Clyde the Cat

Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

As you’ve probably suspected by my seemingly cryptic posts regarding recording and mixing some mysterious project, I do indeed have something brand new coming up and it’s damn time to come clean about it.

The new CD is entitled Clyde the Cat and with a title like that I’ve “got some ‘splaining to do”…

The cover for Clyde the Cat

Clyde was actually born out of a few reasons. Once I started working on 212 I couldn’t stop the creative juices from continuing to flow. I got in such a recording groove that I just couldn’t stop.

In fact, I started recording tunes and things that I had been wanting to tackle for years, older songs of mine I wanted to update and bring into this era of my music. I had live-only versions of tunes never recorded, tracks that were slated for When Gravity Fails that were left off the CD due to time limitations (Steve Smith on drums!), tracks recorded in Italy, and just about everything else swirling around. And to be a total truthful gear whore, I started getting some incredible guitar tones with some new amps that I felt couldn’t be wasted and not shared with you for another year or two.

We just finished mixing in Atlanta last week with Rick Beato and assisted by Ken “GL” Lanyon (the same team that brought you 212). I gotta tell you, the mixes are f’n crushing! They are in their way to Los Angeles as I type this to get mastered.

I’ll share more details, preview clips, stories and the ultimate release date of this project coming up, but I have to answer the #1 question that I have gotten so far: Why the name Clyde the Cat? Seems like a strange moniker for a CD, right? I agree.

The simple truth of it is that I was tracking one day and my boy Clyde jumped up next to me on my Diezel Herbert and was just hanging out listening to the session. I clicked a picture of him chillin’ and the rest is history.

Also, I have to tell you that it was such a fun project to do that a serious/gothic/heavy/existential title with deep seated meaning just seemed so not this project. That’s what 212 was to me. This is something light and fun and I hope you agree when you hear it.

We are working out the release schedule and all of those details right now, but I’ll be getting you all involved and letting you check out some of the tracks beforehand. Y’all are all die hards and I couldn’t do it without you. I’m really excited to have you hear Clyde the Cat!

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Poland tour

Headed home on the plane right now from Warsaw to Cleveland. I can’t believe how fast this whole tour has went. It really started out in the US with some regional dates culminating to the 212 Kent Stage show on April 15. From there I took off to Italy for a few days of rehearsal with Walter and Enrico and we were off and running. The Italy dates were amazing and I just wish we had stayed longer in that wonderful country…if not for just the food and coffee! It looks like I’ll be back in August and November so I’ll have to get my fill then as well.

From there we headed to Poland for our next leg of the tour. I’m telling you, the Polish fans are absolutely amazing. As with the Italian fans, there is a real passion and reverence about the music. Just in Poland they are crazier! My friend Michal put the whole tour together and he was the road manager throughout our stay. I’ve been to Poland before, but he really showed me such a beautiful side to the country that I had never known. I’m even a bigger fan of it now.

Every show was incredibly special and they were all different. From playing to an incredible sea of people in a couple of performances to some great small club dates, I really felt focused and sharp in what I was doing. So many times throughout my shows I really took a step back, so to speak, and realized that I am so fortunate to have followed my dream of playing guitar. There are so many haters in the world that tell you it “It can’t be done” or try and drag you down to their level. I’m glad I had an undying focus as to what I really wanted to do with my life and followed it.

Trust me when I say that I never took for granted the fan’s enthusiasm or their crazy, insane reaction when I started to play “I’m Alright.” I remember so clearly in Italy when the fans were singing the melody to “I’m Alright” to me when I stopped playing mid-song. Mind blowing! Or two fans that drove 14 hours from Denmark to see me play in Radzyn, Poland. To me, that’s some heavy stuff that I appreciate.

But most of all I’m just happy to be playing my guitar. It all really begins and ends with that, doesn’t it?

212

So as I finally wrap up recording of my next CD the inevitable question that’s been asked countless times is, “What’s the title of your new project?”

Drumroll, please…

212

212?! Why 212 you ask?

