Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting To The Core : An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist Vinnie Moore Of UFO

Influenced by the music of Jeff Beck, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Queen, guitarist Vinnie Moore first picked up the instrument at age 12 .

After traveling the familiar route of playing clubs and bars, the Delaware born musician was discovered by legendary Shrapnel Records head honcho Mike Varney through a magazine article in Guitar Player Magazine, leading to not only a contract with the label but also the opportunity to write and perform (only his hands are seen) in a national Pepsi commercial in 1985.

The release of his debut all instrumental album 'Mind's Eye' in 1987 heralded the arrival of a supreme talent on the then overcrowded shred guitar scene of the 1980's. Despite the overabundance of virtuoso players whose sole reason for existence seemed to be to display how fast they could burn up and down the fretboard, Moore quickly rose to the top of the heap, with the release garnering him 'Best New Talent' awards from Guitar Player, Guitar and Guitar World magazines. Going on to sell over 100,000 copies, it brought him directly into the spotlight of the guitar world.

Over the next decade and a half Moore continued to impress, releasing five critically acclaimed studio and one live album. A high profile stint with rock legend Alice Cooper on both the 1989 'Hey Stoopid' album and accompanying tour served to increase his visibility and extend his influence.

While the fortunes of many players in the scene declined with the shifting of popular musical tastes in the early 90's due to the arrival of grunge - resulting in instrumental rock and any form of music with guitar solos to fall largely from favor - he continued to be extremely popular world wide, conducting hundreds of guitar clinics throughout Japan, Scandanavia, Italy, Poland, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, England, Germany and Australia.

In 2003 Moore joined renowned British hard rock icons UFO after the departure of guitarist Michael Schenker for 2004's 'You Are Here' album. While initially there was some resistance from some die-hard fans of the band unable to come to grips with anyone filling the shoes of the heroic German legend, the release of 2005's superb live DVD/CD 'Showtime' and 2006's' studio offering 'The Monkey Puzzle' seemed to silence most critics, cementing Moore's status as a world class player within the group setting.

This year has seen a renewed flurry of activity from Moore with first the release of a brand new UFO studio album 'The Visitor', which despite the absence of founding bassist Pete Way - currently battling liver disease and unable to record or tour with the band - shows the rock veterans returning to form with arguably their finest release since 1995's 'Walk On Water'. Tempering their time tested brand of Euro based heaviness with a healthy dose of 70's styled blues rock, the influence of the guitarist is stamped throughout the recording. Both compositionally and via stellar axe work he shines from start to finish.

Just released also is Moore's first instrumental solo album in eight years 'To The Core'. Wonderfully diverse, encompassing hard rock, blues, jazz and funk, the recording is a fine showcase for the prodigious talents which have made him one of the most influential and important guitarists to emerge out of the virtuoso boom in the mid to late eighties.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Moore to discuss the brand new UFO album, his solo work, his thoughts on the state of his playing and much more.

Special thanks to Jon Freeman at SPV for coordinating, and a BIG thanks to Vinnie Moore for doing this interview with Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!


Interview and text by Nightwatcher © 2009

June 11, 2009



Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : First off, I'd like to talk with you about the new UFO album, 'The Visitor', which is coming out worldwide via SPV. Now that the album's finished, are you pleased with the results this time around?


Vinnie Moore : Yeah, I'm definitely happy with the way it came out. The selection of songs, and overall I think it's a strong record with a lot of different musical vibes. I'm definitely happy about it.

NHOR : The band reportedly initially wrote 35 songs for the album before paring them down to thirteen in Hannover, Germany. What was the criteria for a song being kept or discarded, and how was that process conducted? Was there a vote?

VM : First of all, I don't know where the 35 number came from. I think that's a bit of an exaggeration from somebody, I'm not sure. Maybe we had more like 20 songs, I would guess. Basically you put them all together, and there are certain ones that right away are so strong that you know they're going to be on the record. "Saving Me" was one of those. "Rock Ready" was another one. From the moment I sent those to Phil and he heard them he just responded so positively from the get go. It was just obvious that they were going to be on the record.

