interview with guitar virtuoso Joe Stump of The Reign of Terror

Interviewed by Rick

The Reign of Terror has just released your third CD "Sacred Ground" and you have added Mike Vescera to the Lineup. How did Mike become a part of the "Sacred Ground" CD and is he a permanent member of The Reign of Terror?

I played on Mikes solo album. I played on a couple of tracks and a couple of tracks turned into me playing on half the record and we became friends and we have been working together on each others stuff for a bit now. Nothings etched in stone but I definitely see Mike doing the next Reign of Terror record and us continuing to work together because we have a good relationship.

How much input did he have in the recording of the album in regards to lyrics etc?

I wrote all the music and he wrote the lyrics and the melody lines which is the way I usually work when I work with a vocalist.

I think I read somewhere that it took you over a year to get this CD together. Why so long to get this disc made?

It wasn't on my end. Mike was doing a solo record which I also played on and he also did that Killing Machine thing. I had finished a lot of the music and had the stuff in the can for awhile and it took him awhile to get around to it. He also did the vocals on the hard disc system on the computer which is the one of the first times that he did that and he had done a bunch of vocal tracks and we were getting ready to mix the record and he lost them on the computer so that added to the delay.

So he had to do them all over again?

He didn't have em all finished but he had finished at least half of them and then lost them on the computer. Between all that stuff it's the reason why it too so long. I'm usually banging out records every year.

I feel "Sacred Ground" is miles ahead of your last CD "Second Coming" in terms of the songwriting and overall sound of the band. What do you think accounts for the great improvement between CDs?

You have to remember Second Coming came out in 97 so that means it was recorded in 96 so technically as far as production goes in the last 5 years everything has come quite a long way. So that definitely has to do with the production end of it. Mike is also a world class singer, I mean Brian Troch is a cool singer but he had a deeper more raspy voice maybe not as suited for this kind of powermetal. He has a more bluesy, Ian Gillan kind of vibe. Second Coming was a cool record but it had a more of Deep Purple kind of vibe.

Seems like Mike has a much better range

There's no comparison, Brian is a cool singer but Mikes as good as it gets in this particular style of music.

I recently reviewed a CD by the band EVENT Your drummer Matt Scurfield and Bassist Jay Rigney both are members of Event which produces a totally different style of music than The Reign of Terror. How did you get these 2 guys into the band?

I knew them from the Berklee College of music where I am on the faculty. The Event guys were students over there so Jay started playing with me. He played on my last instrumental and then I got Jay with me so these guys play on my instrumental stuff when I tour.

Did they influence the way the Cd sounded?

I write all the stuff. Not to take anything away from those guys, I give em some kind of input as to their parts but I have pretty well everything mapped out. Those guys just happen to be good versatile players. That Event stuff is progressive and kinda industrial and the Reign of Terror is pure powermetal so they are pretty versatile as far as musicians but they didn't have a big influence on the sound of the record.

On Sacred Ground you do a cover of the classic Rainbow song "Kill The King". Why did you choose that song in particular as it has been covered numerous times before by other bands? And were there any other songs that you had in mind to cover?

I've done Rainbow and Deep Purple covers on my records in the past. On the first Reign of Terror record I did "Highway Star" by Deep Purple and on the Japanese version of my fourth solo record Rapid Fire Rondo I did the instrumental version of "Still I'm Sad" that Blackmore does on the first Rainbow record. Its like a tradition, I always do some kind of Ritchie Blackmore thing. A bunch of other bands have covered it but our version is a bit cooler because of my heavy Blackmore influence and Mikes got the Dio sound in his voice but I usually end up doing something like that from one of my heroes.

The CD contains 2 bonus tracks "Dante's Danza" and "Paginini's Purgatory" which coincidentally are both instrumentals. Why are they bonus tracks and will they be avaliable on the regular release of the CD?

They are available on the US release and the European release as they are the same. The CD came out in Japan first so the Japanese actually got 2 bonus vocal track so I recorded 2 new different tracks for the US and European release because I have a lot of fans in the States and throughout Europe who buy my instrumental stuff I thought it would be cool for them.

