...Paul Gil­bert, for a track-by-track run­down on the new Mr Big al­bum, De­fy­ing Grav­ity.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Open Your Eyes

GT: This big rif­fer features a very rich and warm dis­torted guitar. You know when to use space to make an ar­range­ment sound bigger. But few bands have the chops to throw in fills that al­most defy be­lief. Do the flashy ideas come dur­ing the riff mak­ing process or af­ter­wards?

PG: I used a Marshall 1959SLP for the whole record. It’s a vin­tage style head with no mas­ter vol­ume. I used the sec­ond chan­nel, which is a lit­tle warmer than the first one. I had the vol­ume around 3, which is re­ally loud, but still clean. So most of the dis­tor­tion came from ped­als. I had a TC Elec­tronic Mo­joMojo on most of the time, to give me my ba­sic over­drive sound. For Open Your Eyes, I also used a Catal­in­bread Karma Su­ture… the ger­ma­nium one. It’s a pur­plish pink­ish colour. It re­sponds re­ally well when I pick sin­gle notes hard. It adds kind of a FWONK to the at­tack. For flashy stuff, I usu­ally have some new things that I’m work­ing on, and if I see a spot where they’ll work in the song, I’ll see if I can fit some­thing in. The quick triplet line in Open Your Eyes, came from some jazzy stuff that I was work­ing on to play over the V chord in a blues. In this case, I used it over the I.

De­fy­ing Grav­ity

GT: Why choose this song over the others to rep­re­sent the whole al­bum? There’s a lovely blend of flavours here; the stac­catto F# ‘string quar­tet on one guitar’ in­tro, the big syn­co­pated hits, the pound­ing rock 8ths, Bea­tles-y Mixoly­dian ‘In­dian’ as­pects with the vo­cal-guitar uni­son lines, the up­lift­ing chord changes of D-E-F# that end the cho­rus. How did this song come about?

PG: It just felt the most like an al­bum ti­tle. And it works well with vis­ual ideas that we could use for the cover. We’ve been tun­ing down a half-step for the last few al­bums and tours, so I’m ac­tu­ally play­ing the song in G. That al­lows me to make the open-string drone. I’m not an ex­pert on In­dian mu­sic, but like any Bea­tles fan, I’ve heard the In­dian style melodies on Within You, With­out You, and Mixoly­dian melodies like To­mor­row Never Knows, and that in­stru­men­tal line in Straw­berry Fields. I had a re­ally good curry one night when I was stay­ing in LA to write with Billy and Pat, and the next morn­ing, I came up with that odd-time melody. I sent the melody to Eric, and he wrote the whole song around it. It’s the first song that we recorded for the al­bum, and I had a great time with all the Mixoly­dian solo­ing. There are lots of holes to fill!

Ev­ery­body Needs A Lit­tle Trou­ble

GT: This has a great swing 12/8 feel with thick riff­ing, pound­ing toms and a great blues-meets-shred solo. How much is im­pro­vised and how much is pre­de­ter­mined?

PG: This was the last song that we recorded, and we were up against the clock. I think the dead­line worked in our favour, in that we had to rely on what came nat­u­rally to us. The solo was def­i­nitely im­pro­vised, but it helped that I’ve been work­ing on my blues changes so much lately. I love play­ing shuf­fles, al­though I’m still eas­ily con­fused by the lan­guage of time sig­na­tures. I usu­ally just think of song ref­er­ences. Mes­sage Of Love by The Pre­tenders, Love Me Two Times by The Doors, School’s Out by Alice Cooper, even a me­tal song like Strong Arm Of The Law… Those are how I think of medium-tempo shuf­fles.

Damn I’m In Love Again

GT: The al­bum’s first acous­tic song with lots of up­beat strum­ming. The song’s in B; did you do any tun­ing changes or use a capo?

PG: I def­i­nitely played it in B. But I can’t re­mem­ber if I tuned down to Bb.

