Interview: Martin Motnik

Dan McAvinchey
Guitarists and Bands , Interviews
Dan McAvinchey: Martin, you have a new album out, entitled "Dream Chaser". Talk about what has changed for you since your 2005 album "Bass Invader" as you approached recording these new compositions in the studio?

Martin Motnik: Thanks so much for having me! Well, interestingly enough the writing and recording process hasn't been a whole lot different than it was for “Bass Invader”. The biggest change was that back then I was still living in Munich, Germany whereas now I'm living in Nashville, Tennessee. I have my own recording studio which I usually use to record bass tracks for other artists through my website That's where I've recorded my parts and also sketched out demo drum tracks and dummy solos, to give my guest musicians an idea of the general feel of the song. It was clear to me that I wanted to have some killer drum tracks on my album again, just like Gregg Bissonette on my first album, and more guest soloists like Swedish guitar wizard Mattias IA Eklundh. Only who, and how many, wasn't clear in the beginning; that was something that developed over time.

Dan McAvinchey: What did you do differently on "Dream Chaser" compared to your previous album?

Martin Motnik: The biggest difference was that this time I had a few song ideas in my drawer that I had collected over the previous years, whereas my first album was created pretty much entirely while I was recording it. But even those new ideas were mostly only rudimentary licks or riffs. The final song parts, structures, and arrangements developed while I was recording the music.

Dan McAvinchey: Let's talk about the process you used on "Dream Chaser", How did you write the songs, and how did you manage the collaborations with your impressive array of special guests (Joe Satriani, Wolf Hoffmann, Bruce Kulick, Frank Gambale, Trev Lukather, Andy Timmons, Mattias IA Eklundh, Tim Tucker, Jennifer Batten, Derek Sherinian)?

Martin Motnik: I love many musical styles, which is something I wanted to express on my album. The ideas that I collected over the years then kinda naturally developed into different genres; I didn't even try to cover any particular styles but instead let them naturally become what they wanted to be. That's how I ended up with a variety of styles, from melodic rock to Latin to RnB to jazz to blues. It was all very organic.

When it was time to choose my guest musicians I had to first decide who I would ask to play the drums. Over the years I had worked with some incredible drummers who also became friends, and I wanted to have a few of them play, and make sure they would fit to the styles of the different songs.

Since 2019 I'm a member of German pioneers of heavy metal ACCEPT, so I invited our drummer Christopher Williams to play on three songs. Christopher is not just a total machine when playing metal, but he's an incredibly well-rounded drummer who added a fantastic touch to the songs.

A few years prior I had met Walfredo Reyes Jr. at a clinic in Munich who is now in the band Chicago, but has played drums and percussion with Steve Winwood, Christina Aguilera, or Santana. I wrote two songs that are Latin-influenced, so who would be a better drummer and percussionist than someone who played with the mighty Carlos Santana?

Also a few years ago I met Joe Babiak who was the drummer for speed shredder Michael Angelo Batio. Michael played a show with Uli Jon Roth from The Scorpions, who I did several tours with. I saw Joe play and was absolutely blown away by his versatility, timing, and accuracy, and started talking to him after the show. He turned out to be a super nice guy and we became close friends over the years, so it was a given that I wanted him on the album.

And of course I also wanted to play with Gregg Bissonette again, so I asked him to play on three songs as well.

After the drumming foundation was laid, I started reaching out to musicians who I wanted to play a guest solo. The goal was to have people on my album who have been heroes of mine and who had an impact on my musical or even personal life. I've always been inspired by some of the best musicians, so by wanting to have those caliber players I was literally reaching for the stars.

For each song I deliberately chose musicians who would fit the particular style of the song. For instance there's a R'n'B/fusion song that instantly gave me the idea for jazz hero and sweeping legend Frank Gambale, hoping he would add an over-the-top sweep solo to the tune, which he did. I called the song “Do Not Open That Door“, since the whole song is pretty chill, until the middle part goes into a crazy slap and then sweeping Gambale-solo, kinda like being in a quiet lounge and then opening the door to a neighboring room where some craziness is going on.

Another highlight – even though it's hard for me to pick a favorite since all the songs are special to me – is Joe Satriani's solo on the opening track “Departure". The song is very vibey in the beginning but then becomes this driving melodic rock song, and after recording the most part of it it reminded me of Joe's “Flying In A Blue Dream”. I never thought I would get him to play a solo, but after sending my demo to his manager, I got the reply that he would like to partake! When he sent me the finished track he told me that he was inspired by Eddie Van Halen who had just passed away not long prior. The solo of course blew me away, and I thought it was very kind and very appropriate to pay tribute to another guitar legend whom I unfortunately never had the honor to play with.

