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Official Website Interview - April 2000
By Andy Craven

What is your first musical memory?
My first memory was at about age 2. It was bouncing off the walls and furniture to the 1812 Overture. I used to beg for that record to be played at full volume and I'd go completely crazy to it.

What was your first guitar and what was the first song you learnt to play?
My first guitar was a "Made in Japan"! LOL! It cost $17.00 . I washed dishes for my Mom for over a month to get it. They didn't want me to have it, so they thought they'd impose so much labor, I'd give up. The first thing I learned, wasn't a song, but part of a song. The first thing I ever played--along with countless millions of other boys--was the riff to 'Smoke on the Water'.

Who are you’re influences and what aspect of their playing is so appealing to you?
I was influence by many players. Really, there were so many, but the most important ones were Hendrix, Blackmore, Frank Marino, Uli Roth, Schenker, D'Jango Rienhardt, and Al DiMeola. There were many more, but I was only influenced by people I still consider to be extremely good. The ability to recognize talent is a pre-requisite to eventually developing it. I never owned a Led Zeppelin album or a Kiss album. I had no patience for that sort of thing really. I understand why people like this stuff, but I wanted to become highly proficient on my instrument, and listening to this kind of thing seemed a waste of time. I had the gift of perfect relative pitch from the beginning, so I could not bear to listen to Led Zeppelin’s horrid screeching. I do admit they had a great drummer though.

‘Fifth Angel’ was the band that first brought you to the wider audiences attention, what are your feelings now on the band and the album you made?
An indepth answer to this question can be found at rock reunion. I'm not evading the issues, its just that I made myself a promise that I was going to answer the quesytions about Fifth Angel for the first, and last time because its grown tiresome to be asked. So the dirts all there, and that's the end of it.

After ‘Fifth Angel’ you released several albums for Shrapnel. These seemed to alternate between band projects and instrumentals. What are you opinions on each album in terms of favourite tracks, likes/dislikes and anything you would change on those albums now?

Favorite track is 'Fly to the Sun'. Good production, but there's too much top-end on the vocal EQ.

"Bay of Rainbows" is an all time favorite instrumental, where did you get the title for this piece?
I had a mental image of the sun coming out after the destruction of Atlantis and the whole world by flood. So I had this mental image of people in boats heading for the Americas to escape, and this big beam of sun-light coming through the clouds all over the world and making rainbows as a sign of hope. The mental-movie had a title which fit this picture, and 'Bay of Rainbows' was it.

Did this entire album with a single eight track machine with no track bouncing. Still don't know why it sounds good, but it does, and I have no idea how I pulled it off. I had to print all my effects while tracking because I only had two devices: One old Midi-verb, and an even older ddl. It's a conceptual album, so it's a bit hard to pick favorite tracks.

I had a contract for two albums. This one, and Son of Man. I wanted to make Son of Man, the label wanted a vocal album. I had limited funds for two albums, so in the end, I'd used all the money to make Son of Man. By the time I had to make The Apocalypse Chime, I only had enough money to pay the players. I had no budget left for mixing and mastering, so the production is awful, and it's made worse by a "mastering" job from hell. The guy who mastered the album really made a mess of it I'm afraid because it sounded much better before it was mastered. But I never even heard what he'd done until it had gone to press. And it's really a shame because one of my favorite songs that I've written is on that album; 'Visigoth'. But I'd just as soon forget about this album really because from an audio point of view, it truly sucks, and it makes me angry that I was given so little to make these records that one had to suffer.

"Cold Paradise" has one of the most infectious melodies, what gave you the inspiration for writing that?
I honestly don't know where my inspiration comes from, other than in the most general terms. Often I have a word or title floating around in my head, and the next thing I know, it's got a melody. The title was just sort of a concept based on the idea of a woman's charms and the way one can be led into something only to regret it. I was thinking about a fight I had with a girlfriend, and how on the one hand, being with her was like paradise, but she could be unpredictably cold as well. So I guess it's just one of those "Yin and yang" sorts of dichotomies. I can only "Back-analyze" it I'm afraid, because the inspiration is entirely unconscious.

"Visigoth" is very different from your other material, which I love; do you think you will ever do anything else in that vein?
Well, I'm afraid my answer will be consistent. I really have no control over the material I write. They just happen. But it's one of my favorite tracks also.