Then there are a lot of other songs, and you have to leave something out, and decide which ones to go with. It's a matter sometimes of just getting together and playing, seeing how it vibes when you all play together and jam on the song. The other thing is Phil's voice a lot of times has a lot to do with it. Perhaps what key the song's in, and what range he can sing it in. So that has a lot to do with it as well. Then you just have to go for it all based on feel. Sometimes also it's a matter where we have two or three in this style, so we need to pick another style. You need to be a bit eclectic in terms of mixing it up by having different tempos and feel.

NHOR : Were there any songs that didn't make the cut which you personally felt were worthy of inclusion?

VM : Yeah, that's always going to happen, whether it's a Vinnie Moore solo record, a UFO record, or probably any band. You don't really want to put more than ten, eleven, twelve songs on a record. So there's always going to be extras. A lot of times you can catch those later on down the road.

NHOR : There's a very bluesy vibe on several songs throughout the album. That's an undercurrent which has characterized all three of the albums the band has released since you joined in 2003, but it seems even more pronounced on this album. Was that intentional on the band's part? I know Phil and you are both big blues fans...

VM : I think that's where it comes from. But I don't think that it was a conscious effort. I don't think anyone really decided for it to be that way. It just sort of happened in rolling along with things. I'm a big blues fan, and always have been. Phil, I was really surprised when I first got to know him, that he's such a big blues fan. I didn't know he was into that style of music, but he is. I think that when both of us are put together, it's just a natural result. It's a common ground that we share musically. I think that style fits his voice really well too. He shines in that style.

NHOR : The first sounds you hear on the album, on the into of "Saving Me" are you playing slide guitar. Who are your reference points when it comes to playing the blues? You've previously mentioned Albert King as being one...

VM :
When I was growing up Albert was one of the first ones. It just so happened that my stepfather had the 'Live Wire/Blues Power' album. It became a huge influence on me. There was also Chuck Berry, B.B. King...I just loved all of that stuff. Even rock players who I heard later on were guys that were influenced by the blues. There was Hendrix, Trower...people like that. You could hear the blues in their playing. You could even hear it in guys like Robben Ford and Larry Carlton, who are more fusion guys. But they all have this common base, and that's the blues. It's infectious. It's amazing how it's prevalent in so many styles of music. You can hear it as an underlying current.

NHOR : On "Stop Breaking Down" and "Can't Buy A Thrill" your solos are reminiscent of Uli Jon Roth in terms of your tone and phrasing. How much of an influence would you say Uli has been on your playing?

VM : He actually was not an influence on my playing. I didn't even really hear him until much later on. But we toured with him, I know him, and he's a great guy. He's certainly a great player. He's not one of the guys I grew up listening to, simply because I never heard of him when I was a kid. I wish I had.

NHOR : This is your third studio album with the band since joining in 2003. Are you feeling fully integrated into the band, and not so much "the new guy?"

VM :
I've pretty much felt integrated from the very beginning. I think it's because the guys made me feel that way. Phil especially made it clear from the get go that he was looking for an equal member to come in and be a major contributor in the writing, and that's what he wanted. It was great for me to come into that type of situation. I felt right at home right away.

NHOR : There was resistance among a certain faction of Michael Schenker fans when you joined the band. Do you feel you're making strides towards winning over the die hard Schenker fans?

VM : I don't know. I actually don't even pay attention to it all. There are much more important things to pay attention to. I would guess that there are some that nobody's ever going to win over, even if it were Jesus himself playing. (Laughs) It's like to a hard core KISS fan, any guitarist who comes in, no matter how good they are, somebody's going to be going, "Hey, it's not Ace!". But I can't waste time thinking about that.

NHOR : One notable situation on this album is the fact that for the first time in over 20 years founding bassist Pete Way isn't involved in the recording due to his current battle with liver disease. Seeing as Pete has been there from the beginning, and has been such an intregal part of the band for the vast majority of the albums, what was the mood going into the studio with Pete not there?

