I have information that suggests that The Muppets were an important part of your musical development. Can you tell us more about their influence, as well as other artists that lead you to become the musician you are today?
Jim Henson & The Muppets have been a part of my life since I was born. Sesame Street started when I was born, and I was always fascinated (and sometimes terrified) with them since I can remember. The real early muppet stuff is just scary & dark. Before Sweetums was an oafish ogre, he was this badass, scary monster with eyes that lit up & a voice that gave me night terrors throughout my life. Look up some stuff on youtube (beautiful day monster, the Frog Prince, etc)... it’s NOTHING like Elmo & the ADHD Ernie & Bert these days. It was sarcastic, funny, dark, unfair sometimes, but always entertaining. Anyway, Henson’s imagination & creations just felt right.
As far as “artists” go, guitar-wise would be Vai. I’m not gonna lie... I learned a shitload of his stuff (P&W and before). I was in a rut playing whatever I thought was good, and wanted to get serious about my progression as a player. I studied his style & learned a great deal.
The other go-to guy for me was Danny Elfman. Not much on the Boingo stuff, but his film scores just kicked my ass. Like Henson, something about it just clicked with me. Anvilhead stuff was heavily influenced by Elfman.
Your albums all contain programmed drums, but they're more realistic than any I've heard done by another band. What's your secret?
Insanity. ;) When I started doing my own personal recording back in 1992-ish, my friend turned me on to sequencers & midi. Trying to get what was in my head to tape via an Alesis HR-16 drum machine wasn’t gonna cut it, so I got into Twelve Tone sequencing (who became Cakewalk). I was fortunate that my dad was an early computer programmer, so we had been early adopters of PC systems & had (dare I say) a spare to use just for sequencing. No graphical interfacing back then... I did all my programming (and still do to this day) via the computer keyboard, hit by hit, note value by note value. It got to the point that it was faster for me to type the notes than to try & mimic it on a drum machine/pad/keys. Anyway, it wasn’t supposed to be a permanent solution... just something to dictate my ideas for future drummers to get the idea of what to play. I got lost in the nuances of programming, and as the technology & samples got better, my attention to detail became finer. I had written my own macros & stuff to do random velocities, and other stuff like that to give it more of a “human” feel.
"...it'll rip your head off..."
Whenever a musician releases an instrumental album, fans often wonder where they got the inspiration for the song titles, as they have no lyrics from which to draw. All of your albums have very interesting songs titles, such as “Burned Beyond Recognition”, “The Twiddle”, and “Tryptophen Junkie”, among others. I was wondering, what your process is for coming up with song titles and which ones are your favorites?
I always disliked song titles that seemed to take themselves (musically & artistically) too seriously. I’d rather have people wonder, “what’s that gonna sound like?”. Some titles just happened by accident or some inspired incident. Here are a few examples:
“Raw Sausage Finger” came from those refrigerator magnet word sets. One of my best friend’s sister & I were wasting time in their kitchen and I came up with my mob character’s name: Eddie the Raw Sausage Finger.
“Chest Compression v6” was supposed to be called “2 Minutes With A Bat”... just a primal rage outlet.
“Thrown Down A Mountain” came from a conversation I had with someone about, “will so and so like your music?” and I said something to the effect of, “if you’re gonna be thrown down a mountain, it’d might as well be from him.” It was kind of a “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks” song.
“Bitch”: Always thought the nicest piece of music I’ve written should have this title. It’s not written about anyone specifically. I do remember where I wrote it, though... in this apartment that two girls had in Hollywood, just strumming someone’s guitar & wasting time. “Zero” originated there, too... at least the harmonics/intro did.
“The Brick”: I always wanted some chocolate company to make a lump of chocolate the actual size of a brick.
“Pooper” was named after my friend’s cat. He was awesome.
After releasing Orange, you released an Enhanced Media EP featuring remixes of a song from that album entitled “Raw Sausage Finger”. Why the remix EP and why that song in particular?
I was just getting into looping & digital editing/DAW stuff, and I thought it would be a good candidate to experiment with. I liked the riff. The disc was kind of a promotional thing I did to fill the space while working on X & the subsequent learning curve for digital editing.
Anvilhead and Orange are fantastic displays of guitaristry and songwriting, but there is just so much going on in X that it blows my mind every time I hear it. Can you tell us some of your memories about recording that album?
In no particular order... just rambling thoughts & memories: I wrote “Screaming Chicken” originally as a demo for Cakewalk’s “Guitar Tracks Pro” software. They called me & said, “we need something that rips, is under 2 minutes, and can fit within <insert parameters here>.” I had a working relationship with them for years, so I said okay. I did it all in a few days. That kind of set the tone for X, sonically that is. Guitars tuned down to B (not a seven string), kill switching, and some funky filter & wah pedals. I guess I was just done with the whole, “I’m gonna play something in the diorama mode here, the equestrian mode here, and finish up with 128th note appreggios.” Conceptually, I wanted it to journey away from strict guitar-based music and more about ambience, sound, layers, etc. I had this new digital palette of sounds & samples to play with, and I felt for the first time I could articulate exactly what I heard in my head when I wrote the music.
I had this one room studio guest house in Glendale up in the foothills of the Verdugo mountains. It was awesome. I would work in the morning, finish by 2pm, take a nap, and then just record & play until 1-2am. I taped the windows up with black matteboard so it was perpetually midnight inside.