My 212 sighting at a Starbucks register tonight

For the past few years I’ve had a growing awareness that everywhere I seem to go the number 212 is somewhere around. Addresses, hotel rooms, when I glance at a clock, the code on the top of a medicine bottle. The list is literally endless.  Even tonight as I was paying at Starbucks, care to guess the total on the register as I walked up to pay? Yeah, you guessed it: $2.12.

In fact, as weird as it sounds, at this point it is almost reassuring or comforting to see it. It’s like a bizarre numerical angelic entity seemingly hovering close by only to show up regularly as if to say, “I’m still watching and it’s OK.”

A majority of the recording was done in a building with the address 212. Two different videos of roughs of the recording were of the length of 2:12. 212 has not only permeated my life, but most certainly this project.


Elvis' plane (Lisa Marie) and the stopped clock in it

Once people know my story they somehow seem to connect to it as well and ferret out other examples that I would have never known. Yeah, the easy stuff are facts like the NYC area code is 212, but did you know that the clock on Elvis’s plane (the Lisa Marie) is stopped at 2:12? Water boils at 212 degrees. There’s a ton of these little gems and the examples go on and on…

So with this constant numerical presence in my life it only seems fitting that the name of my next project should bear the insignia of 212.

And now you know.

“So what’s up with not using the Cort NZS guitar anymore?”

Over the past few months I have been getting this question a lot and with good reason; All the tours or appearances I have done lately have seen me with a different guitar other than my signature NZS.

The simple reason is that I am no longer with Cort or endorsing the NZS guitars.

Cort and I had a long and successful run working together and I have nothing but great memories of working with Cort on the design, manufacturing and promotion of my NZS-1 and NZS-2 guitars worldwide throughout a majority of the last decade. I was (and still am) very proud of those guitars.

If you were lucky enough to grab one of these axes, congrats!

As a NZS owner,  you probably already know the secret combination of rubbing the headstock, putting your elbow on the volume knob, tapping the neck pickup, and chanting in a whisper “I’m Alright” will miraculously guide your hands to a perfect performance of that song. (Just joking…I think…)

But as things go, it was time to move on from that relationship to some new and equally intriguing opportunities. In the coming months there will be some exciting announcements that I already can’t wait to share with you. But all in good time…

So now you know.

An Update From the Road… (Part 2: Guitar Stars with Michael Angelo Batio)

Chen Lei, Neil Zaza, Michael Angelo Batio

So after the Firehouse tour, I had a few days off at home and I was back at it again in Asia for the Guitar Stars tour.

This tour saw the pairing of Michael Angelo Batio and me touring throughout China, Thailand, and Taiwan. Actually, the tour had a few names. In China, it was called CG3 (a take on the G3 guitar tour we all know and love) and in Taiwan it was called Guitar Stars. By any name this tour was a smashing success.

I have known Michael now for a few years and every time that we have talked I thought he was a really cool dude. Truth be told, I have been a huge fan of his over the years starting with me trying to comprehend half the impossibly technical stuff he was doing on his first Star Licks instructional video back in the day.

Also, I’ve always talked with friends that I loved how MAB was very defined in his approach, image and style with the guitar. Think shred? You know that you are going to think MAB. While some artists dabble in various styles and directions, I’ve always appreciate the laser sharp focus and direction that Michael has had over the years. You just KNOW what you are going to get at one of his concerts/clinics or on his CDs.

I love how some artists really define a genre themselves and anything after them is somehow derivative of them and their efforts (think Van Halen and tapping or Yngwie and the whole Neo Classical movement). While I won’t debate the timeline of shred guitar in this blog, needless to say you wouldn’t have to look far to discover that most all roads of this style of playing leads to a handful of players and one man in particular: Michael.

So in all of this, I was really excited to hit the road with him and tour Asia. In each country we were to pick up the hotrod shredder to fill out the bottom of the bill.

The tour started in China for three dates (Daqing, Harpin, and Beijing). From the very first show the crowds were absolutely insane. People shouldn’t be getting this kind of reaction from playing instrumental guitar music. I’m serious!

