Oli Herbert

April 22, 2011

“I WANT TO GET BETTER AS A GUITARIST ON EVERY record,” says All That Remains guitarist Oli Herbert. “I recently heard a tune from one of our old albums, and it wasn’t bad, but wow—my phrasing was so safe. On our new album, I was very focused on making my phrasing more hip.” Herbert’s unyielding dedication to all things guitar, as well as his slavish work ethic, have made him one of metal’s most admired, and, more importantly, musical guitarists. His solos always manage to be melodic with just the right mix of insane chops and exotic tonalities. All That Remains’ newest album, For We Are Many [Razor & Tie], is the fourth by the “melodic metalcore” quintet (which also includes guitarist Mike Miller), and shows that Herbert has indeed upped his guitar game to gargantuan proportions.

Describe your process for creating concise, melodic solos while also incorporating some technical wizardry.

When I write solos, my approach is almost always the same—work off of either the tune’s main melody or another melodic component of the song. That way, even if I come up with something really technical, it’s still based on the song’s musical foundation. For example, on the tune “Aggressive Opposition,” from For We Are Many, I took a motif from another part of the tune, in this case the verse riff, and came up with a tapping sequence using those notes, but I displaced them rhythmically.

Do you write riffs to solo over or do you write solos over existing riffs?

I typically write my solos over an existing chord progression. We have a tendency to keep riffs harmonically simple, which I like because I’m allowed to utilize weirder chord extensions and chromatic movement. For example, if it’s an Em to C progression, I won’t just outline the chords with Em and C arpeggios, I’ll use the upper extensions of those arpeggios like, say, the raised 11, which I’m a huge fan of. Simple progressions are also cool for playing exotic scales over.

How can players make their phrasing more interesting?

One thing I like to do is play something simple and then follow it up with something technical. Doing that not only allows the listener to take a breath, it makes them perk up and pay attention. A lot of players don’t allow listeners to absorb what they just played because they’re always at full speed. Take Yngwie, for example. I’m a huge fan of his. He can play the most beautiful melodies, and his vibrato and tone are killer—but sometimes he plays too much for too long for my taste. I like it when guys give me something to melodically digest before they hit the crazy stuff. Guitar playing is all about phrasing and putting pauses in your musical sentences. It dawned on me a couple of years ago that the guitarists I admired played over the bar line with very spontaneous-sounding phrasing. You don’t have to start every phrase on beat one. Even though all of my solos are planned out, I don’t always want them to sound like they are.

The solo on “Last Time” reminded me a bit of George Lynch.

He is one of my favorites! George Lynch was one of the best at cool phrasing, melodic solos, and shred. A solo is a building process, and growing up listening to guys like Lynch, Randy Rhoads, and Jake E. Lee, I had a model that, not only can you play your ass off, but you can also impart a thematic quality as well as a compositional element. You don’t have to be a guy who just shreds. I’ve used those influences to try and make my own statement on the guitar.

To what extent is improvisation a part of your playing?

I’ll improvise over a chord progression for hours trying to find ideas. However, I never improvise on the clock. By the time I’m in the studio, everything is ready to go. Improvising is part of my compositional process. When I find something I like, I zone in on it and hone it. If you can’t improvise, you’re missing out as a player. I’m really working on improv, playing at slower tempos and trying to hear ideas before I play them.

What does your stage setup look like?

I use Peavey 5150 II heads through Mesa/ Boogie 4x12s loaded with Celestions. The essential part of my sound however is a Maxon OD808 overdrive.

Do you kick it on for solos?

Nope, it’s on all the time. It’s not really adding a lot of distortion, but rather, it tightens up the sound and gives me a bit more compression, adding that next layer of refinement. Other than that pedal, I’m not really an effects guy. All of my heroes play with a real honest, straight tone and that’s what I like to do.

You’ve been playing the Ibanez XPT for a while.

I have. Lately I’ve been playing a custom 27-fret model. On the standard 24-fret model, I have to move my hand in weird ways to get past the 17th position. The 27-fret model allows me to get into the 19th position with access to the 24th fret without changing hand position. The guitars are loaded with EMGs—an 81 in the bridge and an 85 in the neck. I use my neck pickup for most of the solos, although I’ll sometimes go to the rear pickup for a fast low-string passage or a harmonic squeal.

What are some tips for getting the most out of your practice time?

If you practice like you’re cramming for an exam, that’s not good. If you’re working toward a deadline, two hours every day is better than cramming in eight hours in one sitting the night before. There are times that I know I’ve practiced in a non-productive fashion—I was practicing out of fear because of a looming session or tour. If you practice like “oh sh*t” you’re apt to make more mistakes when the gig or recording session actually comes. But if you say, “I’ll prepare the best I can and whatever happens, happens,” you’ll be a lot more relaxed, and that’s key. You have to stay relaxed. Being tense screws everything up. I used to get really nervous, but I worked at eliminating it. It’s been a huge obstacle throughout my career. You have to be relaxed when you play.

Do you use a metronome?

Yes, all of the time. I’ll work on something at a very manageable tempo for a while, but not just until I can play it—until I own it. Gradually, I’ll increase the tempo. I used to go up by settings of four to eight BPM, but now I go up in increments of one. I’ve found that inching up gradually really improves your technique. You think it takes forever, but it’s easier in the end.

Was there a solo on the new record that was particularly challenging?

The “Last Time” solo was tough. We play the tune at 206 BPM, but when I first composed it, I could only play it at 190. Slowly I finally got to where I could play it at 206 and track it, but in reality, I want to be able to play it at 220.

Why?

Again, I want to own it. Then there is absolutely no question, no matter how I’m standing onstage or what is going on with my gear or any other distraction, I know I can play it easily. I want to get it where it’s as easy as playing a G chord, and I don’t have to think about it. You want to surpass your top speed and really instill that confidence in your hands. If I get it to 208, the 200 will feel more comfortable and give me a better chance of pulling it off consistently.

Did you work on rhythm playing as much as soloing?

Oh yeah, especially when I first joined the band back in 1999, because back then my rhythm chops were terrible. I spent serious time working on downpicking fast tempos and getting consistency, tightness, and endurance. As a guitarist in a band, rhythm is 85 percent of what you do. If you don’t work on it, it’s going to show. Mike [Miller] is really a rhythm specialist. A lot of the fast, gallop-y, tight stuff you hear is his playing. His right hand is more concise than mine, and he has a better natural sense of rhythm than I do. As much as I practice to a metronome, I’ll never attain his natural feel.

You’ve mentioned that you spent some time studying Pat Martino solos. He’s not a player that metal guys name check very often.

He’s one of my favorites. His phrasing is phenomenal. I discovered him ten years ago when I was at school studying jazz guitar. I had to pick a solo and play it, so I went to the library and found a Pat Martino solo. I worked that thing and played it in my final exam and I did well on it, too. Discovering him was such an inspiration. His picking hand has complete freedom, especially rhythmically. It seems like he can play anything he can think of, which is the goal of every guitar player, right?

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