Roy Z is not a household name yet, and he seems to prefer it that way. Instead of craving the spotlight for himself, Roy is the ultimate team-player who seems to take pride in his ability to make other people shine. Yet at the ripe old age of 34, Roy Z is already a man with a glorious past.
Two of heavy metal's most legendary vocalists, Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, have already figured out that Roy has a a heck of a lot to offer. As a guitarist, a songwriter, a producer, and perhaps most importantly, as a person.
In my talk with Roy, I found him to be thoughtful and softspoken. He's has an almost zen-like quality about him and I get the impression Roy values karma. He clearly appreciates the opportunities that have come his way, and he doesn't seem to take anything for granted.
And while Roy counts himself quite lucky to have worked with the likes of Dickinson and Halford, I come away from this interview with the distinct impression that Dickinson and Halford are equally fortunate to have worked with Roy Z — a man with a bright future.
1/8/03 Interview conducted by Dinosaur David B.
DRG: You have worked closely with two of the legendary giants of heavy metal vocalists, Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford.
Roy: Yeah, for metal, they are the best.
DRG: You got to write songs with them and produce them in the studio. Can you tell us what it was like to work with these guys and how they like to work?
Roy: Well, I can't tell you everything, but I can tell you that each guy has a different approach. But I would never . . . I don't like to talk too much about the guys that I work with or for, because it's not a good thing. They don't like it.
Roy: Yeah. I could tell you about this or that, or how something came about, but to talk about their own techniques and stuff, I can't do that. That's up to them.
DRG: OK. Anything you want to stay away from, that's cool.
Roy: I hope you understand — part of the reason of why (I've been able to work with them) is because of my discretion. I don't say too much about their vibe. They like that. Believe it or not, people are like that. They don't want you spilling the beans on them. They want to spill them themselves.
DRG: Well, let's just keep it to whatever you feel comfortable with . . .
Roy: Well, I can tell you this: both guys are incredible singers, and each guy has a lot that they bring to the table, so it's real hard for me to work with other vocalists after working with them.
DRG: I can imagine!
Roy: You just get used to the pristine guys, you know? And I'm not saying they don't have any flaws — no, but as far as vocalists and texture, and being able to project — those guys are the two — with the exception of Ronnie Dio, who's up there too — there's nobody else. Everyone else is a clone of (Dickinson and Halford.)
DRG: Well you worked with Glenn Hughes, though, too, didn't you?
Roy: A little bit, yeah. Glenn's a different kind of singer. At one point in his life he was heavy, but now, I think of him as a soul singer.
DRG: He can get it done. Have you heard his Burning Japan Live album?
Roy: Yeah! That was great. That thing he does with the keyboard. Yeah, he's insane.
DRG: One minute he'll be screaming his head off like Ian Gillan, and the next moment it'll be like Stevie Wonder — all in the same breath!
Roy: I'm a big fan of Glenn Hughes' ability to sing. He came to my old apartment one time, and he didn't have vocals on his demo, so he proceeded to sing four songs for me live in my living room — which blew my mind (anyway) — and he was really going for it! Yeah he's up there. I'm just saying as far as metal — Glenn Hughes at one point in his life was metal. But now he's not metal.
DRG: Yeah, he's a jack of all trades. He can do anything he wants.
DRG: Let me see if I can dance around this for you. I'll put it this way: What were these two singers looking to you for?
Roy: Well, Bruce was different from Rob. They both run things is a really good way. With Rob, I try not to write any songs. (And when I'm helping) I do it more of an example kind of thing, and I'll say something like: I think you guys need something more like this. And a lot of times they'll say: Yeah That's it, dude! Lets do that. (laughs) A lot of times (with Halford) I'm not looking to insert myself as much, you know? I'm and educated fan — is what I am. I'm a fan of these guys. I grew up listening to them. I know the nooks and crannies of their styles. I've studied their styles. So I can say: Hey, you remember that thing you did on this song — well give me something like that. Where as another producer might just say: just do it again. And because I am a fan, and I'm educated in that way — in that I know what it is that I want, I just say: Do this. And they try it, and a lot of times it works. And when you're working with a Bruce or a Rob, it's so easy, because there's so much history to draw from. Just from being a fan. I can say: Dude, do that thing like you did on Ace's High. Or give me that lowwwwww (voice) like on Hallowed Be Thy Name. Or for Rob: Give me the scream like you did on whatever. You know?
DRG: Do they come in super prepared, knowing what they're going to do, or is it more of a creative process that takes place in the studio?
Roy: There's always a lot of preparation in everything that I'm involved with. I make sure that we're perfectly prepared to go in and record. Now having said that, we do sometimes write in the studio. After everything's been put down, your initial ideas might not work (anymore), so you have to adjust. And when you're adjusting to the (new) idea, you can't have any fear. That's rule number one. But you have to stay within character. And that's the hardest thing to do. To find the right thing that works and stay within character. And I'm always saying: You know what, that's cool but — or sometimes we do it to each other. It's a give and take thing. A collaboration. When you're working with those guys, you go in there, and they know you're on their team. My job — bottom line, man — my job is to make their vision a reality. If they want input, I'll give it to them. Otherwise, I'm keeping my mouth shut.
DRG: That's cool!
Roy: That's how it works, man. I insert myself where I'm asked to, or where I see that I'm needed. Other than that, I stay out of it as far as the creative process. Now when we're recording — I look at it like directing movies. I'm directing a movie. This is the lead actor here — who is also involved in writing the script. That's how I see it. And I want to capture certain things. And that's what I try to do. With a guy like Bruce, it just flies, man. It's like vroom! He just goes in and comes out. Done
Roy: He does it because that's the way he is. He shoots from the hip. And a guy like Rob will do that, but then all of the sudden . . . Rob's an enigma. The guy is the metal god, dude! (laughs) One minute he's doing one thing, and he'll just say: hey, can you go to that other song and just get me in? And he'll knock out the whole thing in one take. He's that insane. And for example, I'd never seen a guy write and record the song at the same time. But (now) I've seen Rob Halford do that.
DRG: Words, melody, everything — on the spot, one take?
