Interview With Project Steiger's Ken Steiger
Los Angeles, California's PROJECT STEIGER is headed up by Ken Steiger, a celebrated guitar instructor at Musicians Institute who is now busy promoting his sensational new self-released CD entitled "Defiance". He has surrounded himself with the best of the best from the progressive heavy music scene, names that true disciples of the genre will clearly recognize at first glance. I am most taken aback by the man's spirit and zest for the life of metal music, and that is why I wanted to make this interview happen so badly. I believe many of you who are just starting out on learning guitar or maybe are picking it back up again, can learn a whole lot from Ken Steiger. And I don't speak merely about his ability to teach chops. I speak of the man's character, along with his unbridled passion and relentless pursuit to achieve great things at what he loves doing most.
Rocket: I wanted to first congratulate you on such a great career up to this point as a guitarist and a renowned guitar teacher at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. I love your music with Project Steiger and what a great time you must've had being featured in the 2006 Red Hot Chili Peppers video, “Tell Me Baby". Can you tell me what it was like working on the set with this legendary rock act?
Ken: Thanks. It’s been a lot of hard work over the years, but I’m doing what I love. The Red Hot Chili Peppers video shoot was amazing. What a great bunch of guys…so friendly and talented. These guys really know what it takes to be in a band. During the shoot the Director and Producers didn’t tell us that the band was there. So they threw us on stage to play the song…and certain members of the band would sneak on stage and start jamming with us…this way they got some really great reaction shots from the extras. After the shoot, we got to mingle with all the guys from the band, they signed autographs and took pictures with me and all the other extras from the shoot. You could see how the band was really enjoying themselves during the shoot. Later, Warner Brothers sent us a behind the scenes DVD of the making of the video…some great scenes. It will probably show up on VH1 behind the scenes or something…lol…pretty great stuff.
Rocket: When did you first start playing guitar?
Ken: Real early on. All my older friends were playing in bands, and I just got sucked in. I started playing in and around 7th grade. Guitar turned into one of those major obsessions for me when I was a kid, I remember my friend calling saying “STEIGER come out and party with us..”, and I would tell them that I couldn’t because I had to figure out this Randy Rhoads lick or something”. So, a lot of my childhood was spent woodshedding with the guitar.
Rocket: Who are some of your biggest playing influences? Past or present.
Ken: I remember hearing those Early “Van Halen” albums…then I heard “Randy Rhoads” and “Michael Schenker” and everything changed from there. I eventually started listening to Malmsteen, Satriani and Vai. I’ve had so many different influences over the years, from SRV to Dimebag. It’s hard to pin point a lot of my influences. Plus the new players from bands such as “Nevermore”, “Lamb of God”, “Arch Enemy” and Soilwork are really pushing the envelope of Killer New Metal.
Rocket: What kind of guitars are you playing live and in the studio?
Ken: I’ve been using IBANEZ for years. Unfortunately, I never got a full endorsement from them, so I just cover up the Ibanez logo with my own “STEIGER” logo. The Steve Vai Jem I have from the early nineties is my favorite. I usually play that live the most. I also have some of their 7-Strings, and an old RG custom that I hand picked the parts and painted. I also have a hard tail Jackson Reverse for drop tunings. I was hoping the guys over at ESP Guitars was going to hook me up…but no luck. In the studio on “DEFIANCE”, I also used Les Paul's and my Ibanez John Petrucci model.
Rocket: What kind of amp rig?
Ken: On the last album, I used a combination of Marshalls, Mesa Boogie (Dual Rectifier) and for the leads I was running a Triaxis through a VHT Power amp. I’ve been using Mesa Boogie live for years, but recently I got turned on to the Peavey 6505 (5150 upgrade). Really nice amp for those searing leads!! I’m looking forward to hearing the Peavey’s in the Studio. I also use TC Electronic effects for most of my EFX, all controlled with a midi pedal, and of course my trusty Cry Baby and Whammy pedal. I run everything through (2) Marshall 4X12 cabs.
Rocket: Take us back to when you first came to Los Angeles to get into the music scene here. Where were you originally from and what ultimately got you into the teaching gig?
Ken: "Oh what the hell, I came here…you know I came here in the early nineties to try to get a band together, brief start in the whole thing, and I found out it was a pretty tough business.” That's my actual quote from the 2006 Red Hot Chili Peppers “Tell Me Baby” video. Haha. I had to put that in there!
Rocket: By all means, Ken. Flaunt it if you got it! Ha!
Ken: Again, I did come here in the early 90’s to go to school, studied for about a year and a half, and tried to join some bands in the L.A. area. The scene was pretty beat up from all the parties of the 80’s, the year was about 1992-1993 and guitar playing was “uncool.” People who could solo really got beat up around this time, so it was hard to do what we loved, which was playing heavy blinding riffs, the shred way! But now it’s 2006 and guitar is cool again, leads are back, everybody’s practicing, great new music coming out, exciting times again. I came from the Washington state area (Seattle) and Vancouver where I grew up. I had the urge to come to L.A. to pursue a career in music and production, when I found out that it was hard to make a living playing guitar, so I started teaching to pay off bills, and found a lot of eager students, which lead to Musicians Institute. I’ve been teaching there for 10 years now..and the National Guitar Workshop and WorkshopLive for the last few years.Over the years, I’ve been trying to bring back Shred & Metal guitar…..one student at a time.
Rocket: What would you say is the one major pitfall that most young guitar students fall prey to when trying to learn the mechanics and fundamentals of playing the electric guitar at a pro level?
Ken: Trying to play something too fast before you learn it. Bottom Line. Developing bad habits when you first start is the worst thing you can do.
