Freddie Wong needs no introduction to many Ultimate Guitar readers when it comes to gaming and guitars. Wong first came to the public attention via his Guitar Hero playing and You Tube channel, but aside from this, he is also a filmmaker and web developer. Recently Wong sat down with Ultimate Guitar to discuss his career, Guitar Hero and the importance of You Tube.
UG: You're a filmmaker, musician, web developer and professional gamer, is any one of these closer to your heart than others?Freddie: I think musician/filmmaker because I was playing piano from an early age, and filmmaking is kind of my whole deal nowadays. In all honesty, I was a terrible web developer and an incredibly niche "pro" gamer.
You became famous for playing Guitar Hero, did that take a lot of time to perfect your skill or was it something that evolved naturally for you?
I actually was on "Expert" for Guitar Hero from the get-go. A lot of people cite guitar skills as being helpful in that game, but I found that having piano experience is a better translation. I never undertook a practice regimen or anything for Guitar Hero - I would just play through the songs a few times and that was the extent of any prep work for those competitions.
You are also very animated with your Guitar Hero playing, like a real performer who moves around onstage to entertain, do you think people get so hung up on the whole technique vs. showmanship thing?
I think showmanship is something that's missing from society today as a whole - not just from playing fake plastic guitars or, heck, real guitars. I think at the end of the day if you have an audience gathered to watch you do something, you owe it to them to do something entertaining or to engage them in a way that goes beyond what you're doing. It's a matter of not taking what you're doing seriously and having a good time. Steel Panther, which is a joke 80s hair cover band that does weekly shows in LA and Vegas, epitomize that and their shows are easily the most fun I've ever had at a live show.
Do you think Guitar Hero is a beneficial tool in inspiring young people to pick up a real guitar and why?
I think it can be, but the danger is that people get satisfied with the reward structures implicit in a video game. If getting a high score on a song is enough for you, it won't inspire you to pick up a guitar though you may have the benefit of having a better understanding of basic musical structure from the game. I've heard there was a big increase in start guitar sales after these games came out so it apparently did get some people to pick up guitars so I'm all for that.
"Anybody who thinks playing a fake plastic guitar is damaging to the real thing is over thinking it."
The debate rages on as to playing Guitar Hero is in no way similar to playing a real guitar, and thus just a game which really does more damage to the real art of playing guitar
I doubt it does any sort of damage because if you said that, I suppose you'd have to also say that air guitar is "damaging" to the real art of playing guitar. I have no problem with a game that increases people's appreciation and basic understanding of music as a whole, and anybody who thinks playing a fake plastic guitar is damaging to the real thing is over thinking it.
Since you do actually play a real guitar, what was your journey like on learning the instrument?
I started on an acoustic Takamine in high school and have been slowly improving and working on stuff as time went on. Over time, I picked up a Stratocaster and have been trying to learn new things while juggling all the videos I'm working on online.
Do you think Guitar Hero and Rock Band has been important in reigniting a lot of older guitar bands careers that without it, a lot of the younger people would have never heard or checked out the bands music?
Absolutely - it exposed the "gamer" crowd to the kind of music that usually isn't present in the various places the "gamer" crowd/generation is. At the very least, I think there's a lot more discovery of Boston's self-titled debut album because of these games.
What sort of guitars do you have in your collection?
I have a Takamine Acoustic Electric, a Taylor acoustic, and a Fender American Highway One Stratocaster with a natural matte finish.
What is the status of your band Hellanor Brozevelt?
Hellanor Brozevelt as a Rock Band playing entity is "on hiatus" but the band members have each pursued their own individual solo projects. Brian Firenzi, creator of 5secondfilms.com, singer, and guy who came up with the name had been wanting to figure out a way to use that name since high school and a fake Rock Band band seemed to be the best place to use it!
Who are some of your own guitar heroes?
Jimi Hendrix because of, well, a lot of things, but one of the things that weirdly applies to filmmaking is the attitude he had of just taking the guitar and playing it without getting too heavy into nerd-ing out on equipment. I see a lot of equipment nerdery both on guitar as well as in the world of video cameras and software, and I think as a musician or a content creator you have to resist that urge, take what you have, and play it to the best of your ability. George Harrison, for understanding that the band and the music comes first over flashy solos. I also have a lot of respect for John Mayer for the work he does with his trio and that, despite what his pop beginnings suggest, he's a fantastic blues guitarist.
You had the opportunity to perform with Joe Satriani. What was that experience like for you?
I "intro-ed" Satriani at YouTube Live while playing Guitar Hero and then throwing it to him to play the real thing. It was totally awesome but also sullied by the fact that I had a fake plastic guitar in my hands and was like three stories up and fifty feet away from him. I shudder to think about the opinion he formed of me that day.
"The danger is that people get satisfied with the reward structures implicit in a video game. If getting a high score on a song is enough for you, it won't inspire you to pick up a guitar."
You have your own You Tube channel, how important has You Tube been to your success and to the general music industry in general?
For me, YouTube and making short videos online has been my entire life for over two years and counting. To be fair, I think I can't credit that viral Guitar Hero video for the majority of the success of the channel, but that tone and humor has definitely carried over. For the music industry, I'd say that YouTube enabled a lot of people who were independent musicians to have a venue to put their music up, put their own music videos up, gain a following and subsist off that following through views, song downloads, merchandise, and touring opportunities. These may be people you have never heard of but they were able to use YouTube to find their niche and support themselves off of it. There have been some site changes recently so I'm not sure how much easier or harder it is to do that, however, but YouTube has definitely enabled indie musicians in a way that hasn't been done before.
Do you think You Tube has allowed many guitarists to make their learning curve easier with the wealth of instructional material available from other guitarists?
Absolutely, although instruction can be all over the place, the ability to go watch somebody do it and try and copy them is a major asset to learning. I know I've learned a few solos just by watching the live performances of the original artists to see how they're doing it. Back in the days of just tabs, you had to figure out the technique on your own assuming you were trying to teach yourself.
What do you consider to be the hardest solo ever to learn and play on guitar?
I've always been a fan of Zakk Wylde's Speedball, but anything out of Satriani, Petrucci, or Vai's hands are insane on a technical level.
In what ways would you like to redefine guitar music of the 21st century?
I think the only thing I can aspire to do is encourage more people to pick up the guitar. Then maybe those people, who will probably be much better than me, can go redefine guitar music.
What has the rest of 2012 got in store for you on the music side of things?
I'm going to be writing some music and playing some guitar solos for our upcoming feature-length webseries "Video Game High School." There's a variety of genres I'll be doing so I'm looking forward to it!
Interview by Joe MateraUltimate-Guitar.Com 2012