Interview with Guitar God, Toby Knapp
You are about to celebrate 25 years as an artist. Take us back to 1990 with that first demo, did you ever think you would still making a living doing this 25 years later?
It’s good to have maintained some level of visibility and appreciation that long in the underground music scene, but there have only been periods of time where music actually produced a living. Teaching guitar, playing in cover bands and a little bit of cash from album sales….when you can get those three things lined up you can earn a living. I, in recent years have grown to dislike teaching and playing covers in bars, I would rather work a regular and predictable job these days and just put in a hard day’s work, anything that comes in from music is just icing on the cake, music is my labor of love. My first demos were raw as fuck…a one man band situation that sounded like Venom meets a sloppy Yngwie Malmsteen, but it was so damn thrilling to actually create. It of course paid off when Mike Varney at Shrapnel Records and Guitar World got some of those demos decades ago. Honestly, when I was 17 or 18 I figured I would have put out a few successful albums and tours and have been long dead by now. 30 didn’t even seem realistic. I’m 42 and feel I’m just getting started, a second wind.
How has the industry evolved (for better or for worse) across those years?
The industry I think has gone to shit, that’s why I feel all the more fortunate to have maintained. If I was trying to get in the “game” now instead of the early nineties it would be impossible…I’m glad I was young at that point in time. Now there are more bands than fans and most bands sound the same. It’s the weird macho nu metal shit sound, I hate it. It’s hard to earn money when once your album is out, it can be found for free through illegal means. People buy single mp3’s instead of full albums as well. I consider myself lucky to have current contracts with Moribund Records and strong ties to Pure Steel and Shredguy Records. I don’t see another golden age of Heavy Metal ever again…as in larger than life arena bands. Being an underground fan and musician though, I’m fine with that. The Biebers and the rappers with the jewelry and the cowboys with the voice correction pitch control robot devices have won.
Satan rules the underground though and luckily when Slipknot and the tons of bands of that whole shit genre bite it- they will not be allowed to enter.
Is it still important for physical product to be produced in this day and age?
To me it is. That’s why Moribund, Pure Steel and Shredguy are good….they are keeping actual physical product alive. I wouldn’t want to be on Steve Vai’s label where you record an album and just get a digital release…I haven’t even heard of his stable of musicians. Which is a shame, I’m sure they are brilliant. In addition to instrumental music, I am a fan and musician of the Black Metal extreme and the fanbase of that music will always want vinyl and cd’s- even cassettes. It’s about music and holding an actual product in your hand. I wanna look at a god damn album while listening.
Is is true that you briefly toured and played with Darkane? If yes, how did that come about?
I really wanted to get out and play and tour. Godless Rising could never establish a full line-up, we tried and tried. All this was going on and a friend at Nuclear Blast Records knew Darkane needed a guy for an upcoming US/Canada stint. I submitted a vid to them of me playing some of their stuff and they took me on board through a few US dates and all of Canada. It was an interesting experience and the music was of course a challenge. Darkane are not really my type of thing musically, but I appreciate their musicianship and arrangement skills.
Have you thought about getting a permanent role in a larger scale, international touring act?
If the opportunity arose and it was the right band yes, I would absolutely get involved. I have said before I would drop what I’m doing if Deicide or Overkill called!
Tell us about the recent resurrection of your early Forced Religion Project.
Not too much to say about that at the present time, it seems to be “on hold” but not cancelled. I did record new guitar solos for some of Forced’s 1994 demos and they posted those at Reverb Nation. With everyone working and members spread across the country it’s tough, but we are still hoping for it. We shall see. I may work with the vocalist in a totally new Black/Death Metal project- more news on that later. I envision a sound that is influenced by Venom, Beherit, early Sodom, early Deicide, Immolation, Black Witchery with just a bit of Mercyful Fate influence in instrumental passages. It might even be a new direction for Waxen.
Some people identify you as more of Black/Death Metal guy and some guys identify you more as a Power Metal guy and even more perhaps as a solo artist, ‘shred guy’. Do you experience much cross-over with the types and fans and how do you keep those styles and stream separate all the time? Are the fans of your guitar work surprised when they learn about Waxen for example?
