Interview: Doug Doppler

Guglielmo Malusardi: Well Doug, let's start by talking about the title: "Nu Instrumetal".

Doug Doppler: "Nu Instrumetal" is the blend of Nu Metal and Instrumental rock, and really sums up what the disc is about - right there on the cover. Just think about my competition at the point of sale, and it becomes easy to see why we needed a title that makes it perfectly clear what to expect. There are a lot of kids out there who have grown up listening to bands like Linkin Park and are also curious about instrumental music. Without hearing a note, they will already have a good idea of what we are about. "Frampton Comes Alive" is a perfect example of how a title aided and not hindered the process of making a record into a best seller.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What was the recording process like, and did it take a long time for you?

Doug Doppler: Actually, the recording process was quite quick considering it was being done around my teaching schedule. Pete Karr was quite generous with his time and worked me in around the other sessions he had going. I think we took about 3 months total from start to finish, of course with numerous days off in between due to schedules, which I think was a good time as it gave the music time to breath during the process. You learn so much in the studio, so having time to reflect during the process is a great luxury afforded by working in the digital domain in project studios vs. on the clock at a big studio.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When and why did you decide to bring in Pete Karr (Michael Bolton/Backstreet Boys/Jennifer Love Hewitt) as a producer for the album?

Doug Doppler: Pete is an old friend, and came up from L.A. on a social visit. When I heard the amazing work he was doing, I knew I had to get him in on this disc.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The songs sound pretty different compared to your great album "Ground Zero". Give us now some technical information about the recording process - what did you use to create the "Nu Instrumetal" sound?

Doug Doppler: Well, first of all, the recording process was completely different, as so much of this disc was done at my home recording studio, and finished up at Pete Karr's studio in L.A.. "Ground Zero" was an analog recording, done entirely at two really great local studios - Hyde Street and Studio D, with Matt Kelley and Joel Jaffe at the helm in their respective studios.

For "Nu Instrumetal", all the songs started with rough rhythm guitars tracks cut in ProTools to a click track using a Dual Rectifier and an SM57. Next I would dump those tracks into my Roland VS1880 which we used cut Atma's drum tracks at our old rehearsal space. Then I would dump his tracks back into my original ProTools session and take those tracks down to Pete's studio in L.A. for tweaking. Then I would take them back to my studio, re-cut the real rhythm guitar tracks that needed "adjustment" and then cut the bass. With the exception of Billy Sheehan and Stu Hamm's tracks, I cut most of the bass at my studio using my '57 P-Bass re-issue tuned down to B.

Ironically, I was really going for Billy's tone, so when the opportunity opened up for him to play on "Bring It On", it was a no brainer. The track with Stu Hamm on it came from a group of sessions that preceded this disc and got added after the fact, so that one is a little different, but worked so I went with it. That project was called Doppler/Hamm/Anur and was the testing ground for mixing Nu Metal and instrumental together, but of course all the material was in odd meters - yeah! With the exception of the voice box solo on "Wrecking Ball", all the leads were cut direct into ProTools using my Boss GT-6. My buddy Dr. Eric Smith loaned me an original Princeton Boogie and I used that for the voice box. I borrowed the amp for a couple of months knowing that I would use it somewhere on the disc and it was perfect for the voice box.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Were all the tunes written before you went to the studio?

Doug Doppler: No, funny actually how the whole thing came together. I had the basic grooves together, but it wasn't until the drums and final rhythm guitar parts were cut that I started working on the melodies. I really went into the whole thing not knowing how it would end up sounding. I knew that the melodies would be much less "modal" than "Ground Zero", as Nu Metal uses a very different palate harmonically speaking. I really enjoyed crafting the melodies as I had to do something quite different than I had done before, and there has been so little recorded in the way of melody and lead work in the Nu Metal realm.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you take the role of the "Listeners Guide", describing each song in some detail?

Doug Doppler: Sure, let's go in order as they appear on the disc. And yes, I labor over the perfect order. Just like a live set list, you want to make sure to provide the right peaks and valleys to keep the listener entertained.

