Interview: Frank Caruso

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's start with the title - why "Kaleidoscope"?

Frank Caruso: It's very simple. "Kaleidoscope" is a work born in parallel with my other musical activity, for television and Arachnes, and the result has been different musical sounds mixed together in one context. I liked the idea of putting together my musical passion for blues, hard rock, neo-classical metal and power rock, and if we think of each style of music like colors on a canvas, then the result is a "Kaleidoscope", where everyone can imagine the design they wish, depending on their own emotions.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about the whole process of creation; beginning with the composition of the first tune. How long was it?

Frank Caruso: When I'm writing music usually I'm fast; I prefer to follow the instinct of the moment, rather than rethinking it the next day, but I never force things. If a song doesn't work, it means that it had a bad beginning. I begin always with the riffing; my classical education leads me to think of music as architecture, so the construction is more solid with a good foundation. If there is a solid foundation, you can construct what you want on top. Therefore, in music, if the harmonic structure is good, you can be more creative with all the rest of it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to "introduce" every track with a comment or two?

Frank Caruso: "Walking On A Blue Sky" is a hypothetical travel in the sky on the wings of a light wind but impetuous, and the melody of the refrain evokes just this feeling, breezy and free.

"Red Passion" is more deep in the riffing, but passionate; it recalls the passion of the feelings; as color, I associate it with red.

"Metal Force" has a metallic riff, like "Seek And Destroy", therefore no words, only metal force!

"White And Black" has a funky soul, therefore black, contrary to the white, which is more European, so white and black.

"Ice Of Fire" reminds me of two strong things: fire, which I identify with the speed of the piece and overall virtuosity, and the power of ice, implacable and constant.

"Shadows" is one of my favorite songs, ambiguous, with a deep riff that reminds me of some shadows.

"Hard And Easy" is at the same time hard and melodic - therefore easy, but at the same time hard.

"Crazy Car" has an American freeway riff, but an unforeseeable virtuosity, therefore, crazy car!

"Adagio" recalls the slow tempo of classic music, therefore is referring to the BPM of the song.

"Lobotomy", "Parallel Worlds" and "Labyrinth" are the same songs from the Arachnes CDs, but all instrumental versions.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Who played with you on the CD?

Frank Caruso: I mostly played all the instruments, almost all the bass and keyboards parts, except some keyboard solos that were done by my brother Enzo. The drums are played by my Arachnes' drummers Jaco and Stefano Caironi; I prefer to work with people I trust.

Guglielmo Malusardi: This is your first, and hopefully not the last, instrumental solo album. What's your goal with this CD?

Frank Caruso: "Kaleidoscope" was recorded for amusement. All of my musical career I have always said, "Sooner or later I will make a solo album," and the moment has arrived. I thought I would make it only for me, instead I have found more unexpected interest! A lot of fun for me, but also a great answer to criticism - and for an Italian guitar player, that's double! I do not anticipate great sales for a product that serves up passionate guitar playing, but I think that my music is also sufficiently melodic so that non-guitar players can listen to it. It was such a beautiful experience I'm sure there will be a sequel, but this time, I would like to play with other guitar players.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You recorded the album at your own studio, "Phantom Studio". Talk about the toys you used for the sessions for the benefit of all the recording maniacs out there.

Frank Caruso: First of all, I advise to all those who can, to work in their own recording studio, so you can be free from conditions such as timetables and costs! I opened my studio in 1996 when I worked doing TV spots and was tired of spending money and time at other recording studios. I invested a lot in my own studio!

As you might imagine, you must invest in technology. I began, for example, with a fabulous Studer A80 that I still have (and I now use It for a "vintage" sound), I eventually changed to a Tascam hard disk recording system, and later changed to Pro Tools-Steinberg (Cubase/Wavelab) depending on the compatibility requirements with other studios with which I collaborate.

