Debate is rife as to whom ranks amongst the greatest heavy metal guitarists, with many both applauding and criticizing the opinions put forth by others. Obvious candidates put forward include Tony Iommi
, James Hetfield
and the likes, but beyond such candidates, other entries are open to interpretation. A group's popularity might play a factor however, with underground metal guitarists being largely glossed over, and arguably underrated in terms of their abilities. Would Nevermore
's Jeff Loomis
qualify under this description?
In May 2009, Nevermore revealed that the title of their seventh studio album would be "The Obsidian Conspiracy
". On August 7th, drummer Van Williams
enter a studio in the group's hometown of Seattle with producer Peter Wichers
to cut his parts. Following this, the rest of the album's parts were tracked at Wichers' studio in North Carolina. Mixing duties, meanwhile, were handled by longtime collaborator Andy Sneap
Issued in much of Europe on May 31st, 2010 and in North America on June 8th via Century Media Records, "The Obsidian Conspiracy" is also available in a limited box-set edition featuring two cover tracks; The Doors' "The Crystal Ship
" (originally on the outfit's 1967 self-titled debut) and The Tea Party's "Temptation
" (originally on 1997's 'Transmission). A bonus "Play The Guitar Like Jeff Loomis
" disc contains "Your Poison Throne
" and "The Obsidian Conspiracy
" play-along videos and guitar tabs for both songs.
A music video for the track "Emptiness Unobstructed
" was filmed; directed by Nigel Crane, the video boasted footage shot at the cliffs of Dover on May 17th as well as live performance footage shot at the O2 Academy Islington in London, England on May 18th.
Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis
telephoned Hit The Lights
' Robert Gray
to discuss "The Obsidian Conspiracy
Yeah, this is Robert. Is this Jeff?
Yeah, it's Jeff. How are you doing man?
I'm ok. How are you Jeff?
I'm feeling very well, thank you.
That's good to hear. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Can you provide some background information on Nevermore's seventh studio album, 'The Obsidian Conspiracy'? How it came to fruition, and things of that nature?
Well basically, after our last record - 'This Godless Endeavor' (2005) - we toured quite extensively, like almost two years. After that was done, we needed to just take a break from one another because we had been touring and been in the same band for sixteen years (laughs). It gets kind of crazy, so basically, we just took some time off. I released a solo record, a guitar instrumental solo record, and just started feeling like "Hey, we need to bring Nevermore back again". I started writing songs in about early 2009 for 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', and here we are again with a brand new record, so that's pretty cool. Our album is a little different this time around; the music is structured a bit better, and the songs are a bit catchier as well too I think. The choruses come in faster, and I think 'The Obsidian Conspiracy' is just an overall better record than any we've ever done. I'm very happy about it.
What was releasing 'Zero Order Phase' like for you?
Well, I'll tell you what; I've been a fan of guitar instrumental music for a very, very long time. I used to - and still do - listen to Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Yngwie, Tony McAlpine, and Vinnie Moore. I'm really, really into that kind of style, and I know that it's not very popular today, but I just wanted to keep the fire lit with that and put my own mark on it if you will. So yeah, that's exactly what I did. The whole record was done very fast, recorded very fast, but I think that the songs are pretty cool, and I think it's opened up a lot of new doors for me as a musician. I'm able to do guitar clinics now and stuff, and really talk on a one-to-one level with the guitar fans out there that want to know more about my technique, so it's pretty cool.
Is there common advice you give to guitarists then? Something that recurs?
"We needed to just take a break from one another because we had been touring and been in the same band for sixteen years."
It's just important for me to let people know that you don't need to be able to read music to be a musician - you know what I'm saying? I'm pretty much an ear player, and I have been ever since I started playing guitar. It's very important that they know that. They just have to know what sounds good through the speakers - that's the most important thing. You don't need a lot of toys or effects for your sound either man, because most of your tone comes from your fingers. That's what I just let these kids know. I'm just giving them inspiration to do something on their own, and I also tell them that it's very important to be in a band when you're at a very young age to play with other musicians. How long can you sit in your room and work on technique? That just gets boring. You want to be playing with other people. That's something I always try to stress, and let them know about.