Here’s how it seems to work. The fans of the power metal/heavy metal usually don’t like the Black Metal but are open to the solo stuff. The fans of the Black Metal tend to have more of an interest in everything…they investigate the other projects after hearing my more extreme work. The number of fans that support everything is relatively low but highly supportive and have shown long term dedication which makes me very proud. To me, a Racer X album can be filed right next to a Xasthur or Immolation album. I just like good stuff. If it’s the technical mastery and complexity of Yngwie or the harsh and primitive sound of Black Witchery it is coming from the same place- it is honest music.
Speaking of Shred Guy, how did you become involved with Shred Guy records?
I met Mike McDowell when he was launching the label and doing shred compilation albums. He invited me to participate in “Shredding Across The World” vol. 2 and then we stayed in touch. Finally, I pitched the idea for “The Campaign” to him. An album that kept switching gears and showcasing various guest vocalists like Mayhem’s Attila Csihar on a blackened metal track, Into Eternity’s touring vocalist and overall musician extraordinaire Dean Sternberg singing some traditional metal, Tom Cline singing on a straight ahead rock track and Godless Rising/Vital Remains Jeff Gruslin on something death metal inspired. In between these vocal tracks I wanted instrumentals. He loved the idea, put the album out- it did pretty good. So, I was able to follow that album up a few years later with “Static Warfare” on Shredguy Records. Of course Onward and Knapp/Johansson albums came soon after.
One of your most recent releases is the latest Onward album NEW FATHOMS DOWN. We reviewed it here this month. Tell us about how that came to be.
These were songs that the late Michael Grant and I recorded demos of, but never quite finished because we felt at the time maybe it was the wrong direction- because it’s very different than the other Onward stuff….more of a hard rock album with 70’s influences. Since I’ve launched what I consider to be a continuation of Onward; Where Evil Follows…I wanted all the music Michael and I wrote to be properly finished and available to Onward fans first, to wrap up the bookends of that era. So that 4th album came about, with alot of the music redone in 2014 to give it a little boost, these were 12 year old demos after all from analog sources. It’s a tribute to him.
For all our gear heads out there, tell us a bit about set-up. I’m sure it is a bit different for each of your projects.
Various Marshall heads, combos, cabinets and lately always an original Ibanez Tube Screamer. The Fender Stratocaster has been the mainstay for 16 years and I have a pretty good selection of them. I just like what I like and don’t mess with it much…keep it simple. I used the same strat on my last few albums that I used on my debut, a beat up red seventies strat with a dimarzio super distortion humbucker.
Do you have a preferred studio to work with or do you have a home studio?
I have very modest tools that I work with, but they get the job done. Fostex digital/portable six tracks can do a helluva lot if you’ve spent years with em’.
The tagline of your website is DARK. VIRTUTOSITY. INTEGRITY. Can you tell us a bit about how those words have been built into your career and personal philosophy?
Musically, I tend to head for the darkness, Spiritually I align with what some consider dark. I’ve been a reader of Crowley’s work for several years now and I find that philosophy works best for me- do what you are born to do and keep doing it no matter what, music is a hard path I’ve chosen but it is what stirs my soul and somehow, someway just when I think I’ve lost it or it’s over, a door opens that keeps me going, and that is proof I’m on the right path. Virtuosity is not what I feel about myself, but it is what I am often referenced by….I’m a sloppy guitar player, I’ll be the first to admit that….but always in the company of virtuosos since the start like being on Shrapnel Records at a young age. Integrity means I’m gonna keep doing this, I will provide honest music and I will live by my word even if some think it’s not always right. The fact I’m still in the music business after all these years has a little bit of “fuck you- I’m still doing it”
intertwined with it. No one believed.
You have had a very prolific career. Is there one moment or artistic piece that stands out in your mind as your finest hour?
So many good things have happened. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve had some victories…it’s hard to say. I really like what I did with the new Waxen album “Agios Holokauston”…the last solo album “Static Warfare” and especially the soon to be released Where Evil Follows album “Portable Darkness” out soon on Moribund Records. All my listeners like something different, certainly many will say Onward was my finest hour because I had a great band to hit the road with and Michael Grant is a legendary talent. Some say my debut ‘Guitar Distortion” is the best because I had one of the world’s greatest drummers working with me, Ray Luzier. Maybe the instrumental album with Markus Johansson….there is I think a lot of little gems.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
More Heavy Metal!!
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