What comes around goes around. The lyric from Ratt’s 1984 hit “Round and Round” that famously upended the karma cliché is also an apt description of the revolving door employment policy of ’80s metal bands in general and L.A. metal bands in particular. After the game-changing success of Van Halen, a formula emerged that bands were forced to adhere to, and that made it tough for the uninitiated to tell them apart at times. In the ensuing decades, it also gave rise to some seemingly interchangeable guitarists, all of whom possessed the chops, look, and high-gain humbucker tones that the genre demanded. Think about it: Richie Kotzen has been in Poison, Dokken, and Mr. Big. Reb Beach has filled the guitar chair in Winger, Dokken, and Whitesnake. (In fact, Whitesnake alone provides a pretty complete ’80s metal family tree that includes Ratt shredder Warren DeMartini.)
Which brings us back around to Ratt. After rapidly gnawing their way to the top of the charts with their 1983 fulllength debut, Ratt enjoyed a string of platinum albums that were fueled by the guitars of DeMartini and Robbin Crosby. As with many of their contemporaries, the ’90s were less than kind to the band, resulting in a long hiatus at best and a breakup at worst. Crosby’s death in 2002 made a true reunion impossible.
Metal fans are a loyal bunch, however, and they never deserted Ratt. Now, in 2010 the band is back for more, with Crosby’s guitar spot filled with another survivor of a huge ’80s band: Quiet Riot’s Carlos Cavazo. He and DeMartini riff and shred their way through the new release, Infestation [Roadrunner], with killer tones, great technique, and Ratt’s trademark sus2 and sus4 chords in abundance.
Are you surprised to be talking about a new Ratt record in 2010?
DeMartini: Surprised? I’m not sure if I’m surprised. You can’t count on being around very long in the music business, but from early on, playing music was always something that I wanted to do for a long time. Deep down I always thought that we still had something to offer and that we still had our best record ahead of us.
How did the Carlos connection come about?
DeMartini: We had known each other for years and when we needed a guitarist, Carlos was the first person I thought of.
Cavazo: I got a call from Warren one day saying they were auditioning people. I went down and it worked out.
What was the audition like?
Cavazo: They told me what to learn and I did it. There were some adjustments I had to make. A couple of times they said, “No, that’s the lead part. You don’t do that.” [Laughs.] In the audition I had to learn the right rhythm parts. Warren and I were really able to blend well together, though. It was a weird day because Zakk Wylde comes walking in the room and then George Lynch comes walking in and I’m thinking, “Are these guys auditioning too? I might not have a chance now!” But they just happened to be in the building for rehearsal.
How did you divide up the guitar duties on the new record?
DeMartini: There were no rules. Generally, if it’s something that you bring into the group, then you’ll usually play lead on it.
Cavazo: We didn’t really talk about it. It just kind of fell into place. One or two songs I did all by myself and there are a couple Warren did all by himself. But definitely our styles worked right in the songs that we chose.
What went into the song “Eat Me Up Alive”?
DeMartini: That was my Charvel with the French graphic. The beginning is the neck pickup and for the second half of the solo I switched to the bridge pickup. That guitar has my signature Seymour Duncan bridge pickup and a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound single-coil in the neck. The amp was a Diezel V4 and a 100-watt Soldano together through Diezel cabinets. The Diezel handled the low end and emphasized the highs, and the Soldano dealt with the mids and upper mids.
Cavazo: That’s me in the intro. For the rhythm tracks, I played my black Gibson Flying V into a modified Marshall JCM800 and a Soldano. I used that Marshall for a lot of the solos I did.
That song has three solos. Who’s doing what?
Cavazo: The first little lick between the verses is me. On the main solo it’s Warren on the first half, me on the second half, and me again at the end.
DeMartini: Actually, we fell into a cool groove and kind of split that one up. We did the same in “A Little Too Much.” That’s Carlos in the intro and I’m playing the solo after the second chorus.
Would you cut the harmonized solos together?
DeMartini: The producer on this record, Elvis Baskette, really preferred doing things one at a time. It took some convincing to get him to mic up two rigs so that Carlos and I could record the double leads together in real time, which we did end up doing on “Take a Big Bite.” That was one of the only things that was sort of worked out in advance. The rest of it was pretty spontaneous.
Warren, your solos on this record have your trademark sustain and chops, and they also have the wide stretches that were always a big part of your style.
DeMartini: We were all into the stretching thing back in the day. Jake E. Lee used to do a big stretch like that with his thumb. I think he invented that when we were hanging out one day and sort of seeing who could stretch further, and then he ended up working that into something he did on Bark at the Moon. He and I were roommates and we’d sit and play and we’d both be sort of whittling away at songs that would end up being part of the rock and roll tapestry. At that point no one had heard those riffs yet. That was a neat period.
How has your gear or your tone evolved over the years?
Cavazo: In the Quiet Riot days, I was using Marshall MkII 100-watt amps. I always used a distortion box with them because they’re pretty clean amps. For this record, the rhythms are pure amp distortion. For Quiet Riot records we might use Fender amps for clean tones, and sometimes we’d plug a guitar directly into the board. But with this album, there are hardly any clean sounds at all. I pretty much did straight guitar—no effects.
DeMartini: It’s funny. I was listening to my playing on YouTube the other day and I thought, “Damn! It’s gain-y and it has a lot of high end. My settings now have probably 30 percent less high-end and a lot less gain.
Carlos, since you followed Randy Rhoads in Quiet Riot, did the questions about him ever get tiresome, like now?
Cavazo: Not at all. I mean, he’s the founder of the band. He deserves to have the recognition. I was proud to carry on his name. I really didn’t get it that much though, because people only remember him really with Ozzy. I would imagine it to be much harder for the guitar players who followed him in Ozzy.
Did you know him?
Cavazo: Yeah. I had the opportunity to meet him many times. A band I was in, Snow, opened up for Quiet Riot. I was in the dressing room and had my guitars lined up and I had an acoustic guitar there. Randy came in and we talked for a while. I remember him picking up my acoustic guitar—he wanted to play that.
Do you think people are more receptive to shredding guitar solos now than, say, 15 years ago?
DeMartini: In some ways, yeah. I don’t think lead guitar ever got less popular with people who like lead guitar. I just think the music business was marketing something else and part of that plan was to sort of trash the rock and roll style that we were doing. That’s my take on it. But the music we made holds up. It still sounds good, at least to the people who like it. I think in that way we’re very lucky.