Ultimate Guitar - Interview - July 2008
Dan Sindel: 'There Is A Lot Of Power For The Independent Musician Nowadays'
Interview by Samuel Agini
Since his inspired inspiring showing at the Winter NAMM in January, Dan Sindel has progressed from strength to strength, his recent symphonic tribute to John Philip Sousa even being reviewed on this very website. Reviewing Dan’s tribute to one of America’s greatest composers was an unique experience that has broadened my perspective of music, and I can only testify to Dan’s ebullience in the process.
In this revealing interview, he discussed the recording of the tribute album, the 80s LA Metal scene, death and inspiration amongst a variety of topics, in the process revealing his intelligence and humorous personality.
UG: Dan, it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you. Growing up, how much inspiration did you take from interviews with musicians, more specifically, guitarists?
Dan: Well first off (without sounding too much like a politician) this is an honor and a privilege and I really thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share with you and the Ultimate Guitar readers. Ultimate-guitar.com is an amazing website with a wealth of knowledge and from what I can see, a very active membership and friendly community!
Interesting opening question, how much inspiration did I take from interviews with musicians, more specifically, guitarists? Well back in the day when I first started playing guitar at age 14 (I am going to date myself right off the bat, LOL), which was around 1976, things were way different back then. Obviously there was no internet and the only outside information one could glean from was pretty much “Guitar Player” magazine, sure there was Circus, Hit Parader and Creem magazine and they all offered a unique angle on the bands that ruled the day. But yeah, I could not wait to read up on what these guys were thinking and what kind of gear they used and maybe even cop a riff or two if they diagramed or notated it. I still have an old box in the garage and I am still holding on to my copies of Guitar Player with Steve Howe, Eddie Van Halen, Ace Frehley and Randy Rhoads on the cover, guys like that just seemed larger than life.
When I was first starting to play and was being introduced to all the different bands by my friends and their older brothers honestly I could not absorb enough information. Back then as limited as it was compared to the “information age” we are in today you really had to rely on who was listening to what and why, of course I am positive that still holds true although today all you have to do is boot up your computer, surf around myspace or something and the world is at your fingertips. I do not know how many kids realize how different it was even 15 years ago.
Is it just music that inspires you, or do you find motivation in art, books, or any other area?
The age old question, ”does art imitate life or does life imitate art?” I find inspiration in all areas of life whether it be recreational, scholastic or in the realms of conversation or personal relationships. I do not listen to a lot of music these days just for the sake of “being inspired” not that I am jaded in any manner but my day to day focus remains on the usual responsibilities of keeping ones head above the water and when I am networking on the web music is mostly background. Although once in awhile while working on the PC I find my self dropping what I am doing and paying attention to a certain melody or theme that is captivating or for whatever reason if I think of song that fits the mood of the moment I search my drive or box of CD’s and call it up but to draw a definitive answer as far as what motivates me is difficult.
When did you first realize that music was to be your chosen career path?
For starters, I was handed a trumpet in the 4th grade and begun playing music around 9 years old and much to the delight of my neighbors (who probably wanted to kill me). I would wake up around 6am on a Sunday morning to blast revelry to start their day off the right way and that is when I probably got a taste of how playing an instrument could affect people for better or worse!
I am not sure if music really was supposed to be my “chosen” career path and ironically at 45 I still feel like a kid wondering what he is “going to be” when he grows up... I was quite the rebel growing up, like many casualties of the school system I hated being force fed someone else’s point of view and agenda so I did not really apply myself to getting good grades although I did get an “A” in music and ceramics…
With all that said I think it is fair to say that when I really wanted to apply myself I excelled but in the formative years when I was supposed to do the “proper thing” and get good grades, go on to college, get a degree, end up with a wife, house with white picket fence and 2.3 kids that has not quite manifested. So on the outside wall is where I met all the other misfits in life, really begun my life/musical education and started playing in a bunch of high school bands and so it went, and the rest is history.
Dan, you have been making waves recently, what with your appearance at Winter NAMM in January 2008, and the subsequent release of your tribute to John Sousa; how did you get a spot at NAMM?
