When it comes to musical experimentation, The Aristocrats are up there with the likes of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd. Yet what sets them apart is that in Marco Minnermann, Bryan Beller and Guthrie Govan, you have people at the very top of their respective games.
In You Know What…? they have created an enthralling, varied album full of fun ideas to learn and listen to.
So we spoke to Guthrie Govan, Marco Minnermann and Bryan Beller to get the inside track on this amazing piece of work.
Q: Do the live versions of the tracks differ much for the album ones and did you write them with performances in mind?
The Aristocrats: Inevitably the live performances and ”version” of the songs do evolve over time the more we play them, and we think that’s more a function of what we do as a collective musical entity rather than any particular song. Sure, a song like “Get It Like That” is more improvisationally minded than “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde”, but even with those compositional differences accounted for, we’ll always try and find ways to make the live performances fresh and new.
Q: What part do you find the hardest to play?
The Aristocrats: We really try to focus on executing parts as a band. Sure, every song has its challenges for individual members. Guthrie wrote himself a fairly difficult part in “Spanish Eddie”, the bass chordal melody in “Last Orders” is tough, and Marco has to remember a lot of little things in “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde”. But most of the time the challenge for us is making sure that we can execute things as a unit, and making them sound good. Sometimes that’s more difficult to pull off than just executing a single difficult part, even though we do want to get our own parts right, of course. As a unit, performing live, from this album, the flamenco/metal section of “Spanish Eddie” is probably the biggest challenge in that regard. There’s a whole lot going on there, and we do it in every soundcheck to make sure it will work. Perhaps the jazz section of “When We All Come Together” is a close second.
Q: Do you intentionally try and make the music challenging in terms of composition or is it a natural thing for you all?
The Aristocrats: We truly don’t try and make music “challenging”, even though we understand that some people appreciate it in this way. If we’ve done it right, it’s supposed to be something you can enjoy as well rather than something *only* to be analyzed and dissected, though that of course has its place for educational and musical growth purposes for anyone willing to dive in. Ideally there’s room for both! Also, humor counts as well. We’d rather have folks laugh and be entertained than try and “blow their heads off,'' so to speak. But again, we understand that they’re not mutually exclusive concepts, and Frank Zappa taught us that long ago.
Q: I know dinosaurs were an influence for the record, but what musical influences were there for the record?
Marco: I personally never think about musical influences whilst writing a song. Yet history and influences are probably subconsciously undeniable and become roots. The bands and artists I grew up on surely must have played a role. Queen, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Rush... and many more. But, you somehow learn the letters and words and start forming your own language and speak with own voice, which then maybe will stay in the universe to influence the next generations. I guess that’s important, the never ending road, haha.
Bryan: Just speaking for me on my songs, “All Said And Done” was definitely a Beatles pastiche, converted into an instrumental guitar trio arrangement. No hiding the ball there. “D Grade Fuck Movie Jam” was probably a lot of Jimi Hendrix as seen through the lens of Michael Landau. Perhaps a touch of early Van Halen snuck its way in there as well? “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde” was the most curious one for me. I know the foundation of it was influenced by the Pink Floyd song “Sheep”, and I also realized we didn’t have any mid-tempo galloping rock shuffles in our repertoire. But there’s a whole host of 70s instrumental rock guitarists that probably influenced that one.
Guthrie: “Terrible Lizard”, just as you hinted, was intended to be my sonic representation of a huge dinosaur lumbering around: the glissando lick leading into the “chorus” was intended to mimic the way I imagined that one dinosaur might call out to another, whilst the intro riff was meant to be a crude representation of thunderous footsteps. “Last Orders” is an atypically mournful ballad, which could be taken to represent the general idea that good things don't always last forever - as symbolised by the “last orders” bell which you hear in a traditional English pub just before closing time! As for “Spanish Eddie”… I honestly have no idea where that one came from: the notes just kind of “coagulated” in my head for no apparent reason ;-)
Q: Were there any tracks “left on the cutting floor” that you might revisit later?
The Aristocrats: Not on this album. We generally write specifically for the band and agree in advance which songs will be on the album. Marco is the occasional exception as he writes more often, but this only comes up in terms of choosing which songs we eventually record. We’ve never, in the history of the band, recorded a track that we didn’t use. Make of that what you will. :-)
Q: For learning the guitar parts, what would your main piece of advice be?
Guthrie: I strongly suspect that most of the players reading this will already be familiar with the concept of taking things slowly and prioritising accuracy over speed… if you practice something slowly and perfectly enough times then increasing the speed will ultimately prove to be less challenging!
Thinking more specifically about this package of transcriptions, I would very much encourage players to take some liberties with the notes in certain sections, as the intentions behind the “written” and “improvised” sections in these songs were entirely different. I would say that the “verse/chorus” parts of each track in this package were very deliberately composed and would benefit from some detailed study. The “solo” sections, on the other hand, were all improvised and consequently they feature a few stream-of-consciousness passages where I was just “going for it” - hoping to convey a kind of explosive energy rather than any specific melodic content.