My favorite tracks are hard to choose again because it's a conceptual album again. For me it would be like trying to separate five minutes out of a movie. I've really not thought about it. I'm quite happy with this album, but I wish I'd gone a different mastering route. There's some kind of processing in the mastering that enhances the stereo field, but this tended to pick-up the reverb on the tracks and make the album sound a bit too wet, and it tended to smear my faster guitar lines. I'm always unhappy about something with production because I've had to make the best of my situation and meet budgets by doing stuff I'd much rather not have to do.

Whilst 'Son Of Man' was an instrumental release the lead guitar lines seemed to take the part of the vocalist with some truly beautiful melodies and vibrato, were any of those songs written with a possible view to having a singer on them?
That's very insightful because when I cut this album, I was playing to lyrics in my mind, and they were words from God, telling the story of Christ with my guitar. I made this album in a state of profound religious experience actually.

After ‘Son Of Man’ you left Shrapnel and released ‘CRIMES OF VIRTUOSITY’. This album sounded like you and Kendall Torrey had a very strong writing partnership, was it simply a case of you writing the music and Kendall the lyrics and vocal melodies or was it a joint effort with both offering views in each others field, thus bringing out the best in both?
Kendall and I collaborated on verse lyrics on three songs on C.O.V.. The rest of the albums lyrics and titles are mine. I wrote all the vocal melodies as well. We were good friends actually, and his vocal performance on this album was actually the first time he'd ever sung on an album. I knew him for years as a guitar playing pal, and it was quite by accident that I discovered that he sang. I was beginning to write the material for C.O.V., and did not yet have a singer. So I called him up and said "By any chance can you sing at all? I can't sing a bloody note, and I need to hear this vocal line I've written". So he said "I can sing a little"--!!!--. So he came over. As soon as he opened his pipes, I knew he'd be great with the right producer and material--which was me! LOL!-and the rest is history. But making the album with him did put a real strain on our friendship. I'm a demanding producer in the studio, and I feel a bit bad I worked him so hard--on a personal level--, but honestly, his vocal performance in the end is one of the greatest rock-vocal efforts I've heard anywhere. So Kendall, if you ever read this, you really tore it, and you ought to be proud.

I believe you are currently working on a new album. How is it progressing and what form will it take?
Yes, I'm nearly finished with the new album. It's called "Flying Beyond the 9". If all goes according to plan, the production will finally be what it should be on my albums. I've tried very hard to attain a more consistent sound on this one, and I've also gone back over some of my previous albums again to determine what I thought were strengths, and weaknesses, so that I could learn and do better with production.

When you write songs, do you think ‘Right this will be an instrumental’, or do you try in it a vocal form and an instrumental form and see which suits the music better?
This is hard to answer. I don't "Write" songs or music. I hear finished works in my mind, and learn them so they can be "Captured". There's no thinking-up things, they're just "There". I can't explain it. When I make an album, I don't do 20 songs, and then chose. I have 9 or 10 songs playing in my head with "This is your album Byrd, learn them, record them". There are no left over Byrd songs that don't make an album in other words. A manager told me it was quite unusual actually. And I don't do demos. I've only done demos for one album, and I deeply regretted it because the demo performances were far better than the album's takes. So again, when I record, I'm capturing something already there, and the first take is always the best. The album I did demos for was the first Atlantis Rising album. And don't get me wrong, I like the album. But the 16 track demos, although not as well mixed, had far better performances, so I was really convinced not to do demos again if I didn't have to.

You have worked with several vocalists, do their individual voices make you write a certain type of song, for example Ritchie Blackmore has said that the Dio era Rainbow material was heavier as that suited Ronnie Dio’s voice, whereas Joe Lynn Turner’s voice was more poppy sounding therefore giving Blackmore the chance to write more commercial tracks?
I always write with the vocalist in mind. It really determines the sound of the whole album.

What was it like working with vocalist Robert Mason, and any plans to work with him on a future recording?

Working with Robert was a very positive experience. He's very nice, and a total pro in the studio. He was one of the easiest vocalists to get-on with I've ever worked with. It was actually a painless experience, and when it comes to singers in general, this is nearly a miracle.

When you have to pick a new vocalist what qualities do you look for?
Not sucking. LOL!!!

You are currently promoting your own custom built guitar -‘The Super Avianti™’, what made you decide to make your own guitar after using Stratocaster type guitars for so long? The body shape is radically different to the Strat what made you design the body this way?
The answers are at jamesbyrd.com.