Roy: Man, on this one song, he sang it for his mom (She, on Crucible), and you know, if you have a mom and you love your mom you realize that one day she's not going to be there. And I think he was singing to that. So he had like twenty sheets of lyrics all over the desk, and this song was playing and he just looked at me and said: Stop. Put me in record. And he just literally grabbed that sheet and he sang the whole song, wrote all the melodies to these random lyrics that he picked up. That he felt: these work. And he just did it, and that was the take.
Roy: And Bruce is also — Bruce has certain pipes and lungs in him and he can just bellow! Resonant. Rob has like — I've counted them — something like sixteen different voices, man.
DRG: Yeah. I love it when he uses his low voice. It gives him so much more range. He goes to that high falsetto an awful lot, and that's great, but I love it when he contrasts it with his low voice in the same song. He'll start off low and then really go up to the high stuff.
Roy: Yup. Rob's a really unique talent. I hear so many singers — guys like Geoff Tate and stuff that Rob's influenced. For example, if you hear Dissident Aggressor, you'll hear pretty much Geoff Tate's whole bag. It's all in that one song. Literally.
DRG: Yeah, Geoff's got a lot of voices too.
Roy: You gotta put that on, man, you're gonna go: Oh my God, dude! (laughs) And this is 19 seventy-what? And I've seen that with so many singers — who, this guy sounds just like Bruce, and this guy sounds just like Halford. So for me and for metal, other than Dio like I said, there's nobody else. There's nobody else. No offense to anybody else out there, but these guys are the papals, they are the mainframe for vocalists for all of metal.
DRG: Now you also got to write songs with Bruce. And by the way, I love those albums.
Roy: Oh, thank you.
DRG: Now, you wrote some songs with Rob too, didn't you?
DRG: Can you say anything about how they come up with their songs, or what they're looking for in a guitarist or a collaborative partner? Did they have specific ideas, or were they looking to you to come up with riffs and such?
Roy: It really varied. When Bruce asked me to work with him, he was pretty much saying: give me everything you've got, and I'll pick the ones that I want. And with Rob, sometimes I'll be asked to come up with one song, or sometimes it's nothing. And I won't show anyone anything unless they ask me for it. That's the way I operate. I'm not trying to push my own stuff to anybody. All I'm trying to do is to work for them the best that I can.
DRG: But I know that for example, when I went back and started looking for your earlier work with the Tribe of Gypsies, I saw where you were coming from in that band, and where it went in the Bruce's band, and God damn those Bruce Dickinson albums are strong! They're so heavy, but they're also so melodic. And part of it is that Bruce is singing very melodically, but part of it is also that the songs themselves are just so damn melodic in their construction, and yet they don't sacrifice any heavyness at all. They just knocked me on my ass.
Roy: Well I appreciate that. And what you're talking about — that's all by design. I try to come up with a canvas where a guy like Rob or Bruce can really just go off within their style. And I've studied music in a different way too. I went to school, I learned what makes things tick musically, so for me it's pinpointing well, this makes that work so I kind of already know what I'm going for.
DRG: When you're working with two heavy metal gods, and you're asked to come up with heavy songs for each. Are there songs you'd present to Bruce you wouldn't present to Rob, or vice versa?
Roy: Yeah. Of course.
DRG: How would you differentiate that?
Roy: You look at the history and you look at who it is, and say OK, this works for him. For example, if I write a song in a gallopy horsebeat that's like Iron Maiden, it's not going to work for Rob Halford. You know what I mean? And if I come up with a riff that sounds kind of like Painkiller, it's not going to work for Bruce Dickinson.
DRG: Well to a certain extent, either one of them can sing over anything. They're both so versatile.
Roy: Yeeeah, but for me there's certain things you don't do. Unless they ask for it! If someone asks for something, they'll get it. But for me — it's like I was saying before — I try to keep everything in character.
DRG: And I suppose that applies to anything you would present to the Tribe of Gypsies as well.
Roy: Exactly. With the Tribe of Gypsies I wouldn't present a Bruce or Halford type of idea.
DRG: It's funny, because to me you sound like the same player in the Tribe of Gypsies, and in other ways you sound completely different. When I first heard Tribe of Gypsies, I felt like: wow, this is a whole other side of Roy.
Roy: Well the Tribe is more of where I'm at musically. I like listening to Uli Roth, Frank Marino, Gary Moore, Santana, Peter Green — you know?
DRG: Sure. I can hear that in you.
Roy: Trower, Hendrix — all that for my band. And that's where I'm at. But I have my own style. I know that now. And when I'm working for somebody else, it could be a hard-core band or whatever — right now I'm doing Rob Rock's album — (what I do in the Tribe of Gypsies) wouldn't fly in his setup.
DRG: Well I know it wasn't just you — it was the the whole Tribe band — but on Bruce's Balls to Picasso, I thought you managed to find some moments that were sort of halfway between what you were doing in the Tribe of Gypsies and what you did on the later albums with Bruce.
Roy: That's what Bruce wanted, though. He said: look, can I steal some of your sound? and I said: go ahead, man, let's do it. I'm really really appreciative that these guys gave me an opportunity. And my whole thing is that I'm nobody special. Or maybe I shouldn't say it like that. I'm no different from anybody else. I just happened to be prepared (for the opportunity).
DRG: I don't know, man. Don't sell yourself short. I was a huge Iron Maiden fan when I was young. But after they split up, I think you brought something really fresh and cool to Bruce and still maximized what he does best.
Roy: At the end of the day, I think Bruce was having fun. And that came through in the music. And when I was writing songs, I'm trying to write them for him. For no one else. Not for me, not for any other guy. Just for him.
DRG: When Adrian Smith joined the Bruce Dickinson band, the sound changed a little obviously. What else did Adrian bring to the band.
Roy: Adrian brought his whole thing. He lent some of his sounds. I think it was a great collaboration because it was Maideny sounding, but it wasn't. Again, for someone like Adrian, it was something where he could stretch out a bit. And I think he had fun (too). Dude, he's 1/5 of the classic Iron Maiden sound we know. And Bruce is another fifth. So we had two out of five!
