TGA: Hello Jon it is a pleasure for us to have here such a great musician as you! Do you consider yourself more a musician or an instructor? You have both intense career. And why? We have got your videos with TrueFire and we think they are very interesting material, how started this collaboration and what are the next plans? We think your way to talk or explain is very clear and students will appreciate it. Also you teach at Berklee College of Music in Boston, as you know we are a guitar school, so tell us the concepts that you love to teach and why? Also is there something the new generation of guitarists is missing?
JF: I think I consider myself equal parts performer, composer, author and educator. To me, they are all part of a single vision for me. It wasn’t until I started writing my own material, then sharing with others how I do what I do that I found a deeper sense of fulfillment. Of course, my “inner teenager” still wants me to become a rock star someday, but in reality, I’m much better suited for what I actually do. The main idea that I teach is a failry simple one: That you’ll play at your current maximum potential when your head, hands and heart are in equal balance with each other. All three elements are needed in equal amounts. Most players have one or two of those elements out of balance with the others. My goal as a teacher is to help guide them to their own ideal.
TGA: Who was your best student and today what are the possibilities of a job after so many years studying guitar? Tell us tour musical background. When and how Jon Finn started to play and why? What are your influences?
JF: I can’t really say who my best student has been. There have been many. There was a student from Italy named Eduardo Faiella who was great! Also from Italy is Emiliano Santoro. There is also Ben Levin, Nili Brosh, John Barry, and so many others over the years. There has been a rumor going around that I taught John Petrucci. That one isn’t true.
I think that success in the music industry requires an unshakeable belief in your own abilities, and faith that things will work out ok. Further, I think that many people underestimate how much skill you need to make a living. You never know what you’ll be asked to do, so I think that the stronger your ability to learn new things, the better. Imagination, resilience, patience and a strong work-ethic are very important.
I started to play guitar at age 6 because I saw a TV commercial that showed a 6-year-old boy playing guitar for his neighbors and became very popular. I wanted to be popular like that so I wanted a guitar. When I started playing, I enjoyed it so much that I no longer cared about being popular. I just wanted to play. All through my childhood I played in various rock bands up until I went to Berklee as a student. I’m 59 years old now, and I still feel like I’m learning! Early influences were the Beatles, The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, bands like that. Then I discovered Steve Morse, Jeff Beck, Terry Kath, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman, then later Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan and many others.
TGA: When we started our school we asked you a definition of “shred” and you answered: virtuosity means that can play anything you desire. We love this! Now how much is important technique for a player and how to use it in the correct way? How to turn a virtuoso guitarist into an amazing musician? When you have free time from school or concerts and you are relaxed at home with your instrument, what you like to play? You recorded also many solo albums tell us how your writing process has changed since your first releases “Wicked” and “Don’t look so serious”? What are you searching for when you start to write new music? As you can see today there are so many home-guitarists that record videos and videos in their room, so how they can evolve to be a “real” musicians? And what is your advice to the actual or next generation of guitarists? How to spread their music? What do you think about social channels like facebook, youtube or twitter? Do you use them? We see the use and abuse of it what is your opinion? What are your next projects? Did you ever thought to visit Italy?
JF: To me, great technique is very important. Without it you cannot execute everything you want to play. I define technique differently: “Great technique is invisible” In other words, the listener should not be able to tell if the phrase was easy or difficult to play. Why? Because I want the listener’s focus to be on the music itself, and the “story” it’s trying to tell. If the listener can sense that something is easy or difficult, then the listener’s focus is on the player, not the music. How to get a virtuoso to become a great musician? I say that someone with great technique but lacking in feel, or passion isn’t actually a virtuoso. Too much is missing if that’s the case.
