Spotlight Band: Shredding The Envelope
Guitar virtuoso Dave Reffett and his collaborative partner Nancy Taylor make up the core base of Shredding The Envelope. On their debut disc “The Call Of The Flames” Reffett combines his unrelenting guitar shredding with Taylor’s prose resulting in firestorm of thrashing, in your face metal.
Reffett, the son of a coal miner who grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky started out as a jock, until his older sister turned him on to the power of music. Joining the school band he played tuba until a chance meeting of his teacher’s Fender Stratocaster in a dusty closet; it was love at first sight.
Shortly thereafter his grandmother bought him his first guitar and the rest, as they say, is history.
His path would lead him to Berklee College of Music in Boston and that’s where he started assembling his who’s who list of guest appearances on “The Call Of The Flames” including Joe Stump, Michal Angelio Batio and George Lynch.
We caught up with Dave to ask him about his latest project and how it all fell into place.
You ended up at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston on a full scholarship, where you studied with guitarist Joe Stump, can you tell us a little about that?
Well it wasn’t a full ride but they gave me a good amount. What happened was, I was going to an alternative high school that had about 75 students and among others had 2 nuns as teachers. Anyway one day in our computer class I stumbled upon an ad for a summer workshop program that Berklee was doing and I thought it was cool that the guys from Dream Theater went there. So I decided to give it a go and threw together enough money from family and friends to take the trip up. Then when I came to Berklee it was a culture shock. I hadn’t really been in a big city before and now I was surrounded by thousands of musicians so it was awesome. Joe Stump was the first teacher I met. As soon as I heard him play I was a big fan of his instantly. Like I said I was used to having older nuns as teachers and here’s Joe with long hair, tons of bracelets and dressed all in black. It made me laugh because if the nuns ever saw him they would have tripped and thought he was the devil or something. But that’s what is so cool about Berklee is all the diversity and everybody’s sort of on their own wavelength and stuff. Stump is like the coolest guy and I loved trading solos with him on this album “The Call Of The Flames”. I asked him when I was his student if he’d make a guest appearance on my first album and he said yes. I didn’t think it would actually happen but he plays on 2 songs. The title track “The Call Of The Flames” as well as on the song “Shredding The Envelope”. Those two rip.
What’s your main goal as a guitarist? Do you want to be part of a band or are you interested in more of a solo type project?
If Gene Simmons is reading this I look pretty horrendous in makeup but I’m available and can play all the Ace Frehley stuff. Just kidding, but seriously I’m open to anything. If that opportunity ever came up to play for Ozzy or Megadeth or somebody like that I would jump at the chance. Those 3 bands are the dream gig for me. I also recently auditioned to play bass for Annihilator who I love, so I’m totally open. Right now I’m very in love with this album and band and want to find the right players so I can tour on it. Its an intense record and I’d rather not play live at all then to go out there and half ass it. That’s not my style. The people have to be focused, clean and ready to kick some ass. But I guess my main goal, as a guitarist is just to make a mark and be remembered for doing something great. I love waving the flag for metal music and turning on the next generation of guitarists and metal fans. I’ve been getting emails from all over the world about this album with people saying things like “man you breathed new life into metal for me, it was starting to get boring”, or “man that song destroyed my brain, thanks for making this record” and that stuff makes me really proud. Because that was my mission statement from day one was to make the album that I would be the first in line to buy, and I’ve made an album that I think totally rules.
“The Call of the Flames” showcases your guitar playing first and foremost and the songs are collaboration with artist Nancy Taylor. Can you tell us a bit about that and how she contributed to the songs?
Nancy and I are soul mates; we’ve been together for almost 10 years now. And many of the songs from “The Call of the Flames” evolved from emails and poems about what was going on with us like in “I Just Don’t Want To Say Goodbye”. We were in a long distance relationship at that time and we would email back and forth a line or 2 at a time and we made these phenomenal songs out of them. When I came to Berklee we moved in together into a cool loft in downtown Boston that was filled with her art and my guitars. We wrote the majority of the songs there. We have 4 or 5 more albums ready to go. I’m excited to get them all out there. I’ve taken her to see Ozzy, Kiss, Megadeth Priest, Maiden all the greats and she’s gotten me off of drugs for good and into art and writing and stuff.
I know that “Shredding The Envelope” has a specific meaning to you; can you tell us what that is?
