Watch Alex Skolnick Jam Devo’s “Whip It” On a Couch in Brooklyn

When he’s not playing alongside Duff McKagan in the Guns N’ Roses bassist’s band, Loaded, guitarist Mike Squires likes to sit on his couch in his Brooklyn apartment and jam out to some of his favorite songs. Sometimes, he even invites other musicians, like McKagan or Testament’s Alex Skolnick (who you can check out playing Devo’s “Whip It,” above) to join him. The result is Couch Riffs, one of the more unusual, and also pretty awesome, new guitar series to hit the web.

Below, Squires chats with Guitar World (probably while sitting on his couch) about how Couch Riffs came to be.

How did you come up with the idea for Couch Riffs?

About a year ago I applied for a position with a well-known musical instrument company, and they asked for a video of me casually playing some specific riffs commonly heard in guitar stores. I think I took the “casual” part a little too far (unshowered, shoeless and in sweatpants) and I never heard back from them. But, I had fun making the videos so at the encouragement of my wife, who was being driven a little nuts by my pacing and unfocused energy at the time, I just kept making these videos but with songs that I wanted to play. It slowly developed to having guests and now there’s even a podcast. I really feel like Couch Riffs is still in its infancy and has tons of potential. But, above all, it’s fun for me to do. 

How do you structure each episode?

Well, Couch Riffs is a first take performance video series, period. I push record on the camera and that first take is what gets posted. I try to nudge guests toward a song that I hope is interesting and unexpected to their fans. That’s fun for me, and for the most part my guests are into it, too. Lastly, I try to create a situation where it’s only the two of us in the room for the performance and video/podcast recording to maintain a very casual and personal vibe. I think it works!

Tell us a bit about your background and experience as a professional guitarist.

I moved to Seattle in the early Nineties, when people were going bananas there. I played in lots of club bands before landing in some touring acts like Harvey Danger, Alien Crime Syndicate, the Long Winters and, lastly, with Duff McKagan’s Loaded. I did all the rock ‘n roll stuff I dreamed about doing when I was a kid, you know? It was amazing and I feel so happy for those experiences. I played big shows and met lots of folks that I grew up idolizing and have even maintained friendships with some of them. It doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me to sustain a career as a touring musician. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll get a Couch Tour!

Who are some of the musicians you’ve had on your couch, and how do you choose the songs that you perform together?

It’s been a mix of folks that I’ve known previously and people that I’ve reached out to, blindly cold-calling them because I think it would be cool to play together and hear their stories. I have lots of exciting folks already committed to shooting future Couch Riffs episodes when their touring brings them near, as well. I’m really very happy and excited about it. So far I’ve had both well- and lesser-known music folks like Duff McKagan, Matt Sweeney, Alex Skolnick, Dave Rude, Brad Houser, Timo Ellis, Acey Slade and Shane Enholm on the couch. My heart is set on having a very diverse set of guests in the future, which means stepping outside the straight-white-male set when I’m able to, and also including musicians from other career backgrounds like athletes, actors and anyone with a killer story and some level of skill to play music, as well as a great attitude for fun. For all I know the Fire Chief at my local volunteer hall is a shredding guitarist with some great stories about a former life as a merchant marine. I want that guest, too!

As for the songs, sometimes I have a specific idea that I really push, sometimes we go back and forth to pick one together, and sometimes it is spontaneous and we pick it right before we learn it and film it. It’s a little bit different each time. 

Guitar World readers can check out the Couch Riffs episode with Alex Skolnick above. How did that one come together?

I was pretty nervous at first because he’s an absolute legend. I met him for about 15 seconds a couple months earlier and our mutual friend, comedian Derek Sheen, helped connect us. At the time Alex lived a short walk away from me in Brooklyn and he came over and filmed right after my shoot with Matt Sweeney. Alex was so cool from our very first communications, and when I gently pitched the idea of picking a “fun and unexpected” song he started throwing out ones that were oddballs and popular when he was in school. He actually suggested “Whip It” and I was immediately for it. Alex was super-easy, fun and a humble and humorous guy. My type of person, for sure! And, holy crap, he’s a player! 

Where can people go to watch more Couch Riffs?

I post videos almost every week on Instagram, IGTV, Facebook and YouTube. The IG video is a bit shorter, of course, but it’s easy enough to click over and see a full performance/vlog episode there with IGTV now. I’m launching a podcast from the unedited conversation recordings, as well. You can find them on all of your favorite podcast platforms like Apple, Spotify, and Google. I may diversify to having podcast episodes that aren’t tied to performance guests, as well. That would open things up quite a bit for me.

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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.