Ty Tabor burst on to the music scene 30 years ago when he partnered up with Doug Pinnick and Jerry Gaskill to form King’s X. The band released acclaimed albums together including “Out Of The Silent Planet,” “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska,” “Faith Hope Love” and “Dogman.” These records have been cited as influential by some of the biggest names in rock music today. Ty’s love for recording and musical gear led to him opening a studio in Kansas City in 1996. In 1997, he released his first solo album “Naomi’s Solar Pumpkin” and much of that album became his second solo album, “Moonflower Lane.” He released seven solo albums to date as well as projects with his other side band, The Jelly Jam. Ty spends his time between the studio and playing on the road with King’s X.
With three decades in the music business under his belt, Tabor shows no signs of slowing down. His passion for his craft continues to grow as he finds himself venturing further into uncharted musical territory. In January of 2018, he will release his solo effort, “Alien Beans,” via Rat Pak Records. The album is a double-disc album featuring 10 new studio tracks and a best of compilation disc, which features 11 re-mixed and re-mastered tracks selected by Tabor from his previous releases. It’s a must-own record for long-time fans of the guitarist’s work, yet it also serves a spirited introduction for music fans just discovering his work. From the melodic instrumental album opener “Alien Beans” to the brooding lyrics of closer “Deeper Place,” Ty combines his unique songwriting and sense of melody that made him famous in King’s X with his individual vocal style. Songs like “Freight Train,” “Johnny Guitar” and “Somebody Lied” showcase Ty’s rockier side while “So Here’s To You” and “This Time” show his softer sensibility.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ty Tabor to discuss his journey as an artist, his passion for creation and the process of breathing life into his ‘Alien Beans’ solo album.
Music played a tremendous role in your life. When did music begin to take hold?
Music has always been there for me. I heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles when I was 2 years old and it’s one of my earliest childhood memories. I was at a friend’s birthday party and he got the single for his birthday. He had a little, tiny, square record player from the ‘60s. He got one of those and a couple of singles for his birthday; he was turning 3 at the time. I can remember us playing that song over and over and over and being disappointed when I had to leave. I just wanted to keep hearing the song! Lucky for me, my next-door neighbor, who was two houses down, was a great guitar player named Mickey Pogue. He had done some touring and stuff himself. He used to be my babysitter when my folks would go bowling a few nights a week. He would always bring the new Beatles single over, whatever it was at the time, so I was raised on the Beatles from a very young age. That, along with being in a very musical family, had a big impact on me. My parents would both sing and my dad played instruments. He got me performing and playing bluegrass music very early on. It was a combination of all those things but it got me started early on.
When did you pick up an instrument and what led you to pursue your passion professionally?
I picked up the guitar too early to even remember, to be honest. My dad would go to work and I would get his guitar and try to figure out chords on it. I remember one day figuring out a G chord, almost right, by playing around on my own. When my dad came home, I showed him and he started showing me the correct way to play my first three or four chords. That’s what got me into playing guitar and there was always a guitar around. My dad and mom knew I wanted to play guitar from the first time I heard that Beatles record, like I said. The first guitar they bought me was a little, plastic toy guitar. I got very angry because it didn’t sound like a real guitar and I knew it wasn’t one. I took it into the living room and I jumped up and down on it and smashed it into pieces while my brother watched in horror! [laughs] Lucky for me, instead of getting in big trouble, my parents realized that they couldn’t just fake me out by giving me some $3 piece of plastic! They then got me a somewhat real, beginner guitar and that got me on the path to playing! That’s how it started.
Obviously you are a fan of rock ‘n’ roll and have been a part of the scene for decades. Has the way you view rock ‘n’ roll changed?
Rock ‘n’ roll is always changing. In any group of 3 to 4 years, you can look back and see how it’s changed. Like I said, I grew up on the Beatles and think of everything that has come since then, until now and it’s unfathomable music has changed and gone in every direction. A lot of what they call rock doesn’t even resemble what rock is to me. It’s evolved so far, I can hardly recognize it as rock anymore!