At home for fun, I usually try to find something totally different to play than what I would normally do. When I do that, I become a beginner all over again but it re-kindles a sense of excitement about the process of learning new things. When I recorded “Don’t Look So Serious” I felt like I needed to prove myself as a player. So there’s a lot of technical shred things going on that record. It was important to me that the shredding didn’t over-shadow the music or the songs. I tried to show some level of restraint in that way. Because of this, many people didn’t like it at the time because the shredding was less “over the top” then others being released at the time. I did that deliberately because I felt that too many records featured too much shred and not enough composition. So with each new album I’ve don’t I find myself less interested in shredding, and more interested in tone, feel, composition, band dynamic and the overall sound. On “Wicked” the focus was about presenting the band playing killer arrangements of killer tunes. “Bull in a China Shop” was about crossing more stylistic boundaries and creating different song textures. The instrumentation on that record ranges from a two-guitar duet (with fingerstyle legend Guy Van Duser), through a rock rhythm section all the way up to a full symphony orchestra on the song “34.1”
My advice to the next generation of musicians? First, focus on getting good. Don’t worry about building your reputation online or otherwise until you have your music and playing very strong. The world is filled with mediocre players with good social networking skills. The truth is they cancel each other out because no-one stands out with excellence. If you’re that good, it’s hard for others not to notice.
I’ve never visited Italy. The closest I’ve been is some of the cities in Southern France near the Italian border. I would LOVE any opportunity to go! Please let me know if you have any ideas. Thanks so much and good luck! Sincerely, Jon Finn
Settembre 2017 | intervista a cura di Francesco Fareri.
TGA: Hello Angel tell us about how you are preparing for your upcoming solo tour? And how started this great collaboration with Andy?
AV: The main part of my prep for this tour is just making sure the song transitions are smooth and the band is well rehearsed. Since my longtime drummer Bill Fore can’t tour, I always take a different touring drummer with me. This tour will feature Mike Malyan.
I heard about Andy through fans of mine who, for years, suggested we do something together. We have a lot of mutual friends so I figured I’d reach out and see if we could make a tour happen. He obliged and here we are!
TGA: This is a great moment for you you have a new cd out soon, a new signature guitar and an upcoming tour! What we must to expect next?
AV: The new album will have a lot of exciting content. There will be many music videos, play-throughs, and a full documentary on how the album was written once it is released.
My signature guitar with Charvel is shaping up very nicely. I will have one more custom coming in soon that will reflect all the changes from the initial build. Releasing a signature guitar is a lot of work, so it will have take a back seat until the album and videos are all done.
TGA: We have your past solo albums, what is the main difference between Synapse and the past releases?
AV: Synapse covers a lot of ground. Since every song was written for a different brain chemical, they all naturally sound different from each other. I find myself exploring new techniques with each album, so you’ll hear a few new tricks throughout Synapse. This is my first time releasing a full length album in a while, so I’m happy people get to hear many different sides of me on 1 release.
TGA: Tell us about the writing process and how you start to write a new song.
AV: I took my entire writing process and turned it upside down for Synapse. I decided to paint my studio 9 colors to represent each song when I was writing. I studied a lot of color psychology and after enough research assigned a color to each brain chemical. It was a lot of work but very necessary and inspirational, I wanted to be inside of the color. Ive always been sensitive to my environments ever since I was kid and noticed that anytime I moved or changed a room it would inspire me. Figured this was the perfect way to complete all the songs.
TGA: We noticed you are not only a guitarist or instructor but you have on site a section for musical advices about career; what does it consists and why you wanted to create this section?
AV: Being a musician these days means you have to also be a sound and creative businessman as well. I’ve had incredible opportunities in my career and learned valuable lessons that I want to share with the world. I helped dozens of friends with their music careers and decided that it was time to spread it out further to anyone who wants to talk about the industry.
A lot of the time it starts with an evaluation of what the artist has done. From there it’s always different… some people want advice on touring, some on branding and others about accounting. There are so many topics to cover that it can be overwhelming to try and find something online that fits your situation, so this is why I offer consulting.
TGA: Tell us something about your guitar and the main differences from the others.
AV: My signature with Charvel is a balance between modern and classic aspects. I grew up playing traditional stratocasters and modern Ibanez RG’s, so I wanted to fuse the two worlds together and create a hybrid that features the best of both worlds.
Charvel also have a lot of exp with modern guitars as well since it’s the same team as Jackson. Couldn’t ask for a more perfect situation based on my philosophy.
TGA: What do you think about musical scenes today and what have to do a new guitarist to be noticed among so many players?
AV: The scene is very exciting and because of that, many players are seeing the success of their influences and giving it a shot themselves. It forces people to get creative with their art and how it is presented to the public. You have offer something that isn’t available elsewhere.
