Michael Angelo Batio is a force to be reckoned with and has spent decades thrilling audiences around the world with his amazing guitar skills. A master musician, Batio has invented and was the world’s first player of the Double-Guitar! Considered to be a pioneer of the “shred guitar” genre, Michael Angelo Batio is set to release his first-ever career retrospective entitled, Shred Force 1: The Essential Michael Angelo Batio. The new album is slated for release on April 14th via Rat Pak Records. ‘Shred Force 1: The Essential Michael Angelo Batio’ not only highlights Michael’s best work to date, but also brings together many nationally renowned musicians from the hard rock and heavy metal genres. The album features some of Michael’s most memorable performances including a dynamic version of Rush’s “What You’re Doing,” which features Queensrÿche vocalist Todd LaTorre, Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, Alice Cooper bassist Chuck Garric, Metal Church/TSO drummer Jeff Plate and guitarist Craig Blackwell.
The album serves as a fantastic introduction to the work Batio has been putting in over the years. The album also includes some of MAB’s most notable instrumental tracks such as, “8 Pillars of Steel” with guest appearances by Elliott Dean Rubinson, Dave Reffett, Jeff Loomis, Rusty Cooley, George Lynch, Andrea Martongelli and Craig Goldy, “Juggernaut” showcases ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, Dave Reffett, Annie Grunwald, Guthrie Govan, Mike Lepond, and Michael Romeo. There is also a cover of Deep Purple’s ”Burn” with Queensrÿche vocalist Todd LaTorre and Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti. The album also consists of Michael’s tributes to Eric Clapton (“Slowhand”), Randy Rhodes (“RRR”) that features Rudy Sarzo on bass, and a new version of MAB’s unique tribute (“Diamond”) to the late great Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott of Pantera, that features guitarist Michael Wilton of Queensrÿche.
Michael Angelo Batio’s Shred Force 1: The Essential Michael Angelo Batio is a must have for all fans of the shred guitar genre! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Batio to discuss his inspirations, the challenges of assembling his latest release, his evolution as an artist and much more!
I wanted to start with your early years. What are some of your first memories of music and how it became a passion?
I started playing piano at 5 years old. My earliest memories were watching my mother play. I figured out a song by ear and watching her play by watching where she put her fingers on the keyboard. I loved playing the piano but the music that I liked was rock music. It was so much more guitar oriented that I switched to guitar at 10 years old. I played my first concert with a band at 10 years old in front of my entire school! Those are my earliest memories! Guitar has been a part of my life since I was 10 years and I love it as much, if not more, now than I did when I was a kid!
What influences had a big impact on you in your formative years?
When I first started to play guitar, I studied jazz. I hadn’t taken lessons before and I didn’t know much because I was only 10. My teacher would play me music from Wes Montgomery and then we would listen to songs on the radio. Radio today typically has a certain style of music on each channel but it wasn’t like that back then. It was all different things on Top 40 radio. I would listen to jazz guitarists Joe Pass and George Benson. When it came to rock, everyone loved Jimi Hendrix. I loved him too but it wasn’t a major influence on me because I liked Eric Clapton more. He was in Cream and he had more of a Gibson sound versus that Fender sound. I use Dean guitars and I have always been more of a Humbugger kind of person than a single coil guitarist, so I could shred. People like Eric Clapton were really influential with me because his playing was so spot on. It was smooth, clean and had a great tone. If I related to one guitarist from that era, it was Eric Clapton. Then, of course, there was Richie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. Later on it became Al Di Meola and more of the fusion style players because I liked their technique a lot.
What was the catalyst that started you down the path of being a professional musician?
I can tell you this, when I first started to play guitar at 10 years old, I knew I was going to be a professional guitarist. I didn’t think of it in that way, in the sense of, “I will be on the radio.” I just knew whatever I did when I got older was going to involve a guitar and I would travel the world playing music. I have never had a backup plan! Never! It was always Plan A! My dad hated the music industry! [laughs] Some of the words he used to describe it, I can’t really say here! [laughs] He never liked it and I did. I just had a belief in myself and my own abilities. I knew I was going to do it and that was it! There was nothing stopping me. When I moved to Los Angeles from my hometown of Chicago, I went for one reason. I knew I was going to get signed to a major label within one year and I got signed to Atlantic Records. It is a belief and I believed I could do it. I never take it for granted. I love to play and I am not arrogant about it. I love to do what I do!
That determination and belief in yourself goes a long way. Are there any other secrets to your longevity you can share with us?
