Michael Angelo Batio
Interviewed by EvilG
Thanks to: Lord of the Wasteland for providing extra interview questions, Drew for hooking us up, and to Deb for making the interview happen.
Just about every metal guitarist knows at least something about Michael Angelo Batio. He is best known for his twin-necked, left and right-handed double-guitar which he both invented and was the first to play. This ambidextrous virtuoso is not just a one trick wonder however. He is arguably the fastest guitar player you’ll ever hear and when he wants to, can play some slow yet engaging leads. Non-guitar freaks might remember Michael from his stint with the outrageous band Nitro which seems to have garnered the band a sort of cult-like and legendary status. In this interview we talk to Michael about his new solo album, HANDS WITHOUT SHADOWS, guitar playing, Nitro, and more.
Michael, thanks for taking the time to chat with us about your new album HANDS WITHOUT SHADOWS and about your guitar playing.
On the new album you’ve chosen to pay homage to a number of guitar heroes with songs that are not mere covers but interpretations of some of the artists most memorable riffs and solos. Tell me how this idea took shape in terms of the artists you selected to cover and the material from them to pay tribute with.
“Hands Without Shadows” is a concept CD. I wanted to pay tribute to some of my favorite Rock Guitarists, take some of their songs and rearrange them in my own way, to fit my own style of playing. I re did versions of artists songs like “Burn” from Deep Purple, “Dream On” from Aerosmith, “Wherever I May Roam” from Metallica, “All Along the Watchtower” from Jimi Hendrix, an Ozzy medley and a Led Zeppelin medley. There are also a few of my own new songs on “HWS” as well. I asked a few of my friends to make guest solo appearances on some of the tracks and they did. For example, I did a tribute to Randy Rhoads and had Rudy Sarzo, Ozzy’s original Bass Player (that played with Randy) perform on my version. Mark Tremonti, guitarist from Creed and now Alter Bridge played an outstanding guitar solo on my version of “Burn”. Bobby Rock played drums on the entire CD. He also played on the first “Nitro” CD. He is a fantastic drummer. I am very pleased with the results. You can hear sound samples on my website www.angelo.com. I also posted a detailed description of each song and what I did to record them and get them to sound the way they do on the “Hands Without Shadows” page of my site. I wanted people to get a glimpse of what
my vision was, what I thought and what I wanted to accomplish on this CD.
What artists or ideas didn’t make it to the album which you’d of liked to include? For example, why cover Aerosmith instead of something by Yngwie Malmsteen or Eddie Van Halen?
I actually had a Van Halen track started that was supposed to be on “Hands Without Shadows” but I chose not to release it at this time. The drums and bass are already finished. I just have to add guitars. The reason I did not finish this track is because Dimebag was supposed to do a guest solo on this track. After he died I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. As far as the Aerosmith track, I had the opportunity early in my career to tour with Aerosmith. I think Joe Perry is a great guitarist. I chose “Dream On” because it is actually very complicated harmonically, I could play keyboards on it and I think it is an awesome song!
Why pay tribute to the “weak” era of Metallica with a black-album tune when you could have picked something more engaging like Damage Inc, Fight Fire With Fire, Disposable Heroes, etc. haha…
I know this might anger some Metallica purists but I think “Black” album is phenomenal. I chose this Metallica track because I really like the song, I felt it would lend itself to a great instrumental guitar interpretation and after doing some research I couldn’t find a “known” artist who had already “covered” or recorded it.
The Double-Necked Guitar
Many people know you, if not by name, then as “the crazy shredder with the left/right double-neck guitars”. Do you wish you were known for more, and if so, would the path to that be writing songs for vocals from which you could feature your phenomenal skills as a soloist? If not, are you happy with your current level of fame and being known as the fastest guitarist in the world?
