Gary Noon is a man on an interesting journey. While some musicians may only get to see their idols perform, Noon has inspired members of his two favorite bands to create a catalog music alongside him. Who is Gary Noon? Simply put, this multifaceted guitarist is the driving force behind Walking With Giants. Founded in 2013, Noon intended to create a tribute band to his two musical influences: Sevendust and Alter Bridge. Through an introduction by a mutual friend, Noon met Clint Lowery and a musical bond was formed. This bond led to the release of a self-titled EP in 2013 in which Alter Bridge drummer Scott “Flip” Phillips was recruited to play drums. The “One By One” EP (taken from an Alter Bridge song title) brought bassist Brian Marshall into the fold and Noon has not looked back.
In 2016, Gary Noon is set to make a huge splash with the first full-length release from Walking With Giants. The debut LP “Worlds Unknown,” produced by Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery, is slated for release on January 15, 2016 on Noon’s Walking With Giants LLC Records. The album finds Noon teaming up with Lowery, drummer Morgan Rose and Alter Bridge bassist Brian Marshall with amazing result. This talented group of artists got together in the summer of 2015 to write and record this powerful album. From the opening piano instrumental of the first track, “Worlds Unknown Part 1,” to its companion piece and album bookend “Worlds Unknown Part 2,” Walking With Giants created something special. Songs like “Broken Truth,” “Bound” and “Different Voice” demonstrate the musicianship that attracted Lowery, Marshall and Rose to work with Noon. A deluxe edition of the album is available that features the bonus tracks “Crashing Down” (acoustic), “Another Life” (acoustic) and “Worlds Unknown” (combines Parts 1 and 2 into a single track). The journey for Walking With Giants begins with Worlds Unknown. Noon will soon bring it to life on the road with a myriad of players as the studio team will continue to feature the same players. However, the same message sits at its core.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Gary Noon to discuss his musical roots, the chain of events which set Walking With Giants in motion, the creation of ‘World’s Unknown’ and what the future may hold for this inspiring musician.
Music has had a big impact on your life, so let’s start at the beginning. What are some of your first memories of music?
I grew up in a house that really loved music! I had two brothers, three sisters and a million pets! [laughs] It was like we had a pet shop in the house! Anyway, my brothers and I were all about two years apart, so there was a long range of musical styles In the house. My parents loved music as well and would listen to a lot of Southern Gospel, while one of my brothers was listening to Judas Priest and the other was listening to Chicago. I was really fortunate to get to hear all those different styles of music and there was never a point where music wasn’t around. There were records for all occasions! I remember waking up on a Sunday morning and my parents would be playing the horribly depressing Southern Gospel records. I couldn’t escape, so I listened. I loved music but I never tried to play until I was 17 years old and in high school. I had a buddy who showed me how to play the baseline to The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” on a really crappy acoustic guitar I had! I was so freaked out by playing something I could recognize that I was instantly hooked! I kept trying to figure out how to play different tunes. Joe Satriani “Surfing With The Alien” was really an inspiration and also made me feel totally inadequate, and still does! [laughs] I was also trying to play Metallica and Stryper, which was really hard stuff. Over time, I started getting the hang of hearing something and playing it. That is really where it all started!
For those who are just discovering this project, what can you tell us about Walking With Giants and how it took flight?
The project was something I hadn’t anticipated. I had started out playing guitar covers on YouTube in 2008. Like I said, I have been playing guitar since I was in high school and I started in 1989. I played for a long time in church orchestras and played in different metal bands in high school but it was very casual. I was really doing it just for fun. I started doing the covers on YouTube to show other artists how to play the song. A lot of times you will search online to learn how to play a particular tune and watch a guy but it is completely wrong or didn’t sound right. I was getting frustrated with those experiences, so I said. “You know what? I am going to figure out how to do it and start uploading covers and say this is how you do it!” I started having so much fun doing it and people started paying attention to the page and subscribing. I did quite a few covers. I started with Disturbed and went to Shinedown with some Papa Roach and Trapt to add variety! It came to a point where I had built up enough courage to do an Alter Bridge song. That was the first band I had really gotten into very strongly as a fan. In 2009, I got introduced to Sevendust for the first time. That sounds kind of weird because they have been around for so long but I hadn’t listened to much outside of the religious realm. When I stepped away from that, a good buddy of mine let me hear Sevendust’s “Alpha” for the first time. I was like, “Who in the heck is that?!” He said, “That’s Sevendust. They are fantastic. They also have a show coming up in two weeks. Do you want to go to the show?” I said, “Alright! Let’s go see them!” The night of the show he asked me if I wanted to go backstage and meet the guys in the band. I was totally excited and starstruck to meet them for the first time. It was really exciting and I really hit it off with Clint Lowery. We were chatting backstage, we noticed there were a lot of common influences when we first started playing guitar. We had both grown up listening to bands like Stryper, Iron Maiden and things of that nature. We enjoyed a lot of the same stuff and found ourselves enjoying stuff like soaring melodies, guitar harmonies, tight riffs and grooves. We really hit it off on a lot of different levels. Right around 2010, during the “Cold Day Memory” touring cycle, I met Clint again and had gotten up the guts to show him some of my YouTube covers. “A Better Place” was one of the first songs by Sevendust I had tried to play. I was really proud of it because I had tried so hard. Clint watched it and complimented me on it. He said, “That is really, really cool. You are a good guitar player!” I thought he was just being nice! I also played him some MP3s of some stuff I had done in Garage Band. He said it sounded cool to him and maybe I should write my own stuff one day. Again, he is a really polite guy and I thought he was just being nice to a super fan talking to him backstage! [laughs] We maintained contact for quite awhile and every time he came to town, I would go to the show and get a chance to chat with him.