Ei­ther way, yes, I did some tun­ing changes to get more jan­gle out of the chords. The first string is up a whole step (which gives me the 5th in­ter­val in re­la­tion to the key.) And I tuned the sixth string down a 4th (which gives me the root of the key.) I let those ring (plus the sec­ond string, which is also the root.) And then just move power chords around in be­tween. The strings on acous­tic are much thicker than I use on elec­tric, and I quickly dis­cov­ered that I didn’t have cal­luses for play­ing con­tin­u­ous power chords. So half-way through the ses­sion, I tuned the fourth string up a whole step. That way, I could use a dif­fer­ent fin­ger­ing to play the chord, and not de­stroy the re­main­ing skin on my third finger.

Mean To Me

GT: This might be the al­bum’s most in­trigu­ing riff, be­ing so pre­cise and fast with its dou­ble-time feel. It sounds dou­ble-tracked too. What’s

Cm-Bb-Ab go­ing on with this pro­gres­sion? Also, ex­plain how you got to the four-bar trade-offs with Billy Shee­han be­fore you fly off for the full solo with scream­ing bends. It al­most sounds that you used a in-tempo de­lay (like Al­bert Lee or Nuno Bet­ten­court) for your lines?

PG: That’s a sin­gle guitar track, but Billy is play­ing some fe­ro­cious bass along with me, so that cer­tainly makes it sound bigger. The in­spi­ra­tion for the riff it­self came from Racer X and... Christina Aguil­era. Christina has that song Ge­nie In A Bot­tle. The drums are pro­grammed, but they re­mind me of some­thing that Scott Travis might have played when we were in Racer X to­gether. Christina’s pro­duc­tion soft­ens the tex­ture of the bass drums to fit with the pop tune, but com­po­si­tion­ally, it’s quite… me­tal! I took that gen­eral groove, changed it around, and made it into a guitar part, with the low-string act­ing as the bass drums, chords ad­ding snare-like stabs, and the open-string pull-offs act­ing like quick hi-hat moves. Also my chord changes are more typ­i­cally rock… sim­i­lar to a song like 25 or 6 to 4, or Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You. I did start the solo off us­ing a de­lay pedal. The first time I heard the ef­fect was on a Gamma song called Ra­zor King. Later, I heard Pat Thrall, Pat Travers, Ed­die Van Halen, and Yng­wie use it. There’s some old Pink Floyd that has it too. And The Edge from U2. An­other would be Alex Life­son on Kid Gloves. And of course, my own tune The Echo Song, on my first in­stru­men­tal record. It’s a good ef­fect! The one trick that I did with this tune, was I turned the vol­ume con­trol on my guitar down to about 3 to clean up the sound. The tempo was so fast, that I had to make the notes as short

and tight as pos­si­ble. If I had too much dis­tor­tion, the har­mon­ics would bleed over the edge of the note. So I cleaned up my sound to make the notes small enough to fit.

Noth­ing Bad (Bout Feel­ing Good)

GT: Your 12-string acous­tic sounds great on this; stan­dard tun­ing? Also, there’s a lovely 80s vibe here and the changes are great. As a band that first found fame in the 80s, are there typ­i­cally 80s mu­si­cal as­pects that you em­brace or avoid?

PG: It’s stan­dard tun­ing, but ev­ery­thing down a half step. I did an over­dub with har­mon­ics, and I think I tuned a string dif­fer­ently in or­der to get the right notes, but I can’t re­mem­ber which one. My vo­cab­u­lary of chord changes re­ally comes from 60s and 70s pop and rock. I grew up lis­ten­ing to The Bea­tles, so their songs re­ally formed my sense of har­mony. Later on, lis­ten­ing to 70s pop on the ra­dio, I heard a lot of El­ton John, ELO, Queen, Todd Rund­gren, The Car­pen­ters, and Bad­finger. I also loved more blues-based 70s rock like Led Zep­pelin, Aerosmith, and Robin Trower. Van Halen was a huge in­flu­ence as well. In the late 80s when Mr Big came out, arena rock had al­ready be­come a re­fined art form. The “Hey Hey Hey” chant from Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, was show­ing up in songs from many bands, as well as lots of sing-along “Whoa Oh” cho­ruses. We had some of that in our song Ad­dicted To That Rush. But the shorter an­swer is that we re­ally don’t plan out our songs, or have par­tic­u­lar rules or song­writ­ing guide­lines. We just try to let each song be it­self, and see what hap­pens. The clos­est thing to a song­writ­ing rule that I try to fol­low is… “Write more fast songs.” Those are usu­ally bet­ter live.

