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Progressive Rock Interviews

Alex Skolnick Trio

Interviewed by Gary Hill and Mike Korn
Interview with Alex Skolnick From 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You are one of the most diverse musicians out there. Who have been your biggest musical influences?
Thanks. It's an interesting combination. Going in chronological order: Edward Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Miles Davis and most of his disciples, especially John Coltrane, Bill Evans and John Scofield. Also Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. I'm very attracted to innovation and going against the grain.
MSJ: Can you tell us a bit about your transition from metal to more progressive rock and jazz oriented territories? What prompted it, and do you see yourself moving strictly into one or another or perhaps more incorporating all your musical loves into one artistic zone?
I just did what I felt like doing, even though it made no sense to anyone else. For some reason, I really connected to certain jazz artists, after I'd been playing metal for several years. It started with seeing Miles on TV with one of his electric bands. Within a year I had gone to see McCoy Tyner, John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Joe Pass and many lesser known but nonetheless inspiring artists. All these shows blew me away. I didn't stop loving metal but I really wanted to be able to express myself like these guys. Eventually I found myself living in New York, studying music at the university (New School), going to concerts regularly and connecting with many great musicians here.  

MSJ: What drove you to do jazz renditions of metal songs, and how did you go about the process of reworking the tracks? How successful do you feel you were in that juxtaposition?
I heard a Scorpions song in a dream. It was 'No One Like You.' I woke up, worked it out on guitar and showed it to Matt Zebroski, my drummer and the bassist we were playing with at the time. It felt as good as anything we were playing from the standard jazz repertoire, only better because I had a heartfelt connection with this song. I imagined what it must have been like for Charlie Parker and the original bebop musicians to play 'All The Things You Are:' they'd grown up with that song! Now I had a song I could relate to in that way.

Next was 'Detroit Rock City' and 'Goodbye To Romance.' The melodies were there. I just needed to spice up the chord progressions and apply a swing feel in a way that would inspire a strong improvisational performance from the whole trio. Given how much we enjoy playing these tunes and the reaction it's been getting, I have to say that it's been successful.
MSJ: What do you see as the strengths and weakness of both jazz and metal?
Jazz strengths: Concerts tend to be small, intimate affairs with a close connection between the musicians and the audience. Music is free to explore many variations, night after night; no performance is ever exactly the same.

Metal strengths: Concerts are high energy, intense experiences, unlike any other. The music has a strong connection with the lives of its fans and creates a strong emotional bond. Fans stay very loyal.

Jazz and Metal weaknesses: both genres have fringe groups who try to influence others to despise any music that doesn't agree with their agenda.
MSJ: Do you think a true fusion between the two genres is possible without compromising both?
It's impossible to say, because whether or not one genre or another is being compromised is completely subjective, as is the notion of what is a 'true fusion.' . In my own opinion, I'd say probably not. I don't hear metal on a Gibson L5 through a Fender Twin and I don't hear jazz on a Les Paul through a wall of distorted Marshall amps.
MSJ: You have worked with many interesting musicians. What have been some of your most memorable gigs?
Playing with a thirty piece symphonic orchestra for 'Jeckyll & Hyde In Concert' was great. Here I was surrounded by strings, brass and woodwinds. My parts included some screaming solos and it was supported by this orchestra. It was really cool. Also, last December, playing to a packed house at Madison Square Garden with Trans-Siberian Orchestra was quite memorable.
MSJ: What would you say your greatest moment with Testament was?
For me it was playing to a sold out crowd in Tokyo, Japan. To be able to reach a people and a culture who seemed so exotic and so far away was an incredible feelin
MSJ: What musicians are still on your horizon as wishing to work with?
To be honest, there are many well known jazz artists I wish I could work with. I've done a bunch with local musicians, some of them really excellent and deserving of wider recognition, but it is a very tight circle in the jazz world. That's one of the reasons I chose to concentrate on my own little niche. However, I would jump at the chance to work with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Sting and Chick Corea.  

MSJ: What do you see next in your career?
I'd like to see my trio continue to develop and be a vehicle for all of us as we do other projects as well. I have a lot of plans on the horizon and we'll see which of them manage to come to fruition.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/ or what have you been listening to lately?
I recently bought U2's 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.' I'm about to buy the latest trio album by John Scofield 'En Route.'
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
Last big concert was Ozzfest 2004 at Jones Beach in NY. Sabbath, Priest, Slayer, Slipknot, Lamb Of God...it was amazing.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Playing an open guitar solo during a Testament concert, when all of a sudden the pick-ups in the guitar failed and I lost sound. We didn't know what had happened. I was standing there on stage feeling like an idiot while my roadie scrambled to figure out what the problem was and the crowd started screaming impatiently.
 
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