Along with Blackmore, Malmsteen and Roth you use a scalloped neck, what brought your attention to this and how does it affect your playing compared to the standard fretboard?
I started scalloping my necks in 1982 or so. I learned of it from John McLaughlin actually. Contrary to popular myth, it does not enable one to play faster. In fact, it may even slow you down a bit. But my action is set extremely high, so this could be most of it. The main things it really does, is it changes the tone a lot. It's hard to explain, but it definitely has a big effect on tone. But unless you've got very good ears as far as pitch is concerned, stay away. If you do not have perfect finger pressure on every note, you'll sound absolutely horrid.

Is the ‘Super Avianti™’ being used as the sole electric guitar on your forthcoming album?
JYes. Apart from acoustic guitars, this is the only electric guitar used on the album. And the improvement in my sound is not subtle. I've never been so happy with my tone. When the album is released, I'll leave it to you to decide, and I believe you'll agree.

On the credits for ‘Octoglomerate’ you said you used ‘Peavey’ amps, what model amp was this?
JIt was a VTM120. Pretty good amp actually. I used these on the first Atlantis Rising album too. I had an endorsement with Peavey, so I had a virtual wall of these things they gave me.

‘Son Of Man’ onwards saw this preference change to an original Marshall 1968 50-watt ‘Plexi’ head, why did you change and is this amp modified in any way?
Well, I discovered the joy of becoming a total purist about tone. No more master-volume, nothing but good power tubes on '10'. I just grew tired of that high-gain sound. It made it easier to get away with certain things on the instrument, but I decided as an artist, I wanted a clearer sound, even if I had to work harder as a player. The amp I'm using is totally stock, and really has very little distortion compared with amps I'd used in the past. I've gotten used to a sound that's let the listener hear every nuance of my playing and hands. It was not comfortable at first, but in the end, it's so much better, and you become a more critical artist as well. It was actually a conversation with Uli Roth that sent me in this direction. With a non-master volume amp, you have a certain type of dynamics that can never be present in an overdriven pre-amp section. The actual sound, and amount of distortion changes with your approach to the notes. So if you dig-in hard, you have more drive, but when you play lighter, it cleans-up. And I can now back my guitar's volume control down about a third, and have a beautiful clean sound. No channel switching bull-shit, no rack garbage. It's so simple, but you honestly must have your act together as a player. Especially with single-coil pickups, and ten inch speakers. The sound is incredibly bright, and any warmth must come from the players hands. It's not a set-up conducive to bull-shitting your notes in other words, but it can give so much more if you've got the discipline to work with it.

With the Marshall you used an 8x10" vintage Marshall speaker cab, why do you use this and 10" speakers as opposed to the more common 12" speakers?
Because they sound better. They track fast playing more accurately because the cone assemblies weigh less, and because the cabinet has more physical volume, it has more bottom end than a 4x12". More top end, more bottom end. Just more. I totally love these cabinets.

Your sound is very pure with the only effects being wah and overdrive, what pedals and pickups do you use?
JI use a DOD 250 overdrive, and an original CryBaby. My pickups are no longer HS3's by DiMarzio. I'm using their new Virtual Vintage model 54's. They are a dead match for the original 54 Fender pickups, but they don't hum. They’re fantastic, and much brighter than an HS3. Very sparkling and crisp.

Seattle spawned the ‘Grunge’ scene, do you hailing from there feel a little bitter that those bands that sold millions of albums for the most part had guitarists who have little regard for their instrument and play so sloppily, whilst yourself who has spent countless hours improving your technique to be able to transmit your feelings through the strings has had more limited success?
If I thought about it I would, so I don't.

Americans are only exposed to such a narrow variety of what's available. Do you think there's any chance of decent music (metal) becoming mainstream again?

JI rather doubt it. Even when metal was at it's height, most of it was terrible. How quickly we forget that what was actually popular, were bands like Poison and Twisted Sister. "Decent" music's never been the most popular. A diamond ceases to be of value if it's common. I know what you mean though. There did seem to be some quality stuff--Like Rainbow--on the radio occasionally. But if there ever is a "Retro" resurgence of metal, it will probably be a pale, inferior shadow or character of its inspiration. There's a saying: "You can't go home again". It's true, but thankfully, there are still a literal handful of artists who never left. Metal was destroyed by "Cash-in" bands like Poison because most people do not have the ears to recognize the difference between quality, and junk. It's always been so. But like any period in music, a portion of the legacy has a chance to live-on in the future in a way you can't see now--unless you have a crystal ball--. Something "Interesting" will come down the way some day, and like any other period, most of it will be inferior, but once again, some of it will be worthy to begin the whole cycle of influence again.