For­ever And Back

GT: There’s a big Led Zep­pelin vibe on this whole al­bum as well as Who type ref­er­ences as here. How im­por­tant are the big classic rock bands to you? Your solo is re­ally melodic with a few speed bursts too; how do you go about mak­ing a re­ally melodic solo?

PG: Six­ties and 70s rock is al­ways in me. The Lemon Twigs are my favourite new band… be­cause they sound like they are from the 60s. I wish I had more favourite new bands, but it’s hard to dis­cover new mu­sic, be­cause I don’t know how to lis­ten to mu­sic any more. There are too many op­tions with com­put­ers, and iTunes has frus­trated me so much that I refuse to turn it on ever again. In the end, I just lis­ten to my­self play guitar. The E chord that I learned when I was 11… still works! Some­times I’ll lis­ten to mu­sic on YouTube, but when it comes to col­lect­ing mu­sic like I did in the vinyl days, I haven’t found a sat­is­fy­ing re­place­ment. As Jimi Hen­drix says in Red House… “That’s all right. I’ve still got my guitar!” Speak­ing of which, I’m glad you dig the solo. Cer­tainly it helps to hav­ing singing in mind when mak­ing melodies. I re­ally wanted to be a singer be­fore I wanted to be a guitar player. But my voice didn’t sound the way I hoped, and my guitar play­ing al­ways seemed to move for­ward as a good rate, so I kept at it. I fig­ure out lots of vo­cal melodies on my guitar th­ese days, and it helps me to play more melod­i­cally. To give good ex­pres­sion to a melody, you of­ten need tech­niques that you won’t find by prac­tic­ing scales up and down. So I go straight to the source. Vo­cals. The most re­cent song I fig­ured out was Save The Best For Last by Vanessa Williams. Awe­some melody! And it taught me some great new fin­ger­ings.

She’s All Com­ing Back To Me Now

GT: This is al­most a song of two halves; for the in­tro and verse, the oc­tave rhythm and chord changes evoke grunge bands like The Smash­ing Pump­kins and Soundgar­den. But the up­beat cho­rus is more 60s with the ro­tary gui­tars, de­scend­ing bassline and chord in­ver­sions. What was the process to writ­ing this?

PG: This is one of Eric’s tunes, so I’m not sure how he put it to­gether. But I re­ally had fun play­ing it. I didn’t pay close at­ten­tion to the pop­u­lar rock bands in the 90s. But I was pro­duc­ing a band called The Szuters, and I think they snuck a lot of those “mod­ern” sounds into my ears. If you get a chance, check out their song You’re The One. I think it was writ­ten about my ex-wife and me, when we were get­ting a di­vorce. It’s an emo­tional song for me to lis­ten to, and I think that’s my pi­ano on the record­ing. And great chords and melodies.


GT: When a riff song is as strong as this, is it you or Billy that tends to fuel it to com­ple­tion? And how im­por­tant is tempo to cre­at­ing the best re­sults? When the guitar bursts come in and the blaz­ing solo, it re­ally perks the ears up!

