Interview: Guitarist Xander Demos Discusses Influences and His Debut Album, 'Guitarcadia'
Guitarist Xander Demos may not be a household name, but his playing is causing an increasing number of new fans and equipment manufacturers to take notice.
Demos' combination of Shrapnel-era shred and melodic phrasing makes for a combination that appeals equally to guitarists and non-guitarists.
Demos is wrapping up work on his debut album, Guitarcadia, and is fresh off multiple appearances at the 2012 Winter NAMM show, which took place last month in Anaheim, California.
You undoubtedly have been at your craft for quite some time and have spent a lot of time practicing. What about the guitar excited you and fueled your passion for playing?
What made me excited about playing guitar was just the time I grew up in -- the early '80s. Exciting music was being hurled at me via MTV, and since the "visual" aspect was there, I saw people playing guitar and all of a sudden, it was different than just listening to it. What made me passionate about it was the synergy of heaviness and melody. Back then, it was the anthem-style choruses of songs like "Metal Gods" by Judas Priest and that still stands today in bands like Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius. Almost 30 years later, I still feel the same way.
You mention melody, and that brings up an interesting subject. In addition to vocal music, you write instrumental music. How do you approach an instrumental to give it a melody that makes it listenable to non-guitarists?
Good question. I would defer to the fact that you have to write a hook - something catchy. Instrumentals can be a blessing and a curse because you have a canvas on which you can paint a ton of ideas, but you can easily get carried away. So there has to be something to grab the listener. If you can have the magical balance between a hook-filled "chorus" and still do something that will make the guitar players interested, you're doing something great. Don't get me wrong: I love to throw out a "How did he do that?" type of lick as much as the next guy, but in the end, I want music fans to also say, "Oh yeah, I had that melody stuck in my head all day."
My songs tend to be more of a straightforward type of rock song. That's not to say I don't personally enjoy other instrumentalists out there, totally blowing me away technically. It's hard to hum an Allan Holdsworth tune - but I love listening to him!
I completely agree with you. When you think of some of the more memorable instrumentals like Steve Vai's "Attitude Song," there's a hook that grabs you. Listening to your music, you have great technical ability as well. Can you talk about your influences and the amount of time it took to get this fluid and retain that level of playing?
As far as influences go, from a technical perspective, they come from a very wide range of players. I was really into Brad Gillis, Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie in the early days. Then Steve Vai really blew me away when he joined the David Lee Roth band and became more well known. Toward the late '80s, I really got into the "Shrapnel" players and ultimately Shawn Lane. In the '90s I got into more of the fusion guys like Brett Garsed and Allan Holdsworth (even though Holdsworth has been around for a long time).
As far as time goes, it's hard to nail down how long it took to become fluid and advance myself technically, but keep in mind that I had about eight or nine years in the '90s when it wasn't "cool" to play technically, so I did use that time to get better at what I was already working on in the '80s. I just kept practicing at all kinds of playing, and by the time it became cool again to do solos, I felt like I had a nice jump start.
Let's talk about your album Guitarcadia. For those not familiar, its an instrumental album. Give us an idea of what it's all about.
Guitarcadia is an album dedicated to, well, guitar! The catch is, there is a little bit of something for everyone on the CD. It is primarily an instrumental album, but there are a pair of vocal songs on there. Stylistically, the songs are all over the place as well. Some people may not like that approach, but it's a collection of songs I've had for years now, so getting them all out there is a great feeling.
There's a few that are really "happy sounding" songs, a ballad, some high-energy rock tunes and some straight-up metal tunes. The inherent beauty of doing albums like this is that you don't have to stick to one particular genre. CJ Snare's input and mixing skills on this has been incredible, and he's really brought a great energy to everything.
The obvious question would be, how did you come to work with CJ Snare, the vocalist for Firehouse?
I came to work with CJ through the glory of social media. I was friends with him on Facebook for about a month (I have been a huge Firehouse fan for years), and one day, he made a post about offering his mixing/engineering services. About 9.7 seconds after that, I messaged him, he messaged back and we got the ball rolling. Turns we had a lot it common based on where we've lived and such, and he's such an amazing, down-to-earth person. He's really made my songs come to life. As far as I'm concerned, I would be happy continuing our relationship into future recordings from me.
On the topic of future recordings, you are taking part in a all-star project. Can you tell me what that's all about?
I did a solo on one of the tracks from the Liberty n' Justice project, which is called "The Cigar Chronicles" with Jerry Dixon of Warrant and Chris Stitch of LadyJack. The project is due to be released in late 2012. It's a double CD with one disc dedicated to covers and the other disc dedicated to original music. I am playing on an original tune called "Sucker Punched."
CJ Snare is mixing and co-producing a good portion (if not all) of that project as well, and there are players on there such as Neil Zaza, Ted Poley (Danger Danger), Gunnar Nelson, Mark Kendall (Great White), Frankie Banalli (Quiet Riot), Bill Leverty (Firehouse) and I believe the last known recording with Jani Lane of Warrant. There are many others as well. I'm looking forward to the release.
Aside for Libery n' Justice, what else can we expect in the future from you?
2012 is going to be busy! I am now in a national tribute band called Sabbath Judas Sabbath featuring James Rivera (ex-Malice, currently in Helstar). The band is done in chapters across certain markets of the world. This one will be the East Coast chapter, and we'll play out about three or four weekends a year.
I will be out supporting Guitarcadia doing some shows with Neil Zaza and others. I will still play with Into The Arena (my cover band) about once a month and I will be putting together material for another album due out around spring 2013. An EP of material will be released this fall that will have five songs on it. Three will be from the new aforementioned album (The Runway Obsession) and will feature Under A Darkened Sky vocalist Kevin Rasel on one of the songs from our time together in Stronghold. Two will be brand-new instrumentals and the last two songs will remixes of Gutiarcadia tracks.
I will be releasing an extended version of the song "Guitarcadia" that has a really cool beginning intro, and I will also release a "radio edit" of "Under A Darkened Sky" since the current one clocks in at 8:05!
I hope there is more that is going to happen this year. Those are just the things I know about for now.
For more information, visit xanderdemos.com.