For mixing, I have an Allen & Heat 40 channel analog mixer with automation, but more often I use a small Digital Yamaha 01 Pro; at this point, software controls almost everything. For reverb, I have a timeless Lexicon that I always use, For the compression I like Beheringer very much, and I use a Digitech Harmonizer. For the monitoring, after years of using Yamaha NS-10s (I didn't like the low end), I changed to a Yamaha pre amplifier with bass reflex from 80 watts, much better.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Time to talk about your guitars and the ones you used on the sessions.

Frank Caruso: I have different guitars, all customs: a fabulous Fender Stratocaster from 1971, which is used for a more vintage sound and blues; and a Fender Stratocaster Limited Ed. Ritchie Blackmore, obviously my preferred guitar, with the fretboard entirely scalloped, a jewel! I have a Yamaha 421 DM with Di Marzio pick-ups and a Floyd Rose, which is much comfortable when I play fast. I have one guitar I put together, with the neck similar to an Ibanez and a Frank Gambale pick-up, with passive electronics and contacts with high conductivity and low impedance. It's got no volume and tone knobs, only one on/off switch, just to obtain the maximum output signal.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about your amps.

Frank Caruso: Today a lot of work is done by the digital EQ, but not all! I have a Hughes & Kettner valve pre amp with the valves section modified with Mesa Boogie frames, a Beheringer compression unit, and I use often Marshall amps or an amp simulator.

I think it was a small miracle pulling out sounds for the solos with only the Beheringer Virtual Amp, like a Pod! Now I've switched, thanks to the suggestion of my friend Sebo Xotta, to a live Pod XT, which is spectacular! I suggest It to everyone! I use a lot of distortion for the harmonics, then I cut the compression frequencies for louder rhythm, while for the solos I use 4000/6000 Hz, so I have high/medium tonality for solos that fits perfectly with the loudness of the rhythm parts.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which effects?

Frank Caruso: I always use a short reverb, then a longer reverb and a stereo panning delay. Aside from the digital plug-in for mixing, I use Lexicon, which provides optimal quality.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: In searching for the right tone (seems to be a good title for an ambitious book, but it's no more than how guitarists spend their life). What is the sonic reference point for your sound? When and how do you feel you've selected the right one?

Frank Caruso: Well, I think the most important is never to force things. You can become a slave to your sound. I'll explain. Everyone tries to create his or her own "personal color" or tone, but it might not work for every song. Sometimes it just ends up sounding bad! I prefer instead to start from 'my sound', and modify it for the song that I am working on. The best result is when you listen to the song and everything sounds OK.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Name three guitarists whose sound you like the most.

Frank Caruso: Ritchie Blackmore, Vinnie Moore and Joe Satriani.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to describe the tunes from the CD from a technical perspective?

Frank Caruso: As I said, every song is in its own "world", therefore technically it is difficult to describe in detail. I start with my standard sound, then I add distortion with valves, compression, reverb and panning delay, I tweak the final sound playing with the equalization and adding the DSP.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tracks 10, 11 and 12 are remastered instrumental versions from "Parallel Worlds" by Arachnes, your prog metal band. Let's talk about those songs.

Frank Caruso: Arachnes, until now, has been my most important project. It will continue to be, but I didn't intend to stick with just one musical experience, so I have begun to explore the guitar; in the meantime I am finishing another gothic/medieval production with a female voice, in addition to the new Arachnes! The important thing is not to stop. I choose these three songs because they were written as instrumental, afterwards we wrote the lyrics, but I think they are better as instrumental songs and this was the opportunity to play them that way!

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did you develop yourself as a musician?

Frank Caruso: I started at six years old playing the classical piano until age 13. When I was 10 years old, I also began to play the guitar, and I have not stopped since! I attended different music schools, and I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Sacred Music and Gregorian. It might seem strange, but it has been a big source of culture for me.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I read in your biography that Brian May was a big influence, "May is the soul of every sound that a guitar can produce, and he was my source for the touch and plectrum grip." Did you mean that you play with a coin instead than a pick as well?

