AN INTERVIEW WITH RIK EMMETT
Rik Emmett at MetalWorks
Picture By: Paul Beaulieu
TCMS: What made you seek a career in the music industry? Did you start out singing or playing guitar or both?
Rik Emmett: Originally the transition from being an amateur musician who was just doing it for fun and as a hobby would have happened because I tore my knee up in high school and realized I was much too small and fragile to become any kind of professional athlete and probably had a strong realization that I was not the kind of person that wanted to work for a living, so if I couldn't play sports then I was going try and play music. Started to make the transition mid-teens, 16-17, got my union card when I was still in high school, started playing weddings and bar mitzvahs, and that kind of stuff, but I was always playing in rock bands and taking my acoustic and going and playing the folk night at the coffee house at the YMCA, one thing lead to another and I started getting some paying jobs as a rock musician instead of just a guy wearing a monkey suit.
TCMS: Who were your influences when you started out?
Rik Emmett: I was typical of guys my age, we saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and everybody was picking up a tennis racket and pretending they were in a band. My grandfather had given me an acoustic guitar that had been in his sister's closet. It was a nightmare never the less it was my start. Guys my age that were playing in bands and hoping they might be in a Beatles type of band. The transition started to happen with guys like Clapton coming out of the Yardbirds and being in John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, and the Jimmy Page was in the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck was in the Yardbirds. Then Hendrix started happening out of England around '67, '68. That was a big time for me transforming from a guy who just strumming chords and singing songs to whoa the guitar can be so much more. Richie Blackmore was a big hero of mine in Deep Purple loved him, and then started getting into the Progressive bands; I really loved Steve Howe of Yes to me he was such a great versatile kind of player, ecliptic, really the type of guy I model myself after. I did an interview yesterday with a guy from Holland and we were talking about that scene and I was Ackerman from Focus, I played an Ackerman guitar for years with TRIUMPH.
TCMS: Who do you listen to these days?
Rik Emmett: I tend to listen to stuff that I have always liked, so Pat Matheny, James Taylor, Steely Dan. The label I am on Mascot they got some incredible guitar players, Steve Lukether, and Robin Ford so certainly I spend a lot of time listening to that when I was thinking oh I am going to become a Mascot guy what are they all about. I am as likely to listen to Jazz or classical driving in my car or putting it on at home as listen to a rock record. My first choice wouldn't be something heavy.
TCMS: That's interesting considering you have Alex Lifeson and James LaBrie as guests on this record.
Rik Emmett: Part of that was my son a huge Dream Theater fan, growing up that music was always in our house really loud! I got to hear lots of that Dream Theater stuff, incredible band, inescapably great, RUSH one of my favourites always has been, and to be able to get those guys as guests on the record, wow! Yes this record is intentionally a heavier, louder, rocking kind of record but all that stuff that I just said about my influences like I am probably going back and channeling more of Clapton in the Bluesbreakers or Jimmy Page on an early Zeppelin album than I am stuff that is currently happening.
TCMS: I feel some heavy blues, Southern rock influence on this record.
Rik Emmett: Once you get past the easy stuff, like "Human Race" when you hear a song like "When You Were My Baby" that is Atlantic Rhythm Section there's no question about it, that's Allman Brothers! I've done rock cruises a couple of times they have a lot of Southern rock on there and so you listen to that stuff, and say oh yeah shit this is good stuff. Dave and I do the twin guitar thing when we are playing live gigs we're slipping into that Allman Brothers all the time, now that we are working on this album that stuff is going to show up on what we're doing. "Ghost Of Shadow Town" it's blues, that's what it is, it's a minor blues, and it's channeling Jimmy Page "Since I've Been Loving You" but it's also channeling Gary Moore and channeling Ronnie Montrose, "Town Without Pity" Ronnie Montrose that's a big part of one of the ghosts I am trying to capture on that tune.
TCMS: Is "Ghost Of Shadow Town" all about greed and corruption?
Rik Emmett: Yeah it's about Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States. Why would some politicians, it doesn't have to be Trump you can go back through history, why do some people want and try to get power by using fear as the catalyst, the weapon. Fear becomes a part of everybody's life, how much have you got, how you are going to let it dictate who you are and what you do and what you choose. How much are you going to try and act out of compassion and love, and positive kinds of things? So the dark side of "Ghost Of Shadow Town" is people giving into fear, people letting fear be the ruling factor in the choices that they make and man that gives me the blues, it takes me to a dark place. How do you cope with that, sometimes you make music and you want it to be a joyful noise, sometime you make music because you are trying to exercise demons or get pass the negative things or come up against them and kick their ass, so "Ghost Of Shadow Town" there some ass kicking going on there with fear!
James LaBrie, Rik Emmett, Alex Lifeson at MetalWorks
Picture By: Mark Weiss
TCMS: You had some awesome success with TRIUMPH, what was it like playing to 10’s of thousands of people in arenas, 100’s of thousands in festivals like the US festival?
