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On 15 October, Paul Gilbert will release Vibrato, a wildly entertaining, surprisingly diverse (and wholly cohesive) collection of instrumentals and vocal-based songs that sees the guitar superstar artfully mix blazing rock, delicious funk, stone-cold blues, righteous gospel and shades of jazz into what just might be the artistic triumph of his storied career. (Note: Vibrato was released on 19 September in Japan.)
For the eight studio tracks, Gilbert assembled an ace band that included his wife, Emi, on keyboards, bassist Kelley LeMieux and drum star Thomas Lang. Three live tracks from Gilbert's 2010 Fuzz tour, covers of Yes' Roundabout, Muddy Waters' I Want To Be Loved and AC/DC's Go Down, see the six-string virtuoso throwing it down with Tony Spinner (guitar, vocals), Craig Martini (bass, vocals) and Jeff Bowders (drums).
Gilbert sat down with MusicRadar to discusses the writing and recording of Vibrato, and on the following pages, he goes in-depth, walking us through the album track-by-track.
What was your agenda in making the record? What did you want it to say that was different from other albums of yours?
“I didn’t have any single large goal making Vibrato, but I had about 25 small ones. Some involved specific sounds, like using an octave pedal or my newly discovered stereo Phase 90 trick. I also wanted to use some of the new chords that I had been working on recently. After 35 years of bone-crushing rock guitar playing, I’m finally starting to get my head out of the harmonic sand and learning how to play over chord changes.
“One of my biggest inspirations came from a quick e-mail exchange with Neal Morse. I mentioned to him that I was getting ready to make a new album and that I was dreading the writing process. In the past, that has always been my least favorite part – I love to play, I love to record. Writing is a chore.
“Neal wrote back and said something like, ‘Writing is my favorite part of the process! I don’t have to worry about playing everything perfectly, and I can just enjoy sketching out new music and ideas.’ Just knowing that one person can enjoy the writing process inspired me a lot. I decided to enjoy it, too. It was a forceful decision, and it worked. I had a really good time.”
Lyrically, there’s a lot of sides to the record, but the spiritual message in Atmosphere On The Moon is striking. Are you a spiritual guy – it seems to have come out in the song.
“In my daily life, I tend to be very literal and unsuperstitious. But music gives me an outlet to be very emotional. I’m very careful with the word ‘spiritual’ because I think it’s often used so loosely that no one knows what anyone means, and alarms start going off in my literal brain. But if being ‘spiritual’ is like being ‘emotional’ but cranked up to 11, then yes, music takes me there all the time.
“Every rock face that I make is connected to those wonderful emotions. Also, I love the contrast in the song between being extremely sincere and cynical at the same time. In the lyrics, I sincerely say, “Ask all the children” to study science in order to install a breathable atmosphere on the moon, so I can get my cantankerous self up there and get away from all the annoying, crazy and violent people on earth.
“Singing this misanthropic message in a big, sincere, gospel-style chorus and a Philadelphia soul chord progression puts a big, giddy smile on my face. I am sincere and cynical all at once, and this song gets it across better than I had hoped. It even has a couple of Barry Manilow-style modulations to really crank up the emotion – and a guitar solo that would singe Barry Manilow’s eyebrows.”
There’s a palpable element of ‘70s funk to a lot of the album. This might surprise some of your shred fans.
“I grew up in the ‘70s, so I even love the music that I didn’t like from that era. I found some YouTube videos of George Duke playing with Billy Cobham and John Scofield, and I liked the vibe and the sound a lot, so I chased after that a bit.
“Also, I’ve just been fascinated with the art of rhythm, space and syncopation lately. Whenever you start using those tools, things tend to get funky. I did some detailed studying of Chaka Khan’s version of Night In Tunisia to give me some new chords to use for my songwriting, as well. Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan were inspirations, too."