Michael Harris

Interview date

12 Novembre 2010




Interview Michael Harris (by mailer)

Hi Michael, thanks a lot for accepting this interview for the french metal webzine http://www.auxportesdumetal.com/

My pleasure!!!

You're well known to be a guitar-hero in the metal category, especially in neo-classical as you played on Orchestrate. Why did you take such a change of direction to instrumental fusion with Tranz-Fused ?

I agree that a fusion record is a big change in direction from my most recent instrumental CD, Orchestrate, but I have always loved good fusion, and my father is a jazz musician, so it was out of my hands, ha! There are fusion songs on most of my instrumental records, such as Julius Seizure from EGO DECIMATION PROFILE, Identity Crisis from DISTORTED VIEWS, and Neuro-Tranzmitter from SKETCHES FROM THE THOUGHT CHAMBER. There are some jazz breaks on both the THOUGHT CHAMBER disc and on my solo vocal record, WORDS COLLIDE, and there is a battle between classical and jazz on The Mad Composer’s Rage on ORCHESTRATE.

Is it musically and technically more difficult to play this complex fusion than the metal shred ?

In general I’d say yes, although I guess any style / genre can be as challenging as one wants to make it. At the end of the day there really are no rules, but in metal most players tend to stick with power chords, diatonic scales, and major / minor / diminished arpeggios, but in jazz you’re dealing with a wider chord vocabulary (i.e. the beginning of Seizure Salad, Left of Right, or Blue Shift), more scales such as chromatic (which I used in about every tune) or something like a syncopated hybrid picked wide interval lick, as heard in the end of Left of Right.

Can you please present us your amazing line-up on this new record ? How did you succeed to have a such great address book ?

I started out working with drummer Mike Haid and bassist Adam Nitti, who had played on some of my previous records. Then I found out that Bernard Wright, (a great keyboardist who played with Lenny White when he was thirteen) lives here in Dallas, so he cut a killer solo on Seizure Salad for me. Mike Haid had connections with (bassist) Bunny Brunel & (drummer) Marco Minnemann, so that’s how they became involved, and my local friends, David Harbour and James Martin played some great bass on several tunes as well.

How did you manage to work with such a complex and groovy rhythm section ? Did you write the rhythm section or were your guests free to jam ?

In choosing musicians, I always consider the material as well as the player, and all these cats are comfortable with both the odd time signatures and grooves required. Yes, I recorded demos (with a drum machine) for all the songs ahead of time, which is my normal process. Everyone of course adds their style and elements to the music. I find that you get a better result that way, and I wouldn’t want to hold back a great musician from doing his thing!

A lot of fusion albums are boring because too much complex. On Tranz-Fused, each song is based on a catchy melodic themes what makes the listening quite easy. How did you proceed to compose these songs ?

Much thanks. I agree that complexity for complexity’s sake serves no purpose, yet we find it in many genres, notably jazz. I knew Tranz-Fused wouldn’t be strictly a jazz record, as I always incorporate many influences on my records, so composition-wise I approached it like my other records, but keeping in mind ideas that would sound good even with less distortion & sustain.

Wizard Of Odd's theme sounds like Jeff Beck, some tapping parts sound like Bumblefoot... Can you please tell us more about the influences on each song you tried to put on ?

I will actually go out of my way to NOT sound like a particular player, song, or band, out of respect for them. It’s difficult to do if I really like an idea, but if I write something that sounds too much like something else, I’ll usually trash it. In general, I’m influenced by a lot of the concepts of fusion & prog, such as odd time sigs, playing a lot of unison lines between instruments, having the bass play the melody or a more prominent role, the use of a lot of flat 5s (in a wacky way, like the Seizure Salad verses), and the use of the chromatic scale out of order.

It’s probably easier for a listener to tell me what they hear, but when I listen back to Tranz-Fused, I hear some Jeff Beck (i.e. the slide part in Wizard of Odd or the choruses in Nitrous Oxide Strut). There is also a blues influence on the record, most notably in Ocean Blues (which sounds Robin Trower-esque to me), and Blue ShiftScofield-ish and which, by the way I played fingerstyle). And speaking of technique, there is no right hand tapping on the record, although some people say they hear some, but that is actually hybrid picking. I have only tapped one note on all my solo records! (That was on Wolfgang Lives from Defense Mechanizms.) Also there has never been any whammy bar on any of my records, but I do a lot of slide bends to simulate that sound and I use a side-to-side vibrato, even on octaves & chords.

If you had to choose 3 instrumental fusion albums, which ones would you pick up ?

1) Imaginary Voyage – Jean Luc Ponty

2) Electric Savage – Colosseum II

3) Land of the Midnight Sun – Al DiMeola

No wait – I already have those!

What are your current and future projects ?

The 2nd THOUGHT CHAMBER and DARKOLOGY records are written, and I am presently writing some bluesy hard rock vocal tunes and orchestral instrumentals, so I think my recent change in direction will make more sense when I come full circle back to Orchestrate type stuff, and eventually a follow up to Tranz-Fused.

What is your opinion about the metal guitar shred today ? Don't you think that everything has already been tried in the 90s ? I mean, the evolution of musicians like Satriani or Vai for example...

There are still tons of great players out there! I am humbled about every day by a guitarist somewhere. But yes "shred" was pioneered in the 80s, and you’re right, there’s not much out there now that is setting a new standard. That’s a hard thing to do because everything has been done 1000x. Personally, I don’t listen to music to hear musicianship though! I listen to the melodies and the compositions themselves. Great musicianship is just icing.

Tranz-Fused contains some progressive elements, it even reminds Rush sometimes. Have you been and are you still a fan of progressive rock and metal ? Which bands are you listening to these days ?

I am definitely a fan of prog, especially the pioneers of prog, like Rush (through Presto), early Yes, Kansas, Genesis, King Crimson, etc. My band THOUGHT CHAMBER is reflective of these bands. In recent years, The Flower Kings and Karmakanic have some really good material, and we have to be appreciative of what Dream Theater has done for prog over the years.

In the music industry crisis today, is it a challenge to release an album like Tranz-Fused ? Can you live financially with your music ?

It is very challenging for about any band in this day in age to move product, but even moreso with artists such as myself, who do instrumental music, and beyond that, a very technical subgenre of it. I am in this line of work for the art and enjoyment of it though, and am grateful that I can still make my living off of teaching. And it does help that I have a home studio.

For the guitarists who will read this interview, can you say some words about the gear you use on Tranz-Fused ? And how did you get this great "live" production ?

I think simply the approach of using less overdubs creates more space and a more "live" sound. As far as gear, I used mostly my Brian Moore 2.13 and Gibson Les Paul double cutaway guitars, all tube amps – mostly my Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier (constantly adjusting the gain for clean vs dirty sounds), Boss ring modulator and octave pedals, and a Roland GR-33 guitar synth.

Will we have the opportunity to see you soon in France for a clinic or a show within a band ?

I would sure love that!

Thanks again for your time.

Thanks for the great interview!

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