I also have to thank Gregg Bissonette for getting me in touch with Andy Timmons. During the recording session of Gregg‘s tracks for my album – which I was able to watch live via Zoom from Nashville while he was recording in Los Angeles – Gregg asked me who I would want to have as a guest musician on the song he was playing on at that moment, and I said I would love to ask Andy Timmons but I didn't know how to get in touch with him. I had met Andy a few years ago at the NAMM show and we talked briefly (I even introduced him and Uli Jon Roth to each other at an after show-party) but I had no contact information. That's when Gregg looked at me through the camera and said "Andy and I are playing in a band called the Reddcoats! I can get you in touch with him, no problem!“ Before I could say anything Gregg pulled out his cell phone and sent a group message to Andy and myself, connecting the two of us on the spot. Andy himself could not have been a nicer guy, and when I sent him the song he played the most amazing solo which was just full of feeling and simply beautiful.

I could tell long stories about each guest artist and how we got in touch, but I would probably exceed the length of this interview. A few of those contacts were either personal connections I had in the past, like Jennifer Batten whom I had talked to at another NAMM show a few years ago, or of course my boss Wolf Hoffmann from Accept who has been a guitar hero in my book since the early 80s. Former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and I had played on a record a few years ago, and Steve Lukather‘s son Trev was a regular at the jam sessions at the Baked Potato where I would regularly go to when I was living in Los Angeles. In the same era was my encounter with Frank Gambale who I had seen at the now defunct Café Cordiale in LA. When I wanted to get in touch with him I found his website and attached a picture of him and me that I took back then to refresh his memory, and I'm not sure if it helped but he agreed to play on that song. Derek Sherinian was a total cold call, but it was actually my brother's idea to have a keyboard on that last song, and so I researched Derek's contact information and sent him an email with the demo.

A special piece of music is the song ”Take a Breath” which I've actually written almost 30 years ago for the high school jazz-rock ensemble that I was a part of. We had performed the song a couple of times live, but I was never able to get a good quality recording of it. The song is a bit unusual because it's more of a big band style and features my very dear friend Tim Tucker on trumpet, who used to be the lead trumpet player for the United States Marine band. Tim and I met over two decades when he was a singer in a cover band in Germany that was looking for a bass player. I auditioned, got the gig, and Tim and I stayed friends ever since. Tim is like family to me and he's helped me tremendously in the pursuit of my own American dream, and so I wanted to feature him on this album for musical and personal reasons. I also wanted to connect a few dots with that song, namely that Gregg Bissonette was the drummer for legendary trumpet player Maynard Ferguson who was Tim's influence, also the fact that I wanted to finally have a good recording of the song that I wanted to show my old bandmates, and the fact that Tim and Gregg had met each other at one of Gregg‘s concerts in 2008.

Last but not least Mattias IA Eklundh‘s solo is actually an Easter egg for all hardcore Martin Motnik fans (laughs). It's this jazz song in Real Book style with Gregg Bissonette on drums, and one evening in my studio I was playing around and found out that it had the same key and tempo of the opening song “Bee on Speed“ on “Bass Invader” on which Mattias had played a solo. I found the original solo track that Mattias had sent me and inserted it into the arrangement, and to my amazement it fit almost perfectly. I only had to make a couple of cuts, but then it was seamless and sounded just like how I would have imagined his solo to be if I had asked him to play again. I did send him a demo of this version because I wanted him to approve, and luckily he got back to me and said he liked it a lot. I'm happy that Mattias has such a great sense of humor and he appreciated the inside joke.

I have to say this, without Covid it would've probably been much harder to get these monster players to contribute, but like most of us many of them were cooped up at home as well, so they had time to participate.

So long story short, getting in touch with my guest musicians was a mix between personal contacts, referrals, and a couple of cold calls/emails. Also, the musicians don't do these appearances for free. I would never expect anyone to play on my album for free, but it's also how we all make a living.

My main objection in this project was that every musician should totally express themselves and put their unique fingerprints on them. And they all did! Each track completely blew me away and I was amazed and humbled by the quality, the playing, the feel, and the sound of all of those recordings. It's high pressure when you decide to make an album and ask absolute world class celebrity musicians to contribute. But I did my best, and I'm happy with my parts, and I'm absolutely over the moon about my guests.

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Dan McAvinchey: Have you gotten a new piece of gear, or a new bass, that you found particularly useful while writing or recording?

Martin Motnik: I just remember that there is another significant difference between "Bass Invader" and "Dream Chaser". I have added the upright bass to my arsenal of instruments. So that made a difference since I started playing that instrument only after I had already moved to the United States. However, most tracks on my album are played with electric bases and just like on my first album I heavily relied on my three custom basses by Jens Ritter instruments. They're still my nearest and dearest instruments and keep me inspired. I did expand my arsenal with a couple of Fender Precisions, and I also started playing Sadowsky Basses in Accept. Getting new basses is always very inspiring but I did use mostly the Ritters for the recordings.