DRG: Yeah, and it definitely had some of that old flavor. Where Balls to Picasso didn't have much of that flavor — other than Bruce — when Adrian came it, I thought it became a terrific balance of newer types of guitar sounds with the classic types of guitar sounds. Which appealed to me a lot personally because I'm a fan of all the old stuff, but I also like the idea of updating it to keep it fresh.
Roy: Right, yeah. I hear you. Adrian brought his whole sound. When he played a lead, you knew it was him. And it was great for me to jam with him. He's a great guy. Great guitar player. Really fun guy to be around. I learned a lot from him — both on and off stage.
DRG: What would you say you learned from writing songs with Rob and Bruce?
Roy: It just makes you better when you work with the best. It just makes you better, and you can apply that knowledge to anything you do. And it's not just songwriting. The bottom line is quality — people know it (when they hear it) — and crap, people know that too. My thing is to always keep it "quality," and always keep it real and honest. You can't go wrong (that way). And you won't have to blush when someone brings something up (that you worked on). Now it doesn't always happen that way, but you strive for that. And that's what I've seen in them. At the end of the day, they do care. They're not just doing it. I don't think they do it for the money anymore, to be honest with you. They're doing it for other reasons. I think they really just get off on doing it.
DRG: Well it's a creative outlet and they can still do it largely on their own terms.
Roy: And I'm in a unique position where I got to work with these guys on the songwriting albums and now live. Hopefully everything will work out and go down with the Halford tour (which Roy is joining as a replacement guitarist). So it's a lot of fun for me. It's kind of like — you don't expect this as a kid. I always have to take a step back and say to myself: wow, how cool is this!
DRG: I can imagine. Doug Aldrich was sort of saying the same thing about working with Ronnie Dio. All of the sudden you realize you're working with a legend.
Roy: Yeah, and it's up to you to make it happen — either on stage or in the studio. It's a lot of fun when that happens, man. I really enjoyed that side of it. It feels like you're not wasting your time. I love that feeling. I just can't sit in a studio with anybody anymore. They have to justify my time. And I'm not talking money either. The artist has to be worth my time. And you can't put any price on time because no one knows how much you have. So that's why I'm just cutting back on what I do. I don't do every band that approaches me. I'm really selective. I work with guys A) they've got to be good guys and B) there's got to be something there.
DRG: Was there any talk with Bruce about getting back together with him and resuming the Bruce Dickinson Band if he gets a break from doing Maiden?
Roy: We've talked about it at different times and recently we talked and would like to get together. We already have some material. But will it actually happen? I don't know, man. I can't pinpoint it and say: yeah, it's going to happen. I just kind of see what happens. I know right now he's working on an Iron Maiden record. We'll see how he feels after that, we we'll see where I'm at. But would I like to work with Bruce again? Oh yeah! I've got some good, good ideas for him right now that are just sitting there waiting for him. So hopefully we'll get a chance to do something again.
DRG: Well I'd love to hear that — just from personally selfish reasons!
Roy: That's cool, man. The stuff I've got (waiting) for him right now is really, really good stuff. It pretty much completes a trilogy that started with Accident of Birth and Chemical Wedding — for me anyway.
Roy: But it's really strong stuff. I think it's like the best stuff yet. I'm just hoping we get a chance to finish it up. Because recently I've written some stuff that he hasn't even heard. I just don't want to distract him right now. But it's just really mind-blowing stuff.
DRG: That sounds terrific! I just hope Bruce gets it in his head that he can do both things — Maiden and this.
Roy: Well you never know what's going to happen. Life's a funny thing like that. But hopefully we'll get another chance to get together.
DRG: How about with Halford? Has there been any talk of you doing more than this current tour?
Roy: There's the tour and then there's talk of maybe doing an album, but in rock and roll, everything changes. I don't like to say: yeah, for sure. We'll see what happens.
DRG: Are you saying there's a possibility you could play guitar on the next Halford album rather than just producing it?
Roy: I don't know. That's up to them. Rob and his management. If they want me there, I'm into it. I am that kind of way. I feel though that I am sacrificing a lot of my own personal band time. And as an artist, I feel like I'm giving a lot. But the cool thing about the Tribe is — I feel I could be 40 years old and still do that band. It doesn't have a time stamp on it. That's why I love my band so much.
DRG: How old are you, Roy, if you don't mind my asking?
Roy: No, you can ask. I'm 34.
DRG: Oh, OK. You know, there's not a lot of info available on you out there.
Roy: Well, I kind of keep it that way. I tried telling people I was younger, but then after awhile it's like whatever — I'm 34 — whatever.
DRG: It's not a bad thing, man. If you weren't 34, you wouldn't have the sensibilities that you have.
Roy: Hey, that's for sure. But you gotta realize, I produced my first Bruce Dickinson album when I was . . . it was about . . . ten years ago, so I was about 24.
DRG: Wow. That's amazing. How did you get into producing?
Roy: I don't know, man. I can make it sound good, you know. I think I can. I used to play a lot of sports, and I was never the best player, but I could always rally my team. You know? Get 'em going. Get everybody riled up and ready to go. And it seems like that experience — and I used to teach too. I taught guitar. I'd teach little kids and all this stuff. And I think both the knowledge of being a team player, and being a team leader — someone who got the team motivated, and also a teacher with the patience — it all kind of came together. I'm always trying to find stuff that sounds good. I don't claim to be the best technician, but I try. I try. So it kind of all came together. I work good with people, man. I work good with people. I know my strengths and my weaknesses.
DRG: That's so important. Not just for a musician, but in any walk of life.
Roy: Yeah. That's why the crews I put together on albums, I do it so I can concentrate on the areas that I'm good at. I don't like being the one guy (who does everything). I like to share. Going back to the team concept. I try to build teams when I'm doing an album. I'll get three or four guys, and everybody knows everybody — like a team, you know? I once read an interview with Clint Eastwood, and they asked him what makes him such a great director, and he said: I know the right people to hire.
DRG: Yeah, he hires the same actors over and over again.
