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Kiko Loureiro: "I thought the greatest message would be to have Marty Friedman on Open Source, not only because he was the Megadeth guy, but to show that music is not a competition"

Kiko Loureiro
(Image credit: Ville Juurikkala)

“Improvising while reading the comments is my new late-night practice routine.” This is a somewhat comical but certainly zeitgeist-tapping caption to a recent Instagram post from shred king-cum-social media influencer Kiko Loureiro. 

The accompanying video is the kicker. If you’re a longtime fan of Loureiro – who first rose up in the '90s with Brazilian metal icons Angra – you know his painfully scrunched brow has nothing to do with his chromatic waggling, or the outsized bends he’s stretching across the sunburst Ibanez AZ on his lap. 

That’s just him trying to keep up with the mile-a-minute scroll of messages from eager fans, likely chiming in with anything from a “Sick lick, Kiko!” to “Check out my band at the link.” This is all to say that the internet is a hell of a place, but at least Loureiro’s having fun with it. 

Though he may be best known these days as the current lead guitarist for Megadeth, the past couple of years have clearly also found the Brazilian-born Loureiro making a home for himself on social media. 

Especially during this past year of lockdown – with Loureiro grounded in his current base of Helsinki, Finland – the guitarist has turned to his Instagram profile and YouTube channel as sounding boards for song ideas, places to teach the occasional string-skipping technique, and just as a way to connect with other players, since meet-and-greets were off the table until Megadeth’s COVID-delayed tour with Lamb of God kicked off in August. 

Getting back to those Instagram comments, it’s that free exchange of ideas that taps into the central theme of Loureiro’s latest instrumental solo album, Open Source. Likening the album to how anyone with internet access can technically contribute to Wikipedia, Loureiro was excited to explore a similar concept with his fifth instrumental solo album. 

He conceived the 11-song Open Source as a project where he could “collaborate with different people from different places.” There’s an argument to be made that this can be said about any album, but Loureiro pushes the concept, like his runs, to the extreme. 

First off, Open Source reunites Loureiro with the thunderous drumming of his former Angra bandmate Bruno Valverde. It also includes jams with contemporary Instagram guitar hero Mateus Asato and Megadeth alum Marty Friedman. 

It’s a record that has Loureiro gleefully diving into progressive shred with melodic finesse (Overflow); floating a wah-soaked vibrato over thrash-tastic territory (Imminent Threat); locking into a raw and chunked-up, eight-string djent percussiveness (Liquid Times, Black Ice); and even working a uniquely cheerful, crossover pop-rock moment with Dreamlike

While the record is as varied as it is vibrant, the guitarist may be even more excited for what could happen with the music next. You see, his album arrangements are just a starting point. 

Taking the open-source concept to heart, Loureiro has since uploaded all the stems online pro bono – from beats to solos – so that adventurous music makers can do with them what they will; he’s already received script-flipping EDM-style remixes of Open Source tracks like E-Dependent Mind

While extremely proud of his latest solo release, his first since 2012’s Sounds of Innocence, its ideas are meant to outgrow the confines of its original 52-minute framework.

“It’s more, like, ‘power to the people,’ you know? Do whatever you want,” Loureiro says of the flux nature of the LP. “The rock-star attitude is, ‘I’m the best, here’s my music. Nobody is better than me.’ A modern attitude would be, ‘This is what I’m able to do now, [so] here are all the tracks.’ I’m sure somebody’s going to come up with an incredible idea.”

That’s not to say the guitarist hasn’t laid out some brilliant choices of his own across Open Source. Loureiro’s playing is palpably wide open and free, the instrumental pieces exploring all the jaw-dropping, technical whimsy the guitarist has accrued across 30-plus years of professional shreddery. 

That bag of tricks is secondary to Open Source’s overall songcraft, though. “Well, the technique – slides, bends, hybrid picking, tapping, alternate picking – it’s all there, you know? But I was really putting my effort into the compositions, the melodies,” he says. 

“There are some difficult sections in there, but my goal was, ‘How can I balance the melodic sensibility with some flashy, fancy technical things?’ I’m always afraid to be this boring guitar player, just playing fast all the time. I like the shred world, but I want to be melodic [too].” 

To that end, Open Source’s plethora of hummable moments include the neo-classical guitarmonies of Overflow and the lyrical, rafters-reaching pop-metal motifs within Sertão. Dreamlike, a yearning, mid-tempo outlier full of organ-saturated tones and soulfully spacious bends, works more of a John Mayer vibe than what you may normally expect from a master shredder. 

On the technical side of things, however, Open Source’s most complex moment may be the knuckle-snapping fretboard crawl on the aforementioned E-Dependent Mind – Loureiro’s YouTube channel explained as much via his “The hardest phrase on my new single” video upload. As he notes in the step-by-step breakdown, the mercurial phrase had been written and recorded on piano before being doubled with his six-string. 

“I’m using kind of a pentatonic on the piano, but I was playing it slower [when it was first written],” he further explains to Guitar World. “My [original] idea was to have only the piano, but then I thought maybe not – then it’d sound more like Dream Theater. I don’t know… it’s a guitar album. It has to have guitar!” 

