Harder Beat: With so many different musical styles and guitar techniques out
there, where do you draw your influences from?
Michael Harris: Early in my playing days, I was into Robin Trower, Ritchie
Blackmore and Jimmy Page. I then started to "discover" many great guitarists
that were less mainstream: Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Frank Marino,
Steve Morse, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, etc. After going through my Van
Halen and Yngwie phases, I started to enjoy Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan
and, more recently, Brett Garsed.
HB: What was your musical upbringing like?
MH: My mother is a piano instructor and more classically influenced, and my
father plays big band swing. So, I got the best of both worlds when I was
growing up. I played trumpet for several years before becoming obsessed with
HB: Briefly describe your recording career thus far.
MH: After recording two EPs with Arch Rival, I got a boost by playing on the
album Shock Waves by Leather (David T. Chastain's vocalist) in 1989. I then
recorded my first instrumental album, Defense Mechanizms, which Leviathan
Records, released worldwide. Arch Rival then hooked up with a great vocalist,
Steve Snyder, and we recorded two albums (the third to be released soon). I
also did a collaboration with David T. Chastain called Live! Wild and Truly
Diminished. Most recently, my new heavy band, Surgeon, just released its
first CD, Encyclopedia of the Insane in September. That should bring us up
HB: Describe some of the processes that went into recording your new
instrumental album, Ego Decimation Profile (EDP).
MH: I recorded the drums first to analog tape, then bounced them over to my
digital machine. I then recorded all the guitars, keyboards and bass at home,
bounced all that back to the 24-track analog and mixed it. It worked very
well thanks to SMPTE time code. For the first time, I was able to record
guitars without being on the clock in a studio.
HB: How do you compare your style on this album with Defense Mechanisms?
MH: I spent more time on composition, orchestration and production this time
around. I also used keyboards for the first time, which resulted in a wider
variety of sounds. I like the songs on EDP better than DM, but I'm sure it's
impossible to be totally objective about that until years from now when I can
look back on both of them.
HB: Which songs on EDP are your personal favorites?
MH: The opening track, "Forewarning," was a milestone in orchestration and
composition for me. My vision was to write a mini-symphony that built up
intensity to the end. "Julius Seizure" was a definite high point as well,
and it seemed to be the "magic" track. I was very happy with the way the
slower numbers, "Grandscape" and "Terminus Epic" turned out also.
HB: What musicians did you use on EDP?
MH: I used four drummers that were all phenomenal! Rob Stankiewicz from
Haji's Kitchen just smoked on four cuts as did Keith Carlock on three tracks.
Matt Thompson, from my heavy band, Surgeon, and Clint Barlow each lent their
considerable talents to a track as well. So the album is a must-hear for
drummers--and bass players as well, with bassist-extraordinaire David Harbour
ripping on five tracks.
HB: Let's turn the focus on the music itself. What is your strategy when
composing a song?
MH: I always try to write with a strong theme, as opposed to just ripping
solos over chord changes. The song is what lasts. I need to see pictures.
If an idea generates a visual, I know I'm on the right track. Musically, I
have to cop a strong vibe off all my ideas or I trash them. I'm extremely
picky, and I drive myself crazy. Come visit me sometime in Ward 19, Cell 5.
HB: Obviously on an instrumental album, a lot of listeners focus on the
solos. For Michael Harris, what elements constitute the perfect guitar solo?
MH: The perfect solo would have the right blend of technique and feel, would
flow very smoothly, peak at just the right time and have killer tone. It
would also have to do something unexpected. Some of my faves are "The Sails
of Charon" and "Still So Many Lives Away" by Uli Roth, "Rock You To The
Ground" and "On With The Action" by Michael Schenker, "Out of Love Again" by
Eddie Van Halen, "Anthem" by Alex Lifeson and "Karma" by Neal Schon.
HB: How do you feel about the current state of instrumental guitar?
MH: I'm optimistic! There are still plenty of people who have an avid
interest in it. We just have to push it back into the mainstream. Pretty
soon, the kids are going to realize how much better guitarists were before
this new wave of slop on the radio. So let's all realize the guitar hero
thing is coming back, and act accordingly!
HB: Speaking of "this new wave of slop" you speak of, what are your views on
FM rock today?
MH: Every now and then I hear a good song and then I realize it's just a
commercial. Actually, I listen to AM talk radio more than anything. The
hooks are very powerful and the musicianship is slightly better than FM.
Okay, if you must know, I think STP, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains are all
writing some pretty important stuff. I'm more eagerly anticipating the new
Rush and Eric Johnson records, though.
HB: Do you think the "Seattle Sound" is dead?
MH: I don't keep up on it enough to know, but I think it is an embarrassment
that a trend was based on geographical location rather than the actual
quality of the music. The "Seattle Sound" to me is Queensryche, Heart and
HB: Speaking of by-gone trends, do you think shred guitar was overdone in the
MH: It might have been, but if the songs were good, they took precedence
anyway. The "mindless riffers" will move on and the strong will survive. I
have the utmost respect for guitarists who can rip creatively with feeling
and still write great music as well.
HB: What about the blues element?
MH: I love the blues. All the bands I originally got into were just blues
turned up to 11. I play in a blues band on the side, and it's carrying over
into my heavy playing. My next instrumental album will be much bluesier. I've
rediscovered the down stroke.
HB: Who do you think best represents the future of music?
MH: Trends are so hard to predict, but the alternative thing shall die soon.
Metal will make a resurgence in a slightly mutated form, and as we approach
the turn of the century, look for something really futuristic. Also, radio
will have less influence in the computer age, and people will hopefully start
thinking and listening for themselves, discovering great music instead of
accepting the handouts on the radio. There's plenty more to choose from,
eople - Seek and ye shall find!
HB: What does the future hold for Michael Harris?
MH: My band, Arch Rival, has an album coming out later this year that I'm
really excited about, and my heavy project, Surgeon, just released its album
last month. I also have another instrumental album almost written, so that
will be coming soon. After that, I'm going to the mall!!