Heavy Metal Resource: Hi Ray, thanks for doing this interview. Hope everything is going well!
Ray DeTone: My pleasure Dave. Thanks for having me on and supporting independent artists on your site.
H.M.R. : Start off by giving us some background on your career. Some may be surprised with who you have played with.
R. DeTone: Well Dave, at this point , I think most people probably realize I'm more of a studio rat then someone who is always on the road. So, for starters, I recently did a session at Avatar NY for Grammy winning producer Neil Dorfsman which included Nir Z on drums ( Chris Cornell, Genesis ) and Whynot Jansveld on bass (Crash Test Dummies , Gavin DeGraw). I've also worked with drummer-Van Romaine (Steve Morse Band), drummer-Bernard Davis (Anita Baker); drummer-Courtney Williams (kd lang) ; keyboardist-Adam Holzman (Miles Davis); Billy Cliff (vox-Pet Shop Boys,Spyro Gyra); studio ace guitarist, Nick Moroch (everyone everywhere); FAME-TV star Carlo Imperato; keyboardist- David Rosenthal (Billy Joel, Rainbow), bassist- Hal Cragin (Iggy Pop), keyboardist - Alan St. John (Billy Squire), bassist-Dave Keyes ; Commander Cody bassist, Ric Mullen, drummer Steve “Budgie” Werner (Ace Frehley) and of course the wonderful Nashville drummers and percussionists that appear on “Guitar Noir” who have played with everyone - Greg Morrow, Chris McHugh, Eric Darken & Richie Gajate-Garcia. But I guess touring-wise most know me for my stint with Paul Dianno’s Killers, as well as Drive, She Said and Ronnie Spector.
H.M.R. : That makes for quite a resume for sure. The Dianno thing is what I was looking for in particular. Let's get back to Ray DeTone right now though. The new album has been out for a bit now. What markets is it available in and where is the best place to pick it up?
R. DeTone: Anyone in the business knows the business has changed drastically in the past 5 years, so I can say without reservation that “Guitar Noir” in CD format is available worldwide only at my two favorite retail sites: Guitar9.com & cdbaby.com . Of course, it's also available on iTunes and many other sites as a digital download. Its really very cool that a record like this, which is very eclectic, can still get out there and find an audience without having to spend 10’s of thousands of dollars on setting up brick and mortar distribution around the world. Its a very exciting time for the independent artist. Although having a tidy sum to dump into publicity is still a necessity if you’re not out constantly on the road.
H.M.R. : The music industry sure is evolving, that's for sure. We'll make a not of those websites. It has been some time since the release of ‘Strange World’ to the point now where ‘Guitar Noir’ has come out. What were you up to in this period of time?
R. DeTone: Sleeping a lot! ... yeah right (laughs). After doing Once More...With Feeling!!! in ‘98 and then having it signed to Japan’s Big MF/ Zain Records in 2000 and then going right back in to get Strange World out by 2001 I realized that in those short 3 years the big names had finally figured out that you couldn’t just wait for the someone with money to back your new niche guitar record. Everyone really started doing the home studio thing and doing it well. This, in my opinion, saturated the market with independently produced guitar records by big name players thus making it harder for lesser known guys like me to get some action. I also noticed that many players, as great as they might be, didn’t focus on songwriting. It took more or less a back seat to the “solo”. So after a year of doing live shows promoting my guitar instrumental CDs, I kinda put that part of me on hold. It was a lot of stress putting myself out there as a frontman. As a young guitarist I was always a major part of the writer/arranger team and often producer in many musical situations. So at this point, I figured my catalog was big enough, diverse enough and produced well enough for me to go after the real money of song placement. In the meantime I continued to work on sessions for other artists. This lead to one connection leading to another where I was being asked to create/perform/produce music for film & TV - not a lot of money so its the type of thing you do by yourself with the magic of today’s technology and a good set of ears. The beauty of this situation was that I could write in the many different genre’s most folks had no idea I was interested in - knowing me primarily from my work in the metal-rock arena. I mean I had to turn stuff around in 2 to 3 days and some of it was Broque string quartets to, blue-grass, to blues to hip-hop to world & trance to symphony orchestra. I’d say about half of it didn’t even have a guitar on it. But it was all great fun to do and I’m proud of it all.. and it all eventually led to “Guitar Noir” when I realized it may be “about time” I got my ass back out into the guitar community before I was totally forgotten .
H.M.R. : I think your point about writing songs instead of all about the solos is an important one. Most guitarists can shred, but songwriting is a totally different beast. Anyway, explain what the title ‘Guitar Noir’ means from a Ray DeTone standpoint.
