Gordy – Greetings Jim, I wanted to start off by saying that I’m a huge Chimp Spanner fan and would like to thank you for agreeing to take the time out of your busy schedule to conduct this interview with me.
Jim – No worries, Gordy, happy to do it!
G – For those who have never heard Chimp Spanner’s music, how would you describe it and what have been your main influences as a guitarist; both in the beginning of your development on the instrument and your influences currently?
J – I’d describe Chimp Spanner as eclectic, but tastefully done. There’s tons of influences swimming about, from almost unidentifiable, subtle jazzy licks to big, aggressive polyrhythms with time signatures that can sometimes seem like they have been picked out of a hat at random! Before Chimp Spanner was even on my radar I was big into tech metal and prog – stuff like The Human Abstract and Protest The Hero to stuff I picked up from my Dad – Pink Floyd, Roger Waters etc, so I feel like I was of the right mind to tackle this kind of music!
G – How long has the band been around and how did you come to be a member? Pretty good gig I would imagine!
J – Chimp Spanner as an entity has been around since about 2004 when the first album, Imperium Vorago was self released by Paul [Ortiz, writer and founder of Chimp Spanner]. Paul and I actually started working together on a project named Blessed Inertia, with the idea that we’d be able to take it live, as back then Chimp Spanner was just a guy writing albums in his home studio. Little did we know how the band would evolve!
G – I just became aware of your endorsement with Strictly 7 Guitars and saw that they have designed and created ( with your input ) the JMH7 Signature Series, made with your exact specifications! How did that opportunity come about and what was the process like? And are you pleased with the finished product?
J – The deal with Strictly 7 Guitars came about through my good friend Ola Englund. He put my name forward to Paul De Maio over at S7G and made him aware that I was shopping around for a new company to work with. De Maio saw working with me as a great opportunity for both Chimp Spanner and S7G, and I definitely agree! The design, or should I say, spec-building process consisted of tons of emails spanning a few months between me and Paul De Maio. To be honest I knew what I wanted in a guitar before I realized that what I wanted just so happened to be pretty much what everyone else wanted too! As of writing this, I actually don’t have MY guitar with me yet, but it’s well underway at the moment and I plan to have it from 2013 onward.
G – A lot of bands are playing 7 string, even 8 string guitars these days and I was wondering what your thoughts are on the advantages of going with a 7 string guitar verses a 6 string and was there a learning curve there in making that transition?
J – There was definitely a learning curve – anyone will tell you the same thing. And then even more so, I’d say, from 7 to 8 strings. 8 string guitars are different, as I think that’s where you’ve really got to start thinking about the rest of your rig above and beyond just longer scales, wider necks and thicker strings. You need to be aiming for as much definition and clarity as possible in your tone – that kind of comes naturally when you’re playing ‘ordinary’ guitars, so people don’t give much thought to why their 8 string guitars sound like mush with their old settings (or in our case, patches). It really takes a lot of consideration to get everything right.
G – How is life on the road and what do you do on your downtime and for entertainment when you are touring?
J – Touring is fantastic, I love it. I basically quit life as I knew it (steady job, comfortable income) to tour last December with Cynic, and I don’t regret it at all. Prior to that tour I’d gotten used to van tours – sleeping wherever I could physically fit my body, being thankful whenever we hit a venue with a shower and taking on a strict diet of ‘drive-thru’ cheeseburgers – but it was still my favorite thing to do. Downtime on tour is a LOT of waiting around! But it gives us a good chance to hang out with the bands we tour with. As a band we still have got a lot to learn, so hanging out is very important!
G – I understand you are currently busy writing and rehearsing the material for the new album! How is that progressing along and what can fans expect to hear from the band this time around?
J – The new album’s going great! Over the past 6 months we have revisited a lot of material that’s been put aside from previous recording sessions, picked the strongest stuff and blended it as much as possible with new stuff. Not to say the older stuff is not strong material, but we don’t want to be released 3-disc, 4 hour albums! We feel blending the old with the new gives the sound a nice anchor point – it almost gives things a ‘vintage Chimp’ vibe, you could say!
