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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pete Thorn talks gear, touring, and influences


By Tony Cole

Pete Thorn
MGS- Welcome Mr Pete Thorn. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
PT - My pleasure!
MGS - For those that are not familiar with your work can you give us a recap of your pro career?

PT - I attended M.I. waaaay back in 1990. Then I worked in various original bands, writing and recording and playing gigs. I was in a band called Surreal McCoys and we got a deal in Japan around 1996... made an album for the Japan and Southeast Asia markets. That was my first foray into being a professional, full-time musician. I was also in 2 other original bands- Snapdragon and Forty Foot Echo- that made albums for major labels. Around 1998, I started touring as a sideman, first with Adam Cohen, and then with artists such as Evan And Jaron, Robi Draco Rosa, Jewel, and eventually with Chris Cornell, Melissa Etheridge, and Don Henley. I also started doing sessions, working with producers like John Fields and Linda Perry, recording with artists such as Alicia Keys, Pink, Courtney Love, Daniel Powter, Peter Cincotti, and others. In 2011 I put out my first solo album, "Guitar Nerd", an instrumental rock guitar album.
MGS - What has been your favorite tour and why ?
PT - Too hard to pick! Playing with Chris Cornell was incredible- you really can't beat playing those intense rock songs for huge festival crowds in far-flung places like Europe and South America... Even though we were still sideman technically, we got to play rockstar I guess. Run around on big stages, egg the crowd on, you know. It all felt very "big time". And at the same time we were really a band- we played like a band, hung like a band, fought like a band. I think we played something like 300 shows. And he's a great guy, Chris. But Melissa Etheridge has some amazing songs too, and on that gig I really get to stretch and improvise, she encourages that. It makes me a better player. She's also just fantastic, an inspiration and a friend. And playing with Don- you feel the weight of those great songs- "I better not suck on this". I could listen to him sing all night. Sometimes I almost forget I'm up there playing, I feel like I should have bought a ticket, you know? He's such a legend.

Pete on tour with Melissa Etheridge
MGS - Funniest thing to ever happen to you on the road?
PT - hmmm... well, lots of mishaps come to favorite is when the tech accidentally hands you a guitar with one string tuned off a 1/2 step from where it should be. There's a chaotic sound for you! Especially if its the low E or A string. It's happened a few times to me, once in front of about 60,000 people on live TV. Awesome! Also once, my Axe FX just decided to mysteriously go into full bypass mode, in the middle of a pretty hard rocking Melissa Etheridge song. The sound I was left with was basically guitar into D.I., clean and dry as a bone. I kept playing, I couldn't figure out what the hell had happened.... the drummer later said "you did the right thing, of course, to keep playing, but it sounded totally hilarious...."
MGS - Your new CD is killer. Can you tell us about the recording process and where it was recorded including a gear rundown?

