JOE STUMP INTERVIEW
By Scott from live4metal.com 11/14/2002
You're an East Coast guy, right?
JOE STUMP: Yeah, I'm from New York, but I live in Boston now.
You've done some Reign of Terror projects, but you also have several solo albums, both vocal and instrumental. For those readers that may not be familiar with your work, please give me a musical history of Joe Stump.
JOE STUMP: I grew up in New York and started playing guitar when I was 15. I played the rock of the day and was heavily influenced by all of the rock players in the 70s, like Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Jimi Hendrix. Then I went to the Berklee College of Music when I was 17 or 18, and got deeper in to more "fusiony" guys like Al Di Meola and Alan Holdsworth. I played everything - jazz, classical, and stuff like that. But when I got out of school, I went back to playing strictly metal and never lost touch with that. I got back into all my favorite players - Gary Moore, Schenker, Uli Jon RothÉRitchie Blackmore of course. In the early 80s, Yngwie came along and I got heavily influenced by him because he liked all those same types of players that I did. He was like a mix of Blackmore with the technique of Di Meola, and all the classical overtones. So I got deep into his playing.
I was in a metal band called Trash Broadway and we were signed to this label called Torrid Records; they put out the first Exodus record, and they put out a couple Hades records. We were kind of like an American metal band, but not "glammy" because I had some heavy European overtones in my playing. So that was the first official record that I did in '89. Then I got my own solo deal with Leviathan Records in '93 and I've been releasing records with them ever since. I've done four instrumental albums - Guitar Dominance in '93, then Night of the Living Shred in '94, Supersonic Shred Machine in '96, Rapid Fire Rondo in '98, and 2001: A Shred Odyssey last year. In addition to all the instrumental stuff, I've been releasing records with the Reign of Terror. The first one was Light in the Sky in '94, Second Coming was '97, and Sacred Ground came out last year. So, I've been releasing records steady since '93, doing tours, and all that sort of nonsense.
I keep reading names like Yngwie Malmsteen, Blackmore, and similar artists mentioned when the conversation revolves around Joe Stump. Your lead singer, Michael Vescera, even sang with Malmsteen's Rising Force. How do you feel about these comparisons? Are they accurate?
JOE STUMP: Yeah, he [Vescera] sang with Yngwie back in the '94 - '95 period. He sang with Yngwie on Seventh Sign and Magnum Opus, and the Live from Budokan thing. Two of my favorite players are certainly Yngwie and Ritchie Blackmore, so that's certainly fair. The music I play and the style that I play is like an extension of that. It's heavier than stuff that either one of those guys do; and my guitar style is a bit more aggressive. So you take some of the schools of that playing, but then I'm mixing it with European power metal and some American thrash - like a whole bunch of schools of different metal, not just classically influenced stuff and not just Blackmore or Yngwie-style influences.
In addition to people like Hendrix, Moore, Blackmore, and Malmsteen, you also mention Paganini, Bach, and Beethoven as influences. Where do the lines between classical music and metal intersect?
JOE STUMP: They intersect in tons and tons of places, especially guitar-wise because you have many classical types of chord sequences behind the melodies of the tunes - whether the singer is singing it or whether I'm playing the melody on an instrumental type of thing, you have all kinds of classical lines and classically-influenced arpeggio sections in some of the complex instrumentals sections of my tunes. It's all over the place.
You've been referred to as the King of Shred and you certainly do your fair share of shredding. I loved the name of your solo albums: Night of the Living Shred and Supersonic Shred Machine. What exactly is all of this shredding about?
JOE STUMP: When you talk about somebody being a shredder, or shredding, it's got to do with the guitar - it's playing the guitar in an extremely advanced technical type of style and format. Speed is involved, so anyone that is shredding is playing very fast [laughing], but there is more to it than that. Ideally, it's supposed to still be music. It's just like a great violinist like Itzak Pearlman - you're playing things that are incredibly technically demanding that require great dedication to the instrument you're playing, and you're playing it at breakneck speeds. But it's also got to be musical. A lot of the shred guys tend to take themselves very, very seriously, but it [album title] is kind of like a tongue-in-cheek thing. Ever since I started naming my records that, I kind of have a responsibility - [laughing] like you gotta come up with a cool ass, tongue-in-cheek, funny name for each release.
