Heralded as on of music’s most dynamic and melodically exciting virtuoso guitarists, Andy Timmons has spent decades building an impressively diverse sonic resume. As guitarist for pop-metal band Danger Danger, he toured the world opening for Kiss and Alice Cooper, sold over a million records worldwide, and had two #1 videos on MTV, plus amassing a discography that includes 7 solo releases that range from blazing guitar instrumentals, to blues, and even a Beatles/Elvis Costello-inspired collection of pop tunes. As a session player, he’s been highly featured on CDs by drumming legend Simon Phillips, a live CD with Olivia Newton-John (serving as her director/guitarist for several U.S. tours), two internationally acclaimed CDs by Kip Winger, recording sessions for Paula Abdul, Paul Stanley, and countless radio and television jingles. He has also played alongside many of his heroes such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Ace Frehley, Ted Nugent, and Pierre Bensusan, as well as some of his favorite ’60’s singing stars such as the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore and Gordon Waller.
Throughout the years and his many successes, The Andy Timmons Band has remained a constant creative outlet in the guitarist’s life. In the Fall of 2016, the musical powerhouse has returned once more! Their eighth album, “Theme From A Perfect World,” was released on September 30th, 2016, via their own custom label, Timstone Records. Co-produced by Timmons and his longtime bassist Mike Daane, the album features 10 all-new tracks of melodic guitar instrumentals that certainly feel both modern and vintage; much like the music they loved growing up. In addition to Daane on bass, the album also features Rob Avsharian on drums as well as original Andy Timmons Band drummer Mike Marine, who appears on five tracks. A powerful grouping of songs, the album is sure to touch an emotional chord in every listener and will warrant repeat listens. From the driving, rising force of “Ascension” to the crossover pop leanings of “Winterland” and “Sanctuary” to a pair of heartfelt, uplifting elegies, “That Day Came” and “On Your Way, Sweet Soul,” it’s a richly diverse album that truly features something for everyone.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Andy Timmons to discuss his musical roots, his longevity as an artist and the making of The Andy Timmons Band’s new album, “Theme From A Perfect World.”
Let’s start at the beginning. How did music first come into your life?
It was a very easy thing to do in the household that I grew up. I had three older brothers and we were all four years apart. My oldest brother was 12 years older than I was and I was born in 1963. At that point, for him, it was prime record buying age. He was coming into his teen years and, all of a sudden, there was the Beatles. Fortunately for me, he bought every record that came out of the British invasion. It was the Beatles, The Kinks and the Dave Clark Five, along with some US groups like Herman’s Hermits and Paul Revere and the Raiders. All of that was in the household nonstop. There was my foundation! Each of my older brothers also played a little bit of guitar. There would be the obligatory Silvertone acoustic guitar that every household in the 1960s seemed to have back in those days. My brothers were my heroes. My folks split when I was very young so my dad wasn’t around much but here were these three older guys in my life that were all about music. That was massively inspiring to me. I just wanted to be like them and impress them. So, so much of my foundation really does stem from that. Their musical tastes, to this day, still resonate with me. Whatever they’re into, there’s a good chance it’s going to be what I’m into as well.
When did you pick up an instrument and begin to develop that side of your musical personality?
From the age of 4 on, I had what seemed to be an endless stream of plastic toy guitars. They used to make these kids size plastic guitars that were actually playable. It’s like the Mickey Mouse crank guitar but a plastic guitar with nylon strings that were tunable. I don’t know that I ever played with six strings in tune but I remember vividly being able to play a string arrangement of “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” by The Monkees by age 4 or 5. I was already thinking horizontally on the guitar melodically at that point. That was the start! As I got older my hands got to the size where I could actually start to make a chord on that acoustic, I started sneaking around my brother’s rooms when they weren’t home to try and pick it up and see if I can replicate what I had seen them do.
At what point does this go from being a passion of yours and a hobby to something more serious?
I think it was somewhere in my mid-teens. My first professional gig was my own eighth grade graduation dance. I guess I was about 13 or 14 years old at the time. I had an older brother who had a friend that had the gig but didn’t have a band. My brother was telling his buddy, “Hey, my little brother is getting pretty good. I hear him in the bedroom. Maybe he should play with you.” I ended up playing with them the next seven years! We formed the basis of what would become the Taylor Bay Band back in Evansville, Indiana. I remember that first and getting paid $25. I was like, “You get paid for this?!” [laughs] It hadn’t even occurred to me that money was a part of the equation! We started playing, very sporadically of course, and it soon became one of these bands that played three nights a week forever. I think by the time I was 15 or 16 years old it was clear to me that it had been my lifelong passion but I realized it was what I was going to do from here on out. To this day, admittedly, you have to be business-minded because life costs and you have to take care of yourself and provide for your family and loved ones. However, money doesn’t steer what I do, it’s been the wrong decision. I still do this and plan to continue doing this because I love it! It has nothing to do with the money part of it. If this had worked out and I was doing something else for living, I’d certainly still be as obsessed with music as I am now. I’m very thankful and don’t take it for granted that this is what I get to do. Somehow, there’s enough people out there who like what I do to help me keep going and support that. Not to say that it’s easy because it’s certainly not but I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am today.