R. DeTone: All my records have been fairly eclectic but I knew this one was really gonna push the boundaries of diversity. Since the diversity stemmed from the fact that these songs were written for picture and need not match to any one style like when you’re in a band but only had to match the emotional content of the visual - I thought that having that represented in the CD title and artwork would help prepare the listener for what was ahead. Thus, “Guitar Noir”, steals its name from the film-noir genre letting the people know its got a dark soundtrack vibe that's all about the guitar. At first, I was gonna call it “So You Like Movies!?” - you know me, always putting punctuation marks in my titles! Making light of it all. Surprisingly enough, while most guys I ran it by said, yeah that works, every girl said it was a horrible album title and I do happen to know quite a few girls who are guitar fanatics ... no, seriously . (laughs)
H.M.R. : Diversity is important in this type of thing I believe. You definitely know diversity after looking at the artists that you have worked with, there is no doubt. Back to the album, I like how visual the album is. Instrumental music can be hard to convey to the fans due to no lyrical content. How did you succeed at doing this with the latest album?
R. DeTone: Hmmm.... not sure how to answer that in words... I am happy that you did say I succeeded though. To me, composition, whether its instrumental or with lyrics, has always been about creating an appropriate backdrop of music to tell a story and evoke an emotional connection with the listener. With that in mind I guess I just got good at doin it. (laughs)...being a fan of early Genesis with Peter Gabriel probably helped too.
H.M.R. : With the variety of styles you can play, where do you feel most comfortable with from a writing standpoint and where do you feel most comfortable live?
R. DeTone: I’ll let you in on an exclusive secret, almost every song on Guitar Noir, was written at the same time it was recorded as an improvisation as I searched for an emotional connection to the visual. Each song was conceived, composed, performed and mixed within a 2-3 day deadline. It was very stream of consciousness. Something I’ve been working on, making my improvisations sound as well written as anything that was written , edited , rewritten and massaged into its perfection. The 2 songs that I actually sat down and composed and rehearsed were Guitar Suicide and Entwangled. So, to answer your question, from a writers standpoint, my vocabulary of styles and emotional deliveries has grown so much, that I feel comfortable in all of the styles on Guitar Noir and quite a few others.
Live, I love playing heavy rock, prog and blues...love the blues. The aggressiveness of a cranked amp with loads of tone just makes it all the more fun. As Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap) said “ Me solos are me trademark.”
H.M.R. : Okay, sounds good. Looking at your career to this point, tell us one thing you think you have done really well and one thing you might have done different.
R. DeTone: I think I’ve learned to write songs well and approach instrumental music with that same importance placed on melodies and hooks. I also think I’ve gotten very good at quickly finding the right part, sound and style that enhances a song; essential for session work. As far as what I would have done differently, I would have liked to have taken guitar lessons from someone who actually was a great player and teacher. Maybe even have gone to college for music. I learned a lot of that on my own but I could have gotten where I am much sooner with some kind of formal training. I still believe there a lot more for me to learn and one day I might just do that. I’m still working on getting my blue-grass licks up to the level of the Hellecasters. Those guys are sick!
H.M.R. : I guess one wouldn't think you would need lessons as you seem pretty skilled, but I guess there are always new things to learn. What is your opinion of the current scene and where do you feel you fit into it?
R. DeTone: (laughs) No idea - I’m not a scene guy lately - just tucked away in my studio. I guess I feel there’s a lot of redundancy out there and when I listen to a new band doing, lets say, the hi tech prog I love , I can always hear when they didn’t practice it enough and made it all come together in protools. Also, I think the music business take on an album of songs has born and bred a generation of musicians who already start out innately knowing that one song to the next has to sound similar in order for them to make a commercial splash. Thus, right out of the gate, they are unknowingly, limiting their creative vision. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I always wanted the big box of crayons. (laugh) ...and to be honest I’ve never cared much about how I fit in.
H.M.R. : I think you explained that very well. I don't have much of an ear for hearing things that maybe you would, but I can definitely see the redundancy. Changing gears a bit... do you still stay in touch with Paul Di’Anno or has it been some time now?
R. DeTone: No. Haven’t seen him in a decade. But I’m still in contact with my beer drinkin bud from Killers, Cliff Evans. Cliff is very cool - always took the meat off the sandwiches my mom made him though.
H.M.R. : (laughs) The little secrets we don't know about... Have you ever thought of putting a band together or do you feel more comfortable in a solo environment where you have the most control?
R. DeTone: I’ve always put bands together, actually, but that was before I was making a full time living as a musician. So it could happen, but the business would have to be in place including a nice budget so I could get the level of players I would want to work with, involved. Those guys aren’t cheap (laughs)
H.M.R. : Sounds cool, have to keep an eye out for that maybe someday. How long before we see some new material and which direction might you head?
R. DeTone: There is always new material out there all the time. Just check into raydetone.com and check the news, when I remember to update it , that is. Since January I’ve placed 10 tracks with the Omni Music Library for incidental score and jingles and just last week I finished 6 pieces; 2 metal, 2 blues , 1 ‘50s style and 1 jazzy organ piece, for Comedy Net and their performance art videos. I am actually negotiating a songwriter’s agreement with a major, major company right as we speak. If all goes well ... well this could be life changing move. But, if you’re asking when will there be a new RDT record out...well Dave, since I’m just getting started promoting this one lets see if we can make some sales happen first with Guitar Noir. (laughs)
H.M.R. : Okay, well that's about all I have. Just want to wish you good luck with the album and keep us posted on upcoming things! Thanks again.
R. DeTone: Thanks.
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