Al Joseph: "It’s easy to learn techniques – it’s harder to make the guitar sing"

Al Joseph
(Image credit: Matt Weaver)

Over the past several years, virtuosic seven-stringer Al Joseph has made a name for himself churning out aggressive guitar jams as the leader of HYVMINE. 

But while that outfit saw Joseph, a Berklee-educated player, tempering his leads in favor of keeping the attention equally focused on his band mates and his own vocals, his newest record, Labyrinth, released under his own name, is an unabashedly guitar-centric endeavor. Which is exactly as he wants it.

"I’ve been doing the whole HYVMINE thing for the last couple years," Joseph says, "and I started to think, Okay, let me get back to my roots. Let me get back to what makes me 'me,' and what put me on the map in the first place. And that’s guitar and guitar music."

Without a doubt, Labyrinth is first and foremost a guitar lover’s record, boasting nine instrumental tunes that are jam-packed with Joseph’s churning, chunky riffing and dizzying, technically stunning leads. 

What’s more, it’s a solo album in the truest sense: In addition to playing all the guitars (save for one or two guest solos) using his Kiesel Theos 7-string guitars through a HeadRush pedalboard, Joseph also handled the bass parts and programmed the drums, as well as recorded, mixed and mastered the entire affair.

"I wanted to create something new and fresh that represented how I’ve grown as a guitar player between my last record and now, and really showed people what I can do," he tells us.

What Joseph does, as demonstrated on Labyrinth, is create instrumental music that is designed to dazzle, but never at the expense of songcraft or melody. 

From the stomping, groove-heavy opener All the Rage to the grunting Moonlight Man, the anthemic, synth-specked Inner Secrets to the epic Theatre of Dreams (which, in title and tone, nods to one of Joseph’s primary inspirations, John Petrucci), the record explores a wide range of his own sounds and styles, all of it shot through with Joseph’s dense, complex guitar work, that often comes off as almost vocal in nature.

To that end, Joseph says, "It’s easy to learn techniques – it’s harder to make the guitar sing. But when it comes to putting together a record, that’s my priority – coming up with something where people can walk away humming the melody. It’s not just about showing how much I can shred or how badass a guitar player I can be. It’s about the music."

It’s not just about showing how much I can shred or how badass a guitar player I can be. It’s about the music

As far as the music is concerned, Joseph is perpetually in a state of playing and creating. 

"The work never stops, man," he says with a laugh. And indeed, even as he unleashes Labyrinth, he’s already deep in the writing and recording stage of another record, this one with his brother Chris, who also played bass in Hyvmine. 

Additionally, Joseph continues to keep busy with, where he has served as an instructor for the past eight years and is involved in a new boot camp online course. The educational side of the guitar, he says, "is something that I pride myself on, and that’s definitely going to continue for me."

In the end, he says, "you’ve got to be happy with your music and with yourself. And I feel very fortunate I get to do what I do. I’m just trying to create a body of work that I can be truly proud of, regardless of how well it does or any of that kind of stuff."

With Labyrinth, Joseph adds, "I wasn’t trying to prove anything as a player. The inspiration was about drawing from within – it’s music that’s pure and in alignment with who I am."

Al Joseph's new album Labyrinth is out now via District Loft Records.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.