The crazy crowd in Taipei

(On a side note, people always ask me why I don’t and why I haven’t toured the US in many years. While the fans in the US are great, it is a whole other kind of energy that prevails in most of these overseas concerts I do. Where I may get an enthusiastic response in the US, there is certainly a contingent of audience members that strike the stereotypical “folded arms/show me what you can do/I’m better than you/I’m unimpressed/you suck” stance. While this never, ever bothers me (in fact, it actually provokes me sometimes), I’ll take the Beatlemania, tune recognition, deep fan love and ultimate crowd surfing any day that Asia provides without fail. I’ll address more of this in a later post at some point, but at this time I am looking at doing some dates in the good ole US of A.)

But I digress…

The thing Michael and I realized very quickly is that this was a fantastic bill to be touring. The reason being is that we really approach two totally different sides of guitar playing. Obviously, MAB is the shred with some melody included and I cover the melodic aspect with some chops thrown in. While that is a vast oversimplification of our two styles, needless to say, both of our groups of fans loved it. My fans would come out to the show and love what MAB was doing and then his fans got a dose of what I am all about. It was a “marriage”, so to speak, made in guitar heaven.

After China we hit Bangkok, Thailand and finally Taipei, Taiwan. Each as crazy (or more) than the last.

All the gigs were sold out and the energy level and enthusiasm were off the hook. It was insane how hot the venues were that we played. Walking on stage was always like walking into the mouth of an oven…and humid to boot. I wondered why at the beginning, but then it became clear that with no official fire marshall around as we have here in the US, these places were overpacked to unsafe levels over capacity. I thought on a few occasions that if a fire would happen to break out, we’re all dead as there were people hanging from the rafters in some of these places. Luckily, all ended great.

We’ve talked about taking this thing on the road again and, in fact, we are looking at that at this moment whether it be Asia, Europe or the US. Wherever it is I know that Michael and I will do this again.

An Update From the Road… (Part 1: Firehouse)

Wow, it’s really been an amazing summer so far! Crazy, but one of the greatest because I’ve been getting to do what I love the most: tour and get to perform in front of fans worldwide.

In the end, it will actually work out that I’m in Asia for basically the last two months (give or take some extreme flights that had me coming home for a short time only to head back over the ocean hours later).

After about a week of being over in Shanghai, China for some press junkets, I had the great opportunity to fill in for my buddy Bill Leverty in Firehouse for their Southeast Asia tour. This tour saw us hit all corners of Indonesia and with the tour culminating in a monster blow-out in Singapore. We hit Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Makassar, Semarang, Manado (day off for CJ to get some diving in), and Bali.

To say it was a blast would be a vast understatement. Really, the success of any tour can usually be gauged in the quality of time spent off the stage. And while every time we hit the stage was something special (more on this later), I can honestly say that I never felt so at home with a bunch of guys on the road. The band welcomed me with open arms and the crew were like my long lost friends (one of them actually was).

Even in the beginning there was never any “adjustment” period. It was straight balls out laughing, joking, and male bonding. I truly consider the five guys (and Bill) my brothers and would go to the end for them.

In that, when we hit the stage it was like gasoline on a fire. There was a great chemistry and they made me feel comfortable at every turn musically. Bill Leverty is an amazing guitarist with a knack for not only writing great songs, but memorable solos as well. Before the tour I studied and prepared his work the best I could. I wanted to really respect the songs as they were written. I had a blast performing them on stage!

CJ was literally stunning every night as his voice sounds better than ever in addition to his great showmanship. Michael is probably the hardest hitting drummer I have ever played with and it was like playing with a human groove machine. Allen, my boy from Akron, plays such an important yet understated part in that band not only from his solid bass playing, but his MVP backing vocals. As a unit, these guys are unstoppable!

It was also great to have a chance to work with my bro, Tony Avitar, who used to run sound for Zaza back in the day. Man, we relived those road stories…

Also, Jon “King” Stensland became a close friend of mine. “Just ask King…”

But I have to mention that the fans of Indonesia (and Singapore) were sensational! Every night they delivered the energy and enthusiasm that makes what we do as musicians worth all the effort. I’ll always remember and respect the time I was honored with in playing for those fans on that tour. I was blown away that the audience sang every (and I mean every) word of every single song…every night!

