviously, Alex brought the death element to the table and his style really helped shape the direction from the ground up even though I did end up writing the majority of the material. But, even on the material that I wrote, you can hear Alex’s influence.
Q. How did you hook up with Alex Webster for this project?
Well, once I started to think about who wanted to work with I put some feelers out to people. Chris Adler was first on board, then I had seen a video of Cannibal Corpse do ‘Frantic Disembowelment’ on a DVD and Alex’s bass playing really impressed me. So I put the word out on the WatchTower/Spastic Ink message board to see if anyone knew how to get ahold of Alex. A friend of his saw my post and let Alex know about it and shortly thereafter I got an e-mail from him saying that he was interested in doing something. Luckily, Cannibal were getting off the road and Alex had the time to do something else so I the timing was perfect.
Q. You have gone through a few drummers when getting Blotted Science started, was there a certain reason for their departure?
With Chris Adler it was a lack of time on his part because Lamb of God keep him really busy and they were getting ready to write a new album at the time. Chris didn’t want to hold us back so he bowed out. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to work together in some capacity down the line. We actually co-wrote and recorded a song together for the ‘Drum Nation Vol.3’ compilation, which turned out pretty cool. Alex then suggested Derek Roddy who was all into it at first but we ended up making very little progress over a period of several months. Derek also had other things going on, but he wanted to re-write many of the drum parts, which I wasn’t into because the songs were fully written by the time he got involved. So he decided to bail out as well.
Q. Since then, you have added Charlie Zeleny to the pack. How did you know he was perfect for this job and what do you feel he adds to Blotted Science?
Obviously when you listen to all the crazy shit Charlie does with Behold…The Arctopus, you get a pretty good idea what he is capable of and that you can throw pretty much anything at him. We took about a year and a half to find out that Chris and Derek were not going to work out, but with Charlie he had the material learned and recorded in a matter of months. For this difficult material and our working situation, that’s a relatively short amount of time. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. He’s a slammin’ drummer and he knows how to read music – that was a major factor given that this was a long distance recording project. Being able to communicate musically was really important under the circumstances. If and when there is a second BLOTTED SCIENCE album we do plan on getting together in a room and hash things out as a band but it’s good to know we can get stuff done independently no matter what. It’s a matter of patience and dedication, and not everybody has that.
Q. Did you ever consider having a vocalist?
We discussed the possibility of having a vocalist early on but both Alex and Chris didn’t want vocals. I was fine with that. The thing about vocals is – there are people that like gnarly, heavy music but not death metal vocals. On the other hand, death metal fans might like the music but would’ve hated ‘Machinations….’ had we had a more traditional melodic vocalist. So it really was for the better to keep it all-instrumental.
Q. How did this collaboration work when creating the album, did everyone have input in the writing process?
‘Machinations’ is totally a collaboration between Alex and myself. I happened to catch him at a great time. He was just completing the last leg the Wretched Spawn tour, and Cannibal Corpse was taking several months off after that. That’s when we started writing material for what became ‘Blotted Science – The Machinations Of Dementia’. Chris Adler (Lamb Of God drummer) was on board first, and so during this time, I was listening to a LOT of Cannibal Corpse and Lamb Of God CDs, going for some sort of technical, extreme, and possibly death metal type of cross with what we were writing. Chris was on tour for weeks at a time, and wasn’t doing any writing, but I was paying close attention to his “style” and tried to write the grooves for the songs to match it. Alex and I would send music file sheets and mp3s to each other in emails. This is when I came up with the Circle Of 12 Tones composing system that we used for the majority of the songs. Months later, Cannibal Corpse starting writing for the next album ‘Kill’ so then I was pretty much writing on my own since Alex plays a HUGE part in the writing of their material. Alex uses a program called PowerTab and I use Encore for writing / sequencing, so we both had the program on our computers and just transferred tunes back and forth. Charlie didn’t get to write because he came on board late in the game but hopefully he’ll be involved from the start when we get going on the second album.
Q. How was the CD recorded?
‘The Machinations of Dementia’ is totally a product of the Internet age. As crazy as it sounds but Alex, Charlie and I were never even in the same room together until 4 months after the album was already out when we met up at the NAMM show in California back in January. We all have our home studio setups so all we were doing was sending sound files via the Net. Charlie recorded his drum tracks in New York, Alex did bass in Tampa, and I recorded guitars and put it all together here in San Antonio being that I was also the producer and mixing engineer.
