Francesco Artusato: Devil You Know's Melodic Shredder

Francesco Artusato made his mark in metal circles by showcasing his amazing technical chops without sacrificing musicality or artistic sensibility.
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Francesco Artusato made his mark in metal circles by showcasing his amazing technical chops without sacrificing musicality or artistic sensibility. After studying film scoring at Berklee College of Music, the Italian-born guitarist and composer lent his talents to American deathcore band All Shall Perish, released progressive instrumental records as the Francesco Artusato Project, and is currently in the metal outfit Devil You Know. The band just released its sophomore record, They Bleed Red [Nuclear Blast], and, besides Artusato, features Howard Jones (vocals), Ryan Wombacher (bass), and John Sankey (drums).

What gear did you use on They Bleed Red?

I’m playing 6-, 7-, and 8-string Ibanez guitars—mostly RGAs from the Los Angeles Custom Shop and Prestiges from Japan. They all have Seymour Duncan pickups. Strings are Ernie Ball Slinkys—.010-.046 for the 6-strings, .010-.062 for the 7-strings, and .010-.072 for the 8-strings. As for pedals, the main ones were the Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive, Mesa/Boogie Grid Slammer, EBS MultiComp, MXR Analog Chorus, and MXR Talk Box. I’ve been playing Laney amps for four or five years, and my current choice is the Ironheart IRT120H with a Laney GS412 cabinet.

What was the creative process like for the new album?

It could start from a drum idea, or one of my riff ideas, and then we’d go back and forth until we developed a song. I’m the one in charge of the actual melodies, though. I’ve played in other bands where it’s sometimes difficult to make everyone happy, but, in Devil You Know, everything I send, they love—even when I try to push things, like with an acoustic song. It’s very easy to work this way, but sometimes I almost wish they wouldn’t like something!

Still, it must be nice to have so much creative control.

Yes, but I like to keep the process open. This is our second record, and we’ve been touring together for a while, so I now know more than I used to about everyone’s styles and approaches. This makes it easier for me to write music that lets other people in the band shine. For example, I know what our singer’s voice does when he tries certain things, and what notes he can hit. So I try to write thinking about how to help his parts come alive. It’s not just, “Here’s the music—sing.”

Many metal albums tend to have a fast and heavy vibe throughout, but They Bleed Red delivers some very diverse moods.

I basically tried to write a record that I would like to listen to, and my ideal album is one that has different feels. When every song has the same kind of dynamics and vibe, it can get boring. It’s like watching an action movie with all action and no story. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd growing up, and that was my impression about their approach—to tell different stories.

Do you make any adjustments between playing guitar in the studio and onstage?

In the studio, I’m always adjusting the guitar’s Volume and Tone knobs, and I change pickups a lot, because I want to be precise with all the tonal details. I like to experiment in the studio. I’m just a big fan of guitars, gear, and trying different things. But onstage, the guitars I play don’t even have Tone knobs, because it’s just easier when you’re putting on a show for people. I still use the Volume knob to control the level of crunch and clean sounds from the amp, but that’s about it.

Tell me a little about the Francesco Artusato Project.

I did two instrumental albums. The first, I just had fun and I did it for myself. It was a surprise when a record label became interested. The second record was composed more as something to perform live with a band, although I haven’t yet played it with a full band. I’ve been doing clinics as a way to perform that music—which is more progressive and shows how much I like jazz and fusion. I guess I can be a little more selfish with the Francesco Artusato Project. I don’t have to keep it simple to allow a singer to do a certain thing. There are less rules doing instrumental music, I guess, so I can be more adventurous harmonically.

You have really impressive technical abilities. How do you keep your chops up?

I used to practice a lot. But when I got to Berklee—that’s when I had less time to practice. You’re in school for so many hours, and then you have to do ensembles in the evenings. For me, it was always about finding smart ways to use whatever practice time I had. I developed finger exercises from other players, and developed my own system, too. At this point, I need to keep my technique at a certain level, but I’m not practicing four or five hours a day any more. I guess I practice less now, but I write more.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned at Berklee?

It was the importance of songwriting. In music school, where everyone is trying to practice and be the best at their instrument, a lot of people—me included—don’t even think about writing songs. It was one of those things you think will happen automatically, and that’s not the case. It’s something you have to practice. It’s like practicing scales—you must practice writing songs. I also got to study a lot of classical music and composition, and I feel like all of that has given me the language to manipulate arrangements and make things more interesting.