By: Dr. Matt Warnock
Making a living in today’s music industry is as hard as any point in history. It seems like the days are gone, if they ever existed to begin with or are more the stuff of legends, when one can pay dues in a bar band, write a hit song, get signed to a major label and then marry a supermodel and retire to a castle in Wales. For musicians out there working on today’s scene, it’s tough going to say the least. Many of them have to have several side gigs on the go, write and record as guest artists constantly and then produce their own original material in between their many tours and recording sessions, if and when they have time.
Monster guitarist Pete Thorn is a player who has mastered the art of making a living in today’s competitive music world, and after many years, almost 20 as he mentions below, of working on his original material, the talented picker is gearing up to release his first instrumental album sometime in the next few months.
After having known Pete from his work with Melissa Etheridge and Chris Cornell, as well as his many amazing videos on YouTube where he demos gear and teaches viewers how to play, I was intrigued and excited to hear that he is getting ready to launch a solo record. So, I picked up the phone, gave Pete a call and got the lowdown on his new record, his songwriting process and what gear he’s using to record with these days.
Matt Warnock: You cover a lot of different musical styles in your career, from playing “Eruption” on YouTube to touring with Melissa Etheridge. Are you going to be bringing these many diverse genres onto your new album or are you focusing more on one style of music?
Pete Thorn: It’s pretty much all over the map. It’s a lot of different takes on the styles that I like to play. I’m basically a rock player, but I went into it not too concerned with keeping it necessarily completely cohesive. I just wanted it to be a reflection of what I dig playing as a guitarist. So it ranges from mellow to almost full on metal.
I tried to mold it in the tradition of what I consider to be the great rock instrumental guitar players, like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. No matter what they played there was always a melody running through it, a theme, not just chops for chops sake. There was always something that would draw you in, and that’s a thread that I kept through the album to make it cohesive. I try and maintain a simplicity, melody and theme in every song that I come back to so you remember it.
Matt: This is your first instrumental album, why is the time right for you to tackle this project in 2010-2011?
Pete Thorn: For a long time I felt like it might not be the right thing to do, maybe that was coming from fear or ego, that it might not be a cool record to make. I grew up in the ‘80s, which was the golden age of rock instrumental albums. General virtuosity and technical guitar was so popular back then.
Then in the ‘90s, if you went to a session it was hard to even get a producer to warm up to the idea of you playing a solo. And if you did play a solo you generally had to put a Leslie effect on it and the guitar would be going “wah-wah-wah-wah.” [Laughs] They would ask “can you not make it sound like a guitar?” So you’d generally be doubling the vocal melody or something and that would be the solo.
Then a few years went by and my friend Steve Stevens put out a great instrumental guitar album called Memory Crash and the songs were very cinematic. It was the type of album you’d put on and just go for a drive. It wasn’t focused on shredding, just these great songs with moments of virtuoso guitar playing, but also lots of space and diversity in the music.
I heard that and thought, “That’s what I want to do.” That was really the album that inspired me to do something on my own. He’s a pal of mine and he’s been cool to me, he even plays two songs on bass for the new record. That was a thrill for me. His record was a big inspiration for me, it made me think that I could do that too. Use it as a template. Make a good album with good songs, not try to blow everyone away with my playing, just do what I want to do and make it happen.
Matt: Because your playing is so diverse, was it tricky finding the right guys to play with you on the record, since you needed people that could play well across the board as far as styles are concerned?
Pete Thorn: There is no real band on the record, it’s a combination of some of my friends making appearances here and there, and then I played bass on four tracks as well. I had my friend Jon Button, who plays with Sheryl Crow and Shakira, he’s a great bass player and he’s on two tunes. Jorgen Carlsson from Gov’t Mule is on one of the songs, and then Steve’s on two tunes and the rest of the bass is me.
