"I'm not your average guitar player. I kind of take my own wacky approach to the instrument."
Indeed, Joey Eppard is not your average guitar player. His resume, at a glance, might imply that he's cut from unique musical fabric. His onstage attack confirms that he's out of his tree.
As singer and songwriter for the Woodstock, New York-based band 3, Eppard, along with bassist Daniel Grimsland, drummer Chris Gartmann and guitarist Billy Riker are celebrating the release of The Ghost You Gave to Me and a tour with Cynic that will launch November 3.
Guitar World recently had the opportunity to chat with Eppard.
GUITAR WORLD: The new album sounds incredible.
We put a lot of work into it and had a good time. Our attitude was that we were just going to do our thing and work hard on it until we got to that place where we felt a hundred percent about it. I'm really happy with how it came out.
Were some of the experiences you guys went through, both professionally and personally since the last album get poured into the songs on this record?
We had been through a lot, just in life. We were kind of on the "higher highs, lower lows" rollercoaster of being a band and trying to survive, trying to get our career to the next level. We signed to Roadrunner Records, which we were all excited about, but then it kind of all fell apart. So we had to pick up the pieces and decide what we wanted to do. We felt like we had this record that needed to be made. We'd made some mistakes in the past and felt like the only power ewe really have at the end of the day is just to try to make a great record. And that's what we focused on. Now it's all about getting back out on the road and doing what we do best -- just playing music, onstage.
How did you approach writing the songs on this album?
I think a lot of people approach songwriting like it's sort of a craft. But I approach it in a different way. I try to make it a spiritual experience for me, because I don't want to think about it too much until. I just try to immerse myself into the music and just let things just bubble up. Words and phrases you listen to your heart and when the right words are there you just know it and you build songs. But it's not always easy. It takes time. It's hard to get into that headspace but in a song like "Only Child" there's a lot of theme changes.
I really had to meditate, basically, to get in to that space to where I could really carry that through the entire song with all the peaks and valleys and different things I wanted to say. Part of the beauty is to see other people's takes on what it is and how their brains organize the information and meaning themselves. "The Ghost You Gave to Me" was an instrumental for almost the entire time we were working on this record, and I knew we wanted to have vocals on it, but I just kept putting it off. Wasn't ready.
The last few days in the studio the band was mixing another song and I had one day left to record the vocals and write all the lyrics and come up with the entire concept for that song. I had to do it. I had to lock myself into the studio. "I'm just going to sit in here till it's done. That's it." And "The Ghost You Gave to Me" is what I came up with. I had to immerse myself into the song and just find the thread that clicked and see it through.
The lyrics you write and pour out in your singing are often dark and foreboding, yet your songs are spiritually charged, right?
Life is a spiritual experience to me. Music was always my connection to spirituality. I've had a lot of interesting experiences in my life, stuff that's given my clues here and there of what's really going on. I'm certainly filled with ideas of the nature of the truth. To me, my spirituality is a desire to experience everything as it truly is -- to look beyond my own preconceptions and prejudices. So that's led me to being a pretty open-minded dude, I guess (laughs).
The Ghost You Gave to Me is like your band's Led Zeppelin III.
That's my favorite Led Zeppelin record. Led Zeppelin III is such an incredible, evolutionary leap from the first two records, which are, of course, great. But just that record always hit it off for me. I probably will always try to make that record (laughs) the rest of my life. And we tried to do it on The End is Begun. That record I wanted to have the first half have a certain vibe, and then I wanted that feeling of, like, you flip the record over and it's the acoustic side of the record. I was really into that. Not everybody really got it, though. Some people said, "I don't get why this record changes half-way through." I was reminiscing on the old days when you flip the record and the other side had a different vibe, but you don't flip CD's (laughs).
Who is your favorite singer?
Really it started with John Lennon, for me, when I was really young. I just happened to latch onto his solo stuff, and then I got into The Beatles after that. They were big influences on me. Michael Jackson was a big influence on me and, actually, Stevie Wonder is probably my number one musical hero.
Favorite Stevie Wonder song?
Favorite Stevie Wonder song. Oh man. There's so many good ones. You know that song "I Believe (When I Fall in Love)" with you it will be forever?
I love that song.
That was actually my wedding song.
As a guitarist, who affected you the most?
