Back in 2018, Gabriel Cyr travelled from his home in Quebec, Canada to join the two other players who had been selected by ourselves and pro players, including Joe Satriani, Joe Satriani and Mark Tremonti, as the finalists for Guitarist Of The Year.
All three players impressed our judges but Gabriel won the day – and last month's debut solo EP Spectrum Exploration I proves again why we were right to award him the title.
But he's been up to plenty of other musical activities since September 2018, as well as having to overcome some big obstacles.
So it's time to catch up before we talk about the players and records that have shaped the incredible instrumental guitar music Gabriel is making now.
First of all, how are you coping as a musician in this lockdown?
Gabriel: "I’m doing well! I miss playing with other musicians and playing live but I use this time to focus on other things.
"I feel lucky because even if live shows are off for now until nobody knows when, I can still work on videos for my Youtube channel, compose new music, do session jobs from home and give skype lessons. I am still able to do music so I can’t complain."
To recap, what have you been up to musically since winning the Guitarist Of The Year competition in 2018?
"Not long after the competition, in October 2018, I released an album called Desolation with my prog band Universe Effects. I also worked very hard on my YouTube channel which has grown a lot in the last years.
"In 2019, I played guitar on the first album of my friend and incredible bass player Carl Mayotte. The record is called Fantosme and it is groovy fusion jazz. Initially I was supposed to make a solo album in 2019, but I have had to deal with a physical problem that gave me chronic pain in both arms.
"It is something I’ve had for a few years, but it reached a very bad state in June 2019. I wasn’t able to play for more than 15 minutes without having pain. Happily, I’ve seen a few specialists and I’ve been able to treat my condition with a strict stretching and exercises program. I’m much better now and I finally released my first EP in May 2020."
What have the greatest highlights and challenges been?
"The greatest highlight would be my YouTube video series Great Guitar Solo. It is a tribute series in which I play prominent guitar solos in chronological order for each decade.
"Right now, there are three videos online. The '70s, the '80s part 1 and the '80s part 2. The series has accumulated more than 10 million views. I will continue the series this summer with the '90s!
"The biggest challenge was to deal with was the chronic pain in my arms. It was really a bummer to be as motivated as I was and not be able to work on my different projects as much as I wanted to."
Is the solo EP release something you’ve wanted to record for a while?
"Absolutely! I have been listening to instrumental guitar music since I was 13 and I knew someday I would do something in this esthetic.
"I also think a solo project is a great opportunity to grow as a musician because it forces you to think about what you want to express as an artist and how you can concretize your vision it in the most honest way possible.
"It is not that you can’t do that in a band, but when it is a solo project, it becomes more personal and it is a totally different dynamic."
One of the great things about the EP is how it reflects both your rock and fusion influences and blends them, was that part of your vision for it?
"Yes it was. My goal was to make an instrumental rock record and use simple forms inspired by popular songs (Intro / verse / chorus etc). Even if it is instrumental music, I wanted the listener to have a similar experience to a song with vocals except the guitar is my voice.
"Joe Satriani was a great influence for my approach. The fusion and prog sonorities came naturally. I try to be as honest as I can when I compose so it is inevitable that influences from all the music I like will transpire in my songs at different proportions."
How long did it take to compose these songs?
"Well, the composition process was not that long because I had a lot of inspiration. I think I composed Dark Times in two days.
"What was complicated was the making of the pre-productions while dealing with my arms injuries. I had to do a lot of very short recording sessions."
What gear did you use in the studio and what has been your main live rig?
"In the studio I used two PRS custom 24 (one in drop C and one in standard tuning), my Kemper Profiler, an RME UFX II audio interface, Cubase 9.5, Focal Monitors and a lot of coffee!
"For live gigs, I use a Victory Sheriff 22 with some pedals but sometimes I use the Kemper when we need more control over the stage volume. For my jazz gigs I use an AER Compact 60 which is very nice for round and smooth clean tones."
What’s next for you?
"I am currently composing my second EP Spectrum Exploration II and I would like to release it by the end of 2020. It will incorporate a heavier sound and metal influences, but I want to keep the same melodic songwriting approach.
"It will feature the incredibly talented drummer and multi-instrumentalist Antoine Baril. If you don’t know him, he has done some incredible one man tribute videos where he plays all the instruments. Here's his tribute to Yes.