I think there are a few! I have had a really unique career. I don’t do what other people tend to do. I have made some really good decisions and I practice really hard. I have a degree in music, which doesn’t make me any better or smarter than anyone else, but I see trends coming that a lot of people might not because I have studied. Through the centuries, people keep reinventing the wheel. Sometimes people think people playing fast on an instrument is something you criticize. It has been going on for centuries! Some of the greatest musicians who have ever lived have been criticized because they are virtuoso. There is always some critic out there who doesn’t like the fact they can play fast, so they criticize them. All of these things I know about. I also know that throughout history, when you have really unique music and couple it with a really unique show, the chances of making it are greatly enhanced. I have always been a natural showman, inventing the double guitar. I engineered that instrument. I just wanted to do things that were different. Some of the insights that have helped my longevity are, first, I do the best that I can all the time. I play the best that I can on each album and try to make it better than the one before. I want to be a better guitarist this year than I was last year. Secondly, get out and play! I have played shows my whole life and the audience is a better judge of what you do than you are. I would play songs that I think are amazing and the audience didn’t like them. I would play a song in a band that we thought was one of our throwaways and it would become the featured track on an album! [laughs] We just don’t know but the audience does! Once you connect with the audience you find out what is going over. With that said, I play constantly, tour all the time and do the best job I can on the album and playing live. Those are the secrets! Also, take advantage of opportunities and work hard but every so often you get that lucky break! The difference is, sometimes you can make that lucky break happen! You have to seize the moment!
You are releasing a new collection of your work titled “Shred Force 1: The Essential Michael Angelo Batio.” What made now the right time for this release?
I have recorded 11 solos albums, so there is a big discography there. That is not counting my other bands! When I talked to the president of Rat Pak Records, we discussed what we wanted to do and bounced ideas off each other. He said, “The timing is right!” He was in the position with this label to expose me to a lot of people who might not know what I am doing but know the music. We would include some new tracks along with the ones that people know, so it just seemed like the right time. I had never done an essential record like this before, so I thought it was the perfect time.
What are some of the challenges you faced in putting a collection like this together?
I think the biggest challenge was that most of my fans have heard this music but not all of it because we did some new things. We did remix and remaster everything. There is enough new material on there and some obscure things to attract long time fans. The biggest challenge was to get it out there. I feel great about it! The thing I love about this album is that Rat Pak Records had a lot of input on what went on it. Again, I always think the artists are the worst judges of their own music. I mean, ask RUSH what they thought of “Tom Sawyer.” [laughs] They hated it! I refer to this artist, Tina Turner. I read a recent interview with her. She hated the song “What’s Love Gotta Do With It.” She hated it! Most artists are terrible judges of their own music. I think if there is one album where you can get a good cross section of what I do, it is this one. I think it’s great! To get it out there and introduce it to people who haven’t heard it before is a great opportunity. To my fans, who may have heard it before, the songs are remixed and remastered and we have some things on there that you have not heard, in the form of new tracks.
You have a tremendous list of collaborators on this release. What did these artists bring out in you as a musician?
These are all top level people from Mark Tremonti, George Lynch, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth), along with newer people like Jeff Loomis and Guthrie Govan … They are all amazing musicians who are well known for what they do. They have already made their mark. I had no criteria as far as what they played. However, the criteria for getting everybody was I had be a fan of what they did and I had to know everybody. I know Michael WIlson from Queensryche from years of doing in-stores together and we have hung out. Guthrie Govan, we have hung out together in different parts of the world. I think they know what kind of player I am and vice versa. Every person who did solos, I had a pre-conceived idea of who I wanted from their playing. I think everyone absolutely brought their A-game to the table. When you hear Todd [La Torre] sing, the new singer from Queensryche, it is just fantastic. He is a great guy and is actually a drummer! That is where he started off. He has a really cool vibe to him. I think everyone involved did a fantastic job! We set the bar high and everyone exceeded the bar!
I imagine putting together a collection like this gives you the opportunity to reflect on your career. How have you most evolved as an artist through the years?
That is a good question. I know I am known for playing fast. I have won awards for it but I am not the self-proclaimed fastest guitarist in the world. It has never really interested me. What has interested me is to be able to play what I hear in my head. I always thought about playing rock music with a technical level of if I were the first chair violinist in a symphony orchestra. A first chair violinist has got to be a virtuoso. He has to be! In order to play certain orchestral pieces, you have to have a technical level that is over the top. I always thought, “Rock has great music but what about adding this musicianship to rock that you find in jazz, bluegrass or orchestral music?” That was really my goal. I didn’t grow up being known as this super fast guitarist, it was just an ability I had. It kind of came out only for a few years in the 1980s when I was in LA. It was a Mecca at the time. Yngwie was there, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine and the list goes on and on. I was there too. We were all just trying to be great at our instrument. It wasn’t even called shred guitar back then! That term didn’t appear until the ‘90s to describe what we did. For all of us, it was about being as good as we could at our instrument. I think what has changed the most, after touring 58 countries and playing thousands of shows, is that my technical level is still there but I have my own feel to it. That is what I think has changed the most. I couldn’t play at 20 the way I play now because I didn’t live all these extra days. I think each one of those days is in the playing now.