You know, I wasn't that interested in technical guitar playing. I really fell in love with Led Zeppelin. So, I think Jimmy Page. As far as the electric guitar, he was the ultimate wizard for me. The colors of the tones are what really excited me. That definitely made a foundation for me. But I think for the first five years I played guitar I never even picked up an electric. It was all acoustic guitar, finger-picking.
Let's talk about gear. What are you playing now?
I play an ESP Eclipse, my main guitar for electric and I just love it, man. It's got everything I want. I've got some Seymour Duncans. I don't use a pick so I'm all fingers. Those pickups translate that dynamic. The EMG's don't have that same dynamic, and I think a lot of the guitars come with EMG's standard, but I gotta go for the Seymour Duncans.
I'm not your average guitar player. I kind of take my own wacky approach to the instrument. I have this little custom Combo Amp that I fell in love with. I know how to get all the sounds I want out of it, so I use that for a lot of stuff. I also, for this record, recorded a lot of this stuff in Logic. The amp selection and all the different modules they have for you all sound really cool. There's endless things you can do with them (laughs). So I found myself setting up with a basic tone and busting it in three or four directions into other amps. You can get one guitar performance and make it sound so big, and there's so many ways to tweak all the different amp tones that you're combining into this one sound. I'm always into exploring things that way.
I basically sit there in the studio and I fiddle around with it until I get to that place, "yeah, there it is!," because I want each song to have those colors, the different tones, going back to the Jimmy Page thing. But really, "Mister Gear" in this band is Billy Riker. He's obsessed with all things gear-related and my focus is usually on the writing and then I don't care what you give me to play through. I will find a way to make something cool come out of it. That's sort of my attitude. And meanwhile Billy reads every magazine and he's got this whole complicated rig. He's been playing through the Marshall that has a bunch of different amp sounds in it. I forget. I think there was another little article in Guitar World where we mentioned that.
I use an Ovation Elite T. I have a bunch of Ovations. they're just my acoustic guitar of choice. I just love the way they play. I know how to get a nice sound out of 'em. Also, the round back is something I'm pretty much married to at this point, because it sits differently that your standard boxy acoustic guitar, which sort of points away from you. The Ovation--because it's a round back--kind of turns up toward you a little bit more. That's the way I'm the most comfortable playing. I love their guitars, man. They're awesome and they really hold up. Believe me, I really beat the hell out of 'em at the live shows. I often break all of my strings, so I really put those guitars through a lot and they hold up to it. I remember back in the day I went to the music shop and there was this guitar. I picked it up, and for better or for worse, I just knew, "Boy, this is it. This is the guitar for me." For an acoustic guitar I've played nothing else since.
How did you get the bug of wanting to be a musician?
My dad is a phenomenal guitar player and a hard-working musician, so I was getting dragged out to gigs when I was 3 to watch my dad up there onstage. I've just been around it, rather than being steeped in pop culture I was exploring my dad's record collection at my own leisure from an early age. I was listening to all sorts of stuff that none of my friends had any idea of what it was. I've always been a songwriter first. I feel very lucky because I've gotten to be around so many great musicians in different genres. It's given me a sort of perspective musically. I almost draw from three very different musical experiences in my life to create 3.
What have been some of your other musical projects?
For a while I was doing the singer/songwriter circuit. Me and an acoustic guitar. Folkier-sounding songs and stuff. I was touring with Aztec Two Step for a while, and actually went on the road with Heart for a little while.
Nancy Wilson picked you, right?
She actually picked my demo out of a big pile of CD's and said "Let's get this guy." What a great opportunity it was to be out on the road with them. I also had the experience with playing with P-Funk and George Clinton. Did some touring with those guys. Michael "Clip" Payne, who was at Woodstock right around 1999, our paths crossed and we got together and recorded a song that actually became a little hit over in Europe. Our friendship was sort of born out of that and he ended up putting together a band with some of his favorite players from P-Funk. What an incredible experience for me to be onstage with some of the greats of all time. And Garry Shider. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was when he was basically like, "I wanna be on Joe's side of the stage." He wanted to be right next to me. He actually grew up playing guitar in open E tuning. I play a lot on that tuning.
We have a certain bond. The way that guy can sing--just being around that and absorbing that. I really thought of him a lot when we were making this record because he passed a couple years ago. I was always hear his voice in my head and he's telling me to tune out everything and just sing. That's what I really tried to do on this album. Not try to hide and let it really come through.