Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Interview with Ron Jarzombek by Anthony Castilla

Thanks to Anthony Castilla and Ron Jarzombek for this awesome interview:

Ron, what made you pick up the guitar?

My first instrument was piano. At the time I was in the 2nd grade. A few years later I switched to guitar because a lot of my friends from school suggested that guitar was cooler than piano, so I picked up a guitar that my dad had laying around, and stuck with it.

Who influenced you as a young guitar player, was it certain bands or certain players?

The first bands that influenced me were KISS, then later Rush. After that came a lot of the British bands, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, UFO. That was when the whole NWOBHM was happening. As far as influential guitarist, Alex Lifeson (Rush), Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest), Michael Schenker (UFO), Uli Roth (Scorpions). I also listened to jazz/fusion players like Al Dimeola and Larry Carlton, but mostly stuck with the rock guys. Then around the time of the neoclassical trip in the 80's came along Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Paul Gilbert.

How many years have you been playing, and was the guitar your first choice?

My first guitar was a Les Paul Ventura copy. I later moved onto a Strat copy, and have stuck with that shape ever since. I've been playing for well over 20 years. I did have a few years off when I had all of the hand problems, which included 4 surgeries. That went on for nearly 3 years. Guitar is my first choice of instrument, but I do lots of writing on computer with just a mouse, 5 lines and a bunch of dots.

Did your brother Bobby have an impact in your style and practice habits?

We've both been heavily into practicing with a metronome. By now, we both pretty much have a clock built into our heads. I don't know how much either of us impacted the other, but we listened to the same bands when we were growing up, so had the same band influences. Of course, I got into different genres and styles (such as filmscores and cartoon music) because most drummers don't deal with scales, chords, and all of the melodic/harmonic aspects of playing and writing. It was very cool though that after more than a decade of playing, we did finally appear together on 2 CD recordings. Both Spastic Ink CDs 'Ink Complete' and 'Ink Compatible'.

Ron you have been in many bands and projects in the last 20 years. If you had to do it all over again what would you change?

I never thought about that, actually. One thing that I totally regret is that I didn't make much of a effort to audition for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra years ago, when I had the opportunity and the contact. I also regret not sending anything to Dave Mustaine for the new Megadeth. In both cases, I thought I didn't have a chance in hell of getting the gig, but found out later that I really missed out on the opportunity. As a matter of fact, the new guitarist in Megadeth is a huge fan of WatchTower, with whom I recorded the CD 'Control And Resistance', back in '90.

When did you realize, hey!! I can do this music thing for a living?

When you realize that you don't want to waste years and years of hard work, time, thought, and energy on something that you're pretty damn good at. And yes, I'm supporting myself pretty well by teaching, playing out around town, and with Spastic Ink and solo CD sales. Although I sure wouldn't mind a call from Mudvayne right about now.

When I took a lesson from you about 17 years ago I heard use the term Ducks for Money. Is that term still around? You said ok Anthony that’s X amount of Ducks for the lesson.

LOL! I forgot about that! But no, I haven't said that since the old days. 'Ducks" was just a combinations of "dollars" and "bucks".

Where are you teaching at these days?

I'm at H & H Music at the Forum, A440 Studios off of Evers, and believe it or not, still at Southside Music on Saturdays. In '06, I'll probably be at 2 different/other locations. I'm checking into a few things right now.

You still make your own guitars, right?

Definitely. I just built another doubleneck several months ago.

What made you start building your own guitars?

Probably the fact that I could make my own exactly as I wanted them, and didn't really like the guitars that were straight off the shelf back then. I had a Fender endorsement back in the WatchTower days, but lost it because when that factory asked me what I wanted to modify on their stock guitar, I gave them a list so long that it would be better if I just stuck with my own, rather than modifying their instrument. So I sent it back, and whipped out my jigsaw.

What other guitars would you play if your gear were not available? Ibanez , Jackson, Memphis? Arbor?

Ibanez. Whenever the next Marty Friedman gig/tour comes around, I'm going to just get 2 Ibanez guitars so I don't have to take any of mine with me on the flight, through airports, etc...