VM : I really wished he could be there, and be part of it. I hoped that would happen, but it just wasn't going to work out. He's a nice guy, I really like him, and he'll be missed that's for sure. To the fans, he such a big part of the band, and he is such a big part of the band, it's a shame that things went this way.

NHOR : How is Pete doing these days? Is there a point at this time where he may be well enough to rejoin the band?

VM : I really don't know at this point. I hope so, I really do, but I don't think anybody's thinking that far ahead. Everybody's thinking, okay we've done this record, and we know we've got to tour most of the year and beyond. It doesn't look like he's anywhere in the plans, for this upcoming year anyway.

NHOR : With Pete not being there, did you record all the bass tracks as well?


VM : No, we had a guy named Pete...a session guy from Germany, where we were recording, come in and do the bass. What happened was, we went into rehearsals in Hannover, Germany...Pete wasn't going to be there, and Andy Parker really felt like he needed a bass player to play off of at rehearsals. I didn't really think that we needed anybody else, because if Pete's not going to be there, I vote for nobody at all. But everybody else pretty much wanted somebody there just to make some low end rumble. It's really more important to a drummer, as a drummer locks in with the bass player, which is what Andy wanted.

So we just brought in this local guy to kind of sit in with us and play the songs. As it turned out he was a really cool guy, we really liked him, and he was a great player with a real feel for the songs. So, we figured hey, let's get him to come in and play on the record. Because at that point we didn't even know who was going to do the record.

NHOR : What are your favorite tracks personally on the album, and why?


VM : I like "Saving Me", "Hell Driver", "Rock Ready" and "Living Proof". I like "Saving Me" and "Rock Ready" because of the blues vibe we were talking about earlier, and "Hell Driver" because there's nothing else like it on the record. It's a real rocker, which you always have to have. I like "Living Proof" because it's really funky.

NHOR : Speaking of "Living Proof", that funk element isn't something that's normally heard on a UFO album...

VM : That's my definite influence. Good or bad, or for better or worse. Surprisingly enough, that's one that Phil heard, and from the very beginning he definitely reacted to the song and loved it. It was one of his favorites. I was surprised by that, because I thought he might hear it and think - "Hmmm, that's not right for UFO". But he was hooked on that one.

NHOR : You can hear the Albert King influence coming through on the licks you play on the track as well...

VM : Man, I love Albert King. You can hear him in so much of Stevie Ray Vaughan's music also.

NHOR : Coming from your background as being known as a "guitarist's guitarist", do you ever feel some sense of relief since joining UFO in the sense that the band has fans from all areas, musician and non musician, vs. say your solo gigs where you'll undoubtedly have a group of guitarists standing in the front row with their arms crossed , with the attitude of "Okay, impress me"?

VM : Right, "Impress me" (Laughs) I'll be totally honest with you. It is a little bit easier, because you hit the stage as a band. So the weight is on everybody's shoulders. Whereas if I go and do a solo gig with my band, because it's as a solo artist I feel more pressure. If I'm doing a clinic, I'm just standing out on stage by myself, with a track that I'm playing to, and it's all on me - all eyes are on me. That's a little bit more stressful. I'm used to it, and I of course deal with it no problem, but I will tell you that going on as a band is so much more relaxed and easier.

NHOR : There's no more critical of an audience than playing for a roomful of guitarists when you're a guitarist....


VM : Exactly. They're mainly male, and the ones who show up that are female are usually with one of the guys, their girlfriends or wives, and that doesn't help at all. (Laughs)

NHOR : Last year the band played a set at the three day Rocklahoma Festival in Oklahoma. What was that experience like for you, and is that something which you'd be interested in doing again?

VM : I'd definitely like to do that again. I think it was really cool. We had a blast. We arrived a day or two after the big tornado came through and destroyed one of the stages. So we kind of saw the wreckage when we came in. But it was a beautiful day when we played. We liked it, and we'd definitely like to go back and play there again.

NHOR : UFO is, or in Phil's case not, celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Have there been any discussions amongst Phil, Andy, Paul and yourself regarding how long the band will continue?