In 2011, I started taking guitar lessons from Clint, not to learn to play solos or anything but to learn how to write a song. Most importantly, I wanted to learn how he wrote the songs he does. It is interesting, if you listen to Alter Bridge’s first record, “One Day Remains,” it is a fantastic record but when “Blackbird” comes along, it is completely different and they really came into their own on that record. With the addition of Myles Kennedy, you could really hear what his writing contributed. The same thing goes with Sevendust. “Alpha” was a fantastic record but Clint was doing a thing with Korn at the time and wasn’t there when they were writing the music. The songs are still cool but you can hear there is something missing from it and it sounded different. When “Cold Day Memory” came out, I felt you could really hear a difference. I wanted Clint to show me how you write a song like Clint Lowery! We did lessons about twice a month and, around that time, I got up the courage to do a Sevendust/Alter Bridge cover band here locally in Baltimore.
It was kind of hard because there were a lot of dudes out there who were great players but more into ‘80s metal or ‘90s modern rock stuff. Not a lot of guys were pursuing what it is I wanted to do. Once I found someone who liked the music and was capable of playing it, our schedules never lined up. I got so frustrated with it. It was December 26th, 2012, when I was chatting with Clint and said, “I am thinking of doing my own EP of five or six songs. What do you think? Could you help me write some of that stuff and produce the record?” He said he would and I almost fell out of my chair! I couldn’t believe he would do that but I think it was because he had known me for a long time and knew I wasn’t a fly by night kind of dude. He knew I was serious about it and wanted to make this thing happen, so he jumped on board. I had been introduced to the Alter Bridge and Creed guys through the same mutual friend in the same time period. I had gotten to know Brian [Marshall] really well. I reached out to Scott [Phillips] and said, “Hey, I have Clint on board for producing this EP for me and he is going to co-write some of the tunes. What do you think about playing drums?” I knew it was a long shot but he said, “Yeah, dude! Let’s do it!” It totally surprised me! I couldn’t believe it was going to happen! That is really how Walking With Giants got started. It went from YouTube covers, to being a super fan to building friendships and when the day finally came for me to do something, they were there for me.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for Walking With Giants and what you learned along the way?
The songwriting process for me has been in three stages. The first record was in 2013, then we did one in 2014 and now this new one for 2016. For the first EP, it was my first time writing songs at all. That is how crazy this whole thing really is! I would write cool riffs, happy, upbeat sounding stuff. I would have those and submit them to Clint through text message to email. He would comment on them and make suggestions. When we came to the studio to do the songs, I had maybe two-thirds of a tune there but none of them were complete. For the first record, we were basically writing that stuff on the spot over the course of seven days. I thought that was normal at the time, only to find out that bands normally go into the studio for a month! Usually they come up with ideas, do pre-production, demo the songs and then track the record. I came into the studio thinking I was going to do that whole process in six or seven days! That is where we started. With each new record, I have brought more to the table. With the second EP, I probably came in with three quarters of a song, this time having a bridge and an intro section. Those were things I hadn’t done before. With this new record, I feel I am starting to get comfortable with songwriting. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. When I came to the sessions this time, the songs were about 80% complete on paper, so to speak. Then we went into the studio to see where things went. That is kind of how the process is and it is much different than I thought it was.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with this new album?
