Interview by Dominic Reilly Dublinjazz.ie
Alex Skolnick will be returning to Dublin this month. He was last here in 2010 when he played support to Rodrigo Y Gabriela in the Grand Canal Theatre. This time he is coming back not as part of his old life with Testament the trash metal band but instead fronting his own Jazz Trio. It’s a big transition for the Berkley native who found himself sucked into the music business at the tender age of sixteen.
I got the chance to talk to Skolnick in New York during the week, the City he now calls home and I put it to him that after a long period of time as lead guitarist with a successful Rock band why did he feel the need the go back to college in 1998 to study Jazz….
Since leaving Testament I had been playing Jazz. I always had a fondness for Jazz but found myself pulled off in a certain direction from a young age. After leaving Testament I kept a low profile. I was a devoted musician and I was working on Jazz the whole time but I wasn’t satisfied with my progress I was getting better but I felt I could put the process into hyper speed by being in NYC for one thing and going back to school for another.
It was also to fill the void I felt in education. While there I also studied philosophy and creative writing
DJ: What were the big benefits to New School?
I had access to Master musicians and suddenly all my questions were being answered. I was starting to feel like a Jazz fan instead of a Jazz musician and so I went to New School in New York to get myself in the environment of being around other Jazz musicians. It also gave me a good excuse to relocate to New York…well there is nothing like it, and it may have seemed strange for a guy who was famous for being in a Metal band, but it felt right and I went with right.
DJ: But you were already a very accomplished musician?
I wasn’t delusional about my talents I was playing jazz but knew I needed to know a lot more. I took a realistic assessment about my playing, composition skills, listening skills, the levels of musicians I was playing with and I wanted to feel comfortable walking into any situations and not feel like a fish out of water. For instance as a Metal lead guitarist I had never played with a piano player or a trumpet player! Playing lead guitar required a lot of technical ability, so why was I limiting that ability to just one thing? It made no sense.
I could have been happy playing a few local gigs, Every where there are great local musicians, Paris, NYC, Dublin, I could have been happy to be a regional musician but going to New School gave me the chance to develop quickly.
DJ: What happened when you released you first Album: Goodbye to Romance?
I got a lot of attention when I did my first album with the Trio, because of where I had come from. I was resigned to the fact that I would be the black sheep of Jazz but I was amazed at the positive reaction I got.
DJ: Do you feel you got acceptance in the Jazz World?
There are segments of the Jazz community that are very exclusive and it does not matter what I do it will never get accepted. I know some very well established Jazz players that wouldn’t get accepted but you can’t put too much emphasis on acceptance overall I was pleasantly surprised at the level of acceptance I received.
DJ: How is your Jazz career panning out?
I could not retire based on my Jazz earnings! I am fortunate to be in a position, that, between playing different genres and doing master classes and appearances, I am still kept commercially busy. Earlier this year I wrote an auto bio-autographical book “Geek to Guitar Hero” that is doing well.
A lot of musicians these days can’t depend on one project or in some cases rely on one genre to get by. If I were limited to just Jazz I would need some kind of job to supplement my income.
DJ: So how would you describe your workload?
I am busy with the Jazz Trio as well as also playing gigs with Testament. Testament released a new album and it’s doing quite well. I do a lot of work that does not get publicised. For instance I played on a symphonic production of Queen songs and I worked last year on a theatrical show called Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hide.
I am also busy with other Jazz projects, for instance I played on an acoustic project with Randy Klein last year called “What’s Next”. The project got a great review recently in Jazz Times.
I turn down a lot of work offers so overall I suppose I have a nice full time career out of music.
DJ: How do you find the earning potential in Jazz compared with that of the Trash Metal world?
When I left Testament in 1992 it was very high profile group with good record sales and good audiences numbers at live shows. You could look at that and think that it was very comfortable and that all this income was coming in but videos were costing a lot of money like $100,000 on average. Just before leaving we made a video that cost $250,000.
There’s an industry joke that the first thing musicians should learn is to look up the definition of the word “recoupable” in the dictionary. The spending in Rock was very different there was more money coming in but more money going out, in Jazz it’s the opposite.
DJ: What New Projects can we expect to see from Alex Skolnick in the near future?
I am very busy writing for a recording that is coming out in Spring, my first acoustic album. I am focused on International sounds, a collaboration with musicians from other regions, Africa, Middle East, Latin America, India, I am lining up the musicians at the moment. It’s not straight ahead Jazz but does relate to a lot of international acoustic improvisation jazz that I grew up with and never got to explore.
DJ: Do you think you have changed over the last four albums starting from 2002?
My favorite musicians are the ones who are always developing and I don’t ever want to be one of those musicians whose best work is behind them. I play better now that I ever did and I’m excited to see where things go.
The Alex Skolnick Trio have produced four albums since 2002. There is no doubt that the sound is a fusion between Rock/Jazz. The rhythm section is made up of Matt Zebroski (Drums) and Nathan Peck (Double Bass). The rhythm section produce a driving groove that gives Skolnick plenty of room to explore varies subjects on lead guitar. Skolnick is a very accomplished musician and he takes all the drive and energy from his Rock background and delivers a pulsating and captivating performance which is a must see this month when they play the Button Factory on Wednesday 25th September.