Are there particular guitarists you've heard at guitar clinics who you felt could possibly have bright futures?
Oh yeah man. There's a ton of talented kids out there - there's tons of them all over the place. You just gotta watch out for them, but there's a ton of new, upcoming bands that I'm really, really interested in. Have you heard of the band Periphery?
I've heard of Periphery, but haven't heard any of their material.
Their material is awesome dude. This young kid, this talented kid, was originally a drummer, but he's the guitarist in the band and he's a fantastic guitarist. I've been listening to them a lot, and I highly recommend everybody else buy their record (April 2010's 'Periphery'). It's really, really good. But yeah, I get a ton of talented kids coming to my clinics all the time. They're out there, but some of them are just hiding (laughs).
You said that you wanted to make your mark on the instrumental guitar genre, so in what ways do you feel 'Zero Order Phase' achieved that purpose?
I don't know. Like I said, I did the solo record for myself because it was satisfying for me to do something like that. As far as putting a mark on something, I don't know. If people like it then they like it, but I don't really necessarily know if it put a mark on the guitar world. It did win some readers polls in American guitar magazines though, so I guess people who have listened to it really enjoy it. I just like to do my own thing. I'm not necessarily saying I'm an innovator by any means, but I think that the music I write is pretty cool, and I think it's gonna open some new doors for other players as well.
Can we expect a follow-up to 'Zero Order Phase'?
Oh yes, for sure. I'm actually working on another one right now, and it's gonna be much more orchestrated and much more worked out. That should be out sometime early in the fall, I would imagine.
Through Century Media Records?
Through Century Media, correct, yeah.
Can you provide a status update regarding your forthcoming second solo album? Do you have songs already written and record, or... ?
I have songs that are already written, but none of it is recorded yet. I'm still trying to figure out who I'm going to have the record produced by, and who I want the drummer to be. I'm just writing it at the moment.
We've spoken about you as a guitarist, and as a metal guitarist, you were rated as the thirty-eighth greatest of all time in Joel McIver's 'The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists'. What are your thoughts on that?
Dude, that is remarkable. I think I even have a copy of that book at home. To be rated like that, and to be even in the book in general, is something that I don't take for granted at all. I think that's just awesome. I never really set out to be a guitar hero kind of guy. I've always wanted to be known for writing a good song, but being called something like that is something that I don't take for granted. I take that to heart, and it's lovely to hear that.
You mentioned how you always set out to be part of a group, so does that mean that Nevermore is your main concern?
Yeah, yeah, pretty much. It always has been. My focus has always been on the band, and trying to write better songs for the band all the time. It's just that sometimes I like to put my talent in other spots, and maybe play a guest solo here and there on other people's records, or I like to do my own stuff that doesn't necessarily fit with Nevermore. Nevermore is my main goal though, and my main project to be focusing on.
You've explained how on 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', you gave vocalist Warrel Dane more room for vocals.
I think I did, yeah. Basically, our last albums have been... I don't want to say that they're too notey or too complex. It's just that we were trying to find a little bit of a different avenue this time really to experiment with, and I think that the music is just simpler and catchier. I think that's gonna be well reflected in a live atmosphere, and that these songs are gonna pound live. So yeah, this is something that we wanted to experiment with to see if we could actually come up with something that was just a little bit more structured song-wise, and that's really the only difference. I think that there's still an aggressiveness there with 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', but at the same time, it's just more catchy and much more simple.
Would you say that Nevermore concentrated more on the songs themselves? The structure and everything?