Q. What is 'The Circle Of 12 Tones'?
I came up with this cool way to make up tunes using a method where you take the 12 tones and scatter, them on a “clock”, and use different patterns that are formed. There are all sorts of various ways to arrange notes on a clock and tons of different patterns that you can get, and it all makes for very interesting sets of notes being grouped together. It must be a good way to compose because I’d say 75% of the Blotted CD uses it. On the DVDs that I’m working on right now, the 2nd DVD will explain it thoroughly and give lots examples. I’ll probably explain and play maybe 4 or 5 songs from the Blotted CD. I’ve been using different forms of writing with 12 tones since ‘Nighty-Nite’ on my first solo CD. It then evolved into what I call ’12 tone sets’, then came ‘multiple 12 tone sets’, then ‘modulating multiple 12 tone sets’. The catch with the system is you have to know ‘normal’ music theory to get the most out of it. I just got tired of using normal methods, and wanted to delve into something else that would give me different tonalities, and I got it.
Q. Why is the band named ‘Blotted Science’?
Actually, the very first working title we had for the project was Corpse Of Ink, the ‘Of’ referring to Chris Adler’s band, Lamb of God. Then Alex came up with Machinations of Dementia for a name but we weren’t totally set on anything when we first announced the project. I really dug how the words looked, the meaning behind it referring to something mentally deranged, and the scientific aspect of it, but the title was just too long to be the band name. We wanted something more simple and straight forward so ‘The Machinations of Dementia’ became the album title instead and we called the band Blotted Science. “The Machinations Of Dementia” worked out better being the title of the CDs because it specifically refers to the brain disorders concept. The ‘Blotted’ refers to the ink (Spastic Ink) or blood (Cannibal Corpse) blots, and the 'Science’ implies that the music is very tech-y. It all gives us some cool concepts to write about and work with for future CDs, and now we have the freedom to take whatever ‘tech’ route we want.
Q. What is the concept behind 'The Machiantions Of Dementia'?
The song titles are all part of the concept of the album, which is explained via liner notes in the booklet. At first we came up with the sleep concept, and that evolved into the brain disorders. I’ve always been into concepts going back to Rush and ‘2112.’ We needed a concept that was very brutal yet scientific, and the brain disorders fit in with both of them. For the more brutal stuff we have ‘Laser Lobotomy’, ‘Night Terror’, ‘Bleeding In The Brain’, the scientific side with ‘Brain Fingerprinting’, ‘EEG Tracings’, the ‘Adenosines’; and we have the spacey or atmospheric side too with ‘Narcolepsy’ and ‘The Insomniac’, and all of the dream/nightmare sequences in ‘Activation Synthesis Theory.’
Q. What is the story behind the songs 'Adenosine BuildUp' and 'Adenosine Breakdwon'?
I’m always up for a challenge when I write music. I had never done two songs that were an exact mirror image of each other, and writing ‘Adenosine BuildUp’ and ‘Adenosine BreakDown’ was the perfect opportunity to do that. Again, it fit in perfectly with the concept, so I went for it. ‘Adenosine’ is a chemical that slowly breaks down as you are sleeping, then as you are awake it gradually builds up. A total reverse process, and the music in the ‘Adenosines’ mimics that.
Q. Is there a chance for Blotted Science to play a few shows in the near future?
We haven’t played live yet but we’re getting very close to it. I’m going to Florida in 3 weeks (June ’08) to meet up with Alex and Charlie for a couple of days of rehearsal. We’re going to run through the songs to see what will work best as a 3-piece and basically get a feel for the material. I’ve heard this material several hundred times before, but never blaring in my ears, with sweaty hands, and with my ugly “frog face” on. It’s a whole different animal. We may expand a bit on a few sections, take a few twists and turns, and just see where we can take things. We’ve never played these songs as a band so it’ll be interesting how it turns out. I have a habit of recording lots of guitars and this will tell us what would sound best live as a trio. We’ve been asked to play shows and that all depends on whether we can make our schedules work. I’m flexible that way but Alex obviously has Cannibal Corpse, which is a full-time commitment he cannot neglect, nor would I ever expect him to. And Charlie is busy as well between Arctopus and all the other sessions and recordings that he does.
Q. What has the response been for the Blotted Science CD?
Let’s just say it’s one of the best “musical” moves that I’ve made. People really seem to like the heavier direction I’ve taken with Blotted Science. Obviously, Alex being a member of Cannibal Corpse means that a lot of their fans and death metal fans in general are discovering ‘Machinations.’ Charlie’s band, Behold...The Arctopus, is also up and coming and making a name for themselves so you have the BTA crowd checking us out. I think it’s been a really good thing for everyone involved – we’re all crossing over into each other’s fanbase.