Rocket: Well, I couldn't agree with you more on that.
Ken: For years you’ll try to re-learn bad habits. So you have to start slow and perfect, and then get the exercise or progression up to proper speed. Also, keep a balanced practice schedule (for example: between rhythm and lead, sweep arpeggios and blues, shred and phrasing, etc.). Work with all styles of music, learn to play rhythm and solo, and always use alternate picking for the fast lines… please. You’ll never get it up to the speed you want, without alternate picking.
Rocket: Let's talk about Project Steiger and the new album 'Defiance'. Who produced and engineered the album?
Ken: A real exciting album. I got to work with the world’s finest musicians. When Derek Sherinian (Ex-Dream Theater, Malmsteen) approached me to help me co-produce the album “DEFIANCE”. I was excited. Then he helped me hire Virgil Donati (Steve Vai, Planet X) and Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder) to do their parts it was all coming together. We ended up engineering the Drums at Gilby Clarke’s house, and recording a lot of Tony’s bass lines there. Tom Fletcher and Albert Law helped me engineer the rest of the album over at Derek Sherinian’s home in the Hollywood hills. Pretty cool. Sharon Farias and Phil Soussan helped in the production and mixing as well.
Rocket: Where is it being sold?
Ken: I sell the album through my web site: http://www.ProjectSteiger.com, CDBaby: http://www.CDBaby.com/Steiger and GuitarNine: http://www.guitar9.com/defiance.html. It’s also on Amazon.com and Towerrecords.com.
Rocket: Tell us a bit about the band itself. Who are the members? And briefly, what are their musical backgrounds?
Ken: I now hire a crack team of musicians to help me re-create “DEFIANCE” live at the locals clubs in Hollywood. The LIVE players are currently:
Duayne Howard – Drums (Bloodshot, World Affairs, Prowler, Dead Planet)
David Angel – Bass (Dead Planet)
Todd Graveman – Rhythm & Lead guitar (Ekphrasis)
They all have various backgrounds, and are tearing these songs up LIVE!!
For studio album “Project STEIGER - DEFIANCE” I had:
Derek Sherinian – Keyboards
(ex-Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen, KISS, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol)
Virgil Donati – Drums
(Steve Vai, Planet X)
Tony Franklin – Bass
(Jimmy Page, The Firm, Marty Friedman, Blue Murder)
Gary Hoey was a special guest on “Persuasion”
a tribute to SANTANA, offering a special lead guitar exchange with STEIGER.
Michael T. Ross (Keys on “Edge of Forever” (Hardline, Angel, Accomplice) was featured on Keyboards on “Edge Of Forever”
Yolen Farias (Bass on “Persuasion” and “Vertical Integration”)
Gene McEwen (Drums on “Persuasion” and “Vertical Integration”)
Rocket: Those are some real impressive names. I imagine like all the other guitar players I've interviewed, Dimebag Darrell's onstage murder back in Dec/2004 had a serious affect on you. Can you tell me what this legendary guitar talent means to you?
Ken: Dimebag was THE MAN!! He always tore it up, and gave every ounce of his talent, and being to the guitar. He loved life. He lived life. Besides his amazing chops, he taught me how to give it my all. Each, and every performance. Each, and every note. We try to do some kind of tribute each year for him either on his Birthday, or the day of his demise. Such a tragedy.
Rocket: Okay, I like to have fun with this next one. What's the funniest things that's happened to you on stage?
Ken: I remember playing once at the old Coconut Teaszer on the Sunset Strip…the ceiling was very low in this club. I remember getting up on the drum riser, and jamming with the drummer…so I decided to jump off the stage, and of course I slammed my head on the overhanging beam. I landed on my ass, and was still playing the song. As I kept jamming, I soon noticed blood was dripping from my head, but I just continued on playing, with crowd loving every minute of it. I guess the show must go on, and does.
Rocket: That's why they call it Rock n Roll. You get 'rocked' and you keep on with the 'roll'! Man, It's been a great past couple years for metal. What's been your favorite album so far up over this time?
Ken: I’ve been listening to a lot of the new metal bands coming out of Europe, and on the Century Media and Nuclear Blast labels. I particularly like “NEVERMORE- This Godless Endeavor”, “CHILDREN OF BODOM – HateCrew Deathroll”, “INFLAMES – Come Clarity” and “ARCH ENEMY’s – Doomsday Machine”. These players are tearing it up in the guitar world. And it’s not all just about the leads. These songs rip!!
Rocket: What are some of the upcoming shows for Project Steiger? I know you guys are planning to become very aggressive in booking shows throughout the greater Los Angeles scene, right?
Ken: We just got done playing “CLUB VODKA” in Hollywood…and two shows out in the Valley. And we just played at a United Way benefit out in Sylmar, put on by UPS. I’ve got my eye on some of the local spots like the new CineSpace on Hollywood Blvd. and some other upper class clubs for that better sound. I hope to have some shows booked for the New Years, and around NAMM. The pay-to-play thing is a real bummer, but I usually break even. I am open for any cool bookings, where the guitar is happening.
Rocket: Thanks so much for taking your time out with me on this, Ken. Give a shout out to your biggest supporters.
Ken: I wanted to thank all the guys in the band (Duayne, Todd, David) for working so hard on my material, and being patient with the new songs. Also, to everyone coming to the shows, my students, and those who have purchased the new album. I should thank everyone on my mailing list and on myspace.com for there terrific support!! Also, Tricia, Joy, Vicky, Neal, Tattoo Kenny, Stephanie and Adam, for all their support at the shows. Oh and I can’t forget all the cute girls in Orange County. You ROCK!! You know who you are. Thanks for letting me be myself, with my music, and the guitar!
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