Pete Thorn's New CD
PT - Well it all started as an experiment in "let's see how far I can go with this recording at home business". I Bought a computer and a simple interface, and a nice mic pre and compressor (a UA 6176) around 2004. I started learning about these devices and how to use them- I had lots of recording experience on analog 24 track machines and old consoles and whatnot, and later on ADAT's and DA88's, I knew the basics, but working with a laptop and Logic was all new. So I'd write and demo things, and as computers advanced, I'd upgrade. I went from a laptop that I could maybe get 12-15 tracks going with a few plug ins, to an Imac in 2006, and that was faster. I Could now do more sophisticated production, like 24 tracks plus, with more plug ins, etc. I moved into a place that had some space for me to isolate a 1-12" cabinet with mics on it, and bam- all of a sudden I could record some pretty happening tones. My amp collection was growing, so I had some variety. And I could use programs such as BFD and Steven Slate Drums to get some cool virtual drum tracks happening, although these programs would bring the old Imac to it's knees. But all of a sudden I was tracking things that sounded like, quite professional. My engineering and mixing skills were improving also. in 2009, I moved to a Mac Pro 8-core tower, and that made the sky the limit. I moved into a bigger space, and by this time,
"Guitar Nerd" was taking shape. I'd been inspired by the Steve Stevens album "Memory Crash", a great guitar album, and I thought, I should do one of these, to the best of my ability, with the resources I have at hand.
The amps on the album include the CAA PT100 (my signature amp), and the Suhr Badger 30 and Badger 18, a Top Hat Emplexador, the Marsha from Dave Friedman, the Komet Concorde, Divided By 13 RSA 31 and FTR 37, a 66 Bassman, and Probably some others I'm forgetting. All through a Bogner 1-12" with a Scumback M75 or a Celestion G12H30 Heritage. Guitars were a 58 LP Historic reissue, a couple Suhr Classic S models, a couple Suhr T models, an EVH Wolfgang, A Suhr Modern, a few other Gibson LP's (a custom and an R9), a Hiro Ebata 6 string acoustic, a Fender electric 12 string, a 63 Gibson ES335, a Gibson J180..... a 1964 Fender Strat... that's all I can remember! I used a bunch of pedls- the Eternity Overdrive, the /13 Dyna Ranger, a Mojo Vibe, EVH Flanger and Phase 90, anEVH wah (a gift from from Ed!) and the Axe FX Ultra from Fractal was also used.
I usually mic'd the cab with a Shure 57 and then one other mic- either a 421, or a Heil PR30, or PR20. I used a Groove Tubes GT55 on the cab a bit too, and also for acoustics. Also a Neumann KM184 on acoustics. Mic pres were the UA and mainly an API A2D, into an Apogee Ensemble interface, and my DAW is Logic Pro. I use a slew of Waves plug ins, as well as Steven Slate Drums and his new VCC (Virtual Console Collection) is awesome- I wish I'd had it when I was mixing the album. I mixed 7 tracks, and Bob Clearmountain mixed 3. It was mastered by Ross Nyberg up in Seattle.

