PAUL SPEER
Ax Inferno
(Rainstorm Records)

 

The 2013 CD release from Paul Speer, entitled Ax Inferno is a guitar-cetnric masterpiece. With a history of releasing sonically groundbreaking albums, Speer has been a mainstay on the New Age guitar fusion scene since the mid 1980s and, although he can create moody atmospheric instrumental music that does border on cosmic “New Age” music, on Ax Inferno Speer gets back to his rock fusion roots on a CD that echoes the spirit of Jeff Beck and Jan Akkerman. Like Akkerman’s post-Focus classics, Paul Speer makes the most of his programmed guitar-centric synth sounds and combines real drums to create the aura of a full band. Tackling all the guitars, synths and bass work, Speer gets solid support from drummer Ron Krasinski. With the drums recorded in the fabled Ardent studios in Memphis, much of the music was recorded at Speer’s Rainstorm production studios, also in Memphis. Ax Inferno is filled with a range of jazz-rock instrumentals that blend in several tracks, and some are delineated as being a “rock mix” or a “techno mix”, yet Speer’s guitar work has the entire thing under control. Perhaps the key track on the CD is the lead off track entitled “Contents Under Pressure”, one of Speer’s greatest tracks. Atmospheric, electrifying and thoroughly rocked out, Paul Speer’s Ax Inferno is a boldly inventive CD that takes state of the art guitar-based rock fusion instrumentals to a whole new level. www.PaulSpeer.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
PAUL SPEER



mwe3: You’ve been releasing solo albums since 1984 with your first solo album Collection 983: Spectral Voyages. It must have been quite an experience these past 30 years watching the entire New Age / instrumental new / age rock genre morph into a futuristic maze of music technology! Do you look back sometimes and go whoa...do you think we missed something or that something’s missing from the early days? How did we get here? lol Are we the lucky ones who survived? What do you make of the current state of the art?

PAUL SPEER: I suppose we are survivors... after all we're still here making a living in the music biz! I'm always grateful people still find my music compelling enough to keep buying it. It is nice that the out of print albums are still alive as downloads.

I love the current state of the art in recording technology. Pro Tools is great and it is easy to be the engineer and performer at the same time. Something I really appreciate is how the computer remembers everything and your session loads with all the exact settings as when you left it. No more twiddling knobs and faders on a huge mixing console resulting in a mix only similar to what you were last working with.

mwe3: Are you from Idaho originally? And then you moved to Seattle, Los Angeles and then Memphis in 2006. What do you miss most about Idaho, L.A. and Seattle and your early days? Seattle was a big New Age city for a while in the 1990’s. Wasn’t your early label Miramar there?

PAUL SPEER: I was born and raised in Lewiston, Idaho but lived most of my life in the Seattle area, at least so far. David Lanz, Jan Nickman, and I founded Miramar Productions in 1985 to facilitate the release of Natural States and the company was sold in 1998.

I really like L.A. and enjoyed living there. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I stayed and didn't return to Seattle. But things have worked out well in my career so no complaints.

mwe3: How would you compare Memphis with Seattle and Idaho too, where you went to college... When I think Memphis I think of Sun Records so you must be one of the key rock fusion / New Age guitarists in Memphis. Are you the New Age prog-rock hero of Memphis? How does Memphis compare to Nashville? But then again, you’re world artist right?

PAUL SPEER: I prefer to call my music “Modern Instrumental” as I was never comfortable with the term New Age. The work I did with David Lanz leans towards New Age but a lot of what we did was just plain instrumental pop/rock. I doubt there is anyone in Memphis creating music similar to mine. Memphis music is still mostly what it always have been: blues, R&B, soul, and of course nowadays hip hop and rap.

Since I don't perform live and tour... at least, not at this time, I don't exist on a local level so basically, I am unknown here. Memphis, Nashville, and Seattle are quite different musically. Seattle's scene is much more diverse than Memphis. Nashville's is too, even though people often think of Nashville being exclusively country. People like Jack White and the Kings Of Leon live and record there.

mwe3: Would you ever consider living in Los Angeles again? Being the capital of the film industry and that your music is quite cinematic I would think L.A. would be great place for you to live and work. As a recording artist, what did you like and what do you like best about Los Angeles?

PAUL SPEER: I would love to live in LA again and that is a possibility. What struck me about the city when I moved there in the 1970’s was that I started meeting musicians and singers who were as dedicated to their craft as much as I was. People like that were rare in my life until LA. I mean.... people I worked with were certainly “into it” but they didn't have the hunger and drive I possessed. I fit right in and knew the move was the right thing to do.

A bit of trivia... Most of the sessions I did were at a place called the Upside Down Studio (no longer exists). It was located on Santa Monica Blvd. near, I think, La Brea. The interesting bit is that this was built for The Doors as their personal studio and several albums were recorded there until Morrison's death. The control room was tiny compared to most today and the studio was just big enough to accommodate the band. FYI, in the Oliver Stone movie, those scenes of The Doors recording were remarkably close to what their studio actually looked like.

mwe3: What are your reflections about working on the Miramar label and also Narada? How many albums did you record for those two labels and are they in print? What happened to those two labels and their catalog and being one of the coolest indy labels every, will the Miramar catalog ever be reissued?

