Beyond the Dark Horizon recently spoke with guitar icon, Jeff Loomis of Seattle’s long running Metal tyrants, Nevermore. Loomis spoke about Nevermore’s latest release, “The Obsidian Conspiracy,” his solo endeavors, being a guitar icon and more.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: I was really taken with “The Obsidian Conspiracy,” the album sort of invokes a collective feel of Nevermore’s past yet there’s a new surge of vitality.
Jeff Loomis: Thank you. It was a little different approach for us this time around. I think a lot of our stuff in the past has been a little complex, notey-I think the new stuff is just more structured, the cords come in quicker, the songs are better arranged and I think that it’s just going to go over better in a live situation. I would definitely think that Peter Wichers, our producer had a lot to do with that as well. He helped me with the arrangements and I think it just made a catchier record. The songs are shorter and more to the point.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Speaking of approaches, you guys rented a house directly on Lake Norman to record this album.
Jeff Loomis: Yeah, we wanted to get away from the hectic feel of life, be away from our friends and be in a more isolated area. So we ended up renting this lake house in the middle of nowhere. Lake Norman is an amazing place, it’s very isolated and you’re right on the water. It just really gave us time to focus without having any outside interference. It was cool but it got to the point where it was too isolated. There was nothing around and so there was nothing to do except work on music. It kind of got a little bit crazy after awhile. So we ended up getting a rental car to get out of there and go check out movies and stuff. It was fun.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: So the initial, overall atmosphere of being secluded influenced the final outcome of the album?
Jeff Loomis: Well it just really gave us time to focus on the music 110%, so yeah I think it actually benefited us in the long run. I don’t think I’ll ever want to do that again, I think I want to be closer to home. It was just weird after awhile; you know what I’m saying? [laughs]
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Absolutely. And I was also totally surprised that you guys covered “Temptation” from “The Tea Party.” Awesome stuff; how did that come about?
Jeff Loomis: Warrel and I have been fans of that band for a really long time-probably since ’94 or ’95 and we first got a chance to hear them in a live situation when we were on tour in Germany. We went to one of their shows and were just blown away by these guys; we really-really enjoyed their music. We actually had always talked about it over the years and expressed how we wanted to cover one of their songs and it just never happened. But one day we were just sitting around and we were listening to that record [Transmission, released in 1997] and that song came up, it’s the first song on that record…and we said “Wow this would be great, let’s give this a shot.” I learned the song myself and I demoed it, gave it to Warrel. We have been known in the past as a band to do cover songs, in our own unique way but we really stuck to the original way that they composed the song. That’s really how it came to be. We thought this was a great band and gave it a shot.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Has Jeff Martin [The Tea Party vocalist/guitarist] heard your version yet?
Jeff Loomis: [Laughs] That’s a good question…I don’t know. It would be cool if he has heard it but who knows if he would like it. I hope he’d like it [explodes with laughter]. We did put our own, you know-the Nevermore vibe into it. We made it slightly heavier and I think it turned out pretty good. Cool.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: What are your thoughts on the writing process for this album?
Jeff Loomis: Well I kind of did things the same way I always do them. I never really have a preconceived idea about what I’m going to do musically. I just let the music come out and its music that’s from my heart and soul. I sat down, probably in the beginning of 2009 and just started demoing songs and I have a little home studio here at the house and I started writing and making demo tapes of different kinds of tunes and just started sending them to Warrel and by the middle of 2009, we were in the studio recording them. So the process was very-very fast, I was writing something new about every week. Kind of a quick situation but I can see kind of the downfall of how people say that it took us 5 years to put out a new album. What many people don’t realize is that after our last album, “This Godless Endeavor,” we toured in support of that record for almost 2 years. After that Warrel and I put out solo albums, so it had been quite awhile but thanks to the fans for all their patience for waiting. We have a new record; we’re back as a band we’re going to tour again.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Are your solos on “The Obsidian Conspiracy” spontaneous?