Speaking of Gear what are you using nowadays for live stuff? It sounds great, by the way. You also seem to have some Ron Made stuff going on.

I use a Line 6 pod that runs through a Mesa Boogie 295 Power amp pushing a 4 12 cabinet with Celestions speakers. For effects I have a Digitech pitchshifter, an Alesis Quadraverb, and a few rack EQs. The "Ron made" portion of the setup is just the cabinet that houses everything. I've been seriously thinking about getting a Krank amp.

What’s your take in all these new effects and software out there?

I've been recording on computer for well over a decade now. I use mostly ProTools and Sound Forge. I don't really keep up with what the latest effect pedals are out there. I basically record a totally dry signal, then add all the effects on computer later. I think computer technology has done wonders for the recording world. No more dealing with punching in late, tape hiss, analog tracks not syncing properly, chopping up tape with a razor blade, etc...

Ahh finally Ron, an important set of questions for you! How was it touring with Marty Freidman?

Of course it was awesome, but too short. They were planning something like 30 dates, but it got stripped down to merely two weeks. Not even really a "leg" of a tour, more like a "foot". LOL. That was the 'Guitarevolution' tour, which happened only on the west coast. And then I did the Guitar convention in Baltimore, sponsored by Les Paul himself, which was killer as well. I'm hoping to do more shows with Marty, but he is doing so well in Japan, that I don't think he has even thought about doing his own tour. He is working on another solo CD right now, so maybe something will happen later. He was an onstage guest earlier this year when the G3 tour made a stop in Japan. I wish Marty would get hooked up with with that tour. I could go for hanging out with him again, and Steve Vai.

Would you like to jam and trade licks with Steve Vai on stage or in the studio one day?

Yeah, but that might be a bit too intimidating...

How was meeting the great Allan Holdsworth?

That was the icing on the cake. The Baltimore gig with Marty was very cool, but hanging out with Allan backstage after the gig was the highlight of that whole trip. He whipped out some theoretical sheet that he was working on, and I was just baffled. I'm pretty much a theory nut but this stuff was unreal. I had no idea what he was doing with notes.

Since I am picking your brain, describe a little more about your Circle of 12 tones. You were flying to Hawaii and wrote this?

Visit for more on Ron's awesome creative works.

Uh, no. I was sitting around the house somewhere (don't want to get into details here! LOL!), when the idea pooped, I mean, popped into my head. It's a system where the 12 tones are randomly scattered on a "clock", creating various orders of notes, which imply melodic and chordal patterns for tunes.

My good buddy Rowan who runs SA Rocks wanted to know about the WILD HARE thing on your websites.

The song 'A Wild Hare' is Spastic Ink's musical interpretation of the movie 'Bambi'. Here are the clips...


Bobby and I took all of the musical themes that involved Thumper, I transcribed his dialogue, along with violins, oboes, and more orchestral instruments, and we put together an 8 minute piece of music. It appears on the first Spastic Ink CD "Ink Complete'.

What’s the connection with Ron and these Cat figure and Rabbits over the years?

Yeah, you noticed that, huh? Lots of animals and creatures in songs titles...

Happy Kitties - The first recording project that involved me and my brother Bobby.
Mr. Kitty - the cat on "Oh No, Mr. Kitty" from my first solo CD 'PHHHP!'
Squeakie - The squirrel appearing on 'A Morning With Squeakie' from Spastic Ink's 'Ink Complete' CD, and also appearing on 'Sex With Squeakie' from my solo CD 'Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement'.
Ants on My Windshield - a song from PHHHP!
It looks Like A Chicken - also from PHHHP!
Mosquito Brain Surgery - from 'Ink Complete'
The Cereal Mouse - from Spastic Ink's 2nd CD 'Ink Compatible'

There's probably a few more too.

I think animals come up because I've got a fascination with writing music for/to animations. As a matter of fact, I'm working with Morley Arts in Atlanta on an upcoming film called 'Magmatania'. It's all still in the works, but here's the intro...