Roy: That, and he's basically saying, I know what I'm good at, and I know what I suck at. And I'm not going to try and fake my way through it. And when I worked with Helloween, I didn't know Pro Tools. Now I used it every day. Even while I'm on the phone with you! (laughs). I've got my setup here at home and as the more I can stay out of the studio and work at home, the better it is for me. I was getting kind of burned-out on being locked in a box for 12 of 14 hours a day. Now I have the flexibility to only have to work 6-8 hours a day. And the client is not freaking out because he's not paying tons of money for studio time. It's a flat fee. Me and the studio are included in my fee. End of story. It lets everyone relax a little bit more.
DRG: Yeah. It's very liberating to be able to do it when you want to. And if it's not happening, you can walk away from it.
Roy: Walk away. Yeah, exactly.
DRG: In the old days, if it's not happening, and you've got the studio time booked . . .
Roy: You're screwed.
DRG: You're screwed! It's not happening. So what, you gotta do it anyway — we've paid for the studio time.
Roy: Yeah, and that's what I mean about preparation. And on certain tasks, I will go and spend the big money in a studio. But nowadays with recording, you can do it in your house if you have a decent setup and a decent room to listen in. My room here is tuned-up now, and it sounds great, and it beats going to any studio now.
DRG: I wanna talk more about production but before we get too far into it, I don't want to forget to ask: What is the status of the Tribe of Gypsies right now?
Roy: Well we've written all the songs and they're waiting for me, so what I'm going to do is while I'm on the road with Halford, I have Pro Tools on my laptop, so I'll be recording sort of guide tracks, but we wont record to these tracks. It's just for everybody to kind of relearn the songs, because the way we did this album, we did like 40 "jams." We just jammed. And out of those 40 jams, I picked these 16 things where I'd go this is key. And then I've gone and arranged them. So everything is arranged, so I just have to put it in, give everybody their CDs — send them out to everyone, and then I'll meet them back here (at Roy's home studio). We'll go and rehearse the material, and then we'll just put it down, man. So hopefully, it's looking like in March (2003) I'm gonna put some stuff down. I'd already put some songs down, but I've gone ahead and aborted that. I want to start fresh. So that's the status. We're gonna do a new album. We've got the songs — the songs are killer!
Roy: Yeah, they're heavier than anything I think we've done, but not like nu metal or nothing like that.
DRG: Kind of closer to the first album than the last album?
Roy: Yeah! A lot closer. But it's not even by design, man, it's just that's where we're at right now.
DRG: Well good for you!
Roy: We wanna get crazy! The Hammond player wants fire coming out of that thing. So it's wild man. At times it sounds like Purple, and other times it's just crazy — just going for it. Good, good songs, you know? I got my buddy Charlie Drouillet writing the lyrics for me this time because — I'll insert any ideas I have, but I just want to concentrate on the music. So I've got a guy coming in to write lyrics for us. That way (Tribe vocalist) Greg Analla can just sing, and not have that stress. He seemed to be getting writer's block a little bit. So I brought someone in who I trust and who I've worked with a bit. He's a good kid — young — a lot of enthusiasm, and he comes up with a great concepts. Original concepts for songs. So that's it, man. The Tribe — we've been working hard. It's kind of hard with my schedule, but at the same time, we're looking forward to really getting this thing going again.
DRG: Will the new record be available in the U.S.? (Note: most Tribe of Gypsies CDs are only available as imports.)
Roy: Who knows, man. We have a thing with Sanctuary records, and they'll decide if they want to put it out in the States or not. I think they feel if it's good enough, they'll go fir it. Otherwise, they'll lay low with it for now.
DRG: Well, I'll be looking forward to hearing it anyway.
Roy: Cool, man.
DRG: Let's talk a little bit about your approach to getting guitar sounds in the studio.
Roy: I'm pretty meticulous about that. I own some really nice mic preamps. Basically, my favorite guitar sounds — I have them all here. I've got Hendrix sound, the Purple sound, I've got my sound.
DRG: Please elaborate. When you say you've got those sounds . . .
Roy: Well, check it out, man. Some friends of mine — back when — bought the Rolling Stones original mobile unit!
DRG: Oh, really?
Roy: Uh-huh. And that includes the (mixing) board. Now that board pretty much recorded Zeppelin III, IV, Houses of the Holy and parts of Physical Graffiti. It recorded (Deep Purple's) Machine Head — they had it in the lyrics of Smoke on the Water ("the Rolling truck Stones thing") A lot of classic British albums (were recorded with that). Well that same board — it's a Helios board — and it was developed by some guys who worked over at Olympic studios. And Olympic is where Hendrix recorded his stuff. So imagine that I've got — that's the same circuitry and everything. The same mic preamp.
DRG: You have the preamps from in the board?
Roy: A board is 24 or 48 strips or modules, right? Well I have two modules from the original Rolling Stones mobile. So if I want to get the When the Levee Breaks sound for the drums, I put up two room mics, and boom-bop — there it is.
DRG: That's wild.
Roy: I can pretty much get any sound. Zeppelin, Hendrix. I have a lot of amps too. I own probably about 40 different amps, from Marshall to old Laneys to the newest stuff. Orange. You name it dude, we've got at least one!
DRG: Well let's look at it this way. How do you go about getting your sound in Bruce's band vs. Halford vs. the Tribe?
Roy: It's all different, you know? For example, on the Halford, we used more modern amps. Boogies. And Rob gave me a really cool amp — one of the original Fight (Halford's previous band) amps, which is an Ampeg Jackson. So I used that which gets the Fight kind of sound. And I'll blend in some newer Marshalls like the JCM800. With Bruce, I go strictly Marshall, and I'll sneak in some Oranges and some Laneys for that Tony Iommi kind of vibe. It seems to fit with Bruce — that kind of vibe
DRG: The EL34 sound?
Roy: Uh-huh. I actually own an old Supergroup which are the first Laneys that Sabbath used.
DRG: Oh sure.
Roy: And I have a different Laney (too). The Supergroup — those white plexi Laneys — everyone played through it — even the singer. That gets a great sound. If you want Sabbath, there it is. And about five or six years ago, I got one of those (Laney) Tony Iommi (signature) heads in England, and that thing sounds killer too.
