Italian born guitarist Alex Masi has made a name for himself in the Hard rock/metal world with a string of HR band albums as part of ‘Masi’ and a few of instrumental solo albums. Masi landed in the US [LA] from Italy in 1987 and signed with Metal Blade Records where his career as a guitar master in the ilk of Yngwie Malmsteen and Vinnie Moore. Recently Lion Music has re-issued and issued a number of Alex’s band and solo albums, including last year’s highly recommended “Eternal Struggle” disc. Other titles include > Masi albums “Downtown Dreamers” and “Fire In The Rain”, as well as solo albums “Attack Of The Neon Shark” and “Vertical Invaders”.
Here Alex discusses his past, his albums, and influences.
For more info check out www.lionmusic.com & www.alexmasi.net
Q] You grew up in Venice!? What was the 'rock' scene like over there?
ALEX: Very cool actually, Italy had some amazing progressive bands in the seventies...I still listen to some of those old albums and they're still unbelievable PFM, Area, Banco, Orme etc....
Q] You grew up listening and learning a lot of
classical music and piano... Why and when did you decide to get in to heavy
rock n roll?
ALEX: I got into rock after seeing Blackmore on a TV show when I was 12 or something...he was making the guitar sound like a roaring lion and it freaked the hell out of me. But before I really started playing in hard rock bands I had a quite extensive period of playing with jazzy and experimental fusion-ish bands which was great because it gave me a more diverse angle with which I could approach the heavy thing differently...
Q] What bands and musicians did you grow up on and cite as major influences and why? [I read Blackmore and Holdsworth were big influences on you!?]
ALEX: Yes, Blackmore in the very beginning but then almost immediately it was the whole British progressive movement which back then was incredible and from which Allan Holdsworth himself came also...Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, old Genesis, Soft Machine, EL&P, so many of them all great....when I think of that period I cannot believe rock took such a turn for the worse in the 80s and god only knows what the 90s were and now...well, it's pathetic...
Q] Can you give me a Top 10 list of fave all-time rock albums, As well as a list of most recommended classical recordings?
ALEX: Wow...that's a tough one...I'll give you some titles but there are so many such great ones: Yessongs (Yes), Foxtrot (Genesis), Made In Japan (‘Purple), Electric Ladyland (Hendrix), Third (Soft Machine), Uncle Meat (Zappa), Quadrophenia (Who), Physical Graffiti (Zeppelin), Exile On Main Street (Stones), Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles)........ for classical....hmmmm....the first 1955 version of the Goldberg variations played by Glenn Gould, Pablo Casals’ Cello Suites Of Bach, Von Karajan's Beethoven's Ninth, Biber's Rosary Sonatas played by Lauthenbacher, Sviatoslav Richter's version of the English Suites...so damn many great records it would take a book....
Q] What were your first recordings? [Dark
Lord?] What were they like?
ALEX: Honest, no bullshit heavy rock in the style of NWOBHM...we were so intense...the recordings are not that great per se but live we were like a bulldozer...great shows with Saxon, Motorhead etc... Listening back to those EPs there are lots of imperfections and mistakes but the spirit was unstoppable...
Q] What's were your first impressions upon arriving in LA and becoming somewhat part of the 'metal scene'? What influenced your writing back then?
ALEX: My impressions were the same ones Tony Montana has in the movie Scarface upon realizing what could become of the situation at hand...It was so much fun, it felt like a non stop party...lots of us thought it was never going to end but...it did...and it wasn't pretty.... What influenced my writing back then was depending on the album and the situation...I can say I'm a lot more focused now then ever before...I really know what I want to achieve and how to achieve it now.
Q] Fire In The Rain & Down Town Dreamers
were your first albums as the 'Masi' band, albeit with different line ups. Is
it safe to say you were into the riff rock metal scene then?
ALEX: I'm not sure what "riff rock metal scene" is...I don't know; I was just playing what felt right at the moment. For sure I was a lot more into the whole party feel of it all than the music and I really don't like some of the things I've recorded back then but why bother looking back at it now?...it was unbelievable fun back then...
Q] Those first 2 albums had some great rockers like ‘Livin On The Highway’, ’Fire In The Rain’, and ‘God promised a Paradise’. What were some of the highlights on those discs for you? And how successful were they in terms of building a fan base, etc..?