Jeff Loomis: Not really this time around, no. I’ve been known to do that in the past but this time around, Peter Wichers, our producer, really had a lot of input as far as me working out the solos. So we would literally just sit back and listen to each song, one by one and kind of create a storyline pattern of how the solo should really work within the song. So yes, I can honestly say that these solos were all worked out for this record.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: As a guitar player, your work is instantly recognizable and you are noted to be one of metal’s top guitarists. How does that make you feel?
Jeff Loomis: Ummm it makes me feel like shit! [laughs] It makes me feel awesome actually. It’s like I never really thought I’d be one of these “Guitar God” noted sort of people. I’ve always wanted to be known as a good composer and a good song writer. I think since I put out a solo instrumental record, a lot of people have started to notice my guitar playing. Things have been going good and that makes me feel really great. It’s opened up a lot of new doors for me as a musician. I’m now doing guitar clinics and touring all over Europe, doing Guitar clinics alone. It has given me the opportunity to meet and talk with all these young inspiring guitarists. I actually get to have a one on one conversation with these kids and talk to them about playing guitar. It’s really cool and I don’t take any of that for granted. If someone really digs my guitar playing and considers me a ‘guitar god,’ then that’s cool and it makes me feel happy. That’s awesome.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Has it been odd for you, considering the fact that you’re a self-taught guitarist and now you possess the role of an instructor?
Jeff Loomis: That’s weird, isn’t it? [laughs] I never thought that I would turn into something like that. I always thought I was going to become some guitar player on the road in a tour bus playing concerts and stuff. But now that I have an instructional dvd out it’s turned out really cool. Like I said, it’s opened up a lot of new doors and it made me learn a lot about myself as a person too. It has sort of brought me out of my shell; you know what I’m saying? I’m kind of a shy person but being able to talk in front of people and speak in front of people like that has made me a new person–so to speak.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Music became a passion for you at such a young age and I was wondering if there was anything in particular from your childhood that gave you that extra push and inspired you to become a guitarist?
Jeff Loomis: Definitely my father. He had this huge-huge record collection of so many different styles of music. Lots of 70’s music of course, bands like “Queen,” “The Doobie Brothers,” “Fleetwood Mac,” bands like that. I would randomly pull all these records out and just play along and it wasn’t with guitar either. Because not a lot of people know that I actually started out playing drums. So I’d literally pull a record out of his collection, put it on the turntable, put my headphones on and jam along with it playing drums. My father is one of my biggest influences, just for showing me all these different styles of music. It really just opened my mind quite a bit as far as what to listen to and how to be a better musician. I’ve noticed a lot of kids these days, listening to one style of music and it’s really limiting. I think everyone should listen to classical music, jazz music…there’s so much out there for the ears to hear. It’s very important that you be diverse when it comes to choosing your musical collection, you know?
Beyond the Dark Horizon: So what were your parents’ first thoughts when they first found out that you were serious about heading down the path of a musical career?
Jeff Loomis: They were extremely supportive and thank god for that because there are a lot of parents who are out there who are not supportive with kids these days when it comes to music. But they should be. It’s a great thing to do and it takes an awful lot of work and condition. It’s not all about getting on some tour bus, going out there and playing shows all the time. It’s just a lot of hard work and I was very fortunate to have parents that were 110% supportive of my musical career. They would even let me stay home from school, just to play my guitar [laughs]. The funny thing too is that both of my parents are teachers, so it’s kind of odd, you wouldn’t think parents like mine would be supportive of what I do but believe it or not they were and that’s pretty awesome.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: How often would you practice back then and how many guitars do you own today?
Jeff Loomis: I used to practice quite a bit. During my teenage years, I’d spend 10-12 hours a day but I don’t really practice too much anymore, I still pickup the guitar at least an hour a day but I really focus my time on writing songs. Rather than working on technique, I try to compose better music. I worked on technique all my years growing up but I do try to keep up with my picking skills.