DRG: How are those? I've been very curious about those.
Roy: It's a weird amp, man, but it sounds awesome. It has a real saw-tooth wave to it. When I look at it under a scope, it looks really saw-tooth on one channel. The other channel like a square wave on it. If you blend that in with a Marshall or something, you get a really cool sound!
DRG: Is that something you like to do? Taking a few different amp sounds and blending them?
Roy: Yeah. I do that and I do a lot of what they call re-amping.
DRG: How do you go about it? Are you playing the track different times or just using multiple amps when you play.
Roy: I have different techniques. I have guitar splitters — professional splitters with phase switches on them so you don't lose any gain — or at least you're not supposed to. So you can go into a splitter and come out four, five, six, seven times into different amps. And mic the different amps.
DRG: And you only play the part once.
Roy: You only play the part once. They make a little box called a re-amp. I record a DI signal along with an amp signal. So a direct sound is being recorded — just a straight DI — just as clean as possible, no compression, nothing. And after I record the DI, I run it through this re-amp which converts it to the proper impedance (for a guitar amp). So I come out of ProTools or the tape deck, into this box, out of the box and into a guitar head, and the guitar head thinks it's a guy playing. And I just mold the sound a re-record it through the amp.
DRG: And what is the advantage to that approach?
Roy: Well, (laughs) stubborn guitar players that don't want to play another amp — instead of fighting with them — I'll just (re-amp them) and that's the end of that! (laughs) I just re record the amps that I want.
DRG: (laughs) So they play whatever they want, and you'll go back and . . .
Roy: Put whatever I want!
DRG: That's great! (laughs)
Roy: (laughs) But most of the time I don't have to do that. But there are occasions where someone will say: Dude, I'm just using my setup and that's it. And I'll say: Go ahead, go!
DRG: OK, well we've talked about the board, we've talked about the amps. How do you like to mic them?
Roy: You know, I've tried ribbon mics, I've tried different condensers, different dynamics, and there's nothing like a (Shure SM) 57. And I have different tricks for that, and I'll just keep them as tricks — I won't elaborate too much on that, but I have deferent ways of recording the amps. Everybody has their own little way they mix their sauce, you know? And I just do it my own way. I just go for as dry a signal as possible. I don't use any room mics — none of that stuff. One mic, and that's the end of it. No phasing (problems) — nothing.
DRG: Once it's recorded, what do you like to use for effects?
Roy: For rhythm, nothing.
DRG: No reverb or anything? Just dry?
Roy: Nope. Just dry.
DRG: Has that been your approach consistently?
Roy: Yeah. I like to hear the rhythm right in my face. I want to hear the little intricacies of each track.
DRG: What's your preferred choice for getting your sound in the Tribe?
Roy: Oh, that's easy. I have my old 69 Marshall head, my old Gold Top Les Paul, and I just plug in. One cab, one mic. That's the end of that. Real simple setup.
DRG: But you're not using that rig for the other gigs?
Roy: Well, right now on Halford, for example, my two main guitars — I'm using some Fernandes guitars — they're really cool guitars. But my main two guitars are two Gibson Vs.
DRG: Oh really?
Roy: Yeah, I've got two nice Gibson Vs. They're older ones. One is like the same year as Michael Schenker's main one and looks just like it without the fancy black and white (color scheme) but it is black with a white pickguard and black pickups. And the other one is a red one — I'm a big Hendrix fan, and it looks like one of Hendrix's, but I took the Bigsby whammy off. And that one is burgundy with a white pickguard and black pickups. And oddly enough — I never noticed it until someone pointed it out that — it looks exactly like the V (Judas Priest guitarist) KK Downing is playing on the cover of Unleashed in the East. That wasn't on purpose, but people are gonna say: oh, he's trying to look like KK. Nah, it's just that the V fits that music, you know?
Roy: Yeah, so Tribe is one guitar. My Gold Top — I love it — it's my guitar, man. Nothing else like it.
DRG: You said it's an old one?
Roy: Yeah. It's an early 70s, and it's really nice. It has Bill Lawrence L-500s in there — the mini humbuckers because it's a Deluxe (shown top). It never leaves the house. This guitar stays here. I would really hate to lose it, you know?
DRG: So you're using the Gibsons and the Fernandes . . . for both live and in the studio?
Roy: Yeah the Fernandes stuff I got into because I was liking this thing called the Sustainer for different effects — kind of like an Ebow thing — but without (having to have) the Ebow in your hand. And I started playing with that. (Fernandes) makes decent stuff, you know? There's other companies out there where I like there stuff but (Fernandes) are willing to say: Hey, take it if you want it. That's always nice — to be introduced to stuff like that. And if you try it and it works, good. And so they've always been really supportive, so I wanted to support them on anything that I do. At least for now. Later on, if someone wants to make my own model . . . (laughs)
DRG: Hey, that would have to be fun. It's also cool if it's something you're really into and are gonna play what the make.
Roy: Yeah, you know, when I was a kid, I was into Fenders because of Yngwie and Blackmore, but now man, I love Gibsons. Gimme an SG, gimme a Les Paul or a V and I'm cool. I'm happy. You won't hear any complaints from me.
DRG: What kind of rig are you taking on the road? When you were playing with Bruce, and now that you're going to be doing Halford.
Roy: With Bruce, I took my old 69 Superlead (Marshall) — which doesn't leave the house anymore either. That's my sound, man. It's almost as old as I am, and it's got rust and stuff — so that stays home now. With Bruce later on, I took the Laney Iommi and a Marshall 30th Anniversary with me.
DRG: Were you running a stereo rig?
Roy: No, not anymore. Now I'm going out with (Mesa Boogie) Triple Rectifiers. And the reason why is that I like the distortion that's already built in. I don't have to do too much more to get a lead sound. I just kick in the old Tube Screamer and there it is — the lead sound.
DRG: Is that what you were doing with the Plexi too?
Roy: Yeah, I was using a preamp 250 and a Tube Screamer depending on what sound I wanted to get. So that's it, man. A real basic setup. Nothing too fancy. I'm running some of these new Digitech "X series" pedals that are awesome, dude! If you haven't heard these pedals yet — they have a 24-bit microprocessor in each pedal.