"Fat Lip" is one of the tracks the really speaks towards the modernistic approach of the disc. Atma Anur used to compare this track to the scene from "The Matrix" where Neo is flying through the city. Pete Karr and I spent a lot of time finding the right loops for each track, and this one came out really well. He also really pushed me to come up with something different guitar-wise for each song, and he was the one who sent me out to find the Boss GT-6. I remember having my computer set-up in his living room, playing along to the track with the GT-6, and Pete coming in while I was flogging away on my whammy pedal preset. Pete plays guitar quite well, so I always had a little extra motivation to "make it happen" when he was in the room. So, when he came in to see what I was up to, I did the little whammy dance you hear throughout the track. When he walked away shaking his head I knew I was onto something. I really love the "rhythm guitar symphony" you hear introduced at 2:17 and again at 4:41 during the outro solo. Three tracks playing this heavy counterpoint, something I have never heard before. All in all, probably the most innovative track on the disc.

"Fire Down Below" is a great example of what home recording can do for the creative process. Often, as I was working on a track, I would loop it in ProTools while I did other stuff around the house. The clean rhythm guitar part that sits over the big chords in the intro and is heard throughout the track is a direct result of this process. I already had the drums, bass and dirty rhythm guitars tracked and was in the kitchen doing something when I heard the clean part on the intro. I remember rushing into the studio and laying the parts down on my Roland VG8, which I used for all the clean parts on the disc as well as for recording most of my bass tracks. The track in general uses the clean guitar as a counterpoint, and the chorus melody clearly has hints of the Hendrix's Power of Soul from the New Year's Ever 1969 performance at the Fillmore East. The double-tracked Boogies are used as a tool to build dynamics in the track. They are always coming up and down not only in dynamics, but also in how I used muting and abbreviation of the rhythm part in the A Section of the verses - again with the clean guitar providing harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint. The outro solo is pretty relentless, one of the spots on the record where I really opened it up and cut loose. Definitely more than just a hint of the strong influence that John McLaughlin has had on me.

"Wicked" is just one of my absolute favorite tracks from the disc. The track has a huge amount of attitude, and it is also the first time you hear the Vocoder. Once again, a big nod to Pete Karr for suggesting I go out and grab a Micro Korg and learn how to use the built-in Vocoder. The "breakdown" at 1:19 uses three tracks to create a really unique harmonic texture, this time with the original melody feeding back on a single note in the background, a melody concept, and a really cool filter effect on the GT-6. When the whole band comes in at 1:54, it is pretty much a giant moshfest with all the intensity that I love so much about Nu Metal. The outro solo is admittedly brutal, which of course is the point of the track.

"Grind" is one of the best rhythm-oriented tracks on the disc. A big nod to Alice in Chains for how they used time to create a huge "behind the click" feel to capture a giant groove. This track is a great example of all the pieces coming together in production to create something that for me is very cohesive. This one always comes across well live as it just grinds along, hence the name. This song also has one of my favorite melody tones on the disc - a little chorus, a little delay and bang - there it is!

"Wrecking Ball" is in the end, most likely my favorite track. All the elements of the disc are embodied here. The big double-tracked rhythm guitars, fat loops, the chimey clean guitar, and a soaring feel in the melody track. Again, wanting to do something new for myself, I finally got a chance to explore using a voice box. After a very frustrating learn on the fly session with the computer, I ended up getting a really cool performance down. The outro solo is reminiscent of that on Illuminations from my "Ground Zero" disc (my favorite from that disc), so from top to bottom this one gives me a tremendous amount of listening pleasure.

