It happened back in 1997. A good friend of mine, Ralph Rosa, who was a musician and a terrific guitar player. He was one of my students in the early nineties. He was such a wonderful dude that we stayed friends. He had a band in Puerto Rico and they were opening for bigger bands and as things were getting on their way he started getting dizzy spells and numbness in his hands. He went to a doctor and was diagnosed with MS and that was pretty much that. Instead of feeling like a victim he started a nonprofit organization “MS research Foundation” www.msrf.org to raise money for MS research and send it directly to the labs, working towards a cure and maintenance for people who are suffering from the disease. All his friends and family volunteered and we’d organize fundraisers, arranging dinners and comedy shows and concerts with the all profits being donated to research. He and I would go to the laboratories and see how things were going, look through the microscopes and reviewing the results and documentation. We started to write checks directly to researchers and for the research we believed in, to keep things going. There are many types of MS and my friend has the type called primary progressive MS. This means you don’t have good or bad days, it’s a slow steady decline of your nervous system. His brain is fine. We email each other everyday and he uses a laser pointer on his forehead to write emails. He is still the same guy with the same sense of humor. But now he’s bedridden and it takes him all his effort just to whisper to me when I visit him.
It must be incredibly difficult for you to see your friend deteriorating in such a way…
It is heartbreaking. Out of all people why him? It touched me personally and that’s why I started doing something about it. Now, I donate 5 dollars from every autographed merch I sign to his organization. Every little bit helps.
I would like to move on to your compositional activities. Besides releasing your own music and being a member of Guns N’ Roses, you’re also active as composer for tv series, movies and commercials. What’s the big difference for you as a composer between all these activities?
A lot of the stuff that is used for TV is my own music from one of my albums. When I’m writing specifically for something it’s being creative in a different way. When you’re scoring a movie you want you to capture the vibe and the mood of the movie and turn it into music. You also try to adhere to the wishes and visions of other people when you start busting things out. It’s that simple.
Do you also enjoy that kind of composing?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a different kind of composing. It’s a different kind of collaboration. I work together with this guy Q*Ball who makes electronic music. He’d come over with some lyrics and keyboard parts and I’d make a beat and some guitar parts and do the recording, mixing and mastering. That’s one type of collaboration. Another form is like something I just did with a metal band from France, Madonagun. They asked me to play a guitar solo on one of their songs. I did it from my studio and I sent a reference mix of it, they liked it, I sent the main solo file and they put it on their record. Another type of collaboration is when you have an independent movie and the filmmaker’s looking for music with a specific vibe and you write something specific for that. All different ways on how you can work together with other people. They bring the video and I bring the audio. If they got a keyboard, I bring my guitar. It’s all collaborating in different ways.
You did some guest vocals and a guitar solo for a Swedish band called Freak Kitchen, led by guitar virtuoso/singer Mattias Eklundh. What do you think of them?
They’re old friends of mine. We go way back. We toured together in France and Switzerland, all packed in a van. We did it twice before I joined Guns N’ Roses. Mattias played a solo on one of my songs in 2001 and I played on his as well. I was a guest teacher at one of his Freak Guitar summer camps and we did some guitar clinics together. His drummer Bjorn visited New York and we got some pizza together. I really love the band and they’re all incredibly talented musicians and they’re incredible together. They’re a great bunch of people.
Mattias is also known for his wicked sense of humor and using dildos to create certain sounds during his clinics.
Haha, yes, I remember stories of him passing through customs at the airport and he had to open his suitcase and they’d find a vest full of dildos… “Can you explain this?” “Um, I play guitar with them…?” He’s a funny guy. We performed together once and when I was about to get on stage he took my microphone and farted into it. I was so pissed at him. We definitely have gone back and forth a bit with joking around.
Talking about guitar wizards I did an interview with Jeff Loomis, formerly of Nevermore. He said the best way for musicians to improve themselves is to play with other people, instead of sticking in their bedrooms filming their antics and put it on youtube. What’s your take on that?
I totally agree. Playing with other people is the way to gain the life experience that makes you a better player, one hundred percent. Another thing guitarists need to do – coming from me, a guitarist who often plays like he gets paid by the note, haha – is to focus on rhythm. That’s the bulk of a song. You need to follow the drummer, he’s the leader. Don’t try to lead the music, that’s something a drummer is supposed to do. Work on the dynamics in the rhythms. Don’t play everything with the same level of intensity, try to use accents and muting and make rhythm ‘rhythmic’. Give it groove, even when it’s metal you still can make it groove. Everything should be in the pocket of the drummer and the best way to do that is to work on your rhythm, let the drummer lead the way and to play with other people.
Unless you got a someone with the drummer skills of one Lars Ulrich…
Come on, I like Lars. He’s perfect for what he is doing. He’s the drummer of Metallica and give the band their sound. When you listen to Master Of Puppets he’s as important as everybody on the record. Actually I jammed with him a couple of years ago. He’s a great musician and a great guy. We had really nice conversations about stuff and he’s a great fuckin’ drummer. In the end you only have to be good enough to play your own songs well, and he does.
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