And on the subject of paying tribute, it's time for Gabriel to salute the guitarists who have shaped him as a musician with the 10 albums that changed his life…
1. Dream Theater – Metropolis, Pt.2: Scenes From a Memory
"I was 12 when I first heard this album. I just started playing guitar and I remember John Petrucci’s playing just blew my mind. It was the first time I heard this kind of guitar playing and it really had a big impact on me.
"It is probably one of the reasons I started practicing more seriously. The song Fatal Tragedy has always been my favorite on this record. The instrumental section starting at 3:50 is just awesome!"
2. G3 – Live in Tokyo (John Petrucci, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani)
"I bought this record not long after I discovered Dream theater because I saw John Petrucci on the cover. I did not know Steve Vai or Joe Satriani at the time.
"Man, what a good purchase. It is such a great sounding live record and I discovered not one but two other insanely good guitarists.
"The versions of Building the Church by Steve Vai or War by Joe Satriani are so good! I can’t count the times I listened to this record and I still enjoy hearing it. It is kind of my roots."
3. Jim Hall – Concierto
"This album was my initiation to jazz guitar when I was 15 and I really liked it. Just beautiful sounding music with an incredible band.
"Jim Hall is playing with so much taste and he is supported by none other than Steve Gadd on the drums and Ron Carter on upright bass.
"I think what I appreciate the most about Jim Hall’s playing is his rhythmic creativity and his use of space. He really knows how to make his improvisations breath and it is truly enjoyable to hear.
"I also think Chet Baker (trumpet) and Paul Desmond (sax) are really great on this record.
4. Guthrie Govan – Erotic Cakes
"I discovered this one not long after I started learning jazz guitar and it was a revelation for me. Guthrie’s playing was apart from anything I had heard at this time.
"Incredible tone and feel, outstanding technique, very rich vocabulary incorporating all sorts of influences in his improvisations.
"This record is still representing something special for me. It gave me a lot of motivation to work harder on my playing and to learn more about music.
"I have had the chance to hear and briefly meet Guthrie last summer with his band The Aristocrats. It was great concert and I will remember it for a long time."
5. Pat Metheny – Letter From Home
"I discovered this album when I started studying music in college. I played Have You Heard which is the first track of the album in one of my concert exam and I really had a lot of fun learning it.
"Since then, I am a huge fan of Pat and I have had the chance to see him twice in concert. The song Letter From Home is also one of the album’s highlights. Very beautiful music!"
6. Virgil Donati – In This Life
"I was already a fan of Virgil in his other projects like Planet X and I was thrilled when he announced this record in 2013. He made a promo video in which he was presenting the musicians and a gave a few previews of the music. I don't think I was ever as thrilled for an album release as this one.
"It featured an incredible panel of musicians including Marco Sfogli on guitar and Alex Argento on Keyboards. The compositions are just so awesome. It just perfectly blends progressive music with jazz fusion and heavier influences."
7. Steven Wilson – The Raven the Refused to Sing
"This one was my introduction to Steven Wilson and I bought it in 2013 because it featured Guthrie on guitar and Marco Minnemann on drums.
"This is an incredibly emotionally-charged album and it made me drop a few tears I must admit. The song Drive Home was my favorite and it features one of my favorite guitar solo from Guthrie.
"If you like longer epic progressive pieces, you should listen to the song The Watchmaker, which is my second favorite on the album."
8. Joe Satriani – Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards
"I bought this album because I was not really familiar with the recent material from Joe and I was curious to know what it was like. I just loved it.
In fact, this album and the two following (Unstoppable Momentum and Shockwave Supernova) are now my favorite records from him. I just really like the way he writes instrumental music. Great influence for me.
9. Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here
"I also discovered Snarky Puppy when I was in college. They were really the band every musician I knew was following at that time.
"They released We Like it Here in 2014 and it is still my favorite record from them. I like the fact that their albums are almost all live recordings with an audience. It really gives the music a special feeling. It is a completely different experience for the listener than albums recorded track by track in different studios. I really appreciate their esthetic."
10. Plini – Handmade Cities
"This album was released in 2016 and although I was already a fan of Plini’s music, he really got me with this one. Once again, this is the kind of album that perfectly blends different styles of music I like.
"It is progressive music, with fusion and jazz influences, it can get pretty heavy but also very soft and delicate. It is melodic, rhythmically super interesting and the production is very well done and precise sounding so you can hear every little detail. Great inspiration for me once again!"