VM : (Laughs) "I don't want to be Status Quo". I emailed him that link, and told him, "Ah, so you're a bit of a Status Quo man, are ya?" (Laughs) As for any discussions, no, I don't think we're that organized and together to think that far ahead. Since I've been in the band, it's like we're kind of going with the flow. We're not thinking that far ahead.

NHOR : Phil's voice, after all these years still sounds fantastic. Is there anything that you've noticed that he does to keep his voice in shape like it has?


VM : No. The guy doesn't practice. When we're backstage before a show he doesn't sing a note. Sometimes we'll have opening bands, and there will be this singer in the next room doing these vocal exercises, and he'll just laugh and go, "Please". The guy does nothing. His voice holds up really well on the road too, it's great.

NHOR : As you brought up earlier you're on tour to support the album. How long do you anticipate the band being on tour this time around?


VM : We're kind of on and off. We're in England and Germany for most of this month, then we have Italy for a bit in July, and scattered festivals throughout the summer. We'll be touring America I believe starting in October, and then head back to Europe sometime again after that. There are lots of shows coming up this year.

NHOR : Has there been any talk at all about releasing a DVD from this tour?

VM : I haven't heard any rumblings about that, but I'd love to do that. That'd be really cool.

NHOR : In addition to the new UFO album, you also have a new solo album 'To The Core' which is your first solo release since 2001's 'Defying Gravity'. Why has it taken so long between solo albums, and what can one expect, stylistic- wise?

VM : One of the reasons it's taken such a long time is that I've been on the road so much with UFO, and recording with the band. So it's been hard to dedicate a lump of time to doing my solo thing. I've kind of been doing it in between touring and whatnot. It's taken longer than expected, plus I'm a bit of a perfectionist, sometimes to a fault. Left to my own devices I take a long time anyway. It's a problem I've always had. Those are probably the two factors in it taking too long to do. (Laughs)

It's a rock record, it's a guitar instrumental record basically in the rock style, with a bunch of other elements thrown in musically. Blues of course, jazz, be bop, techno, funk...that's one of the cool things about doing the solo record is that I can just kind of explore, be adventurous, go in any direction I want, and it all works.

NHOR : How do you feel this album compares in relation to your previous albums? Would you consider this a departure from what you've done before?


VM : I think it's a lot different from the last two I've done. It's a lot different than 'The Maze' and 'Defying Gravity', but it's not unlike some songs from those records. It's more like rock songs from those albums, and less like some of the classical influenced stuff. I would definitely say there's a lot less of the classical influence, and more rock. It's probably more versatile and varied. I covered some new ground on this one that I haven't in the past. It's more diverse, and it touches on some new areas which I haven't explored before.

NHOR : It's been over 20 years since the release of your first solo album 'Mind's Eye', which is considered by many to be one of the best instrumental guitar albums to come out of the 80's shred scene. It's one which has influenced many players all the way to the present day, and was probably the best selling of all the Shrapnel releases. Looking at it today, how do you feel the album holds up?

VM : Wow, has it been that long? This is not a 20th year anniversary. I don't want to be like Status Quo. (Laughs) As for how the album holds up, that's a really hard thing to answer because it's me. It's hard to have a perspective because I'm so close to it. I think in a lot of ways though it holds up. It certainly holds up technically, as far as the guitar playing without a doubt.

My one wish for that record has always been that I had more time to spend making it. I remember recording all the guitars in about four days for the album. It was pretty insane. There wasn't much time to do it. But I think the songs, composition - wise hold up too.

NHOR : When you first came to prominence as a guitarist in the late 80's, although you immediately were embraced by other guitarists and fans, the critics had a field day, calling you an Yngwie Malmsteen clone. How did that make you feel? It seemed that there was a lot more of a Ritchie Blackmore influence in your playing at that time...

VM : It certainly wasn't the worst thing in the world because he was, and is such a great player, so you could be compared to a lot worse. But after awhile it's going to get old no matter who it is. I can hear what people were saying, it's the classical influenced rock guy with a lot of technique. You hear elements of Al DiMeola and Ritchie Blackmore in there also. So for people who don't know that style very well, it may sound the same, but I think when you get into it a little more, I think our songs are way different compositionally.

