Interview: Steve Coyne

Dan McAvinchey: Steve, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Steve Coyne: I first became interested in guitar in a couple different ways. For one thing, my father worked for a popular radio station in Boston so we had tons of records laying around the house. All our records still had the DJ's play logs stuck to the front of them. They would have comments and notes and jokes written all over them. I always had a lot of rock music to listen to. Also, I can remember being on vacation in Florida and listening to Van Halen's first album and being completely baffled by "Eruption" and Eddie's sound in general on that album. I was really into Led Zeppelin before Van Halen though. The solos in "Stairway To Heaven", "Heartbreaker" and "Whole Lotta Love" really got me excited about playing the guitar.

As far as learning and progressing goes, I had some lessons at a local music store in the Boston area. My teacher was a pretty cool dude and he would show me all the rock guitar solos. The intro to Billy Squier's "Lonely Is The Night" was a good easy solo that I learned to play as a beginner. "Stairway To Heaven" was my first real full length guitar solo. I still think its one of the best solos ever, even through all the shredding, multi finger tapping and speed licks that came after it. For feel and phrasing that's one of the best.

At that time, my parents had me paying for my own guitar lessons. That was when I learned that you can't walk into a 20 dollar lesson with 17 bucks. He kinda let me go when I came up short a few times. I had a good foundation at that point so I taught myself for a while. I used to slow down all the solos with my father's reel to reel tape recorder. It slowed stuff down to not quite half speed, so I learned to play a lot of guitar solos in the wrong keys. But its all good. I guess I learned to play a lot in A flat and E flat. Then when I'd get to band practice with the "Bark At The Moon" solo in the wrong key I'd have to transpose it back to the right key. It was a little unorthodox but it worked out for the best by making me play in unfamiliar keys.

After a year or two I met up with a Berklee Grad who was doing the Jazz Rock thing. I started learning to read music and charts and learning to play over changes. That really led to me attending Berklee College of Music. Berklee is a great place for a guitar obsessed teenager. I really had a great time there and I learned as much as I could about rock, jazz and classical music. I took the guitar performance track and actually nearly majored in songwriting because I loved it so much. In the end I was too obsessed with the guitar though, so I used my songwriting credits as electives in a Professional Music major.

Dan McAvinchey: It sounds like Berklee gave you a great foundation for your subsequent work. Was your latest album ("Feelings Of Euphoria") self-released, or did you find a label that would work with you?

Steve Coyne: I knew that I might have to go it alone with this release but I was determined to do it regardless of whether or not it got picked up. I always had ShredGuy Records and Guitar Nine in mind as I was writing and recording the album. I just knew that these were the places to be if you wanted to be noticed. As I was recording the album, I met a couple guys on Facebook who were already on the ShredGuy label. They helped me out in getting my stuff noticed over there. Soon after, my album was up on the site and I was in business.

Dan McAvinchey: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?

Steve Coyne: I would describe it as Hippie Shredder Groove Rock. That's a term me and a previous bandmate came up with and I always have it in my mind when I'm writing because it just seems to fit. I started off playing the guitar listening to a lot of the real jammy, blues/rock players from the hippie era. When I was a teenager, I had a bass player friend who didn't mind if I just soloed for three hours while he laid down a bass groove. We were into Hendrix, Cream, Jeff Beck, Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan. That's when I did my first experimenting with chord scales and modes that I learned from my Jazz guitar teacher.

Later, Eddie Van Halen was really the first shredder for me. I learned to two-hand tap and tried to match the feel and sound of Eddie. All those influences are still in my music. I am a believer that music has to have a groove and a couple of good hooks and a good feel as well. Something that makes you move at least a little bit. I love the proggy time signature stuff too, but sometimes it can be a little too brainy and that can leave a general rock audience behind a little bit. One of my goals as an instrumental rock guitarist was to actually write songs that are memorable, listenable and likeable from a "good tune" viewpoint, like Satriani.

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Dan McAvinchey: How did you write the songs for "Feelings Of Euphoria"?

Steve Coyne: I wrote everything on a Yamaha Motif, a Boss DR-880 and a Tascam VS2400. There are songs that are a couple years old on there that got a rewrite with some parts added and modified. There were some new songs as well. I know some guys around the New Haven area who are members of the group House Of Lords as well as some other great local players. I basically contacted them and asked them if they'd like to do some tracks for me and they agreed. I didn't want a situation where I dumped a bunch of unfinished tracks on true professionals and expect to have a good result. I spent a lot of time making sure all of the writing was done, everything locked into the click and there weren't going to be any surprises that would hold up the project. There were a few bugs when I started but the guys were cool about it and helped me work it out a bit. Of course, I didn't want them to just duplicate my MIDI tracks with their instruments so, I gave them the artistic license to play it their way.

I have to hand it to them all for bringing their A-games to the project. They made a lot of nice decisions on the interpretation end of things that I really appreciate. Later, producer Rob Barone brought some additional great players into the project. It was really great the way it came together in the end. I can't thank those guys enough for helping me see it through.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to showcase your music in front of a live audience?

Steve Coyne: I did a couple club dates as an opening act for the guitarist Joe Stump in Connecticut. I also did a clinic for Rocktron/GHS at Sam Ash's in New Haven. We gave away some swag and some ShredGuy CDs, which helped bring a bunch of people in the door. It was a good show. One of the Joe Stump openers and my clinic are on my YouTube channel.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think a small but enthusiastic minority of music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional, vocal-oriented music?

Steve Coyne: Instrumental music is more open to the interpretation of the listener which is something that I think people like. Instrumental music is more chops oriented than music with vocals. Instrumental music is definitely more of a niche situation, though. Meaning, people who like it tend to like it a lot but it might not appeal to your general pop listening audience. I would say mostly guitarists and other musicians have an appreciation for it. There are more opportunities for the musicians to show off their chops and skills in an instrumental situation. Vocal music really has a lot of emphasis on the vocals and the lyrics and big choruses and so on. While the singing is happening the musicians really have to stay out of the way of the melody and not interfere with what the vocalist is trying to do. You might get a guitar solo or some display of instrumental musicianship in the song, but you really might not. People still love to be amazed or moved in some way by a virtuoso performance, whether it is guitar, keys, sax or some other instrument.

Dan McAvinchey: Time to dream; if you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Steve Coyne: I'd like to do something with Eddie Van Halen. His ideas seem to transcend what we know about music theory and chord progressions and scales. He just has his own way of seeing things. I would just like to be closer to being in his head for just a second or two to see what it's like to think like him.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are some of your plans for the future?

Steve Coyne: I am working on some songs for the next instrumental album. I've been experimenting with some more jazz/rock fusion ideas lately. There's also my songwriting background that I like to put to use, so I have a handful of very marketable tunes that I am working on getting recorded.

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The Steve Coyne Conspiracy CD, "Feelings Of Euphoria" (distributed by ShredGuy Records) is the latest project from Berklee College of Music graduate Steve Coyne. Coyne advances his brand of "Hippie Shredder Groove Rock" on the album, a multi-genre excursion that covers rock, metal and fusion.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Coyne on this interview, shedding light on his music, early years, and future in the guitar world.