Pete Thorn with Suhr Guitar
MGS - What is on your the horizon for you? New tour ?
PT - I'm headed to Europe with Melissa Etheridge in February, and she has dates in New Zealand and Australia later in the year... I'm also doing some gigs with my buddy Steve Stevens in January, should be a blast!
MGS - I love your gear demos and your Eruption tutorial. How did you get into doing it?
PT - You know, that's a funny story- Chris Cornell would say "let's get together and you can show me some stuff on guitar", and it was a particularly busy time, and we just never were able to come up with a time to do it. So I made him this video lesson, and he really dug that. Then he could pull out the guitar and his laptop wherever, when he had a second, and just go to it. I just used my mac with the built in isight cam. And recorded into imovie... bam, easy. So I just had some spare time, and I really like teaching, I used to teach 35 kids a week back in Canada, it was my job when I was 17! But the scheduling of lessons, people canceling, etc, I just didn't want to deal with that any more. So I thought, this youtube thing, that's a way I can teach and reach lots of people. I'll record lessons just like I did for Chris... It's not about making money or anything, it's purely because I enjoy it.
So the Eruption thing, I just thought, that'll be fun, for myself and for others to tackle, you know? I didn't really think it through- haha it's hard to teach that piece, one note at a time, with no tab or notation! You have to describe each and every note! So I had to break it into 5 parts, because the maximum length video youtube would let you upload back then was 10 minutes. But It's gotten a nice response, I really did it just for the fun of it, and I'm happy people seem to dig it! I had a guy on the street in Portugal come up to me, point right at me and say, "YOU taught me "Eruption!!!" That blew me away. I love that we can do things like this these days with no middle man- power to the people. It's cool.
The gear demos- that was just an accident too. There was all these videos on youtube of guys playing their amps and guitars but recording them badly, you know, with the camera mic on a handycam or whatever, very distorted. ANd playing a million notes usually. Well, when I try an amp or a pedal, I usually play a G chord and let the fu&*er ring! So you can REALLY hear what's happening. That's it. So I got this Suhr Badger amp, and they gave me a great deal on it. I thought, how can I help these guys out, make a nice gesture for the nice deal on the amp? And I thought, I'll record a nice demonstration of the amp and it's features, recording it really well, and playing very simply. Not alot of flash- let things ring, so you could really accurately hear what the amp was doing. People seemed to really respond right away, the reaction was very positive. And I thought, I'm onto something. These smaller companies, they aren't Fender, aren't Marshall, they don't have dealers maybe everywhere. And the gear in many cases is made in America, old school, and is priced accordingly. So for a guy in Nebraska, it's difficult to plunk down a couple grand on an amp that he hasn't heard, and can't find locally, you know? So I realized, if I can try and take some of the anxiety off the buyer, by trying to show them what they are getting into, with an accurate demo.... it'd be providing a great service to both the manufacturer of the gear, and the prospective buyer. And it just went from there.
MGS - Name your top 3 favorite guitars, pedals, amps and gadgets of the moment.
PT - Guitars- My Suhr Classic S (the green one.. I also have a new "roasted body" olympic white one coming next week, can't wait), my EVH Wolfgangs, and my new Taylor 12 string, which sounds amazing... OK honorable mention go to my 64 Strat and my 63 ES 335!
Pedals- The Strymon Timeline delay, the Suhr Koko Boost, and.... hmmm toss up between the Carl Martin Compressor and the Carl Martin Plexi Tone
Amps- My PT 100 of course, and my Suhr SL68 is pretty devastating... #3, I'd say toss up between the Friedman Brown Eye and my /13 FTR37, which is just a great sounding amp, a modern classic really.
Gadgets- Is the Axe FX a gadget? I guess so. A GREAT gadget. And the Apogee JAM is really cool, a bonehead simple way to use your laptop, ipad or iphone with your guitar.. and I love my AKG digital wireless, it works flawlessly and sounds just great.
MGS - What is your ultimate goal as a musician ?
PT - Just to make the best music I can, til the day I croak. I love music and I love the guitar, and like Jimmy Page said in "It MIght Get Loud"- "one day we may not be able to pick up the guitar, and we are all just trying to keep that day far far off in the future and out of sight".
MGS- Can you detail for us your top 3 favorite / proudest live gigs ?
PT - We had a great one with Robi Draco Rosa in Bogota, Columbia, Oct. 2004... 140,000 people, we closed the Rock Al Parque festival. And it really felt intimate, like a club gig. A crowd like that can of course get the butterflies going- Draco walked out, and started playing some unfamiliar riff, just jamming something... we looked at each other, confused... he looked at Toss, the drummer, and said, "well, are you gonna come in, or what?" It was brilliant- just knock us out of our anxiety a bit, throw something random at us... we all crept in jammed for a few minutes, got comfortable, then winded down, and he went into the 1st song on the setlist. And we killed that gig, all on rental gear. Taking requests at one point! We had people coming up after, crying, it was really special.
Chris Cornell in Santiago, Chile, 2007- 10,000 people in what looked like a hangar, all going apeshit for 2 hours plus. Chris had never toured South America, so this was the first time those people had a glimpse of him, and they sang absolutely every word to every song. It was stellar. Here's a pic from the end of the night:
And I'd say for a 3rd show, maybe Melissa Etheridge in my hometown of Edmonton, Canada, in February 2011. Just because It's really fun to go back home and play gigs with these great artists... lots of friends and family there, and you always just feel really loved. It's a blast.
MGS - What gear are you currently lusting after ?
PT - I'm trying to build a new pedalboard, and I need this Musicom Mkiii midi switcher pedal, it has 8 loops for stompboxes, as well as 4 function switches to channel switch amps, etc. There's nothing else like it on the market, and they are difficult to get. So
I'm waiting on that so I can get things going with this board. I'm also waiting on my new Suhr Classic S, with a roasted body and neck- they are dried right out, so the theory is that it'll sound like a great old guitar, it'll ring like crazy. I can't wait! Also I just got an EVH Wolf Custom, the set neck model. It's a really cool axe, it's all black and looks killer! Been waiting on that one for awhile!
MGS - Name the top 3 artists you would love to work with and why.....
PT - I'm so stoked right now, working with Melissa, Don and Chris, that I'll just say them and count myself very lucky.
MGS - I know you are a huge VH fan as am I. I read you got to hang with him ? Can you give us the entire story ?
PT - Maybe someday. Not today, haha. He's a great guy, I really adore him, and he's a private person, so I'll respect that and mum's the word. Well, ok- one story. The first time we met, he had me up to his house, where he's lived since 1980 or so. I'm of course nervous as hell driving up there, winding up into the hills, up this long private road and finally up to the gate. He buzzes me in, and I drive up, by his garage... he comes walking out, with a big grin, and meets me in the driveway, there I am, face to face with one of my heroes, with a part of my childhood, so to speak. He says "come in the house, I'm starving, gotta eat something", and we go inside. We are in the kitchen, and as I said I'm a bit nervous. Now I've had a lazy eye since birth- my right one is just not pulling for the team, as they say. So I'm kind of cross-eyed. Ed looks at me and straight away says, "Ok- so which one do I look at?" Well, I about fell over laughing. He claps me on the shoulder and says "I didn't mean anything by it, I was just trying to get it outta the way!"... I loved that. Talk about an ice breaker. No B.S. People will beat around the bush about things like that, and it'll come up 6 months after you first meet.."so about your eye..." Not Ed. There's alot of fake people in LA, and EVH ain't one of them. He's seriously one of the nicest, most genuine guys I've met in this business of rock and roll, that's my experience. He's gone out of his way to do nice things for me, very kind. And he still positively smokes on guitar. I'll leave it at that.
MGS - You are one of the only people to hear the new Van Halen tracks. Cmon man give us some info. What was going through your mind listening to it? Did they scrap all the John Shanks Nashville recordings ?
PT - I cannot offer any info here. I have NOT heard the album- Ed played me some rehearsal recordings of the 3 VH's jamming on new material. Well before they started tracking. It sounded fantastic to me, I loved it. Wolf on bass- he tears it up. People should remember, he's now close to the age Ed was at when he did VH1! He's got a style, and chops to burn... and he smokes on drums too! Talk about a bright future....
MGS - Who would be the members of the Pete Thorn guitar driven Super Group?