PAUL SPEER: I was fortunate to have my music supported by two labels that both had worldwide distribution back when people bought CDs. We had good budgets to record with and I didn't have to be all things in the record company, which is the situation today with my own boutique label, Rainstorm Records.

For Narada, I did three albums collaborating with David Lanz and produced about ten of his solo albums. But two of those with David, Natural States and Desert Vision, were actually under license from Miramar to Narada.

The other albums on Miramar were Collection 991: Music+Art, Shades of Shadow (a collaboration with Leroy Quintana), and TeleVoid (a collaboration with Scott Rockenfield).

mwe3: It seems to me that a lot more “major label” money was put into those big labels like Miramar, Narada and even Windham Hill back in the 1980s and ‘90s compared to today, (2013) which is not only the era of the self-sufficient artist but also the era of the lack of big labels and their big money (shamefully not) getting behind the American geniuses in the New Age and progressive fusion genres. How do you feel about that trade off?

PAUL SPEER: Right you are, Robert. The record biz has changed dramatically since then and it is because of the internet. It is hard to get people to pay for music in today's world and many labels whose bread and butter was artsy or obscure music bit the dust in the wake.

On the other hand, quality recording gear is available cheap now and great records have been made in garages and bedrooms. I view this as a win-win for both artists and consumers. You can write some songs, upload to youtube, people like it, and it can go viral if it is any good. Sometimes you can actually make money, too.

I am grateful for the career I have had and the past experiences but enjoy the total control over my work today. One thing I don't miss about the “old days” is recording to tape. Tape sounds great, no doubt about it, but I love my computer and how I can manipulate audio.

mwe3: Your new album Ax Inferno is literally a smoking kind of record. Ax Inferno kind of gets back to your rock roots, and your album with Scott Rockenfield, hence the title? Your album before it, Wonders was quite an impressionistic collaboration and two albums back Oculus was a soundtrack and DVD video of sorts so I guess Ax Inferno was a chance to get back to your instrumental rock roots?

PAUL SPEER: Let it be known I have always been a rocker but when given the chance to make a record, I leave my ego at the door and play parts that fit with the material being recorded. The “New Age” albums Lanz and I did do rock quite a bit and have rock rhythm sections supporting my guitar and his piano. I suppose we got lumped into New Age because he had two solo piano albums out and those were already pegged for that genre.

Indeed, the two I recorded with Scott rock pretty well but they are quite different from what he does in Queensryche.

Wonders is probably best described as World Fusion due to the elements that Paul Lawler and Satine Orient brought to the party. Oculus sounds like it does because of the Italy visuals and it was asking for more of a “light” rock sound.

That said, I was ready to cut loose again and Ax Inferno is the result. It started about three years ago as I was getting into electronica, trance, EDM, etc. and really like the pulse and textures that kind of music has. But it doesn't have guitar! I decided to do an experiment and created the techno version of “Accelerator” and put it up on my youtube channel asking for feedback since it wasn't a style people knew me for. Well... the response was overwhelming positive and gave me the confidence to take it further and compose more in that vein.

mwe3: Ax Inferno was recorded at the famous Ardent studios in Memphis with drummer Ron Krasinski. First, what was it like recording at Ardent, and how would rate the studio soundwise and what was the musical / recording chemistry like with you and Ron?

PAUL SPEER: Ardent is my favorite studio in Memphis and great records have been made there for 45 years. The place has some serious mojo when you consider artists like ZZ Top, Steve Ray Vaughn, Joe Cocker, Jack White, the list goes on and on..., made records there. Ardent has three terrific sounding studios, state of the art equipment, and highly skilled staff engineers.

Ron is one of those musicians who is so good at his craft that I don't have to tell him what to play... he knows what to play. I just massage the parts a little bit here and there. You may find it interesting that adding Ron was an afterthought and his parts were the last tracks to get recorded. I'm really glad I brought him on board because he knocked it out of the park!

mwe3: What guitars are featured on Ax Inferno and are you still using your Les Paul's? What other guitars are on the CD? Tell us about your guitars. Are you still recording with Amp Farm gear? And how about strings and other devices to color your sound?

PAUL SPEER: After recording Wonders with a 1974 Les Paul Standard, I went back to the Charvel 750XL, which I purchased new in 1990. It has the best neck I have ever played on... it just fits my hand like no other guitar.

I wish I was still using the old Amp Farm simulator but the plug was not supported when I upgraded to Pro Tools 10 HDX and the new version of Line 6 Amp Farm doesn't sound the same. So I downloaded demos of numerous other amp sims and didn't like anything until I came upon Rock Amp Legends made by Nomad software... only $89, too!. It is a no BS straight ahead amp that sounds close to what I liked about the Fender Deluxe patch I used in Amp Farm.