PG: I wrote this one. I’ve found my­self us­ing a sim­ple, but ef­fec­tive way of writ­ing riffs lately. That is, to re­peat the first note or chord sev­eral times, be­fore mov­ing any­where else. I do some­thing sim­i­lar on Open Your Eyes. And on my last solo al­bum, on Ev­ery­body Use Your God­damn Turn Sig­nal. I was us­ing the riff from Hum­ble Pie’s Stone Cold Fever, as my sound­check song on my last tour. So that may have planted a seed in my mind. And a song like Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Break­down is an­other great ex­am­ple. Tempo is some­thing that I just choose by feel. I some­times have stu­dents who are try­ing to get their licks to be faster, and they will tell me about the tem­pos that they are work­ing on, and how they wish they could make the tem­pos faster. It makes me think of pants. If you are mak­ing pants, you shouldn’t re­ally be try­ing to make the BIG­GEST pants you can. You should be try­ing to make pants that FIT. I think about tem­pos the same way. They just have to fit the mu­sic.

Noth­ing At All

GT: An­other great rock pounder with syn­co­pated hits and a dash of funk! How much time is spent get­ting the unisons to­gether with the rhythm sec­tion? There’s a great Univibe tone here; what did you use? With many of the songs on De­fy­ing Grav­ity it sounds like a lot of gui­tars were recorded. When do you know enough is enough? Is it ever the case of stereo thick­ness (lots of gui­tars) ver­sus clar­ity of ar­tic­u­la­tion (fewer gui­tars)?

PG: This is one of Eric’s songs. Eric writes with acous­tic guitar, and he’s got a nice, loose groove with it. I tried to trans­late it to an over­driven elec­tric guitar sound. I don’t re­mem­ber how many dou­ble tracks I did, but it was fun to make the cho­rus sound so mon­u­men­tally big. It re­minds me a bit of Alex Life­son’s lay­ered chords. I try to use chord voic­ings with mostly roots and 5ths. Some­times I can sneak in a 3rd or a sus2, but in gen­eral, it sounds bet­ter to use sim­pler chords when I use dis­tor­tion. I used a Catal­in­bread Cal­listo cho­rus on this one. I also had a Voodoo Labs Mi­cro Vibe, that I used on De­fy­ing Grav­ity, and a Supro Tre­molo pedal that I may have used here and there.

Be Kind

Ab GT: This clos­ing Ma­jor song has a bluesy 12/8 vibe with a dash of Beach Boys har­mony. It features a vari­a­tion of the pop­u­lar I-III7-IVVI-V blues pro­gres­sion. You’ve men­tioned in the past about us­ing richer chords in your com­po­si­tions. Do you think rock gui­tarists typ­i­cally care more about riffs and so­los than about the qual­ity of chords they use? If so, what would you pro­pose to fur­ther their play­ing vo­cab­u­lary?

PG: Thanks for notic­ing my chords. I love the 60s and 70s pop hits that were on the ra­dio when I was a kid. And many of those were ob­vi­ously writ­ten by key­board play­ers. The pi­ano is a friend­lier in­stru­ment for chords than guitar. But I don’t want to limit my song­writ­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties just be­cause I hap­pen to be a guitar player. So I spent a lot of time work­ing out ‘camp­fire’ ver­sions of all those songs. I wanted to have a work­ing vo­cab­u­lary of the chords that pi­ano play­ers use, so I could write in that style, if the in­spi­ra­tion hit me. I still do this now. When I heard that new Lemon Twigs song, I Wanna Prove to You, I had to grab my guitar and fig­ure out what was go­ing on. The voic­ings that the pi­ano player is us­ing are a pain on the guitar, but I could find some­thing close, and it gave me a new sound to work with. As to what rock gui­tarists care about? That is the key to ev­ery­thing. We lis­ten to the mu­sic that we care about. And if we love it enough, and keep work­ing on it, it will be­come a flu­ent lan­guage. That is, un­til the Lemon Twigs write a new song, and then I’ll have more chords to learn. It never ends. Thank good­ness!


Mr Big: Paul Gil­bert (guitar), Pat Tor­pey (drums), Eric Martin (vo­cals), and Billy Shee­han (bass)

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