"Funky Armadillo" is the first track we recorded, and was very important in determining the course of the disc. Originally Pete and I had worked with the idea of using only drum loops on the disc, doing the whole splice and dice thing. One day in the studio with this song made it clear that was not going to work. I flew back up to the Bay Area and cut "Funky Armadillo", "Wicked" and "Grind" with Atma in the period of about an hour of actual recording time, once we had tones. He is just a machine in the studio, truly amazing. In any case, the first, but not final concept for the disc was to blend Nu Metal and blues-influenced guitar together with elements of funk and modern production. This song is an example of that, and the choice of the Fuzz Face model on the GT-6 hints at that via the melody and lead tones. At 2:29 you hear the introduction of the slide being used to imitate the sound of a DJ scratching. Tom Morello is a guy that both Pete and I have great respect for as a player, and his use of ultra-cool sounds was the inspiration for this part. I do a certain amount of scratching in our live set as well during the occasional breakdown, so this really added a cool element to the whole thing for me to work off of.

"Like Father Like Son" is the reflective piece on the disc, and I really enjoyed cutting the fretless bass. Having played it live so many times since then, I have really grown in my ability to deliver this song. At the time however, I really had to make a point of getting in the right headspace to evoke. I remember putting the guitar down, going out for a late night Thai food run, and coming back to the studio just tired enough to cut the melody and solo, more or less one pass as I recall. This song is dedicated to my father who at the time of the disc was both very sick with cancer and an avid supporter.

"Starcrossed Lovers" is for those who like hearing a nice long solo. I love this song - especially the A section of the verse with the nice clean guitars. The B section builds with the "traditional" double tracked boogie sound that players like Wes Borland and Brad Delson pull of so incredibly well. The first solo was a first take - I just had a feeling that if I didn't hit record I would miss something that for me was totally fresh - one of my favorite solos on the disc. And then of course, there is the outro solo. Funny story about this one actually. I was in the living room at Pete's working away and realized that I had accidentally overwritten the Guitar Synth patch on the GT-6 heard on "Fire Down Below". I was furious, but fortunately, I was playing at the time and my frustration was captured in the solo. The funny thing is that I was not intending to cut the "actual" track at the time, and the guitar was too low in the mix for proper monitoring as well. It wasn't until I played the solo back I realized that I had something I could use. I remember driving around the Valley that night listening to the track, remarkably amazed at the turn of events. If you like long solos, this one's for you!

"Bring It On" is most likely the heaviest track on the disc and really rumbles along. I think we mixed this one three times to finally get what for us felt right. Also, that is Brad Gillis of Night Ranger fame on the killer outro solo. Brad was one of the first guys to use a Floyd Rose and his whammy skills are just uncanny. Great player, great guy and a great addition to the disc.

"Bumpin' Grind" is also a big favorite of mine. I love Hendrix, blues, and Texas style guitar, and you can really hear that come through in this track. This is the refined version of where we started to go with "Funky Armadillo". This time, the track is much heavier and includes some of the groove I love so much about Limp Bizkit. I don't care what anyone says, they are one of the best bands I have ever heard. They play so damned well and have a groove a mile wide. The whole band can really play. The outro solo is a nod to Eddie Van Halen. I had this visual of Eddie hanging out in his studio at 4:00 in the morning while I was cutting that section of the song - I so love his playing.

"Five Hi" is a song leftover from the Doppler/Hamm/Anur project. The name is a play on words about the Chorus being in 5/4. In listening to this track you can hear where "Nu Instrumetal" got it's start, well before "Funky Armadillo" had been written. Big double-tracked rhythm guitars with the soaring melodies and leads over the top. The intro is one of my favorites. I am using the bridge pickup, but with the tone control backed all the way off. I have to give a nod to Al DiMeola for being a huge inspiration, and you can clearly hear the influence of records like "Elegant Gyspy" in my playing. The metal breakdown at 2:32 that builds into the first solo shows how much my Bay Area brothers Rick Hunolt of Exodus and Kirk Hammet of Metallica have influenced my playing. I have known both of them of years, and in fact referred Kirk to Joe Satriani for lessons. Rick was already studying with Joe when we first met in the early 80's. Thanks guys!

Guglielmo Malusardi: There are many amazing musicians (like your Favored Nations collegue Rob Balducci) that have a tight connection between titles and songs, on the other hand there are also amazing musicians that most of time give a title to the songs just because they must have one...What about you?

