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Interview

Former Prong And Madonna Guitarist Breaks Down "The Power of Three"

From the Lone Star State to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, Monte Pittman is a symbol of hope for everyone who ever took a chance to make it big in the entertainment industry. When faced with the prospect of tucking his tail between his legs and cowering back home, Monte took a chance, a big chance, when he stepped out on his own to teach guitar. His big break came when British heist film director, Guy Ritchie began lessons. Soon after, Monte began teaching Ritchie's future wife, Madonna.

More than a decade later, Monte has toured with Madonna and played special shows such as the Super Bowl and David Letterman. Now, Monte has come full circle, back to his days as a young, aspiring heavy metal guitarist. With his third studio full-length, Pittman has made the metal album the young Pantera fan in him always desired. "The Power of Three" is such a fitting album not just in the since of it being his third album and playing with a power trio. It could even signify his time with Prong. Normally the "it means whatever you want it to mean" cliché is a cop out for artists to avoid explaining the stories in their lyrics. Not with this album. The meanings of this title are endless to the point one could obsess to the point of finding this number in everything.

Musically, "The Power of Three" draws on Pittman's influences growing up. Comparisons to bands such as Helmet, Sepultura, Pantera, Prong and even a touch of grunge will give new listeners some sort of compass for what they will hear. Chris Barnes and Alex Skolnick even join Pittman for a brief death metal romp. Follow the transcripts of my phone conversation with Pittman to read more about the making of this album and some of his experiences playing with Madonna.

Rex_84: Your third solo album "The Power of Three" dropped last week on the 21st. How do you feel now that it's completed?

Monte Pittman: I'm so happy with the outcome of everything. The album came out yesterday. It got up to number 14 on the i-Tunes Metal Charts. That's considering that Black Sabbath just released their entire Ozzy-era catalog, so it would have gotten up to number 4 or 5. But hey, what are going to do, right? The response has been great. People are checking it out. Sometimes when people first hear it they say, "this guy played with this person and that person." They get to hear it for themselves. It's bringing in a new era--a new beginning for me.

Rex_84: This album has a little bits of Prong--one of the bands you're alluding to above--in the sound. The recording has a Nineties feel with a bunch of groove. Comparison bands include Pantera, Helmet and of course, Prong. Is "The Power of Three" an album revealing your metal influences?

Pittman: I was looking to make the ultimate metal album I never had, to take everything that ever influenced me and put it all together. I set out to make the ultimate album I never had, but a lot of those influences just came out. Then it all came together. It comes from what I can do live. I took what I do best and put it all together.

Rex_84: Rex_84: The album was recorded in Denmark by Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Evile). What was it like working with Flemming?

Pittman: Flemming is amazing! I learned a lot about sound, playing together and just making an album. He made some of my favorite albums before recording this album.

Rex_84: Two-thirds of your band includes Kane Ritchotte (drums), and Max Whipple (bass). How did you meet these players and what led to you playing together?

Pittman: I met Kane when I was doing my second album "Pain, Love & Destiny." He played drums on that. Kane and Max grew up playing together. They used to have a band together. I needed a bass player, so that was the obvious choice. Max is amazing. Max is one of the most genius musicians I have ever met. He knows it in and out. He knows his theory really well. He can play several instruments. He's incredible.

Rex_84: What are some of the ideas connected to the album title, "The Power of Three?" You have three people in your band, you're a power trio, but the idea stretches much further than that.

Pittman: Yeah, it's my third album. "The Power Of Three" can have several meanings. Everybody always asks me about a different one. What I tell people is do a little research on it. There are some interesting things to find out about it. In music theory, the three tells you if it's major or minor, also, which is very interesting. You can break down three chords in a song. There are several musical references.

Rex_84: How does the album compare to your previous recording "Pain, Love & Destiny?"

Pittman: "Pain, Love & Destiny" is kind of a rock album. "The Power Of Three" is a full-on metal album. "Pain, Love & Destiny" was going to be an acoustic album with drums and bass. It was where I was going with my career, and it turned into a rock album after we put in the guitar solos and all that on the album. Then, "The Power Of Three" was recorded all together, all in the same room. I guess you could say, it was me returning to my metal roots. I gave Flemming all the demos. I gave him some acoustic demos and I gave him some heavy demos. He told me I needed to work on the heavy songs. Those were the songs I needed to be recording.

Rex_84: Metal Blade Records released the album. How did you connect with this label?

Pittman: Yeah, Metal Blade is putting it out. I played it for Brian Slagel after recording it. As fate would have it, we were going to get together and grab lunch or dinner. We had to get caught up. I played it for him and asked him what I should do with it. I wasn't even thinking he would be interested in signing it. He was and he told me to send it to him and we would start talking. I didn't think it would be a Metal Blade release, but now, looking back on it, it makes all the sense in the world. I mean, this is the guy who discovered Metallica and Slayer, two of my biggest influences. So I think about that and it just comes together.

Rex_84: People tend to think of certain bands when they think of Metal Blade; however, Metal Blade has released such a wide array of styles.

Pittman: Yes, and especially lately. Some of my favorite releases from the last couple of years come from there--Amon Amarth, Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats, The Black Dahlia Murder, Noctem was really good. That album has been growing on me. It's stuck in my head. I've heard some of the new albums coming out from Sahg and Behemoth. They have releases that are coming out in the next month or so. It's an honor to be working with such a great group of people, such a great team!

Rex_84: You recently issued a music video " Before The Morning Son." It was directed by Metal Blade's Vince Edward. Why did you decide to use this song, and how do you feel about this video? What was it like recording it?

