Interviewed by Celtic Bob
Hello Jason, I just want to say starting off you are an inspiration to many musicians and people in general.
Thank you. That is always sweet to hear.
Can you tell us a bit about your communication technique that was developed by your dad?
When I was losing my voice in 1996, only a few people could sometimes barely understand me. My dad was afraid I wouldn’t be able to say anything very soon. He went into his art studio one day and invented it in maybe an hour. He brought the “alphabet board” out to show me. I avoided it for a while because I didn’t want to stop exercising my voice.
Each letter requires me to make two eye movements. The first movement is to point to one of the six squares. The second movement is to point to one of the four letters in that square. It takes a bit to get it fast, but after two or three weeks of doing it, the “Patient” and “Caregiver” memorize it and don’t need the “board”. Then you start talking faster than any computer could. We made kind of an instruction video of the system. Search Jason Becker+vocal eyes on youtube.
What does it mean to you to still be able to create music?
It is big. I had forgotten how incredible it feels to create music, no matter how slow the process is. It is beautiful being able to continue doing what I love and had worked so hard on in my life.
The new COLLECTION disc has a couple of new songs on it. How do you manage to still write music?
I took a break from it for a while because I didn’t think the technology was good enough. I finally went crazy enough to try using my communication system to instruct my caregivers what to play on the keyboard. My buddies Dan, Mike and Franklin taught me how to use the music software called LogicPro with a Mac G5 computer. My dad. mom and girl friends aren’t keyboard players, so once they record a few notes, I can go into a “matrix” and see the notes. Once there, I can direct my peeps on how to edit the notes to be in the correct spots, with the right volume, velocity, length, instrument, and so on. I eventually wound up with hundreds of tracks on the piece “Electric Prayer For Peace”. Since I can usually hear a kind of final result in my head, it isn’t frustrating to go at a slow pace. The only bummer is when my dad and I run into computer difficulties and start arguing. Ha!
How did you convey to the players on the new music what to play?
Well, first of all, my co-producer, Dan Alvarez and I get together with what I have written and he makes some great suggestions. He is a brilliant keyboard player and composer himself. We try to get the arrangement and instruments as close to done as possible. With the guitar players, I just told them the mood that I wanted. I wanted them to have their own interpretations of what I had written.
For most of the vocalists, I had specific parts written that I wanted them to sing. Dan and I gave them sheet music and a CD of their parts played on a harp sound. It is interesting that when I write for voices, I always use a harp sound. On Electric Prayer For Peace, Raz Kennedy did some improvising with directions from us.
Did it come out exactly as you envisioned it in your mind?
Well, most things did, but part of the beauty of the creative process for me is getting inspired by what I am doing along the way. I might hear something I have just laid down and think, “Wow, that is cool. What if I tried this on top of that?” Also the guitar players sometimes surprised me.
Dan and I were thinking that the Reprise of River Of Longing needed an intro to build up to Steve Vai’s solo. I went home and wrote a part with strings, koto, snare drums and harp. It was a cool part. Dan and I were in his studio putting it with the song and I got the feeling that it was too “New Age” for an intro to a cool tune. I thought about how much I dug the keyboard sound on old 70’s tunes and on Jeff Beck’s “Wired” album. I told Dan what I was thinking and he immediately got what I was talking about. I guided him through the feeling and some licks that I wanted, and once he nailed that, I just let him do his thing. He would be playing and I would say yes when I heard what I liked.
Any advice you give to others who are physically challenged in some way, who can no longer play their instrument of choice, to carry on creating music?
That all depends on the circumstances. I would say try to find a way, no matter what. As they already know, music is powerful stuff. It can bring you close to the universal power. Being creative is so important. Your process might change, but don’t let that stop you.
Do you listen to the guitar shred genre anymore and do you feel it has progressed much since the late 80’s?
I rarely listen to it anymore. I still listen to guitar music, but only shred stuff for nostalgia. Sometimes it is fun throwing in Marty Friedman’s “Dragon’s Kiss”. That brings back memories, but I don’t exactly consider that shred. Every now and then I want to hear Yngwie to take me back to high school. I do think there are some good shredders now a days. Jeff Loomis, Shane Gibson, and Rusty Cooley have something to say. I think there should always be room for all kinds of music.
Any current guitar players out there you admire?
Well, as I mentioned before, Jeff Loomis, Shane Gibson and Rusty Cooley. Oh yeah, one guy who I love is Mattias Eklundh. He is pretty wacky and unique. I think John Mayer is great. Also look for a player named Freddie Everett. He has tons of soul. He also has ALS. We hope to work together in the future.
Could you tell me a little about the Jason Becker Guitar? Is it exactly the same as the one you used many years ago? (The plain wood body with bright color pickups)
Paradise Guitars and I have worked together to make a guitar that I absolutely love. It is that plain wood body with the bright colored pickups and numbered fret board. The body is alder wood. The pickups are Dimarzio. I designed the headstock. It plays so nice and easy. My guitar player friends compared it to my favorite guitars. The Floyd Rose Pro bridge can either float or be locked in place. It is available to buy from Paradise Guitars. Some of the proceeds will go to the ALS-TDI (ALS Therapy Development Institute). There is nothing better than having a beautiful guitar. I hope people love it as much as I do.
How is the autobiography you are working on coming along?
I actually have most of the first draft done. I just need to find the time to finish it all. I am finding out that people don’t know the whole scoop on my life. It will be fun to get out there.
Anything you would like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
Metal is for chumps. HA HA…did I get you? Seriously, I am so grateful to all of my fans. You guys and girls make it possible for me to continue making music. Metal fans are the coolest and most loyal fans there are. Thank you so much for your love and support.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
No no, thank YOU!
Thanks to Nancy at VQPR for setting up this interview.