Issue 2019-069: Aristocrats Inter-Review
The release of the fourth Aristocrats album was much anticipated by a lot of people. Before we head on to the Duo Review, DPRP's Craig Goldsmith asked, following the division of songs on their albums, three questions to each of the three musicians.
You are known for your eclectic spread of styles and techniques, illustrated on Aristocrats output but also your other projects and infamous Youtube videos. Although it seems to be sooo not the case, is there a type of playing or genre you feel you haven't touched yet and would like to?
Guthrie Govan: Of course! I suppose the most obvious example would be the realm of classical guitar - I've really never spent any serious amount of time exploring that whole world but I understand it enough to be aware that it would take me years just to learn how to generate an authentic "classical" tone with a nylon-strung guitar. On the rare occasions when I'm required to pick up an instrument like that, I generally "cheat" by using a pick ;-)
There are a host of amazing guitarists out there, do you think anyone (except yourself of course) is pushing the instrument further or have we just heard it all before?
Guthrie: Well... there's an apocryphal story about the head of the US Patent Office handing in his resignation at the end of the 19th century, on the grounds that "everything that can be invented has been invented". I think it's similarly misguided to assume that "we've heard it all before" within the world of guitar - I'm absolutely confident that new players will continue to pop up from time to time with totally fresh approaches.
You are one of Chelmsford's most famous sons (along with "Jesus" from The Walking Dead), have flipped burgers at McDonald's but also went to Oxford University - which was the most formative for you?
Guthrie: On the topic of coming from Chelmsford, I'm reminded of Bill Bryson's famous opening line from The Lost Continent: "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." That pretty much sums it up! As for McDonald's and Oxford University, I suppose they represent opposite ends of the spectrum: my year at Oxford was a wonderful, unique, memorable experience whilst the 18 months I spent making and selling junk food were... not! ;-) I suppose both experiences served as reference points of equal importance during that period in my life when I was trying to decide whether or not becoming a professional musician would be a good idea!
I like to think that I made the right choice in the end...
Marco, you're one of the busiest drummers in the world, touring with Steven Wilson, Satriani, and of course Aristocrats. Yet you also have time for more projects such as the fabulous release with Tony Levin and Jordan Rudess. Do you ever think there is a risk of burn-out or creative exhaustion with so much activity?
Marco Minnemann: Hi and thanks for the interview. Regarding your first question: It sounds more time consuming than it really is. See, other people have a day job and work 8 hours. I write music, maybe around 4-5 hours day. Some days I take a whole week off, it depends on how creativity strikes.
As far as studio productions go, I always have my instruments miked and ready to record in my home studio and therefore I can schedule my work in a very convenient way.
However touring-wise, you're right, things can get hard. That's why at the moment I've only decided to concentrate on 2 things: The Aristocrats and my new solo release. Balance is important.
How differently do you approach the Aristocrats creative process compared with your solo work?
Marco: It's almost ironic, because mostly it's not much different at all. I love writing music with great passion. Then later I see about what songs would fit to which release and then decide how to "tailor" the arrangement in that direction.
But there are conscious decisions sometimes about writing for a trio or a big rock band/orchestra arrangement. So mostly when an Aristocrats song appears I'll try to make it work so it would be playable in our trio band setting.
Which drummers in particular have influenced you most strongly over the years?
Marco: That I can answer fairly quickly: Buddy Rich for his entertainment, technique and command. Simon Phillips for his sound and the beauty in his playing. Vinnie Colaiuta for being Vinnie Colaiuta :-). Dennis Cahmbers for his powerful grooves delicate and amazing fills. Oh man, so many players I like and want to mention, but that would become a looooooong book. :-)
The Aristocrats appear to have a penchant for hispanic or spaghetti-western stylings. I'm thinking the title of your third album Tres Caballeros and tracks such as Spanish Eddie from the latest album. Is there one member of the band in particular with these leanings or is it a group thing, and do you all like paella?
Bryan Beller: I can only speak for myself when I say I LOVE paella! My mother is a Spanish teacher in the USA and we would go out for Spanish food sometimes in New Jersey, and we always had paella. As for the repeated "Spanish" themes in our music, it's actually not on purpose! But we all agree that Spanish-flavoured music is very exciting and fun to play, and so somehow it keeps showing up.
Tell us how you stretch-out on bass when playing live with the Aristocrats, is there room for more expression and improvisations on top of holding the groove together?
Bryan: Because we are a power trio, there is always more room for the bass to stretch out than normal. It's actually the responsibility of the bass to take up more space in a situation like that. That's why you'll hear me implying chords in the baselines of songs like Sweaty Knockers and The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde, to act as both the bass and a kind of rhythm guitar at the same time.