Other thing too is that you have to be honest with what your strengths and weaknesses are. Without this, you will undoubtedly fail as you attempt to do things beyond your grasp, and your art will suffer because of it. While it is important to branch out and do everything you can yourself, it’s also impossible to work with people who compensate for your weaknesses. This way, you can directly learn from them then eventually do it yourself.
TGA: What are the differences between todays guitarists and Shrapnel era guitarists?
AV: Guitarists of today are undoubtedly more technically equipped than their predecessors- it’s simply how human nature evolves. With the internet and technology such as Guitar Pro as resources, the modern guitarist is truly boundless. There is also much more potential for the modern guitarist to have a career themselves (despite the over saturation). Distribution is done with a click of a mouse and music industry promo is everywhere.
TGA: What is your musical background? I mean what age you started, where did you studied and what you focused during the study in the years?
AV: I started when I was about 13. Nirvana was really what made me pick up the guitar initially. Their songs were and still are incredible and will no doubt stand the rest of time.
I grew up very poor, so I never had any formal training or lessons. I used the music I loved to teach me how to write songs… Metallica, Megadeth, Chevelle, Tool and countless others. They were my teachers.
TGA: Tell to our students something you think is important during the study or the practice and all the players must know.
AV: You have to stay dedicated, focus and passionate about whatever you want to do in life. Know that your goals and desires will change with time, and that while music is wonderful it is but a PART of your life. Do not define yourself by a mere aspect of what you want to do for a career.
You can love and sacrifice everything for the guitar, but it will not love you back. Live a balanced and full life and your music will reflect its greatness.
TGA: What is for you the meaning of “shred”? Do you consider yourself a shredder? Or do you consider shredding a style of playing or music?
AV: The word “shred” has developed a stigma. Immediately, people associate it with really fast/nonsense playing that lacks emotion. What people don’t understand is that shredding when done in moderation, can provide much more emotion. The reason why is because a guitarist had to dedicate years of hard work and discipline in order to paint with “teal,” or “crimson.” Those colors just don’t come from standard guitar players.
TGA: We have seen a lot of your videos that are more like a short movie that a typical guitar hero video and they are amazing. Tell us something about the creation, the work behind the scene and your decision to create so unique videos to promote your music.
AV: Michael Jackson was my first major influence growing up. Watching his performances and videos had an eternal impact on how I treat my art. I absolutely love cinematography and do my best to tell a story not only through music, but also through video. It’s one of the aspects I love most about having a career in music.
TGA: We are very happy to start our new site section with your interview and we thank you very much! Please feel free to leave a comment! Thanks! Ciao!
AV: Thank you so very much for your time and thoughtful questions. Looking forward to seeing everyone in Italia!
Settembre 2017 | intervista a cura di Francesco Fareri.
TGA: Dear Sam, tell us about your actual musical life!
SB: I am currently doing a bit of teaching at a local school in between touring with a dance production that plays around the UK doing various styles of music. It’s exciting and keeps me on my toes! I am also starting work on my new solo instrumental album, which I hope to get done writing wise by the end of the year all going well… And later this week I will be going into the studio with Mask of Judas to prepare for a music video shoot that we will be doing in October to help support the release of our debut album.
TGA: We all remember your first videos with extra range guitars and now we see you with a more strato style but most of all we noticed a completely change of writing music. Tell us what’s happened.
SB: My first Electric Guitar was a Strat Copy and most of my favourite players play strats. It has always been the sound in my head. A few years ago I was spending a lot of time on the 8 string and doing lots of technical videos, which were fun. And I still play like that in my band Mask of Judas (Album out later this year!) But I had a huge void in my playing that I had forgotten about from my early years… I couldn’t dig into anything like I wanted to, notes all sounded the same, I couldn’t get anything ‘behind’ what I was playing…after feeling uninspired with the guitars I was using, I went to a local friend and guitar builder who makes custom guitars by the name of ‘Eternal Guitars’ he had a few s-type guitars in the workshop, I picked up this surf green one with a classic neck radius and single coils, it was like someone flipped a switch, suddenly I found my inner musician again, I felt that same inspiration that I did when I started playing all those years ago on my Strat Copy, except now I had the technical knowledge to go with it.