I also honestly don't have a lot of external gear since I own a large collection of plug-ins for my recording program which give me all the amps, sounds, or effects that I can imagine. I record in Logic Audio which I have been using since the 90s when it was still a product by the German software company emagic. Logic has come so far in quality with its built in plug-ins that I would be hard-pressed to match that sound with outboard gear, if I could even afford that. My signal chain is very simple, coming from the bass into a Universal Audio LA-610 preamp through an additional dbx 1066 compressor into a Avid Eleven Rack audio interface, which has the advantage that I can play with an amp sound while recording the bass signal DI. A new favorite of mine is the Comprexxor plugin by IK Multimedia, which is an amazing simulation of the legendary Distressor compressor. I'm thankful about the possibilities that modern technology offers all of us. Only 20 years ago it would've cost a fortune to record an album in my quality in a traditional recording studio. The fact that I'm able to do this virtually anywhere it's just amazing.

Dan McAvinchey: Which track in particular of the tracks from "Dream Chaser" do you personally enjoy playing the most?

Martin Motnik: It's difficult to pick a song since honestly I enjoy all of them in their own way because they're stylistically so different from each other. It depends on the mood of the day I guess. When I'm really energetic I like jamming along to “Arrival" featuring Christopher Williams and Derek Sherinian. It's a lot of fun to trade solos with Derek, even if it's just virtually. When I'm more in a quiet mood I really love the song “Harmonycs" with Jennifer Batten. I really like the techniques that I've used in that song, as the title suggests a lot of harmonics and a chill melody, And when Jennifer's solo kicks in it's just one long goosebumps moment. Other times I break out the acoustic bass and play along “Ensenada" with Wally Reyes' percussion and drums and Wolf's incredibly heavy solo, picking up the melody which makes it all fit together perfectly. I would love to know which songs your readers choose to be the most fun to jam to.

Dan McAvinchey: We recently did a survey where site visitors told us about their favorite effect (delay/echo, distortion/overdrive, chorus, flange, etc.). What is your favorite?

Martin Motnik: That depends entirely on the situation. Generally I'm not a fan of logging around too much gear. I'm a fan of digital technology, since it made a lot of things more compact, lighter, and more convenient. When I play live I like the effects pedals by Line 6 which offer me a plethora of effects while being extremely compact. I usually bring an M9 pedal and use a compressor setting, preferably an MXR pedal simulation, and sometimes a bit of chorus or a flanger. Another pedal that I've really come to like is the Gallien-Krueger Plex which is extremely versatile with its sounds and capabilities. It simulates the preamps of GK's most famous amps, also offers compression and distortion, it's got a tuner built-in, and it even serves as a recording interface. Especially when traveling it's an incredibly useful device.

When I record bass tracks in the studio and I'm not going crazy on my own solo album but instead record tracks for other artists, I try to keep the effects very simple. The LA-610 gives a nice but subtle compression on the DI signal while afterwards I like using a channel strip plug-in on the bass track to fine-tune the sound, usually a simulation of an SSL channel strip. When I'm done I send my clients the raw DI signal as well as a track with an effect setting that I would personally use, as a suggestion. Sometimes I also re-amp the signal so that you can make a mix between the DI and an amp sound.

I do have one treasured piece of gear though which is a Sans Amp pedal that was given to me by legendary rock producer Michael Wagener when he retired and sold his studio. I asked him to sign it and he wrote “To Martin! Turn it up!” on the bottom of the case. He told me it was one of the prototypes that Sans Amp had made, and this pedal is now one of my most favorite pieces in my studio.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you currently deal with social media and promotion?

Martin Motnik: Social media is a blessing and a curse in my opinion. It is amazing how we can all be in touch with each other no matter where we are in the world, and stay up-to-date on what everyone is doing. That's especially great when you have friends all over the world, or like in my case when you live on a different continent than your family. On the other side, those social media sites do have a lot of dark spots. The increasing polarization of the different sides online has in my opinion led to a further divide between people in real life, and it's scary to know how some organizations misuse these platforms to further divide us for their own agendas. I'm trying to utilize social media channels almost exclusively to talk about my musical work, and I don't share too much personal private topics on there. I try to avoid making political statements since I don't feel that they have any impact beyond causing destructive comments. I rather let my music speak, and that's what I promote on those channels.

