1) What was the idea behind THE ALCHEMISTS and how did you assemble all the bands together?
As this is the first release from our new label, Liquid Note Records I wanted to ensure that we launched with a really memorable CD of instrumental guitar tunes. My aim was to include both name and new players, giving people an idea of the talent that's out there. I also wanted to concentrate on as much European and UK talent as possible. This is because a) we're a UK label and b) US players have already been well catered for by the likes of Shrapnel and Favored Nations etc. With THE ALCHEMISTS I tried to represent as many foreign flavours as possible, with contributions from the UK, Europe, USA, Russia, Australia, Canada ... you name it, it's on there. As for assembling the various players, it wasn't too difficult. Back in the early 90s I (along with a few others, including Phi Yaan-Zek, contributor and mastering producer on TA) wrote for an underground guitar magazine called G-FORCE which concentrated its attentions on advanced guitar music. I made quite a few contacts during that time and kept in touch with lots of talented players. Then Phi went to study in the (now defunct) Austrian Institute of Music (A.I.M.) and whilst there made contact with several amazing players whose demos and live tapes I was privileged to hear. Indeed, several of these musicians have tracks on TA, including Todd Duane, Milan Polak and keyboardist, Lale Larson. I also used my ever increasing contacts to write a popular book called THE MODERN GUITARIST: A HISTORY OF ROCK GUITAR SINCE THE 70S (see Liquid Note Records site for a cut-down version) whilst contributing guitar columns and reviews and conducting musician interviews. I also wrote introductions for a few guitarists' CD booklets. With a network of musicians established, all I had to do then was email everyone I wanted on the CD to see it they wanted in. Lots of these guys already knew me through the PR I'd already done; others were willing to trust me at face value. As it turned out, I had too many potential contributors and had to turn down several. Nevertheless, it ended up being a double CD, which is quite rare for a compilation album.
2) Tell us more about your plans for Liquid Note Records and what we can expect for the future?
LNR plans to release a number of quality instrumental albums, covering several different styles, from straight-ahead rock, through progressive neo-classical to fusion, and maybe even acoustic. It's all about showing the rest of the world that America doesn't rule the roost when it comes to guitar virtuosity! Releases planned for the rest of 2002 include: an exciting project from Dutch fusion guitar master, Richard Hallebeek (check out his contribution on TA for more). This CD will be in the vein of Legato Records' MVP projects, with some amazing solos from the likes of Shawn Lane and keyboard master, Lale Larson (amongst others). From the UK we've got a brand new album from Mario Parga (ex-Cozy Powell's Hammer; also on TA) called ENTRANCED. There's also a collaborative CD from Dave Kilminster (ex-John Wetton Band) and Guthrie Govan (Asia). In mid-to-late 2003 there will be a progressive neo-classical shred-fest from Stephan Forte (Adagio), Richard Daude and keyboard maestro, Richard Andersson (Majestic). There will also be a fusion album from Lale Larson's band, Ominox called CONTEMPORARY PAST. If you like Chick Corea or Tribal Tech this'll be right up your street.
3) What's the best thing about the music LNR is trying to promote?
Its individual flavour. We've all heard a thousand faceless, sound-the-same instrumental guitar albums. LNR's albums will eschew the conventional rock cliches and boring, pivot-based licks and ideas. I've specifically chosen players because of their uniqueness. Plus the fact that they have a strong awareness of composition and the importance of rhythm playing. TA is a good example of this. I was very conscious of structuring it in the manner of a conventional album with intense-quiet-weird-intense-surprising (and so on) tracks. As you know, the listener needs a breather or a pause in the music. A chance to catch his or her breath. I was very aware of this when choosing the album's track listing. From the comments we've received so far, it seems the strategy has worked. You get a lot of variety on TA, from rock and metal to neo-classical, fusion, acoustic - even techno and industrial! I wanted the CD to cater for all tastes. I also wanted it to be a taster of what's to come, solo and collaboration-wise, on forthcoming LNR albums.
4) Where do you see the guitar scene in general going and what can your label do to promote to new areas?
