Jeff Loomis of Nevermore
Interview by EvilG / Transcribed by Duke
Pics courtesy of CenturyMedia.com
As any attentive reader has noticed, Nevermore are one of the band’s I worship. In fact, they are easily one of the better bands to emerge in the past 10 years. I’m not quite sure how the band manages to keep advancing things and how guitarist Jeff Loomis manages to out-shred himself with each album. On the new album, THIS GODLESS ENDEAVOUR, Jeff is joined by second guitarist Steve Smyth which only ups the ante. That is one topic we cover in the interview, along with some guitar geek stuff, the ever important “Maiden or Priest?” question, and of course stuff about the band’s new album….so let’s start there…..
The new album, This godless endeavor is awesome as usual.
Thank you very much, man, I appreciate it.
I just wonder how long you think you can keep this winning streak going?
(laughs) I don?t know if it?s a matter of luck. But Nevermore is a pretty unpredictable band and you never know what?s gonna come up from us next. But with this new record I think it?s pretty diverse because in a way we went back to the old way of songs where it was a complete band writing at the same time. Whereas on some of the other albums it?s just me and Warrel doing most of the writing. This time I wrote six songs and Steve Smyth, our new guitar player, actually wrote three songs and Jim actually wrote one song on this record. I think it makes for a lot of different styles of music on the album. I think it is one of those records where it takes a few listens to take it all in because there is so much going on. We?re pretty happy with the way it turned out. Basically, I think we redeemed ourselves coming back from the whole Enemies of reality thing. We just wanted to get back out there and then go on the road touring again.
With Enemies of reality I know the band wasn?t happy with the sound, but I didn?t know you were unhappy with the songs, were you?
It wasn?t necessarily the songs. We were completely happy with the songs. To make a long story short, what happened was basically that we were at the end of our recording contract with Century Media. They didn?t know if we were going to resign with them and they gave us a very small budget for Enemies of Reality. We wanted to work with Andy Sneap again but we didn?t have the correct amount of money so we had to find a producer that was readily available in the Seattle area and that guy was Kelly Gray. Three fourths through the recording process we noticed that it wasn?t sounding the way we intended it to sound. There wasn?t enough separation between the drums and the guitars and all that stuff. The record was released and we got a lot of backlash from the fans saying it sounded like shit. So we decided to get the master tapes back from him and give it to Andy Sneap so he could properly mix it. That?s the reason why the remix is out now and it made a lot of people happy including the band. I think it was well worth it to do that.
For This godless endeavor, how long did it take to record it? I know the last one took a while longer than you had hoped it would take.
This one took about two months simple because there was a lot of stuff going on in between while we were in England. We had to do a release show, which meant we had to get four songs completely finished to present to the European listening party. That was kinda difficult to do, because normally you track everything all in a row and get the whole record done at once. But we had to get some songs complete for this listening party. Then we had a photo shoot over there and played a show in Greece. With all these little things going on in between the recording process, they interfered a little bit which was why we were in the studio for so long. The basic recording process took maybe a month and a half.
You mentioned about tracking, I know on your last album song things were recorded more in a live situation. Did you do that this time or did you use the more traditional method of laying it down once at a time?
It was more of the traditional method. What we would do was that I would go in with a click track and basically play the whole song with my guitar rather than having to re-do it with Van all the time. Then Van could just press play and record all the drums, picking the tracks that he really enjoyed. Once we had all the drums done we started on the rhythm guitars. Then the bass was added, following that the vocals and the guitar leads.
How many rhythm tracks are there on most songs?
Most of the time we would do two each. Two of mine on the one side and two of Steve?s on the other, so there are four tracks.
Andy Sneap has become known for pushing those we work with to levels they would not have reached otherwise.
Was there any particular part of the album, a solo or a song, where he really pushed you so you ended up doing something you never thought was possible?
Yeah, every day that kinda thing happens with him. He?s a perfectionist and he really likes things to be perfect structurally with a whole song. But when it comes to lead guitar that?s really a fun thing to do with him. We would get together pretty late at night sometimes when the inspiration seems to come on the strongest and just kinda go for it. Sometimes I can work on solos too much so they sound too structured. He would just roll the tape and I would improvise a lot of the stuff that is on the record. Some of it was actually worked out with the solo in it, like the title track “This Godless Endeavor”. But a lot of the other times I just went for it and it seemed to get a lot more fire in the solos that way. He really ended up pushing me quite a lot harder this time and I think you can hear that from just listening to some of the songs. I actually call him the sixth member of the band because he knows exactly what we want to hear. He?s perfect for the band. Hopefully we can work with him again.