I invented the Double-Guitar and was the first person ever, to successfully play it. I have been signed to Atlantic and Warner Brothers Records, both Major labels, in Heavy, Hard Rock, Vocal bands. Still, I have always played for me. I did not compromise my skill as a guitarist during the “Grunge” and “NuMetal” days and I will not now. My motivation was/is to always get better. Always push the envelope. (That does not mean play faster. I play as fast as the part I want to play requires). It means to find better ways of expressing the musical ideas I want to express. In conclusion, people can call me whatever they want. That does not concern me. I care about the music and what I stand for and believe as an Artist.
By the way, what parts, if any, on the new album features the use of the double neck guitar?
None. The Double-Guitar is for live performances only.
How much time did it take to perfect your technique with it and is it something you have to continually practice?
Guitar playing (or playing any instrument) is a lifelong pursuit. I started playing the guitar at 10 had really good technique by the time I was 13 years old. I studied Jazz, Blues, Country and Classical besides Rock, but loved the aggression of really Heavy, Rock music. I have practiced for as long as 14 hours a day. I like to practice and am very disciplined as far as playing every day. Mark Tremonti and I are very good friends. We get together and play for 6 or 7 hours at a time. Jamming, trading riffs, song ideas and lately, doing insane, legato finger exercises in unison! We are both forever “students of the guitar”. That is the quest- to find new ways of getting better on your instrument- to constantly learn more- to find better ways of expressing yourself through your instrument.
As you’ve been using these guitars for a few years, have you developed any new techniques or ways of incorporating their use into your music?
I change and improve my Double-Guitar solo all of the time. As far as single guitar playing- I posted a detailed description about which guitar techniques I used on the “Hands Without Shadows” page of my website. The average non guitar playing listener would probably not be able to tell the techniques but I have experimented with some brand new things that I did incorporate into the “HWS” CD.
With the ambidextrous and high-speed nature of your playing, how much of your ability do to attribute to natural gift versus the years of intense practicing?
Both. Yes, I have a natural gift, but I am a “workaholic” and have practiced day after day, year after year to attain and retain my technique on guitar. I have a good work ethic. I also finish what I start. That is a very important thing that many people do not do. If I start something, I finish it. I have a University degree in Music, I finish and release CDs, DVDs, etc… Also, I play other instruments as well. I consider Keyboards, Drums and Bass Guitar my “second” instruments.
About the Nitro days, looking back do you think that the big hair and outrageous costumes made people take the band less seriously?
We were a product of the times. You could not get a record deal if you DIDN’T look that that. Our label wanted us to be THE most over the top, outrageous band ever. The label gave us this “catch phrase” “Nitro- The Highest, The Fastest, The Loudest”! Our job was to live up to that and we did. The President of our Record label actually told me and I quote ” Michael, I want you to overplay, all the time”! What guitarist wouldn’t want to do that?
Also, it is not easy to “tear it up” all of the time. It was challenging and it was fun!
Did you ever actually witness singer Jim Gillette shatter a glass with his voice or is this a myth?
Yes I have witnessed Jim shatter a glass with his voice so many times I have lost count. He used to practice shattering glasses at band rehearsals! Jim Gillette shattered a glass with his voice at our very first show on the strip in L.A. We got signed after that one show. A student of his -Jaime Vendera, went on the TV show “Mythbusters”, shattered a glass they way Jim had taught him and proved on camera that a human could actually do it.
Why did Nitro pack it in after only two albums and are you surprised at how much of a cult following Nitro has garnered over the years?
In a word- “Grunge”. The genre of Rock music that MTV wanted to support changed dramatically, overnight, and the era of the “anti guitarist” began.
Jim and I have always remained good friends. We spoke just a few days ago. Also, he had met Lita Ford whom he eventually married and I had an offer to take my career in the direction it is now- In conclusion, we just felt it was time to do something else. I was a bit surprised at our cult status at first but in hindsight we have stood the test of time because we wrote good songs that meant something to us and as outrageous as we were, we were “the real deal”. We could actually DO the outrageous things our label said we could do.