It’s certainly changed my playing. And as for writing music and how my style may well have changed, well that stuff is in me. With some of the technical stuff I was composing, I really had to manufacture it and plan it all out in such a way that I found it really took out the humanistic and dynamic elements of the music, something that I didn’t know I was longing for in my music for a long time. But when I stood back and just let myself write melodies, chords and focused on expression and dynamic, I could create something that I could really get behind. It feels right and whilst some of my older followers from the extended range days may not like some of what I do now, I am definitely happier making music that creates emotions in other people hopefully.
TGA: What do you think about actual musical scenes? There are a lot of guitar players and most of them are home-players, ao how to get more attention from people?
SB: Playing live is very important for me, it’s one of the main reasons I play music. Things change completely live, it’s exciting, and you learn things that you could never learn in the practice room. Things that are so valuable and important to music making at home and on the stage. There’s no problem if you’re a home player and that’s what you want to do, it’s great!
I just personally feel that playing music live though is where the great divide can come in. Things like being able to play rhythm properly, being able to hold a groove and play dynamically with a band, those are the things that will get you noticed in the band scenes locally. If your able to emulate and improvise in different styles etc. Basically, if you have a good sound and you’re professional and easy to work with, things should naturally start snowballing. If you can solo well, it’s a bonus! If you are a home player and wish to gain attention the internet is of course a great place to start!
TGA: How much is important in tour opinion the social media today? And how to use them at the best?
SB: I wish I knew how to use social media better as it is now the medium which we have to self-promote if we want to push across our art and ideas. It seems people have a very short attention span these days, even in the “guitar scene”… Musicians are having to find genius ways of grabbing the audience’s attention just long enough to get them hooked. Some of my favourite recent emerging artists are Knower and Vulfpeck. They are incredible musicians, both doing something unique and they have a quirky way of getting their art out there with amusing but very smart videos. I sometimes personally find it tricky to self-promote on social media, I don’t feel I can really talk “big” about myself when I know how far I have to go with my personal development in music.
TGA: We have seen a lot of your instructional videos and as you know we are a guitar school so tell us when you started to play and what you studied.
SB: I started playing when I was 5/6 years old, I learnt open chords by learning Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan songs. Later on around the age of 8 I was introduced by a family friend to Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler. I was given some tab books for my Birthday, I would try and learn, but I had no real instruction on how to play lead. I did end up having the odd guitar lesson in school around this age, they gave me a Mel Bay book and asked me to learn to read sheet music, I didn’t like it at all… (I am a reader now however!) my guitar tutor was cool enough to give me cut outs from Total Guitar Magazine at the time, this was really helpful! But I still didn’t know any theory or technical knowledge, I just played around… I probably didn’t pick up the guitar much between the ages of 11-17…maybe to learn the odd Green Day song or something, but nothing major. It wasn’t until I went to college to study Music that I met some friends who were into Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert…discovering these guys and seeing my friends play their stuff was super inspiring, so that took me on another journey of self-discovery.
Whilst I was at college I had a fantastic guitar tutor who taught me to treat the guitar as a musical tool to express myself with. He would state that if you have fretboard knowledge and some technique coupled with an open musical ear, you would be well on the way to expressing yourself freely on the instrument. Something I am still working on to this day!
TGA: What is the best advice you can give to guitar students? What is necessary to become a good player?
SB: My advice would be to ask yourself ‘what am I trying to say’ with my playing, this is always a good question to ask, the answer will always change, but the answer gives you a direct place to explore. I think with the advent of internet and the huge amount of information on guitar playing, licks and theory. Some people forget to actually just explore the instrument and find things they like. This isn’t me saying “don’t do theory” because you should, but when you do, work on how it sounds to you, spend time on each thing properly by exploring it creatively.
Then it becomes truly yours, not just something you have skipped over because you have been told its important to know the 7 modes of the melodic minor, so you have quickly learnt the 3 note per string patterns and now it’s done…it’s not done at all! Spend time with the modes you like the sound of, work out where they can be used in composition, create phrases, sing the phrases, work them out in different keys with different phrasing etc. Something I can’t say I can do perfectly, but approaching new things in small chunks with that much exploration will really help you delve deeper into making it your own.
TGA: How much is important the technique in your playing and what does “shred” means for you?
