Interview with Guitar Legend Jason Becker
- Welcome to Indian Music Mug Jason.
Jason : Thank you very much, it is my pleasure.
- How are you? What has been keeping you busy lately?
Jason : I am doing well, thank you. There has been lots of construction work being done at my house, so it has been pretty chaotic lately. I am getting back to finishing my next album. There will be a Japanese documentary about the making of it. My Carvin signature guitars and my Seymour Duncan signature Perpetual Burn pickups are selling really well. Carvin and I are working on a new guitar. I am preparing for the next Not Dead Yet concert in August.
- Your album Perpetual Burn has been hailed as a cult classic. Our readers would really like to know the story behind the album.
Jason : Thank you so much for saying that. After Marty Friedman and I finished recording “Speed Metal Symphony,” I was very happy with it, but I had so many ideas that I wanted to get out. I spent tons of time writing at my four-track. I would play stuff for Mike Varney and Marty. It became obvious that this had to become a solo album. There wasn’t any room for vocals. Varney suggested that Marty put together a solo album too. I wasn’t thinking about my age. Playing with and learning from Friedman added years of experience, creativity and confidence to my whole outlook. He was the catapult for everything for me. I recorded at the same studio that we did “Speed Metal Symphony” in, and with the same engineer, Steve Fontano, so I was comfortable in that way, but this time I had to run the show. Marty wasn’t there when we recorded Atma’s drums. That made me a little nervous, but Fontano complimented me on how I was bobbing my head to keep Atma in time. That felt really good. I remember when I had Fontano lay the click track down for “Air,” he didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Six minutes of click track is pretty funny to hear in a professional studio. When recording the first licks in “Perpetual Burn,” I had to use a bar in between them, instead of stopping like I wanted, because there was too much feedback when I stopped, and the gate wouldn’t respond quick enough. This was a drag. I also played them sloppy. I hadn’t quite mastered the technique yet. I did my first take of the blues solo in “Eleven Blue Egyptians” late at night. It sounded stiff but I couldn’t figure out why. Fontano suggested I get sleep and try again tomorrow. I usually hate to leave something hanging, but I took his advice. The next day it just flowed out of me easily. Marty, of course, was recording “Dragon’s Kiss” at the same time. He was working extra long hours. He was giving Fontano a break from hitting record during “Air.” During recording, Marty and I both nodded off in the middle of a lick. We woke up and cracked up. One day Marty called me to do my part on “Jewel.” His dad was visiting in the studio. I have no idea why, but I was being argumentative. As always, Marty was calm and understanding. I still feel bad about that. I was a butt hole to my mentor in front of his dad. I love his parents. On another day, Marty called me in to play a part for him because the drummer, Deen, had played it too fast. He knew I could play the part fast enough. That felt so nice, being able to help the person who had constantly helped me. I met Greg Howe at this time. We got along great. He had me play a harmony to a lick that he had always wanted to play with another guitarist. We had a blast hanging and jamming. Greg was working with Billy Sheehan, so I got to spend a little time with him. I was a little star struck. I was stoked when he compared “Air” to Van Halen’s “Eruption” for its uniqueness and innovation.
- Your life has inspired millions and still inspires a lot of musicians. How do keep so strong and still go on creating magic?
Jason : Well, I always have to start by saying I have an incredible support group, from my family, friends, community, and fans. I am so lucky in that way. Music, and making it, is what makes me feel good. I don’t do well without something to be working on. Everyone needs to feel useful and creative. We all need love, humor and passion. I don’t really think about it much, but somehow I am able to proceed with my life in spite of my physical condition. I guess that makes me strong. I don’t really see any other way of being.
- Tell us a bit about the technicalities and the work process when you make music now.
Jason : I have an idea in my head, or I work with an old recording of an idea. My dad sits down with the guitar and plays the notes/chords I ask him to play. I use the eye communication system which my father invented (Vocal Eyes), and is faster than any computer communication system I have tried, to convey all of my ideas. Then he puts them in the computer program LogicPro. I finish the composition that way. My producer, Dan Alvarez comes in and helps with the fine tuning and adds his cool ideas. Sometimes I ask musicians to play certain parts or sing. Most of the work is done in my home studio; sometimes I go to a recording studio, as I did for the voice part in one of my new pieces called “Fantasy of the Strawberry Harp Weaver.” Kirstin Menn did a great job!
- Tell us a little bit about Cacophony.
Jason : The years I spent in Cacophony were some of the best and most fun years of my life. I was finally out there making music and touring. Mike Varney introduced me to Marty, and we got along so well, both personally and musically. I learned so much from him. We would constantly write and practice at each other’s homes. Then we would take over Prairie Sun Studios. We were so creative at that time and we inspired and pushed each other. When I look back, I am really proud of how innovative and original and unique our music was. Marty and I had a lot in common as far as our commitment to our music. We both wanted to put guitar music out there that we would want to hear ourselves. We got to record and tour with some awesome musicians and friends. It was such a blast! Nothing but fun.
- Being an idol to countless guitarists what advice would you give to budding guitarists on how to learn the art and perfect it?
Jason : I would advise lots of practice, of course, but also, I think music is more than just playing, so I would also say don’t forget to be awake and aware of other things in life; things you love to do, whether it’s sports, nature things, drawing, or just playing with kids or animals. Music comes from the heart and you have to keep your heart open to what is going on around you. They say the best art comes from suffering; I don’t know about that, but if you want to hear compassion in your music, it has to be in your heart. If you want to have soul come out, there has to be something there. Music isn’t just a mechanical thing that comes out from nowhere. Work on yourself as well as your music. That is not to say that you shouldn’t dive head first into studying and practicing, and developing your own musical style. Listen to all kinds of music and keep your mind open to everything.
- Jason Becker -Not dead yet is a phenomenon in itself and has been a moving experience for many. Tell us briefly about the idea of getting your life story out to the public.
Jason : A young film maker and fan (Jesse Vile) approached me and asked me for permission to make the documentary. I was skeptical at first because so many things had come along and fallen through, so I didn’t have much faith that this would wind up actually happening. But, the more I talked to him, and the more he explained exactly how every step of the process would work, the more I began to trust his vision and skill. Boy was that a good call. I love what he did with my story and we have become friends for life. It feels good to have the truth of how things happened in my life out there, and what it was like for me and my family and friends. The extra bonus is how people have responded to it and what it means to them in their own lives.
- Thank you for taking your time out Jason. Leave a message for you fans.
Jason : Thank you very much. I am extremely grateful to every fan. I have the best fans ever! I love the people of India and I wish I could visit some day.