They gave me more than I could ever give them with my performances. Check out some of the vids on my Facebook or YouTube page to see how amazing those crowds were.

A big shout out to Tommy Pratama from Original Production for putting the whole thing together and to Endang for riding the motorcycle back to the hotel that one night. 🙂

But all good things sometime come to and end and this was no different as this was a temporary gig.

I joked that it felt like the old man was out of town so I moved in, slept with his wife, ate his food, played with his dog, drove his car, and put my feet up on his table while basically living his life only to get the hell out of sight when he returned.

I guess it’s something like that, but what a great time it was!

I’m playing guitar for the upcoming Asian Firehouse tour!

As situations would have it, my good friend Bill Leverty is unable to do this particular tour with his band Firehouse. I have always been a fan of the great songs, harmonies, big hooks and great guitar riffs of this seminal hard rock band. So when asked if I could fill in for this short time, I jumped on it. It will be a blast playing their hits as I attempt to fill Bill’s huge guitar shoes. I look forward to seeing all of my fans at these shows along with their continued love and support. Thanks! Neil

Too much of a good thing

I’m sitting on a plane right now as we get closer and closer to arriving. I’m impatient. Restless. Unfocused.

I flip through my iPod for something to take my mind off this interminable damn flight. I try one selection after another quickly flipping from tune to tune as we would with a channel changer when there’s nothing on TV. Now I’m just pissed.

Then I click that magic wheel on the iPod and my musical roulette game has finally delivered. Bingo!

And then it really hits me: I’m not looking for music, per se. I’m looking for a connection. A direct injection into my system that somehow symbiotically resonates with me not merely on a musical level, but something that takes me somewhere. Makes me think. Makes me invincible. Forces me to deal with things in the back of my mind. To dream. To spiritually empower me to believe anything is possible. A connection!

And when that fleeting moment hits there is nothing like it in the whole world. Somehow everything is put right and I’m centered. I’m calmed and soothed. I’m alright.

And it is that exact specialness that I think is missing in this late day of age. Music has become nothing more than the equivalent of musical wallpaper.  It the ubiquitous entity that permeates every waking moment of our day…whether we want it or not. Whether we choose to listen to it or not. Turn on TV. It’s there. Go shopping. It’s there. Gym? It’s there and I can’t even change the channel. Sometimes its like acid to my ears.

Think about it. At what point in your day isn’t music playing in some form? The problem is that most of the music, by design, is engineered not for a listening experience, but rather to be some sort of filler or background groove or companion to some other task. There’s always a goal to it.

As crazy as this sounds, I don’t want to listen to music all the time. The reason why is that I want my listening experience to be special. I want fresh ears that eagerly absorb what I choose to listen to…not what some ad executive thinks will attract my attention in a commercial or on radio.

Think of how special it must have been back in say, Mozart’s time. Music didn’t permeate all over every waking moment. When you went to a concert there must have been a specialness that we couldn’t even begin to comprehend today.  How fresh and inspiring the notes must have been pouring out of those instruments. I guess we’ll never know…

It’s Time

Writing in Trasacco, IT

You know when there is something truly good happening you can feel it? Well, I’m feeling it right now…

It’s really hard to explain, but for me, when it is time to do a new CD I can feel it. There is no explaining or rationalizing the process. I either have “it” (whatever that elusive magical spark might be) or I don’t. There is music inside that needs to get out or there isn’t. It’s not complex and it’s not on a clock or calendar. As the expression goes: No wine before it’s time, the same goes here. When it’s time, it’s time…and it’s time.

As anyone that has followed any of my tweets or posts on my Facebook (/neilzazamusic), over the past few months I have started the process of writing and recording. Things have been going great and the songs have been pouring out.

I’ve been very selective this time (as I guess I always am) regarding the quality of the actual songs themselves. When I state it is about the song, I mean it is about the song, dammit! A ton of attention has been paid to making sure that there is something musical in the compositions and not just a backdrop to show some guitar licks. But then, if you’re reading this you probably already know that about me.