NHOR : In what ways do you feel that your playing has progressed since the 1980's? Do you feel you're at your peak as a musician?

VM : Yeah. I just love what I'm doing and I'm always trying to get better. I think I've become a better songwriter over the years. I think I've gotten better at expressing myself. To be honest, my technique's not as good as it used to be, as the 23, 24 year old kid who was just shredding all day long. But that's okay. I don't mind that at all. I'll take that because I'd rather be a better musician and a better songwriter. That's more important to me.

NHOR : Grunge came along during the early 90's and kind of forced guitar soloing underground and out of the mainstream for many years. Any thoughts on why that happened, and do you foresee the art of guitar playing coming back?

VM : I don't know why it really happened. I always guessed that maybe it was because there were so many people who came out during the shred thing that perhaps it got a little tiring. But it could have had nothing to do with that. No one will ever know for sure. I already see it coming back a little bit. People are into playing again. Well, at least 'Guitar Hero' (Laughs) It's hard to see where things are going. Hopefully kids will keep learning to play and be excited about rockin' out.

NHOR : You just mentioned this...As a guitarist, what is your take on video games such as 'Guitar Hero'?

VM : You know, I've never actually played 'Guitar Hero', so I have no idea what it's all about. But I'll tell ya, I've had lots of younger kids come up to me and say, "Hey, can you play "Iron Man"?" or something like that. I'm like, how do you know that song? It's always from 'Guitar Hero'. So that's kind of cool. I think with this new generation of younger kids it's helped the music get to them. It's great.

NHOR : Have you ever been approached to have any of your songs included?


VM : No, not at this point. Actually, I'm lying. I did at one point a few years ago, and it almost happened, but for whatever reason at that point it didn't.

NHOR : Would you be open to having to having that happen now?

VM : Absolutely. I'd have to be crazy not to. It'd be totally cool.

NHOR : Are there any new guitarists whom you've seen or heard that you're particularly impressed by?

VM : There are guys like Ron Thal, who's not necessarily new, but he's great. Guthrie Govan is great as well.

NHOR : You first came on the scene, and are considered one of the prime exponents of the shred school of guitar playing, so to speak. Having that connotation...Do you feel that has been a help or a hindrance on your career?

VM : It's probably been both actually. I don't want to be labeled as just that, because I think I do a lot more musically that's outside of that. So it's kind of limiting in a way that term, to be considered just a shred guy. I think there's more about what I do than just that.

NHOR : Just listening to your albums it's obvious that there's much more than that. However, having said that, once one gets tagged as something, it's extremely hard to shake...


VM : Especially after the first records were so heavily in that direction. They judge you by your first work, and it's hard to become detached from that.

NHOR :
During your off time from UFO you continue to also conduct guitar clinics all over the world. What is the most prevalent question you get asked regarding your playing?

VM : I'll get asked things like, "How do you write?" A lot of people I guess don't have a lot of experience with writing, and they just want to know how you do it. Like how you come up with a song. Where does it start, and how do you end up with a finished song. That's one of the things that's harder to explain, because if it's playing you can say practice these exercises, drills and learn new scales. Everybody's been told that, been taught that by a teacher, but nobody's really been taught how to follow their creativity and actually come up with something new.

NHOR : You've toured as part of Alice Cooper's band, opened for Rush on tour, played numerous festivals...What has been your most memorable gig thus far in your career?

VM : I guess probably one of the coolest things ever was the first time I played as a solo artist at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. Because that was the place where I saw all the concerts when I was a kid. That's where you sit in the audience and dream that someday you'll be up there onstage playing The Spectrum. And I actually got to play there, and it was very memorable and it was the coolest experience ever.

NHOR : Did you have all your friends and family in the audience that night?

VM : Sure, they all showed up. I maxed out the guest list that night for sure. (Laughs)

NHOR : Did you feel nervous that night being in front of all those people who knew you?