One more from Rowan of Sarocks – what do you think of the difference between the old metal with the shredding classical-based guitar solos and the awesome singers like Halford, Geoff Tate, etc. and the fact that most "metal" these days seems to be mostly one or a few chords played over and over really fast while the "singer" barks or screams into the microphone?

That's just the trend and there's not much you can do about it. But it really makes my day when a guitar solo appears in a current song on the radio. As in "Bat Country' from Avenged Sevenfold. Great stuff! And yeah, what's this with the vocalists just screaming and growling? Whatever happened to hitting pitches? I can tolerate it for a while, but when that's all that there is, there doesn't seem much to it. Have you ever sat through the bands playing on the second stage at an Ozzfest? 5 bands in a row of the same crap. I don't see how anybody can tell those bands apart. But on the other hand, there are some cool current metal bands who write really cool interesting tunes, but don't have many gtr solos. As is the case with System Of A Down, Slipknot and Mudvayne. I just don't understand why they can't all be thrown in.

Ok couple of more Ron questions before you go nuts!

Will you ever do your own music live and would it be like a G3 setting. I would love to see that happen for you, is it a goal?

I think the G3 vibe is more of a guitar hero type of trip, which I'm not really into. Yeah, I did write and record 2 solo CDs, but I'm more into the whole band vibe where the focus is more on the writing and players performing, not just some guitar shredder guy playing over diatonic chord progressions. For example, my latest solo CD 'Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement' is totally based on theoretical ideas, which implies the writing. Sure there are lots of guitar solos, but that's not the focus of the CD at all. The "band vibe" is what made WatchTower work, as well as Spastic Ink. John Petrucci (Dream Theater guitarist) came out with a solo CD that fits into the G3 mold, and he's playing with Vai and Satriani as a result. I however, can't fit into that mold. That's not what I do. If I did get an opportunity to play my own material live, it would be with a band. WatchTower opened for Dream Theater in Dallas and Houston after we got back from playing the 'Bang Your Head' 2000 festival in Germany. Spastic Ink always gets invited to play overseas festivals, but we haven't played one gig, and probably never will. WatchTower was just recently invited to play at the 6th annual ProgPower festival in Atlanta, which will happen in September '06. The Machinations Of Dementia project may gig, but we have to first get the material recorded and released.

What does playing in Preying Mantis do for you, other than monetary rewards?

Actually, I'm taking a bit of a break right now to focus on my latest project 'Machinations Of Dementia'. Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse bassist), Chris Adler (Lamb Of God drummer) and I started this up about a year ago, and are very close to finishing up the writing for the CD. As a matter of fact, we got a 4 page feature article in the latest Metal Maniacs magazine (Jan. 2006 issue, page 8), which can be picked up at Barnes And Nobles. The article covers Spastic Ink, a bit of WatchTower and my solo CDs, and of course the latest project...

But back to the local cover scene. I really wish it would get back on its feet somehow. It's sad thinking about all of the cool places that have now closed down, or have given in to DJs playing hip-hop (Iguana Bay, Copper Dollar, West Avenue Bar, to name a few). Has anyone driven by the old Sneakers on Nacogdoches? It's a freaking hip-hop club now. Sad.

Sometimes the coolest part about playing a gig in town is on breaks when you can goof off and hang out with your friends, (while getting paid... just kidding... LOL!). Well, and yeah, headbanging to Pantera, Matallica and Mudvayne tunes is fun too.

What is the dumbest thing you have seen or heard from someone when playing a gig local or abroad?

It's happened quite a few times when either Dragonfly or Preying Mantis would be playing a gig, and some dummy would come up and tell us that we're going to be the next big thing, and when is our CD coming out. Uuuhhhh... Of course we just play along and sign stuff for them...

Last but not least – what advice would you give a young guitar player or any guitar out there reading this right now?

1. Practice, so that you'll be prepared, and can do your job well.
2. If you're in a band, do your homework so you don't waste other band members' time.
3. Get a phone or email so you can communicate with your band members.
4. Get a vehicle, and be on time for rehearsals and gigs.
5. Do what makes you happy within the framework of a band...

Find out more about Ron Jarzombek at