Did having a second guitarist for recording this time add to the time at all?
A little bit, yeah. Sometimes when you?re under the microscope in the studio you notice a lot of small things that aren?t what you heard them in rehearsal. I ended up doing a couple of my own songs all by myself, but it?s the same with Steve?s songs. Every guitar player has that feel or touch where it?s slightly different from the others so sometimes we would have to end up doing that. A lot of bands do that nowadays. Metallica has always done that with Hetfield playing most of the rhythms. But it was almost 50/50, things evened up and everybody got an equal opportunity to add to the whole.
I guess that?s the same for the solo department where you had to share a little more of the space this time? Though you still do quite a lot of solos?
Yeah, yeah! We actually split it up and sometimes he would feel that my style suited better in some areas of his songs and vice versa. It?s more of an inspiration thing, we both inspire each other as guitar players. It was just very inspirational this time to be able to work with someone like that again and push each other so much harder.
I guess you had become used to being the only guitar player in the band and the main songwriter, what made you decide to get another guitar player? Was it mainly for the live environment or was it that Steve just happened to be there at the right time?
You know, in the past a lot of readers and fans know that Nevermore has had quite a few guitar players. It?s not due to any negative aspect or anything like that. Pat O?Brien wanted to move on more into the death metal thing, Tim Calvert pursued a career in aviation, and Curran Murphy was never a permanent member of the band, he ended up joining Annihilator permanently. So it was all about finding the right person and that was Steve. He was having some difficulties in Testament at the moment and wanted to move on. Being a long time friend of his, I asked him to join the band on a permanent level. It really was just one of those timing issues where it took time to find the right person to create music together with or the right person for Nevermore?s style. We couldn?t hire anyone who wrote a completely different style of music. It took time and now I?m proud to say that Steve is the final member of the band.
I know you played a number of shows with Jag Panzer?s Chris Broderick. Did you ever toy with the idea of asking him to pull double duty or was that out of the question all along?
Basically we just had Chris fill in for some festival dates that we had in Europe when we didn?t have a second guitar player. To make a long story short, Steve was just more proper for the band I think. His demos that he made of some of his songs, we could really relate to them, more so than Chris?s in a sense. I just think Steve fits better into the band. We?re still friends with Chris of course, but Steve is just more in our style and that?s why we chose to have him in the band.
So how do you compare your song writing style and soloing to Steve?s?
I think Steve adds a little more of the old school thrash elements to some of the songs. Our techniques are pretty similar, we grew up with the same influences, like Marty Friedman and Jason Becker. I don?t know, I think we?re really similar actually, but at the same time there are differences, it?s just one of those things that adds to the whole musical aspect of the whole thing. It?s hard to describe, really. We just inspire each other and push each other to levels we have never been to before.
I thought his introduction to the band was pretty seamless. Someone might hear the new album and not notice that there is a new person soloing.
Exactly. There were a lot of people who had heard the album for the first time, friends for instance, and went “Loomis, you sound really killer!” Err? that was Steve! So it?s a good thing that we have the liner notes to the album to explain where everyone is playing a certain solo. The styles are so alike and I think it?s all because of having the same influences growing up.
So what are some of your favourite songs from the new album so far?
With the album so new that is mostly an ever changing thing. But I really like “Born”, the very first song. It?s really cool to me because it adds the influence of speed metal and death metal which I?m still really influenced by. I think it rubbed off that I was in a bunch of death metal bands before I joined Nevermore and Sanctuary. It?s also got a really great chorus in it. I have to say that the title track is extremely cool too, because we experimented with some new things there as well.
Are all the songs on the album potential candidates to be played live or are some of them studio creations that you never had the intention to play live?
All of the songs that we wrote for this album we probably will play live. Unfortunately, on this Gigantour that is coming up we only have a 30 minutes stage slot so it would be impossible to play the title track since it?s almost nine minutes. We?d end up playing three songs and going “Goodnight!” But I think on the European headlining tour that is coming up after that, we will try to play as much of the album as possible. On the Gigantour we will hopefully fit in three songs from it and some of the old catalogue as well. We will rotate three different sets every night, so that will prepare us for the European headlining tour as well. If people come to more than one show they will not see the same show every night, they will see a different set.