Rik Emmett: When you look back on something you see it from a different perspective then when you are doing it, it’s like when you are inside something it is not the same thing as seeing from the outside. Perspective is revealing, when I am doing it and I’m inside it, a gig is just a gig, I got to get through it, there is music I got to play, parts I have to remember, there are cues that have to happen, it’s a show, it’s a gig, so I’m doing my job, you are not really going, oh this moment, it’s a historical moment, oh there’s all these people waving their bics. I know I am going to look back at this when I am an old man and think, this was such a heavy duty magical moment, when ever these magical moments were happening my next thought was don’t get caught up in this get back to doing your job, don’t become overwhelmed by this moment. The US festival was a huge stage and it had tracks on it for running cameras on dollies, and there were cameras in your face all the time, there was a photographers pit 20 yards deep, then barricades that were twenty feet high, the first human being that was actually watching the show were 75, 100 yards away from the stage. So it was like very de-humanizing. You look up and it was a hot day, all the guys had taken of their shirts there was a sea of pink flesh as far as your eye could see out over the hills on the horizon, it was completely surreal, it wasn’t like, wow I am feeling the power of this, it was more like wow I’m feeling the weirdness of this, meanwhile we’re getting paid a huge amount of money, so in the back of my mind, I’m thinking 75 minute show we all get our money, we climb in the helicopter and go home and who rides in a helicopter back and forth to a gig, that was like completely surreal! So you look back at it now and think that was something but when you were doing it you say wow this is fucking weird! Almost anything about being in TRIUMPH you could look back at now and you could say man that was surreal, not this is exactly what I expected and deserved or this is what a wanted, more like, man I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After the fact you look back and say man wasn’t that something that was crazy. I played a gig in Chicago back in October it was one of the weirdest gigs I ever played so it doesn’t change, the business doesn’t change it’s still pretty weird.
The other thing that I guess people don’t really understand if you played the show 40 times, this is show 41, how do you keep from getting board, that you are playing the same songs in the same order hitting, your same marks, it is kind of routine, in your head you might be doing your laundry list, you might be doing your grocery list, your to do list for tomorrow, and then you go, oh don’t do that, don’t wonder, stay in this moment and sometimes you are playing and there is a real pretty girl in the front row, okay that will help stay focused that will keep you in the moment. But what if it is too cold or too hot or I shouldn’t have had that broccoli at diner, you’re really just a human being doing a human thing.
TCMS: When you are on the road do you have to be more conscious of what you do?
Rik Emmett: I’ve always tried to be that way, try to eat right, and try to sleep right. I’ve said this a million times I was never in it for the sex and the drugs, I was only ever in it for the Rock n Roll, I love the music. So then you have to take care of yourself if you want to try and do the music right every night, I owe something to the people that bought tickets for tomorrow night, so tonight I can’t over indulge, I can’t treat myself in a way so I can’t give a great show for the people tomorrow night. It’s like being an athlete you find a way to try and maximize your performance night after night but there is a professional way to do that.
Alex Lifeson and Rik Emmett at MetalWorks
Picture By: Mark Weiss
TCMS: "Stand Still" features some amazing guitar work, right of the bat it makes kind of a statement, this albums rocks, hold on and get ready for the ride!
Rik Emmett: I had written the song and the lyrics for example, my wife had gone on a trip to Machu Picchu, her and my song climbed to the peak of Machu Picchu so in the lyric it mentions climbing a mountain and talking to a guru about life. So I had the song and it had that riff, the real ZZ Top La Grange, I knew it was that shuffle thing. People only seeing the album in a one dimensional way, and I have that concern to, if anybody only sees the record just from the guests for example, “Human Race”, “I Sing” with LaBrie singing, “End Of The Line” with the two of them, those were the three focus tracks coming off the beginning of the record, that’s the record company made lyric videos for those three, they wanted to have the TRIUMPH track, “Grand Parade” as the lead focus track, I said no, no, no that’s the PS we do that at the end of everything, you got to get through everything else before you get to that, it’s not the main item on the menu and it’s a bit bluesy thing to, jazzy bluesy.
TCMS: I found it to have that TRIUMPH sound.
Rik Emmett: Part of that is I did a demo with Paul DeLong playing and Gil said, “I don’t want to do that you have to let me do my thing”, okay fair enough, Gil’s interpretation was very much a Gil Moore interpretation of the song which made it very TRIUMPH like. That’s cool!
Back to the Spud be worried about people thinking it’s a blues record. The heart of the record for me is “My Cathedral”, “Ghost Of Shadow Town”, it stuff that is on a deeper level, I like the song “Sweet Tooth” and if anybody said to me it’s blues, yes it’s a bit bluesy but it’s more a jazzy, novelty, fun, more like a song from the thirties, forties, so you can’t lump that in with “The Ghost Of Shadow Town” and say “Stand Still” which is a ZZ Top riff and “When You Were My Baby” which is Allman Brothers, and say it’s blues that’s a pretty wide range of blues.
TCMS: "End of the Line" like Lenny Kravitz on steroids.
