Interview: Steve Salter

Dan McAvinchey: Hello Steve, thanks for doing this, let's get right into it. How did you first get interested in guitar?

Steve Salter: I had studied saxophone for about ten years, so I had already experienced a lot of musical education. Then, in summer after I graduated from high school, I attended a Ted Nugent concert. I was blown away and immediately fell in love with the guitar for it's capability in creating such a powerful sound, plus it was, unlike the saxophone, a polyphonic instrument and I loved the idea of playing multiple notes at the same time. I purchased a Strat type copy with three pickups, but I played it without an amplifier and learned how to play chords and solo lines. I still use many saxophone type riffs on the guitar.

Dan McAvinchey: Was your latest album "Gleaming" self-released or did you work with a label?

Steve Salter: When I made the "Gleaming" record, I had already decided to self-release, so I went into the process knowing I would fund the project myself. I felt that I would demonstrate more credibility to labels and other industry heavy-weights by investing in myself prior to asking them to invest. Producer Chuck Alkazian heard my demo and encouraged me to do this. Then he brought in Jason Hartless (current Ted Nugent drummer - what a coincidence) to drum on the record. Joe Satriani's past drummer Jonathan Mover offered to play on "Gleaming", but Jason was excellent and local.

Dan McAvinchey: How would you describe your music to a fan or journalist who has never heard you before?

Steve Salter: The genre would be considered rock/hard rock. But to be more specific, the intent is to create songs with normal verse/chorus structure and chord changes that set up tension and resolution designed to move the listener. The songs and feel on "Gleaming" aren't particularly complex, as I want to inspire emotions in each listener. So "Gleaming" isn't really a "shred-fest" over backing track music - it is more like normal rock songs that are sung by the guitar - not a voice.

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Dan McAvinchey: How did you write the songs for "Gleaming"? Was it a collaborative approach, or did you work alone?

Steve Salter: I wrote and arranged all the material on "Gleaming". I didn't collaborate at all, however, producer Chuck Alkazian made a couple of arrangement changes intended to shorten "Song For Tay". The entire record was geared to be radio-ready instrumental rock. As for the process itself, I would create chord progressions then be inspired by these to create melody. I would play against a vamp over and over and soon melodies I loved would emerge and become the lines on the songs. While some of the record includes solo improvisation, all of the melodies and layering were planned and executed.

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

Steve Salter: I believe they're good in general however, I think there's a bit too much emphasis on the technical side of playing. I am as impressed as anyone by a guitarist with tremendous speed and agility in executing scales, arpeggios, and so forth, but to me, this type of playing is more for the practice room than for performance. I would be very interested in articles on how players develop melody and mood. I would be promoting the ability of players to create sounds that move listeners to emotion, rather than the ability to impress with technical prowess. The idea in entertaining listeners is to play "to" them - not "at" them.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using any social media sites for your promotional efforts?

Steve Salter: I primarily use Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser extent Reverbnation and Soundcloud. The beauty of these platforms is that they can all be linked so that a post on one appears on all of them. I also have my own site where my album can be purchased with of course links to buy it on iTunes and Amazon. I've had great success with Facebook and have thousands of fans in India and SE Asia. Guitar and instrumental music are popular there.

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

Steve Salter: One thing I have noticed in determining the best sites/services for promotion is that there are "scammers" that promise many individual listens, but it ends up that these are being generated at click farms- not from real listeners. So the moral of the story is to use promotion services that will place music on internet and/or broadcast stations where listeners can respond on their own. Many of these I use provide a tweet when there is a song play. Then you can see responses in the form of likes and retweets. Its important in any of these to see that you're getting real fans to respond, and that you can click a play tweet in real time to actually hear your song being played. It's also important to aim your music at the right audience - but you never know... I have a lot of response from plays on a station that is largely hiphop!

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Steve Salter: That's an excellent question! I believe, especially with modern pop and hiphop, that vocally oriented music is created without much chord modulation. This focuses the listener more on lyrical content, and the song message is conveyed by lyrics alone, with the music just along for the ride. Many fans that have heard my "Gleaming" album insist that, with there being no vocals, they concentrate far more on the music. I believe instrumental music lovers enjoy the genre because with no lyrics, the focus and meaning of the song have to be derived from the emotions being created by chord changes, melody, and harmony. It's more thought provoking because without actual words, the listener can develop their own emotional impression of the song and not be told - by lyrics - the message.

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Steve Salter: I really enjoy smooth jazz, fusion, and funk. I will often practice both instruments against tracks with complex/modal changes. This is really a product of being a saxophonist. I am really two different musicians, based on playing the guitar or sax.

Dan McAvinchey: What's going on for you for the rest of 2016 - and beyond?

Steve Salter: I still perform on saxophone and am now in an act where I play both guitar and saxophone... I even have a setup that allows me to play both instruments simultaneously. My next album, which I am in the process of demoing, will be a melodic style that uses both the guitar and sax in an interwoven. One sound that will be particularly featured is harmonized lines using a Marshall driven Ibanez and a Selmer alto saxophone.

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Michigan guitarist Steve Salter is a melodic player whose performances feature a signature tone and style that's both raw and refined. He's recently released his debut solo album, entitled "Gleaming", which showcases his guitar on 'lead vocals', stripping away the words and meanings and leaving the music as the emotional vehicle.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Salter to talk about his new album, and his approach to creating modern instrumental guitar music.