Alex Skolnick’s claim to fame has been as the guitarist for the metal band Testament. But recently, he has turned direction sharply. He has a new highly praised jazz oriented trio record out. Soon he will be touring with another metal man, Chris Poland, who has also reformed himself. Next we will be hearing that George Benson is going metal- just to balance the scales. Abstract Logix recently caught up with Alex and asked him a few questions.
AL: What led a metal man to go jazz trio?
AS: It was a long process that took over ten years. Most of the time, I wasn’t aware of it, I only went with how I felt. It started with discovering jazz through electric fusion, especially Miles and those associated with him (McLaughlin, Corea, Zawinul etc…) I was in Testament at the time and saw a lot in fusion that I could relate to metal. But I also wanted to one day be able to play on a level closer to that of my new heroes. I soon realized that the only way to do so was to have a foundation in acoustic jazz, so I began studying privately and absorbing a lot of books and CDs. Eventually, I felt the need to leave Testament and intensify my studies. A few years later, I enrolled in the New School jazz program in New York City and that’s where my playing and composition finally came together. It’s also where my trio was born.
AL: So part of this transition was a need to be a better player?
AS: It also incorporated a desire to be an all around musician. I’ve had the good fortune to work with many artists that are based in New York City recently and I’m able to cover a lot of different styles, from folk and world music to cabaret. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in the world of metal, although I still appreciate the music. But it really felt like a ghetto which was closed off from the rest of music, with players who were very limited. I didn’t want to be like that forever.
AL: Who is in your current trio?
AS: I’ve got two amazing, very young players, Matt Zebroski on the drums and John Graham Davis on the bass. They bring so much to the project and I can honestly say it wouldn’t be the same without them. Their abilities are very strong but they’re also extremely good listeners. We started just as a side project to go over homework assignments and practice jazz standards. One day I had the crazy idea to try a tune by the German metal band Scorpions, who’d achieved enormous popularity in the US while I was in high school. It worked and the next thing you know, I was arranging tunes by Kiss, Black Sabbath, Ozzy and more, in the context of an acoustic jazz guitar trio. Of course I’m incorporating elements of a lot of my favorite jazz, from Bill Evans to John Coltrane, but there’s a rock element as well. I’ve been amazed by the response to our first CD “Goodbye To Romance: Standards For A New Generation”. I never expected to be on the jazz radio charts in the US and be covered in Downbeat.
AL: You have a tour coming up.
AS: Guitarevolution is a tour with Marty Friedman, Chris Poland’s Ohm and my trio. We’re all doing instrumental projects now and it’s interesting because we were metal players at one time but we’ve evolved. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There may be some jams with all of us at some point.
AL: How do you approach improvisation?
AS: Improvisation is expressing yourself and capturing the moment through music. It’s all about not doing the exact same thing every time and bringing something new. It’s also about accepting when it doesn’t go as well as you’d like and appreciating it when it does.