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Animals As Leaders’ Tosin Abasi says he has “flirted with the idea” of making a blues album

Tosin Abasi
(Image credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM)

Tosin Abasi is known in these parts as a guitarist of brilliant yet unorthodox gifts, a player whose technicality and design acumen has extended what is possible from the electric guitar

But what if we told you he had considered making a blues album? And that he was taking online guitar lessons, learning from the likes of Oz Noy and Joe Bonamassa?

Well, that is indeed the case. Speaking to Premier Guitar alongside fellow Animals As Leaders guitarist Javier Reyes, Abasi admitted that he had been playing the blues, and that the idea of a blues album appealed to him.

“I was trying to work on my weak points, and I’m not a blues player, so I bought some blues lessons from Oz Noy, Josh Smith, and Ariel Posen,” said Abasi. “I’m still doing that. Joe Bonamassa just released some TrueFire stuff that’s really good.”

Of course, there would be more 5s, 7s and 8s on the tab notation than he might be used to seeing, but Abasi knows the material, having played blues for a paying audience when jamming some B.B. King with Joe Satriani, Guthrie Govan, Mike Keneally and friends at the G4 Experience.

When asked if there would be any boomer bends on his next album, Abasi said, 'Why not?'

“Bro, I’m bending on the album a little! On the next one, I think you will!,” said Abasi. “I’ve flirted with the idea of doing a blues album – which sounds funny to say – but I would put a twist on it. It’s kind of a novelty to me, but the constraint is fun to work with and to see where I can get creative within that box is an interesting idea.”

Abasi is the kind of player from whom we have learned to expect the unexpected, but what he might do within a blues framework would be fascinating – as would the idea of Catfish Blues being performed, or reimagined, on his Abasi Concepts eight-string.

Maybe he would call up something more old-school; for Animals As Leaders’ new album Parrhesia, he already has, with both Abasi and Reyes reaching for a Gibson Les Paul as an alternate to their signature guitars from Abasi Concepts and ESP respectively.

Perhaps the arc of the guitar universe is bending towards such synergies, that the tools fashioned in the ‘5os could truly be applied to new 21st century styles, and vice-versa, with the post-shred techniques of the progressive player being used to reimagine one of the electric guitar’s earliest styles.

That was the case with the guitar amps on Parrhesia. Typically, Animals As Leaders would use amp modelers and plugins. This time it was tube amps. Again, old-school tech brought to bear on a 21st-century style. 

But in what is sure to add some juice to the amp modelers vs solid-state vs tube amp debate, Abasi admitted that the tube amp and a mic’d cabinet simply sounded better. Once they had A/B’d both the plugin tones and those of the hardware tube amp, it was the latter that won out. Everything got tracked again.

“We found that particularly in the low-mids and the lower frequencies there was just a different character to a mic on a loud cab,” Abasi told Premier Guitar. “We objectively decided that we were getting more life out of the recorded tones and we were happier with the behavior in the low end.”

With Reyes admitting that 95 percent of the guitars on Parrhesia were physical amps, what does this mean for the Fractal Axe-Fx and Neural DSP plugins that Animals As Leaders would typically lean on? The internet will surely have its say, but then it’s all about what sounds right in the room.

Parrhesia is out now via Sumerian Records.

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Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.