Doug Doppler: For me, it is very imporant that the title convey the imagery of the composition. I don't like to just give a song a name just because. For me I want the listener to know what I feel about a particular composition, even before they hear it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I liked very much your soloing on the album. Did you improvise or you write them down beforehand?

Doug Doppler: Thanks! Fortunately, as I have gotten older, I have grown in my ability to capture something in the studio. Most of the solos were first takes and none of them were worked out. When I play live I tend to incorporate some of the elements from the recorded solos, but as a general rule, since I feel I am always learning things about the guitar and myself, I strive to outdo myself. The disc is literally two years old, and I feel my playing has grown so much since then. I grew a lot in the process of making the disc, but the realization that comes from the dozens of shows we have played since the disc was finished has really augmented my sense of how I want to approach this music live.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you mostly use the first takes, or did you play more solos before being satisfied?

Doug Doppler: The only solo I really struggled with was with the voice box on "Wrecking Ball". I was alone in the studio trying to figure out how to use the thing. I had it attached to a boom stand and had to control the computer at the same time. The mic stand kept swinging back and forth as it wouldn't clamp down properly. After about an hour I finally got it right. I am sure that I would be rather embarrassed to see the carrying on that coincided with my getting that track done.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: Talking about guitar solos, I remember Steve Vai 's quote, "To a lot of people, a great guitar solo sounds like Morse code," any comments?

Doug Doppler: Keep in mind that Steve is for all purposes my boss, so I will answer in this fashion. For me, I want people to understand what I am doing because it evokes emotion. As a general, but not exclusive rule, I prefer the emotive to the intellectual.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How would you describe your style of playing?

Doug Doppler: Pretty simple actually. As of late I have been talking with my students about my approach to teaching and playing being the integration of left brain and right brain. The left is analytical and gets you out of a bind when you make a mistake, but the right is where you emote from. The ability to bring in the left brain is really important, but not as important as really being able to convey emotion in your playing. That said, a vast amount of knowledge is a great precursor in knowing the flavours you can employ in creating a beautiful musical tapestry.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about the musicians on the CD. Is Doppler Inc. a "well structured building demolition musical corporation" with permanent members, or will some members be replaced on touring dates?

Doug Doppler: The concept of Doppler, Inc. is a unit, not just a dude with a guitar. Again, with the exception of Billy and Stu, I cut all the bass, but that was more a matter of convenience. As noted on the back cover, the live band has been Steve Sarina on second guitar, Uriah Duffy on bass, and Atma Anur on drums. Although Atma is no longer with the band, his musical contribution was outstanding and was a key ingredient to getting this thing started. I am currently talking with a great drummer in L.A. named Walter Garces who came highly recommended from my old friend Kyle Harrison of Trampled Underfoot fame. He and I are going to get together in the next couple of weeks to see what kind of chemistry we have. is of course a great place to stay up to date on what we are up to.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Almost ten years have passed since you released "Ground Zero". What did you do in the meantime?

Doug Doppler: I do a lot of teaching, studio work, and web/flash design work as well. The marriage of technology and music has been a major plus for left/right brainers like myself. I am also working behind the scenes with a couple of music manufacturers in addition to handling some artist relations work for DiMarzio. I brought Brad Delson from Linkin Park on board, which was a lot of fun setting up. Really nice guy, and a great player!

I am about to start working with M-Audio on their Black Box project, and am using the Black Box extensively - both in my teaching studio and everywhere I record - my POD has been retired and is gathering lots of dust these days. Not only does the Black Box have killer amp models and effects, but also as in interface into Ableton Live, which comes bundled with the unit. In addition to having a built-in drum machine, the effects are beat-synched which means they either synch up to the tempo of the internal drum machine or Live via a USB cable. It is totally plug and play, and the tones, effects, and overall usefulness is through the roof.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Time to talk about your guitars. Are you endorsed? Do you collect guitars?

Doug Doppler: I have been an Ibanez endorser for the past ten years or so. In the mid-seventies, Ibanez made a number of incredible replicas of vintage Fenders and Gibsons. Ibanez guitars from that time are referred to as the "lawsuit era", and I have been collecting those.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Now let's talk about your own gear, are you endorsed?

