Richard Fortus Of GN'R: 'There's A Constant Quest For The Perfect Tone'

artist: guns n roses date: 11/26/2008 category: interviews
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Richard Fortus Of GN'R: 'There's A Constant Quest For The Perfect Tone'
Richard Fortus has somehow managed to remain under the radar in the rock world for the past few decades, but it's very likely that he'll be thrust into the spotlight by the end of 2008. Fortus made a name for himself in the 80s and 90s while playing with Love Spit Love and The Psychedelic Furs, and he's been keeping busy as a session player ever since. There are very few genres he hasn't been involved with creatively (well, except for one that has been on his mind lately), and that reputation as a Jack Of All Trades in the studio likely played a huge part in landing his current gig as Guns N' Roses' guitarist. Fortus' session experience also came in handy recently while participating in what is likely to be a cult classic: Repo! The Genetic Opera. Filled with the intriguing combo of operatic arias and industrial rock riffs, Repo! (a rock opera in which organ recipients need to pay their monthly medical bills or things get bloody) gave Fortus another opportunity to expand his artistry by dabbling in the cinematic world. The Repo! soundtrack hit shelves back in September, and the GN'R's long-awaited Chinese Democracy album was made available exclusively at Best Buy on November 23. Fortus' hefty schedule isn't lightening anytime soon, but the guitarist kindly took time to talk with Ultimate-Guitar writer Amy Kelly about past session work, his addiction to gear, and working with the legendary Axl Rose. UG: How did you originally get involved with Repo! The Genetic Opera? Was it director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV) that originally contacted you? Richard: Boy, I don't even know if I remember! I don't know if Darren contacted me or Yoshiki (X Japan) because I've worked with Yoshiki before on a bunch of projects. It might have come from Yoshiki. It just sort of aligned time-wise because I had just gotten back from Japan, where during some of the Japan shows I played an X Japan song. I had worked with Yoshiki in the past, but when I ran into him he said that he was excited to hear that I played one of the songs during the concert. Were you intrigued by the idea of playing in a rock opera? It was one of those things where I knew it was going to be either really bad or really good! I think that you need that. People are going to love it or they're going to hate it, but I think the music is great. When I heard who else was involved that's when I was like, Okay, we're doing it. When I heard the tracks I was blown away. Given the fact that the producers/director have a specific vision for the sound and visuals of Repo!, would they suggest specific amps or effects to use in each song? No. With some things, yes, they were very specific and had a very clear idea of what type of thing they wanted. On other things they were like, Well, we want something here That's the stuff I love because they let you go and create noises! It was a good, creative experience. They were very into experimenting and pushing the envelope, which is great. While you were recording the soundtrack, did you have an opportunity to try out new techniques or equipment? That's something I really enjoy doing. I'm always trying to do new and exciting things, just to keep it interesting for myself. I'm always experimenting and always wanting to try new things out. So yes, that was definitely an opportunity. Can you recall a certain song or specific part in which some of those new techniques can be heard? To be honest, I haven't heard it. So I don't have any idea! I mean, I remember the experience and I remember certain things that I was excited about, but I don't remember specifics because it's been a while since I've heard it. How long ago did you record it? Oh, man. That's a good question! It must have been 9 months ago. From seeing the trailer I was expecting that every song would have an industrial sound, but there is definitely a little bit of everything on the soundtrack. I was really into it. It could have gone really badly! It could have been a complete mess! I think it's going to be a real cult classic. The people that like it are going to love it and those that don't are going to hate it, which is what you want for a cult movie. I read that you were classically trained as a child. Is that correct? Yeah. I was really, really young. How long did that training take place? I played violin and cello all through school, so all the way through college. That was my primary focus. It was the biggest part of my musical training when I was a kid. I didn't pick up the guitar until I was about 13. I played violin and drums all the way through grade school.
"I think it's going to be a real cult classic."
