I spoke to American guitarist and gear innovator with Czechoslovakian ancestors Doug Blair already four years ago. However, since then, many things happened. Next to the big plans with W.A.S.P., he is currently involved in education programs in Turku, Finland where he moved. Next to that, he is still very active in the development of new and experimental models of guitars. However, we started our interview covering his ten most favorite albums.
Photos credit: Ronny Zeisberg Wieglas Fotographie (DE)
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015)
The pinnacle of all of my rock, pop and prog leanings — from Yes, Rush and Pink Floyd — combined with over-the-top efforts from Marco Minneman, Guthrie Govan, Ninet Tayeb and Nick Beggs. Steven’s songwriting and storyline is heart-wrenching in Routine, Perfect Life and Happy Returns — and powerfully diverse throughout this expansive record. I have seen this tour twice: combining the visuals of Lasse Hoile with the emotion of the music is simply amazing. My current super hero.
Rush – A Show Of Hands (Live) (1989)
Encompassing the best of all Rush eras, with the band reaching their songwriting peak upon Grace Under Pressure. A defining guest vocal from Aimee Mann on Time Stands Still (influencing Devin Townsend/ Anneke van Giersbergen, Steven Wilson/Ninet Tayeb, etc.), The Big Money, Marathon and so many others. Absolutely epic, and proven live. I caught this show several times, apparently their first using now-ubiquitous sampler and sequencer triggering live. My greatest single influence.
Type O Negative – October Rust (1996)
Revered record from this unique dark eroti-goth quartet, highly influential to me with the patented ‘avalanche of diarrhea’ bass sound, The Cure – styled guitar texturing, slapstick keyboard parts and campy lyrical humor. The slowest heavy beats possible, making space for the Earth-quaking and uterus-vibrating voice of Peter Steele. Saw them three times in US and met Peter — like Nirvana, a pure song-based band in their own singular world! I listen to this record all the way through every October!
Sevendust – Animosity (2001)
One of the tightest live bands ever in their genre, this record capped their refined songwriting evolution up to this point, with several MTV hits like Angel’s Son and a duet with Staind’s Aaron Lewis, back when he was kinda’ cool. My face has been melted by this band — with their insanely musical drummer, powerhouse frontman, and the best live mixes — many many times, and I wish they’d caught on in EU!
Poe – Haunted (2000)
Introduced to me by an unlikely affair with a Polish girl, I instantly realized the depth of this amazing artist and this record, which was a collaboration with her author brother, and based on found audio tapes of her film-director father. She gained a large cult following, before falling victim to major-label acquisition politics, and never resurfacing. A stellar concept record, with a beautifully moving story within. Never was able to see her perform live, but carry her music inside my heart.
Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same (1976)
This is my musical schooling and neighborhood. Everything happening on this record clearly shows the ultimate chemistry between absolutely pro players — and by pioneers in our touring business. Each Zep studio album has its tracks of legend, but what they were able to do to/with them live was unprecedented, nor truly ever equalled by others. Wore this record out — and only saw Page/Plant live in ’95.
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
An album demonstrating how guitar can play a vastly different role within a band — no ‘leads’ per se, but lines and textures — as well as the elusive value of outside producers. The strength of the arrangements, production and actual chemistry within this band was monumental at this point, and taught important lessons. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’s contributions recast Pride, Bad and the title track in a frayed light — described by singer Bono as “a beautifully out-of-focus record, blurred like an impressionist painting.” Caught this show in ’85!
This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You (2008)
I’m a firm believer in the growing quality and strength of new bands and music — mostly because they have it much harder now than ever before, to even see the light of day! This is proof that instrumental music can carry emotion, dynamics and power — and that a band can be virtually opposite of what the business dictates as ‘valuable’, and still make a major contribution in their own way. So inspiring!
The Delvins – Waiting (1997)
In a northern US ski town, in middle of the winter, I walked into a theater to see a popular female artist of the late ‘90s. Instantly riveted by the trio opening the show, I met and bought this record from them right after their set! An Irish band of two brothers cast as ‘the next U2’, they released several more records but didn’t catch on. I play their song ‘Surrender’ solo, as it’s one of my favorite all-time songs. Only saw them live that one time, and it changed my life. The power of live shows!
King’s X – Best Of King’s X (1997)
Like Rush, another influential power trio that successfully combined so many elements from lyricism, metaphoric and instrumental mastery, tri-part harmony, dual lead vocalists, and stand-alone songs that any artist can interpret their own way. Every record in their deep catalogue has gems, so this collection is the way to hear the most in one place. One of the hardest-touring and constantly-releasing bands still working in the genre, I’ve caught them live countless times in US!