DRG: What do they have for pedals?
Roy: Every thing from a Flange — I really love the Turbo Flanger, cause it has any flanger you can think of — it has it in there. And it's not modeling per-se. It sounds pretty analog, you know what I mean?
DRG: Yeah, definitely.
Roy: And the chorus sounds like a super-duper Andy Summers. And the Delay is killer, dude. You can do multi taps in different timings with it. But what I really liked about it is the sound quality it projects, and the coolest thing — that I've never seen on any other delay — once you shut it off, it finishes the last repeats.
DRG: Oh wow, that is cool!
Roy: So you turn off the pedal, but it's gonna finish the delay —
DRG: Right, yeah, at the end of your solo!
Roy: These guys who came up with this X series pedals — if you don't have 'em, dude, go get the whole line!
Roy: I'm telling you man, I've got all these different ones. I just kept getting them because I'm like: this thing is killer — I have to have it.
DRG: Are they expensive?
Roy: Nah, a hundred bucks . . . some of them are $60 or $70. The ones that I really like are the delay, the reverb — the reverb is cool — it does a reverse delay. The Flanger is really impressive. It has like the ADA Flanger sound — but without calling it that — it's just similar. (It has) the old MXR all in one. They have a Phaser that's killer. I wasn't really into (Digitech's) stuff much before, but I just found these pedals, and now it's like dude — I've got to get 'em. They just sound so good. Cause it seems like, A) you'll get a different sound, and B) it seems like they do something special that other pedals don't do. And I love when a pedal can do that. So I got a hold of the company and I'm in with them now, but now dude, those pedals — for me right now are where it's at. I'm into pedals. I'm not really into the POD things. There are some that are out there. The Digitech one is decent, and cool, but it is what it is, you know.
DRG: Do you find you have any used for the PODs and the Sansamps in the studio? For like scratch tracks or anything?
Roy: Well the bass driver by Sansamp is killer. I use that all the time for bass.
DRG: You use just that for your bass tones?
Roy: That, DI, and an amp as well. But for guitar, I like real amps.
DRG: Yeah, me too.
Roy: You can sneak in a POD or a Genesis or a Sansamp — those are cool, you know. But when you stack it up and compare it to a real amp . . . there's no comparison.
DRG: What guitarists have you been listening to lately?
Roy: I've been into the Swedish metal (Neo-Classical) lately. A guy I've gotten into lately is David Gilmour, but I'm always on a steady diet of Uli Roth, Frank Marino — those Hendrix-influenced guys — Trower. And there's new guys I really like like Doyle Bramhall and Eric Gales.
DRG: Oh yeah. I had one of Gales' albums a while back.
Roy: I'm really hoping to work with him. We've talked, and we're gonna try to work together. I don't know — now with my (tour) schedule, it might not work out. But being a Hendrix fan — I wouldn't make him sound like Hendrix — but I would bring that attitude into (Gales') stuff. That rawness. And I'm hoping one day I get a chance to work with Eric. I really look up to him as a guitarist. And there talking about extending the Halford tour to be a whole US tour. But I'm gonna kick myself if I miss the chance to work with Eric Gales. I spent months and months trying to set it up with Eric and his manager, and (touring with Halford extensively) would put that in jeopardy. Which would be a shame because A) I'd like to do something other than metal, as a producer, and B) and I'm just a fan of his and I know exactly what to do with him. So if the schedules can work out, I'll do those dates with Rob. Otherwise, I've gotta pick. We'll see what happens. I don't know what's gonna happen.
DRG: I want to talk to you a bit about your own guitar style as well, but before we leave the area of producing, I wanted to ask you this: Do you have any advice for the Home Recording guitarists to make their tracks and their guitar sounds better?
Roy: Spend some money on some mic preamps.
DRG: What kind would you recommend? How much do you need to spend?
Roy: Honestly, at least $1500. Go to Brent Averill.com. He sells mic-pres already racked up, packaged up including a 1/4 direct input. He's got Calrec, Neve — which work great. Older Tridents. You can't go wrong with any of those. That's the first thing I would spend money on — assuming you have a good guitar and a decent amp. What the mic preamp is gonna do is pickup the sound — it's literally gonna get you the sound that you want. It has EQ on it, and you can just point the mic in the right place, and it'll just pick it up. You can't go wrong. The older ones are really dummy-proof. You can't make them sound bad. They're pretty friendly EQs, (these days) an EQ just does too much. In the old days, they just did a little bit. Mic it up with (one of these) and it makes a world of difference.
DRG: Even with just a Shure SM 57 on a cabinet?
Roy: Dude, that's all I use. I've tried all the other stuff, and it works, but at the end of the day, it just gets washed out. We're talking about a nice big sound that fills up a speaker and it isn't gonna go away when you put other stuff on top of it.
As far as techniques go, you always want to keep an eye out for phasing problems.
DRG: Well doesn't that only happen when you use multiple mics?
Roy: Multiple micing, and also multiple stacking of mics. If your sticking guitar amps on guitar amps on guitar amps on top of each other, eventually they're gonna phase out. So move the mic around a little bit after you do a track. A little more toward the center. A little more out (away from the center) if you want more bass. A little further away from the cone. You can EQ with (micing techniques). I get into all sorts of stuff like that. I'll do two tracks, and then I'll do two more and move the mic.
DRG: Do you generally like to double track your rhythms?
Roy: Yeah. Sometimes quadruple. Sometimes six times.
DRG: What do you do about that when it's a two guitar band like with Bruce or Rob?
Roy: It depends on what I'm going after. If I want a real raw sound — one rhythm track each. One guy after the other. But there are no rules. You find out what the people want.
DRG: Yeah, but sometimes it's what you want, isn't it? You're recording your own sound too.
Roy: Sometimes, but I like to get the information — I go: what do you want, a real raw album or a real slick album — what is it you guys want? You tell me and then I know how to do it. If they want a real raw one, it's just one track per guy. If it's only one guy, two tracks — end of story. And if you really wanna go raw, when he's playing the leads, there's no rhythm. I do that in the Tribe a lot. I'll just drop all the rhythms out. Those are the little things that people don't do anymore. People have gotten away from the less-is-more thing.