G – Are you involved in the writing process or is that primarily Paul Ortiz’s responsibility?
J – The writing process is entirely Paul, but the material is constantly being run past us so when songs are finalized,we can simply piece together the bits we already know. That saved a lot of time during the rehearsing of the recent EP All Roads Lead Here, which we now routinely play live in it’s entirety. The idea to have us involved in the writing process was floated when we first formed as a live band, but I am such a big fan of what Paul does and he’s tons better at writing music than I am, so I personally really didn’t want that to change. I’m involved in my own ways – I’ve been booking us a few shows here and there and I’m currently transitioning to being in control of the social networking side of the band, so, I’m sorry to say, you guys on Facebook are normally talking to me these days!
G – When can we expect to see the completion of the album and when and where will it be available?
J – The album’s release is aimed at the first quarter of 2013, and it will be available EVERYWHERE! Online on iTunes and Amazon, physical copies also from Amazon, and it will be distributed in the United States by our label Prosthetic and the rest of the world by Basick Records. Keep your eyes locked on the Basick Records Facebook page as I’m sure there’ll be some songs streaming for free.
G – How was the name Chimp Spanner chosen and does it have anything to do with the movie the Lawn Mower Man?
J – Lawn Mower Man? That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that being a reference! I believe the band name came from Paul needing a name in double quick time for either a college project or something similar, and just chucked a few words together after listening to some Foo Fighters.
G – Have you ever watched the movie the Lawn Mower Man? If not, you should as it is awesome!
J – I’ll add that to the list!
G – Do you have any immediate plans for touring once the album is released? If so, where do you plan to tour and who with?
J – We have plans, options, details of people to get in touch with – all sorts. We’re intending to hit Europe, for sure, and the response from the recent Intrinsic 2012 tour with The Contortionist was so incredible that we feel we need to hit North America again as soon as we can. We really need a nice, long tour, as we have done a fair few one-off shows this year, and I miss being able to get into that pocket of being 3 or 4 shows into a tour.
G – You guys are very heavy, very technical, yet you have a beautiful melodic sound to your music that puts you head and shoulders above anyone else out there on the scene today! What are some of the metal bands that you enjoy listening to and if you could put your dream list together of bands you would like to tour with, who would be on your list?
J – I absolutely fell in love with Cynic when we toured with them last year – we all get post-tour blues, that’s usual, but I massively miss listening to that band being absolutely incredible every single night, non-stop for 3 weeks. As I mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of tech metal music, so THA and PTH will make an appearance again on this list alongside my good friends in No Consequence, who are without a doubt one hell of a monstrous group of musicians. I grew up listening to the likes of Metallica, Fear Factory, Chimaira, Strapping Young Lad, Machine Head.. all that good stuff that pretty much defines the foundation of Heavy Metal music. Ideal bands to tour with? It’d have to be Devin Townsend for me. That man is undoubtedly a genius. Then, of course, there’s Meshuggah. They’re just so tight live that I can’t even begin to imagine the things they could teach us about being a live band and putting on a hell of a show.
G – Given the degree of technical proficiency that are present in your songs, are there any songs that are so difficult to play that you almost dread performing them, due to the degree of skill and concentration it takes in pulling it off live?
J – There’s actually two songs off the second album, At The Dream’s Edge that we don’t yet perform live: ” Terminus” and “Far From Home”. “Terminus” has recently been reworked and tweaked a little bit, so we’re really hoping that will happen at some point soon. One of the hardest songs we play live used to be “Under One Sky”, but now that’s a song that doesn’t even phase us. The groove in “Dark Age of Technology” means that you’ve really got to stay on top of it, as soon as you lose it there’s no coming back! Then there’s ‘that’ middle section in “Cloud City”. I’ve never learnt anything like that before, so I’m not ashamed to say that it took me an age to get it tight!