Let’s talk about the musicians who impacted you through the years.
Without a doubt, the Beatles have to be my number one influence. They were adventurers in the studio and did things all the time that were the first time something was ever done. They were incredible innovators and that inspires me to record, play and try to be innovative as well. When it comes to guitar players, I have a whole bunch of influences from Brian May to Ace Frehley in the early days of KISS and I’m a big Allan Holdsworth fan, Robin Trower and Johnny Winter were massive influences. Lindsey Buckingham is another person who’s had a big impact on me. I don’t mention him very often but he was a huge influence on me!
What are the keys to longevity in an industry as turbulent as this one?
I don’t know because I know plenty of great bands that weren’t able to hang in there and gave it up after a few years. Then there are others that seem to go on forever like King’s X! [laughs] I will say I think it takes everybody in the band really enjoying being in a band together, enjoying playing music together and enjoying hanging around together. I think that is more important than anything else. That’s really why a lot of bands don’t last — personal problems between members. If you are lucky enough to find good people who you become friends with, you get along and want to go through all of this together and you are happily doing soon, then you are lucky! I’m finding out that’s harder to find than I realized when I blundered into King’s X.
You have a double album on the way in 2018. How did the ball get rolling on “Alien Beans?”
Actually, I sort of got talked into it and that’s how it came about! [laughs] I had been releasing my stuff online on the side and not really making a big deal of it. My manager mentioned to me that I should actually release some of that stuff on a record label so more people could know about it and here it is. That was the original idea. He was talking to Joe at Rat Pak Records about it and then we came up with the idea of putting two or three more songs on the record along with the old stuff so it wouldn’t just be entirely old stuff. After I finished with the first three songs, I called up Joe and said, “Hey, man. Why don’t you hold off for a couple of weeks? I have another song I want to finish and we could add one more to it.” He said, “OK, we will wait a little longer.” I would finish with that song and call him again and say, “I’ve got three or four more we have started almost in the can. Why don’t we hold off for a little longer? I ended up writing about 20 songs or so and choosing nine or 10 to add to the old songs, which made it a double album. So, a double album wasn’t the original intention but it sort of morphed into that.
Tell us about your songwriting process. What changed and stayed the same through the years?
I think it’s basically the same. I usually come up with a guitar part first and then that is enough to take it to the next phase where it becomes something. Occasionally, I will have a vocal or lyric idea first but 99% of the time I’m just sitting around playing the guitar entry. When I hear something I like I will develop it a little bit further. A lot of times song parts will come out of that and, these days, I will record on my iPhone. I have a zillion little fragmented parts! From there, I will go into the studio and listen through those fragments to see what really hits me or makes me excited and I will work on that song and finish out. That’s kind of my process.
What were the biggest challenges in bringing “Alien Beans” to life?
Making the old stuff sound like it belonged on a record with the new stuff was a big challenge. What I did was went back and replaced a lot of the drums, which were sampled drums. I changed some of the samples to be more modern sounding. I remixed most of it and I remastered all of it but the main challenge was getting that old stuff to sound as current as the new ones but I think we got it there!
Do you always work on new ideas and material?
Yeah, I’m always writing. Sometimes I may have a vague idea of what project I’m writing for but most of the time I’m just writing. When I find myself in the situation of working in a different project, then I turn in some of these songs and see if they seem to fit that project! But, yes, I’m always writing! I got so much that’s gone by the wayside that it’s ridiculous!
Sounds like a good problem to have!
Yeah, I’d rather have that problem than writer’s block!
