Andy Timmons Shreds Some Retro Fusion

Welcome to the wide world of Andy Timmons.
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Welcome to the wide world of andy timmons. overthe last two decades he’s been an MTV video star and glam metal poster boy, the musical director for pop icon Olivia Newton-John, a solo artist and band leader, an in-demand session ace, a TV and radio jingle composer, a self-described “Beatle-geek” and Fab Four acolyte, a highly regarded teacher and clinician, and now an allaround badass fusion shredder with legendary drummer Simon Phillips. Suffice to say the guy wears more hats than Lady Gaga.

Timmons’ long and varied musical odyssey began as a teen when he left his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, to study music at the University of Miami, eventually relocating to Dallas to make his name as a studio musician. It was there he was tapped to be the lead guitarist of glam-metal upstarts Danger Danger, joining in time to appear on the band’s million-selling debut album that boasted two #1 videos on MTV. After Danger Danger’s demise, Timmons sought his own voice, forming the Andy Timmons Band, releasing several solo albums, and situating himself in a wide variety of collaborative settings.

Timmons’ latest co-conspiracy finds him channeling Tony Williams’ Lifetime-inspired fusion funk on Simon Phillips’ Protocol II [Phantom Recordings], which also features bassist Ernest Tibbs and keyboardist Steve Weingart. The quartet is gearing up for world tours and the release of the already-recorded ProtocolIII in 2015. Meanwhile, the 6-string-slinging Texas hero is still finding time to play reunion shows with Danger Danger, begin work on a new Andy Timmons Band release, and perform with Olivia Newton-John. Hats off to you, Mr. Timmons!

How did you first start working with Simon Phillips?

Back in ’93 we played together at a NAMM concert that was sponsored by Ibanez called Axe Attack. It featured all of Ibanez’s big guns—Satriani, Vai, Alex Skolnick, Reb Beach, Paul Gilbert, and Shawn Lane. Simon and I were part of the house band, and to prepare for the gig I actually learned a lot of his tunes. I think he was impressed by that and when his regular guitarist couldn’t do a tour in ’97, he called me. We’ve had a fairly constant working relationship since then. Actually, the impetus for this new record was to mark the 25th anniversary of Protocol—his first solo album where he played all the instruments and programmed all the keyboards. Originally he was going to re-release it and just do a few shows. Since I was coming out to the West Coast for NAMM however, we just decided to get some studio time and make a whole new record.

Did Simon already have most of the material for Protocol II written before the sessions?

Yes. For some songs he gave us complete demos and others were just ideas. Aside from being a great drummer, he’s a very crafty musician, composer, and arranger. He writes on keyboard and if he wanted to hear a guitar melody in a particular place, there would be a guitar-sampled synth on the demo. Because of all his detailed preproduction, we were able to record the whole album in five days. That’s a tribute to both Ernest and Steve’s excellence as musicians and Simon’s skills as a bandleader. This album has a real ’70s fusion throwback vibe and we wanted to record it the way records were made back then—four people get in a room, hash it out, and are done in a couple of hours!

One thing I find remarkable about Simon’s writing is that even though there’s a lot of odd-meter and what we jokingly refer to as “adult chords,” it’s still very accessible. It’s not complex just for complexity’s sake. There’s a real pop and rock sensibility throughout it.

From a practice-routine standpoint, how do you prepare for a project like this?

For a long while I’d been playing, writing, and producing my own material, but I hadn’t been practicing the way I did when I was in school. A few years back, there was a possibility we were going to play at Pat Metheny’s week-long guitar workshop. It never materialized, but it got me shedding again because I initially thought, “If I’m going to be playing in front of Pat Metheny, I’m nowhere near where I need to be!” So I started revisiting some of the things I used to do in college—getting together with friends and playing standards and just listening to classic jazz recordings. During these recent sessions someone made the comment that some of my lines sounded like Chet Baker. I took that as a huge compliment because I’ve been listening to and have been influenced by his music lately. The slippery slope when working on jazz is that there’s such an established vocabulary of lines and phrases. They’re fantastic, valid, and worth learning, but the challenge for me is to come up with my own melodic approach and not just rearticulate things from the past.

There are a fair amount of odd time signatures in some of the compositions on Protocol II. Did you approach them by meticulous scheming, or did you just fly by the seat of your pants and hope to pick up Chet Baker on an open channel?

On the best days, that’s exactly what you hope will happen [laughs]. If it’s an odd time signature, I like to float, because I’ll never be able to improvise effectively when I’m counting. Even when Simon’s soloing in odd meter over an ostinato, he says he’s listening and feeling, but not counting. There’s a certain amount of preparation in terms of being aware of the chord changes and harmonic center, but only to a point. On our next recording there’s a tune tentatively titled “Fast Five” where Steve had the clever idea of super-imposing this bluesy 6/8 shuffle groove over 5/4 for the solo sections. If I was trying to do the math on that one I think I’d lose the feel, so I just float and trust my instincts.

