I had played with Greg at the 2nd edition of the Ziua Chitarelor festival in Bucharest, april 10, 2010 together with Andy Timmons, Brett Garsed and Michael Angelo Batio. The year after we played again at the ‘Meeting Of The Spirits’ festival in Leeuwarden, Holland.november 27, 2010. This time with Carl Verheyen. We sat together just before soundcheck and I had the chance to talk to Greg about his studio, schedule and new vocal album.

Copyright Richard Hallebeek and Music Maker 2010. Copying or use elsewhere without the approval of the author is strictly prohibited.

Greg’s soundcheck photo’s by Richard Hallebeek. Copyright 2010 Music Maker

:: Your new album has vocals on it. It’s late. It was supposed to be out already… last year?

Oh ,you know, everything I do is late. Everything that happens in my life is like a year or two late (laughs) I started the basic tracks.. over a year ago. So all the bass and drums are recorded, and some of the basic guitar parts. But no vocals yet. No additional guitar parts. No leads.

:: What about your basic guitar parts, now it’s a couple of years later. Do you feel like you want to redo those?

Yeah, I know. When I start to work on it, which will be after I go home, I know that as soon as I hear it, I’m gonna go, ah, wanna change that, gonna change that.. That’s how I am. But it’s definitely gonna be more of a rock.. kind of rock. Actually, the stuff we’re doing tonight is kind of rock. Rock like.. more straight ahead.

:: One of the songs you’re playing tonight and you were just rehearsing with the band, is called ‘Kick It All Over’. That’s an oldie from your first Shrapnel album. ’80’s or ’90’s?

I think it’s ’89. Yeah. Way back.

:: You record most of your albums yourself. What’s your studio like?

It’s pretty basic. I have a 003 interface (Digidesign -RH), I really just started with Protools. Before that, I was using the Fireface thing. The Nuendo. And I’m probably gonna keep that, because it has a separate video recording. For the most part, that’s the extent of it. I mike my cabinets in a seperate room. And run a long cable into the studio. The house is new. We just moved in. My old house, I had a ‘studio’ studio. The classic booth, you know, it had the whole thing. I don’t have that yet. So it’s really.. I have to keep it small for now, to decide what we’re gonna do.

:: Last time you told me about your neighbors, they discovered that you were a musician and thought it was pretty cool.

Yeah, it’s always fun. At first they think I’m just some loser that stays home all day (laughs) and then they’ll find out about me, or they’ll see me on the internet or something.

:: So you recorded the drums yourself too?

Not now. I did in my old studio. The new studio, really, to be honest with you, I moved in to the new house about a year ago. And I have not been home very much. So I really need to actually put my studio together. It’s not really put together yet, so. And I’m sure I’m gonna be adding things to it. Sort of starting from scratch, so. There’s not a whole lot to really talk about yet. But I won’t have a drumbooth, yet. Unless we decide to stay in the house and then maybe modify it. Do what I had before, which was actually really nice.

:: Do you still play Cornford amps?

I am.

:: What’s the deal you have with Marshall? You’re playing Marshall amps tonight and the amp was set up there on your request.

Well, here’s the deal, I guess I’m without.. hopefully not starting some online political mess.. my deal with Cornford is kind of non-exclusive. And that’s only because, it’s difficult to have a relationship with a company that’s across the ocean. And that’s.. not a super big company. So unless Paul is willing to get me an amp in every place that I go, It’s really difficult for me to guarantee that I can play it. I’d love to play Cornford all the time, it’s a beautiful amp. It’s just a perfect, responding, focussed, lead guitarists amplifier. But I have to have a plan B for the event that I can’t do that.

:: So the Marshall’s plan B?

I don’t know if the Marshall would be it. There’s a lot of great amps out there. I really… I need to sit down and just try to start plugging into things and see what works. The reason I go with Marshall when I’m on the road, is because it’s accessible. It’s everywhere. I don’t have to think about it. I just figured; if they have at least one model that I can sort of use, then at least I can be sure to always get it. If I find another amp and it’s also sort of a boutique amp, or some hard to find amp, then I’m in the same boat I’m in now, with Cornford.

:: Are you still teaching at Tone Merchants?

No, no no. I’m in Vegas now and.. when I first moved to L.A. I was gonna set my studio up at Tone Merchants and then teach whenever I could out of there. But that sort of didn’t go as planned. What’s been great now, is the webcam lessons. Those are amazing.

:: You told me something about that, yeah.

They’re just amazing. First of all, it’s great for me, because I don’t have to have people coming into the house. I don’t have to take a shower if I don’t want to (laughs)

:: You have people taking regular lessons?