As far as drums go, I’ve got Toss Panos on one track. He plays with Larry Carlton, Scofield and Robben Ford. So he’s like the guitarist’s drummer. Then my friend Dorian Crozier is on a track or two, and Blair Sinta who plays with me in Melissa Etheridge’s band is also on the record. Other than that I programmed the drums myself. It’s not a firm band. It’s more of a bunch of different musicians making appearances throughout the album.
Matt: Since you’re on the road all the time and working constantly, how long was the songwriting process for this record, did it stretch out over months or even a year?
Pete Thorn: It spread out almost over years. There are two things that I wrote 20 years ago and never got around to recording. I wrote a solo electric guitar piece when I was about 19, I don’t have a title for the piece yet. And there’s one called “Big Mistake” that I wrote in my early 20s. So you can say I’ve been working on the album for 20 years now. [Laughs] But, just really bearing down and recording the record took about two years of working on it to get it to this point.
I would record a track here and a track there, but really in the last 6 months or so I’ve accelerated the process and got 4 or 5 tracks done. You really have to just sit down and tell yourself to get it done. I’m not the most focused person when it comes to this stuff sometimes, I’m a little scattered, a little ADD. I’d have to really plan ahead and do nothing but work on the record, and now it’s almost done so those focused days paid off.
Matt: What guitars did you use to record the album?
Pete Thorn: It was kind of all over the map, everything from a few different Les Pauls that I really dig to my EVH Wolfgang guitar which I really love. Once I got that guitar, which I’ve had for about 6 or 8 months, I used it a lot and I really dig it.
I’ve also got a ’64 Strat and a Suhr Strat that I used. I used a beautiful acoustic on a “Big Mistake” made by a Japanese luthier named Hiro Ebata. A store called Dream Guitars sent me a number of models to do video demo for them, and that was one of them. It’s like a $9,000 acoustic and it’s just gorgeous.
I’ve also got a ’63 Gibson 335 that I used for the solo on “10th Street,” and that’s kind of it. It’s a variety of guitars, Fenders, Gibsons, the EVH, a bunch of different models from across the board.
Matt: Do you have a set release date yet for the album, where are you in the final stages of the process before the album is out in stores?
Pete Thorn: I’m just mixing and mastering and figuring out what I’m going to do what I’ll do as far as that goes. I’ve had friends offer to mix and master it for me, so I’m trying to figure out if I mix it myself or get some other people to do it. Some really cool mixers have offered to do it, but they’re really busy, so I need to decide if I wait for that or just do it myself. So I’m weighing those options right now.
I had planned on releasing it myself and selling it online through the usual channels, but lately I’ve had some interest from people in the business that work with this type of music, so there are new options that have been presented to me and I’m mulling those over right now. I plan on having the record out in the next few months. It’s all recorded, I just need to tidy up these loose ends and figure out about artwork, mastering and distribution and it’ll be ready to go from there.
Matt: Just to finish up, is there any secret to your success, any one thing that helps you balance all of the projects you have going on and still keep your sanity?
Pete Thorn: Being a musician, or artist of any sort, and having a viable career, I think you have to get good at time management. It’s just part of staying viable in this business, staying viable and keeping your mind open to many opportunities. I don’t think you can just do one thing anymore and make it in this business, unless you’re in one of the few bands that really make it big.
Most of the guys I know all have their hands in a bunch of different things, writing songs for different people, touring with different people, doing one off gigs here and there, just a bunch of things going on. I’m constantly feeling overbooked, so I end up doing sessions in a hotel room for somebody’s record, you just kind of have to do it that way in order to make a living. It’s not easy these days. It’s a necessity these days to do many different things in your career. Unless you’re a rock star who has it made, and who are those guys these days, you have to go out and do many things to make a living.
Even the guys that I grew up with in my hometown that used to play locally all taught during the day and did sessions here and there to get by. It’s all just part of being a professional musician, so out of necessity you just find ways to make things happen.
Check Out a Preview of Pete Thorn’s New Album Below