Hailing from the US, Tony MacAlpine is one of the guitar world’s true legends. A master shred guitarist, he proved himself as one of the top contributors to the neo-classical metal genre in the 80s before delving into the realms of Progressive Metal / Jazz Fusion. Just some of his achievements in a career that has spanned over two decades include releasing 10 studio albums, touring as part of STEVE VAI’s band THE BREED, forming the band M.A.R.S featuring Bob Rock (METALLICA) on vocals and contributing to a list of albums that’s just too long to list! On top of all that he’s is an accomplished keyboardist as well!
Saturday August 14 will see MacAlpine performing at G-Taranaki with HAIL! the band fronted by ex-JUDAS PRIEST singer Tim “Ripper” Owens. At this event HAIL! features a special one-off line-up that’s promising a unique performance to the people of New Zealand. He’ll also be performing with Vinnie Moore (UFO) at the same event. NZRock caught up with Tony to find out more…
G-Taranaki is just around the corner and we’re really looking forward to having you in our town! Have you ever visited New Zealand before and are you going to have a chance to check out our country while you’re here?
Yes I sure was there before when I toured with Steve Vai and the Breed. I really enjoyed the free time that I had there. Looking forward to coming there again!
You’re going to be performing with a couple of acts at G-Taranaki. Fist of all, how did the opportunity come up for you to join forces with Hail!?
Well Mark Abbattista contacted me in regards to doing the show with the band and of course I loved the idea and joined forces for this one right away.
Hail! have travelled the world playing everything from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to Pantera and Megadeth. We’ve been told to expect something a little unique at G-Taranaki though. What can you tell us about the G-Taranaki set-list?
Well it’s a really rocking list with some of my favorite tunes by Sabbath…its also setlist that reminds me of the material I use to play in early bands when I lived in the East Coast of USA. But to play this music now with these great rock players is something that everyone needs to experience..should be a great night of heavy Rock!!
You’ve had a long association with Vinnie Moore playing keyboards on his albums Mind’s Eye (1986) and The Maze (1999). When and how did you guys first meet up?
We were brought together by Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records. I recorded a few of the Vinsters solo records…I have always been a huge huge fan of his. So its still a blast to play with him every chance I get.
I can still remember the day I walked out of my local record store with a couple of LPs: One was Marty Friedman’s ‘Dragons Kiss’ and the other was your album ‘Maximum Security’. What memories come to mind when you think back to the recording ‘Maximum Security’?’
Well the first is how fast we use to make those records back then..i mean we would really get all of that stuff done in about a week. Today that seems crazy to me..haha!
Maximum Security’ and ‘Dragons Kiss’ are two epic albums but another commonality they share are the photos of yourself and Marty Friedman boasting epic 80s hair-dos. What do you think when you look back at those shots and when did you finally say good-bye to the big boofy hair?
My hair was always long even as a little kid…I did not grow it long to make music…I just liked it that way. I started having my hair cut shorter in the mid 90’s. You know I do not miss it at all..its much easier to take care of now.
There is definitely a distinctive sound to the guitar virtuoso recordings of that 80s neo-classical era. Do you feel any sense of nostalgia when you re-listen to the music you created back then?
You know I enjoyed the moment as I lived in reality..but I feel the music we make today is a constant evolution of musical growth and new found excitement. It really keeps me looking down the road and not backwards.
It’s a very striking album cover on ‘Maximum Security’. Where did the idea come from the artwork?
It was an idea from Cliff Burnstein and his art department at Squawk Records.
You’re not only an accomplished guitarist but also an accomplished keyboardist. In fact you’ve been playing keyboards for longer than you’ve been playing guitar. How do you find time to keep your playing up to scratch with both?
I split my time equally between the two. I play a lot classical music still and of course I find myself in a lot of situations where I will be playing Keys and Guitar.
At the moment one of you’re also a member of 7 The Hardway with Mark Boals who was at the last G-Taranaki singing in Uli Jon Roth’s band. I really dig your song ‘Guilty’ which is a super heavy / groovy number. When was the band formed and what are your plans looking ahead?
The band was formed about 2 years ago…and for about a year we wrote songs and worked on developing the sound and essence of the band. Just go to http://seventhehardway.net/ and from there you can get all the cool news about the bands plans like our upcoming European Tour starting in September.
You’ve been releasing solo albums since the mid 80’s and the list of other albums you’ve played on is a mile long. Do you feel a sense of freedom by not being restricted to just one musical venture?
Yes exactly..but remember I grew into music that way by playing piano literature of many composers and era’s. That is exactly how it all fits in today for me.If its CAB or PLANET X or SEVENTHEHARDWAY they all allow me to have a different expression and outlook. That’s very important to me!
What’s do you consider to be some of your greatest pieces of songwriting to date?
You know music and songs are like family and children..to have a happy family you have to love all of your children equally. I am simply happy to be able to call some of these tunes my own…but I am always in the studio writing more!!
And what are your favourites to play?
Well on the upcoming SEVENTHEHARDWAY tour I will play some music form My latest solo release which is called Tony MacAlpine and I will also play things from Maximum Security,Evolution and Edge of Insanity.
You’ve explored many areas in music – classical, jazz fusion, progressive rock and metal and more. Are there any other styles your interested in pursuing further?
At the moment no. But who knows I may feel differently a year from now… haha!
You’ve spent a number of years touring with Steve Vai. I saw the video of you two at the Carvin 60th and you guys sound amazing! How do you manage to come up with such crazy lead guitar like that on the spot?
Well I really don’t know..its just what I do…I play and it comes out….
To reach the level of guitar playing that you’ve achieved you must’ve put in an insane amount of hours on guitar. Do you ever feel like you need to take a break for a day or two and what do you do to relax?
Well I approach all things in good measure…I started playing when I was 5 so I have been exposed to music at such an early age. I have never forgotten the building blocks of music.
In your opinion, What constitutes a truly great guitarist?
You must first be a dedicated musician. One who has such a love for music and one who is willing to make some sacrifices to become better on a daily basis. I have never considered myself anything other than being a student of the arts.
In your early days of learning guitar were there any big discoveries you made in either the technical or theory side which made significant changes to the way you played from then on and if so what were they?
I realized early on that bad practice makes bad playing and of course good practice makes good playing. So it is very important for me to practice things that help me grow as a player..not to just play for hours things that I can already play and then consider that to be pratice.
In SEVENTHEHARDWAY you’re playing an 8 string guitar. What tuning are you using and in what ways do you have to adjust your playing to accommodate the extra strings?
Well in SEVENTHEHARDWAY I also play 7 string. But mainly Stefania Daniel plays the 7 string guitar parts so I am able to fill out the lower extended ranges with the 8 string Ibanez. The lowest string is an f#.The guitar is great and I had to make no real adjustments other than the obvious fact of the neck being a bit wider…but otherwise it is quite natural.
What is the most prized guitar that you own and why?
I really am enjoying the 3 newest Ibanez Guitars I am playing now. All black 6-7 and 8 string instruments. They are very responsive and comfortable.
Anything you’d like to say to your fans over here in New Zealand?
I am looking forward to seeing you in your great country…and wishing all of you the very best!! Rock!!! TMAC