By Carl Begai
Japanese fusion guitarist Nozomi Itani is a musical personality that, up until recently, has been flying below the rock scene’s radar. He’s been flying for quite some time though, and not only in his homeland. Itani’s roots as a musician were planted in Germany, where he lived from the age of four for over 30 years when his father – a pioneering businessman that helped introduce Japanese companies to the Western world – moved to Europe in 1962. In that time he carved out a successful albeit behind-the-scenes career, which eventually brought him home. These days he spends the bulk of his time teaching music, but Itani still managed to write and record and new instrumental album to showcase his talents, appropriately titled Station To Station.
“My mother studied classical piano, and she always wanted the kids to learn how to play an instrument,” Itani says of his start in music. “I started playing piano and violin when I was a kid but I was very lazy (laughs). I took lessons for a few years but I gave up. I didn’t want to play a musical instrument, but by the time I turned 16 rock n’ roll was something very special. It was the time when rock n’ roll was really cool, so to have an electric guitar was very special. When I bought my first Deep Purple LP, my mother saw the picture of the band members and shouted ‘Oh my God, they’re terrorists!’ (laughs). When I started playing guitar I really loved to listen to Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and all kinds of progressive rock stuff like Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant. Most of my friends listened to pop music, Top 10 hits, but I wasn’t very interested in that.”
“The cool thing was that at the end of the ’70s and in the early ’80s, there was this big punk movement and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and on the other hand there was this big jazz fusion movement. I listened to all these so-called studio guitarists, and the heavy metal thing was interesting too because there were guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but I think my real roots are in jazz fusion. On the other hand, I really love to play power chords on the guitar (laughs). This is the balance in my music. I always have this image of playing chord progressions and melodies that are linked to jazz but should sound like hard rock and heavy metal. My vision is to play a jazz standard on a Flying V one day (laughs).” Continue reading ITANI – Guitar Kid In A Candy Store
By Carl Begai
During a recent discussion with former Loudness / Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Michael Vescera about the new and long overdue Obsession album, Order Of Chaos, he took the time to update me on the project that’s become his top priority, Animetal USA.
“With Animetal USA, I don’t even have time to think,” says Vescera, owing the band’s rigorous studio and promotional schedules as one of the reasons for the hold-up on the Obsession front. “It’s non-stop work. And the Animetal thing is time consuming because it’s not just singing and writing. I have to go back and forth with the publishers to get clearance on the lyrics, I sing it but they need certain words of phrases in Japanese, it’s pretty intense and a lot of work. But I like it like that. I’d rather be busy doing a million things rather than just sitting around at home.”
Almost a year ago, Vescera gave me an in-depth rundown of how the Animetal USA machine works (check out the interview here). For the uninitiated, he and his bandmates – Impellitteri guitarist Chris Impellitteri, ex-Whitesnake / ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo, and ex-Slayer drummer Jon Dette, who Judas Priest’s Scott Travis – have taken up the mantle worn by Japan’s original Animetal project, which features classic anime theme songs dating back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and turning them into metal anthems.
Anime is a big part of Japanese culture, making the success of the original Animetal during their 10 year run from 1996 to 2006 – releasing 11 singles and an assortment of albums, collections and live records – a no-brainer. Animetal USA’s success was guaranteed in Japan, especially considering the individual members’ histories, but Vescera admits everyone was still surprised just how well they went over. Continue reading ANIMETAL USA – When East Meets West…
By Carl Begai
In the metal biz for 30 years now, vocalist Michael Vescera can lay claim to singing for greats like Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen, Roland Grapow (ex-Helloween) and Joe Stump (Reign Of Terror), has established himself as a dependable session player and producer, has released five solo albums (four under the MVP moniker), and is now the frontman of the hugely successful Animetal USA project out of Japan featuring Chris Impellitteri (guitars), Rudy Sarzo (bass) and Jon Dette (drums). Obsession is the band that put him on the map, however, and folks that were into the first three records – Marshall Law (’84), Scarred For Life (’86) and Methods Of Madness (’87) – have often wondered to some degree if Vescera would ever go back to his cult-favourite roots. A decent attempt at an Obsession comeback was made in 2006 with Carnival Of Lies, but a presumed lack of interest in the album and Vescera’s busy schedule put the band’s future activities on hold indefinitely. Oddly enough, during one of the busiest times in his career he managed to hammer out Order Of Chaos, an Obsession album worthy of the early days and the fans that have stuck around this long.
