When the powers that be at Metal Blade Records asked me if I wanted to interview guitar great Monte Pittman, my answer was a resounding “YIS!!” This guy has written and played with everyone from MADONNA to PRONG and was about to release new solo effort The Power of Three which is one hell of a ballsy metal record, I must say. So we talked about that, working with legendary producer Flemming Rasmussen, tour plans, and what’s next in the world of Monte Pittman. Here, have a look:
Monte: Yes and no. That’s how it started. I was doing my third album and I had three books of songs, one heavy, one acoustic, and one blues. I had a day off in Copenhagen in 2012 and Flemming Rasmussen and I talked about going in and knocking out some acoustic stuff to see what happens. So we did that and it went great, and I had also given him my demos for heavy songs that I had. He sat me down and said, “THIS is what you need to be doing. The acoustic stuff’s great, but you need to be doing heavy stuff.” So we started making plans to come back and do a second part and it turned out so well and we were so happy with it and I thought, “There’s gotta be somebody out there who would wanna get behind this and give it a little push.” I didn’t wanna release another album on my own, and as fate would have it I was having lunch with Brian Slagel (Founder of Metal Blade Records) and I told him, “Hey, I’m gonna play you this and you tell me what you think.” And he says, “Let’s talk; I think this would be great for Metal Blade.” And then that kind of changed everything, the way I see the whole Part 1, 2, and 3 thing now. Now I wanna release at least two more heavy albums, so this is the start of another trilogy!
Amps: Tell me about working with Flemming Rasmussen. Here’s a guy who has been behind some of the greatest albums in heavy metal history.
Monte: It was a dream come true. I felt very comfortable having him there. I was in a situation where I KNOW he’s made some of the best albums ever and it’s not him guessing. He knows the guitar sound exactly and he knows what we need to do, so he would say, “No, get rid of that. Here’s what we need. Here’s how you do it” so I learned a lot from him just by working in the studio with him. It was more about what you DON’T need. We (Kane Ritchotte, drums and Max Whipple, bass) recorded live together, which you don’t really hear about these days. We were all in a room standing close to the drum set, so every hit, every riff, that’s all recording onto the tape together. The album is also recorded in the order you hear it. “A Dark Horse” was the first thing we did when we landed in Copenhagen. We weren’t jet-lagged because we all slept on the plane, and we were just pumped to do it, you know?
Amps: So “All’s Fair in Love and War”, the 13-minute opus was the last thing recorded? I love that song. It’s one of the first ones I gravitated to!
Monte: That’s a complicated song, but it really is a live jam. We just decided to vibe out and see what happened. It would have been a little bit shorter, but I had written some scratch solos to have Alex Skolnick do a guest solo on it and Flemming said, “ I like that, leave it in.”
Amps: Big Alex Skolnick fan. And it’s funny because TESTAMENT used to record all their albums alive.
Monte: Yeah, that’s the way to do it, and that’s what people miss. Nowadays you might be hearing a great recording but you’re missing a great performance of the music being played.
Monte: Ace Frehley when I was three years old. I thought it was the coolest thing EVER. I used to pretend to be sick just so I could stay home from school and listen to KISS Alive! and then I would get caught and my mom would say, “Looks like you’re doing fine now, I’m taking you in.” (laughs) It was a great time to be born because I got to experience some of the 70’s even though I was a baby. And when I was three, right after Destroyer and right before Dynasty it felt like those best years of KISS were right there. My sister had old albums and we used to listen to them constantly. Then getting older you had MOTLEY CRUE, TWISTED SISTER, and those kinds of bands, and METALLICA and SLAYER and all that. I got my first guitar when I was 13, and I had Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All, Reign in Blood and South of Heaven to teach me how to play guitar. I was hooked and had I learned to play five years earlier or five years later I think it would have been a lot different. It was the most fun music to play on guitar. And then I remember being 15 at a party and someone put on PANTERA’S Cowboys From Hell and hearing that was just insane.