So what were these 2 bonus vocal tracks that the Japanese got for anyone who wanted to get the Japanese import.

One is "The Innocence" It's a melodic mid tempo European power metal thing with a heavy Stratovarius or Malmsteen kinda vibe with a strong vocal melody and some cool guitar stuff. The other one is "Blood on Your Hands" which is a very cool track. A real heavy maiden influenced track. Both songs are cool but in retrospect I probably would have given the Japanese the instrumentals and kept the vocal tunes for the US and Europe but the Japanese had first release.

Its pretty common for most bands to have to include bonus tracks to get their album released in Japan. Isn't it?

The reason for that is that CDs over there cost $25 to $35 and so if the Japanese release has extra bonus tracks, different artwork etc it encourages the Japanese to buy the Japanese version of the CD instead of the European import which is cheaper. That is why they insist on first release because if it comes out in The States or Europe first the Japanese will buy it there so they don't have to pay as much money and they can get the record sooner.

Do you have a big fan base in Japan?

Yeah, I have released 7 or 8 records over there. Over there everybody compares me to Malmsteen and Impellitteri and those guys.

I thought the artwork for "Sacred Ground" was pretty cool. Who did the artwork and what is the significance, if any, of it?

No, Its just like a cool Gothic picture. There's no deep concept. There's this guy, Johannes, whos a good friend of Mikes who's done stuff for him in the past. He did the Alchemy cover for Yngwie and also did Facing The Animal, Magnum Opus and what happened was that he started doing Yngwie's covers cause he was a friend of Mikes so when Mike started working with Yngwie he got Johannes to do a bunch of the covers. So because he was a friend of Mikes he hooked me up with him to do the cover for Sacred Ground. He listened to the disc and considered the title and knew I wanted something dark, gothic and classy so that is where the mysterious lady came from. (I think it really fits the music) I thought it looked really cool and some German artist did the logo so I am very pleased with the way it came out.

I see that you and Mike produced "Sacred Ground". Is this the first time you have produced and what was the experience like?

No, I have produced all my records. I really don't need any help as far as the song structure goes. Mikes the studio guy with a studio at his place and he produces records himself so I know what I want sonically but he's more of the technical end of that but I have produced my stuff before.

The Reign of Terror is signed to Leviathan Records but the CD is licensed to LIMB Music. Can you tell me how all that came about?

I have been doing business with Leviathan Records and they have released all my stuff so the way it works is that Leviathan has little to do with The Reign of Terror record. David T. Chastain who runs Leviathan acted as a go between for us the artists and LIMB almost as the bands management as he oversaw the band signing to LIMB.

I have interviewed David before and he seems like a nice guy...

He is a great guy. I talk to him at least several times a week on all different things. We have been working together since I put my first record out to Leviathan in 93 so I have known him quite a long time. He is just a nice, professional totally cool guy who has been in the business a very long time and had his share of great success in the 80s with various renditions of his projects whether it was his instrumental stuff, or Chastain or all his stuff sold quite a few records when the metal biz was booming a bit more and got tons of press in the metal and guitar mags. He has definitely helped me quite a bit as far as advising me and all that type of stuff.

David has done some work with Michael Harris in Zanister. Have you ever thought of doing any work with David?

I'm sure it would be kinda cool. I'm not mad to work with another guitar player. I probably would like to do something along the lines of a tour where I was opening up for him and he was playing, either instrumentally or with a vocalist, and I would play some stuff with him. Like G3 kinda vibe. (That would be an interesting show) As far as doing a powermetal record with another guitarist unless I got a gig with somebody where I had to play with another guitar player, like a gig with Iron Maiden where I wouldn't complain about playing with another guitarist (laughs) but I'm not really interested in doing it if its not a paying situation.

Will The Reign of Terror will be touring in support of the Cd?

