Heavy Mental


NYC based musician Bruce Arnold has got to be one of the most well-rounded guitarists currently recording in 2010. Following the passing of several years, caught up with Bruce only to find that he’s recently released no less than four quite different CDs in the past few years. First off among his latest albums is Heavy Mental by the Bruce Arnold Trio. Backed up by Andy Galore (bass) and Kirk Driscoll (drums), this is Bruce like you’ve never heard him. Who knew Bruce had such a hard hitting jazz-rock fusion instrumental side to his muse? Bruce was always an avant gard purveyor of the guitar—breaking down sonic walls with daredevil acumen—but on Heavy Mental, the sound is more guitar-centric jazz-rock fusion ala Terje Rypdal, Satch and Allan Holdsworth. The seven cut all instrumental Heavy Mental CD is superbly recorded, while in depth liner notes by noted jazz musicologist Bill Milkowski fills in the blanks on this amazing fully formed fusion outing. Nearly the same could be said about Arnold’s other 2010 release entitled The Art Of The Blues. Backed by Dean Johnson (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums), the twelve track CD is once again all instrumental but this is no easy on the ears blues based CD. With tracks written and recorded in time signatures like 7/4 and 9/4, Arnold’s Art Of The Blues combines to create a collection of tracks that—while sounding like a traditional jazz guitar set—actually presents a new approach for Arnold and clearly is a refreshing redirection for the blues. Fitting in perfectly with Arnold’s daring approach to the electric guitar is Secret Code—written and recorded by Bruce Arnold and guitarist Jane Getter. A true tour de force of electric guitar extrapolations, the twelve track instrumental CD is at once avant garde in scope yet it’s completely captivating. The all-instrumental Secret Code combines a wealth of musical styles—from the straight ahead jazz guitar duo sound to a more adventurous concept taking in electronic flavors, distortion and wah-wah with synthetically processed sounds and organic, mellower sounds. One of Bruce Arnold's finest and most adventurous albums is his truly pioneering release of Sonic Infestation—a pairing with the like minded guitarist / percussionist John Stowell. A 2008 release, the CD really takes you out there with free improv and abstract sound collages that bring to mind ‘70s guitar pioneers like Fred Frith for example. No sonic stuck in the mud himself, Fred would probably dig Bruce overall, but I would think, especially Bruce’s release with John Stowell. Acoustic guitars, electronics, off the wall percussion and more collide on a CD that is truly inventive. Perhaps the thing that holds each of these four albums together—besides the inventive guitar work and inquisitive guitar based approach—is the high quality studio sonics of these recordings, which when combined, offers a state of the art glimpse into Bruce Arnold’s multifaceted and complex musical mind. /

BRUCE ARNOLD Can you say something about the events that led to the making of your recently released Heavy Mental CD and how do you feel the album reflects your interest in and performance of fusion guitar sounds?

Bruce Arnold: I started out playing rock and mostly blues à la Stevie Ray Vaughan sort of style way back in the ‘60s. I went to Berklee in the late ‘70s and continued that sound via fusion which was big at the time. When I moved to NYC, a good friend of mine, Stuart Hamm would come to town playing with Joe Satriani and I loved the sound Joe was getting because it was so expressive. Not having that type of equipment at the time, I only dreamed about recreating that sound.

Then a few years back I was doing a duet gig with Stanley Clarke. I walked off stage and the representative for Peavey said that they would like to send me some equipment. Well a few days later I had the JSX (Joe Satriani) amp and three new Heavy Metal guitars! I was like a kid in a candy store. Since then Music Man has sent me 4 of their guitars so my current rig is the JSX and one of my four Music Man Guitars. Awesome sound and great tone. I even have a Music Man Double Neck which is the guitar for my follow-up CD to Heavy Mental. You can get a taste of what's ahead for that on the composition is called “Beauty Queen.” So now that I have the sound, I'm quite excited about creating CDs with this new equipment in combination with SuperCollider. Do you consider the Heavy Mental album to be jazz-rock and what guitarists and eras of music would you say influenced you most early on and then during the writing and recording process of the new album?