Having recorded the album just a few blocks away from the Bogner factory in Los Angeles, Loureiro rotated between the company’s Shiva, Ecstasy and Helios heads. That said, he chose an EVH 5150 III for Open Source’s chunkiest rhythm sections. In terms of the guitars, he put an arsenal of Ibanez axes to work. 

Some of the album’s most soaring moments are courtesy of his trusted Ibanez signature – a deep green KIKO-200 and an OG, black-and-red KIKO-100 – though elsewhere he turned to an RG Prestige 7. He played an eight-string Ibanez RG852MPB for the chewier, djent-like grooves of Liquid Times but switched back to six strings for its sustained high notes, harmonic ring-outs and soft-touch trem bar work.

Liquid Times is also home to a 30-second guest spot from Asato, with the social media wunderkind going supernova in his section with a series of dives, compound sweeps and bluesier slides. Having himself crossed over into the world of social media, Loureiro was glad to connect with one of Instagram’s most prolific influencers. 

“He represents the modern guitar player, the guy that has a mosaic of one-minute musical ideas on his Instagram. It took me a few years to understand that this is an art form,” Loureiro says of Asato’s online etiquette, at least before the younger guitarist put himself on a so-far temporary Instagram hiatus at the beginning of 2021.

The title of Liquid Times is a comment on the “here today, gone tomorrow” aesthetic of Instagram, where moments of inspiration can be pulled offline with the push of a button.

“Recording an album is such a stressful time, because you have to decide who you are in that one hour [of music], and you cannot [take it] back,” he says. “The Instagram posts you can just delete, right? How many times have you seen people say stupid stuff, and then they just delete the post? That’s liquid time. I cannot delete Open Source. It’s here forever; that’s my stamp as an artist.” 

Though Loureiro has become a prolific poster in his own right, it’s fair to say he still has some reservations about the online world. He points to people, like his friend Asato, getting burned out on being connected 24/7. Let’s not forget that there are trolls tucked under countless crevasses of the online landscape, faceless figures looking to pit Loureiro and his contemporaries against each other. 

Kiko Loureiro of Megadeth

(Image credit: Joseph Branson/Future)

“One of the worst things about the internet is how people are comparing you with other guitarists,” he says. “I’m exaggerating, but for the past five years, most phrases on the internet that have ‘Kiko’ and ‘Megadeth’ in them have ‘Marty Friedman’ in the same paragraph, right? ‘I prefer Kiko!’ or ‘I prefer Marty!’ 

“I thought the greatest message [to send out] would be to have Marty Friedman [on the record], not only because he was the Megadeth guy, but to show that music is not a competition. The best way to show that I’m into this open-source, collaborative vibe is to bring the guy over as a guest.” 

Loureiro notes that he’s been a fan of Friedman for decades, but they hadn’t met IRL until Loureiro invited Friedman out for lunch while Megadeth were touring Japan in 2015. The guitarists talked about music for hours – without ever actually talking about their respective tenures in Megadeth. 

It hadn’t dawned on Loureiro at the time to compare notes, though he did eventually fire off a video tribute to Friedman’s legendary run with Megadeth.

“I remember sending him a video of [myself playing] Tornado of Souls, because people use it as a benchmark,” he recalls with a laugh. “I sent it to him and he was like, ‘Oh… cool!’” The pair’s collaborative Imminent Threat may be Open Source’s most frantic, go-for-the-throat moment. 

Loureiro explains that the song was crafted late into the album’s production, after the guitarist realized the collection “was missing that fast shred song.” For his part, Loureiro rifles off a series of wired-and-inspired runs, judding metal rhythms and wah-obliterated phrases.

Mid-song, Friedman taps in with a fiery display of shred theatrics (“It’s not easy to compose a solo when the chords are changing so much – it’s a modal harmony there”). While currently promoting Open Source, Loureiro is also in Megadeth mode, with the Big Four favorites getting closer to unveiling the follow-up to 2016’s Grammy-winning Dystopia

Pre-production began in 2019, but those plans were put on pause when Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with throat cancer. Following his treatment and recovery, the band went back on the road in early 2020, but then, of course, COVID hit. 

More recently, the band faced another roadblock after dismissing founding bassist Dave Ellefson following the online leak of sexually explicit videos the musician sent to a teenage fan. Megadeth are in the midst of a fall tour with Lamb of God, with James LoMenzo resuming low-end duties.

That said, the basic tracking for the 16th Megadeth album is complete, though Loureiro has punched in the occasional flourish as late as this spring. While relatively mum on the specifics of his second album with the band, Loureiro notes that, as with Dystopia, he does have a few co-writing spots on the record. 

He’ll also concede that some songs have a “rock ’n’ roll” vibe to them, arguably along the lines of Countdown to Extinction opener Skin o’ My Teeth. Suiting that old-school heaviness, Loureiro kept his eight-string in the case. 

“There aren’t any eight-string guitars, because that’s not the concept of the band. I can explore that [on my own] – but I believe a band is more of a conceptual thing. When I’m there with Megadeth, it’s, ‘How can I be as aggressive and heavy as possible without cheating?’” he says with a laugh. “I remember recording Dystopia [and saying], ‘Hey, Dave, let’s put a drop D [in there].’ He didn’t want it. I remember recording it to show him the idea, but it’s not on the album. He was right; it would’ve sounded like somebody else.”

Gregory Adams

Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.