Carbon Nation – Mine’s A Guinness!
by Simon Clarke
August, 2007| It’s mid-afternoon and we bump into Wes as we walk up to the side door of the Bristol Academy, yet another in the ever expanding chain of Carling sponsored venues springing up around the UK. We find a space in the venue bar and Wes explains that if we don’t mind he’d like to practise some guitar parts
whilst we do the interview and so to a soundtrack of unamplified guitar noodling we start firing off some questions…
SC – Okay. We’re a few days in now. Obviously there’s a lot longer to go. How’s it going so far?
Wes – Good! Just a lot of concentration.
SC – More so than when you were doing the Deadwing shows?
Wes – Yeah and I thought the Deadwing stuff required a lot of concentration, but this seems to require even more! I know personally I’m trying to do some things that I wasn’t doing the last time we played a bunch of this material so I’m kind of pushing myself, getting more sounds, trying to do some singing and playing things that I didn’t do last time. Just really pushing it. So for me the concentration factor is way up.
SC – Eight months ago you did play virtually all of the new stuff. In a way I’d have thought it would have been slightly easier?
Wes – There’s one really tough new track and then the amount of material that we worked up just seems to be taking a toll on the memory banks a bit. We actually worked up more than we’re doing and we’re rotating it in and out. Like I said on each track I’m really trying to do more and be really be more efficient, just do more.
SC – Cover more ground?
Wes – Cover more ground yeah. Really trying to do that with everything so the concentration level goes way up. It’s tough. I don’t find any point in the show where I really relax. Every minute is just real concentration.
SC – Which are the hardest songs to play?
Wes – Well physically none of it. Physically all of it is very achievable, but when I start introducing some new sound changes that I wouldn’t have taken a chance on last tour, combined with maybe a vocal part here and there that I wouldn’t have done last tour, then that combination makes it tough, but the guitar playing itself there’s nothing that I’m doing that is challenging. Well it’s all challenging, but there’s nothing that I’m doing that isn’t do-able. There’s nothing tougher than anything else. Just a lot of concentration and playing more in tune and more in time. Where it becomes difficult is when I try and push it to a level of, not perfection because you can’t really achieve perfection, but I really try and push the envelope on how good it can be and combine all the elements. Then they all become really tough. Every song I look at and it’s like, you know, that’s just as tough, if not tougher, than the one before. It’s personal more than anything.
SC – You set your own goals…
Wes – …and unfortunately when you set yourself up like that every now and then you trip a bit, but if you’re not pushing yourself you’re complacent. I’m trying a lot. I’m taping myself every night. I’ve got an MP3 recorder that sits in front of my guitar amp. I’m taping myself. I’m going over the shows every night trying to fix things that I don’t like, tweak sounds, tweak issues and keep a log of the areas that I was struggling with. These are things that no-one’s going to notice except me. These are things that I notice so I want it to be a certain level. For me this tour is all the way round a lot more concentration oriented just because I’m just trying to push it.
SC – You seem to have drawn the short straw in tackling Alex Lifeson’s solo in Anesthetize. Is that a tricky one to play?
Wes – It is. I love it. I was just really glad when I got it because he gave me some real hooks to play with. The two chord changes that happen only appear in one mode, the A harmonic minor thing, they only really appear in that key and he comes blasting out with the A harmonic minor tag right in the opening riff. The challenge is after he’s come out with that tag is to keep it somewhat interesting and reference that throughout the solo and then sometimes you can treat the D minor as its own key and try, but when you get to that E you’ve got to play the A harmonic minor riff. The trick for me is to make it interesting and not give away the juice of that A harmonic minor riff. I think night to night it’s been pretty consistent. It’s different every night, but I think the consistency is there.
SC – The guitars for the album were recorded over in Florida at the studio that you run with Mark Prator…
Wes – RedRoom Recorders.
SC – How did those sessions go? Where you happy to be involved?