Did you consider it a fairly easy transition from playing the violin and drums to the guitar? Yeah, totally. There were all these guitars around the house and they were always so intimidating to me just because there were 6 strings! My left hand was already strong, so it came very quickly. Was it around the time you picked up the guitar that you started to figure out which direction you'd like to go in musically? Yeah. From the time I was about 9 years old, I inherited my folks' record collection. So I got all The Beatles' and Stones' records. I listened to Humble Pie. That was very formative for me and probably why I started playing guitar. I used to love listening to that stuff. From there, I got really into prog rock, art rock stuff - some Crimson, Yes, early Genesis when I was 13 or 12. Then I heard The Clash and it was all over for me! It's funny because I never took to what was popular at that time, the rock thing with like Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne. I had no interest in it. Then when I heard The Clash, that's where I belonged! So I went from Yes and King Crimson straight into The Clash. At the time you were listening to The Clash, could you have seen yourself eventually playing with a band like The Psychedelic Furs? I hadn't really thought about it at the time. I did end up playing with a lot of my favorite artists from that time, like Tommy Stinson from The Replacements. The Replacements were one of my favorite bands. I remember seeing The Replacements opening for X when I was 14, and Tommy was my age. You know what's funny is that I met Tommy on a session with Yoshiki years and years ago. After that we became like best friends. On your website, I love how you have a whole section devoted to the equipment that you use. It's a pretty amazing arsenal, by the way! The stuff that's on the website is just stuff that was here at the house. I've amassed quite a collection! I noticed in the late 80's and early 90's that you often played a Strat, but more recently I've seen more Gibsons showing up in live photos. How much has your taste in guitars or amps changed over the years? I do tend to lean more towards Gibson, but I like a wide, sonic spectrum. I like to work with a large palette. Is it the beefier tone or the thicker neck that you prefer on the Gibson? I guess it's the roundness. I go through phases, where I'm into different tones, but nothing beats their humbuckers' sound. I also love P-90s. I have a real soft spot for P-90s, I guess. I've been using those for years. I love the Les Paul signature, too, which is sort of my go-to guitar. That was made in '73 or '74, and I go to those a lot just because the electronics or the tone is so unusual and unique. Would you consider yourself a gear junkie? Yeah! So it's safe to assume that you're constantly collecting. Yeah, I have a real problem, with pedals especially! It's the same with music. I'm always looking for anything that inspires me. I'm always looking for new music because I just want to hear something that will spark something. It's not so much ripping it off, as it is just being inspired in some way, whether I hate it or love it. Pedals also are very inspirational as far as writing. Or different guitars will bring different things out of you. It's the same with amps! Yeah, amps are another problem I have! Are you using 1 or 2 specific amps right now? Right now in the studio I tend to use the Divided By 13 amps. I find myself always going back to those. It's sort of like the culmination of everything I love about all my favorite amps. Have you been playing those for the past few years of recording? Yeah. I also use a lot of old Marshalls. I have a favorite Marshall that's a 100-watt '73 Jose mod that I bought from Mick Mars. It is the greatest Marshall that I've ever heard. Most people agree! Whenever I use it on sessions, the producers always want to buy it from me. It's an amazing-sounding Marshall. I've been trying to get it cloned because I need a backup for it obviously. I also have a B rig, which we leave for different stages. Gear will go to Australia, some will go to Japan - that kind of deal. I needed a duplicate, so I talked to a few different people and they've tried. I couldn't find anybody to come close to it. I found this company Voodoo, and they made me a clone that is just amazing. They made me a few of them, and I even bought another 100-watt Marshall from the same month, thinking the transformer would be somewhat close. It's not. They built me a couple from the ground out that are just spot on, actually better. Voodoo is just incredibly amazing. They're unbelievable. Can you give us an idea of what your setup looks like for a Guns N' Roses show? It's constantly evolving. There's a constant quest for the perfect tone. My tech and I are equally obsessed, so we're constantly looking for new stuff and trying to make it better. Recently what I've been using is the Divided By 13 and the Voodoos. You're much more than a rhythm guitarist, and you have often played some unbelievable solos during the GN'R show. At this point in your career, do you have a preference of playing rhythm or lead? I'm really just more interested in creating music than showing off. So whatever I can do to support the music, I really have no preference one way or the other. There's a quote from Axl on the GN'R site that says, The first thing I heard Richard play was the beginning of 'Stray Cat Blues' by The Stones and he did it with the right feel. Is that memory still pretty much etched in your mind? Yeah, I was getting the sound on my amp! It wasn't like, Okay, this is what I'm going to play. I was just getting the sound, and when you play something you play a riff or whatever. You're doing something familiar to get the sound in the amp the way you want it to sound. That's just one of those riffs. I was just playing the beginning of it, not even thinking about it. Then Axl was like, Whoa! He was like, Wow, 'Stray Cat Blues'! That's big points. Was that at the initial audition for Guns N' Roses? Yeah. I walked in the room and it was the first time I played with them.
