How did you get this gig?
My tour manager—who had also done sound for UFO—heard they were looking for a guitarist about four years ago. I sent a CD of my instrumental stuff to [UFO singer] Phil Mogg. I really didn’t think I would hear back from him, but a couple of weeks later, I got the call.
How did you feel when the call came in?
Believe it or not, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. I was really focused on my solo work, and I figured they’d want to tour constantly. In retrospect, it’s 100 percent right for me. We tend to tour in short spurts, and when I get home, I have plenty of time to recharge and work on my solo stuff.
Did you do anything to prepare for your new band?
Not really. I was a big UFO fan growing up, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to fit in musically. Plus, the first thing we did after I joined was write the You Are Here record, so I was playing my own parts. The guys have always given me a lot of freedom to do my thing.
So there was never any pressure to use a half-cocked wah pedal and a Flying V to get a Schenker tone?
Definitely not. That would have made it less appealing. They want me to sound like me.
What were the sessions like for UFO’s latest release, The Monkey Puzzle?
I sent Phil 19 song ideas, and he came to my studio to work them out. Then, we went to Germany to rehearse with the whole band, and finalize the arrangements. In the studio, I laid down scratch rhythms, scratch solos, and guide vocals to a click track all in one day. I went home, and, once the drums were done, the files were sent to me over the Internet through an FTP site. I redid all my guitars at home, and I sent the tracks back to Germany.
You didn’t keep any of the scratch tracks?
No. But there were a couple of scratch solos that inspired me, because they had that cool, reckless feel to them. I didn’t feel they were good enough to keep, but I definitely took the vibe and the melodic ideas from the scratch tracks to “Down by the River” and “Hard Being Me.”
What gear did you use?
Mainly, my Music Man Silhouette, but I also used my Les Paul, a Strat, and an old Heartfield guitar. The main amp was my Marshall JCM 2000 DSL. I used a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier for the song “Heavenly Body.” In the middle of doing the record, I started working with Engl amps, and I used an Engl Special Edition head for some of the solos. Those are great sounding amps—really thick. I’m touring with them now.
How did you track the acoustics?
I played this old Washburn with a Stephen’s Extended Cutaway. The guitar has 24 frets, and you can reach ’em all! I recorded it with a Royer R-121 ribbon mic placed in front of the soundhole, and an Oktava MK-012 positioned near the 15th fret.
How has your technique evolved over the years?
Early on, I would use alternate picking almost exclusively unless I played an arpeggio, where I would use sweep picking. Now, I tend to throw in more sweeps in my melody lines. I also use more hybrid picking when I’m going back and forth between two strings. I’ll use my second finger in addition to the pick, instead of picking all the notes. It’s funny—I play all the time, but I don’t practice anymore. No exercises or drills like in the old days. That’s why I’m not as good as I used to be [laughs], but I enjoy it more now.
What do you listen to for inspiration these days?
A lot of the stuff that inspires me isn’t complicated guitar playing, but cool-sounding records. I like U2. The Edge is always doing something interesting. The latest Chili Peppers album, Stadium Arcadium, made me want to try different things in the studio, because of the way they mixed the acoustic and electric guitar tones. I can still get inspired by my old favorites: Robin Trower’s vibrato, and the way Jeff Beck can take a simple melody and give it his treatment with all his nuances and the whammy bar. I feel lucky, because I can still find inspiration just by playing guitar, and I play constantly. I’m like a baseball or football player—except for the millions, of course. I grew up loving to play the guitar, and now I get to do it for a living.