Interview: Andy Timmons

Martin Schmidt: How is the tour going so far?

Andy Timmons: Very good. We had a great start in Krakau, Poland, where we've never been before. It's a very brief, but busy tour, which we like.

Martin Schmidt: You combine a concert with guitar clinics at these shows?

Andy Timmons: Yes. It's kind of a new concept. It's like a concert, but we take a couple of breaks and explain our guitar rigs and take questions from the audience. So it's like a concert with the opportunity to communicate with the band a little bit.

Martin Schmidt: Do you approach these concerts differently than other concerts, in a more educational way?

Andy Timmons: Musically it's exactly the same, we're trying to put the music across in the best way.

Martin Schmidt: How would you describe your style to someone who never heard anything about you?

Andy Timmons: I get asked that a lot, when you meet somebody on a plane. "Oh you're a musician, what do you do?" I say, mmmh, it's kinda difficult to answer. Obviously I started as a rock musician, but along the way I studied classical and played a lot of blues and jazz and everything in between. I like to say I'm a musician that enjoys playing any style, but I may be more known for playing a blues or jazz influenced version of rock 'n' roll.

Martin Schmidt: Who are your most important influences, guitar wise and music wise?

Andy Timmons: Steve Lukather was my biggest influence. I started with Ace Frehley and Ted Nugent, but Steve Lukather was the next guy that I really learned the most from. He had a great energy about the way he played, in a very passionate style, but he also had a little chromatic jazz influence as well. Mike Stern was another guy I learned a lot from. Pat Metheny, when I got into the jazzier side of things.

Martin Schmidt: Are there any influences that just influence your music, but not necessarily your guitar playing?

Andy Timmons: Absolutely. Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, The Beatles. '60s pop is one of my favorite eras of music. The melodic concept of Brian Wilson and his sense of harmony still inspires me.

Martin Schmidt: Do you find new guitar heroes all the time or do you stick to your old influences most of the time?

Andy Timmons: I'm always going back to the earlier guys, whether it's Hendrix or Stevie Ray. Eric Johnson has been a big influence in the last 10 years. When we did the "Resolution" CD, we really looked at him as setting the benchmark for a great guitar tone.

Martin Schmidt: Do you check out new players?

Andy Timmons: I do, but I'm more interested in songs than in players. I love the last Coldplay album, because there's great melody. There's new guys like Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa, who really play well and say something emotional. In the whole shred world I'm not really interested, because there's just a lot of technique and not a lot of good music. I'm not saying that I'm making great music at this point, but I'm really trying to emphasize the song and using technique as a color to paint with. You need a variety of things to make it a listenable experience.

Martin Schmidt: What makes playing instrumental music interesting for you?

Andy Timmons: It's challenging. For the "Resolution" CD, we decided not to do any production, as far as rhythm guitars or doubling parts. I wanted to play every song with one guitar performance, so chords and melody had to be on one guitar track. I've done a lot of records, where I played a rhythm guitar track and the melody. It all started to sound the same to me. In doing it the other way, it's almost like you're a jazz player, but you're playing rock 'n' roll. Creating something with lyrics is a bit easier. You can convey a specific emotion. With a guitar, you have to do it without words and try to paint the picture sonically. There's so much room for growth and expression on the guitar. I think players have just scratched the surface what's possible. More dynamic could be included and more expression.

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Martin Schmidt: Do you get a lot strange reactions because of the missing singer?

Andy Timmons: There's always that, but we tend to attract fans of instrumental music anyway. If people come to see us, they pretty much know what they're into. I have done some singing on records in the past and even now I sing one or two songs, depending on the mood. If we wanted to be a commercial success, we might be a little more concerned about that, but know we're just happy to play timeless music.

Martin Schmidt: Do you improvise a lot in the studio and live or do you work out a lot of stuff?

Andy Timmons: I do it both ways. "Resolution" started being all improvised in the studio. When we did the rhythm tracks, I was playing rhythm guitars and hadn't written all the melodies and solos, so there was a lot of improvisation. When it came time to finish the guitar tracks, I decided to scrap everything I already recorded, but I liked some of the solos I did. So I would learn the bits I liked from the improvised part and compose parts to go along with it to make one really cohesive piece of music. There are many tracks on my early records that are one take improvised and there's a great spirit about that. This is the first record I did this way, and I'm really happy with the result. I gave myself permission at one point.

There's kind of a stigma in some players heads about composing a solo, because if you come from a jazz background, that's completely out of the question. Every song has to be fresh and improvised. I believe that to a certain degree, but when I think this has to last for the rest of our life and hopefully longer and approach it as a composer, I don't have a problem with it.