Pittman: I'm very happy with the way the video came out. We recorded it at You-Tube's studio. This is Vince's first video. I think he did a phenomenal job. I'm looking forward to see what he does next. "Before The Morning Son" is the second single on the album and my first video. It was just going to be a performance video and we said we could move the camera around a little bit and make a real video out of it, something people want to go watch and not just learn how to play it.

Rex_84: I really enjoy the beginning part showing you finger tap.

Pittman: I was just kind of playing around. I have a signature guitar with Jarrell Guitars. That's something that really inspired this new material. It's not like any other guitar because a lot of guitars are usually a copy of a Gibson or a Strat. This guitar is unique. It has it's own design, I guess you could say. That's where that came from, playing around with two-handed tapping. That's another thing going back to when I first started playing guitar. That's one of the tricks I used to do. I revisited a lot of the ideas I had when I first started playing guitar. That comes from Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. That was something they would do a lot.

Rex_84: Eddie Van Halen was instrumental in bringing string tapping to rock-n-roll.

Pittman: He played single notes. The type of tapping on "Before The Morning Son" comes from Stanley Jordan, the jazz musician. I believe he started out as a piano player and then started playing his guitar like it were a piano. That's where that sort of comes from. I believe it's Joe Satriani's "A Day At The Beach" on the "Flying In A Blue Dream" album. There are a couple of things he does. Steve Vai's got something like it called "Building The Church" that is insane compared to "Before The Morning Son."

Rex_84: Chris Barnes and Alex Skolnick appear on "All Is Fair In Love And War." What led to bringing those guys in?

Pittman: I think it's cool, I mean, when else are you going to have those two guys appear on the same track? Alex has his own signature amp with Budda Amps. He was doing something at Peavey Hollywood. I'm friends with all the people there. Actually, the first friend I made in L.A. runs that store. I was there and after Alex did his interview, I was talking about the amp and I uploaded a SM57 (microphone) on this cabinet and added recording gear there. I put the head phones on Alex's head and just let him go for it! He played three minutes and laid down three solos. The one you hear is the last one he did. I recorded his solo. Chris Barnes went into a studio in Tampa and did the vocals. He elaborated on the lyrics I gave him. A long time ago, Christ and I talked about doing a project together. A lot of it was just about getting together just because you wanted to write a song with your friend. You just never know what 's going to happen.

Rex_84: Do you have a project that you would like to do with him somewhere down the line?

Pittman: Nothing planned. I would love to, though, if it's possible. He has a lot of things going on. I have a lot of things going on. I would definitely do that. That's for sure. It would be awesome. Who knows, this could be the start of something. We have nothing planned, although it would be easy to do and I would love to do it if that opportunity were to ever come about.

Rex_84: I also wanted to talk to you about Madonna. You were Guy Ritchie's guitar teacher and then Madonna brought you in to play in her band. Can you tell our readers a bit about working with Madonna?

Pittman: I moved to L.A. from Texas at the end of '99 and the beginning of 2000. I worked at the Guitar Center in Hollywood because I figured I would meet the most musicians there. I wanted to go where the action was. I wasn't very good at selling guitars and there were no guitar teachers in the area. There were a couple of teachers, but if you were to give someone's number out to a customer, they would always come back and ask for someone else. So I figured I could it and be my own boss. I quit and started teaching. It was a very scary moment. It was a leap of faith, that's for sure because if that didn't work I would have definitely moved back to Texas. Or I would have found something else, who knows? I got a call from a guy saying he wanted to get lessons for his boss. His boss was Guy Ritchie. This was before "Snatch" came out. Guy and Madonna were dating at the time. This was right before Madonna's "Music" album came out. As a result of that, I started teaching Madonna. A month after teaching her, she invited me to come play on the David Letterman show. From there, I just went wherever she would go and just kept teaching her. Then she was going to go on the first tour she had done in around seven years, "The Drowned World Tour." She said she was going on tour and she wanted me to keep teaching her and that she needed a guitar player, so she asked me to play guitar on the tour. I told her, "of course." That's how that all started. I've been with her ever since.

Rex_84: She brought you out with her to play the Super Bowl in 2012. That was in front of millions of people from all over the world. How do you feel about that performance?

Pittman: That was another unique performance, one of the many benefits of playing with her. I tell everybody I had the best seat in the house. It went by so fast. The performance was twelve-minutes long, give or take. We did four songs. It was crazy standing there knowing that pretty much everybody I've ever met was seeing that. More people watched the halftime than watched the game. At the time it was one of the most watched events of its kind. I'm really getting into football now, too. I never really got into sports; I just don't have time. Now I am getting into sports, so that's consuming too much of my time when I should be writing songs. Now I can look back and say, "oh man, I played the Super Bowl. That's crazy!" When you're on stage with somebody like Madonna everyone is watching her, so it's almost like you're invisible, but you get to experience it. I remember old KISS interviews where they talked about playing in arenas and because they wore makeup, they could just walk down the street after playing and nobody would know who they were. You just never know. Sometimes people recognize you, sometimes they don't.

Rex_84: What's coming down the pipe next? Where can our readers see you perform?

Pittman: We have the NAMM show coming up this weekend. I'm playing the Orange Party on Friday night, playing the Seymour Dunkin on Saturday night. I'm doing a signing for that. I've got February 22nd booked at The Whiskey. I'm trying to book elsewhere. I'm trying to get out to do as many shows as I can. Booking shows is the next step now that the material is out there and people are hearing the new album, they can see what's going on.

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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