Doug Doppler: Yes, I¥ve been endorsed by Ibanez for 5 years now, also Dean Markley strings, and I just signed with Bogner last year.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you use the same gear in the studio and also live?

Doug Doppler: Yes, the GT-6 is at the heart of my stage set-up and live I run it into the front end of a Marshall TSL100 head into a 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30's. I also use a Lahle splitter box that eliminates ground loop hum to switch between the Marshall and my rhythm amp - an ENGL Savage 120, which runs into a second 4x12 bottom loaded with Vintage 30's. For Doppler, Inc. both Steve Sarina and I exclusively use Ibanez S7470 7-String guitars loaded with DiMarzio pickups - amazing instruments.

Guglielmo Malusardi: My classic question. In my personal opinion, instrumental music is the highest form of musical art. Every human being from every country, language and even religion can enjoy immediately and totaly without any barrier. What is your opinion about it?

Doug Doppler: Well, classical music is loved by so many, but The Beatles for example have had such a huge influence as well. It would be hard to argue that the impact of the Beatles is somehow diminished by the presence of vocals.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about your musical formation. Did you learn by yourself? Private lessons with a teacher? Did you attend music schools?

Doug Doppler: I was blessed to have a number of great teachers. As a child I was in the San Francisco Boys Chorus, where I received a formal classical background. I also performed with the San Francisco Opera Company, and again I had a great opportunity to be surrounded to top notch professionals from the classical world at a very early age. I studied with Joe Satriani for 3 1/2 years during and just after high school, just before attending GIT in Los Angeles.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you still practice a lot? Do you have a usual daily routine?

Doug Doppler: In addition to Doppler, Inc., I am playing with Journey founder and fellow guitarist George Tickner. He is an amazing guy, great player and amazing musician in every sense of the word. Anyone familiar with the first two Journey discs knows that George wrote the bulk of those songs. He and I have an amazing chemistry and my best playing to date is being done at his studio. A number of the other Journey guys are involved in the project, so I am really elated to be involved. Check out for more information. Also, on Sundays I play at Christian City Church in San Francisco. We are in pre-production for our first disc, which will be entirely instrumental - a combination of originals and interpretations of vocal songs other CCC musicians have written. This music is really beautiful and the guitar is such an amazing instrument for reinterpreting vocals.

To answer your question, I do practice, but around my schedule which includes a lot of making and recording music. Keep in mind that I spent the better part of two decades practicing and playing an average of eight hours a day - or more!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you teach? If you do, what kind of students you have?

Doug Doppler: Yes, when Joe Satriani went out on the road with the Greg Kihn band, he asked me to take over teaching duties at the Berkeley, CA teaching studio I still use. These days I teach two 10 hour days a week. This keeps me connected as a teacher, but also leaves me freedom to do the numerous other things that are currently on my plate. My students range from kids just starting to avid professionals.

The thing that most excites me about what I am doing now is the integration of technology into the teaching process. I am using a Mini-DV cam to record the key parts of lessons, and then I either burn students a disc at the end of their lesson, or I upload the files to the web at the end of the night. I also incorporate various programs like ProTools, Garage Band, and Live into the framework. In addition to video, students often leave with progressions I record for/with them using the aforementioned programs. Often I'll come up with a progression that I show to a number of my students because it uses some key elements of my curriculum, or is simply a musically sound idea that I think will be useful as they mature on the instrument. Again, I'll send each student away with either a disc, or I'll upload an MP3 at the end of the night. If it is the latter, I send the student an e-mail letting them know where to find the file, and they can download it themselves. This is much more efficient for a track I use with numerous students. Since most CD players now play MP3s, they can burn a disc themselves, put it in their stereo, crank up their amp and play for real. Often I'll pan my guitar to one side so they can blend me in or out using the balance control on their computer or stereo.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Some guitar players like to listen to other guitarist's music. Some not so much and others
not at all. What about you?