Wes – Oh I was thrilled to be involved with it. Steve came over and he didn’t bring a guitar. He said, “you’ve got guitars” and I said “yes I do!” I got to set up my dream amp rig, all my favourite combination of amps, pedal board, all the guitars and it was smooth as silk. Mark was engineering, he’s really fast. Steve knows what he wants so he would tell me what he wanted and then I would dial it in on the amps and the effects and pick the guitars and he would say yes or no and it was sooth, really smooth and fun.
SC – So you were ‘guitar production’?
Wes – Absolutely. Hence the way it is credited on the record. It was fantastic. We got done a day early.
SC – How long did it take?
Wes – Four days of guitar tracking and then we did an afternoon of vocal tracking.
SC – You’re credited with vocals on the album. Which tracks are you featured on?
Wes – That’s a good question! I’m all over. We just banged out a bunch of them. So what actually got used and what didn’t I don’t know.
SC – I’ll have to give the 5.1 another listen because it expands it out a bit.
Wes – They’re very layered and also when I do background vocals I really try and get as close to his voice as I can. Basically I think a lot of the parts I do live I did on the record, but you never know. Steve gets in there and you know he’ll hear something we might have done or might have not done, he’ll make a change on it and then the line that I might have sang against won’t work any more and so he will have re-done it. I did a lot. A day’s worth of vocal tracking.
SC – It’s coool that you’re involved in the recording process as well.
Wes – It was a blast. I really enjoyed it and we had a good time. It was such a relaxed atmosphere ‘cos Mark, Steve and I have worked together before when Steve mixed Shiver and we just have a blast. I think that’s one of the reasons why Steve came to Florida to do it. He gets the sounds he likes and the atmosphere he likes.
SC – I believe you’ve been over on the West Coast studying guitar recently. What’s this all about?
Wes – Yeah. I did a college degree in guitar and I graduated in 1984, but it was mostly classical and I didn’t get the depth of guitar knowledge that I really wanted. So throughout my whole career I’ve always taken lessons and always wanted to go to The Musician’s Institute of Los Angeles. I wanted to go there since I was like 16 years old. During the last tour my wife and I were at the LA show and we walked down the street and all of a sudden there it was. We both looked up at it and I was like “wooooh” and she goest “this is the place you always wanted to go to isn’t it?” and I said “yeah”. And then we wondered on a bit and we were having a coffee across the street from it and she said “why don’t you just call them and see if they do a little programme” and I said “well they do do 3 month things” so I gave them a call and they were like “we’ve got one running from January to March” and we just decided within a week that it was something we wanted to do. I just wanted to take my playing to a new level, a new place. You know will it be obvious on a gig like this, I don’t know, but you know personally it’s already way obvious. It was huge. It was a fantastic experience. Some of the teachers there are just amazing. I go the whole LA experience. I did a lot of writing with some people. I mean it went way better than I could have expected. It was just positive on every front. Which also leads me to trying to push myself more on stage.
SC – So you lived out there for 3 months?
Wes – Yeah. Becka came out with me and she worked from the apartment, ‘cos as long as she has a computer on-line she can work.
SC – Was it good to get out of your normal environment?
Wes – Absolutely. It was fantastic. It was just an immensely qualitative experience.
SC – When I first heard about it I thought he knows how to play guitar is this somebody winding me up!
Wes – Well you know the teachers at the school, the majority of them are LA session guys. You’re going to find these guys on some commercials, some of them play with some of your favourite artists, and some of them are just amazing players so it was really a great experience.
SC – I don’t think we’ve ever asked you this before – who are your influences as a guitarist?
Wes – First and foremost it would be like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Eric Clapton was my first real guitar influence. I think I was 13 or 14 when I stumbled on a couple of Cream records in a garage sale and that was huge. Then I got Eric Clapton’s Greatest Hits and it had Bell Bottom Blues on it and that just blew me away. Then I went through a big Steve Howe phase. All through college it was Steve Howe and then after that it was Jeff Beck, Dave Gilmour.
SC – All the Brits really!