Q. What does the future hold for Blotted Science, anything in particular we should be on the lookout for?
Well, hopefully a second album at the very least although that may take a while since Alex is in Cannibal mode once again and will have very little time to do anything else. Like I said earlier, we do want to take Blotted out of our bedrooms at some point and do shows, a leg of a tour, or even just a foot, opening up for a bigger band maybe, but that’s all up in the air. We’re already picking what songs are our favorites, which we’re going to run over at the rehearsal, and what we think would work best live.
Q. How would you compare Blotted Science to Spastic Ink?
Blotted Science contains elements of Spastic Ink but it’s a very different animal at the same time. Spastic Ink is more techy and Blotted is WAY heavier. If Bobby would have been playing on Blotted, maybe we could have called it Spastic Ink, but really this is too much of a shift to call it Spastic Ink. Even though the two Spastic Ink CDs had different players, the music on both CDs was somewhat from the same techy metal. Ink Complete was a bit more “experimental”, and Compatible was fuller and focused more on “songs”, I think. I‘ve said in quite a few interviews that now that I look back, Ink Compatible should have been a Ron Jarzombek solo CD. I wrote everything, found all the players, and that was very different from the Ink Complete when Bobby and I were glued at the hip when the writing of that happened.. There was also a lot of “scoring” on Compatible, and that’s what I was into at that time. Without Alex, I have no idea how Machinations would have turned out. Even on the parts of songs that he didn’t write, lots of his influence is there because I had quite a few listening sessions with Cannibal Corpse CDs.
Q. What is the current status of Spastic Ink? Any possiblilty of a 3rd recording?
There are no plans for another Spastic Ink album at the moment. The only way that could happen is if my brother Bobby were involved from the ground up. He is in the process of moving back to Texas now so there is a chance we’ll do something together again but he is a busy dude between playing with Sebastian Bach, doing Fates Warning, and Halford who are still a going concern as well. I’m always up for another Spastic Ink CD. Actually I already have concepts for two more Ink CDs! Bobby even mentioned at one time a direction we could take it. So who knows. I’m not holding my breath because I‘ve got lots on my plate at the moment, but it was very cool finally doing the Ink CDs with big bro. ‘Ink Complete’ was a true collaboration at the time but ‘Ink Compatible’ was essentially a solo album where I did literally everything myself and it ended up being a big pain in the ass to pull it all together.
Q. Is there anything happening with WatchTower?
No, nothing at all new to report – other than that there’s a spiffy new WatchTower website at watchtowerband.net and a comprehensive MySpace page at myspace.com/officialwatchtower, which were put together and are being run by friends of ours. I honestly don’t think ‘Mathematics’ will happen at this point even though we have enough music for an album. I was really pushing for it to get done for a long time, especially after we got back together for a few shows in 2004. I did all I could but I’m a quarter of the band and I can’t pull all the strings. Some people involved just have different priorities in life with jobs and families and are not motivated to get things done. And to tell you the truth, much of the material we have for ‘Mathematics’ has lost its luster for me. Some of that stuff goes back to 1990 and it’s so old now that it’s kind of pointless to release it. It’s really not where I’m at musically anymore - it’s almost like someone else wrote those songs. As for playing live - we keep getting asked to do shows and festivals but I told the guys back in ’04 that I wasn’t interested in playing live anymore unless we finished the new album. I was hoping it would give them an incentive to want to finish up ‘Mathematics’ but it didn’t happen. I’m not saying WatchTower will never ever gig again but I don’t see any shows happening in the foreseeable future.
Q. What material will be covering in your upcoming guitar instructional DVDs?
The focus of the DVDs will be the progressive/technical aspect of writing and playing, with examples and insight for material from both Spastic Ink CDs, my solo CDs, and ‘The Machinations Of Dementia', of course. To be covered (with excerpts/examples from), will be (on DVD I: 1. Common simple scales use and abuse, 2. Changing Keys, 3. Simultaneous Major/Minor keys/progressions, 4. Floating Parallels, 5. Timing (syncopation), 6. Trade-Offs, 7. Starts / Stops, and 8. The A/B Switch. DVD II will focus on the 12-tone aspect of writing. I started using all 12 tones when writing on “Nighty Nite’ on my first solo CD ‘PHHHP!.’ This evolved into using multiple 12 tone sets, modulating 12 tone sets, then on the Blotted Science CD, I started using what I call ‘The Circle Of 12 Tones’. The DVDs will not have any chapters titled ‘5 string arpeggios’, ‘sweeping’, ‘alternate picking’, etc.. All of the technique stuff will be played, but it will be fitted into the context of other theoretical things.