So the strangest thing happened… I went to Italy to do some touring, hang with my friends, eat pasta all day long, drink Italian coffee (notice the italics), and track some bass and drums for some songs I had written. What I wasn’t expecting was to experience one of the greatest compositional periods in my career. It seems that as soon as I landed and had the first hit of Italian espresso (again, the italics, please) these tunes started pouring out of my Telecaster that really embodied all that I had envisioned for the new project. And they wouldn’t stop coming…

The process was always the same. I would pluck around on my black Tele and the idea would appear. I’d flesh out the arrangement and lay a very quick/scratch version down to a click track on my laptop. From there I would bring it to the band (Fabio Colella and Walter Cerasani) at Fabio’s studio. They would listen to it a time or two, learn it within a few minutes, we would start playing it and BAM! A new tune was born.

What was great was that the turn around time from when the idea was born to the time that we solidified it and were prepared to record was within one day (or hours in some cases). I think that expediency really helped to keep the idea fresh and focused.

I had the great opportunity to go into a fabulous studio called Audacia. It is a studio that is part of Audacia Records run by Aldo and Giuseppe Stornelli. This place was great! We tracked most of the tunes leaving just one more song to record sometime this week. Thanks guys!

Call it the air, the architecture, the comradarie of a great band of friends or whatever, but the result are tunes that really have a new sound to them. And they came to life in the most effortless way possible.  I didn’t even write them…I intercepted them from some invisible muse it seems.

Throughout my time in Italy the guys kept saying that it is a new sound.  Being that I stayed in Trasacco (Fabio’s hometown) they have been calling it the “Trasacco Sound.” I don’t know about all of that, but I do know that my sister (who I even doubt knows I play guitar or at least has never really acknowledged it to any degree) actually said (unprovoked, I might add) that what she heard emanating from my studio room upstairs at the family house was great. “It sounds really different and modern. I really like it!” Well…if that doesn’t say I’m onto something good I don’t know what will. 🙂

So in any case, I’m back home now and racing to keep the momentum and urgency that started in Italy. I think the key on this one is about capturing things fast and not over-thinking any aspect of the production. This one needs to get delivered fresh.

I’ll keep you updated…

Neil

Waking up in Vegas among other things…

The past few weeks have been really crazy (in a good way). Things are really picking up steam and I am really making progress with the new material.

For a while, things were really moving slowly and it seemed like I would never get momentum. I had a bunch of ideas and rough “sketches” laying around in various states of non completion. Solid ideas, but they just needed some live playing on them to make them come alive.

I have been fortunate that I have learned over the years that no matter what, I always try and finish the tune when I am writing it, even in rough form with just a guitar and a click track. This way, I can add production and come back to it with a fresh perspective and not worry about writing or recapturing the elusive muse.

In any case, that is what I did on a few of these tunes and then they went into hibernation for a while. Until a few weeks ago…

I was in Las Vegas working with Todd Rogers on some of the OSN production material and we were getting such great results that I thought, “What the hell. Let’s see what Todd can do on some of these ideas on my laptop.” Well what he did is ignite me back into a raging inferno in regard to finishing these tunes. He laid some amazing work down and I went home feeling the urgency to get on with all things new.

After coming home, I had the good fortune to cut some tracks at The Audio Kitchen for an amazing upcoming band called Aevory Nash (their new CD is going to be smokin’, by the way). Garrett Janos is the drummer and I was blown away with his sense of time, musicality and overall cool vibe.

What started out as cutting one quirky cover tune for me has turned into an everyday drum session the past week or so. We’ve been down there knocking a tune out in about two hours and then comping together the best of the best stuff for the final take. It has been a blast and it has really helped working with some fresh, enthusiastic talent like Todd and Garrett. I think when you hear the result you will notice the difference.

I still have to edit through all the great key stuff that we recorded in Las Vegas, but I think it is going to be a labor of love.

The only downside to all this right now is that I need to be working on OSN material and getting the show ready. I keep putting it off and I realize that I am literally about 3 months away from the show! I need to put a moratorium on the new material after this week and get cracking on all that is Christmas.

More later…

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