Martin Schmidt: And live you stick with the recording?

Andy Timmons: Half and half. Some songs have a lot of improvisation like "Cry for You" or " Electric Gipsy", but a lot of time I stick to the composed parts. I need to keep a certain amount of improvisation in the show to keep it fresh and interesting for me.

Martin Schmidt: Do you still learn and practice new licks and tricks, or do you simply try to make music with your existing technical and musical abilities?

Andy Timmons: That was interesting about "Resolution", too. When I listened back to the basic tracks we'd done, I wasn't that inspired. It seemed like I was kind of repeating things I'd already done. But by composing and thinking melodically, it forced me into areas I hadn't done things. It helped me finding new lines and licks. I would say I'm not copying as many guitar players these days.

Martin Schmidt: How do you write songs? Do you start with a guitar line, or a title, or a melody, or some chord changes?

Andy Timmons: It's either a melody in my head, or improvising something and deciding that I need to record and develop it. It can be a chord pattern. There's no set way. Anytime I practice, there's a tape recorder near by. Even from just playing scales. Invariably I get distracted and start playing some kind of melody, or a chord progression will happen and I like to record and document it, otherwise I forget it really quickly.

Martin Schmidt: But it happens mostly on the guitar?

Andy Timmons: Not necessarily. Sometimes on piano, sometimes driving on the road and hearing something in my head and singing it. Sometimes I call my answering machine to remember a line or a melody.

Martin Schmidt: What do you do besides playing music? Any hobbies or special interests?

Andy Timmons: I have a son, who is three.

Martin Schmidt: OK, that's a good hobby.

Andy Timmons: Yeah, that's a very good hobby. So that's been my main pasttime. But there's always been music. Even, when I'm not playing or writing or recording, I collect records. I'm a big sixties music fan. Searching for music. It's my hobby and profession at the same time.

Martin Schmidt: So there are not to many things outside of music?

Andy Timmons: Well, life in general. A lot of my instrumental music has been influenced by particular events, or events in other people's lives. Real life is the overall influence. You have to live a real life to be able to be expressive on your instrument.

Martin Schmidt: Your band has been together for a long time. How important is this for your music and playing?

Andy Timmons: Obviously there are many plusses. For improvisation, they understand, when I might want to stretch, and they support that, or they might inspire me by what they play. I love playing with other players, too, but when it comes to create my music, Mike Dane just knows exactly to support anything that I come up with, song wise. He always plays the perfect thing and is not concerned about what cool bass thing he could do. You need somebody who's interested in music first and his instrument second. That's what it is to work with these guys. I feel very comfortable with these guys.

Martin Schmidt: On your latest record, I heard some sounds and licks that had a strong Hendrix influence. What does this guy mean to you?

Andy Timmons: When I was growing up as a kid, I didn't really get Jimi Hendrix. His music sounded real harsh to me. I was into more pleasant, Beatles type of things. I really didn't dive into Jimi's music until the mid-'80s. When I moved to Texas, there was a guy I did some gigs with, who was a real big Jimi fan. He gave me a tape and said, "Learn all these songs." I never heard "Freedom" before or "Angel". So many things I really hadn't checked out. Obviously he was a genius the way he put things together. He took the Curtis Mayfield rhythm guitar playing, the Little Richard showmanship and plugged into a fuzzbox. It was unbelievable what he did. We take it for granted now, because everybody imitates those sounds, but when he came along - he and Clapton and Beck - they were so out of the game, so creative in what they did.

Martin Schmidt: You toured the world with Danger Danger. After that you worked as a sideman, or in a specialized field of the music biz. Do you miss the more commercial, rock star thing, or are you happier with your current situation?

Andy Timmons: I'm very fortunate that I got to experience it when I did at the age I did. I was 24, 25 at that time. So I was wise enough to not to be too stupid on the road (laughs), but young enough to still enjoy and be carefree to a certain extent. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have. I prefer to do things out in the music business, where I know there might be some financial return from as well as enjoyment. It was a great experience, but I'm extremely happy doing the things I'm doing.

Martin Schmidt: So you're more interested in being a real musician than a rock star?

Andy Timmons: That was always my goal. I never got into music to be famous - for no other reason in that I loved music. Gene Simmons once was quoted as saying, "Anybody who says he got into music for any other reason than getting laid, is full of shit." And I totally disagree. I think there's people that do it because they love music and that's why I do it. The fame thing was fun and interesting, but I was smart enough to know - that's not real, that's not why I do it.

Martin Schmidt: You work with two companies, Ibanez for guitars and Mesa Boogie for amps. Do you have your dream rig now?