With Gigantour you have a great opportunity to reach a lot of new fans, so I was wondering if you will agonize over what to play in a 30 minutes set or will you just be yourself and play whatever you feel like?
It?s unbelievable really because Nevermore has always played smaller venues in the United States, like 900 or a thousand or less than that, maybe a 500 seater. This really does give us an opportunity to gain a wider audience so we will do a lot of things. For instance, on our web site we?re going to ask the fans what they want to hear from the back catalogue. Once you have six or seven albums out it?s really hard to figure out what you?re gonna play and what the fans wanna hear. I think that with the rotating setlist every night we will please them as much as we can.
The title of the album, This godless endeavor, what does that mean to you?
Basically that?s Warrel?s idea of the different religions that separate the different people of the world and how it can cause conflict. Sometimes religion can cause good things for people in the different beliefs that they have. Sometimes it can cause war. He wanted to get that across to people as far as his different beliefs in it. A lot of people think this is a concept album again, but it?s really just based on different topics that we wanted to write about, like the meaning of life and the system we live in and things like that. It?s a personal thing for him that he really wants the listeners to get on their own.
More songs were written for the album than were actually used. Were any of them recorded and if so, will any of them find their way to a b-side or anything?
Yeah, one song we did, “Revelation (Mother Earth)” by Ozzy, will actually be a b-side for the Japanese release, I think. Initially it was going to go on the new record but the record is already goddamn 60 minutes long so we didn?t wanna add anything more to it since we thought it was a perfect time. So yeah, the cover song that we did will be released somewhere in the near future.
You?re a big Randy Rhoads fan I guess?
Yeah, we are and so is Andy Sneap and of course so is Steve. This time we didn?t do it like the Judas Priest thing or the Simon and Garfunkel thing, we did it exactly as on the record. It?s amazing how close it sounds to the original with all the acoustics and everything. It?s kinda funny because a long time ago when Andy saw Ozzy live with Randy Rhoads he got one of Randy?s guitar picks and we actually used it during the recording process of the song.
Is the solo in “Revelation (Mother Earth)” one of your favourites to play?
It?s killer, it?s totally awesome! We all split the solo up in three different sections so I play one part of it, Steve plays a part of it, and actually Andy plays the end of it.
I know Warrel writes his own lyrics and I was wondering if you help him with his vocal melodies? That?s one thing I?m always blown away by with Nevermore, that he finds such a haunting melody over so much busy riffing.
Well, I tried it once. I had this idea for a vocal melody and he was just looking at me like “Man, what are you talking about? This sucks!” (laughs) Seriously, he really does his own thing with the melodies. I have some influence for single notes, like maybe holding something out a little longer, or maybe just one different note. But really he comes up with all the vocal melodies. That?s just the way the Nevermore formula has forever been. Once you have something good going like that you don?t wanna go in and mess with it so he usually takes care of that aspect.
When you first hear him put a melody over your riff, are you surprised?
Totally! That?s a really good question. Sometimes I?m surprised just because I would never have thought of that. Usually when guitarists try to write melodies for their own stuff it sounds like another guitar line. He really works off that in a good way. I?m glad he has the talent for that because I know I sure don?t.
Do you think Nevermore has reached a peak in creativity because the new album is so mind-blowing or do you think that with Steve in the band now there?s even more potential for better things?
I think so, because with every album when I sit down and try to write things I really think I have to reinvent myself again. It?s a hard thing to do, but what I try to do is not to think about it too much because if you do it?s not going to work. I don?t think we?ve reached the peak yet. I think it?s just the beginning actually. It?s our tenth year as a band and I think you get stronger as song-writers and tighter as a band so I think we?re just going to get better. I don?t think there?s an ending yet.
I heard you might be doing a side project with Pamela Moore of “Operation: Mindcrime” fame. What can you tell me about it and what kind of music will it be if it happens?
Unfortunately, I just talked to Pam the other day and due to all of our touring schedules and things that are really conflicting, we will not be able to do it. I?m really depressed about it because she?s a good friend and an awesome talent, but I really couldn?t get there in time so they had to find someone else to do it. We discussed that maybe sometimes in the future we will find something else to do together.