VM : Yeah. Not only was it the gig at The Spectrum, but it was also the first night of that tour. We were out doing clubs, then we found out we'd got the opening slot for Rush. We just literally stopped our club tour...we were at my house, drove from my house to the gig. We hadn't even met Rush, hadn't played with them, didn't know anything. We just showed up and did the gig that night. It was pretty crazy and nerve wracking.

NHOR : What was Rush like to tour with?


VM : It was pretty awesome. It was a lot of fun. We didn't come into a lot of contact with those guys, but when we did they were very cool guys. It was cool to see them play every night too.

NHOR : On the flipside of that, what has been your most 'Spinal Tap' moment?

VM : Our most Spinal Tap moment since I've been with UFO is a gig that we actually didn't end up doing. We flew into Italy just for this one festival, all this pain in the ass to get there, it was a beautiful day, other bands were playing, and about twenty minutes before we went on the skies got black. A storm rolled in, there was a torrential downpour, with lightning. The scaffolding above the stage was falling apart. All of our gear was on stage, and our techs came backstage and said, "Look, all your guitars, your pedals, your amps...everything is out there onstage. They won't even let us go out there and touch it, and it's getting drenched".

So we waited and waited, the storm passed through, and we never got to go onstage. I just remember getting my guitars and wrapping them in blankets so they would dry out on the tour bus. (Laughs) All my pedals were shot because they had got soaking wet. So we had gone all the way to Italy for this gig and we didn't even do it. I remember my guitars weighing about three pounds heavier than they normally did, because they were so soaked.

NHOR : Last year saw the introduction of the Dean USA Vinman 2000 Vinnie Moore signature guitar. For years you somewhat were resistant to the idea of having a signature guitar. What made you change your mind ?

VM : I had a bad experience in the past where the signature guitar they made for me in the shop wasn't the same guitar I was playing. It was frustrating. I thought I'm never going to do this again, because I'd go out and do clinics, and people would come up and say, "I bought your guitar. It's just like yours, right?" It was a terrible feeling, because it wasn't.

When I started talking to Dean Guitars I just got a great vibe from these guys, and I've known Elliott, the owner, since the early '90's. I used to do clinics for his music store in Florida. He just basically told me that they wanted to make a signature model and they were willing to do anything to make it exactly what I wanted. And they were. That was the difference.

NHOR : There are a lot of signature guitars from various artists in the marketplace these days. What is it about your signature guitar that makes it stand out from all the others?


VM : It has a 'VM' on the fretboard. (Laughs) I think that the shape of the neck makes it really comfortable for the left hand, and that's one of the things that's really important to me.

NHOR : Your debut release 'Mind's Eye' was tabbed by Guitar One magazine as #3 on their list of the top 10 shred albums of all time, and #6 on their Top 200 guitar albums of all time. What would you say are your top 3 guitar albums of all time?


VM :Jeff Beck's 'Wired', Larry Carlton's album which has "Room 335" on it, 'Larry Carlton', and I would also have to say Van Halen's first, 'Van Halen'.

NHOR : What is it about Jeff's playing that hits home with you so much?

VM : I don't know what it is about that guy, he just strikes a nerve. He's not the most technical guy, but he plays really cool common things, and he's so recognizable. Not everybody has that quality. There's like a handful where they can play one note and you know who it is, and he's definitely one of those guys. Blackmore's like that, Santana's like that as well. Carlos Santana has been a huge influence on me from way back.

NHOR : What is the best advice that you would give to a young player starting out?

VM :
I would say find a teacher. Someone who can show you how to get from point A to point B as quick as possible. Just love what you're doing and have fun with it.

NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?


VM : I would like to say since we're touring a lot, and we hope to see them out there. If we're playing in your town, we hope to see you at the show, and buy my new record damn it. (Laughs)

For more information on the new UFO album 'The Visitor' go to http://www.ufo-music.info/

For more information on Vinnie Moore's new album 'To The Core' go to http://www.vinniemoore.com/

UFO "Love To Love" Live with Vinnie Moore, Akron, Ohio 2008 :



Vinnie Moore -"Transcendence" from the 2009 release 'To The Core' :

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