Doug Doppler: Neal Schon's new disc on Favored Nations is so good. Neal is one of my favorite players and he just gets better and better. Also, I have to listen to music when I am in the shower, and "Crystal Planet" has been my favorite for the past couple of months.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Other than guitar music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Doug Doppler: I love pop music and will be spending more energy in the next couple of months on doing more sessions. I love working with female vocalists in particular - Natalie Imbruglia, Christina Aguilera, etc.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which instrumental song would you have liked to have written?

Doug Doppler: Steve Vai's "Blue Powder".

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell me the three best guitar solos ever, in your opinion.

Doug Doppler: Jeff Beck's "Final Piece" from "There And Back", Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven., and Journey's "Who's Cryin' Now" from the "Escape" album.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How do you see the situation for instrumental guitar oriented music for the future?

Doug Doppler: Things are getting better. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit really reminded people that the guitar is something that a band is built around. The fact the you go to a G3 show and see so many kids lets you know that there is still a very strong interest in "guitar" music, and I think it is growing, not declining. The only downside is that it is really hard to get a disc out these days which has real retail distribution. A lot of the small to medium size distributors have gone out of business and that is bad for artists who don't sell a lot of units.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are very close to releasing an instructional DVD, would you like to talk about it?

Doug Doppler: The first title in my Guitar 411 DVD series is done, and we are just in the process of finalizing distribution. This disc is called "Diatonic Theory and Harmony for Guitar", and is incorporates the concepts I learned from my classical training, studying with Joe Satriani, and most importantly to me builing and testing a curriculum over the past two decades that effectively explains how things work, how to pull them apart, put them back together and how to do so in a musical framework. From open position chords to seven chord to mode changing progressions in odd meters, it is all on there. The next disc is going to cover beginning guitar and is most likely going to feature some of my students so people can see for themselves the sorts of problems they to face when learning the instrument. The next one will be on advanced soloing techniques, and will feature the actual backing tracks for the solo section from "Nu Instrumetal". I am very excited about the series. Again for more information, people can log onto

Guglielmo Malusardi: What do you see yourself doing in a 5-10 year time frame? Did this album change your musical perspective?

Doug Doppler: I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. Honestly it has been a long term goal to join Joe and Steve as part of the G3 family. We actually played on the side stage the last time when they came through with Yngwie. The funny thing about goals is once you accomplish them, your next goals are so much bigger than the previous set of goals. That said, I know I want to work with Ozzy, and beyond all that, only the Lord knows what is in store for me. In terms of perspective, this disc has been a huge tool for challenging me to dig deeper. I can't give enough thanks to Pete Karr for pushing me to outdo myself and not settle for what I could already do, but instead discover what I had not yet done.

Guglielmo Malusardi: In your web site news, there is a very cool picture of you on stage jamming with Joe Satriani and Neal Schon. Give us some more details.

Doug Doppler: Joe, Neal and I have all known one another for a long time, and this was the first time we played together collectively. I used to demo for Schon guitars, and Neal and Joe have played together many times. Joe and Neal actually had a band with Sammy Hagar called Planet. Unfortunately they didn't make a record, nor did I have a chance to hear them - I am sure they were nothing short of amazing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: OK Doug, thank you very much indeed for the interview, feel free to leave a message to the readers.

Doug Doppler: Thanks Guglielmo! As far as anyone who is reading this, keep in mind that we all have gifts and callings. The greatest part of this is finding out who you are and what your giftings and callings are. No two of us are the same, but I do know that regardless of how well you do or don't play, I know that we all get about the same amount of pleasure from the instrument. Don't forget that it is about making music. The money and business only have a tendency to get in the way of that. So, to any of you out there who are home shredders, enjoy the control you have in your environment. The music business is about business not music, and when you get to create music for the sake of music, you are every bit as close to it as I am, so please don't forget to enjoy the gift that you have been given. God Bless.

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Several years after his previous release "Ground Zero", with one more string on his guitar (as if six strings weren't enough to rock the world), the San Francisco based guitarist/songwriter Doug Doppler is preparing, for Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, his new CD entitled "Nu Instrumetal".

Guglielmo Malusardi met with Doppler to talk about his new album and many other musical topics of interest.