I wouldn’t personally want to memorise every last detail in those “crazier” passages and have to replicate them note-for-note so… I’d say that the way to get the most out of these transcriptions is to use your discretion when tackling the solo sections: it’s probably wisest to focus on learning your favourite licks note-for-note and then trying to look for any useful patterns in terms of note choices which seem to work particularly well over each chord, rather than feeling duty-bound to replicate every minute detail of the original!
In other words: some of these notes probably deserve more of your time than others ;-)
JTC TV is here! Over the years, we’ve put out all manner of releases on our YouTube channel. Andy James’s ‘Wind That Shakes The Heart’ has racked millions and millions of views, and our Guthrie sessions arguably launched JTC!
But we’re always up for trying new things, and it gives us great pleasure to launch JTC TV. We start with ‘Ten of the Best’, a look at ten amazing pieces of playing from our fusion archives.
So tell us what you think, and keep an eye out for more new content in the coming months.
Bacon and maple syrup is an unlikely combination. But it works.
New JTC artist, Charlie Robbins, has taken this culinary experimentation into a musical setting. He’s mixed the classic flavours of flamenco with the spice and in your face power of a metal. And like bacon and maple syrups, it works.
I started playing my freshman year of high school.
Q: When did you discover a love for flamenco?
I’ve always been drawn to the sound of flamenco, but it really hit me when I was in college and Grisha Goryachev visited our class to do a guest appearance in our ensemble and put on a Masterclass. He was literally the nicest guy and the best player I had ever seen in person. During that Masterclass he showed me rasgueado and helped me practice viewing the fretboard in a different way.
Q: And when did you first start playing that in a metal setting?
It was only recently when I started fully trying to blend the two things I really like together. I’ve always put it in my songs before, but I’ve always had the goal to eventually try and make it the whole theme and inspiration for an album. So I finally said I’m going to try it, and Coloratura was the result. There’s a ton more that could have been added or even done better, but I’m still really proud of it.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a player?
As a player I’m not sure how to describe myself. I would say a metal guitarist influenced by many other genres.
Guthrie Govan was my first JTC artist I was able to watch and is still my favourite.
Q: Any plans for future JTC releases?
I would love to release more packages in the future. Maybe a Masterclass at some point!
Before you go…
A huge JTC welcome to Charlie Robbins! He’s an amazing addition to our roster and we hope to work with him for a long time coming. If you’re new to his work, we’ve made a mini highlights reel below. All tracks are from his Coloratura EP. Enjoy!
Diatonic Triads are the groupings of root, 3rd and 5th for every chord of a major and minor scale.
Q: Why are they so important?
They are immensely important as in the context of soloing they help us incorporate melodic lines that outline the chord sequence we are playing over.
Q: How did you go about creating the content for this release?
Much of the material is taken from concepts I already use with my students.
In a nutshell, I thought, "Okay....if I was early into my guitar journey and I didn't know anything about triads, how could I go about it in a straightforward and simple way so that I can begin to incorporate them into my playing in a musical and creative way."
The best thing about this release is that concepts are elastic, so the more you grow the further you can push yourself with the material.
Q: Has it helped you come up with new ideas?
This approach has definitely helped me become a more substantial and, melody-wise, interesting soloist.
Q: What’s the biggest takeaway from this pack?
Simple concepts are able to generate practice for life!
Q: Out of your JTC releases, have you got a favourite?
Hmmmm, this one is certainly more substantial, given that anyone can get those concepts and adapt them to their style! So, this one it is!
As music videos go, Primal Feels is one of the most daring and unique you’ll see.
Not only does the video feature the skills of a troupe of incredibly talented artists, but it’s also got a huge hook and more than one example of incredible guitar playing.
So how did it all come together? We spoke with its creator, Nili Brosh.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this video?
Growing up in the 90s, I watched a LOT of European MTV, and that's where my love for hooks and epic music videos came from. I wanted to make my own version of an MTV music video. I wanted to wait for the right song to mimic the spirit of those older videos, and when I wrote this I knew it would be the one for choreography and big production.
Q: And how long did it take long to shoot?
One day of shooting! What took a long time was attempting to schedule 7 people who do 10 Cirque du Soleil shows a week under one roof for a few hours. The lesser-known story is that I was massively, massively injured with neck issues during that day - probably the worst I had been in my entire two years at Cirque. But the show had to go on, and nothing felt more worthwhile!
Q: How did you write the track Primal Feels?
I heard both the melodies for the chorus and verse in my head, at two different occasions maybe a week or two apart. I came up with the chorus first, and once the verse was there, I could tell the chord changes were leading it smoothly to the chorus and knew it was meant for the same song.
Q: And what does Primal Feels actually mean?
To me "Primal Feels" is self-explanatory. When you feel passionate about someone in a way that comes from a deep, primal place in yourself that your mind has no control over it.
Q: Is this a good flavour of the album or are there lots of surprises?
Yes and no! The album concept is a spectrum that fades from genre to genre, so there are a few tracks in a similar vein but several that are in quite a different direction as well.
Q: Will we get any more dancing videos?