"I'm always trying to do new and exciting things, just to keep it interesting for myself."
Did you immediately know that you had a musical connection with Axl and the rest of the band? Tommy and Brain (aka Brian Mantia), I've worked with both of them before. Buckethead was there at that time, and I came in and was brought in to replace Paul, who had been writing with Axl and I guess he was a childhood friend of his. He was no longer there for whatever reason, and they were looking for someone to fill that spot. It's funny because 2 years before, I had gotten a call to come in and audition for them. This was before I knew Tommy. I had gotten a call to audition, but then Buckethead got the gig before I came out. I was scheduled to come out and audition. They called and said, Yeah, we want to fly you out this week. I was going to be there anyway doing sessions, so I could do it at that time. They said, Perfect. I didn't hear back from them, so I just figured, Well, it must not be happening. I got out to do the session, and Tommy Stinson and Josh Freese were on the session that I was doing for Yoshiki, ironically enough. So I said, Hey, I was supposed to come and audition for you guys this week. They were like, Yeah! You're the guy! Well, Axl found this guy Buckethead and we just stopped doing auditions. Axl was convinced with Buckethead, so it was no problem. No big deal. A few years later another guitar player left, so that's when I got the call. That was in 2001. How involved were you with the writing of Chinese Democracy? The first record, everything was written. I went in and rerecorded parts, but it was all written before I got in. It's funny because that was a big part of why I was brought in. It was because of the writing. I think Axl, he wants a band that can write with him. That's always put into consideration. Will there be a tour soon after Chinese Democracy is released? The next tour will beI don't know if I should talk about it. I don't think we're going to be doing dates this year, either. I think we're supposed to be starting back up in January. I actually have commitments till then. Do those commitments involve Repo! or The Psychedelic Furs? No, I'm actually touring with Rihanna for a couple months. You are quite a busy guy these days. Yeah, I'm very grateful for that. I'm just one of these guys who has to be working, otherwise I get really depressed. I always have to be doing something. Rihanna's band is ridiculous! They are just amazing players, so I thought, This could be fun. Have you played with a lot of R&B bands in the past? I've done a lot of sessions. I did all of the Puff Daddy stuff, from Benjamins on. Everything that has guitars pretty much. I did a lot of hip-hop stuff. The thing is, you don't get credited. Not that I'm bothered by it. I did stuff with ODB, DMX. I played on stuff for Riza. That speaks to your diversity. It seems like you could pretty much play any genre out there. I'm just a music fan. It's funny because I'm really into country guitars! I've done some Nashville sessions, but I haven't done any country yet. Have you played lap steel before? Yeah, but not pedal steel. I love it, though. That boggles my mind, those guys. I love using a B-Bender, and I love that. It would be fun to do a really cool country gig! I haven't done that. I've played in a zydeco band. That was a great learning experience. Have you put the word out that you're interested in playing in a country band? No. It's a different world. In New York you get called for all different types of things because you have a reputation as a guitar player. If Puffy says, Hey, I'm looking for a guitar player - there are a certain amount of pros that people choose from. So I would get that call. There's not a lot of country in New York! It's all in Nashville. Hopefully word will now get out and you'll get that call soon! You should be able to keep expanding your talent. Yeah! I think so, too! (Laughs) It's so different. I listen to bluegrass and things like that, but I'm not a big contemporary country fanbut love the guitar players! Interview by Amy Kelly Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
More guns n roses interviews:
+ Rock Chronicles. 1990s: Guns N' Roses Rock Chronicles 07/27/2011
+ Bumblefoot: 'Chinese Democracy' Is GN'R's 'White Album' (The Beatles)' Hit The Lights 02/06/2010
+ GN'R's Bumblefoot On Replacing Slash Etc.: 'It's Like Filling A Shoe Closet' Hit The Lights 02/05/2010
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