Since you at one time before Nevermore were involved with a lot of death metal bands, would you be interested in playing that style again in a side project?
Hell yeah! I just need a lot more time on my hands for something like that. It?s funny, the death metal band that I was in in Wisconsin 12-13 years ago, Experiment Fear, is still going. They?re still going and it would be fun to do something with them again. If anyone asked me about something they wanted me to do I?d be interested because I?m still really into that kind of music.
Are there any new bands you listen to or is it old favourites?
I really like Hatesphere. Steve just did a solo on their record and I wasn?t able to do it due to the fact that when Steve wasn?t here. He had our ProTools unit with him in San Fransisco and I was unable to do something with it. But Hatesphere is killer, and I really like Meshuggah. I love Meshuggah. I think they have a definite identity in the metal world today. You put their music on and you know it?s them. The Haunted? a lot of the Swedish bands are what I?m into.
Of course, Michael and Christopher do amazing stuff.
Christopher?s out of the band, at least for now…
I guess he?s going to pursue some studies or something like that, going back to school. But I know they?re going to be working with Gus G now from Firewind.
I?ve got a couple of questions about guitar geek stuff. At one time you played a custom built seven string and now you?re endorsed by Schecter. Do you still use custom guitars for recording?
Actually I used to use a guitar company called Axtro a long time ago and they were building for me in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but that kinda fell through. Basically I was looking for a really good seven string guitar that I could use and that I really enjoyed playing. And that was Schecter. Mark McCourt, the A&R guy at Schecter, has been really helpful with getting me guitars that I really enjoy playing, so I?m exclusively using Schecter at the moment. I use the C-7 Hellraiser guitar with the EMG pickups and I also use the 007 Elite guitar that they also have. The only modification that I do is to switch the pickups and put the EMG707’s on them. I?m also using Cranq amps at the moment, I just signed a deal with them so I?m using their Crankenstein. Basically that?s it. I don?t really use anything else. I?ve got like a sonic maximizer, a chorus pedal, that?s it. The setup is really really simple.
Is your live rig the same as your studio one?
Pretty much, yeah, except that in the studio we use a bit of extra gain through an old Tubescreamer pedal, just a little bit of it. If you turn it up too much it starts taking up the low end so we just dial it in slightly just to get a bit of extra crunch to it, especially for solos and stuff like that.
I know you plan to one day to a guitar instrumental cd, when might that happen? And how about an instructional dvd?
Instructional DVD? I don?t know, that definitely hasn?t been in the works. But I?m almost complete in writing a lot of the instrumental stuff. I?m putting it together. I just have to figure out who I want as the other musicians on it. I think that will probably be recorded in early 2006 when we?re done with the American and European tours. So that will be out very, very soon and that?s something I?ve always wanted to do for the longest time. I just can?t wait to get it done. It?s gonna be something really cool and I think people will enjoy it.
Why do you think some people view shredding as mere wankery as opposed to talent?
(laughs) Because a lot of people can?t do it!
Exactly! A lot of people just think it?s a very dated thing. Fuck it, I?m willing to say that Nevermore is trying to bring the guitar solo back! So is Arch Enemy and a lot of other bands. But there are still a lot of guitar players in the genre who can?t do it or just think it?s not feasible in the type of music that they do. But I?ve always been a fan of that kinda thing so that?s why we do it.
Is there any other guitar-based music besides metal that you listen to that has had an influence of your playing?
I try not to limit myself. I really try to soak in everything. I remember listening to my dad?s old Carlos Montoya records, the flamenco player from way back, John McLaughlin, California Guitar Trio, things like that. Anything that has talent to it I can really get into. There are so many players out there but Jason Becker is probably still my favourite.
Hell yeah! I think that?s the most unbelievable instrumental album that was ever made.
Do you think your instrumental album will be along those lines?
I think it definitely will have some of the same qualities in it. But I definitely don?t want to go out there and blatantly rip off Jason or anything. I want to do something of my own. I think it?s actually going to sound more like the Dragon?s Kiss thing with a little of the speed metal aspect involved. I want to try to incorporate a little bit of that but I want the whole record to be really super heavy, just overboard (laughs). Just make it really insane!
Will you have other guitar players on it, or will you do it all yourself?
I?m just gonna do this myself. It?s an opportunity for me to showcase myself, which a lot of people have wanted me to do but I also personally wanna do it myself. I don?t know who is going to release it yet but as soon as I get it recorded I?m sure it won?t be a problem.