The 80s were glorious, fresh and exciting times for instrumental guitar fans. Unfortunately, musicians tended to disappear underground in the following decade as sales decreased and grunge-style music became suddenly popular. For a time it was sort of anti-technique, and although the players were still releasing quality product, they were less visible and labels weren't as willing to sign them up. That signalled a surge of players - including those who'd already extablished a reputation through the likes of Shrapnel - releasing their records on their own labels and selling it from their website and sites such as Guitar 9.com. To be honest I don't think the scene has changed radically since the hey-deys of the 80s. It's more to do with promotional opportunities being more limited. All the musical genres are still represented. Go to Guitar 9, for example, and you can buy CDs covering every possible type of instrumental guitar music. There were experiments in the 80s with industrial sounds and samples. And things got a lot more progressive (in direct contrast to simpler, grunge-based music) with bands like Dream Theater and Fates Warning leading the pack. The great players of the 80s are still with us, and a new bunch of hugely talented individuals have moved in intent on exploring new territories and tearing down technical barriers. Except now the production is better and you don't need to book expensive studio time. A simple home studio set up and a your own independent label - not to mention a modicum of talent! - is all that's required to make great music. I'd like to see LNR do something worthwhile in the instumental guitar field. Perhaps release albums which achieve the same visibility and mainstream acclaim of, say Joe Satch or Eric Johnson. Failing that, I'd like our albums to appeal to people other than simply guitar fans and musicians.
5) Where do you see LNR ten years from now?
Broke, bankrupt, selling BIG ISSUE's on the streets of Newport ... who knows. No, seriously, I'd like to think that we'd have established a reputation for releasing music every bit as powerful and memorable as the mighty Shrapnel Records - with the emphasis on European and UK talent. We may also have diversified into vocal music, and might also be releasing records by keyboard, flute, even marimba players! If there's a market that is...
6) Does LNR plan on any shows for its artists and bands?
I'd like for that to happen, but it's a cost issue. We're a small label and financing and co-ordinating a G-3-style tour is very difficult. Plus, most of these players are already in bands of their own (several in fact) so getting them together won't be easy. Or cheap. Still, if the label does well enough, who knows. In the meantime, we plan to release performance videos/DVDs. Not instructional videos (which usually bore me) but guitarist and cool backdrop; playing his music up close and personal with no gimmicks or unnecessary commentary. YOUNG GUITAR magazine have done something similar with their performance videos. I believe guitar fans want their favourite players to be "in their face", so to speak; to be able to view the techniques in action whilst enjoying some awe-inspiring instrumental music.
7) Explain to us why a fan should part with his hard earned cash to buy one of your records?
Because he or she will be getting value for money. With TA, for instance, we put a lot of time and effort into creating an impressive looking package, with 12 page full-colour booklet, classy graphics and commentary on each player's tune; a great production and best of all, no "filler" tracks. Future LNR CDs will incorporate a similar high quality presentation. We'll have original cover art, plus those who pre-order will be entitled to signed picks, transcription sheets and so on. Moreover, you can always count on top quality music from some of the world's finest musicians - bar none.
8) Who are some of your own personal fave artists and bands from the world of rock?
Guitarists include: Tony MacAlpine (my fave player - period), George Lynch, Shawn Lane, Brett Garsed and TJ Helmerich, Greg Howe ... I could go on all night! I also think keyboard player Lale Larson is one of the most exciting and technically gifted musicians on the planet; someone who can play just about any type of music, from classical piano to jazz, fusion, experimental, rock and everything else in between. Believe me, he's going to be BIG. As for bands, I couldn't even begin to list all my favourites, though current raves include Devin Townsend (a multi-talented genius if ever I heard one), Dream Theater and Meshuggah. Of the classic bands, I still buy CDs from Rush, Toto, Queen et la. I also love classical music, film scores, fusion and certain world music recordings.
9) Lastly, create a question of your own and provide us with the answer.
What would I rather keep as a pet? A warthog or a wombat? Neither. I'd prefer a wallaby: they're cute, cuddly and make ferocious guard dogs when pumped up on mescaline and force-fed a 2-day diet of Westlife and Nancy Sinatra. Alternatively I'll take a tiger - as long as it's been de-clawed, de-toothed and checked over for ringworm.