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Articles Home » Music Talk » Interview with Italian Virtuoso Guitarist Alex Masi By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
Interview with Italian Virtuoso Guitarist Alex Masi By Thomas Amoriello Jr.

Niente Smoking

Interview with Italian Virtuoso Guitarist Alex Masi

By Thomas Amoriello Jr.

Boston Rock Radio

   

 

Typically during the last four decades when the term "Instrumental Guitar Recording" is spoken, it is common to think of "Hit" recordings by Vai, Satriani, Beck, Malmsteen, Johnson and Hoey. Fans of instrumental guitar recordings under the age of 40 are invited to check out Alex Masi who actually had a Grammy nomination for a Best Rock Instrumental Album for his 1989 solo release Attack of the Neon Shark. Though his music had elements of 80's metal, pentatonic blues and neoclassical stylings, his musical language ventured further "outside the box" than his contemporaries employing uncommon chord voicings, chromaticism, exotic scales, dissonance, and wide intervals that leaned towards a progressive jazz fusion but was being marketed at the time to a strictly metal audience.  Alex is still a creative force who has an audience and is admired by some of the most respected progressive rock musicians out there but you will never catch him in a tuxedo.  Boston Rock Radio would like to thank Alex Masi for this exclusive interview.  

Alex Masi and his Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette Guitar:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FUbaEWdYuw

 

Since 1983, your body of work as a musician is quite prolific with close to 20 full length instrumental recordings, various band projects and countless guest sessions.  Will the public hear new music from you released in 2020 be it an LP or single as Alex Masi?

Well, having been around for a number of decades a relatively thick discography is something to be expected...Yes, I definitely have enough music written and partially already recorded for one or two albums to come out in the coming year, ideally I'd like to have both a vocal album and an instrumental one as well if not an album containing both formats. I have actual songs written specifically to feature vocals but so far I haven't had much luck finding the right singer...I have a type of singer in mind who's not just into metal, actually, I'd love to find a rock blues singer who's not obsessed with screaming or showing off how high he can go up in the range. Paul Rodgers, Lou Gramm, early Coverdale, Mark Farner etc. are points of reference for what I'd like to find. There are a few amazing young singers out there today, unfortunately they tend to be great only at sounding like their idols while lacking in originality and personality. I'm open to suggestions...

 

You are a cultured person who beyond a passion for just music, digs deeply into art, literature, cinema and fine wine.  How have these outside influences had an effect on your musical art over the years?

I grew up in a family that highly valued culture, my father was a painter and a writer, my mother a teacher and my uncle an art critic and a poet. Music, art, literature were a constant around the house on a daily basis, discussions over dinner about French impressionism, Hegel, Goethe or Marcel Proust to name a few were the norm, plus my father would play classical music and jazz albums non stop while working in his studio...being exposed to that from a very early age I couldn't help absorb what I was hearing and seeing. I remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard Bach, I must have been 5 years old but I remember feeling transported on another dimension, the whole counterpoint thing was mesmerizing even back then...Then of course I had my rebellious phase during the adolescent years but even then I was studying to get my diploma at the conservatory of music and still very much loving the finer things in the arts even if by then I had gotten into rock music with the distorted guitars and the whole bit...The influence it all has had on me can be found in my love for depth in music, even if it's rock'n'roll, it can still be done with a care for beauty and expression, I can't stand banality and mediocrity. 

 

You often cite the late musicians Allan Holdswoth and Shawn Lane as artistic forces that affected you deeply.  You also had the privilege of personally knowing both of them.  What is a musical concept that you feel was an influence on your creativity that they had inspired in your approach whether deliberate or subconsciously?

I was 12 years old when I first heard Allan, it was on an album by Tempest, I was getting familiar with Blackmore, Page, Gilmour, Howe etc. at the time but when I heard that album it sounded like he was going down a completely different and uncharted path and I've followed him ever since...Shawn on the other hand was introduced to me when I was already in my late 20s but he had pretty much the same impact on me as Allan did. It wasn't simply their technical prowess that captured my attention, it was a certain, elusive element of detachment from the musical norm that I could hear in their music, they were creating their own language and path very much like Bach, Coltrane, Parker, Gould, Pastorius, Hendrix etc had done before them. That's the element I've always recognized in all great Art, the ability to stand out, above, beyond the rest of all common mortals. That's something I also aspire to knowing full well all the ins and outs of my limitations...