Yngwie Malmsteen and yourself have similar tastes and styles, he has sung your praises in the press on many occasions, what effect has Yngwie had on you and would you consider collaborating with him on a project?
It was nice to have another guitarist who's good say nice things about me. And it raised awareness of me a bit too. We became very good friends actually because we had so much in common. And he understood that unlike so many players who are neo-classical, I was not a guy who patterned myself after him, and then lied about it to the press. We learned to play from the same sources and inspirations, so our similarities were not the result of pretense, but common ground. He recognized in me, that I play from my heart in a genuine way. We have a tremendous amount in common musically, especially as far as guitar technique, but this is because we were two people on opposite sides of the world, developing from very similar backgrounds, not because I patterned myself after him. Once we became friends, I believe we did influence each other a little bit. I got a certain arpeggio fingering from him, and he took a couple of chromatic ideas from me. But in truth, the only Yngwie CD's I own, were sent to me by him after we met. I've sent him my stuff too.

Where do you see your music heading in the next few years?
I wouldn't venture to guess Andy.

What song do you enjoy playing the most?

Not to be too glib, but I enjoy new material I've never played before the most.

You covered Hendrix’s ‘Dolly Dagger’ which is quite an obvious choice [considering your style], and ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ [from the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’] which is a slightly left field choice. Have you any plans to do anymore cover versions? [I would love to hear you do ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)]

I don't think 'Dolly Dagger' was an obvious choice. 'Voodoo Chile' is an obvious choice. I covered 'Dolly Dagger' because I loved the song, and to my knowledge, no one had ever covered it. I wouldn't have the motivation to do 'Voodoo Chile'. It's been done to death really.

Who is the most underrated player or band that you know of that people ought to check out?
Underrated? Not underrated--by those who've heard him--, but un-deservedly obscure, that would be Frank Marino. If you ask me, this guy INVENTED modern rock virtuosity. He's an absolute mother of a guitarist. Bluesy, but very progressive within that framework. Brilliant.

What would you’re advice be for people just taking up the guitar?
Record yourself at regular intervals, then listen. If you don't improve, just quit. There's too many guitar owners posing as musicians. Have you got that Kirk Hammett?

Have you ever been approached to do a guitar ‘instructional’ video, is that something you would like to do?
I was asked in 1990. I said no, even though the money was great. I didn't want to do one then because frankly, I didn't believe I was at a point where I could offer something that had not already been covered. Now I'd like to do one, but no one's asked! But apart from money, it wouldn't be motivating in all honesty. I don't feel compelled to teach.

What is your ‘all time’ favourite album/s?
'Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge Sound Track', 'Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush - Live', 'In Trance - Scorpions', 'Elegant Gypsy-Al DiMeola', 'D'Jango at the Hot-Club Paris'. These are a few.

What is your favorite musical composition?
I don't know. Probably Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Your name has cropped up on the thank you list of the past few Symphony X albums, what do you think of the band and Michael Romeo’s playing?
I didn't know this. I must call Mike and thank him. I think Symphony X has some really outstanding songs and production.

Any interesting stories to share about anything amusing that might have happened during writing or recording any of your past records?
As a matter of fact, yes. I have terrible arachnophobia. When I was recording Robert Mason's vocals for The Apocalypse Chime, it was summer time. For some reason, big spiders seem to seek me out. I think they know. And around here, we have a certain type of spider called a cedar spider, because they like to live around cedar trees. They're the biggest spiders we have. My home is surrounded by 100+ foot cedar trees. So Robert and I were in the studio tracking, and because it was warm, I was bare footed. We both had headphones on, and he was about 3 feet away. All of a sudden, this GIANT cedar spider ran up my leg. It was easily 4 inches in diameter. I screamed and jumped up, my headphone wires were crossed over his, so it ripped off his headphones, he fell forward, knocking his microphone stand down. We were both out of the room in about a tenth of a second, scared shitless! But I had been scared by the spider, he had been scared by me! --He didn't see it--. So I told him, and we spent almost an hour chasing this sonofa bitch around the studio with a broom. At one point, it crawled up the stone wall. I was approaching it to smack it with the broom, and the damned thing JUMPED at me! It finally ran into my fireplace. So I went and got a can of clear lacquer spray paint out of my workshop, and started painting the spider to poison it. I chased it around with the paint, and it disappeared under some ashes. To make a long story short, the big spider took-up almost an hour of studio time to be rid of, but there was NO way I was going back to work with it still around. Every time I've talked with Robert since then, he always mentions the incident. He's not apparently afraid of spiders, but he was sure afraid of me that day.

Any parting shots?
Shots? LOL! No, thank you for your interest and support Andy.

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