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What about the other ballad, Scars? Was that on piano?
“No, I wrote that on acoustic guitar. So that was acoustic, Angel Of Mercy was piano, and Shades Of Gray was acoustic guitar.”
Angel Of Mercy and Shades Of Gray have pretty ripping solos, but on Scars your lead playing is more leisurely paced. Did you try something more frenetic at first, but you opted for the slower solo?
“You know, I’m flipping through the Rolodex of knowledge, referencing the things that guys before me did. Obviously, that Scars solo is more of a Dickey Betts thing. I took my loud guitar tone, turned the distortion pedals off – and there was no chorus or anything like that, because Dickey’s tone is straight in – and I went for it on the middle pickup. I took a couple passes and I was good.
“What I usually do is, I’ll have Father Adam, our Irish-Catholic rabbi engineer supreme, burn me a CD of the backing tracks, and after the rest of the guys leave I’ll do play around with solos and do my homework. Sometimes it’s from the Saint Rhoads school of writing – bits and pieces – or else it’s Neal Schon. Neal’s the master of that; he’ll play the melody in the beginning or the middle, and then he’ll put the afterburners on at the end. Or Pope Page. Angel Of Mercy is kind of like me doing Pope Page with some Al D.”
It’s interesting that we’ve been talking so much about your ballads. A lot of hard rock and metal musicians don’t want to go near the softer side of things.
“I’ve never been that way. You know, I love Elton John, I love The Beatles, the Stones… They had amazing slower songs. But see, I don’t consider certain songs ballads. Back in the ‘80s, you had your power ballads, but that stuff was different. I don’t consider Against The Wind a cheesy ‘80s ballad; it’s just an amazing song that’s slower than the rock stuff. Zeppelin did Going To California, the Stones did Angie and Wild Horses – those are phenomenal. They're great slower songs. If some bands don’t want to change the pace, that’s OK – it just means there’s more stuff for us to write.”
But we do have to talk about one of your serious, over-the-top rock moments on the new album. Damn The Flood, that solo – holy cow!
“Yeah, that was the John McLaughlin influence. The John McLaughlin-Frank Marino pentatonic licks of doom. I did that in one pass, man. I could play it back live for you right now. We do the thing every night, so I gotta know how to play it. In the studio, we got up to that part, and it just seemed like it needed a fast solo, something really rippin’. And I mean fast for the sake of fast, too, not fast with some melody to it; sometimes it’s OK just to put the pedal down and go fucking nuts.”