BA: Well I guess some might call it jazz-rock because it has a sophistication in the harmonies but really that sophistication is coming from 20th century classical music, not jazz. Take for instance “12 Tone Boogie” or “Blues For Arnie” (Arnold Schoenberg). The first part of the head is strictly 12 tone just like Webern or Schoenberg would write. All the rest of the tunes are using hexatonic scales divided into two trichords (3 note groups), this is again exactly the kind of structures that the 2nd Viennese school would use (i.e. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.) I've just transferred this into a rock/heavy metal sound and it works surprisingly well. So my main influence for this music is really the application of these 12 tone principles into the rock idiom. I should say that doing this is no easy feat and has taken years of practice. So although when listening to the CD you may think that I'm just playing a common blues line here and there, in reality all solos on the CD are using hexatonic scales, not blues scales. There are no overdubs for the guitar solos. These are all live in the studio so in that sense it has the jazz influence of not being a highly produced and overdubbed CD. How would you compare the sound and style of your guitar playing and compositional approach on Heavy Mental with your other new album Art Of The Blues and why did you choose to use different musicians on both albums?

BA: Art Of The Blues is really the closest I've come to a traditional jazz sound even though I was using a Fender Stratocaster on the date. Both CDs are again using Pitch Class Set improvisation via hexatonic scales. Art Of The Blues was a real challenge for me. I wanted to write 12 keys of the blues using the hexatonic scale C, Db, Eb, F#, G, A and have all chords and melodies derived from this structure. Obviously it would change on every chord I, IV, V and in each key. I also wanted to get away from playing 4 and 5 note chords so commonly found in the jazz player repertoire, so you will find that most of the comping is diads (two note structures) which is more like the rhythm and blues style of chording on a blues tune. I also wanted to add a rhythmic and phrasing element to the compositions. So you will find the superimposition of 3 eighth notes time over the regular time in many sections of these tunes and this kinds of structures are reflected in the melodies. By placing the 3 eighth note rhythm in the melody the drummer is able to move back and forth between two different time levels freely throughout each piece. Tony Moreno does a great job of this in a very musical way. I also wanted to get away from the typical 4 bar phrasing found in jazz and blues so you will find many compositions with 5 bar phrases or the use of 7/4, 5/4 and _ time signatures.

The musicians were chosen because of their commitment to the project and their great musicianship. I feel very lucky to live in NYC where you have access to such world class musicians to help you express your vision. How would you say your unique guitar sound combines your love of experimental music with your blues, rock and fusion influences?

BA: I think that all of these influences flow together to form my current sound. I'm very restless and I'm always trying to push the envelope. I want to continue to also push my use of SuperCollider (object oriented music programming platform for the Mac). When I play I always play through this program via a laptop and this also is a major part of my sound. All reverbs, delays and special effects are created from scratch using this program. I should also mention that Newton Armstrong helped a lot in teaching me this program and helping with organization and advanced programming knowledge. This program is amazing and allows me to push the possibilities of the guitar to new places. What guitars are featured on the Heavy Mental and the Art Of The Blues albums and are there any interesting developments in the guitar / gear world lately that is lately catching your ears and eyes?

BA: On Heavy Mental I used the Peavey JSX and the Peavey V-type guitar and on "Blues for Arnie" I also used the Music Man JP. Art Of The Blues uses a ‘69 Fender Bassman Amp (original) and an ‘81 Fender Stratocaster reissue. In general, I'm not much for boxes and other gear that only give you the sounds some programmer at some company decided is cool. I want to have the ability to create something new and personal on my own, and any equipment that allows this is high on my list. That said, I should also mention that I used a Klon Centaur distortion pedal on Heavy Mental and a FullTone "Clyde" Wah Wah. What guitarists and eras of music most interest you and do you listen much to other guitarists and composers these days and if so, what artists and guitarists interest you in 2010?