 

I guess it is safe to say that your Grammy nominated Attack of the Neon Shark LP is your best recognized recording alongside Downtown Dreamers and Fire in the Rain which also had some press coverage in guitar magazines and MTV Headbangers Ball rotation.  You basically recorded Neon Shark with just yourself and drummer Frankie Baneli.  Looking back, what is your fondest memory of those recording sessions and the accolades that were received during that time?  

The Shark album was something I did as a reaction to the constant touring I had been doing up to that point for over a year, I wanted to go in the studio and record music that had the elements of what attracted me to the artform in the first place, playing shows every night was incredible fun but I started missing a more intimate relationship with the music, especially music not designed specifically for a metal crowd or commercial success...the label at the time asked me to at least have one vocal song so I recorded "Under Fire" which was a leftover from the Downtown Dreamers writing sessions and Jeff Scott Soto did a great job on it. Frankie Banali was a revelation to me on that album, we had met before in a different studio while I was recording Fire in the Rain where he plays on the very last instrumental tune on the album so I asked him to join me for the new project. I was surprised by his knowledge of not so mainstream music and his versatility, who the hell could have imagined that the guy playing "Bang Your Head" could also play a piece by Ginastera? The Grammy Nomination was cool, I really didn't know what to make of it, I went to the ceremony with my girlfriend at the time who insisted I wear a tuxedo (which I hated), turned out I was the only moron wearing one that night. LOL

 

Are you interested in recording under the moniker MASI again in a band like setting either live or studio with song oriented material and hard rock/metal like vocal stylings?  

Like I was saying a few questions earlier I do want to record a vocal album, I don't really care under which moniker at this point, my fear with recording a band album under the MASI name has always been to get associated in the public eye with other type of musicians who seek the spotlight only for themselves while filling every hole in the music with their solos...I love being part of a band even if I'm the main writer, the feeling of being part of a strong team beats by far any Napoleon syndrome one might have. Having said that I wouldn't care if the band was called MASI or any other name just as long as it's a strong unit with a common intent.

You have a variety of guitars such as the Charvel, Wolfgang, Carvin and Music Man with not really having an endorsement deal at the moment.  You just record and perform with them because we presume you are connected to them.  Are there any recently developed guitars that you care to add to your arsenal and explore that have been on your mind lately?  

I'm still with Ernie Ball/Music Man Guitars, I love them! I have some amazing ones. Yes, I also own other guitars but the ones I really feel at home with are just a few, my Charvel 750 and my two by Carvin. There aren't any newly made guitars I particularly aspire to own, I stopped going at NAMM because after 30 some years of going I saw it's become pretty much a broken record, very stale...the best guitars have already been made and there isn't much room for improvement, the only things one can mess with are materials and details, the main concept has been fully exploited.

A version of your Italian hard rock group Dark Lord recently reformed within the last few years.  Will there be an activity in the future that you care to share?

We kinda reformed in 2017, we played a few shows and recorded a couple tunes and made a couple of almost home made videos...it wasn't 100% original DARK LORD, the bass player was a new guy and the original drummer was now the lead singer...the new drummer was also a relatively new guy. It was fun for a couple months but then the same old problems came back, mostly disorganization and lack of a plan. I'm still friends with the guys and every time I go back home we jam and it's much better keeping it that way rather than trying to dig up something that clearly belongs to our past.

 

You have now lived in Los Angeles (Venice Beach) longer than you have in your country of birth.  What inspires you about the environment that has kept you there all these years when you could have probably lived anywhere you wanted to?

I live in LA but not Venice Beach, I'm in Studio City which is five minutes from Hollywood. My other home is in Venice, Italy. Like you said, I've lived in California longer than I've lived in Italy so I have strong ties to this place, a lot of history and memories...there's something about this city that still keeps me here, maybe the fact that I can enjoy solitude even while being surrounded by 12 million people, the various contrasts and contradictions here are inspiring, the hill behind my street is inspiring with its wild animals, I call it Haunted Hill after various episodes of ghost sightings experienced by several of my guests. Plus I love the fact that I have access to both the ocean on one side and the desert on the other within a relatively short distance...Not sure where I'll live in the future, possibly an island on the Pacific Ocean, anywhere where the winter doesn't show up and fish is fresh...

https://www.facebook.com/realalexmasi

 

Boston Rock Radio Guest Contributor Thomas Amoriello Jr. is a heavy metal guitarist, children's picture book author, educator and recording artist who resides in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA. You can learn more about Tom at: https://thomasamoriello.com

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