I think so, yeah. I would give Peter Wichers - the producer - a copy of a seven to eight minute song, and he would just help me structure it better, and chop away the fat more or less. He'd help me get rid of the parts that didn't really need to be there, and he also really helped me with the structuring of my solos. Lots of times, I've been known for just going in and improvizing solos in the studio, but this time around, we really listened to the songs themselves and were like "God, what does this song need? It needs something beautiful and melodic here, or something very fast and aggressive there". So, he really was an integral part of helping out in structuring my solos as well.
Was Peter Wichers more hands-on than past producers Nevermore have worked with?
I think so, yeah. We've always been able to have amazing producers in Nevermore's career - Neil Kernon and Andy Sneap - but yeah, I think that Peter took a little bit more time with us this time around. He worked a lot of parts out vocal-wise, and really helped with just overall guitar playing. He's a very patient guy in the studio, and I would definitely work with him again. He's a nice guy.
Is there a reason why Nevermore originally opted to work with Peter Wichers?
"I think it's opened up a lot of new doors for me as a musician."
Not really, no. We just wanted to try working with somebody else. We've already done like three records with Andy Sneap, but we just wanted him to mix it this time around, and we just wanted to work with somebody new. That's the only reason for that.
Listening to 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', obviously it has its aggression, but then the track "The Blue Marble and the New Soul" changes up the album's pace a bit.
"The Blue Marble and the New Soul" is one of those things where I think I was inspired at a young age by listening to the band Queen. Queen has always been a very, very diverse band when they're in the studio, and they've been able to go from something that's completely melancholy to something that's completely heavy. That's one of my other goals I had for 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', and that was just to make the whole thing very diverse sounding. But that song itself is probably one of my favourites on the record personally, just because it's so sad, and just has this beautiful chorus sound to it which is just a sound that I like. I guess I don't really have a preconceived notion of how I write my music. It just comes out of me at any given moment, so I guess I must've been in a very sad mood that day when I wrote that song because it's definitely a very, very minor sounding piece.
And then there's "Emptiness Unobstructed", which Nevermore filmed a video for.
(Laughs) At the cliffs of Dover, yeah. We filmed part of the video there, yeah. That could probably be as close to a radio single as Nevermore could ever get (laughs). "Emptiness Unobstructed" is very, very catchy, but the song starts with the chorus for Christ sakes. We wanted it to be very, very catchy.
Is that catchier direction possibly a direction that Nevermore will continue to venture in?
I don't know. Possibly. At least I think that we're gonna open up ourselves as a band to a wider listening audience, and I think that's gonna be something that's very cool. We've always tended to be kind of a more underground metal band, but I think it's really important for people to listen to us out there. If anything, I think it's just gonna give us a wider listening audience. I can't tell you exactly for sure if we're gonna continue to write like this, but we'll see where it takes us.
Are there any other particular tracks which are your favourites from 'The Obsidian Conspiracy'?
Yeah. I definitely love the title track "The Obsidian Conspiracy", which is this classic, heavy Nevermore material. It has all sorts of killer elements to it; the drumming is fantastic and the guitar playing is moving all over the place, but it's got a very, very catchy hook which is the chorus. That's probably one of my other favourite songs at the moment.
Thus far, how has 'The Obsidian Conspiracy''s material been received by live audiences?
We've been playing festivals since the 3rd of May, and it's going over very, very well. The crowds really seem to enjoy all the new music; they're singing along to all the new material already, so I can tell that it leaked out there. But yeah, there's been a very, very good response so far from the crowds, and we're enjoying that.
What are your thoughts on music being leaked then?
Well, it sucks (laughs). A band works so hard in the studio, and then all of a sudden somebody comes by and steals it from you. But that's just the way things work, I guess. Unfortunately, once it spreads it starts to spread like cancer, and then everybody has it. It's just one of those things that's not really helping out the band and the musician. It's hurting the music industry, but that's what people do nowadays I guess. So, whatever (laughs).
Even though Andy Sneap wasn't hired to produce 'The Obsidian Conspiracy', the man returned to mix as you said. Is there something Nevermore particularly likes about his mixing style, something that caused that return?