BA: Actually lately I haven't listened too much to other guitarists. Since I have my own recording studio here in Greenwich Village I'm always working and listening to new projects and don’t have a lot of time to check out other things. My latest projects incorporate the sound of lap steel slide guitar. Rayco Resophonics and Asher gave me endorsements and sent me some wonderful instruments. You can hear me using the the Rayco “Weissenborn” on YouTube and the Asher can be heard at the end of Beauty Queen also on YouTube. But in general with all the music I’m doing I have a sound in my head and it is giving me all the inspiration I need at the moment. When did you start the Muse-Eek music company and how much of your time is devoted to recording your own music compared to say, your publishing of books and time spent on the day to day of company itself?

BA: Muse Eek Publishing really grew out of two things. I grew up in South Dakota in the ‘50s and ‘60s when there was no internet so accessing the right information to learn the guitar was very difficult. I spent many years practicing the wrong things, and then having to unlearn them and start over; it was painful in so many ways. I didn't want to see that happen to others. I started writing books to help a serious guitarist develop their skills, but in the back of my mind it was also my way of helping them to avoid the bad start that I had had. I started writing the books the same time I started teaching at NYU. There was no curriculum for guitar when I started back in the early ‘90s, so that spurred a series of books on sight reading, ear training and basic information that all serious guitarists need to know.

I usually spend about 1 to 2 hours a day either answering emails from guitarists that need help understanding how to practice stuff from my books or needing further guidance to decide on what books to work with next. has created a new download section which has really opened up a worldwide use of my books. Now students from anywhere can download this information and don't have to spend a fortune in shipping. It's always a balancing act to divide my time between books, recording, teaching (NYU and Princeton) and performing.

As far as new books go I'm quite excited about the new edition of 1st Steps for Beginning Guitarist which is an .epub book available for the ipad. This book has over 400 videos and audio files that can be accessed directly through the ipad. You can see an example of using this book on I think this new platform will revolutionize the learning of music. I'm also excited about my Sonic Resource guide book which is really a reference book showing you all 220 possible scales with all the 3 and 4 note chords that can be derived from these scales as well as which chords these scales will work over. It also gives you the possible hexatonic scales that can be found where applicable. I teach a course with this book at the NYU Summer Guitar Intensive which meets every July in NYC at NYU and it can really open your eyes to a new way of thinking about music and gives you tons of ideas for composition and improvisation. It’s interesting to note you’re originally from South Dakota. How many years have you lived in NYC and how would you compare the two places? What do you like most about NYC and do you consider yourself a New Yorker now? (laughter)

BA: Yes, I grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. You would think it was pretty devoid of good musicians but I was lucky to have Dave Wood (guitar), Mike Miller (guitar) and Mark Craney (drums) among others to get inspiration. I moved to Boston when I was about 23 and attended Berklee College of Music. This was the heyday for guitar there, with Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Wayne Krantz, Steve Vai...I could go on and on...all kicking around Berklee. It really made me work hard to lift my musicianship to those levels. Of course I didn't know that most of these people would be the next generation of great guitarists. At the time I just thought that was the level of all guitarists. I know better now...

I certainly feel I'm a New Yorker now that I've lived here for over 20 years. It's really a great city. So easy to get around, safe and so many great artists to interact with. I also miss South Dakota and it's open spaces and simple life but we are lucky to have an apartment here in the Village with a beautiful garden that my girlfriend Michal Shapiro tends to each year. Looking out my window as I practice each day I could be anywhere it really doesn't feel like a big city. What plans do you have for 2011 and beyond? Any chance for a box set or multi-disc anthology of your music?

BA: I just noticed the other day that my distributor allows you to make multi-disc MP3 sets so I'm thinking about that. I just finished an anthology for my co-lead group Spooky Actions, which is sort of my "cover band." We do covers of Webern, Schoenberg, Messiaen to name a few. This highly challenging group has six CDs and we chose a few of the strongest tracks to have on a compilation called Spooky Actions: Retrospective.

2011 will have me writing new music for rock trio using the Music Man double neck and new music for jazz trio. I would also like to finish up a couple of recordings I have with Dave Schroeder on blues harp and me on lap steel slide guitar as well as finish a duet CD with John Gunther playing the Bartok Romanian Dances.

Thanks to Bruce Arnold @ /


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