We were out on the road up until last week and we actually canned like 2 weeks worth of the dates just because of bad weather in Texas and Mike was having some issues with his family so he had to get back. So, we were out on the road for like 2 weeks and then we will go out and do some more shows. So, yeah, we've been out playing in the States and hopefully we'll get over to Europe.

How is the audience reaction and how is the turn out for the shows?

It's been cool. It's just tough in the States. I mean, you have a lot of hardcore dedicated fans but it's not like I'm playing in Slipknot or Korn or something like that. Some of the shows are pretty well attended and some of the shows are not well attended. It's just tough. With touring and all that stuff the hardest part of it is with all the driving, staying in hotels, and waking up and driving again. Especially doing it on a lower budget without a big crew or tour bus. It's just hard because when you do all of that and the show isn't well attended, the whole thing is just exhausting. Every aspect of touring kinda sucks except for the playing aspect. Then when the show is just mediocre or not very well attended then the whole thing becomes kind of a drag. It definitely wears on you. It wears on you after awhile humping your own gear and playing and I was driving so that was tiring. 2 weeks of touring like that beats the hell outta ya. With a full crew you just show up and play but this way is much harder.

Will you be playing any of Mike's material that he has done solo, with Malmsteen or with other bands ?

Yeah, well we've been doing the Reign of Terror stuff, of course, stuff off Sacred Ground. Then I'm playing a few instrumentals and a guitar solo type thing. Then we've been doing a Loudness thing and a Malmsteen thing.

Nice way to mix your set up and have a bit of something for everyone.

The bulk is The Reign of Terror stuff but we do "Soldier of Fortune" and we do "Crash and Burn" off the SEVENTH SIGN and we do Kill The King and some instrumentals from my various solo records.

Before I had even heard the Cd It had been rumoured that keyboardist Mats Olaussen would be playing on "Sacred Ground" I don't see his name anywhere in the credits. Did he make it onto the disc?

No, his name is in the credits. ( I only have the slipcase) Oh Ok! He's playing keyboards on I think 8 of the 12 tunes or something like that. Then, on Paginini's Purgatory, Mike is playing the keys. But, Mats does all the keys on the record. The way that came about was, Mats was good friends with Mike back when they used to play with Yngwie. Mats would go over to Mike's place and play on his solo record. I had just got done recording all the bass, drums and guitars on The Reign of Terror album so I asked Mats if he wanted to play keys and he was happy to do it.

From time to time I have heard you called a Yngwie Malmsteen clone. Personally I don't really hear it but what do you think of this and what do you think of Malmsteen himself?

Well, I think Yngwie is a great player. My favorite players are Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie, Uli Jon Roth, Gary Moore, Michael Schenker, Jimi Hendrix. Obviously, there's not too many guys that play as fast as Yngwie. Yeah, of course, Yngwie's playing has had a big impact on me and I got the whole image but it's got nothing to do with Yngwie. Of course, all of my favorite players play a Strat. Then to say I'm influenced by Yngwie - cool. But, most of the people that say I'm a clone have never even heard my record. They just see that I play in that style and they write it off as that. They really don't know shit. Why don't they call me a Ritchie Blackmore clone, know what I mean? I mean it's irritating but I've grown accustomed to people's ignorance. Obviously, I'm a professor at the worlds most esteemed music college so I know a helluva lot more about what I'm doing than some moron that is searching around on the Internet is.

Speaking of the Berklee College of Music, what do you do there?

I'm a professor in the guitar department.

The name The Reign of Terror. Your first 2 Cds were under the name Joe Stump's Reign of Terror but you dropped that this time around? Why?

The only reason being that I was trying to present it as more of a band thing. Obviously, everyone knows it's my band or whatever. I didn't want to alienate any of the fans of power metal. There is just as much guitar as on my other releases but I didn't want it to seem like just a guitar album.

You also have a very successful solo career. How does The Reign of Terror fit in with the solo projects?

Well, the band guys are the same. The bass player and drummer play on both ROT and solo stuff. Some shows I'll go out and play with the singer and some shows I will go out and just do instrumentally.

Is there another solo record in the works for the near future?

Yeah, I'm actually doing a couple of things. I got a bunch of previously unreleased songs and new stuff that I'm putting out on Leviathan Records as kind of a collection. Then I'm gonna be doing a brand new instrumental as well. The collection thing will come out in the fall and the new record will be recorded in a couple of months but I am not sure when that will come out. Chastain has a spin off company called Diginet. Its an internet company that will release some other stuff of mine. I recorded a live CD "The Midwest Shredfest". Between that, The Reign of Terror and the instrumental stuff I have a few things going on.

I am not all that familiar with your solo work but of the songs I have heard, "The Ultraviolence" is one of my favourites. You mix some great riffs with some awesome soloing. How do you go about writing an instrumental track as opposed to a song with vocals?

It depends. You can have all kinds of instrumentals. You can have an instrumental with a nice strong singing kind of melody line or you can have an instrumental with all kinds of mean-ass grooves all strung together. So, It all depends. If I'm working on an instrumental record then I'm in that kind of mood. So, I pretty much know it's gonna be an instrumental. Then, if I'm working on a vocal record then I'm writing all vocal material. My mind set isn't any different when I am writing. Doing a vocal record is easy in comparison. You're just working on riffs and chords and those types of things.

About your guitar playing, are you self taught or did you take lessons and what path do you think is best?

When I was growing up I played with the rock and the metal that I grew up on and I took a few lessons from the guys that worked at the music stores. But, no one really helped me. I also went to Berklee and studied there and played classical, fusion and jazz. But, as far as rock playing, I did it the old fashioned way where I listened to my favourite players and copied the licks and expanded on it and listened to classical composers like Bach or Pagininni or different stuff like that. I am schooled in music theory but as far as the way I developed it was the old fashioned way by copying my heroes. That is the best way to go about it. Today anyone can learn guitar from videos, books etc. When people study with me at Berklee I try help everyone find their own way and just give them advice and guidance so they can develop on their own.

A question for all the guitar players. What kind of gear do you use. Guitar, amp, effects and any tips for the younger guitar players?

I have an ESP endorsement so my main guitar is an ESP Strat. Its got Dimarzio HS3 pickups in the back and the YJM Malmsteen signature pickup in the front. Its very similar to The HS3 but more Stratty sounding. All the necks are scalloped with the jumbo frets. I have many Fender Stratocasters and my ESPs are head and shoulders above my fenders. Amp wise I have a ton of old Marshalls, old Mark II 50 watt Marshalls. That's what I used on the Reign of Terror record. I use a Ritchie Blackmore Signature model Engle amp. On the floor I use a Dunlop Cry Baby and a old DOD overdrive 250 and a boss pedal board.

You have a website at How do you thik the internet has affected the underground metal community and has it helped you in anyway to get your music heard?

It definitely, definitely helps. Unfortunately, it seems some people use the Internet a little too much. They find out about shows on the internet, find out about records on the internet so, I mean, a lot of the old fashioned stuff gets taken away. It's kinda cool because you can reach a lot of people on the Internet. I love to read on the net but I also love to buy mags and fanzines and I love tobuy records the old fashioned way in the stores. I guess a lot of the people downloading on the net are younger so they might hear my music and which they wouldn't get any other way.

Thanks for doing this Joe. Anything else you would like to say to the readers of Metal Rules!!

No, just anybody that's bought my stuff in the past, thanks. Anyone who isn't familiar with my music if you are into melodic metal, Stratovarius or Rainbow or Deep Purple you would like it. It's a very high quality record. It has great guitar playing, etc. It's not reinventing the wheel, you know? It's just a really good power metal record. I think it's got a little more balls and it's not quite as slick as Stratovarius or Narnia or Rhapsody or that stuff. It has a more old school Rainbow or Malmsteen feel. So thanks for your time.!


2001 Metal Rules!!

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Wednesday, July 11, 2001