Meanwhile you have Guthrie's songs which always employ a wide-ranging bass line to occupy more of the harmony - songs like Gaping Head Wound, And Finally, and especially Last Orders. And in terms of improv, of course there's plenty of room for the bass to freely express while grooving.
But it's also important to remember that the role of the bass is to support the band, and to serve as the crucial fulcrum between the rhythmic and harmonic elements of the band. That role doesn't change, no matter how much "freedom" there is.
There are some intriguing song titles in the Aristocrats compendium - Texas Crazypants, Sweaty Knockers, and my personal favourite, Spiritus Cactus. Take us through the process by which you guys dream up such, errm, “creative" song names.
Bryan: Each Aristocrat contributes the same number of songs (three) to each album, and we name our own songs. I don't want to put words in Marco's mouth but I don't think Spiritus Cactus was much of a process - I think he just thought it was a cool phrase!
I named and wrote the other two songs you mentioned. Sweaty Knockers is a reference to a joke deep inside the Dethklok subculture, and anyone who figures it out deserves a prize of some kind. Texas Crazypants is based on something, well, crazy, that happened to me at a truck stop outside Amarillo, Texas. It's a story I told on the Tres Caballeros tour. Personally speaking, I try to name songs after stories that happened in real life, and then imagine what the soundtrack for that story would be.
The Aristocrats - You Know What...?
Craig Goldsmith's Review
As their name suggests, The Aristocrats are now of royalty status in the power-trio instrumental-virtuoso genre. Of course, with this comes increasing expectations. In a field crowded by talented string-twangers and tub-thumpers, it is harder and harder to rise above the others. So with their fourth studio release, have they done it?
In a word: maybe.
As usual the album consists of three songs written by each member of this "rowdy democracy of musicianship", and this mechanism bears fruit, in that as a whole we are not simply bombarded by a talented guitarist and his backing band.
The perfectly entitled D-grade Fuck Movie Jam is gnarly, greasy and sleazy and therefore does exactly what it says on the tin. There is some serious whammy bar abuse at the end, if you get my drift. The taptastic Spanish Eddie features some delicate jazz stylings that John Mclaughlin would be proud of, between the spaghetti-western stomp theme. On All Said and Done we tip the stetson to the mid-west, almost reminiscent of easy-listening moe.. It doesn't quite grab the attention, although I'm sure live there could be some heroic stretching-out on this one.
Terrible Lizard presents a more challenging listen, perfectly encapsulating the image of a stertorous and stentorian reptilian nightmare. There is complexity in time signature and tone but it does plod a little, which I suppose is the point. Think early King Crimson with better production.
Spiritus Cactus gets my vote for 2019's DPRP best song title award, and is also my favourite on the album, if not just for the subtle but perfectly timed use of castanets and an opening canticle (who doesn't like a good canticle?). It is also one of the few tracks on the album that could be hummed along to, if that sort of thing pleases you. The mellow middle section is particularly lovely, with a slight guitar delay and lilting-rhythm section.
Burial At Sea kicks off gently, with some luscious acoustic strumming, before some chugging metallic riffs and soloing, on what sounds like a guitar synth. At 3:08 there is an overdriven solo which showcases Guthrie's chops, (sounding very Satriani) before descending again into the chuggy motif. Beller's fretless base purrs along like a funereal speedboat.
The YYZ nod in the opening to Bonnie And Clyde leads into another seven minutes of power-trio fun and towards the end there is more Rush-channelling, with suggestions of the baseline from 2112.
There are a legion of teenage (and older) guitarists who will spend hours in their bedrooms attempting to re-enact Guthrie Govan's licks; one look at Youtube confirms this. And for good reason, he is a wonderful guitarist with touch and feel as well as the obligatory shred. By diversifying on this album into bluegrass picking and some desert-rock tones, he is a loftier target to emulate than pure hair-metal shredders of old.
Similarly, percussion and bass are very well catered for by Marco Minnemann and Bryan Beller; take Last Orders as an exemplar. In fact the guitar could be subtracted from the foray and the remainder would still shine in their own right.
There is not quite the jaw-dropping boundary-pushing face-melt of Consider The Source, but the latter may not be everyone's cup of tea, in which case You Know What..? does indeed go a long way to standing above the rest in the genre. The perfect accompaniment to a US road trip.
Stefan Hennig's Review
Receiving a new The Aristocrats CD to review, is like being given a bottle of fine wine to sample. The variety of grape will essentially define the basic type of wine. But each vintage will be defined by a number of factors, such as its ageing, the amount of sunshine the grape received while ripening, the amount of water or rainfall and the soil type.