Since drummer Bobby Rock was also a member of Nitro, and he plays on your new album, and since you are still in contact with Jim Gillette, have you considered recording any new Nitro material? Would a reunion be possible?
There are no plans for a Nitro reunion at this time.
Is the era of the guitar hero returning? For a while, it was not cool to show off with over the top guitar playing but some like yourself stuck it out. Do you think the day of the guitar hero is back, did it ever go away?
I think that the idea of what a “Guitar Hero” is has changed. Young guitarists look up to me because I sincerely want to help them become better players. I “lay it on the line”, put my heart and soul into the guitar, show them on DVD what I am doing and how they can do it too. I can deliver that same performance in concert too so they know that it is genuine. My message to them is also a positive one. They see me as the person who would not stop playing solos because some NuMetal guitarist said it “wasn’t cool”.
I have a saying that I came up with, that I live by- “It is better to have it and not need, than to need it and not have it”. I feel that the modern, 21st Century “Guitar Hero” is more like- a guitarist other guitarists aspire to play like, because the technical level of a top Rock Guitarist today is so much more advanced than it was in the past.
What do your think of the G3 Tours? Is it something you’d do if asked, or would you consider putting your own version of G3 on the road.if so what other 2 guitarists would complement your style and make for a great tour package for guitar fans?
I would love to be on the G3 Tour. Steve Vai, Satch and MAB. That would be incredible.
What incredibly talented guitar virtuoso never got the recognition they deserved and why do you think this happened?
Shawn Lane. He passed away a few years ago and even after his death hasn’t really received the recognition that he deserves.
Ultimately, the public decides. Time is the judge. Distance gives one perspective. Maybe years from now Shawn will be remembered the way we remember Django Reinhardt. Hopefully.
In your own spare time (if you even have any!), what bands do you enjoy, and do you find that your musical tastes have changed over the years? If so, does that change of personal taste find its way into your own music?
I have always liked a lot of different kinds of music. I will listen to Mozart, then put on a Children of Bodem CD. I think my listening tastes have expanded over the years. I have all sorts of different genres of Music in my CD collection and on my I Pod. I highly recommend listening to as many different kinds of music as possible.
If you could collaborate with one vocalist in the world who would it be and why?
Sting. I love his music and he always has a lot of musicians on stage. I think it would be fun to play with multiple keyboard players, percussionists, several guitarists, multiple singers, etc…
What takes up most of your time, and as a result is perhaps how you make a living from the guitar: instructional videos, students, solo CD’s, clinic tours, etc.?
“Multi-tasking” is the key! I do not teach privately and haven’t since I graduated from the University so that is not a factor. Tom Morello from RATM and AudioSlave was my student when I did teach though! The hardest thing for me to adjust to is to travel and tour as much as I do, then get back home and record right away or completely “switch gears” and take care of other music related business. I have learned to do this but it wasn’t easy. Traveling as much as I do is difficult. I was on over 50 different plane flights between late September and early November last year. I traveled to Europe twice and South America twice during that time, while performing in the USA between those trips.
Regarding your clinic tours…there are clearly a LOT of guitar players that would love to see you playing live at a clinic. What is the best way for them to see you (petition their local music store to bring you in??)?
My agent Deb Mikesch, handles my entire itinerary. I am contracted by Dean Guitars to do a minimum of 48 clinics per year. I perform at least 100 combined Concerts and Clinics per year all over the World. The best way to see me perform is to just look at my schedule (which is posted in detail on line) and find a show that is close to you!
For a guy who’s reached your playing level, what’s next? Where else can you take your playing or do you entertain those thoughts?
I do, but at this stage of my career, in my life, it is not about proving anything to anyone about how good I am on the guitar, it is just about making better music. Just making better music.
Official MAB site: www.angelo.com
Check out the video currently online at www.deanguitars.com/angelo/ – it’s mindblowing!