Wes – Yeah. God, that’s crazy! When I was 15 it was Ace Frehely from Kiss. I grew out of that pretty quick! Discovered Eric and it was like Ace who? I never really got into the shredders that much. It’s not that I don’t respect them, but don’t really listen to it.
SC – Is there anyone around who you rate currently?
Wes – All kinds of people. Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s amazing. My favourite right now without a doubt is Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule. Warren Haynes is one of the most musical players out there right now. If there’s one guitar player I listen to more than anyone right now it’s Warren Haynes. Actually it’s kind of funny but I’ve been transcribing some Hendrix and the Allman Bros Live at the Filmore. I’ve got this programme on my computer that allows me to slow down tunes and really get in there and figure out some of the riffs. That’s who I’ve been transcribing lately.
SC – Now I recently saw on MySpace that you’ve been out riding motorbikes with Neil Peart.
Wes – That would have been his site! Actually I did just put a picture up on mine. That was fun.
SC – How did that all come about?
Wes – Well Becka and I ride and when I was out touring with Marillion as the opening act on the Marbles tour, I met a guy who was to become the editor for Motorcycles Magazine, Brian Catterson, who had also ridden and written a feature article on Neil as a rider. Brian introduced me to Michael who is the security team leader for Rush and Neil’s riding partner. Michael loves Porcupine Tree and he’s a drummer and he loves Gavin’s playing and the whole band and him and I just hit it off and so we always talked about riding together and for about a year it just never happened. One day I just got a phone call from Michael saying “we’re going Thursday, tell Brian to get you a bike!” So I called Brian and as Brian is the editor of the biggest motorcycle magazine in the States he had a whole pen full of bikes! He said “I’ve got a couple of KTM’s downstairs, brand new test bikes, let’s take them for a ride”. So we met Neil and Michael and another friend of Neil’s down on the Pacific Coast highway and we went riding on some of the most amazing roads in the Santa Monica hills. It was fantastic. It was just a great day. We talked less about music and more about bikes!
SC – So what about future releases? When are we going to hear another album?
Wes – You know it’ll be early next year. I wrote a lot of songs in LA. Whether I use any of them or not, but the writing process got cranked up again in LA. I hadn’t been writing for a long time, just ben concentrating on other things and something in LA triggered it and I was writing for other artists. I was writing for myself, so I wrote 10 tunes when I was in LA. You know that really started the process again.
SC – So how’s that going to emerge in the future. Are you going to do download or get some CDs pressed up?
Wes – I will always have CDs pressed up I think. You can do it fairly inexpensively. Some people really like to have it. But I’ll do it on my own. I won’t do it with an advance from a record company. Just do it independently and try and get some distribution. There’s a company in New York that’ll distribute it for me. I just need to put it together and do it and hopefully I can get Steve on board to mix again ‘cos as a mixing producer or whatever he just has some of the best and most honest ears of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He really looks at the song and brings the elements within the song to life. It’s great. I was really happy with the way he approached Shiver and I hope we can do it again.
SC – We’ll look out for that. I notice you’ve alway got a Guinness on stage with you. Is this your first choice of beer?!
Wes – It is my absolute first choice of beer!
SC – Did you drink that back home before you started touring over in Europe?
Wes – No, when I was touring with Fish I developed a taste for it.
SC – Funnily enough!
Wes – Funny heh?! I developed a taste for it with the Fish gang. He got me into the 70 Shilling when we were in Scotland and then it got into heavier beers and then wen I’m in Germany I love the Weissen beer. It’s hard to get that on stage though. The Guinness is easier. Every now and again Colin and I will go in search of a Weissen beer in Germany. Hefeweissen. I love that and then at home I drink Guinness almost exclusively. I hunt it down.
SC – Ideally then you’d be looking for a sponsorship deal with Guinness!
Wes – Absolutely! May be get them to wrap the bus! That’s what we want and a free crate. It’s funny ‘cos I only drink one during the gig and I might bring a second out for the encores and then I might have one at the end of the night, so it’s never a lot, but it’s nice to have one during the show. I really like a drink during the show.