In addition to your success with the Andy Timmons Band, you’ve been a part of so many great musical projects. What are the keys to longevity in the music business?
For me, it’s hard to speak about what’s successful or not. Being able to keep busy and diversified has been key. If you associate me with the band Danger Danger, like many people do as it was one of the more prominent gigs I did back in the early ‘90s, there are a lot of bands from that era that once the genre kind of had its run, were out of a job. For a while, I was wondering, “Wow. What are those guys doing now?” Now, of course, with nostalgia those guys can tour and make a decent living. I was fortunate in that I was already playing all these different styles of music. I was very well-versed in jazz, Blues and my own instrumental rock thing. I could literally plug into any type of musical situation and do a good job. I love that! I was Olivia Newton-John’s band leader for 15 years and played with Simon Phillips and the crazy fusion music. I love each one of those just the same. It’s two very different sets of musical challenges but both are as equally gratifying. I think success for me is to be able to keep doing what I love to do and continuing to improve. More now than ever, I just have to do what’s in my heart. I feel that tends to be what people will connect with more often than not anyway. Whether it’s financially successful or not, it really doesn’t matter because I’ve honored my past and what my internal musical voice is steering. If I tried to gauge success by financial or same type of game, I think I’d be barking up the wrong tree.
You have a new album, “Theme From A Perfect World.” Did you have goals or aspirations for this album when you went into the creative process?
Sure! Hopefully, the ongoing thread throughout all of my recording projects has focused on the melodic and songwriting based records. Certainly, my early offerings focused on the shred instrumental mentality of, “Here, look what I can do,” and then mixed in with some nice songwriting and some more restrained playing. Over time, there is no doubt that it’s the songwriting, and emotional content and delivery of the songs that is way more important to me than the other demonstrations of abilities. I just want to connect with people in that way as my favorite players I have connected with me.
What can you tell us your songwriting process these days? What changed and what stayed the same?
I think it’s the same and it’s always been. I talk about songwriting a lot when I’m teaching master classes. When I’m doing that, I use the Beatles as kind of a benchmark because they were such great songwriters. I don’t think they were born great songwriters. They learned all their favorite songs. They had those eight hour gigs in Hamburg where they had to stretch the material and do so much, so they ran out of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly songs pretty quickly. They started learning showtunes and things with a bit more advanced harmonies and different types of melodic content. Whenever writing songs they were drawing upon all these experiences and things that they had loved and connected with. It’s the same for me with their music to Brian Wilson’s writing to all the jazz I’ve taken and along with the classical. All these elements have an impact on the writing. Writing is a very selfish thing because you are writing a song that you want to hear. It’s about what’s going to please you. If you honor that voice and honor that gift, hopefully other people will connect to it as well but you have to start with you. You start by writing the song you want to hear and it really comes from a collection of all those great pieces that connected with you in some way.
Did you encounter obstacles in the making of this album?
Not really obstacles. Mike Daane, the bass player for The Andy Timmons Band, and I have been working together since 1988. This record is the first one that he engineered, mixed and produced. I wanted to call him the producer but he insisted that we co-produce and that is probably true in the grand scheme of things but in my mind it was me kind of loosening the reigns a little bit and getting more direction from Mike. He has always had a wonderful influence on the music that we’ve recorded. He Mitch, Rob or either of the drummers we have had in our band have all contributed quite a bit. I may be the primary songwriter but everybody is bringing their ideas and their uniqueness to what they do. On this record I found myself really enjoying pulling back from the role that I would typically have where I might have a vision for a song and know I wanted to sound a certain way. I learned a lot more from Mike and really gave him more latitude as far as him steering me in directions that maybe he took me out of my comfort zone or down a path I wouldn’t have thought of. We would just try everything! For each song we would audition singers or in this case guitarists. What I called the singer of the song is whatever tone I’m using to play the melodies. Sometimes we would come up with things totally different than I imagined. So, I would say the obstacles weren’t there but the challenges were. There were no obstacles and that was the beauty of it! We worked more closely than we ever had before. I think giving Mike more input was healthy for everything and it is certainly a much better record for it. I also think it strengthened our working relationship. We’re ready to work on more stuff right now! [laughs] That’s a really good place to be if you just finished a record! Sometimes you finish a record and think, “I don’t want to see those people for a long time! I’m done!” [laughs] We just wanted to make, and this may sound like an odd thing but, a very musical record in a very organic way. We relied almost exclusively on vintage analog gear interfaced with a digital recording device. We recorded into Radar but we also mixed in Logic. All that being done through a 1971 API board and everything else was 1980 or before, all the outboard gear. It has the minimum of digital and the maximum of organic sounds that we grew up with throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
What do the other guys in the band bring to the table and bring out of you creatively?