Tell us about your signature Ibanez.

The first one, the AT100SB, came out in limited quantities back in 1999. The AT100CL has been in production since 2009 and is nearly identical to my main guitar. The maple neck is a different radius than most Ibanezes and between that and the shape of the alder body, it almost feels like a vintage Stratocaster. It has a nice rounded shoulder and is slightly narrower at the nut. The bridge pickup is a DiMarzio AT1 custom humbucker and the middle and neck pickups are DiMarzio Cruiser single-coil-sized humbuckers. It also has a treble bleed mod on it, which is an added capacitor that helps retain the high end of your tone as you decrease the master volume of your guitar. Ibanez is currently producing a model that’s made in Indonesia called the AT10 that is nearly half the price, but the quality is still spoton. Overall, I consider the AT guitars to be like modernized Strats.

What was your rig on the Protocol II and Protocol III recordings?

I relied mostly on my Mesa/Boogie Lone Star for a variety of clean and lead tones. I like to use a Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter, not so much for compression, but just to hit the front of the Lone Star with a little more gain. I also have an Xotic BB pedal, an old Ibanez TS-808, a GNI Octa Fuzz, and a Keeley-modded Boss BD-2 Blues Driver that sounds great on the front end of the clean channel. I also used an Xotic Wah, a Jam Pedals Retro Vibe, and old MXR Phase 90 on a couple of tracks. The entire setup is controlled by a GigRig G2 switching system. Simon preferred that I not print any of my time and reverb effects, so we set up an additional rig that I could use just as a monitor for them while recording.

You recently did some reunion shows with Danger Danger. Is there any chance you might record some new material with them?

We played Firefest in the U.K. as well as some shows in Japan. It was the first time the original lineup had played together since 1993, and I was just amazed at the positive response we got. If you had asked me that question ten years ago I probably would’ve said no because there was this stigma attached to that genre of music for a time. I think that some of the material stands up really well, though, and people are embracing that style of music again. I was really brought in to Danger Danger as sort of a hired gun, and while I was grateful for the opportunity and happy to be a team player, when I left the band my main goal was really to establish my own voice. Now, given the perspective of time, it would be interesting to revisit it with a new level of maturity. Danger Danger was really [drummer] Steve West and [bassist] Bruno Ravel’s baby. They are great songwriters—I’m psyched to see them get some recognition and I’d be happy to work with them again.

The last we heard from the Andy Timmons Band was your instrumental remake of Sgt. Pepper’s in 2011. Given how deep the source material is, there are surprisingly few overdubs on yours.

There are no overdubs on it [laughs]! But that’s what I thought would hopefully make it interesting to people. It started out as me working up chord melodies of Beatles songs just for my own enjoyment. The first one I began performing with the trio was “Strawberry Fields Forever.” One night a promoter in Italy pointed out how well it went over and suggested we do a whole night of Beatle covers. That really got the ball rolling on the project.

How faithful did you remain to the original recording when composing your arrangements?

I actually tried not to refer to the original album at all. Instead, I relied on my memory of the tunes and what my ears latched on to and felt was the most important musical event at any given time in the original song. A lot of people who grew up with Sgt. Pepper said they appreciated that about my interpretation of it, so I guess they were hearing the same things I was. Another source of inspiration was the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s Love show and the way it mashed up different Beatles songs. You can hear that come through in a few places, such as the coda section from “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” tacked on at the end of “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite!” and the “Tomorrow Never Knows” beat that Mitch Marine lays down under “Within You, Without You.” I have to admit that “Within You, Without You” was the one song I did go back and listen to to figure out exactly what was going on in that middle section. It’s this whole sitar line in 5/8!

Not to downplay your solo career at all, but do you feel that one of your strong points is being a good collaborator?

I hope so. I’m proud of my solo career, but I’m equally if not more proud of my ability to contribute to and collaborate on a wide scope of material. When I was first asked to be the musical director for Olivia Newton- John’s U.S. band, my approach was to say, “If I were one of Olivia’s fans coming to see the show, how would I want the music to sound?” That person doesn’t care if I can wail for 20 minutes. They want to hear the songs sounding the way they remember them. Also—and this is one thing I try to impress upon students and people who come to my workshops and clinics—when you come into a gig like that, you want to make sure you are as prepared as you can possibly be. The key is that I put the same energy and effort into each project, with the ultimate goal of always serving the music.

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