Yeah, somebody from Australia for example. In that respect, the webcam lessons are convenient and it’s great, it really is. And it’s great for them, because a lot of times guys, they’re not as intimidated and they get to have their own equipment, their own guitar, their own amp. They’re in their own environment so they feel a little more relaxed about it too. And it is the next best thing to really being there. Really nice. Sometimes if they can’t see a fingering, I just go up to the camera, sometimes if I have a backing track that I’m playing to, I’ll just send it to them right away and they’ll get it. It’s really convenient. And it’s just.. one of the things where technology really works well. Whenever I’m home, I’ll try to do that as much as I can. And mainly, honestly for me, if I’m home and I’m not playing, I have the tendency to get caught up in either mixing, or doing things that don’t involve me playing guitar, so this forces me to put the guitar in my hands.

:: Yeah, you have to sit down for an hour or so..

Yeah, and some guys are really good, so I have to make sure I’m playing well.

:: You play so many styles and you are so versatile, why didn’t you become the next big session studio guy?

You know, it’s funny because I don’t consider myself a guy who plays a lot of different styles. I really don’t hear myself that way. I’m influenced by different things, yeah. When I hear guys like Carl [Verheyen – RH] or a guy like Guthrie who really has sort of mastered all these different styles, that to me is very impressive and that would be.. those guys could just do studio work all day. But I am kind of just influenced by a lot of different things and so somehow it all gets a kind of.. it all blends into some Greg Howe’y kind of a sound.

:: Did you ever do studio work?

I did some things. But it has never been something that I have actually been that interested in.

::You’re playing with some major pop stars, so I could imagine that would lead you in that studio direction.

Sometimes they ask me. And I’m certainly open to it. But as far as doing it regularly, as a career, I don’t .. I like to be in the creative mindset more so then trying to adhere to somebody else’s vision. I mean, I like doing that too, I just don’t consider myself as good at it. It’s not as easy for me.. some guys just have a knack for that. If you mention something; give me a funk thing, give me a ’70’s.. you know they have the pedals, everything’s right there, they get the style, everything just happens. For me, I have to find it. It takes longer to find it. And even then, it still always seems to be attached to this sort of personality of mine that comes through, regardless how hard I try to… you know what I mean, it’s.. I think that if Allan Holdsworth had to play in a funk band, you’d still kind of recognize that it’s him (laughs).

:: He did actually, in Level 42 for a while.

Ah, that’s true! That’s right, I forgot about that! (laughs)

:: I was actually thinking about Landau, doing all those sessions while still unmistakably being himself.

That’s true. That’s a good point. If I could do it that way, that would be great.

:: Your playing has evolved quite a bit over the years. From the neo-classical shredding in the 80’s to your current more pop-soul and blues influenced bag of music. One interesting part of your playing is your advanced hybrid picking. When did that start?

Thank you. You know, I don’t consider myself.. I have a lot of tricks that make me sound much cooler (laughs) but I think around the mid-90’s when I started hearing guys like Michael Lee Firkins, Brett Garsed, I remember I got together with Richie Kotzen, we had just done an album together called ‘Tilt’. Then we met and he’s got us to do a photoshoot. And then he picked up a guitar and started doing some stuff with his fingers. And I said; where did you learn this? And he said, well, I was hanging out with Michael Lee Firkins and I just started.. and I thought, wait a minute, everybody is starting to do this. I’d better explore this. And I didn’t really ever sit down and officially practice anything, I just became kind of aware of it. And sort of starting replacing a lot of upstrokes with the 2nd finger. And then it’s kind of worked it’s way into my playing. Now I really don’t think about it as much, but again, it’s not like a super highly developed thing like Brett Garsed who’s really just got a whole thing going.

:: I took some lessons from Shawn Lane and I thought he was using all the fingers of his right hand because he was playing so fast. But I was kind of shocked to find out that it was mainly just one finger, the second finger of his right hand.

I actually didn’t know he did that.

:: Yeah, you don’t really hear it over exaggerated in his playing. We would sit there for hours and he would just burn it.

Man, you’re lucky. I would love to sat there with him for 5 minutes.

:: We spoke about your evolving style; you got more into fusion at a later time in your career. What started that? The obvious legends like Mahavishnu?

Oh, here’s the funny thing: Mahavishnu really wasn’t an influence, they’re more of an influence now. My experience with fusion is very similar to Jimi Hendrix in that when I got into guitar playing, my main… my first guy was Van Halen. And then I went from there. So from there I got into guys like George Benson, and John Scofield and Larry Carlton and also other rock players, like Yngwie and all that. But it wasn’t.. when I first heard Hendrix when I was very young, i didn’t quite understand what the big deal was. Because I was already doing technical things that I thought were more advanced, but when I went back, suddenly I heard Hendrix differently as I got older. And I thought; how did I miss all this? Suddenly it hit me.

:: His whole spirit and..