Amps: Now because you said Ace Frehley, I have to ask…all-time favorite guitar intro?
Monte: Oh…uhhh, that’s a tough one. I’d have to think about that. It would have to be a METALLICA song or a PANTERA song, or (excitedly) Ooh! Ooh! “Another World Device” from PRONG!!
Amps: And you were IN PRONG which I thought was really cool.
Monte: Yeah, PRONG was one of my favorite bands when I first moved to L.A. and one of my first students was Ivan de Prume from WHITE ZOMBIE. He and Tommy Victor were jamming at the time and I was like, “PRONG is one of my favorite bands, you gotta introduce me to Tommy!” and the way he did so was Tommy was selling some of his gear, and I was like, “I’ll buy every one of those Marshalls” so anyway we got on the phone and I was gonna go by his house and just kind of hang out with him, and I was playing one of his guitars. Something was wrong with it, so I was tuning it up trying to see what it was and then he starts saying, “Yeah, we can do this and we can do that” talking like I was already in the band, and I was like, “Wait. Does that mean I’m in the band?” and he said, “Yeah, sure.” Next thing I know I’m in PRONG.
Amps: My all-time favorite solo in the world, and I don’t care what anyone says, it’s mine, will always be “Shock Me” from Ace Frehley on Love Gun. What’s yours?
Monte: Whew…I don’t really have one that I can name off the top of my head, but “Shock Me” is a great one. “Hotel California” is another great one. It’s tough picking just one.
Amps: I don’t ask easy questions, Monte.
Monte: (Laughing) yes, yes, I see that!
Amps: How often are you writing/recording/getting stuff down on tape?
Monte: It’s almost too much. I get ahead of myself and don’t have time to get complete thoughts down sometimes. And sometimes they just come to you and you can’t turn it off, it’s crazy. I’ve got two more albums since finishing The Power of Three written. I’ve got stuff written that was influenced by some of the Metal Blade bands like AMON AMARTH and UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS. Some of those rubbed off but a lot of it comes from cranking up what you’ve done before and figuring out how to make it better. I’m always writing something, whether it’s to submit to someone or for myself.
Monte: Yeah, I’m booking shows right now. I’ve got February 22 booked at the Whiskey, so the plan is to head out from there. People are just now hearing this new material so it’s been a little confusing since I had the acoustic stuff and was doing some of those kinds of shows.
Amps: So I’ll have the opportunity to buy you a drink when you come back to see us in Dallas? (Monte’s from Longview, TX)
Monte: Yeah, sure! Hey I wanna get back there as soon as I can, I just don’t have anything booked yet as of right now. But I will be headed that way.
Amps: What do you do when not writing and playing music?
Monte: I teach a lot. I teach guitar lessons and that turned into vocal lessons. What’s kind of bizarre is that I took a bunch of lessons because that was always my weakest link and I always played in a band with a good singer, so I didn’t have to. So before I did my second album Pain, Love, & Destiny I took vocal lessons for three months from different teachers. And with that much information it takes a while to digest all that, but teaching, it started out with me filling in for other teachers and taking on some of their students. I didn’t wanna say no, and it’s really cool how you can use vocal scales and warm-ups with a guitar that you couldn’t use say, with a piano. So far it’s been really cool.
Amps: What advice would you give a young kid who’s just picked up the guitar and wants to pursue it?
Monte: Keep yourself versatile. And it’s bad luck to turn down a gig, so don’t. And if you keep both of those things together, you never know who you’re gonna meet or what opportunities will come from random situations.
Wise words from a master shredder who has managed to turn said random encounters into flourishing songwriting partnerships on several occasions. Monte Pittman is a really nice guy, and a fine addition to the Metal Blade roster. The Power of Three is out now, so what are you waiting for? And don’t forget to catch Monte at the Whiskey A-Go-Go on February 22!!