Angus Clark—best known for his emotive Gilmour-esque guitar work with Kitaro—plays alongside Al Pitrelli in TSO’s West Coast touring ensemble. Clark also provides half of the twin-guitar assault along with Aurelien Budynek on the new DareDevil Squadron album Out of The Sun, and has recently released the Strat-centric solo CD Your Last Battlefield. —Vinnie DeMasi
How did you first get involved with TSO?
I received a call from their management on a referral from Marty Friedman, who had left Megadeth. He wasn't available so he gave them my number. They saw a video of me performing with Kitaro and told me one of the things they liked about my playing was that I am able to bend notes in tune. I think bending in tune is too often a neglected skill among guitarists. I know the point was first driven home to me when I made a demo with my first band. I found out exactly how poor my bending skills were and I worked to get them together.
What was your main contribution on the TSO rock opera Night Castle?
I play on an instrumental track called "Mountain," which is an adaptation of two classical pieces: Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and Holst's "Mars, The Bringer of War." That arrangement was originally from a Savatage recording that was added to the TSO live repertoire. The "Mars" section has this really dark and foreboding theme (sings "one, five, flat five") it reminds me of the song "Black Sabbath." I play all those running sixteenth-note arpeggio passages that were initially tracked by original Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva—who incidentally, was an incredibly amazing and underrated player. He was killed in a car accident in the early ’90s and this song was added to the set as a tribute to him.
You are re-interpreting parts live that were originally played by Al Pitrelli in the studio. Did Al give you any guidance?
For me it's a little bit different because I'm playing on stage with Al. It's kind of like nine years of osmosis at this point, but when I first took the gig there were a couple of really fast passages that I had to ask Al to break down for me. One cool element of Al's playing is his left-hand legato fingering approach. Even though he's a Berklee-schooled guy, he thinks outside the box when it comes to scales. My training is so book-based that my fast passages tend to stay within the confines of a scale whereas Al would decide on his target notes and have all these chromatically interesting left-hand legato-oriented ways to approach them. He’ll add chromatics in certain places to ensure he lands on his intended target note on the next downbeat. That's something I've definitely picked up from him and I'm a better player for it.
Do you have a favorite rock opera?
Is The Wall a rock opera?
How well do you have to know the music?
The stage is so big and there's so much going on in terms of pure show—all the blocking assignments and choreography—that you have to have the music down cold. If you're still thinking about what notes you're supposed to play you're sunk.
Do you have a warm-up routine before the show?
I run my three-notes-per-string scales in different keys. I'm an alternate picker, so I run them starting with my first finger, then I'll run them starting with my second finger so the picking pattern is reversed. I'll run ascending and descending fourths, then climbing thirds—(sings) one, two, three, one—two, three, four, two, etc. This year I've also had to bone up on descending triplets because there are several runs like that on the new recording. And I'll do metronome practice just on down strokes and rhythm playing. Being able to lock in is one of the most important aspects of this gig.
What's your live rig?
My main guitar is built by Atomic Guitar Works and modeled on a Gibson Flying V. It has two humbuckers, a Tune-o-matic-style bridge, and the Gibson scale length. I use and EVH 5150 head with three channels into a Randall Isolation box with Celestion Vintage 30 and Classic Lead 80 speakers. I also have a Boss Chorus. My tech Ed Halverson wired it into the amp’s effects loop, but I'm really basic about effects, so I took it out and put it into the front end of the amp just like I did when I was 15!