You've gotten a lot of praise from musician-oriented magazines like Guitar Shop, Guitar World, and Young Guitar. How much attention have you gotten from the general rock/metal press?
JOE STUMP: A decent amount. More so now because Mike Vescera is a name guy in the metal community, and also doing vocal records is also helping. The rock and metal press were receptive to my instrumental stuff as well. My instrumental stuff has been in all kinds of metal magazines and metal fanzines in addition to just the guitar head magazines. It's always been positive, but when you've got the vocalist, obviously that's crossing over to way more than fans of just guitar. The guitar-buying public is a small and dedicated fan base, but it's like a microcosm in the big world of rock.
Are you finding some of us non-musician types are starting to hear more about Joe Stump?
JOE STUMP: Yes. Some people just enjoy that playing and that style of guitar; they're not just guitarists. [Conquer and Divide] is crossing over so that if you're a huge guitar fan, that's a killer record, but if you're fan of power metal or any kind of traditional-based metal, then you're gonna like it as well.
I understand that you are the hard rock guitar instructor at the Berklee College of Music. Have you help shaped the careers of any past or present guitar gods?
JOE STUMP: Nobody that is huge. A couple of guys that studied with me have gone on to do things. Gus G. from Firewind was one of my students. He's starting to get a bit of press now; not necessarily so much for Firewind, but he's playing with Fredrik [Nordstrm] - the guy that produced In Flames and Hammerfall - in Dream Evil. So it's nice to see somebody that's a good player getting some positive press. Rob Caggiano who plays in Anthrax now was one of my students. I haven't seen him play for quite a while, but when he was a kid and studying with me, he was a ripping, great, monster player, so I'm not surprised he's doing well.
You basically live and breathe guitar, even at your day job. Does it ever get old?
JOE STUMP: No, I'm one of those guys who has been obsessed ever since I was a kid. I listen to all kinds of things. I listen to classical music a bit too, but I play all the time and I listen to all of my favorite players all the time. I've always got various projects in the pipe, so when I'm at Berklee I might be playing guitar eight to ten hours a days, doing the full-on shred instruction thing; or I'm giving clinics, or I'm at rehearsals, or I'm practicing five hours a day. To me it never gets old. I'm always motivated and still obsessed.
How did you end up with David T. Chastain and Leviathan Records?
JOE STUMP: I just started doing some solo stuff after the Trash Broadway thing disbanded in the early 90s. Obviously, there were only a handful of labels, like Shrapnel and Leviathan that you could solicit material to if you were a guitar player in that kind of vein. I put together a really killer demo, and that ended up being the bulk of my first record. At the time I got my deal, it was the height of the whole stupid grunge thing, so someone trying to bring back the whole shred thingÉ They [other record companies] thought it was stupid. Shrapnel at the time was gearing more toward bluesy players and stuff like that, so I was like the only guy starting to revive the thing back then.
I take it you weren't enamored with grunge.
JOE STUMP: No, it was stupid. Of course, there were some cool bands and I guess some things came out of it. All of a sudden, dedicating yourself to your instrument and being a really good player was uncool or unhip. I thought that aspect of it was really stupid. It was as stupid as the hair metal thing was. I didn't like hair metal either. I'd much rather listen to UFO, Deep Purple, or Rainbow than Cinderella or Warrant. The grunge guys deemed it uncool to play a guitar solo just because those guys all sucked as far as their instruments go. It wasn't cool anymore to be good. It's like if you were at school and all the nerds locked away all the guys that could play and took over all the instruments.
Let's move on to your soon-to-be-released Reign of Terror album, Conquer and Divide. What is the significance of reversing the traditional phrasing of divide and conquer?
JOE STUMP: That was Mike's thing. He wrote a tune and wrote the lyrics, and he thought it was a clever reversal. I think his wife was saying, "I think you got it wrong," and he was like, "no, it's supposed to be like that" [laughing]. I thought that was funny. It's not like a deep concept or anything like that. Usually what we end up doing is putting a bunch of stuff together and then we'll pick something that's a strong track but also has a title that might suit the title for the record.
What's in store for those who choose to pick up a copy of Conquer and Divide?