With The Aristocrats, you already know that you are getting three musicians, each one the master of their individual craft, and when you mix the three together, you are going to be taken on a wild musical journey. Each musician has matured since their last collaboration, so what they bring to the table will be on display in the final product.
The way that The Aristocrats gel together and compose, most of the time with their tongues firmly in cheek, is what for me, makes them so unique. While there is no doubting the immense talents of each musician, what is amazing is the amount of joy, fun and freshness they manage to fit into each release. You will be glad to know that You Know What...? is no exception.
The formula remains the same as the band's three previous studio releases, with nine tracks, and each band member writing three of them. Having received only the audio tracks, without the album information, I have no idea which track was composed by which band member. The way The Aristocrats write, makes it is impossible to discern which song belongs to which member, as every track enables each to shine in their own right. No one dominates proceedings, and each track provides the opportunity for each member to demonstrate their frustratingly-amazing abilities.
The production of the release is simply stunning; each instrument is clearly discernible in the mix. What appears to have changed the most is Bryan Beller's bass tone. On the three previous studio albums, I have had reservations with Bryan's bass sound, but on You Know What..?, his bass tone is stunning. Each track appears to have its own unique bass sound, and his restrained use of effects to alter his sound at particular moments, have now lifted my opinion of Bryan as a bass player to a whole new level. After his performance on display here, I am going to have to track down his new solo release.
It is to be expected that Govan Guthrie's immense talent as a guitar player shines bright here. The emotion and feeling he displays throughout the album is jaw-dropping. Having said that, he never over-plays. All of his solo spots feel totally holistic within the framework of the composition. Each note he plays has a place and meaning. I don't know if there is a more complete guitar player around at present.
As for drummer Marco Minnemann, who I am sure needs no dramatic introduction, he is the glue that holds the band together, the engine that drives it along and the beating heart at the centre of everything. On first listen, Marco's performance appears restrained, and most of the time he seems to be overshadowed by his fellow bandmates. But further listens demonstrate that the restraint on display, is in fact the immense talent of a master of his craft. Any overplaying by Marco would ultimately create conflict to the musical compositions, so immense credit should be bestowed for doing what is right for the music and band, and not allowing any ego to detract from the song. For any aspiring drummer, a lot can be learned from Marco's performance; that no matter how brilliant a performer you may be, your contribution to the song is what is most important.
The performances here where so stunning, that I have to admit that the first time, I had to listen to the album in two halves. Is this what is meant by an album blowing you mind? If so, then my mind was well and truly blown.
The album opener, the mischievously named D-Grade Fuck Movie Jam, is an almost relentless assault on the senses. Guthrie's guitar drives proceedings along, with him abusing his wah-wah peddle for the full length of the track. So much so, by the end of the song you can almost smell the flames coming off the peddle.
The rhythm section take centre stage on the next track, Spanish Eddie. An at times flamenco-sounding song, it begins with Beller producing some inspired tapping while Marco pounds his drums taking the lead over the bass. Along the way Govan produces mellow, relaxed accompaniment, before cranking it up with crunching metal shredding to close the track.
Next is When We All Come Together, by far my favourite track. A country hoe-down, that has to be heard to be believed. It never lets up for the full six minutes, like listening to Dwayne Eddie on acid. I don't know how many times I have pressed repeat on this track, it just gets me tapping my foot and wanting to line dance. It makes me laugh at times and puts a smile on my face. A true example of how music can be fun. The live crowd reaction to this on the forthcoming The Aristocrats tour should be fun to watch.
All Said And Done is the blues track on the album. This musical genre appears to be one where all three members of the band feel relaxed and at home, but excel at the same time. Brian Beller's bass sound at times is the dirties you could ever want to hear, without having to shower after listening.
Terrible Lizard is where The Aristocrats teach Steve Vai a lesson in how to perform a metal-tinged workout with the appropriate nods along the way to Frank Zappa.
I could continue describing each track, but you need something to discover. If I exposed all the secrets held within this future classic, then it would be like letting you know what your Christmas presents are. Hey, if you can hold out for another three months, put this at the top of your wish-list to send to Santa. You would need to look for a long time to find a gift that will continue giving for as long as this album will.
Whether you are a fan of rock, metal, jazz, country, blues or anything in-between, or just three musicians at the pinnacle of their career, then this will definitely feature in you top 10 albums of the year. You Know What..? is a thoroughly addictive musical adventure, one that once sampled, will be difficult to avoid returning to for more.