What are some of the main news with you in the past 4 years?
Most importantly, W.A.S.P. completed and released Golgotha (Napalm) in 2015, and we did our best tour ever supporting it. I also relocated from US/Boston to Turku, FI for a great band coaching program called Rock Academy Finland, and have been working hard to get signal2noise off the ground in EU with various drummers, as well as building new guitars. I’ve been doing many educational and even academic events, and working with the new young groups here. It’s awesome!
I am glad you are doing number of clinic/performance/demonstrations. What do you enjoy the most on these events? Do you also get some feedback from young players, have you inspired them?
Yes, the feedback and sharing my experience are the best parts — and this was a big frustration back in the States, not being able to do this. Rock, metal, and the interest in forming bands is still part of the youth culture here, and I want to share and give back as much as I can! The national education system supports these programs with good facilities, connections and equipment. It’s a bit of a dream come true, after teaching privately and independently for so long.
Thank you for sending me videos with your performances with the drummer from Steven Wilson’s band, Craig Blundell. Glad to see and hear the 8-string GuitarCross in action. I must say it has an incredible sound! I would call it “Bombastic blade”! Tell us please more about its connection to digital amplification and Fractal Axe-FX system.
Well, thank you!! The GX itself is all-analog so far. I’ve already delved a bit into some ‘modeling’ — as in Line 6 Variax stuff — but for now real strings, pickups, and controls. But then, yes, the Axe-FX is completely modeled, and configured to run three signals: clean and dirty 5-string guitar, and 3-string bass! The unit is amazingly consistent and ridiculously flexible in its routing and memory. The tweaking never ends, and I’m now experimenting in surround-sound at my clinics! So, very excited about this!
What are currently your work-in-progress experiments within gear?
At an awesome guitar building school in Finland called IKATA, I’m collaborating on a new Mutant double neck guitar called the Reso-Tele, which has a ‘Dobro’ resonator slide guitar on the top neck, and a regular Telecaster bottom neck. John 5 (Rob Zombie) will be begging me to play this guitar when it’s done! It’ll be sick! Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’m developing ‘surround-sound’ performance capabilities with the Axe-FX sounds/patches and twin Soundcraft Ui12 digital mixers. Eventually, this will be adapted for effective use at live shows!
How is the work on W.A.S.P.’s fall record and DVD release going so far?
Aside from some unfortunate delays which knocked out our summer festivals, the results are stunning so far. It’s a massive undertaking to revisit such an iconic piece of work, and then to add new tracks and a movie makes it quite extensive! So, we’re all hoping for the best, and very very excited to bring it out on the road in the fall! This is also the 25th Anniversary of my first audition, tour and joining W.A.S.P. – as well as for Crimson Idol – so I’m very honored to be here to be a part of it!
Here are some of the questions we love to ask in TOP 10 series
What is the first album you bought?
It was probably Rush’s All The World’s A Stage – for the cover photograph! This photo of their stage is one of the most perfect ever, and made us all dream of someday stepping onto a stage like that with our own bands! Around 1978…
When did you decide to devote your life to a music career?
A year after graduating high school, at age 19, I was asked to join/reform a popular regional group with Stet Howland — who also brought me into W.A.S.P. 10 years later! I had formed a few bands so far, and had decided to take a year off before college. So even though I knew already, joining Run 21 was truly the turning point — the beginning of my journey in music — and here I am!
How are you trying to grow as a musician, and an author (songwriter)?
I’m always trying to stretch the sonic boundaries of guitars, with more strings or necks, etc. By experimenting with this, I’ve found it actually expands my musicality overall. I go through phases of writing more music of my own, and then working on/with others on their music or collaborating, whether that is with W.A.S.P., or other projects like the rock opera Dreams In The Witch House, or Melissa Van Fleet. I’m always watching for new side projects to get involved with!
What is inspiring you the most in the past few years?
The young musicians — men and women — in our RA programs, whose eyes light up when I tell them my stories, or show them some tricks from our years on the road. The ambitious young guitar designers and builders. They all remind me why I’m doing this, and make me feel like I’m 25 years old! And as always: Steven Wilson, Devin Townsend, Charlie Hunter, Alex Skolnick, Blackie and a handful of others that constantly push themselves, don’t compromise or pander to the business, and have contributed a great deal of art to the future.
What is the biggest lesson that the music industry has given you?
First, strive to leave something behind after you’re gone — don’t live only for the material and instant gratification that the music business has always glorified. Second, be strong enough to take care of yourself and be your best for others, musically and personally. Strong enough to believe in yourself, your confidence and your ability — and to not sell yourself short. These qualities are what you’ll find in all who truly rise above and last in the creative arts.