G – Paul is one of the best guitar soloists on the planet! How does it feel to be part of a band with such skilled musicians and how the hell did Paul get that good? It almost seems to be beyond human ability, the level of playing that is present in your music! And you are pretty damn accomplished yourself Jim!
J – Paul’s definitely next level. Working with him in the past was always a completely different experience. I’d occasionally jam with people and come to see that they’re just not getting up to speed with what I’m trying to accomplish. In my first writing experience with Paul, we wrote a pretty fast, technical metal song. I’d come up with most of the riffs in my own time, and seemingly played them to Paul once before he’d began double-tracking guitars into Cubase. That level of complete understanding of what’s going on, and that ability to absorb what someone else is telling him is what sets him apart. Then he wrote a mean shred solo off the cuff.. And double tracked that, too. I think Paul started at an early age as a pianist, and took up guitar later. All I can think of is that he maybe had a head-start in the dexterity department.. But there’s no denying he’s an amazing musician and instrumentalist. Being a pianist is where his natural ability to trigger a full drum set from a keyboard comes from. What will really make you sick is that he can play actual drums, too. In fact, he plans on tracking the drums himself on the next album! The trickiest part of joining the band for me was learning Paul’s nuances as a composer. 50% of ‘doing it right’ was getting my head around how he does things. I’ve always had a natural head for timing and groove, so that helps a lot with all this complex music!
G – Do you listen to artists such as Greg Howe, Guthrie Govan, Frederik Thordendale, Frank Gambale, Shawn Lane, etc…? If so what is your feelings on these types of artists, as they are similar to what you guys are doing in Chimp Spanner?
J – Guthrie Govan is actually from the same town I am. Before he joined Dizzee Rascal’s touring band, he performed every Thursday night at a small bar in Chelmsford, Essex. Of course, my luck being as it is, I found out he’d done that AFTER he joined Dizzee! So I never saw him, unfortunately. It’s hard to say that guys like Greg Howe and Shawn Lane are doing similar to what we’re doing as we hold those guys in such high regard that we’re too humble to even mention them in the same sentence as us. If our fans want to make that connection then that’s great.
G – Any chance you guys may team up with Jeff Loomis or Intervals and come to Ohio (my home state) for a show sometime in the near future?
J – We’d love to! I’ve only recently discovered Intervals, as Aaron Marshall and I are both endorsing Strictly 7 Guitars. Those guys are fantastic! I also finally met Jeff Loomis in person at this year’s Euroblast Festival in Cologne, Germany (this past October). He’s an amazing guy, we bonded over German Burger King breakfast! I’d been a fan for years, so it’s great that meeting him wasn’t disappointing!
G – And this question is a little off topic ( ok… alot off topic ) but what are your thoughts on the current state of affairs and world events, both in your own country which is the U.K and here in the U.S.A?
J – If I’m completely honest, I stopped taking an active interest in current affairs a few years back. It’s not that I avoid major tabloid news (I actually treat it more like a soap opera), but I see no point in using up any more of my precious time on this planet to pay any attention to an institution that I believe to be inherently corrupt and biased. But we’ll save that for another interview, maybe!
G – Any final thoughts or anything you would like to say to your fans or to anyone who has not heard your music who are metal fans and fans of shred instrumental music? I feel they would love it and for the record, you guys are currently my favorite band on the planet! And that is saying something as I have over 2,000 CD’s in my personal collection ranging from Jazz, Funk, Fusion, metal and 70’s era top 40!
J – That’s very humbling to hear, man! I’d just like to ask people who haven’t heard us yet to check the band out! It’s fairly different from most other bands that we’re associated with – maybe you’ll like us more!
G – Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule and making yourself available for this interview, Jim! Best of luck to you and I can’t wait to hear the new album!
J – Thanks a lot, Gordy!