Could be! I definitely love working with these guys, they are some of the most incredible dancers in the world who I'm blessed to call friends. I certainly miss doing shows with them every night, so we'll see what the future holds!
Q: And if you could give one guitar-based track the ‘Primal Feels video treatment’ what would it be?
I thought about this for a long time and it's such a hard one, so I'll pick a few players instead of tracks - I think Mateus Asato or Lari Basilio's music might be a great and interesting match for something like this!
New Nili Brosh JTC lessons
Nili Brosh’s new album is going to be released soon, and that means more tracks to learn! Sign up to be the first to hear about her next JTC release.
Some guitarists exhibit a more unique style than others, guitarists such as Roy Ziv.
Hear him play, and you’ll never forget his signature style. See him play and you get the proof. Luckily, not only does his Masterclass series allow you to treat both your visual and auditory senses, but it also gives you some of the secrets to unlock Mr Ziv’s war chest of tricks.
We spoke to Roy himself, to give you the lowdown on this unique Masterclass.
Q: What is the hexatonic scale?
The hexatonic scale is just a fancy name for a 6 note scale. By definition, any scale made up of six notes per octave is a hexatonic scale, because hexa equals six. A few examples you may be familiar with are the whole tone scale and the blues scale.
But in this Masterclass, we’ll be working with the A minor hexatonic scale, which consists of the root, 2nd, minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, and minor 7th.
You can think of it as just a minor scale without the 6th note, or the way I visualize it, is just a pentatonic scale, with the added 2nd. If you’re familiar with any of the five pentatonic shapes, all you need to do is add that one extra note in each shape.
Adding that second interval, or as I like to call it - the 9th (which is just an octave plus the 2nd) will give your solos more of a jazzy fusion sound, but can also work in a blues setting for more unique licks. Eric Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan are a few of the players that use this extra note in their blues licks.
Q: Why do you think it is important to learn it?
It provides the player with a simple way to spice up their playing and achieve a fresh, unique, modern sound, in the simplest possible way. Just add one note to a scale every guitar player is already familiar with!
A lot of players want to break out of that overplayed pentatonic sound, but when they read up online or watch YouTube videos, they immediately get overwhelmed with all the scales out there and end up giving up too early. This scale takes a scale everyone already knows (the pentatonic), and by adding just one note, gives them endless possibilities for cool licks and phrases.
Q: You can certainly hear the hexatonic scale in your playing, is that something you stumbled on naturally or did it come from some kind of influence?
Growing up, I was always chasing that jazzy fusion sound but was either too overwhelmed with jazz theory or just couldn’t make these crazy scales sound musical. So I tried to fake that sound I kept hearing in my head and noticed that whenever I add the 9th tension, it gave my solos a jazzier flavour. I loved the way it sounded and tried to implement that extra note whenever I could. Eventually, it became a staple part of my playing, as my fingers got used to adding that note all over the fretboard.
As my playing matured I began using that note in more interesting ways by adding jazzy enclosure techniques, chromaticism, and arpeggios, and when I had a closer look at these licks and phrases, I realized that all I'm doing is playing over the pentatonic scale shapes, and sticking in that one extra note!
I started showing my students this idea and their solos and improv instantly improved. That's when I realized I was on to something here, and this could seriously help so many guitarists who are stuck playing the same exact thing over and over.
Q: Apart from learning the scale and all it offers, what else can this Masterclass give a player?
This Masterclass shows you how to take this scale and make it sound musical. Learning the scale is simple. But if you don’t know how to make it sound musical and just run the scale up and down the neck, you'll be missing out on all that it has to offer. That's why the exercises I've presented in this Masterclass are designed to fully maximize the musical potential of this scale, not to mention the 20 licks and final solo that reveal my personal approach of how I use this scale in a modern and fusion style of playing.
But aside from all of that, this Masterclass will give you the confidence to play with more advanced players, drastically improve your technique, take your playing to another level, and finally get you out of that up and down pentatonic box mentality and playing in a more linear and fluid style.
Q: How do you go about creating content like this?
It starts by deconstructing my favourite licks to fully understand what's happening under my fingers and building an exercise to develop a specific technique or flow of motion that will allow you to play those specific licks. It’s all about reverse engineering.
For these three Masterclasses (beginner, intermediate and advanced) I developed over 100 exercises that provide the player with immediate results, and help familiarize and adapt the scale concepts to their playing.
I then used these exercises with my private students and refined each one over and over until they were as beneficial as they could possibly be.
Then it was just a matter of putting it all together in the proper order, writing 3 solos in varying levels of difficulty, styles, and tempos, and writing out the theory booklet that thoroughly explains each concept.
It was a long process, but it was fun. The best part is getting all the emails and Instagram DM’s from players telling me how much this Masterclass helped change and improve their playing.
Q: Any plans for future JTC releases? The heptatonic scale? Octatonic?
Maybe a tetratonic scale! Haha. Just kidding, my next JTC release will most likely be on my phrasing. I get asked about my phrasing all the time, and I've been teaching these phrasing ideas to my students for quite some time. So once I have a good outline, I'll start recording and writing this next Masterclass.