DRG: OK So let's talk about your guitar style a little bit. You wear many hats in many bands. Along with your sound changing form gig to gig, your style isn't exactly the same when your with Bruce vs when your in the Tribe. How do you separate those things?
Roy: Well, I have my influences that I draw from, and I just work within those influences. And I feel I have my own sound that doesn't come from anything other than my hands. I think a guy like Yngwie, you could give him a Les Paul and a Fender amp and he'd still sound like Yngwie. I think that's true for any player. Gary Moore — anybody. And when I'm working for somebody, I'm not looking to do anything for my own reasons. I just do what fits — (with) what's on the menu, you know? When I'm working on my own stuff, I have my style. And my influences, like I said. Guys like Peter Green, guys like Gary Moore, Santana, Uli Roth. And these are the guys that just I like listening to. And when your talking about guitar influences, I'm influenced by everybody, basically, because somewhere down the line I learned some of their stuff. So I take a little bit from everyone.
DRG: But — and correct me if I'm wrong, though — you were more than just a hired guitarist for Bruce Dickinson, weren't you? These are song you co-wrote — these are part of you. Don't you feel an attachment to them?
Roy: Yeah, yeah, I do, man, but I'll give you an example. I would never perform that stuff without Bruce. So it's almost like I'm a different person when I'm doing that.
DRG: Well that's what I was sort of wondering.
Roy: Well I'm really proud of everything I've ever done.
DRG: You should be!
Roy: So to answer your question, I kind of have to . . . I wouldn't say hold back, but what I might want to do has to take a back seat to what fits. So I always try to play what fits and where I'm needed most. And if there's already a guy playing real fast, for example, I won't play fast. (I'd rather) fill the void, you know? If it's a slower song, I'll play the appropriate lead. And I know Bruce, and I know who some of his favorite guitar players are, so I try to get into that — like a Blackmore kind of thing, cause he's into that. So I try to just make it fun, man. Make it a good time for Bruce, and for myself. So my criteria would be: I have to play what fits, but also stuff that I like!
DRG: And in the Tribe, I assume you're really free to do whatever you want.
Roy: Whatever I want.
DRG: Do you think about that, or does it just come naturally?
Roy: I learned and studied music so that I could basically break the rules! And that's my whole thing. And sometimes I probably play too much — but I play until the wheels fall off. With my band, I'm going for it. Full out. Unadulterated. No one to worry about telling me I can't do this or that. It's like the rated X version. Unadulterated, full on, go.
DRG: So if you wanna play metalish, you'll play metalish, and if you want something else, you'll play something else.
Roy: Right. I'm not gonna let anyone tell me what to do with (the Tribe of Gypsies)
DRG: Well that's great. I think it's wonderful — to be able to do all these different things.
Roy: Well, that's why I'm real lucky to be involved with the great artists that I'm involved with. And it's helped me as an artist.
DRG: You said you studied music early in your life. Was it just guitar or music in general?
Roy: Everything from music appreciation to composition to you name it, man.
DRG: In school, or privately?
Roy: Privately and in public schools. Different private teachers for different things. Everything from flamenco, to jazz, to how to score music.
DRG: Well that makes sense to me because I hear such variety in your playing. Where do you think your sense of melody comes from?
Roy: From the heart, dude! Straight from the heart. I don't study anymore, I don't practice anymore. I just play and that's it. That's what I do, and there's nothing else like it. To be able to play what's in your head — I think is the most important thing for me. And I would recommend that to anyone. Practice and study enough to where you can express yourself. I think once we do that, especially as guitar players — once we can play what we actually hear, that's when we're where we need to be. That's the bottom line. That's what we're all trying to do — to express ourselves. Some guys play music to get laid, or for different reasons in the beginning, but as the grow, they start falling in love with the fact that they get to express themselves. And my whole philosophy is once you know that, once you can do that, it becomes a matter of how do I leave my mark?
DRG: Well one of the things that I think is tremendously lacking in modern music and modern guitar music is the sense of melody. Everything has gotten very rhythmical, with Hip-Hop, and rap metal — you have everyone trying to be heavy, but no is trying to be melodic. And that's what I miss. I mean, I grew up loving Michael Schenker's playing, and he's got so many melodies in his head it's unbelievable.
Roy: Yeah, he's one of the true modern guitar players who has left his mark. Him, Van Halen, Uli Roth. These German cats . . .
DRG: Wolf Hoffmann too — he's extremely melodic.
Roy: Oh yeah! Wolf is too. But that's the influences those guys have. The Germans brought in some really cool influences. And Yngwie from Sweden.
DRG: And a lot of all that went back to Blackmore.
Roy: Yeah, and to Hendrix and the blues before that. The textures that all these guys added really helped define what we know as guitar now. The guitar that you and I love — all of these guys were key. Schenker and all of these guys brought a lot to the table.
DRG: But I do think a lot of what they gave us in the way of melody, has been lost in the last 10-15 years in heavy rock, and certainly in most commercial music.
Roy: Yeah, but that's because everyone got too good, man.
Roy: Yeah, seriously, man! Everyone got technically really good, and you had an onslaught of guitar heroes— Steve Vai, Satriani, and people got tired, dude.
DRG: Yeah, there was definitely a backlash against it that we're all still dealing with. But the problem is that melody tends to stand up over time.
Roy: It just got way over-saturated. I can't get mad that people got burned out on good guitar playing.
DRG: I can.
Roy: I'm waiting for the next guy to come out — like everybody else — who's gonna bring it all back. Who knows if it'll happen, but it'll be great if it does . . . it'll come back one day. I won't be how you and I know it, but it'll come back.
DRG: Let's wrap up with some questions from our forum: How was it working with (former Yngwie vocalist) Michael Viscera on the Animation project?
Roy: Well Mike and I go back a little bit. We worked together on some demos that never came out. He and I wrote some good stuff together, and he just asked me if I was into doing (the project), and I said: yeah, sure. Mike's a great singer, man. I really liked his work with Loudness — I thought he was awesome.