With that being said, I'm present on all major social media pages, and thanks to my unique name I'm pretty easy to find. I try not to overload my pages with content, since I feel that some people tend to overshare which can get annoying. I do post scenes from the studio or when we're on the road (which will hopefully happen again soon). Also during the production and now the release of my new album I have been sharing making-of videos and produced complete play-along videos on YouTube and Facebook, with excerpts and teasers being posted on Instagram and TikTok. I'm not on a strict schedule like other YouTubers who publish content regularly, but I do try to keep my pages up-to-date and upload fresh videos or photos often enough to keep it interesting. Again, digital technology is amazing, and the fact that we can now promote our music as independent artists basically all over the world for almost nothing is mind-blowing!

Dan McAvinchey: Where is your home base these days, and how is the live scene there?

Martin Motnik: After living in Los Angeles and then Las Vegas, I worked as a bass player and music director on cruise ships for four years, and when I was done at the end of 2018 I decided to give Nashville a try. I knew that the city has a lively music scene that I had planned of diving into, but then I heard that Peter Baltes had announced his departure from Accept, so l went online and found the contact address for their management on the band's website, and sent them an application email in German. I stated that I would love the opportunity to audition if they decided to continue the band, which wasn't a given in my opinion since I knew how important Peter was for the sound of the band. But I did get the chance to audition, and shortly after I got the gig. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! So instead of getting into the local scene I ended up going on tour in Europe. Only when we came back I started to network and get to know several people who perform regularly on Broadway, so now I play downtown when I'm not on the road.

To give you an idea, Lower Broadway as it's called is a stretch of about 5 blocks that is filled with live clubs on both sides, and which have live music seven days a week from 10am until 2am or even later. So there are many opportunities to perform. I also want to get into the local studio scene as a session bass player. Because of the touring and then the pandemic I wasn't able to knock at studio doors as much as I wanted to. I love recording bass and could do it all day every day, so if your readers need bass tracks tell them to send me a message!

Dan McAvinchey: What do you feel has been your greatest musical achievement to date?

Martin Motnik: I think my biggest accomplishment is that I was able to teach myself an instrument that now enables me to make a living and travel the world. I did have music classes in high school, but besides a couple of basically jam sessions with a guitar teacher of our local music store, I never had any actual bass lessons or any advanced musical education. I learned how to play by watching instructional VHS tapes, for instance by Billy Sheehan and Jerry Jemmott, but even more from listening and playing along to the albums of my brother's record collection. That's why I say that I'm able to survive solely by playing music without having actually learned it is I think my biggest achievement.

There are definitely highlights that stick out, such as playing three North American tours with legendary guitar player of The Scorpions Uli Jon Roth who is named as having influenced Metallica, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Warren DeMartini, and countless other great guitar players. Uli is incredibly spiritual and I've learned many things on a musical, spiritual, and human level from touring with him.

Another amazing moment was recording with two members of the legendary studio band The Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine on drums and Don Randi on piano, Both played on thousands of legendary recordings, from the Beach Boys to Elvis to Sinatra. I played on two songs with them, and we recorded all instruments at the same time, just like they've done it back in the day. I was only thinking to myself "OK, no pressure, but you're about to play with these two legendary musicians who have done thousands of recordings like this, so don't mess it up!" But we had a great time and it felt fantastic recording with these legends. Unfortunately Hal Blaine passed away in 2019 at the age of 90. I would've loved to have him play a song on my album.

And of course the biggest achievements in recent years are my joining of Accept which is a total dream come true and then the release of "Dream Chaser" with the fact that I was able to get some of my biggest musical heroes to record with me.

Dan McAvinchey: Looking forward to a better 2022, what's on your musical agenda?

Martin Motnik: I'm probably going to give the same answer that every musician is giving right now, that I really hope we get to play live concerts again in 2022. Not only is it basically the only way how musicians can still make a living these days, since streaming platforms hardly give artists enough revenue to survive, but it's also a necessity on a psychological level for both musicians and music fans. It's been good to see how everybody got creative and started jamming together virtually, and I can understand why we would try to make the concert experience virtual. But in my opinion watching a concert at home on your computer screen or even with Virtual Reality goggles will never be able to compete with the full body experience of being physically at a concert venue. You cannot simulate the energy of the people around you, the effect of the loud volume on your entire body, feeling the bass drum kick you in the stomach, the vibration of the bass, and the cheering of the crowd around you.

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If you're a fan of the 'low-end', German-born bassist Martin Motnik has to be on your radar. After releasing a superb solo album he recorded in 2005 with drummer Gregg Bissonette called "Bass Invader", Motnik has kept very busy, joining the seminal German metal outfit Accept in 2019, and now releasing his latest album "Dream Chaser".

Dan McAvinchey conducted this remote interview with Motnik recently to talk about "Dream Chaser", virtual jamming, and keeping musically active during these trying times.