Gear-wise (caution: nerd alert!) I was using my parts guitar (strat copy) I built back in the 90s, and a newer version with a Tune-O-Matic. I ended up using the TOM guitar for most of it as it was just easier than having to deal with a trem. I love trems, but I felt I was becoming too dependent on it sometimes. Even today (it’s been about 10 years since I played a guitar with a trem for any length of time) if I grab a guitar with a bar I immediately dive bomb & pull up some goofy harmonic. Pickups were DiMarzio, pedals were a Morley wah, Line 6 FM-4 filter, Whammy II pedal, and this one-off inductorless wah my pal had. Most of the “synth” stuff on that disc was done with the FM-4, or a bass thru a Bass Pod Pro & the “tron” efx. Any “scratching” was done with a kill switch & me rubbing the wound strings.
If you asked me this 10 years ago, I would have probably given you a different answer as so much has changed in the industry/technology/my growing older, etc. I’ll just say that if you have any intentions of remotely getting compensated for music (that goes for bar gigging, teaching, Youtube demos), you must treat it like a business & do the necessary legwork to protect yourself. It will not guarantee that you won’t get boned, but you will at least have a leg to stand on. Become part of ASCAP or BMI, copyright your material, be professional.
I know you have a love for cars – Trans Ams in particular, if I recall – which is reflected in your song “Big Block”, as well as the fact that your follow-up album to X was going to be entitled Piston. What are your favorite automobiles and which have you owned?
Trans Am. I’m on my third 2nd Gen Pontiac Firebird now. Something about them... they’re big, heavy, smelly, noisy, but lots of fun. I like wrenching & building stuff like that. I also like the early 70s Dodge Challengers. Dark horse goes to the Opel GT... even darker would be an authentic Rat Rod!
A horrible incident occurred some time ago: your hard drive crashed and you lost most of your work on the album you had been recording. I know you reworked it, but never quite finished. Are there any plans to see your unfinished album, Piston, to completion? Would it help if I pre-ordered it now?
Hahaha! I was just listening to the mixes last night. It really is about 80% complete. Just needs some solos & cleaning up. Knowing me I’ll want to retrack everything with my new guitars, amps, and pedals. lol
Your whole career has featured you making modified guitars to record your work. So much, in fact, that you have put your musical career on hold to become a full-time guitar luthier! You now have your own business, entitled Joe Bochar Guitars. How and why did you make the jump from musician to guitar maker?
No one reason, really. Up to the week that my son was born I was trying to cram the last Piston recording sessions in so I could just mix while I changed diapers & do the newborn daddy thing. Life just got busy & my son became more important to me than maintaining my guitar street cred. About two years after I stopped recording, someone crammed the idea into my noggin of going back into guitar building & it stuck there. I have been building, repairing, and modifying guitars since the late 80s, but now it’s a full-time gig as opposed to just tweaking for fun.
Why should someone buy a Joe Bochar guitar over a name brand model? What's special about your work that people can't find anywhere else?
They’re made with ferndust. ;) I built & designed my guitars because I could never find an instrument that looked, felt, played, sounded, and was constructed the way I thought they should be. I wanted an instrument that wasn’t a cookie-cutter guitar... I no longer cared about what my favorite guitar player was playing & had to have what they were playing. I wanted something uniquely identifiable as my own. I was on a mission to create something distinctive enough to be original (or fresh), but pay homage to the vintage guitars that I loved.
Every guitar is hand built (as of now, no CNC machinery... just hand-routers) from rough cut/milled boards. I have a patent on the neck joint, which is a modified s-curve slipjoint that is pressed together and secured with machine bolts. It allows a deeper lower cutaway for easier access to the upper frets... and the tight fit allows for better energy transfer between the neck & body. My truss rods are machined to my specifications (nothing off the shelf) by a local machine shop. Aside from a few parts (tuning heads, bridge, etc), I build everything. Nothing is outsourced.
The Standard (ST) is a base model without certain options (no coil splitting pickups, no fancy dot inlays, no exotic woods and/or finishes). You can add options to the build sheet, and if you select all of the options you will end up with an Special Edition (SE). The Exotic suffix (XT) denotes the guitar was built with exotic woods instead of the standard maple/alder body combination. Limba (Korina) is my personal favorite XT build wood.
Right now you have the Supertone, but your website shows two other forthcoming designs, one called the Supersport and the other as of yet unnamed. Can you tell us anything about these coming additions to the JBG family?
I have to go thru the website & update some of the info. The two other instruments are the Supertone 2XL, and the Z-tone (Zetatone). The 2XL is the same shape as the Supertone, only about 25% larger. The Z-Tone is a single-coil/pickguard model for players who prefer S-type guitars. There have been 4 prototype/first run guitars produced & are currently making the rounds to beta testing players for feedback.
You're currently expanding your presence in retail outlets, which people can find on your website. For people who live further away, are there any other ways for people to try out one of your guitars?
Right now, we are working on getting JBG’s into more traditional instrument/retail stores for people to get their hands on the Supertones to really get a feel for them. Also, some of our online dealers offer a 48 hour trial period.
It’s an overdrive pedal that kicks smaller tube amps into submission. I started playing some local gigs & my half-stack was overkill for the tiny pubs in my area. I broke out the 5 watt tube amp, but the stomp boxes I had weren’t cutting it. I began tweaking a design & am almost finished with it. It’s not a distortion pedal, but not a fuzz either. If a fuzz pedal is a “1”, and a distortion pedal is a “10”, then this would be about a “6.5/7” on that spectrum. It won’t replace a high-gain tube amp (ie: Bogner), but it’ll rip your head off when you drop-tune & riff out.
To the peeps that have followed me from player, to builder, and coming back to player again: thank you. For people just finding out what’s up in my skull, come visit the site/facebook/youtube/etc and drop a note.
Thanks Barry for taking the time to ask me these questions. You’re good people!