It started out in Houston in my house. Then it moved to a different house in Houston. Basically, what happened was that I had some time off from King’s X. We have been touring a whole lot during the first several albums and it was pretty much nonstop. We took a little time off and I just wanted to do some demos and some stuff at home and I wanted some better gear. I bought some digital recording gear and that’s where it all started. Basically, I have been upgrading and changing things out ever since as new things come out and new software and hardware are developed. Just last year, The Jelly Jam did a new album where we spent some money buying a really nice ADK computer for the studio. At the moment, I’ve got the baddest and fastest computer you can buy and a lot of other quirky gear that I like to get the sound I want. The reason I like it is that the place is hidden and no one knows about it because it’s never really been open to the public, although I’ve done a few recordings for here. For the most part, I do mastering and nobody ever gets to come to the place, see the place or even knows where it is anymore! It’s hidden in Kansas City at the moment in an unmarked building. The reason I like it is the privacy and that’s mine to do whatever I want, whenever I want at whatever time I want! It’s a great resource to have for a musician!
When it comes to songwriting, some come easier and some are harder to nail down. Is that the case with “Alien Beans?”
I think that everything that ended up on this album is what became the easiest and that’s why it ended up on the album. If I was struggling with songs and they just weren’t coming together, after a while I would let it go because it was just sucking me dry and making me not want to play. It’s good to go through the doors as they are opening and explore those. If those work, then good because anytime you are having to force a square peg into a round hole it’s not too enjoyable.
They say you learn something from every project. What was the biggest takeaway from this album?
I can’t say that on this record in particular I had something stand out to me. However, I’ve realized over the past five or six years that pretty much everything I have been writing has been politically motivated. I think I realized I’m more of an advocate than I realized I was even though I masked a lot of the things I had to say and songs so that it’s not obvious. In my writing, it’s usually politically, environmentally or something having to do with relationships or something motivated by those things.
Well, you’re certainly in the perfect climate!
[laughs] Yeah, I’ve been screaming about different political figures for a while. I just give them different names in songs.
Doing an album like “Alien Beans” puts you in a unique position to look back on what you created. How have you evolved through the years?
I don’t know. I think that would be better for others to say because when I go back and listen to the stuff, I was shocked to find out how it’s all still relatively in the same vein of what I’m doing now. I’m always trying new things and always trying to evolve but, at the same time, I’m pretty true to whatever it is I’m doing. It seems it was surprising when I heard some of the old stuff because I thought there would be more of a difference in a lot of ways but a lot of it vibe-wise is right on track.
The cool things about having a long track record is you’re still gaining new fans along the way. For those discovering your work, what is a good jumping off point?
I would point them to the album, “Rock Garden.” That is probably my favorite album that I have ever made solo-wise until this latest album. We will let this one grow on me and, in a couple of years, see where it stacks up. I do really love this new one and the new stuff on but I think “Rock Garden” is a great place to get an overall deal of what I’m about as an artist.
With that said, where are you headed?
We are looking at King’s X doing a new record, finally, after a decade. We’re also looking at Jelly Jam getting together this coming year and doing some more stuff, whether it be live or another album. I was actually talking to the guy in Houston that played with me on my last live show and we were talking about putting together three or four live shows in Texas together for this year too. That’s about all I’m worried about at the moment!
What is the best part of being a working musician in this day and age?
I get a lot from being able to write and record music. It’s very fulfilling. I get to do something I love and I’ve gotten to do that for so long and I feel pretty lucky that it is my situation. I know a lot of people very close to me who that’s not their situation. A lot of them may be more financially taken care of than I am because of the jobs and paths they have taken but there is just a huge reward for doing things that are creative and somehow being able to make a living doing that. For me, I’m just really happy that I get to do it and that what I do is something creative, as opposed to something I dread going to do!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I don’t know! These would be great questions for someone to tell me the answer! [laughs] Hopefully, it comes down to perseverance and honesty with your art is the take away. Ya know, myself Dug [Pinnick] and Jerry [Gaskill], the three of us, are three people that I can name right off the bat who’ve been able to make a living going our way by playing what is true to us, playing what we want to play and playing what we enjoy. If anyone can get encouragement from that for themselves, I think that’s a good thing! I hope!
Thanks for your time today, Ty! I can’t wait to see where the journey takes you!
Thank you, Jason! I appreciate it!
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.