We came up with a philosophy that we live by for the band and it’s that “SHREDDING THE ENVELOPE stands for not buying into all the dumbed down repetitive boring bullshit that is fed to us like we are farm animals. We believe in the transformative power of belief. We believe in music and music fans who understand that something which comes from a place of truth and passion can wake us up and change the world.” It also refers to how I want to push the boundaries and break all the rules and make rock interesting and exciting again.
The CD is a star-studded affair; you’ve got Mike Mangini on drums. How did he become involved in the project with you?
At around the halfway point of being a student at Berklee I got a part time job there as a backup band guitarist for ironically the summer programs that kids come to. And for one of them I got paid 25 bucks an hour to jam with Mangini while he taught drums to the students which was sweet. I was already a big fan of the work he had did on the Annihilator album “Metal” so it was a blast to play with him. We played AC/DC tunes and stuff like that and it rocked. And then when I needed someone for drums on this record he was the first person that came to mind. Listen to the last 2 minutes of the tune “Shredding The Envelope”. That is some of if not the coolest drumming I’ve ever heard. Just ridiculous.
There are a lot of talented guest appearances on your CD, can you tell us how they came to fruition? Most people can’t just call up George Lynch and ask him to do a cameo so how were you able to execute that?
With George it was as natural as hitting him up on his website, sending him some tracks and seeing if he wanted to do it. And similar to landing Chris Poland on the record who’s playing I always loved, with George I figured there was no chance in hell I’d ever hear anything back. But he dug the idea and went for it and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. Everybody really tears it up on this record. The musicianship is of the highest caliber.
In that same vein, you had some well respected folks helping you out on the back end of things with the mixing and engineering (Mudrock, Jon Lammi), how did they help shape the album?
Well I went into the studio very prepared and I knew exactly what I wanted. It all had to be perfect, and I knew that I had to get guys that could cut it. So I asked around town and I heard about this guy named Jon Lammi who had gotten a Grammy nomination for some Howling Wolf stuff that he did. Also he had worked as the front of house engineer for Aerosmith for a long time so I was impressed. Lammi is a beast of an engineer and really helped me capture what I wanted to lay down. With him I formed the blueprint and the skeleton of the tracks and then he had to dip out due to scheduling conflicts and so I got this guy Joe Clapp to come in to do the majority of the recording. He was amazing because there would be days when I felt stressed or terrible or whatever and he was like a breath of fresh air saying things like “Dude lets make a monumental record” and I’d be pumped about stuff like that and it would make me want to step up to the plate. Then when it came time to Mix my friends at the studio recommended Mudrock. He’s worked with Alice Cooper, Godsmack, and Avenged Sevenfold a lot of brilliant artists and upon hearing some of his work I was sold. He couldn’t have been a cooler dude, very intelligent, funny and just an engineer from hell talent wise. He also endorses ESP guitars so I was running around the studio playing his 40 or so guitars that are all over the place while he worked. I played this one guitar that Avenged Sevenfold had used to do pretty much all of the rhythm guitars on “City of Evil” with. So that was bitchin. And he had gear in there made by NASA. I’m not even kidding it was rad. And then for Mastering one name has always been at the top for me, I knew I had to have George Marino. His resume is fucking ridiculous, he’s done “Back in Black”, “Master of Puppets”, “Appetite for Destruction”, and Kiss “Alive” the list goes on. He’s a fan of this record, which blows my mind. He couldn’t have been more complimentary about the songs and my playing which meant a lot to me.
Early on you received some great advice from Dave Mustaine of Megadeth who encouraged you to take the scholarship that Berklee offered you, have you received any other advice from guitarists you look up to?
One cool one I can think of was at the clinic when I met Michael Angelo. He told everyone about how important it is to follow through on things. If you start a record finish it. If you start a song finish it. He said that when people get a college degree no one ever asks what your GPA was they just respect you that you finished the race. I think that’s great advice because a lot of people in my generation and the younger generation in today’s society think that everything is just going to be handed to them and they should know that 95% of success is the sweat equity that you put into it. Luck is often hard work in disguise.
What songs on the CD are you most proud of? Which ones were most challenging for you to play?
I love them all; it’s like choosing which child is your favorite or something. But if I had to choose I would say “Standstill and Scream”, I also love “Caravan of Cannibals”, “Ruby Avalanche Red Flood”, “I Just Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” and “Shredding The Envelope”. The latter being the hardest to play, because its over 8 minutes long and is probably the fiercest guitar playing on the record. The hardest to sing would be “I Just Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” there are some high notes in there. A few times when I forgot to breath properly going for those high notes I almost passed out. But all in the name of rock right?
What is your goal with this project, ideally where would you like to see it go?
