Tony MacAlpine interview
By Bobin James
First of all, what brings you to India right now…
We are in town for the Columbia party… Columbia India… And CAB has just released a new record called Theatre de Marrionettes.
Is it already out?
It’s just about to be released. It’s coming out. It’s coming out on Columbia.
Is this your second trip to India?
It’s my first.
Because the December 2007 trip got scrapped. They came here without me… I was on a tour with Steve Vai… Virgil and Bunny and Frank Gambale came here.
You’ve worked with a whole lot of different musicians – like you just mentioned Steve Vai. You’ve done a whole lot of different projects. How different is it – if it is different at all – playing with each of these different acts? Do your sensibilities change the moment you step into, say, a Planet X role, as opposed to solo…
No, not to me… I just have my own sound and I just bring whatever I’m bringing.. Like an actor speaking his lines, you know… I’ve gone away from just starting to have a certain sound for each certain thing that I do… A lot of really depends on the mood and the chemistry and how much you’re playing.. with some bands that make you inherently have a certain sound… CAB, we haven’t played together in a long time… so you know, it’s a little just like meeting up with the guys on stage and get together and play something… Obviously there is different styles of different genres that you can adhere to, when you…
Is there any you particularly enjoy?
Yeah, making music. All styles.. there’s never been, for me, one over the other, y’know… I enjoy everything.. I enjoy the whole process of making music, being involved, in that aspect of it…
Speaking about CAB, you said you’ve not been playing together for a while now.. So would that mean a lot of stuff that happened on stage that night were improvised?
Well, the solos are all improvised, yeah… They always are.. But we know the songs. We recorded the songs in the studio but we recorded them in our separate studios.. and yeah, it’s the first time we played together in a while..
So how’ve you been busy? You’ve been busy with solo tours…
Yeah, Virgil and I, and Billy Sheehan.. We’re in another band called Devil’s Slingshot and we just came back from a long European tour. So I was involved in that.. and the physical making of the actual record – the Theatre de Marionettes record – is something we’ve been involved with for quite some time.
How do you describe this record?
Oh this record is just like doing a picture. It’s got some wonderful compositions that everybody’s gonna love.. It has a great composition by Sandeep Chowta - Sultan of Brunel. It’s really a departure from some of the more formulated typical CAB styles that you heard on the first couple of records. It’s truly an interesting record. It’s got Chick Corea playing keyboards on it. [There is] Patrice Rushen. And there is a guitar player by the name of Freddie Fox. Another guitar player Bernard Torelli. So you got some interesting things on it.
Going way back, Tony, when did you actually realise that hey man, I want to be a musician? How did it all begin for you?
Well, I was five years old when I first started playing music and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. My parents got me started on piano lessons at that age. And you know, I was always involved with the piano and the guitar at the same time and so I knew it was gonna be one or the other. And sometimes it’s both, like the other night at the keyboard like that. So ya, I knew at a pretty early age that that’s what I wanted to do. Motorcycles, girls and music [laughs].
What kind of bikes are you into?
I’ve got a really cherished 1999 classic Suzuki GSXR Hayabusa. That’s my main ride of choice now.
So you’re into sports bikes? Not cruisers.
I got some cruisers but living in LA but driving a lot between Las Vegas and LA, you kinda need something that can get you there really fast
I’m sure it’s a clichéd question.. but what would your advice be for guitarists?
Ya, it is… I can never fancy myself being a teacher.. I am really not, at all.. I always avoid that whole arena.. I mean, I was afforded the best teachers when I was growing up… And it truly is an art to get inside somebody’s mind to be able to teach and that’s really something. I just had my own inner weirdness and determination to do what I needed to do, in the music business. I am just not a teacher.
But for the most part and in a roundabout answer to your question would be this:
Music is your calling… You just have to have a true desire and be willing to ride the wave… ‘Cause it’s always a wave… It’s a wave of ups and downs and you just have to be willing to stay with that… And if you can stay with it for like two or three waves, and you can that they always come back up, then I think you should stick it out if it’s your true love… Those that get out of it at the first downfall just maybe are not meant for it… It’s a tough life. It can be rewarding, monetarily, things could be fine, but it’s a very tough life being away from your family and being a professional musician, travelling… In respect to that the most important thing would be just having the belief as a young musician that this is what you want to do. But you know, if you look at the genre, these things change so much. The musicians and the style of music is so varied. It’s so much different from when I first got into it. I like working with lots of many young players and young musicians myself. And it’s fun. It’s fun in that respect, yeah, to pass things on to them. But I really don’t give them any grandfatherly advice.
So nothing formal?
Naah, I’m not a mentor [laughs].
Growing up, who were your major influences? Not just guitarists, but musicians in general.
Well, obviously the classics. I started with the piano, played that for eighteen years. Lizst, Mozart, Beethoven… that was my first exposure to appreciate music. But then my styles broadened at the same time because I was listening to jazz. And my dad would listen to a lot of Sinatra… It was a pretty musical house.. everybody played an instrument as a kid… it was never really a As I got more into the guitar later in my teen years, I could listen to Van Halen.. it didn’t really matter.. Each song had something of substance to me. And I don’t really listen to primarily the guitar player or any one thing… It’s more like a whole musical spectrum… But I would probably say that for the most part I listened to George Benson… I typically like Raymond Gomez, a player that I don’t think a lot of people really know these days… Jeff Beck.. So there are a lot of different players I like…
How was it touring with Steve Vai? How was it, both as a guitarist and a music fan?
It was a lot of fun, because we’ve been friends for so long…And the collection of people in the band, I’ve played with them in different bands.. There’s Billy Sheehan, and Virgil and Dave Weiner… It wasn’t really a foreign atmosphere.. Everybody really knew each other… We all got together for the cause of Steve’s music.. And the guys that got together are very good at being able to be soldiers to the cause… So ya, it’s a lot of fun… We had a great four years together.. And now it’s time to get back to the grindstone, get back to your own cause…
So what’s your own cause right now? What’s up next?
Well, we just finished the Devil’s Slingshot record that just went out and we toured that… With Billy Sheehan and Virgil…
Any chance of that coming here, to India?
You never know, you never know. I hate to say, yeah, and then you never know… And then I’m finishing my instrumental record.. I haven’t done an instrumental record in close to ten years… And then this new record with CAB – Theatre of the Marionettes. So that’s about it.
That’s a whole lot of things…
Well, yes, a lot less than what I keep doing but just wanted to concentrate and spend more time on each of these things…
Are you a workaholic?
A workaholic? Noooo… My girlfriend is a workaholic [laughs], I am not a workaholic… I work when I feel like I am really creative… Am at a point in my life when I have to do it that way. I can’t just really sit down and do a million different things. After so many records, to be able to really come up with things you feel are exponents of your heart and what you really feel, it’s more testing. It becomes more of a test.. Because you’ve done it, you’ve done a lot of… I’ve done fifteen, sixteen, seventeen records…
How does it feel looking back? It’s been what, twenty five years now?
Noooo.. It’s more like just five years [laughs]… It’s a long time, it’s been ages. Time flies like that you know. It’s been a pretty remarkable journey. I remember being in a car with my then girlfriend in Massachusetts driving to California. And that was like yesterday. And here we are.. It’s been an incredible journey.
(June 4, 2008)
© Bobin James/Rolling Stone India, 2008