Oh the NAMM show, now were talking! For me that was a dream come true in regards to being invited to perform there. By trade I am a computer/web guy and one of the companies I was helping part time is called Total Brand Delivery (TBD) and they service the music industry’s printing, promotional and distribution needs with huge clients like the Guitar Center, Line6 etc… and they always show their support and take a booth at NAMM and they had in the past few years graciously provided me a pass to get into NAMM and after a year or 2 of walking around and watching everyone else have their fun I politely asked TBD if they were interested in having a bit of fun at the show and allow me to play along with my CD at their booth and I was so appreciative that they agreed and another amazing turn of events (although this does not imply an endorsement) was that after a series of events Line6 rose to the occasion and provided a brand new “out-of-the-box” Spider Valve (with the Bogner Power section) for me to play through at the show, Wow what an amp!!
As an added bonus since I was their with my guitar and networking all throughout the show I was invited to play at Glyph Hard Drive’s booth as well as ColoRiffic Custom Pickguard’s booth. And these impromptu performances were rather funny as I was playing through one of those $20 Rocktron VG05 battery operated amps clipped to my belt (you know those little 5 watt battery operated amps), it was rather hilarious to see the looks on peoples faces… My next ambition is to play at the NAMM Breakfast, which seems like so much fun to be part of and a great honor as well.
How significant is NAMM to the progress of guitar-orientated music?
Great question, and although I am no way qualified to act as a NAMM representative but from an outsiders point of view I do believe the main focus is on the manufactures introducing the newest gear to the buyers and all the hoopla and pageantry is secondary which I have heard is a growing concern as it has turned into an absolute circus with 70,000 – 80,000 people attending on Saturday which is the BIG Day and it is becoming harder for the exhibitors to conduct business when you have tens of thousands of people testing out the gear like a Guitar Center on steroids, it is pretty intense! A few years ago I was in the Gibson booth and to my absolute horror I saw a “brand new SG” just lying there on the floor and people were kicking it as they went by because the room was so crowded and I picked it up and presented it to one of the Gibson reps and this elder gentlemen had such a disgusted look on his face and the next year when I went to go visit the Gibson booth they had changed the rules big time as “no one” was allowed into their room unless invited and I am pretty sure it was because at least in part of that poor SG being abused…
These days NAMM seems like one big shred-fest and one cannot walk away unaffected as you are exposed to some of the greatest talents, discovered and undiscovered walking the face of the earth. After witnessing such major talents like Doyle Dykes, Johnny Hiland, Muriel Anderson, Rusty Cooley, Gary Hoey, John Mayer, Phil Keaggy and on an on, I found myself so inspired that for the next 5 weeks after the show I was still buzzing and only wanted to sit there and play my guitar, nothing else! So going back to your question on motivation I would definitely put NAMM at the top of my list, checking out all the new gear and witnessing so much talent under one roof is so much fun it should be illegal!
You describe your approach to playing the guitar as 'symphonic'. Of course, this is by no means a new term, but can you describe symphonic guitar music from your position as the musician behind it?
Yes, I think this a great time to officially go on record that in fact I had nothing to do with coining the term “Symphonic Guitars” and I am not really sure of its true origin but interestingly enough when I was studying with Ted Greene (R.I.P.) he handed me tons of lesson sheets and I was looking back through some of my old lesson plans there Ted was making some references to that term being used in the 1940’s Jazz era which made me think maybe someone’s playing style like George Van Eps who could actually play 4 part harmony like no one’s business fell into that category. I believe that term also carries over into guitar ensemble performances where the repertoire is baroque/classical concentric. If anyone knows for sure I would love to hear about it.
It is a funny story, I was being interviewed about 2 years ago by Fearless Radio when I was in the process of just figuring things out and still a bit intimidated about sharing my mp3s on the net and the question pretty much came up “how you would describe your music?” and for the lack of anything better I pretty much figured there I was recreating all these classical (Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and Grieg etc.) compositions and other symphonic arrangements so I just ran with “Symphonic Guitars” as it seemed quite appropriate and fitting.
As previously noted you have become known for your symphonic approach to guitar playing; just what is it about John Philip Sousa that influenced your decision to record your magnificent tribute album?
That is a mystery is it not? Perhaps it was just a logical progression, after tackling some fairly complex scores like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons - The Spring I felt it was time to move on to the next challenge and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought how cool and unusual it would be to actually attempt pulling of the conductors score for a “marching band” of all things. I thought about it for a while and it seemed quite evident that no one else to my knowledge went down that road before at least in the sense of really playing each band instrument with a separate guitar track. The main section that started the whole ball rolling were the trills in “Semper Fi” just after the drum cadence, on my own throughout the previous years I always seemed to noodle around that phrase and in my head wondered how to put all the parts together but I never really knew the right notes and just monkeyed around like I always do on guitar, I always seem to gravitate to little phrases and themes when I practice without ever truly knowing the whole song.
I grew up playing Trumpet, French horn and Trombone in all the school bands and orchestras from grade school, junior high and all through high school. Yes even for a semester I paraded around the track on Friday nights in the marching band while my annoying friends shouted stupid things due to me wearing that silly uniform (do any of you relate to this?). Therefore, I had an insider’s view of how a full orchestra or marching/concert band attempts to become unified and play as a unit. Armed with these experiences I started on my path and, after some diligent research the project was underway.
I contacted the Sousa Archives at the University of Illinois where they have one of the most magnificent historical archives of the works and manuscripts of John Philip Sousa and they were kind enough to Xerox about six or seven titles of the scores I was looking for. When the scores finally arrived it was amazing, there were actual copies of John Philip Sousa works, one of the greatest composers of all time sitting right there in my room. I could not believe my own eyes, all scores written in his hand, just unbelievable. Sadly I could not use half of the material as some scores were incomplete, missing pages or the way the arrangements were scored they did not really resemble the performances we are used to hearing these days so I had to further refine my search and found various sheet music houses who did in fact hold on to conductor scores for the marches I wanted to try and record.
Getting back to the original question, why did I further commence recording Sousa’s music? You know, at first I thought I went overboard as I usually do by ordering all these scores when I was not sure if I could even make it through half of one, but as I was breaking ground and learning the parts and really looking at the scores with a discriminating eye I found that John Philip Sousa’s approach to melody, harmony, contrary motion, counterpoint and syncopation was unparalleled in genius that no one in my humble opinion has come even close to matching as far as pure imagination, elegance and fanfare. By building the back end of the instrumentation first (e.g. the French horns and bass lines etc) I quickly became aware of how subtle some of these lines were but so foundationally important and one thing I made sure of when it came time to mix was to emphasize certain passages and instrumentation that you normally do not hear up front as most concert band/symphonic performances of Sousa music follow a standard rigor and bring forth the most familiar phrases, we sort of turned the songs upside down and inside out at times. There are a lot of hidden surprises if you listen closely enough. Take the “Liberty Bell” for example, that mix is astonishing as you can hear so many little things going on that you might have never known existed before. My engineer Bruno Canale (Brian Welsh of Korn, Alex Acuna) did such a beautiful job of talking almost 50 raw tracks of acoustic instruments and turned it into a sonic joy ride!
Having listened to, and reviewed the tribute album, I was immediately struck by the depth of the recording. The guitar tracks bounce off each other, and, in a marvelous manner, the listener truly hears something new upon every listen. Just how difficult was it to lay down all those tracks?
This was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my musical experience, there were times when I felt like quitting and realistically question my sanity and asking myself “do I really love this stuff that much?” for example on “The Stars and Stripes Forever” the flute and piccolo parts on the ending section almost put me in the Looney bin… Logistically, these parts are not meant to be played on a stringed instrument such as a guitar, wind players only have to twiddle their fingers a little bit and concentrate on their breath control to hit all the octaves and maneuver through the passage but to efficiently hit these notes at the velocity and tempo of the song was near impossible for me; it took over a week just to find the correct geometry and a pathway my fingers could work towards. After a week’s time I finally hit the mark and was so excited that I was actually hitting the phrase I pressed record and was feeling good about it so I recorded it 7 times in a row and hit it each time! To me that was a milestone in my musicianship but in the end “what does not kill you only makes you stronger” (Interviewer’s note: That’s Friedrich Nietzsche, if you were wondering) and I truly do feel my musicianship has been raised a few notches and I am getting a little bit better in my sight reading and transposition skills as well which is a nice bonus.
My analogy is this “even an Olympic athlete has a trainer to guide and coach them and help them grow beyond the capacity of where they could on there own” and I give all those props as an “Musical Olympic trainer” to my friend Khaliq Glover who is a Grammy award winning engineer. He has worked with artists such as Michael Jackson, Marcus Miller, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock & Joss Stone. In the beginning of the project I was in the “scratch track” pre production mode, just getting a feel for one of the tunes and testing out some sounds and it was a terrible mess, just horrible! Khaliq came over, spent a few evenings with me, and really straightened me out in so many areas of the recording process. Me being so novice as a pro tools engineer Khaliq gave me the shot gun approach as to how to address getting better sounds into the computer, how to treat my the room I was recording in so it did not “sound” like a bathroom with all the reverb flutters that were killing my articulation of notes which became so evident after he put me through the process of isolating one track, listening to the ambience of the performance, then bringing up a second track and then listening to the ambience of those tracks together and by the third track the sound was swimming in reverb and it was already getting way out of hand. Khaliq also pointed out the hot spots where I was not paying enough attention to the percussion and turned my head around in respects to how to record properly meaning, If I had already recorded ten tracks of guitar, mute them all and record with only the percussion and possibly the bass lines and keep a very close tentative ear to the syncopation of the drums. After these evenings of Khaliq helping correct a few acquired bad habits and enlightening me with so much new information on how to get the best performance in to the deck I was ready to go!
How much did you enjoy working with Rick Shlosser (whose performance and recording credits include Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, and Chuck Berry to name but a few)?
Just poetry in motion, say no more! Watching Rick go to work in the studio was an absolute treat and confirms exactly why he has played on so many gold and platinum albums and hired by the biggest names in the industry. Rick basically walked in with a 4 piece kit, a 1940’s 28” Ludwig Bass Drum, an old snare from the 40’s as well and a tom or 2 and just killed it. We went into the control room and I played him a few mp3’s of the Navy Band playing Sousa while Rick looked at the drum charts and after a quick listen he just nonchalantly said “okay let’s do it”, meanwhile I am biting my nails thinking “oh man I hope this works” being that I was strapped for cash, was on the clock and he had never rehearsed these parts… go figure!
So here I am a bundle of nerves and the engineer John Prpich (RADD Sound) just looks at me without saying a word and says “man you just wait, this is going to ROCK!” Needless to say, Rick went to work and just nailed these parts as if he had played them all his life and both John and I had our jaws dropped to the ground as we were stunned by how precise and how much control Rick had over his snare. Another cool bit of info is that Rick actually multi tracked the percussion which falls right in line with how I built up all the instrumentation with the guitars, he started with the Bass drum and then did his snares then came around with open hi-hats and emulated the crash symbols and after a few passes and snare overdubs it sounded like an entire drum line!
What sort of ideas do people like Rick bring to the studio, and what is it about them that make them the professionals that they are?
Experience is one of the main factors as well as the “time is money” philosophy and pros like Rick do not waste a precious second of time and get the job done effortlessly. I did not have to coach him or even have to stop him and ask if could try other ideas, he already had the fundamentals in his back pocket. He would stop himself in the middle of a pass and test a few other options out until he had just what he knew would be the best for the song.
Which of your Sousa transcriptions do you feel stands out most concerning the tribute album?
This is a tough answer as each composition offers something unique. “The Washington Post” feels like you are on the 10 yard line of an exciting ball game, “Semper Fi” has its own mystic and energy to it and “The Liberty Bell” in all its glory could almost make you feel like you are in front of the London Philharmonic and then riding a Carousel. Each piece takes you on its own journey. I still have a few tracks in the can that no one has yet heard; they are special, and I cannot wait to share them.
Which specific guitars and amps did you use to generate your distinctive tone on the album, and can you give Ultimate-Guitar readers some background information on deciding which instruments to use?
That’s a long list, I used about 17 different instruments on this project and the guitars ranged anywhere from my ’68 SG, ’77 Flying V, ’60 Strat, Washburn WD32SCE (which I just love), Maggie (a custom guitar built by Willy’s Custom Guitar Repair), a Russian Balalaika, Agile AS820 (ES335 clone) and all the way to my Godin Multiac-ACS Nylon which really sounded awesome on “The Liberty Bell” as I ran it through my Rocktron Prophesy II preamp with various effects and gain structures.
As far as amps I incorporated the Line6 Flextone III, an old 80’s Marshall Lead12, ’78 Marshall MKII 100w super lead w/4x12 cab, Visual Sound’s Workhorse Pony Amp, recorded direct into an Avalon 737sp mic pre and even used those cool little Rocktron VG05’s. I like using software as well like the Sans Amp plug in and other modeling plugs like Amplitube, there are so many plugins on the market now but I have not invested in many of them as of yet.
Experimentation is the name of the game around here and almost anything goes if it sounds decent, still there is a small bit of methodology involved, let’s say I am approaching the tuba part I will find the guitar that is a bit thicker and boomy, crank the strings down a few steps and find the amp tone that somewhat emulates the instrument I am working with and of course my playing has to mimic the way a tuba player would huff and puff so there is some adaptation involved. If it is the violin part, I will find a tone that sustains nicely and roll of the highs and force myself to play a bit more legato.
Your pedal board must cover an acre of land at the least. Can you guide us through the range of pedals that you use?
You would think! To be honest not really, I do not use tons of pedals. I have learned the cleaner I record my guitars the happier they all live together. If I must print an effect on them, I will but usually it will be very subtle, it is so easy to get phase issues and masking even after four overdubs so you need to be pretty lean on the effects. For live purposes I use just a few, I hate the clutter and like to keep it simple.
The pedals that are my breadwinners are made by Visual Sound (Jekyll & Hyde, Route 66, H20 and Visual Volume); the Jekyll & Hyde and Route 66 pedals are just so gorgeous and I found so many unique tones with just these two pedals. As an experiment as well as thinking along the lines of “product demo”, I recorded for days and never had a problem finding a new unique frequency to work with using the VS pedals.
I also employ the Rocktron Prophesy II preamp quite frequently as it has a real nice sound and is pretty easy to use, also the first generation Line6 pedals (DL4, DM4, FM4, MM4) and I still have some old MXR pedals left over from the old days… I also heavily relied on the Peterson StroboFlip Tuner, that thing is deadly accurate and when stacking so many guitars on top of each other it sure helped to have a tuner as accurate as that.
Which guitarists—both past and present--do you most admire concerning usage of effects pedals?
With regards to pedal use to just name a few: Alex Lifeson, Robin Trower, Frank Marino, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, David Gilmore, Jimi Hendrix. In reality, most of my favorite players do not rely on too many effects and just get to business on the fretboard with a nice range of tones from their amps and maybe a small hint of delay or chorus/flange.
Are there any guitarists today with whom you would particularly wish to work?
The question is “would they want to work with me”. Seriously, I don’t know. I have not thought that far ahead, I am so focused on trying to get my project completed it does become a bit tunnel vision. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to join an already established touring act and hit the road that is always an option if the right opportunity presents itself. TSO seems like a pretty good gig!
Symphonic guitar music cannot be replicated live. Discuss.
Well it could if I was able to wrangle up about 30 guitarists who would promise not show off, arpeggio sweep, dive on their whammy bar, improvise, finger tap, diddle with hammer ons and pull offs and just play the notes written on the page with a passion in the best interest of being in a ensemble environment… that does not leave us with many options now does it… What a nightmare, could you imagine the chaos?
Hey have you heard that old joke (Q:) “How do you make a guitar player shut up?” (A:) “Put a chart in front of him!” (C’mon guys laugh you know it’s true) Honestly, I knew that going into this project that this is something that could not be pulled off in a live situation and is a very niche, un-commercial endeavor that perhaps only a minute percentage of folks would understand or even enjoy, but to my amazement for whatever reason it is being enjoyed by more people then I ever imagined which to me is astonishing.
My performance at NAMM was the ultimate test as to whether or not it would it work in a live setting with me just playing along to the CD karaoke style, which I figured would fly for about 12 seconds but once again I was amazed to see that after 10 minutes (3 songs) people were still hanging around and smiling and having a good time so my doubts and fears were set aside and yes indeed I would go out and do that again if the situation were correct.
You endorse world-renowned brands, including Seymour Duncan, Godin, and Washburn, to name a few; when and how did these relationships come about?
Another byproduct of attending NAMM! Over the past few years I have armed myself to the teeth with 1000’s of demo CD’s and approached many of the leading manufactures and asked if they would be interested in working with an independent/unsigned artist on a grassroots level and some said yes, many said no and I am still working on a few of them and yet again I was completely overwhelmed to find that many of these industry insiders were really enjoying the music and my approach to recording guitars and were happy to bring me onboard as an endorsee.
Truthfully I always thought endorsements were held for the biggest names in the biz but this is quite the positive indicator that the dynamic has changed and there is quite a lot of power and opportunity for the independent musician these days, so if any of you guys are on the fence about approaching the companies from my experience the door is open and they are willing to see what you have to bring to the table. My philosophy is “no one is knocking going to knock on my door so I better hit the pavement and start knocking myself” because no one is going to do it for me. I have always been quite the self-starter when motivated.
"During the mid 80’s, “The Metal Years” of Los Angeles, Dan was in one of the "premiere" top bands on the local circuit and shared the stage with many national acts such as: Wendy O. Williams, King Diamond, Armored Saint, Grim Reaper, Racer X, Flotsam & Jetsam, Metal Church etc…" Which local bands did you feature in, and what, from and insider's perspective was it about the 'The Metal Years' that was so special?
Oh yes, sorry about the omission that was quoted straight from the myspace bio? I have been meaning to update that verbiage. Nice catch! Absolutely the band was called “Stone Soldier” and we had a pretty good run and were considered somewhat of local metal heroes at the time. We were quite fortunate to share the stage with some huge National and local acts as well as headline the clubs on our own accord. The “Metal Years” as they have been dubbed were a special time here in LA and sadly, I do not ever see it coming back. There was an intense surplus of talent and sense of community and people were still hitting the clubs no matter who was playing.
The club scene these days is pretty dead, almost no one goes out to see a live band anymore and the only bands out here that make any money are the guys who put on a wig, dress up like someone else and play in a tribute band, it is a terrible disease! But the last years of LA being a thriving community were The “Metal Years and by about 1987 Glam snuck up on us and all the tough guys that were playing metal were now wearing their sisters clothing, the “pay to play” rule was now firmly in place which was another nail in the coffin to the once thriving club scene and to be honest people were getting burned out by band members always having to sell “x” amount of tickets to their ever diminishing roster of friends. Not to mention the Hollywood Sheriffs were on a massive campaign to sweep Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. of the riff raff and that was a deterrent for a lot of people who wanted to party on the strip.
Of the above listed bands, which guitarists struck as having that little bit extra in terms of technique?
Paul Gilbert & Bruce Bouillet (Racer X) were quite the pair and my dear friends Dave Pritchard (R.I.P) and Phil Sandavol (Armored Saint) worked very well together and it was always special to see them play.
The 80s was arguably an era of disastrous proportions regarding fashion; latex and long hair, or did you just play the guitar?
I played the guitar with long hair! Quite frankly I never saw long hair as a “fashion” but more of an “anti-fashion” stance, most guys who had long hair in the 80’s (before the disastrous proportions of the “GLAM” era) were usually despondent trouble makers with something to prove but yeah a lot of band guys kind of had that girly thing going on which did ruin it for most others in that respect. Stone Soldier was the ultimate “metal” wrecking machine” where we partied extremely hard and played thrash/power metal with a take no prisoners attitude that was more in line with bands like Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer etc… Now for whatever reason these aforementioned bands are referred to as “hair bands”, so yeah, even a reference to having long hair back then was fighting words where we came from and could earn a punch in the nose… How times have changed!
You took part in XPELD vocalist, Jeff Lenhardt's last show. How close to Jeff, and what can you tell Ultimate Guitar readers about a man who passed on so prematurely that would typify him, other than his distinctive voice?
What a tragedy, I was just getting to really know Jeff and 3 months prior to his passing, I started to sit in with XPELD on a regular basis and it almost felt as if he might have asked me to officially join the band. I met Jeff several years ago at John Prpich’s studio (RADD Sound) where I was working with John and engineer Phil Moore on “Excerpts From Handel’s Messiah”. When my session was almost over Jeff would be waiting to bring his mixes up and get to work on the XPELD record (the one with all the guest artists: members of YES, Black Sabbath/Dio, Quiet Riot, WASP etc.) and it was so cool to hang out afterwards because Jeff was such a warm and likeable guy, he really was! He was the kind of guy that never had a bad thing to say about anyone yet had a crazed look in his eye that if you said something wrong you were in for it! It was a real treat to stand there and hear Robin McAuley's voice belting through the studio monitors and Billy Sherwood’s guitar lines soaring. So we became friends and one night after watching XPELD play a set at Paladino’s Night Club, I am not sure what compelled me but I said to him, “you know, I am just about the only person in town who has not jammed with your band” and Jeff just laughed and said “you know what you are right, we are going to have to fix that”.
So in a nutshell that is how I met Jeff and on Sept 28, 2007 Jeff called me at 6pm on the eve of an XPELD show and said “Hey why don’t you bring your rig over and sit in on the song “You Are” with us tonight”, I was so happy about that as it had been a tough day for me and now had something really cool to go out and do… So, as the story goes I went up and played the song with the band, and the video is now up on YouTube as a tribute to Brother Jeff and no one saw it coming. Jeff was on fire that night and he had a certain something about him that night that I had never seen previously, just a spark in his playing and voice that was never present before. Not more than 20 minutes after I jammed with the band and sat down in the audience to watch the rest of the set, Jeff called out for a drum solo, went to the little backstage room and never came back out. After 3 or 4 stop/starts of the drum solo it became a little uncomfortable and obvious something was wrong, someone made the move to see what was wrong as all eyes followed her and she stood their at the doorway in complete shock and horror, we all came running and Jeff was found still standing up, half folded over a couch, clutching his guitar. By the time I made it over Jeff’s body was brought to the ground by the first people to get in the room who tried to revive him but there was no success… It is one of the worst things I have ever witnessed, seeing a friend die right before my eyes who not more than a minute ago was on fire, full of life and rocking hard! As it turns out, Jeff died of congestive heart failure. One thing that can be said is “Jeff went out doing exactly what he loved doing” which is more than most can be said of... R.I.P. my brother. You can still visit XPELD at Myspace.
How far have you come since the first guitar you owned? What was it like, and where is it now?
I would say pretty far but there are still many plateaus to try and reach and one can never learn or practice enough, time permitting, good thing I did all my wood shedding when I was still in my teens because these days there feels like there is not enough time in the day and keeping my chops up or trying to learn something new is a definite challenge and a half!
Wow, my first real guitar was a ‘76 or ‘77 Epiphone Strat, oh how I wished I still had that thing, it probably would have been a collector item by now but no worries I sold it so I could upgrade and buy my ‘68 Gibson SG when I was in High school and you bet I still own her.
What is your first choice guitar today and why?
My ‘68 Gibson, she is my #1 baby! I can sit around for months and play all my other axes and pick up the SG and say “man why even bother with all the others this one fits like a glove” but I like variety to keep me interested so it’s all good! Although I am really starting to fall in love my with ’60 Strat but for live performance I usually grab my Flying V as it is battle proven and never fails me.
Have you ever, or do you still take guitar lessons? How big an influence were your instructors on your style?
Without a doubt, guitar lessons have been everything to me. My very first teacher Philippe Willems got me started learning theory before I could even form a “G” chord. Philippe (Facts of Music®) was in turn a protégé of the Legendary "Chord Chemist" Ted Greene (R.I.P). After a few years studying with Philippe, I was fortunate enough to start taking private lessons with Ted Greene himself and continued to study with Ted on and off for over 20 years."
As far as style is concerned, I don’t know. I pretty much got that growing up as a kid by jamming in a hundred different copy bands and trying to hone in on what my favorite guitar players were doing especially Ritchie Blackmore, when I first hear “Rainbow Rising” that changed the way I played forever, that solo in “Stargazer” still sends chills down my spine. Zep's “Dazed and Confused” from “The Song Remains the Same” was also a cornerstone in visualizing what a guitar could do in the right hands.
You are an extremely accomplished guitar player; can you perhaps outline a practice schedule that you follow? Have you ever subscribed to Petrucci’s Rock Discipline Series, or Steve Vai’s notorious 10-hour work out?
Well I do not want to disappoint anyone but I certainly have no “Rock Discipline” and definitely could not survive a “10-hour work out” whatever that is, sounds painful and could earn a trip to the doctor for carpal tunnel/repetitive motion disorder. In my formative years I could spend all day running scales and exploring the fretboard but honestly these days my practice time is not what it used to be and when I am able to shut off the world and get some guitar time in I like to warm up and run scale patterns and the good old 1234 exercises just to keep the rust off. If there is any quick advice I could offer it is to, “get your triad inversions and triad chord scales in order” as they are the building blocks for many more advanced concepts!