I’d love to see tons and tons of people really enjoying it and I’d love to do some of the big European Metal Fests playing with Kiss, Metallica and Megadeth and stuff. That would rule. Its also a dream of mine to shoot a DVD at one of those big shows where all the guest players could come out and do their parts, I’d love that. Also a gold or platinum record on the wall wouldn’t hurt. And I really want to tour the world and see all of the amazing things out there. Like Macchu Pichu and Easter Island and stuff like that. That would be incredible.
Do you feel like the art of “shredding” on guitar is a dying one?
No, I don’t think it’s a dying art at all. I mean look at the massive success of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Those games are huge and that’s what kids want when they play it you know. They want some Megadeth, Van Halen, Metallica or some Pantera, something with some substance. Its made kids want to pick up the real deal and kick some ass. Like look at Dragonforce, Avenged Sevenfold or Trivium all those guys rock on guitar and have all sold a lot of records. So I think music fans are sick of stuff that they are told they like, they want something somebody actually had to put some effort and some blood, sweat and tears into. I think the appreciation of soloing is just as big maybe bigger than ever. There are guitar magazines all over the world that are thriving through this recession due to their loyal subscribers and then you’ve got bands like Dream Theater who have zero radio prescience but sell out arenas all over the world. And I just read that the Trans Siberian Orchestra was one of the top grossing tours of last year, its wild. Also its cool how metal fans are fans for life, it’s not like an artist where after their big hit has fizzled out people drop them like a bad habit.
As a young guitarist, what guitarists did you look up to, who’s path did you want to follow?
My list could get a little nuts, I’ll go down my iPod so I don’t forget anyone. Some players that influenced me and really changed my life growing up were guys like Dimebag Darrell, Eddie Van Halen, and Rhandy Rhoads. Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Bruce Kulick from Kiss. Most people wouldn’t say Paul but damn what a songwriter he is.
Then there’s Dave Mustaine, Chris Poland, Marty Friedman, Angus Young, Al Di Meola, Michael Angelo Batio, Scott Ian and Dan Spitz from Anthrax, Zakk Wylde, Jason Becker, anybody who has played for Dio especially Vivian Campbell, Craig Goldy and Doug Aldrich. Slash, BB King, KK and Glen from Judas Priest, George Lynch, Ted Nugent, Alex Skolnick of Testament, Vinnie Moore, Malmsteen, Paco De Lucia and many more. I still love all the guys I used to listen to; probably more now that I’m older and can appreciate it better.
Lately I’ve also been really into Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Joe Stump, the guys from Skynyrd, Mick from Motley Crue, Mattias IA Eklundh this guy from Sweden, Don Lappin, Warren Demartini from Ratt, Shawn Lane, Jeff Waters from Annihilator, Mike Orlando, Stevie Ray, Jimmy Page, Hendrix. I also like bands like the Cars, Boston, Journey and tons of country like David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr. You can take the boy out of the south but you cant take the south out of the boy I guess. So I’m sort of all over the place, I just really love music!
What are some of your favorite guitar solos of all time?
I love “Tornado of Souls” by Megadeth, it’s got great feel and expression, some beautiful notes choices and amazing technique all rolled into one. And I loved how Marty Friedman always used really cool and unique scales. Like he would use Hawaiian and Japanese scales in Metal, just brilliant. And he always had great phrasing. I also love something like “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top just for that killer vibe and swagger that he gets. Also Ace Frehley on “100,000 Years” is killer. There are some great hooks and melodies in his solos. Anything by Rhandy Rhoads like “Flying High Again” or “Goodbye To Romance”. His playing always had such a beauty and elegance to it from all the classical music that he studied. Dave Mustaine on “Holy Wars”, Zakk Wylde on “My Jekel Doesn’t Hyde” and “Old LA Tonight”. Tony Iommi on “Turn Up The Night”. Chris Poland on “Good Mourning Black Friday” is legendary. Chris has this almost Charlie Parker sort of thing happening that I love. Joe Stump on “No Forgiving” is ridiculously good. “Rainbow In The Dark” by Dio, “Beyond The Realms of Death”, “Metal Gods” and “Painkiller” by Judas Priest I think are pure genius. “10’s” by Dimebag is epic. As well as “Floods”, he was unbelievable. I also love “Bohemian Rhapsody” I mean who doesn’t right. Brian Mays tone is so incredible. Also not to sound like I have a big ego or anything but I love all of my solos on this new album “The Call Of The Flames”. One in particular is the solo on “I Just Don’t Want To Say Goodbye”. Its very bluesy and from the heart. I love it.