Interview: Scott Allen

Dan McAvinchey: Scott, let's start with your CD "What Lies Beyond Words". What were your goals initially when you begen recording tracks for the album?

Scott Allen: I would say that what I wanted to accomplish with my CD would
be make an instrumental guitar record that is more inclusive to non-musicians. I was lucky enough to have someone with the talent and experience of Frank Hannon producing the record, so I knew that the quality was going to be top notch. In fact Tesla's "The Great Radio Controversy" was one of my favorite albums when I first started playing, so it was a real thrill. But I really felt that many instrumental and progressive CDs basically dared the average listener to like them. I wanted to have a guitar album that was more mainstream and song oriented.

I didn't do this to try to up CD sales, it is just that that is where my own tastes lie. I am just as influenced by Dave Matthews, U2, Coldplay, Tori Amos, Alanis Morssette, Collective Soul, and John Mayer as I am by Satriani, Vai, Van Halen, Rush and Dream Theater. I realize that the worlds of pop music and progressive shred make unusual bedfellows, but I just went with my instincts, and if I really dug what I was doing it went on the CD.

It was really important to me that all of the crazy shred guitar on the record be song driven and not the other way around. As a listener, I want to hear songs, not a brief melodic section and then eight minutes of jamming. As a guitarist it might be a thrill to hear a bunch of wild shred guitar, but as a listener, it bores me to tears.

Dan McAvinchey: When you were studying guitar technique, did you have the idea to make your own CDs in the back of your mind at that time?

Scott Allen: Yes, definitely. From the moment I started playing I was writing
original material. I have always been more interested in getting into a players headspace than trying to just cop their licks. I always figured it would be in a traditional band context, in fact I have spent years in both metal bands and pop/rock bands doing just that. But I really have found that my strength is in instrumental guitar with pop and metal leanings. My owns musical tastes lie all over the map, so I try to meld all of my stylistic tendencies in what I do.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little about the gear you use to get your sound.

Scott Allen: Starting from the guitar, I am using a Vigier Excalibur custom.
I absolutley gush when I talk about these guitars because they rule. It is easily the best playing guitar on the market. I am using Dimarzio pick-ups and S.I.T. strings on all of my guitars. From there I plug into one of the effects loops on my pedal board. It then goes into a Boss TU-12 tuner, and then into a Morley Wah/Volume pedal. It
then goes to a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal, and an HR-2 Harmony pedal. Then out to my Peavey Valveking head.

The Valveking is unique in the sense that it has a texture control that allows you to
sweep between Class A and A/B settings. I like it best when set to the A/B setting as the Valveking is very reminiscent of the 5150 on that setting, only with more presence. In the effects loop of the Valveking I am run my rack effects which consist of a Furman power conditioner, a Lexicon MPX-100 multieffects processor, a DBX compressor, and a BBE sonic maximizer. All of my cabling is George L cables. I used to be kind of a skeptic as to how much cables really mattered, but since I stared using George L's I am a believer.

Depending on what I'm doing I sometimes will bring in a Marshall 100 watt valvestate head to run my effects when I am using multiple cabinet setups. In that case, I run the Peavey Valveking as my dry head. Again, depending on the gig I might go anywhere from a single half stack, to two 100 watt heads through three 4x12 cabs. But that is only for big shows. As most players who have to lug their own gear can tell you, smaller is usually better.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Scott Allen: Wow, there are tremendous advantages to being an independent musician. The first of which is complete artistic freedom. Another
advantage is that you don't have to sell 25,000 copies before you make any money. Most of us would be happy with a couple of thousand in sales total.

But to be realistic, you can only really make a big splash if you have a larger label behind you to help with promotions and get you in front of the right audiences. There are tons of independent artists out there, but I find that in the indie punk/alternative world there is more of a community. In the progressive shred world there seems to be much less of a community. Particularly when it comes to gigging and touring, which for an independent instrumental guitarist is extremely difficult. I feel that we tend to feel that the market is so small that any new blood in town is making less success to go around. But I think that thanks to sites like Guitar 9, this new indie community has a chance to grow into a worldwide support system for artists.

Dan McAvinchey: What are tha challenges facing guitarists who hope to stand out from the pack, as more and more artists release their own albums?