With Mike, as I said, he’s been a prime influence in this band from day one. Mitch Marine, our original drummer, there’s nobody like him. He’s a spark of energy and always brings such great feeling ideas to the table. Robert Avsharian is the most recent addition to our drummer family, of which we have several! [laughs] He’s a great rock player! He has a great band called Bobgoblin. I highly recommend checking out their most recent record because it’s one of my favorites from the last few years. He’s also one of the most incredible jazz drummers I’ve ever played with. That has always been a major influence on all the music that we are doing. At our core we are all rock guys from the ‘70s but all of us have also played a lot of jazz. Even though we don’t necessarily sound like a jazz band, that influence heavily informs how we play and how we phrase things. It gives the music a much deeper level of the dynamic than what most normal rock bands might be able to achieve.
I’m sure some songs come easier than others. Which ones came easy and which ones were harder to nail down?
”That Day Came” was one of the easier ones just because I had such a clear view of what I wanted that guitar to sound like. That turned out to be a 65 Strat. The most difficult one was “On Your Way Sweet Soul.” Mike and I had a very specific Strat tone in mind. Well in addition to the guitars. At one point we had 20 different Stratocasters in the studio and none of those actually made the record. There was a buddy of mine named Sam Swank, a great guitar player also, but who is a guitar repair guy. He had a guy bring in a 1960s Hardtail Strat to his shop. Completely unsolicited by me he said, “Hey, a buddy of mine just brought the Strat in. I think you need to hear it.” He didn’t even know that I had 20 Strats in the studio at the time and was trying to find this sound. He said the guy was cool with it if I wanted to borrow it and that he would bring it over. Instantly, upon hearing it, I knew that was it! If you’re looking for the ultimate Strat neck pickup tone, then here was the guitar! I haven’t given it back yet, so … [laughs] Actually, he ended up selling it to me! It was just one of those things where it wasn’t for sale but the guy was like, “Well, if Andy loves it that much, OK!” It was just one of those fortuitous meetings! I’ve also learned over the years that if you find that special instrument you need to try to hold onto it because you may never find it again, ya know!
How have you evolved as a musician through the years?
I think you’re going to grow as a person and a player, especially as a player, If you just keep doing it. If you’re constantly musically aware you are going to grow. Remain a student is the best advice I could give. I think I’ve gotten away from being as ardent a student as I should be over the years but the last five years I’ve had a major rebirth in that type of thought. First thing every day, I’m going to play no matter what. I’m going to get that practice timing and spend some time transcribing and spend some time writing. Through the years I’ve always played but practicing was never practicing. It was like I was playing and that would quickly turn into a songwriting session, which is great! Recently, I’ve gotten back into playing jazz and I’m doing some jazz gigs now. It came a time I was getting back with playing with Simon Phillips. That music is much more harmonically challenging than anything else I do. I like any situation where I’m really being challenged! That just helps everything sounds better even the most simple rock sounds way better because you have much more control over your instrument. Over time your control of the instrument becomes more defined and from that your sound and your tone get better. Hopefully, your musical decisions and choices do too and your playing will reflect that maturity. I have times where I enjoy what I’m hearing and sometimes I know I have so much further to go but that’s where I like to be. If you ever got happy or satisfied with that, where would the fun be? The fun is the journey, the effort and knowing that you’re still a beginner. No matter how far you get along, there’s still so much to learn and so many great players to be inspired by. It’s so endless and wonderfully energizing! I’m just happy to be here still doing it! [laughs]
With that being said, is there musical territory you look to explore in the short-term?
If I told you that I just finished a bossa nova record and I have a surf guitar record in the can that I can’t wait to get out, would you be totally surprised? Or would it make total sense?! It’s true! I just recorded a bossa nova record in Brazil last month in Rio de Janeiro with Roberto Menescal producing. He is one of the original bossa nova creators along with Antônio Jobim and João Gilberto. That’s probably another daylong interview for that scenario! [laughs] I actually have two different surf records. One is completed and ready to go and another one is waiting to be completed. There will also be a jazz project in the future along with lots more Andy Timmons Band stuff! I can’t wait to continue the productivity and it’s really exciting!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Wow! That’s a tough one to answer. You just have to know that there’s always room to improve and grow. Just keep doing it! You’re going to get better! And how lucky are we to have something that we are this passionate about? Not everybody has that in their lives. Musicians are a very blessed group of people because we have the ability to not only make ourselves happy but the better we get, hopefully, we are making other people happy as well. That’s a wonderful gift, man! At its core it’s something that really enriches our lives and the lives of those around us. I can’t think of a better way to go round in this lifetime than to be able to appreciate it and enjoy it but also to give back in that way! If anybody is inspired by what I’m doing or what I’ve done, I’m immensely appreciative of that and humbled because I still just consider myself a big fan! I have a huge collection of autographed records by everybody that I’ve met that’s been an inspiration! I have no qualms about bugging them a little bit and telling them what they’ve meant, what they continue to mean to my growth and how they have enriched my life!
That’s awesome, Andy! Thank you for letting me bug you a little bit today!
Aww, man, anytime! [laughs]
Thanks for being such an inspiration and I wish you continued success, my friend!
Thanks for chatting with me and helping to spread the word!
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.