JOE STUMP: If you're a fan of power metal, you'll definitely like the record. If you're a guitar fanatic, of course, you're going to like the record. There are more excessive amounts of guitar than your standard power metal release. Plus, it's got a little bit more balls and it's more in your face than some of the European stuff, where a lot of the European power metal is king of all "nicey nicey" with those goofy choruses and stuff. This is a bit more of a stripped down, in your face, no nonsense kind of a thing. Obviously, if you were a fan of some of the Rainbow stuff and some of
the Yngwie stuff, this would be right up your alley.
You can certainly hear the Blackmore, Schenker, and Malmsteen influences on the album, but I also heard Klaus Meine in some of Michael's vocals, especially on "No Limits." The song made me think of "Dynamite" from Blackout. How do the Scorpions figure into the whole mix?
JOE STUMP: Oh cool. Even though the stuff is aggressive, there is a lot of old school, "Priesty" kinda parts and Maiden kinda parts, and old Scorpions kinds of parts mixed in like that. Mike is a big fan of the old Scorpions stuff. I'm a huge Uli [Jon Roth] fan and a huge Schenker fan.
I was surprised to see that you didn't produce the album. This duty went to Michael Vescera. Why did you decide to hand the production reigns over to Michael, instead of doing it yourself?
I kind of co-produced it with Mike, but Mike spent so much time on it - and many of the ideas were his - that I just kind of bowed out and gave him full production credit. We did do the record at Mike's studio and he had a big say in stuff like the different tones he was using. He put a lot of time in and really worked hard at it.
Will you be doing any touring in support of the album?
JOE STUMP: Yeah, hopefully we'll be getting out there and playing some dates. I tour pretty consistently with my instrumental thing, and with the Reign of Terror thing we did some stuff by ourselves in clubs headlining. We were also on the road last year with Steel Prophet. Hopefully, it will be something along those lines or a mix of both. It would be great to go out on a bigger package with some bigger acts, but you never know how that's gonna pan out, especially in the States.
In your opinion, which guitarists have had the greatest impact on metal music?
JOE STUMP: I'd have to say Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore right off the bat. Certainly Ritchie Blackmore because he invented that whole school of classically influenced rock. Along with Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie, of course, because he took the idea of Deep Purple and Rainbow types of things and added more of a speed metal element to them, and then took the classical influence even further. Those guys had a huge impact on metal. Of course, James Hetfield I'd have to say.
Really? I didn't expect that one.
JOE STUMP: Well, because a lot of the thrashy-like, power metal type, overtone things - that whole school of American thrash. When you're talking about Master of Puppets or Rust in Peace era Megadeth, you're talking about mixing elements of traditional metal, whether it's Priest or Maiden and that whole new wave of British heavy metal thing, along with heavier, fiercer, faster riffs. Lead-wise, Michael Schenker for sure because just about every great metal guitar player acknowledges some kind of Michael Schenker influence.
Are there any newer metal bands that you have recently discovered or that you simply enjoy listening to?
JOE STUMP: I like Arch Enemy. I think they're quite good. Some of the death metal vocal stuff I'm not mad for, but a lot of the guitar work is cool. Once again, the Amott brothers are both heavily influenced by Michael Schenker. There's a German band called Atvance and Olaf Lenk, this German guitar player. A friend of mine turned me on to them and he sent me one of their discs in the mail. He [Lenk] was killing on it; it sounded great. They're kind of in that Stratovarius kind of vibe. They actually do a cover of " I Surrender" on the record [laughing], so right off the bat, I thought, he likes Blackmore, so he can't be all bad. His playing is really nice. He has great vibrato and played some killer chops stuff, and some of the melodies were really nice. The singer almost had a Coverdale kind of vibe to him. I really enjoyed it.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what one metal album would you hope to have with you?
JOE STUMP: That's a good question [laughing]. And I only get to pick one?
OK, maybe two or three.
JOE STUMP: Some that come to mind are Deep Purple's Made in Japan and Rainbow Rising. Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies would be another one, or Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland.
Thanks for the interview Joe.
JOE STUMP: Thanks. I appreciate it.
Joe Stump's Dark Gifts "Rare and Unreleased Tracks"
Joe Stump (live) "Midwest Shredfest"