PRODUCER AND MULTI - instrumentalist Greg Hampton reminds me of a kid at Christmas, practically shaking himself out of his skin with excitement, seconds before he dives into all the booty laid under the tree. He is always raving about some fantastic band he saw at a local club, or a cool pedal he just discovered, or how his mind was blown by a sizzling session. His enthusiasm just goes on and on and on until you start wondering why you’re not this jazzed about all things musical. Whew.
Recently, Hampton took a break from his production career (which includes projects by Alice Cooper, Lita Ford, and the late Tommy Bolin) to lay it on the line himself. His New Czars release, Doomsday Revolution [Samson], is an intense cross-pollination of prog, blues, industrial, rock, and metal stylings—all played by Hampton and some truly ferocious musicians (bassist Paul Ill, drummer Chilli Moreno, and guest guitarist Adrian Belew), and beamed through Hampton’s pop filter. So what you get is one of those high-technique, polyrhythmic “musician’s albums” that simultaneously presents delightfully melodic songs. Hampton is also very good at going wrong—meaning he fearlessly seeks bizarre tones and note choices that beat stylistic clichés to a pulp.
How did you conceptualize how far out you’re going to go when you approach a solo?
It’s really about experimenting. I might start out with a straight solo—a Strat plugged directly into an amp—and then feel it’s too ordinary. Maybe the tone won’t inspire me to push the envelope. That’s when it’s crucial to have a bunch of options readily at my disposal, so I can continue to experiment. Everything I have is triggered from a GCX Switcher, so I can switch amps, blend amps, switch cabinets, go direct, and reference any combination of 24 pedals in the heat of the moment. I could easily spend eight to 10 hours crafting one solo.
But that might be what it takes for me to rise above my influences to discover something unique and fascinating. It does take work. It’s not always a spontaneous thing, because I may be unconsciously tracing, say, my Southern-rock roots. It’s a dangerous trap to chase a style that’s a hybrid, bastardized thing anyway, because we’re all thieves. It’s better to travel elsewhere. For some players, that approach is just there when they wake up and put their feet on the ground. John Frusciante, Omar Rodríguez-López, and Jack White never stop pushing the envelope. They just rip your face off. But I think anyone can re-evaluate what they’re doing by reaching into the past, and absorbing musical shocks and surprises. For example, I told [Aerosmith guitarist] Brad Whitford’s kids to jam with Miles Davis records, because they’re into blues, and playing along with Bitches Brew or A Tribute to Jack Johnson is going to lead you to notes that you’d never play if you were solely copping blues motifs.