Scott Allen: I think that the challenges facing all guitarists trying to make a splash is primarily finding your own piece of ground to call home. With such talents out there as Vai, Satriani, Vinnie Moore, Greg Howe, Rusty Cooley, Buckethead, Paul Gilbert, etc. it can become tempting to get into a "keep up with the Joneses" mentality. Kind of a "let's see what licks Paul Gilbert is doing and what is Vai up to, and do I have enough of those licks on my record." I think what needs to happen is just to follow your own muse, wherever it leads you. If you love what you are doing, and it is coming from your heart, chances are you're onto something.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment?

Scott Allen: Well, one thing that is certainly true is that you need to get your name out there. I have been featured in many national and international magzines and webzines, as well as many web and traditional radio stations. Getting a good press kit together and doing a little homework goes a long way. This exposure has
helped tremendously in getting my music heard. I have also gotten a number of endorsements with many different instrument companies. These relationships are very symbiotic in the sense that you promote their products, and they help to increase your exposure. It is a win/win situation.

As far as what I have found doesn't work, I would say that if you are an instrumental guitarist gigging is the slow boat to China. I have done a lot of gigs and found that the net gain from doing the show was a negative. In a lot of places there is just no market for instrumental guitar music, so you either can't get booked, or you get booked but the shows themselves tend to be less than ideal. Unless you are on the side stage at G3, it is very hard to make a real impact by gigging alone. That being said, even in
the live playing circuit, each step forward counts, and a good contact is always helpful.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you think the time for physical media such as CDs is now at an end, and do you think a future of only download sales is better or worse for the independent artist?

Scott Allen: I don't think that we are quite at the end, but if you get a step ladder and squint, you can see the end on the horizon. Change has come so fast that all businesses involved in traditional CDs are scrambling to catch up. I think that the overall move towards download only music is positive. I think it tends to decentralize the music industry and put power back in the hands of the musician and the music community. With people who actually love music in charge, it can't help but improve quality, as well as, the artists reach regardless of what kind of label, if any, they are associated with. That is until the corporations learn how to take over the download
only business too, then it is back in the crapper with quality control.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel about guitar-oriented magazines and how they are currently covering instrumental music?

Scott Allen: I see a big, big improvement with the way all the major guitar
magazines are covering instrumental music. John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai are all on the covers of Guitar Player and Guitar World recently. I almost can't believe it. I do feel however that the lesser known player is given the short shrift by most guitar magazines. But to be honest, all indie and lesser known players of all genres are the bottom feeders when it comes to magazine coverage. It's the price we pay for not being signed to Sony Records.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Scott Allen: Yes, I certainly have. Rusty Cooley is one hell of a player. When I was at G.I.T. I studied a lot of Shawn Lane's instructional videos, as well as his seminars that they had in the M.I. library. When I first heard Rusty, I knew I wasn't the only one who studied those videos, but he added metal balls and metal attitude, which I thought was awesome. I think Shawn Lane was really more of a fusion player in his heart.

I also am really influenced by non-shredders like John Mayer. I played a lot of his tunes in my previous band, and had to learn his parts, and I was really impressed with his compositional sense and melodic soloing style. Tim Reynolds is another really killer player, one of the coolest acoustic players around. I realize that they aren't exactly new guys but John Fusciante and Tom Morello always bring the goods when they strap on their axes too.

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Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what is up next for you?

Scott Allen: I just finished shooting an instructional video for Chops From
Hell which will available soon. I am also rehearsing my band, getting ready to record the next CD. I hope to have it out early in 2008. I had hoped to have it out this year, but I ended up having to change drummers midway, and getting the band up to speed with a new member always takes time. But all of the material is written, and we just
need to tighten up a few parts and book the studio time. I would say that it is real step forward from "What Lies Beyond Words", and explores both the more melodic side, as well as the more crazy progressive side of my style. It has some of the sickest shredding and complex odd-time stuff I have ever done, and yet it also has some
of the most tuneful and melodic playing I have ever done. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy the variety. I know that I always enjoy a new record when it takes you on a journey with a lot of peaks and valleys, and goes through a lot of moods. I think that this new record will definitely do that.

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"What Lies Beyond Words" is an ultra-descriptive title for an instrumental disc, and guitarist Scott Allen makes the most of it. He has a full compliment of shred chops, but takes special care to use them in the most musical way possible, intermingling subtlety with bombast and sensitivity with primal fury.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Allen to discuss the instrumental guitar scene, as well as what lies beyond his debut instrumental CD.