Pete on tour with Chris Cornell
PT - Ah! I'd have... Matt Laug or Blair Sinta on drums, Jorgen Carlsson or Jon Button on bass, Steve Stevens on guitar... but I'd just step back and let him play all the good stuff, haha! Oh and Jason Freese would have to be there too- he mainly plays keys, which there really aren't any of on my record, but he's the most fun guy to have in a band ever so he needs to be there too.
MGS - If I had to guess you either drive a sweet 70s muscle car or something green. Which is it?
PT - No, I'm a BMW man. I did own a green one! I like boutique stuff that works flawlessly... Suhr is like the BMW of guitars and amps. I do love old muscle cars though... and my dad drove a 57 T - bird and a 73 Mustang Convertible, so there you go...
MGS - What is the dumbest thing a fan has ever asked you?
PT - Awww if they are a fan I love em. God bless the fans, because we'd all be scrubbing toilets without them, so they can say whatever they want.
MGS - We always end interviews with you responding with only 2 words to each of these phrases GO !
EVH - my hero!
Michael Anthony - awesome talent
Chris Cornell - good friend
Brazilian Rosewood - overrated maybe?
Guitar forum know it all - annoying, very
Can I get some picks ? - absolutely, sure
Tony Cole - Cable Guy
Hotel California - don't forgetthesolo (only 2 words!)
MGS - Pete as a fan of your work thanks so much for taking the time sir.
PT - Thanks Tony!
Interview by Tony Cole and originally published on Music Gear Source Blog. Please do not reprint without consent of author.