“We want to push shred as far as possible,” says 17-year-old Rex Cox, who along with his 19-year-old brother, Zak, comprises the blitzing twin-axe portion of the New York-based progressive metal band Uncured. “People such as Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani were the first guys to take shred to an extreme level, but we want to be part of the new wave of players that builds on the past and surpasses all expectations.”
By all measures, the Cox brothers are off to a good start on making that goal a reality. Since forming Uncured in 2016, they’ve seen their debut album, 2017’s Medusa [Conclave Studios], hailed as a modern-metal classic. The guitarists’ intricate, high-speed solos on barnstorming tracks such as “Dilate,” “Myopic,” and “Stygian Pit” are already high on budding shredders’ “must-learn-to-play” lists. Here’s how the 7-and 8-string wonders, who aren’t yet old enough to buy a beer, have turned high-octane guitar upside down.
Which guitarists were your gateways into the world of shred?
Rex: Jeff Loomis. His solo work is incredible, but I also like what he did with his Conquering Dystopia project. He’s my favorite guitarist.
Zak: He’s certainly mine, as well. I love how Jeff Loomis and Keith Merrow work together in that band. It’s sort of how Rex and I work. They inspired us, in the way that we see the interplay between two guitars.
What kind of practice regimen do you guys have?
Rex: We’re pretty strict about practicing. One thing that has really helped me is that I learned how to practice slowly. A lot of guys don’t want to do this—they want to burn at full speed. I play slowly to make sure I hit each note with no dirt. I mute properly and articulate everything. You want to make sure that your shredding is totally clean, and you’ve got to play to a click. That way, when you’re playing with a band, and the adrenaline is kicking in, you can play full-on with total precision.
Zak: I practice at least a few hours a day, although, when we’re on tour, there’s certainly less time for it. It’s always good to make sure you have as much time as you can with the metronome every day. When we’re warming up for a show, I’m always with a metronome. It gets the blood pumpin’. And, as Rex was saying, practice slowly. John Petrucci said in a video that he practices his solos at half-speed. I tried that, and it made a big difference.
Does warming up before a show help you with your stamina?
Zak: I think so. Slow warm-ups are key. I do different exercises that include right-hand tension stuff and legato playing, and there’s a lot of left-hand/right-hand integration. Do that before a show, and you’re good.
Rex: When we play a show, it’s 30 minutes of really technical guitar. Some of the songs can get pretty rigorous, and I’ve noticed if I don’t have proper time to warm up on guitar, it’s hard for me to get through the whole show.
You mentioned left-and right-hand integration. Do you spend equal time practicing your picking—and your tapping—as you do your fretting?
Rex: It’s funny for me, because I’m left-handed, but I play guitar right-handed. As a result, I have a more advanced left-hand technique, so I have to spend more time getting my picking hand up to proper speed—especially on some sections where I’m doing inside picking or string skipping. I practice with both hands, but I pay a little more attention to my right hand.
Zak: I’ve always been a fan of right-hand tapping. I’ve been working on middle-and-ring-finger tapping, and that’s a cool two-finger technique. As far as picking goes, I actually just started doing all upstrokes when I’m playing to a metronome. It’s more difficult than I thought it would be, but I think it will improve my speed and articulation.
You both play Schecter guitars. Is there something about that brand that makes their guitars particularly good for shred?
Rex: We grew up playing Schecters, so our playing styles are kind of suited toward them. Tone-wise, they really cut through.
Zak: We have tried all the other brands, but nothing is as good as a Schecter. For leads and rhythms, they’re incredible. The 8-string Hellraiser sounds massive. Those EMG-808 pickups get such a heavy, crunchy sound, but the articulation is there.
Do you guys live by shred alone?
Rex: It’s all metal with us, but different forms of it. We don’t really listen to classic rock, or things on the radio. Metalwise, it varies from really melodic stuff to the heaviest stuff around.
Zak: I don’t know if we’re all metal. There are some ’70s bands that we’ll listen to—Al Green, Isley Brothers, and Earth, Wind & Fire—and Style Council is one of my favorites, as well.
You two have progressed so far so quickly. Is there any time left for girls or sports?
Zak: [Laughs.] We have a few female friends in different cities—we just like hanging out with them—and we’re into weightlifting. We want to feel good and look good on stage.
Rex: We ski. That’s our favorite sport. But we mostly play guitar. That’s what we like to do, and we always want to get better at it.