Yeah. It's actually funny, as we call him the sixth member of Nevermore because he's done so much work for us in the past. Realistically though, he's the guy that really can get us the separation that we're looking for in each individual track. If you're listening to any kind of Nevermore song that he's produced, you're hearing a lot of separation from the drums and the guitars and the bass. You can hear everything perfectly, and that's why we have stuck with him for the past years. We know that he knows how to make us sound very, very good, and once you trust somebody like that with your music, it's good to keep them in your working relationships. So yeah, a very awesome person - I love to work with that guy. His sound is good.
A box-set version of 'The Obsidian Conspiracy' is available to purchase.
That's right, and it has two extra songs which are cover songs; one is by The Tea Party called "Temptation", and then the other one is by The Doors called "The Crystal Ship". Also, it has a lesson on how to play two of the songs on the DVD. Basically, I was filmed at the Frankfurt Musik Messe; I explain and show people how to play these two songs. It's written out in tablature as well, so that's very cool for the kid that wants to learn some Loomis riffs.
As you said, one of the covers 'The Obsidian Conspiracy''s box-set version features is of "The Crystal Ship" by The Doors.
That's right, yeah. A very tripped-out song from the late sixties. Me and Warrel are basically fans of the band, so we decided to stay very close and not fuck up the song, and change it up too much. We just decided to do an all-acoustic version of it, and put our... I guess you could call our stamp on the song, and it ended up really, really cool.
And also, why did Nevermore cover "Temptation" by The Tea Party?
Well, I'm a huge fan of this Middle Eastern scale sounding thing, and Jeff (Martin, guitars) from The Tea Party has been known to use very, very ethnic sounding scales which I really, really like. "Temptation" is just a cool track that I thought would be awesome to cover, and that was the one that came up, but I had the chance to see those guys many, many years ago when we were touring in Europe, and it just blew me away. Just a good band, and I thought it was a cool song to cover. So yeah, just a fan of the band really.
Obviously, it's been reported that Sanctuary is reuniting. Are you a part of that reunion?
Possibly. If they can't get the original guitarist back, then I will definitely be a part of it. At least for maybe a record and a tour or something like that, but that's still in the working process right now.
But Sanctuary are hopeful that original guitarist Sean Blosl will return?
"I think 'The Obsidian Conspiracy' is just an overall better record than any we've ever done."
Yeah, they hope. Yeah, I hope so too.
If you were involved in Sanctuary's reunion, how do you feel that involvement might affect Sanctuary's sound on a new album? Considering you never originally had the opportunity to record an album with Sanctuary?
I don't really know, because I only played with Sanctuary for like two months and then the band broke up. Warrel has actually asked me to be a part of it, so it might possibly happen. We'll just have to wait and see.
Looking back, what are your thoughts on those two months you spent as a part of Sanctuary?
Oh man, that was incredible, but the thing was times were changing back then as far as music. It was when the grunge explosion happened, and Lenny (Rutledge) the other guitarist really wanted to take a turn into more of that direction, and follow up by writing the third Sanctuary album. It was sounding like more of a grunge style, and Warrel, Jim (Sheppard, Nevermore / Sanctuary bassist) and I didn't really wanna go that route. We just wanted to stay true to our metal roots, so that's how the end of Sanctuary happened, and the beginning of Nevermore happened I guess.
Do you have any other upcoming projects?
Yeah. I've got a DVD coming out, an instructional DVD, and it basically is over forty lessons. It's being released by a company called The Rock House, and you can buy it through their website. Other than that, I'm just working on my second solo record, and we're gonna start really touring a lot with Nevermore so we'll be all over the place. We're gonna be coming back for a headlining European tour sometime in the early fall. We're just gonna keep busy (laughs).
Thanks for the interview Jeff - it was much appreciated.
Thank you for the interview too.
All the best.
Thank you Robert, and have a nice day.
And you too. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray