I'm on vacation with my family in Disney World when I get an interesting email from Prosthetic Records.
Apparently 14 string guitar whiz Felix Martin was coming to St. Louis and if I hadn't see him "tapping his way" through town, I should check it out.
Well, as a guitarist and a fan of instrumental guitar, I was confused that I had never heard of this fellow.
I do enjoy tapping, sweeping, riffing, and any other gerund that describes instrumental guitar, but Martin is very different than most of those guys. The only contemporaries of theirs I can name would be Tosin Abasi's, Animals As Leaders. Jazz, metal, funk, fusion, they both have this in common, but instead of two guitarists and a drummer, Martin is two guitarists, and he's supported by bassist, Killian Duarte, and drummer, Phil Galatioto.
Martin and Duarte both were good enough to sit down with me and answer some questions.
Glacially Musical: The first thing I want to know is why the double neck?
Felix Martin: It's actually only got one neck, but it's got two guitars in one and that makes 14 strings. It's got two seven string guitars in one.
I started playing when I was like 13..two guitars at the same time. I had an Ibanez, a cheap Ibanez and a Fender. I used to play them both at the same time. It wasn't very comfortable.
GM: Did you have them on top of each other?
FM: No. One with a strap, standing, and the other one on a table. I didn't have a stand. I just got a table from like the kitchen.
What I did after awhile was to build, well I didn't build it, I designed a guitar with the luthiers, to be two guitars in one. It allows me to see everything better and it's like another instrument.
It's still a guitar, but another instrument from the guitar.
GM: So you started playing off two guitars at one time and into designing a guitar that had both of them to be more comfortable?
FM: Yeah, that's basically it. More comfortable. If you have two guitars with the same sound, there are like a million possibilities you can do with them. You can play two chords at the same time. You can play like an eight finger chord. You cannot play that on a regular guitar. It's a really cool idea I guess.
GM: Why 7 strings? Why not 8?
FM: Actually one of the guitars is two 7 strings and the other one is an 8 string and a 6 string and that makes 14, it's the jazz one and we're building another one that's like a 16 string. Two 8 strings.
In the future, but I don't want to talk too much about it, but a 9 string and a 7 string together to make 16.
The idea isn't about how many strings, but to play two guitars as one.
GM: What kind of bands did you guys grow up listening to?
Killian Duarte: Everything really. I know me and Felix both have a very heavy progressive rock background. I mean we still love it and it's part of the way our sound is the way it is. We draw from everything. Felix listens to salsa music in the morning and I listen to classical music. Almost everything. I think we try and draw from almost everything we grew up with.
We're both metalheads and we do enjoy that sound. In terms of bands we grew up listening to, I'd want to say everything from traditional Venezuelan music to crazy prog. When you hear us, you hear that there's a lot of crazy styles in it.
FM: From death metal to salsa! From classical music to folk music. That's how I leaned music, from different styles. I remember once at Berkley, the University, I took like a month and transcribed like 60 different styles of world music. From Greece, Hungary, Venezuela, I really like to learn from many styles.
GM: The closest I can describe what you guys do is Animals As Leaders...
KD: They're awesome.
FM: They're really good. They're like the same style progressive metal. We kind of mix progressive metal with other styles. They've got some Latin influences too.
We're a similar style. I hope the scene keeps growing. I hope one day, we can have our own progressive metal instrumental scene.
GM: There's always been an instrumental scene in America, but it's nothing like what you guys are doing now.
FM: It's just the new generation I guess.
GM: What I really like about it is that it's highly technical, but not like Vai or John5. It feels a lot more like a song.
KD: Thank you (laughing).
GM: I mean, I do like those guys, but it's a lot like you guys are at the level it took Vai 25 years to get to.
KD: Thank you!
GM: In terms of songwriting, instead of just writing these 4 to 7 minute guitar solos...
FM: The way I see it is we grew up listening to Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John5, and we know everything they're doing, but we put our own thing on it. We are like them, but we're not better...we took everything, their techniques, their songwriting, and we know them already. We mixed that with us.
When I write music, I like to always think of composition, even if it's just like shredding and fast stuff..songwriting and the band. For example Steve Vai and John5, they're more like soloists. Our project is more like a band.
Everyone's got a role and they're doing it. It's not like a backing track. I think that's what happening nowadays.
GM: I think it's definitely more interesting, aside from the 14 string guitar. I think it creates something more palatable for people outside of guitar players.
FM: Yeah, we're getting to the metal scene. It's getting broader and they're listening to more like sophisticated music.
KD: Prog is coming back in a little bit.
GM: There's a big prog scene going on in metal right now.
FM: Sure if you see bands like Faceless. They're metal, but they're getting a little prog too. I wouldn't say prog, but technical.
KD: People want to push the envelope I think. It's kind of cool because there's a new wave of musicians that are trying to do really cool stuff. and we're lucky we grew up with a lot of these kids. I think it's just people want to hear something new. Maybe it's an attention span thing, but people want to see things taken to a new extreme.
Who knows where it goes from here, but we like to think that we're at least doing our little part.
(The first band went on early and Felix and I met up after their set to finish up.)
GM: What tunings do you use?
FM: It's regular tuning. Just like a regular guitar. I don't like using weird tunings. I feel like I'm a guitar player and I don't want to be more weird. I'm kind of weird already.
I don't want to experiment even more with tunings.
GM: What amps are you using?
FM: I use a Fractal Audio Preamp. I'm not using cabs or anything. I just connect straight to the PA.
There's a lot of technology nowadays..all the digital it sounds really good. You don't need to bring those giant amps with you anymore. I like my sound with the preamp and those amps are too heavy!
GM: Do you use any effects?
FM: I use clean, overdrive, and metal tone. I don't use many effects. I don't think there's room in my brain to experiment with a chorus or a flanger. (laughs) I don't know. There's way too many things going on in my brain.
GM: It sounds kind of strange to hear you say I don't want to be too crazy.
FM: Actually, my guitars, I try to stay away from being too crazy. I try to be as standard as possible. The concept is already really complicated. So I try to make them as standard as I can.
GM: How would you describe your music?
FM: The style? It would be progressive metal, but progressive metal and jazz fusion together. Honestly, it's just a mix of styles.