Rik Emmett: Kind of Zeppelin, AC/DC groove but then it kicks into double-time, to me that’s old TRIUMPH but why did old TRIUMPH do that, because Deep Purple used to do that all the time, that’s a Deep Purple thing. The transition is like, every rock band since the beginning of time has done that one.
TCMS: Then you throw in your and Alex’s leads into the song.
Rik Emmett: Alex did that back in studio 6 morning of May 16th. I sent them MP3s, they listen to the stuff they kind of get a sense of it, he knows what he is going to blow over, I guy like Alex you give him a tune like that he doesn’t need to hear it ahead of time, you just crank up the amp and say go and he will just give you what you need. That is what he is good at, he’s a fantastic soloist.
I played him the "Human Race" maybe you want to play on this and Alex said what if I bring my twelve-string Rickenbacker down and play some spongy chords in the background.
TCMS: It sounds great, you have a lot of catches in your song that make you want to go back and hear the song again.
Rik Emmett: Thank you. I would like to believe at this age and stage in my life I didn’t think I was going to make a rock record, and along came this thing, I guess I am going to do it, the guys in the band want to do it, Mascot is making it easy to do it, I guess I am going to do it. If I am going to do it I want to do it right. I want to do it like this might be the last one I ever make. I’m not saying it is but even if it is, I want it to have that substance, that depth.
“End of the Line” is like at this age and stage I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve paid all my dues, so why would you do it then, if you already accomplished everything you wanted to accomplish, now you have nothing to lose, then what, now I am going to have some fun with it, try to go deeper than I have before, try to be more substantial than in the past. I’m going to try and push myself to be a better writer than I have ever been, maybe even be a better musician, maybe I can’t play the licks as fast, I don’t have the same technical chops, but I have more wisdom now, maybe I’m going to show more wisdom, all the things that comes with age you hope that they will show up.
TCMS: How did you hook up with James LaBrie?
Rik Emmett: Well the connection there is the A&R man for Mascot North America, Jim Putelski out of Pittsburgh used to manage Dream Theater, so when we were talking about guests he said I can hook you up with James LaBrie, he is Canadian he might be able to drive down to the studio.
TCMS: “I Sing” I love his voice in this song and your voices together work so well.
Rik Emmett: Thank you. I thought he would be good for that, none of the other guys involved, my other producers they went really? I went no, no, trust me because I know his voice so well because I have heard so many of his recordings I know he can sing that one way where he is like Ronnie James Dio meets James Hetfield but I know he can sing another way where he is kind of heart broken, he’s sad. I knew on “I Sing” he would be perfect for that. One of my favourite moments is still gives me goose bumps, is when the first chorus hits, “So I Sing” ah yeah!
Dave Dunlop, Paul DeLong, Rik Emmett, Steve Skingley - Resolution 9
Picture By: Carl Cederman
TCMS: "Rest of my Life" what is the story behind this song?
Rik Emmett: I went through some things where I’ve dealt with anxiety issues and a little bit of depression, not too much depression but anxiety where than anything else which “Ghost of Shadow Town” is in there. That’s about my wife, what I owe her, who I should try to be for the rest of my life. Not be so turned inward, to try and make connections and live for the people who you are in love with.
TCMS: "When you were my Baby" is that a Hammond B3 or a simulated B3?
Rik Emmett: We couldn’t get a B3, someone else was using it, so he did it with a B4 which is a plug in which you could get, I thought it sounded fantastic, it works perfect. I’ve always loved organ, I’ve always felt like I could fit into a band quite easily that had no other guitar player but had a good organ player, but I like other guitar to, I like having two guitars.
TCMS: "Grand Parade" what was like working with Mike and Gil again back in Metalworks?
Rik Emmett: It was good, it was sweet, it brought things full circle. I was happy they said yes, I wrote that lyric with them in mind and thinking hey wouldn’t this be great if this was the closer for the album. I was trying to recapture the mode of “Suitcase Blues” from just a game.
TCMS: What is Rik Emmett's sound, your setup?
Rik Emmett: I'm very simple a straight forward guy, for gigs I usually use a Vox ToneLab pedal board and I run it into any clean amp. I like little Fender amps they are very clean and reliable. But at home I have a little Roland 80 cube, I have a Fender Deluxe, I got a new Vox AC10 that I used a bit on this album. But mostly I played threw that Marshall Head and Dave had a Celestion cabinet. I played threw that for most of the album with a Les Paul. I have a little pedal called a Jetter Gain Stage Red. I think Alex Lifeson used that on his overdubs for his gain sort of drive pedal before the amp.
TCMS: So is there any chance for TRIUMPH reunion?
Rik Emmett: I don’t think it will happen, no, Gil is not into it. Why would you want to force someone to do something they don’t want to do?
For The Love of the Guitar a four part series on learning the guitar and music theory, visit Rik’s site to order, I highly recommend it!
MUCHO THANK YOUS TO:
Rik Emmett • Rick "Spud" Wharton • Gil Moore and Metalworks • Mascot Records