As far as effects, I use compression and delay plugs in Pro Tools... nothing fancy. And strings to me have never been a big deal so I use Ernie Ball Regular Slinky. They are inexpensive and easily available.

mwe3: Have there been any new guitars coming into your guitar rack and what’s your take on the latest new in the world of guitar technology?

PAUL SPEER: I bought several vintage guitars about five years ago, mostly as investments. However, they are all great players but like I said earlier, the Charvel is the one I record with the most.

I really don't keep up on new guitar technology but in researching amp sims, I tried out many new versions. I was frustrated at how complicated most of them were. Stuff like virtual mics you can move around, too many stupid effects, dozens of speaker emulations, and really lame presets. It is impressive technology but I have my hands full running Pro Tools while playing guitar and just wanted a basic amp that sounds good out of the box, so to speak. That is why I went with Rock Amp Legends.

And now your readers probably want to know... why not just use a real amp? Ok, here's the deal. I have found that how the guitar should sound in a piece tends to evolve as the tune evolves so the tone I started with may not be right later on. With a plug, you can change the tone as much as you want until the final mix. You can't do that with a real amp. Well... I could “re-amp” it but that is too much of a hassle to deal with.

mwe3: Back in 2009 you told mwe3.com about your working on an album with a young Memphis artist. Did the CD come out and what other productions and/or engineering have you done since?

PAUL SPEER: That project was the first album for Will Tucker (willtuckermusic.com) who is a local blues prodigy still in his teens. We are in pre-production for his second release.

I am not producing very many other artists these days by choice so mostly I do mixing and mastering for clients all over the world. Too many to name but suffice to say they are all indie artists and not well known.

mwe3: Who you would like to write or record or produce with again at some point? What are some of your personal favorite productions and recording collaborations of the past?

PAUL SPEER: Definitely Scott Rockenfield and David Lanz... the three of us doing a record would be awesome. Among my favorites are Hells Canyon with Scott and Desert Vision with David but I am proud of all my collaborations and happy they live on as digital even if the CDs are out of print.

mwe3: What are you hoping listeners and fans will come away with after hearing Ax Inferno and what other steps are you taking to bring the Ax Inferno recording some further attention?

PAUL SPEER: I hope the album finds a place in their lives and gives them enjoyment for years to come.

After noticing several indie artists raising money via crowd funding, I decided to do a campaign myself last May. Fans and friends came out to support the project and I was able to exceed my financial goal. The funds are being used for manufacturing CDs and I have hired high powered people for publicity and radio promotion.

mwe3: What do you feel or predict will happen to the recording world and the way in which people hear and listen to music in the years to come? I mean the CD was just a pipe dream. Back in 1984, Tower in NYC had a small shelf with like 200 under lock and key, tucked away in the back (lol) 30 years ago! Now look... lol Now, they’re trying to do away with the CD! But I guess we won’t let that happen right? lol

PAUL SPEER: Haha! Sorry... no predictions here! Who would have thought that we would be listening to digital music on telephones today?! I see two main issues with digital music. One is the quality and the other is the lack of artwork. Both issues are improving but it will never be like the ritual of playing vinyl. You know... carefully remove the LP, place it on the turntable, hit start, sit down with the jacket and immerse yourself in the experience. I can see why vinyl continues to grow in popularity to hardcore music fans.

mwe3: What are your future plans as far as writing and recording and what vistas in music are you still looking to explore? Do you think there’ll be a Paul Speer retrospective or CD/DVD box set in the future? Musically and artistically, what do you want to do next?

PAUL SPEER: I really enjoyed allowing myself to explore electronica textures for Ax Inferno so that will most likely continue in new works. Having world class recording gear and instruments available in my home studio allows me the freedom to do whatever I want. That said, I have to love every piece of music I let out into the world and that usually takes time and a lot of listening outside of the studio. There are many demos that didn't make Ax because after a while, I didn't love them anymore. Not that they sucked... I just didn't stay interested for whatever reasons and put them on the shelf.

Funny thing, once in a while a track that lost its love gets new affection. That happened with “Vortex” on Ax Inferno. It wasn't blowing my skirt up until Ron put his bombastic drums on it. Schwing!

I have thought about doing a retrospective but it wouldn't be complete without some of the tracks Lanz and I collaborated on. EMI owns the rights to those albums and they can be quite difficult to negotiate with. I do hope I can make it happen someday and put together a collection of my favorite cuts.


{Photo credits: top to bottom}
The live shots are from the Idaho Rock Reunion held in Lewiston July 2010.
The next pic is me and David Lanz after he played a concert in Nashville.
After that is guitar great James Burton at a Grammy event in Tunica, MS. in I think 2009.
Next is wife Janice with Ron Foos and Paul Revere - 2011.
I'm setting mics on Ron's drums at Ardent - 2012.
The tunnel shots are Memphis underneath a railroad crossing - 2011
That is producer/guitarist Nile Rodgers at a Grammy event in Seattle. 2006, I think.
Final pic: In Ardent Studios with drummer Ron Krasinski.
Thanks to Paul Speer @ www.PaulSpeer.com

 

 
   
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