That is a cool way to look at it! What inspires you these days as an artist? Where do you look these days?
I look to a lot of places. I will tell you why. What I learned studying music, whether it was Mozart, The Beatles or Slipknot, is that each person has a different way to create things. A lot of times, people will develop writer’s block and can’t write anything. I have read a lot of different ways to cure writer’s block from other artists. I don’t really have a problem where I can’t write because I just take many of the things I have learned in the past and apply them to my present day playing of music. Hopefully, that will carry on in the future!
What can you tell us about your creative process at this point in time? How do your songs come about these days?
I use the technology!I have an iPhone. I have done this my whole life, whether it was a cassette, putting it on CD or now with the phone, I will record different parts. I tour a lot, so my phone is usually on at night because I have to set an alarm to catch a flight to a show or whatever. If I get an idea, at any time, I will record it. Michael Amott of Arch Enemy said to me, “Why record it? Why don’t you just video tape yourself?” So, now I video record myself sometimes as well. I will record parts and just let them sit there. Right now, for my last album before “Shred Force 1,” I had over 200 song ideas on my phone. I listened to them and broke them down. I wrote little notes along the way for reference. I based virtually all of my last album on parts that I had recorded. Right now, I would say I have about 40 to 50 song ideas in my phone. I will listen back and I won’t even remember that I played them! There are a lot of good things that come from recording those parts at night. I record a lot of grooves. If I am sitting in my car at a stoplight and I hear a grove, I will grab my phone and record it. When it comes time to sit down and write, I can also sit down and write a song. I use both ways, working from the recorded parts or ideas on my phone or I will just sit down and write a song. Any way I can do it, I will do it! There are no rules or boundaries! You can do whatever you want!
Being a part of the music industry as long as you have, you have seen many changes across the board. What most excites you about the music industry today?
It has changed drastically. I have had a very different career from a lot of other musicians. I have been signed to two major labels, I have had songs in movies, records on the charts and songs written specifically for video games. I do a lot of writing but I just don’t talk about it much. It is not something people really know me for but it is part of what I do. There is always change. Every generation has to deal with change. We are dealing with events at a rapid pace. A hundred years of events two hundred years ago take place in one year now with the help of technology. What I really noticed was when YouTube hit. It really wasn’t Napster. Don’t get me wrong, Napster was bad and it caught the record companies off-guard with file sharing. The record companies didn’t do a good job and they lost that war. They absolutely lost it. They didn’t know how to respond to something like Napster, other than to try and shut them down and that wasn’t the end of it. Lars [Ulrich] of Metallica screaming about it had everyone screaming back at them. I hate to say it but Lars was right! He was right back then and he is right today. People should have taken him seriously and realized he wasn’t just protecting Metallica but he was protecting the young bands who were coming up. What I have seen now is that the record industry has got to figure out a new way to do business just like I had to figure out a new way.
I am really encouraged by a lot of things. I am playing more in concert than ever before. I don’t do as many guitar clinics these days and it is only 30% of my itinerary now but there are a lot of ways to be successful. Dream Theater is out there killing, along with Ghost. There are a lot of bands who are doing really well. I am doing well. Music is alive and well, it has just changed and you have to change with it, as far as the business side goes. You are not going to sell 20 million albums like Michael Jackson did. Not now! That doesn’t mean you can’t be super, super successful at it! That is what I see. People still love music now as much as they did in the past and there are other ways to get your music out there. I see trends coming and YouTube was a defining trend for me. Anybody can put out another artist’s song and create their own videos. You can just put your computer on and hit playlists from an artist. I can even do it from my phone! I can have 60 videos of my songs run on YouTube and I didn’t post any one of them! That is the huge difference! I am still really encouraged because there are a lot of great young bands and artists out there. I think a lot of it is the attitude. You have to go into it saying, “You know what? I am going to do this! I’m going to find a way!” The people who think like that do it!
It is very cool to see someone with as many years in the industry as yourself still have that take charge attitude. Thanks so much for your time today! Keep rockin’ and we will be spreading the word!
Thank you, Jason! It was great talking to you!
For more news, music and tour dates from Michael Angelo Batio, visit his official website at www.angelo.com. Get ‘Shred Force 1: The Essential MAB’ at Rat Pak Records’ website.