ALEX: Fire In The Rain I like more than Downtown Dreamers...it's a more Straight-forward rock band album...I like the title track and some other song.... Downtown Dreamers was more of a "built in the lab" kind of album with label expectations and all that nonsense...I like ‘Thunder and Lightning’ off that album...
Q] What's the story behind ‘God Promised a Paradise’? It's quite an anthem, and a hit for you at that time.
ALEX: "God Promised A Paradise" was a riff I came up with while joking around with my friends, we were trying to come up with a riff that sounded like a Bon Jovi riff and mine won the competition...LOL...It's a silly little number... Yes, it gained us a good following but I was so much in to different things that I wanted very little to do with that type of songs....
Q] Foggy Day In Hollywood was a very experimental / instrumental track back then. Is this what lead you to doing full blown instrumental albums?
ALEX: I always was more into music more than rock songs...singers can get annoying after awhile...the whole idea about instrumentals is that you can develop music without worrying about verses, choruses and typical "song formats". Of course there are exceptions and you have amazingly constructed songs by people like Zappa or Soft Machine or old Yes and Genesis...
Q] What can you tell me about the line ups on those albums, and why line ups don't really stick from album to album with you?
ALEX: Sometimes it's due to internal conflicts, arguments, different musical directions etc and sometimes it's just the need to get a different approach...I'm not a fanatic of lineups that stay unchanged, Zeppelin, Beatles and Stones are one thing because they were like musical instruments with a precise sound etc but otherwise bands are simply mini orchestras that perform music...at least that's my approach, almost every Zappa album has a different lineup and so does Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and it makes sense because they're just momentary vehicles for the most important element of the equation which is the music, if the music is good and it's well performed that's all that matters...you don't see people freaking out because the London Philarmonic changes the viola player or the timpani player.
Q] Attack Of The Neon Shark was your first full blown instrumental album. what can you tell me about your association with Frankie Banalli on that record? Was it very much a collaberation or was Frankie the most suited drummer to your writing then?
ALEX: Frankie at that point was branching out
musically and I liked that very much especially because I always liked the
idea of musicians playing radically different
styles than the one they're usually associated with, it creates sparks
that, if everything goes as planned, can really make for something very
interesting. Plus he's a Bonham freak and he likes a lot of the same weird
music I like so it was a good vibe overall.
Q] How did you get Allan Holdsworth on that album? What can you tell me about working with him?
ALEX: Very simply my manager at the time rang him up and asked him to play on the album...originally I was asked to have Stevie Ray Vaughn on the record because we were sharing the same management and it would have been a good business move to have him but when I was told Allan Holdsworth was available it a was no-contest type thing.. I've been a huge fan since my early teens, it was like Christmas and a birthday all wrapped in one. it was amazing hanging out at Allan's house drinking his own homebrewed beer talking about music, listening to music...The man is a colossus of contemporary music.
Q] Why was there 1 full band w/ vocal track [Under Fire] on that album? Was there anything else you did with Jeff Scott Soto?
ALEX: ‘Under Fire’ was pushed by the label. I wanted a fully instrumental album but they requested a vocal song so it was a small price to pay...it's an okay song, Jeff is a good singer and later we were talking about doing something else together but he was a bit scared of ending up in another guitar hero type band after the Yngwie experience and I was looking to do more instrumentals...
Q] Vertical Invader, your 2nd solo/instrumental album was perhaps a bit heavier and more progressive. What do you recall of that album?
ALEX: I recall John Macaluso at my old house trying to stab my road manager's piranhas with a fork on a drunken night...it was hilarious...vertical invader was a great experience, just me and John, just like we're doing right now on the album we're recording presently...the difference is that now I have my own studio and there are no more piranhas...lots of freedom back then just like now.Q] On Eteranl Struggle you recruited Canadian drummer Paul Marangoni, as well as singer Kyle Michaels. This is a good heavy rock album, far from the more "80s" HR of Fire In The Rain & DownTown Dreamers. what has influenced your gradual move to heavier music, yet still very listenable to a wide HR audience?
ALEX: Eternal Struggle is the type of album I would listen to when I'm in the mood for good ass kicking European hard rock... No compromise with the 90s the Limp Bizkit trends or the lame ass so called ‘nu-metal’...It's what comes out of me when I do rock, it's natural and spontaneous...Paul and Kyle both performed well.
Q] Why the cover of Foreigner's "Blue Morning Blue Day"? What are you faves from this album? any stories? How has it been received so far?