As far as guitars, man I haven’t really counted but I own maybe 25 or something. They’re taking up a lot of room [laughs].
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Throughout the years, you have also collaborated with many great musicians. Is there anyone out there that you would like to work with in the near future?
Jeff Loomis: I would like to work with Jason Becker one day. He’s an amazing guitar player. Jason was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is called ALF, when he was about 19 years old and he’s still living with the disease for about 18 years but he still writes music. I would really like to write music with this guy one day. He’s been an incredible influence on my life and an amazing musician.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: This year marks the 15 year anniversary of Nevermore’s debut self-titled album. What do you recall of those sessions?
Jeff Loomis: That was such a long time ago, we were just starting off as a band and it was really 2 demo tapes that were put together that became our first record. I recall walking into that situation and feeling very fresh about everything, without even knowing much about recording. That first album planted the seed to where we are now as a band and I’m very proud of that first record.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: What were your first initial thoughts upon meeting your vocalist, Warrel Dane?
Jeff Loomis: He was very cool and very supportive of my guitar playing and song writing that’s pretty much the first thing I remember. I immediately liked him, right off the bat-that’s probably why we have remained friends for almost 20 years. Very cool person and I consider him one of my best friends.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Was the grunge scene an annoyance for you at the time?
Jeff Loomis: A little bit. There were so many grunge bands coming up around that time-Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana but we always held our heads above water around that time. We were struggling as a band but yet when we had a show at a club, there would still be a thousand people showing up. It was cool being involved during the grunge scene and we still succeeded as a metal band.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: At that point did you ever think that Nevermore would have gotten as far as it has gotten today?
Jeff Loomis: It’s weird because success has happened at such a slow pace, but with all the hard work and honest music, I think we have gained a lot of fans throughout the years. I think where we are at is a perfect place for us, I’m hoping that we will gain a wider audience with this new record and even get bigger, but we’ll see what happens.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Warrel Dane recently announced the reformation of “Sanctuary “is there anything you can tell us about that?
Jeff Loomis: All I know at the moment is that Warrel wanted to get the band back together and do a couple of shows and I think we’re going to do some festival shows. As far as a new record, I’m not quite sure if that’s going to happen yet. That’s actually still being talked about. But I can say that there will be a few Sanctuary festival shows over in Germany.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Do you plan to release a follow-up to your solo album?
Jeff Loomis: Yes I do. I actually signed on for 2 more records and I’m working on the new one right now. There’s still no title yet but I’m working on the music and hoping for a mid-winter release next year.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Nevermore will be headlining a tour soon. It’s been roughly 3 years since you’ve been on the road; are you one who enjoys life on the road?
Jeff Loomis: Oh yeah. Its fun being a studio guy and creating music but I think Nevermore is best known for being on stage. I really miss performing and being on stage and we’re really looking forward to this tour. It’s going to be awesome!
Beyond the Dark Horizon: You also recently introduced a new touring guitarist, correct?
Jeff Loomis: Yes, he’s 24 years old and his name is Atilla Voros, he’s from Hungary and we found him though youtube-believe it or not. It was very interesting because he played all the Nevermore songs perfectly. It just so happens that both Nevermore and Pantera are his favorite bands. So I auditioned him and I hardly had to show him anything. He knew all the songs already and we’ve taken him on roughly 10 festival shows so far, and we’ll probably make the final announcement in a few months stating that he’s our new official guitarist. Looks like 99.9% chance that he will become a permanent member of Nevermore.
Beyond the Dark Horizon: Sounds awesome; looking forward to catching Nevermore on the road. Is there anything else that you would like to mention that I did not cover?
Jeff Loomis: I have a new guitar instructional DVD coming out, it’s called “Extreme Leads by Jeff Loomis,” it’s by a company called “Rock House Method” and you can order it online at rockhousemethod.com and also find it at all Guitar Centers throughout the United States.