Andy Timmons: The dream rig, absolutely. The Lone Star came along three years ago. Actually I was endorsing another amplifier company at the time that worked on a signature amplifier for me at the time, but it wasn't 100%. A friend of mine works for Mesa Boogie and he said, "I got this new amp, do you wanna try it out?" I took it to a gig and I flipped out. It was a good night, and I got a lot of compliments on my tone, more than usual. So I knew right then, I had to make a decision between really playing what I wanna play and something that might be beneficial financially. Anytime I made a decision for financial reasons, it's never the right decision. It was the best decision I made, because I've been playing it ever since. And then they came out with the Stiletto. On the "Resolution" record, I was playing some Vintage Marshalls, a '68 Plexi and a '79 JMP. And they tweaked it towards exactly like I recorded with those amps.

Martin Schmidt: You work with two companies, Ibanez for guitars and Mesa Boogie for amps. Do you have your dream rig now?

Andy Timmons: The dream rig, absolutely. The Lone Star came along three years ago. Actually I was endorsing another amplifier company at the time that worked on a signature amplifier for me at thetime, but it wasn't 100 %. A friend of mine works for Mesa Boogie and he said I got this new amp, do you wanna try it out? I took it to a gig and I flipped out. It was a good night, well responded and I got a lot of compliments on my tone, more than usual. So I knew right then, I had to make a decision between this is really what I wanna play and something that might be financial beneficial. Anytime I made a decision for the financial reason, it's never the right decision. It was the best decision I made, because I've been playing it ever since. And then they came out with the Stiletto. On the Resolution record, I was playing some Vintage Marshalls, a 68 Plexi and a 79 JMP. And they tweaked it towards exactly like I recorded with those amps.

Martin Schmidt: Do you use them at the same time, or do you switch between them?

Andy Timmons: Now it's strictly A/B. It's like two sets of tones. I use the clean channel of the stiletto like a loud plexi, with a tube driver in front of it and the lead channel for a mid gain crunch, which gaves a tremendous bluesy, Stevie Ray tone. On the Lone Star the clean channel is for clean only, for a great 6L6 spongy clean tone, and the lead channel has that fat Texas kind of tone.

Martin Schmidt: Can you tell me a little about the guitars you use?

Andy Timmons: I use my first signature guitar from Ibanez. They made it 1994 as a prototype. There's another guitar on stage, a AT 300, which is a mahagony body/rosewood neck guitar. That's the guitar I used on "Resolution" primarily. But I gravitated back to the feel of unfinished maple.

Martin Schmidt: It's basically a souped Stratocaster?

Andy Timmons: Absolutely. I'm a big Stratocaster fan. I got a '65 strat that I love quite a bit.

Martin Schmidt: Did you design it, or is it a combination of Ibanez guitar models and your ideas?

Andy Timmons: The body shape and headstock is from a RG, but the neck is completely different. I had an old neck that I really liked and they copied it. So it was really just choosing the pickups and the hardware and the neck shape.

Martin Schmidt: Do you use these guitars exclusively, or do you play other stuff in the studio, too?

Andy Timmons: In the studio, anything goes for me. Live, I based so much of my music on this one and the AT 300, I couldn't play a whole night on a Strat.

Martin Schmidt: Which effects? Are you a pedal guy, or are you into rack stuff, too?

Andy Timmons: I'm much more of a pedal guy lately. I'm using a Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. It's analog and you can dial in chorus. It's the closest thing to tape echo I found. The digital sound is good and it's convenient and every song can have it's specific delay time, but I can never get the right sound out of it. I also use some things from a company called Exotic. I'm using a RC Booster, which is basically a clean boost. It just hits the front end and makes it sparkle a little bit The other one is the BB preamp. You can get a lot of gain out of that. I use it on the clean channel for a tube screamer breakup and I boost the lead channel. The Lone Star is not a heavy saturated amp, it's a good mid size gain.

Martin Schmidt: Do you use something to switch the things?

Andy Timmons: I'm using a controller by GCX called "The Ground Control System". It's basically a patch bay that you can configure any number of ways, but I got it to where I can hit one MIDI switch and can change channels on the amps, go to two different amps, or turn effects on and off. So all my sounds are pretty much ready with one button.

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Guitarist Andy Timmons is always a good interview due to having spent so much of his life in the music business, first with the rock band Danger Danger, then with his numerous solo albums and special projects, and his most recent work for the Favored Nations label, "That Was Then, This Is Now" and the 2006 release "Resolution".

Martin Schmidt caught up with Andy Timmons during his recent swing through Poland (and other European countries) to talk shop.