SB: Technique is very important. But technique isn’t music. Technique is the tool that enables you to create the music you hear in your head. Technique shouldn’t write the music for you, it should be there to enable you to produce the sounds you want to create. Find what techniques work for you. Technique also isn’t just the classic sweeping, picking, tapping and legato… Technique is also applicable for vibrato, bends, slurs, articulations, rhythmic placement, chord embellishments, and tonal techniques with your hands to get different sounds, your technique with the volume and tone knob…the list is endless!
Shred for me is when you’re listening to a musician, and they do some kind of detailed speedy run with fire and conviction and the notes linger on after the line has completed. Almost like burning tracks being left behind after a drag racer has just left the start line! Yngwie and Gilbert are classic guitar examples of this. They have speed (which is associated with ‘shred’) but they have serious energy behind it, it something inside of them coming out. And then they hit the vibrato and it burns your eyebrows off. Love it!
TGA: Where do you see yourself in the next ten years? Are you working to something specific?
SB: I honestly don’t even know where I see myself next year realistically! I have three sides to what I do as a musician. I am an Artist who makes his own music, I am a Session Player and I am a Tutor. I know that I want to peruse the first two a lot more and leave the tuition for later once I have learnt something from doing the other two more. I have been doing these 3 things for the last 12 years, and I hope to expand on it. I am always working on my own musicianship.
I would love to tour the world with my own music, I would love to play Guitar for some Major artists. Two things creatively that are in progress right now are the Mask of Judas debut album, were are filming a music video for one of the songs later next month. And I am going to be writing some new music for my own solo album, which I hope to do some things with…we shall have to see! I would love to make a final attempt of sharing my music with a larger audience with some great musicians. I’d love that.
TGA: You have out a new EP Distant Lights, tell us about writing and recording process. When do you write music and how can you transform ideas into music?
SB: Distant Lights is very a very personal release for me. In January of this year I stopped drinking so much beer…suddenly I was super productive! (No surprise!) I had lots of musical energy and melodies where flying around my head. I love to write simple melodies first and then write the chords around them, this way I can really focus on the emotional and textural elements of how the melody comes across in my arrangements.
When I find the main melody or chord sequence, I often get a vivid picture in my mind of a place or moment coupled with a strong feeling. The rest of the song is often very inspired by these things. I found that by focusing on a basic melody and really letting it develop, the sections of the song would almost write themselves. Once I had these basic bones of the songs, it was a matter of following fairly simple forms that worked effectively and focusing on the dynamic flow of the music.
I say this like it was easy, and of course it isn’t always easy. But I find you have to make time in your day to at least get into a writing mind set and see if ideas come to you. Some days they won’t, some days you will re-hash a previous idea you were working on. Its fine, but at least you were letting the vibes come through. I do find myself struggling with writing, but now I am more relaxed and have a much more musical approach, I find it happens more often now than not. I really think it’s about not judging ideas to early or trying to shape them to early on, let them develop!
As for the solos on that E.P They are all improvised. Even the written melodies, all the articulations are done in the moment. I love improvising, I am not great at it, but it always sounds better to me, even if it is rough around the edges, I love the sound of an unhinged guitar! I am not spending too much time creating licks or phrases to throw in…for me this can sound like a player is saying “this is something I can do, check it out!” rather than “this is what I felt at the time of creating this song, it goes with the flow of the material”.
I recorded the EP myself using Cubase 8, Ez Drummer 2 and Ez Keys. The guitar tones on that E.P are Positive Grid Bias FX, I used a basic Plexi Model amp, Vintage 30 speakers, Dynamic Mic, and a bit of reverb and delay where needed. The guitars I used where my Eternal S-type’s ‘Ariel’ and ‘Arista’. When I sent the E.P to Plini, he was very impressed with the guitar tones I was getting with this set up. However, whilst I love working with my software, when it comes to my full solo album I am going to go into a proper studio and put a microphone on a speaker!
TGA: Thanks so much for your time and feel free to add something to our students! We hope to see you soon in Italy! Ciao
SB: Thank you for your interest in what I do, it means a lot! I would say thank you for the support. Keep playing, focus on being the best version of you and keep your ears open. I would really appreciate anyone who is stopping by to check out my youtube and bandcamp below!
Thank you! https://sambell.bandcamp.com/
and keep a look out for the new MoJ album at
Settembre 2017 | intervista a cura di Francesco Fareri.