Having recently reviewed the ‘Inverted Grasp Of Balance’ album, I was keen to talk to the man behind it, Monte Pittman. Graciously, he took some time out from his hectic schedule…
Hi Monte, thanks for taking some time out to speak to us. The new album, ‘Inverted Grasp Of Balance’, which I think is great, by the way, opens with ‘Panic Attack’, a real statement of intent. Was going for the throat so early on planned?
“I wanted the listener to put on the album and it immediately physically assault you. When I looked at all of the songs together, that seemed the best way to start things off.”
Previous album, ‘The Power Of Three’, had some incredible heavy moments on it but this one really ramps it up with a thrash vibe in places.
“That’s part of the natural evolution. I didn’t want to just put out another album, I wanted to make something that would really grab everyone’s attention. I was also influenced by all of the Metal Blade bands, since I had just signed with them, and that’s all I was listening to.”
It shows! It’s not until fourth track ‘The Times Are Changing’ where the relentless pace lets up. Was this to give the band, or the listener, a break?
“That’s my favorite song on the album, but that’s the one I hear about the least. Yes, I think that adds a nice dynamic after the first three tracks have pulverized you. It also sets it up for where the rest of the album is headed.”
At times, the album pummels the listener, but then you offer up some light, like with ‘Cadabra’. There is great variety on the album, for sure.
“I wanted to have a guitar interlude. I came up with ‘Cadabra’ from reading about “The Magic Chord”. It’s a musical experiment, where you put two pianos on opposite sides of the room. They play the same thing, but the notes are half steps and whole steps apart. A person stands right in the middle of both, and it makes a stereo effect. I took the notes and made chord inversions. That led me to start writing that piece. I love how it sets up ‘Pride Comes Before The Fall’.”
‘Obliterated’ is another instrumental, but very different to ‘Cadabra’. It poleaxes the listener. How structured is the track? Is it improvised in places at all?
“I wanted to have a guitar instrumental, kind of like if Steve Vai did a really heavy song. I took the constellations I was paying attention to in the sky, and applied those patterns to the fretboard. That’s how I came up with the melodies. There’s a little bit of improvising and parts that were certain.”
I have to mention the incredible pair of musicians featuring alongside you on the album, Richard Christy on drums, and the most explosive bassist ever, Billy Sheehan. How did you all meet?
“Richard and I are both on Metal Blade. We also share the same management. I know Billy through Metal Blade too. I was going to have other guests on the album too, but their schedules wouldn’t allow it. I’m so happy and lucky to have Richard and Billy on this one.”
Talking of schedules, were you able to record at the same time, or was it done through the wonders of technology?
“We recorded at different times. Richard recorded his drums and sent them to me. I recorded my guitars while on tour. Each guitar track was recorded in a different city all over the planet. Jay Ruston produced the album. He recorded Billy with me there in the studio. Jay recorded my vocals and mixed the album.”
The album has a real ‘band’ vibe about it, rather than just special guests fleeting in and out. You must be happy with the way it turned out?
“I’m a band guy. I love playing in a band. I love the brotherhood of everyone playing together, hanging out, and being friends. I wanted it to sound like a band, for sure.”
On ‘California’ did you give Billy free rein to see what he could come up with for the intro?
“Yes. I told him to go crazy on the bass for the intro, and then the song would kick in. Before he recorded his bass, the song was just going to start all together.”
It’s fantastic hearing Billy playing so fast again, and together with Richard, they make quite a team. Will you be able to go out on the road together, or will the dreaded schedules prevent it?
“We all have crazy schedules. You never know what could happen. I would love to play with them, even if it’s just a one-off show. Richard has Howard Stern. Billy has several projects too, of course.”
The album ends with ‘New Blood Keeps Us Alive’. Again, it’s a polar opposite, this time of opener, ‘Panic Attack’. A gentle acoustic intro gives way to a massive arena rock sound. The perfect way to end the album, would you say?
“I didn’t know which song I could put after that. I love when an album has a definite beginning and ending. I wanted to do a song where the beginning was stripped down acoustic, like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, or Ray LaMontagne, then it would kick in and get super heavy. Usually a song like that would have clean guitar and be played like a normal power ballad. Also, there is fire on one speaker, and rain on the other… two polar opposite things that have similar sounds. When you listen to the albums in reverse order, ‘New Blood Keeps Us Alive’ ends with fire and rain. That flows right into the record sound for the into to ‘A Dark Horse’ on ‘The Power Of Three’.”
Talking of record sound, are there plans to release on vinyl? The album artwork is stunning. Very deserving of a 12” sleeve. How important is it to you that you have a physical product out there?
“Yes! Eventually. I don’t have any info. I still want to release ‘The Power Of Three’ on vinyl too. I’m surprised how many people love having a physical product in a time where we listen to everything on our phones. The quality is much better. The actual CD sounds so much better than playing it off my phone or computer.”
Embracing the digital realm for a moment, you teach guitar online. That must give you a great deal of satisfaction.
“I love teaching. When a student gets it, seeing their face light up is one of my favourite things in the world. I started my own online teaching course. I have students all over the planet, and I can still teach them, if I’m traveling. Anyone can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org”
You, of course, met Madonna through teaching guitar, and a long musical partnership has developed. How nerve-racking was it teaching her guitar?
“It’s a lot of fun! You have to really be prepared. It’s different than teaching someone who just wants to learn for whatever reason. Madonna has achieved a level of success that no one ever will again. I can’t say “learn how to play like this, and one day you’ll sell a million albums”. We play through all kinds of material and jam for hours. Also, he makes the best tea! I love drinking tea with her… and playing guitar.”
Watching videos online of you performing alongside her, there seems to be a great deal of mutual respect there.
“We have always had an amazing chemistry together. We’ve both experienced a lot of incredible moments together. I can tell by the way she takes a breath what she’s going to do, and be right there with her when performing. There’s a lot of intuition that goes with that.”
In Europe, at half time in sporting events, we attempt to drink as many beers as possible before the bar closes, and eat questionable meat products! In America, you guys put on a proper half time show. Playing the Superbowl with Madonna, that must have been a blast?
“It went by so fast, you barely realized what was happening. I just say I had the best seat in the house. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and something I was very lucky to be a part of.”
Finally, you recently played on an evening of Pink Floyd at the Whiskey, performing the classic ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. Are you Team Gilmour, Team Waters, or just Team Make-Another-Fucking-Album?
“I love them both. If they were to create new music, I would definitely listen. Playing ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is not a song I would ever recommend just getting up and jamming on, by the way! At Jam Night, it’s unrehearsed, and you just plug in and play. It’s all about having fun, and getting to hang with your friends.”
Absolutely! Well, thank you for your time. Good luck with the album. It’s a belter!
“Thanks so much!”
Interview: David Stott