Oh, yeah. Finally it was just, wow.. how did I miss this? And that’s kinda how it was with fusion, I got into fusion just from listening to random players, random acts, like obviously Tribal Tech, and artists like Michel Camilo and all kinds of different things. That sorta merged with my rock background. And by the time I did some of the albums in the mid-90’s, I went back and started listening to Mahavishnu and some of that stuff. And I thought, ok, so these guys were kind of doing that 20 years ago. And then I actually started listening to them. And it was interesting to hear it, because I was hearing things that were very similar to what I was doing but I didn’t get it from them. So I was getting it from people who got it from them. I was influenced by guys who were influenced by them. And then I went back..

:: Yeah, you do some backtracking and then find out where they come from.

Yeah. Exactly. And that’s been the way it is. I think with a lot of things with me.

:: You told me before that when you tend to get kind of bored with one style, you want to move on to another.

Yeah, even if it’s a subtle change, I always feel the need to change, because it’s just the nature of who I am. It’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s just the way it is for me.

:: But you still sound like yourself in all the different music styles, so that’s good I guess.

Yeah, that comes out inadvertently, without me even trying, so that’s good, but I sometimes envy guys, who’s names I won’t mention, but sometimes I hear guys who do like 7, 8, 10, 12 albums that are all very similar. Which is great, but I don’t how they can find the inspiration to keep going back there, that way. If I could do that, that’d be great. I just..

:: Eric Johnson once said that guitarist often get caught up in the image they think who they are and who they should be. Kind of stuck with the image of themselves.

Right, like Scott Henderson, who started out as a fusion player with blues roots always present and then developing into a blues player. Right, some people are almost in resistance, because they’re not really being true. And I think that maybe, I’m not sure, I think that maybe this vocal thing will be more of a return to my rock roots. It might be some of that. When I first got into fusion and more advanced harmony concepts, I think a lot of it was just the challenge of wanting to be able to say that I could do it. But I don’t know if it was as heartfelt as it was.. the inspiration came from meeting the challenge. I mean, obviously a lot of stuff was great for me and great for my playing and I’m sure a lot of it will remain, but I do always consider myself much more of a rock guitarist at heart.

:: We played together a couple times and so I had the chance to sit up close at a couple of your soundchecks. You seem to be pretty self-critical about your playing, your compositions, your amps and sound..

(laughter) Probably more so then I need to be, but it tends to be the way that I am. I don’t know why. I just think I..

:: Want to keep pushing yourself..

I think, yeah. When I hear other guys play, all I hear is things that I can’t do. When I hear myself play, all I hear is the mistakes. All the things that didn’t come out right (laughs) so, but I know the perception of other people when they hear me is different. So I have to remember that sometimes. But I think it’s probably not an uncommon trade, I am sure you do the same thing..

:: Sure thing! I only hear the mistakes!

Exactly. But we shouldn’t be too worried about it. It’s just music. That’s all it is.

:: Right, it should be fun and we’re not talking brain surgery. Playing live.. it gets harder nowadays though with the fact that you’re on Youtube before the break in the middle of your set.

When Youtube came out, I was like.. (rolls eyes up to the sky) ..it was just horrible. I have so much stuff there that I don’t approve off. To me it’s like.. I have to finally embrace the fact that… ok, people will see me sometimes when I’m doing pretty cool. And they’re gonna see me times when it’s not really there. They’re both really me. They’re both really who I am, so maybe I should just.. and I just don’t watch myself. (laughs) I don’t wanna read any of those comments.

:: What has your schedule been like last year?

Well, I don’t know it month by month.. when did we play in Romania? That was..

:: March.

That was march. What happened before that? I think I was in Greece before that. Some shows in Athens. And then after the Romania thing, there was Vancouver. And then I had the Tetsuo album, the new album. I recorded it.

:: Did you do some live shows with your new band?

Not yet. There will be. I think coming up next year. And immediately after that, I think I went to Italy for a while. I did some shows with Marco Minnemann. We were in Vladivostok, Russia this year. I’m getting it all mixed up as to when I was where, but basically I’ve been to those places. Then I did the Justin Timberlake benefit show. Doing this show with you in Holland and then I’m probably forgetting some stuff. It was a really busy year.

:: You’re one of the musicians that maintains a healthy lifestyle. How do you keep fit?

I did lots of sports when I was younger. Now I just run sometimes.

:: In the heat in Vegas?

Yeah! (laughs) it’s too hot there. It sucks, because there really is no fall or spring. It gets warm and then it gets cold. So right now, it’s cold and it’s really cold. It’s like too cold to run and then in the summer it’s too hot to run. So I just try to stay active, I try to do things, but for the most part, I will, when I have time. And again, this year has not been great for exercise with all this traveling.