Frank Caruso: No, I play with a normal plectrum! I meant to say that I have learned how he plays the guitar, for example, his use of the palm mute, the harmonic and his "touch" on the strings. To play something like "Brighton Rock" was a big workout for the right hand! Also the use of the vibrato, like in "Adagio", is like a combination of Brian May and Joe Satriani.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I also read (and really liked) what you said about Joe Satriani, "Joe Satriani represents to me the ideal figure of a modern guitarist who straddles science and poetry." Could you explain?

Frank Caruso: Thanks! I think Satriani is the figure of the modern guitar player. He has tremendous musical knowledge, he is not slave of to technique (Malmsteen) but a servant of the "music goddess", and in that respect he gives the best of himself. As I have said on other occasions, I have too much respect for music as art and discipline that I don't It should be only pure technical exhibitionism.

Satriani is the perfect mix between science and poetry, and he also brings in something new - new colors and new sounds ("Surfing With The alien") that at the time were unthinkable! That's why for me he's the top!

Guglielmo Malusardi: I'm very curious about your musical studies in sacred music...What drove you in that direction?

Frank Caruso: I had begun to study classical piano, and the more and more I studied, the more passionate I got about the history of music. Learning the Gregorian Chant, led me to discover a new world and a new way of thinking. I use aspects of sacred music every time I harmonize guitar parts and the chorus.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Next year you'll be 40 years old, which means you have been playing guitar for quite a long time already...How would you characterize the last twenty years of the instrumental guitar-oriented music scene?

Frank Caruso: I'm glad for having been alive in the years 1980 through 2000, which have been great for guitarists, but less happy to have lived in Italy, often far from the important labels and record companies who were putting out this great music.

I think the guitarists that have permanently altered guitar playing are Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai - at least they lead to the idea of a virtuoso guitar player. Now we have a lot of clones, people who are great guitarists, but are not forces out there changing the way we play guitar.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Play the "clairvoyant", what we should expect in the next twenty years?

Frank Caruso: I have learned from life to expect everything, but especially to "play the game" at the right moment! I think guitarists in the future have to search for new timbers and roles for the instrument, I mean "role" in the orchestral sense, a completely musical role, rather than simply reaching for supersonic speeds. A search for new colors - so "Kaleidoscope" makes sense...

Guglielmo Malusardi: You also are a very in-demand musician for TV and film productions.

Frank Caruso: It is an activity that I've done for a long time and I like it. I have written for RAI and Mediaset TVs and I've composed TV spots and soundtracks (Westling, Moto GP) where a rock sound is needed, but not only just rock, and this amuses me because it allows me to explore different sounds and I can musically say many things in a short time frame - stimulating indeed!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Frank, thank you very much for the interview; let's close with your future plans.

Frank Caruso: Thank you for the your time and for the excellent work that you do, for giving the opportunity to those who create music, not just top sellers. In the future I will continue to make music, incessantly. I would like to do collaboration with other guitarists who play in a different style than mine and maybe write an album and play live. I am working on it already, and I have talked with someone friends. It'll be one more thing to add to Arachnes and to my new gothic project. Long live rock and roll!

Original Italian language interview appeared in Axe Magazine n.112 August 2006 - © Guglielmo Malusardi / Edizioni Palomino

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No doubt about the huge musical echo of his family name, Caruso, like one of the greatest Italian tenors. No doubt also about the outstanding musical ability of this Italian guitarist and composer. Born and based in Milan, Franco "Frank" Caruso shows, with his first, long awaited, almost all instrumental, (except a great cover of Raimbow's "Kill The King") guitar-oriented album "Kaleidoscope", that Milan is not just about fashion, business and tourism. At least one guy can definitely play guitar!

Guglielmo Malusardi had the chance to meet Frank in a rare moment off from his busy musician agenda. They spoke about his new CD and several other things.