The biggest challenge was trying to figure out what to write about, quite honestly. When it came time to write the lyrics, first I had to figure out what to write about but also how to say it in a way that doesn’t sound stupid. It is kind of weird but you can talk in a certain way but you can’t sing it and then there are things you can sing but couldn’t speak that to somebody. Trying to figure that out was the hardest part. Clint has a phrase — “Words that sing well.” Sometimes, you don’t necessarily focus on the words being exactly in line with the story you are trying to tell but using lyrics or words that create a vision in your mind. Sevendust does that really, really well. There are certain things they say in their songs that evoke an almost cinematic vision in your mind. That is the biggest challenge that I had. I don’t try to write songs based off inspirations but I read a lot. I read a lot of personal development books. I try to find the oldest ones that I can so they have less spin than current books do. It seems like everyone is trying to be a multi-millionaire, entrepreneur and sell you their stuff! [laughs[ That isn’t really that honest in my opinion! I read that stuff a lot and I watch movies and then I also listen to a lot of bands who play the kind of music I would hope to play. I think that stuff comes out in what I am writing. I write something, a riff and we listen back to it to see where we are going. We arrange the song and Clint will say, “What do you want to write about?” If there is a particular mood to it, then that is where the rest of the process starts.
Looking back on the music you created over the years, which songs resonate with you the most?
There is a song on the first EP that will probably be one of my favorites for a long time. It’s called “Another Life.” It tells a story of what I was doing at the time when I had Clint and the guys working on the song. We drove to the hotel at the end of the day and our engineer, Mike Ferretti, sent the rough mix of the song. Here we were listening to the song and the words. We were hearing the words and it was telling the story of what we were doing, this huge stepping stone or turning point in my life. It sounds kind of silly but it’s the truth, we all got a little bit teary-eyed! Clint was like, “This is so amazing, man. I am so happy to be sharing this experience with you.” I was like, “Yeah, this is so cool to have you there to help me write these songs!” It was really emotional, so every time I hear that song, that is what I remember. For this new record, there are two tunes in particular that really resonate with me. The first one is “A Different Voice” and the second is “Solid Ground.” If you really want to know what makes Gary Noon tick, those two songs might give you a really good indication!
Obviously, you have a lot of talented of people in the mix for this project. While you were a fan first, what excites you about playing with them and what do they bring to the table? What most surprised you about the process of working alongside them?
What really surprised me was how laid back they all were. When you listen to Morgan Rose, he is a very aggressive, strong, driving kind of drummer. He is one of those dudes who will go in and you will say, “Alright. Here is this riff I’ve got. I want you to play drums to it.” He will start playing it and will have an amazing drum track in one or two takes. Then he will come into the sound booth to listen to it. Him, Clint and I would start talking about it. Through the whole process, they were so laid back. The biggest thing I learned from them was not to freak out in the studio because if you screw up, you can always do it again. If you are sitting in front of the console and blow the guitar part, all you have to do is delete it and record it better the next time. On the first record, I was totally uptight! Honestly, I was so anxious, there were times I was totally forgetting the stuff I had written. They just kept reminding me to relax! That is really what they brought to the table for me, along with their ability to do a really fantastic job. They know what a song needs to sound good, how much to put in and how often to lay back. I think those are points that took songwriters who have been around for a long time a while to have learned and I had the privilege at the start of my songwriting career.
What are you seeing when you look ahead to the future for this project?
What the future holds for Walking With Giants is pretty exciting. In the near future, we are looking forward to some shows in the spring. I have a day job and I am a single dad, so I have to juggle life and music, so we are going to start off with some weekend show dates. Once we are confident and start finding an audience, we are going to look at doing a two- or three-week run. It is really starting with the basics to ensure there is a good show for people to come and see. I have played by myself live and played in church orchestras live but it is different than being on stage and playing songs you have written yourself with confidence. A great frontman interacts with the audience and there are a lot of things I have to get the hang of doing, so that is the first stage. I went to see the Tremonti Project when they first started. They are great musicians but Mark Tremonti was never a frontman. He got the hang of it and now he is a phenomenal frontman! He has a great command of the stage. Who am I to say I don’t have to do the same thing! I will also keep writing and recording as often as I can because it is probably the most fun I have ever had.
You can serve as a true inspiration to aspiring musicians. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
That is a pretty scary question! [laughs] You think someone would say, “Follow your dreams. Don’t give up!” The stuff you would hear on infomercials all the time! [laughs] Honestly, I would say, “Do what you really care about.” I have people I talk to all of the time and who have had fantastic careers but hate what they are doing. They may have truckloads of money but they hate their jobs and have spent half of their lives doing something they hate doing. I am trying my hardest to do stuff I really care about. I have a family and a career that I love. My love of music is what started this whole thing. Why spend the majority of your life doing something you don’t love when you could spend the same amount of time doing something you do love!?
Thanks for your time today, Gary! We can’t wait to see where this incredible journey takes you next!
Thanks, Jason! Talk to you again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.