ALEX: ‘Blue Morning’ has a very workable classically inflluenced vibe all over it that was just begging to be reworked...My faves off Eternal Struggle are ‘Crow Have's Corner’, ‘Lost In The City’, ‘Writing On The Wall’ and the instrumental track at the end... So far people love the record all over the world...the only people giving me trouble are the usual asswipes at various labels that always try to second guess the market's tendencies, lion music is good to me though.
Q] Why were Tales From The North & The
Watcher not re-issued by Lion Music? Is
Tales .. available on CD?
ALEX: Tales From The North is a horrible album...badly recorded and mixed...it was a very strange period of my life...I was going through so much crap that it reflected on everything I was doing including obviously music...If it was up to me I'd destroy every single copy existing...The Watcher was a collection of good songs that I might remix and remaster soon and re-release...we'll see after the next project.
Q] For many rock fans out there that aren't overly familiar with your work who would you like to be compared to ? Are the Malmsteen comparisons fair or getting old?
ALEX: I don't mind the Malmsteen
comparison...We're both from the same era, same influences, same European
background even though we're from different countries
and he's great at what he does and I think I'm okay as well...I'm just
a musician that happens to play guitar and I do much more than just hard rock...just wait and see what happens on this new
instrumental I'm working on....Plus my last
all classical album should prove that too.
Q] What gave you the idea to make a series of Bach inspired albums? what can you tell me about the making of these?
ALEX: It was actually just one album that had an alternate version...one contained some electric guitars and the other was played on an acoustic only...i happen to prefer the latter... It was a difficult moment in my life and having just gotten all my recording equipment I locked myself in the house and selected some amazing pieces by Bach and lost myself in the music and that was very therapeutic...it's one of my favorite albums still.
Q] What projects do you currently have on the
go? Any plans to tour?
ALEX: I'm recording this wild instrumental album with John Macaluso from the band ARK (he was with Yngwie as well...funny how things go always in circle). it's really a different type of instrumental...far removed from what's expected from the typical guitar instrumental album...there are many ethnic influences, many progressive influences (as in King Crimson NOT Dream Theater) and a lot of jazzy modal approaches...I'm so psyched about it it's scary...we received offers to play around the world but right now i much prefer the idea of recording as much music as I can...there's a weird vibe in the air like we're all supposed to get a lot of things accomplished before something happens...
Q] You covered ‘Easy Livin’ on The Watcher, and even pictured yourself with Ken Hensley on the Neon Shark back cover. What's your take on Uriah Heep? any favorite songs or albums?
ALEX: Growing up I was exposed to Uriah Heep a lot, we were bringing the live album to school all the time and blast it during breaks...I've always loved Dave Byron's voice, he was always copied but never received proper credit for his influence on many metal singers vibratos and melodic approach...Ken was working for Ampeg for awhile and I was endorsed by them so when he showed up at one of our shows I asked him to take a picture with me that ended up on the album...
Q] Got any favorite Heep tunes?
ALEX: Stealin, Easy Living, Rain, Look At Yourself, Sweet Lorraine, Rainbow Demon, Sunrise...
Q] As a guitar player, what’s your take on Mick Box?
ALEX: Mick Box is an "economic" player, very functional to the band just like the rest of the guys...My favorite player in Heep was Gary Thain - super cool bass lines on his tracks!
Q] What's your take on the music scene today
and how rockers with old school influences and ideas can survive?
ALEX: The music scene today?...ha ha ha...if you're referring to what they call nu-metal all I can say is that it's the triumph of corporate massification of idiocy...let's take a piece of crap and multiply it add nauseam and see how much of it sticks to the wall...And if it's not that it's the boy-bands phenomenon, words escape me trying to describe what I feel about that regurgitation of puke...and let's not forget the ever present RAP scene...how much more repetitious and predictable can it get?...are there enough videos with rappers showing off their gold chains, their cars, their "bitches" and the whole shtick?...No, the only new music I listen to comes from people like Shawn Lane, Holdsworth, a lot of European electronic stuff and a lot of new classical recordings...plus it doesn't have to be new to be good....
Q] What's the difference between the 2 web sites www.alexmasi.com and www.alexmasi.net ?
ALEX: alexmasi.com is a site I no longer control...it's left to decay somewhere in the virtual graveyard...alexmasi.net is the real deal with updates and ideas directly inputted by yours truly...thanks and see you soon.
Interview: © Kevin J. Julie (Universal Wheels) April '02