DRG: You mentioned Eric Gale already, but who else would you like to work with?
Roy: New or old?
DRG: Anyone who's a real possibility — so like, not Hendrix, because he's gone. More like, who would you like to get in the studio with and say: I could really do something with this guy.
Roy: I think Santana — guitarist wise — Eric Gales for sure, Doyle Bramhall — though he's already doing just fine. I don't know, there's a lot of guys that I'd like to work with, but as far as guitar players go, I think the guy that I think is the best guitar player out there, period — best in terms of ability, rawness, and just pure pleasure to watch is Eric Gales.
Roy: Yeah. I don't know if you've ever seen this kid, man . . .
DRG: I have one of his old albums.
Roy: Nah, dude — don't go by the album. Go by what I'm telling you. You've gotta seem him play live. The last guy (who effected me that way) — was when I first saw Eric Johnson. That's how I feel now (about Gales). Eric Johnson when I first saw him was incredible. And the first time I saw Yngwie, for example. It's the same feeling I get.
DRG: What is Eric Gales doing these days? I haven't heard his name mentioned in ages. What does his music sound like these days?
Roy: You know, some of it sounded like Kings X to me, which I didn't like — I'm not into that. And some of it doesn't, but the bottom line is the guy can play the guitar like nobody else I've ever seen. Albert King took him under his wing. I don't know if you know (about) Albert King, but he's a key influence on a lot of guys — including Jimi. Gary Moore is a huge Albert King fan.
DRG: Yeah, I hate Albert King for what he did to Gary Moore.
Roy: Well Gary went too crazy with the blues. He made money.
DRG: Well King ruined Gary Moore in my opinion.
Roy: Well you gotta understand that Gary Moore is always changing.
DRG: Yeah, but he doesn't sound like Gary anymore. He just mimics his influences.
Roy: People get older. I can't expect all of my guitar heroes to stay put. Just like no one can expect me to stay put.
DRG: It's not a matter of staying put. I saw Jeff Beck when he was 56 years old and he was just unbelievable.
Roy: Dude, I'll tell you what, Jeff Beck, for my money, is the greatest living guitar player out there.
Roy: He is the best.
DRG: Yep, and at 56 he kicks holy ass, and you know, he always changed the backdrop of his music, but he always still sounds like Jeff Beck. My problem with Gary Moore is that one album he sounds like Peter Green, one album he sounds like Eric Clapton, the next he sounds like Jim Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan — and the guy I grew up idolizing — he was my big guy in the 80s — and I don't hear that guy anymore. I hear a guy who's trying to be everybody but himself. If he was just doing a different style of music, but still sounded like himself — like Beck does — I'd be loving it.
Roy: Right. I'm not a big fan of what he does now. But I just look at it like: oh well, he grew out of it, you know?
DRG: I guess so. But I hate that! (laughs) Cause I haven't grown out of it.
Roy: I know, I hear you, man. You never know what's gonna trigger some one (to change). It could be a life experience, and they have their reasons why. That's why I just look at it on face value: am I going to buy it, yes or no. And that's it. But getting back to it, a handful of guys — I couldn't work with Jeff Beck. I'd just feel too intimidated. I wouldn't feel that I could contribute anything. He is the guy. If Jimi were alive, I'd say he is, but (Beck) is the greatest living guitar player out there. Period.
DRG: I agree, but I would contend that he's had a hard time maximizing his guitar sound in the studio.
Roy: I don't know, you're probably right because live, he has way more watts, he's cranking a lot louder. Sometimes when people sound better live it's because your hearing thousands of watts.
DRG: Yeah, its an edge that you can miss on tape. For example, Jeff's George Martin-produced albums (Blow By Blow and Wired) are great albums, but I don't care for the guitar sounds. It's too wimpy for my taste — and you know that live he had to have been sounding like a monster. But on these albums his guitar sound is too close to the keyboard sounds in the mix.
Roy: I got what you're saying. Well, I go through this a lot with people (I produce), and what people don't understand is that it's the volume. The sheer volume. And the other thing is that people aren't really thinking about it anymore. When they're up there, they're just trying to get through the damn gig. And that's why if you go back to the records you and I love, it seems that every time we hear that the band just went for it, and they did it in two weeks — I think that has a lot to do with it. And that's why technology sucks balls right now. And that's why Pro Tools and the others like it are a great tool — if you know what the hell to do with it. Otherwise, you are streamlining and homogenizing the grit out of it — the human aspect of it. At the end of the day, that's what's wrong with music today. The human aspect is gone.
Roy: And where I'd help a guy like Jeff Beck is to just say: hey, plug into this. And then I'd just leave him alone. I'd set up the amp for him and you know, believe it or not, a lot of guys just have no clue.
DRG: Yeah, I know. And I think with Jeff, since around 1980 with There and Back, he has been getting better guitar sounds consistently. But still — when I saw him live I was literally stunned at how much better he sounded live — just his tone — it was fatter it was heavier, more ballsy. Everything about it was wonderful.
Roy: Yeah, and the fact that he's 56 doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, the man goes up there with his bare hands, and creates all that sound. And there's no one else who is as unique or has innovated (as much) on the instrument — dude, I think in about ten years, everybody's gonna be playing like Jeff Beck (i.e. without a pick) because he's showing us how to get more out of the guitar. He's showing you how to get more out of your hands. I recently met one of his former sound men, who'd been with him for 20 years, and I say: so what does he use? And he said: He uses a Rat for a bypass and that's it.
DRG: Yeah it was a ridiculously simple setup. Three Marshall cabs, one or two Marshall JCM2000 DSL50s and a Boss BF-2 Flanger pedal.
Roy: Yeah, I used to sneak backstage and have a peak.
DRG: So other than the upcoming Halford tour and your new Tribe album that we spoke of, what's next for you, Roy?
Roy: We'll I'd like to get my own albums out, you know? I've got so much music inside of me, but I figure my time will come. Right now I guess I'm still paying my dues.
DRG: You've already got some great stuff behind you, man. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Roy: I appreciate the opportunity, and that you guys wanted to have me on your site.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Roy Z. for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.