Someone will be in line to release it for sure.
I hope so! (laughs)
When Nevermore started, did you think that you would reach this level? Ten years ago, did you dream that you would still be doing Nevermore?
Not really, it?s something that I never really thought about. Every time we put out a record we have tours coming up and it goes on like that. I don?t want to say it?s a luck thing or anything but it?s definitely something that I?m proud of. To be in the whole process of the metal movement. We?ve done a lot of things that none of my friends have been able to do in their lives, like touring the world. I feel really optimistic about Nevermore?s future. It?s pretty killer to be able to go out and do your thing, so I feel lucky about it.
My last little section before we finish was inspired from asking people from the Metal-Rules (hello disgruntled freaks! ha!) forum if there was something they wanted asked. One funny/smartass reply was “Priest vs. Maiden” which is an ongoing joke on the forum. That inspired the following…so let?s start…Priest or Maiden?
Priest or Maiden? I have to say Maiden, really. I love Priest but it seems they?re going out and rehashing things, especially with their tour. They?re not playing much of their new album from what I hear. Maiden has always been more of the guitar star kind of guys to me with Dave and Adrian. Piece of mind was one of my first favourite metal albums that I ever heard so I have to go with Maiden.
Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai?
I have to say Yngwie because even though I love Steve Vai, Yngwie always has that quality of showmanship where he?s out there just totally showing off. He really has that quality where he knows he?s good and the crowd does that as well. He?s a real showman and a true innovator of doing something different with the guitar. It?s unfortunate that he?s kind of rehashing everything at the same time, but I can?t really say that because I haven?t heard his new album and I hear it has been getting a lot of good remarks and comments about it. “Unleashing the fooking fury” or whatever it?s called. I have to hear it when it comes out. But I have to say Malmsteen for sure.
Black Sabbath or Deep Purple?
Oh man! That?s a really tough one, dude! People are gonna hate me for this, but I?ve always been more into Ritchie myself. Even though I love the darkness and the mysteriousness of Sabbath, but records like “Machine Head” and “Perfect Strangers” I just love. I love the motion of Ritchie Blackmore, he?s an awesome player.
I?d have to go with Ritchie for the solos but Iommi for the riffs.
I totally agree with you man, quote me on that!
How about Zakk Wylde or John Petrucci?
I think I have to say Zakk just because it goes back to the showman thing. Crazy on stage, just goes insane with his guitar. At the same time I think Petrucci is much more of a technical wizard. He?s got a lot of theory behind him but I just love watching Zakk on stage going crazy with that fucking Gibson.
To bring it back to Nevermore: Dreaming neon black or Dead heart in a dead world?
Dead heart in a dead world because that was when Nevermore really started to change as a band to become better songwriters, I think. It was when we first started to incorporate seven string guitars and got a little more of a heavier aspect which I?ve always been into more. So I have to go with “Dead heart?”
The Politics of Ecstasy or Enemies of Reality?
Definitely The Politics of Ecstasy just for the simple fact that it was a really fun record to record with Curran and the sound quality is so much better than on the original Enemies of reality.
Besides your new album, which one would you say your favourite is?
My favourite Nevermore record? You know, every musician always says that their newest effort is their best yet. Sorry, but I have to agree with that. I think this is our strongest song-writing effort and being able to work with Steve on this record was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So This godless endeavor is definitely the record that showcases Nevermore to its extremity. I just can?t wait to get out there and play the songs live.
And what would the runner-up be?
The runner-up would have to be? I have to say “Dead heart?” It?s probably due to Andy Sneap We had never had such a great relationship with a producer previously. That?s my vote!
Since this is your tenth year, are you gonna celebrate that with a DVD of the history of the band or some live stuff or whatever?
Yeah, we?re actually working on a DVD at the moment. What we already have done is to hire a documentary producer, his name is Michael Rivera. He?s a dude out of Seattle here who has actually worked on some jazz films. He?s gonna be out on the Gigantour with us documenting what we?re like on the road and things like that and do a couple of concert pieces as well as documenting the video we just did. It should be pretty cool and we?re hoping for the middle of 2006 for the release.
Anything else you want to add?
You pretty much got it all, bro. I just wanna get out of my home, get on the road and play for the fans, just get back in the public eye and do my thing.