I am just happy as can be to be able to spend some quality time and have fun with my recording gear and do that in the off hours. Now that these songs are gathering some attention and I am fortunate enough to be interviewed by ultimate guitar and other fine publications, perhaps the circumstances will change and I will have other options available to me and be able to focus more on music as I would prefer.
Can you read tab, and have you ever used tab websites such as this one?
I can read tab to some degree although I have always shied away from it for whatever reason, I grew up learning notation and how to read notes on the staff. That is how I like to interpret music: the good old-fashioned way. The way my teachers presented material to me was where we usually looked at the block diagrams or read the notes.
Now don’t get me wrong, of course, tab is a fantastic nomenclature and method of communication between guitarists, without a doubt, but once you need to communicate with other musicians, or want to read some music written for piano, then what do you do? I would encourage all guitarists to have a firm understanding of how to read notes on the staff as it unlocks so many more possibilities and opens up so many new worlds to beautiful music that would be generally undiscovered.
World-class guitarists such as Chris Buono of the Berklee College of Music have committed themselves to a series of video guest lessons exclusive to Ultimate Guitar. Would you consider following suit?
I would, that seems like a lot of fun. If there is something I could possibly offer that has not already been covered and beaten into the ground then yes, let’s explore that possibility shall we?
An on-going debate on the UG forums is that regarding punk, pop rock and metal/shred. Do you, predominantly a technical guitarist, hold respect for, or even listen to bands such as the Sex Pistols, or even bands such as Green Day?
As my teacher Ted Greene would always say, “There is room for it all”, and yes, I love Punk. It captures the raw essence of our human experience and the awesome thing about it is you do not have to be a ‘good’ player in theory to join a band and start making music with your friends. And was that not the whole idea of it in the first place, kids so fed up with 35 minute drum solos and music so grandiose that who in the world could copy it and the whole rock star trip? It levels the playing field and I remember when Punk was pretty much first starting out here in So. Cal, back then it was more of a commitment and a lifestyle. “You’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore…“ (Sorry could not resist that one) Man half those guys were pretty frightening in appearance.
Do you find it irritating that people seem to appreciate simpler music, such as that of the mainstream? How does this limit your ability to be heard on radio stations?
Well let’s face it; the public at large is not interested in being “educated” when it comes to listening to music. The fewer chords you play the more money you make. I do not think many people care how hard it was to play something or how long it took a guy to get to the place he is at in his musical journey. There will always be musicians “musicians” that might matter to practicing musicians but not the general audience. People have enough problems of their own and music acts as an escape for many and that is why popular commercial music is just that, it panders to your wants and needs similar to a finely crafted Madison Avenue ad campaign telling you how much better your life could be with a certain product. Perhaps that is why most commercial music is so retarded and has a shelf life of about 4 - 6 weeks and insults one’s intelligence just as it does when you watch CNN and become assaulted with an endless barrage of useless corporate mumbo jumbo… Sure there are many formulas, metrics, demographics and charts the major labels follow to ‘entertain’ you.
As far as being heard on radio, well there certainly is a whole universe open to the independent musicians through countless internet radio stations and maybe even college radio, but commercial radio is in bed with the RIAA for the most part and you need to be signed by a major or an Indie label with some clout to get into that arena from what I understand.
Finally, what does the long-term future hold for Dan Sindel?
Wow, we made it to the end and it has certainly been a long adventure here and next to giving my last will and testament I have almost shared my entire life’s story with you and the Ultimate Guitar readers. I can not predict the long-term as I have no crystal ball of course, but I have a my goals and dreams like everyone else and I am just taking one day at a time, but each and every day I am working to open up new doors and establish relationships in the industry and meet some new friends along the way on the web. I just started a profile over here at UG so please hop on over and say hello and I will check in from time to time and get back to you. As far as short term goals are concerned I am working steadily on editing and mixing the remaining tracks for the full length CD of “Marching In, Symphonic guitars Vol. 1”, pursuing licensing deals and trying to get my music in TV and Film that seems like a viable outlet for the guitar orchestrations and maybe find a few events to perform locally for the Fourth of July National Holiday.
Thank you for your time and as always looking forward.
Interview by Samuel Agini
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