Vescera and myself have been discussing for years the possibility of when – not if – a new Obsession record might see the light of day. It came down to having the time to piece together and record all the song ideas brought to the table.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that you want to get it done, but the Animetal thing pulled me away from it,” he concedes. “Even when I was on the road, the guys were working on the Obsession record. It was tough. We were talking about it, and we agreed it would be nice to just be able to go into the studio for a couple months and make a record from beginning to end. We were really psyched about doing the new record, though, because we knew it was going to be cool. The guys are all great, but of course they were scratching their heads asking ‘Hey, when’s this thing going to be done?’ (laughs).”
“Order Of Chaos was finished in January 2012. I finished it before went out to California to do the Animetal single ‘Rock Lee’. The label (Inner Wound) wanted to wait until towards the end of the year to release it. It looks like the label manager made the right decision, but it’s been done for a while. I’m glad it’s finally out.” Continue reading OBSESSION – Lay Down The Law
By Carl Begai
For guitarist Joe Stump the term “class is now in session” goes a lot further than sitting down with his axe and his reputation and giving six-string wannabes a schooling. At the time of this interview he was in fact getting ready for another year of teaching his craft to bonafide music students at the Boston-based Berklee College Of Music. Asked how his new crop of eager minds was shaping up, Stump addressed the situation with the same enthusiastic yet low-key approach he uses when discussing his music.
“I’m listening to a lot of guitar being played badly (laughs). It runs the gamut. You get some guys that are somewhat promising, but it depends. Younger guys nowadays… let’s just say they’re disciplined but their dedication is questionable. I’m very old school, so for me it’s still all about guitar, but as an example of what I just said, if I’m out in the hallway by my office I might see a couple guys practicing, but most of them are on their fucking smartphones, fucking around on Facebook. I purposely have a shitty flip-phone because if I wanted to type I’d get into another line of work.”
Revenge Of The Shredlord is Stump’s 11th official solo album but his old school approach to writing and recording has changed very little beyond the technology being used in the studio. Even then, he kept things at a basic meat-and-potatoes level for the new one.
“I did all the guitars at home this time, and I’m very low tech,” says Stump. “I like to play, I don’t like to fuck around, so it’s not like I have an elaborate studio set-up. I just have a small digital 8-track machine that I could never make a full record with, but for tracking guitars it works great. I did most of the guitars last summer and fall (2011), and by the time I finished tracking the bass, drums and keys the record was mixed by Christmas and mastered in January.” Continue reading JOE STUMP – Give Us This Day Our Daily Shred
By Carl Begai
Ten years ago, if you’d told Obsession vocalist Michael Vescera he’d be in a band with Impellitteri guitarist Chris Impellitteri, ex-Whitesnake / ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo, and Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis, he likely wouldn’t have ruled out the possibility. With a career spanning 25 years that includes albums and tours with Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Helloween guitarist Roland Grapow, working with a line-up of all-star musicians would probably be viewed by Vescera as par for the course provided the planets aligned in his favour. Had you told him that he’d do so looking like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, he would have laughed in your face. And yet, these days Vescera finds himself fronting just such a band and having a truckload of fun doing so.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a member of KISS,” he laughs, “and now I’m at least getting to play dress-up for the stage.”
Animetal USA owes its existence to a concept established in Japan well over a decade ago. The original Animetal – fronted by Anthem vocalist Eizo Sakamoto and ex-Volcano guitarist She-ja – was launched in 1996, taking famous Japanese anime theme songs dating back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and turning them into metal anthems. Their debut album, Animetal Marathon, went on to sell 300,000 units in Japan. Animetal released seven albums along with several compilations before going on indefinite hiatus in 2006, and according to Japan-based Area51 guitarist Yoichiro Ishino the band received more attention from the anime scene than metal fans. As a result, Animetal charted several times, even hitting the Top 10.
“We appreciate the legacy of the original Animetal and what they accomplished,” says Vescera, well aware of the origin story. “We’re really just looking forward to the future with Animetal USA and hoping to bring it to the rest of the world, not just Japan. In most of the press we did in Japan, they truly appreciate us bringing Japanese culture and music to rest of the world. We’re all hoping for a long run with this.” Continue reading ANIMETAL USA – Saturday Morning Smackdown