Jeff Loomis – A Future Certain

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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One of the few guitarists able to transcend the band where he staked his career, ex-Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis is all-systems-go on the solo front in 2012. His latest Plains of Oblivion is a multi-faced shred du jour, rounded out by several key guest appearances from former Megadeth guitarists Chris Poland and Marty Friedman, along with former Emperor mainman Ihshan. Yet it is the female vocals of Christine Rhoades on “Tragedy and Harmony” and most notably, “Chosen Time” that effectively jolts the album to another level, proving that at heart, Loomis is still a sterling, melodic metal songsmith.

The aftermath of his departure from Nevermore is still very much fresh and proved to be a topic we couldn’t avoid during our 30-minute chat, but it’s not like Loomis won’t be keeping busy. The man has already hustled back into the studio to record a 3-song EP just in time for a summer run with The Contortionist and 7 Horns, 7 Eyes, and as our conversation revealed, the shredder has plenty of surprises left in store… When Nevermore had its down-time in between albums, you did a lot of clinic work. In hindsight, how beneficial was it that you were so active on the clinic circuit?

Jeff Loomis: That was something I was never able to accomplish with Nevermore, like getting in touch with the fans and the techniques I use when I play. That was a great opportunity; we hit a lot of territory as far as doing clinics. We went all over Europe, went to Japan and China, and we now have plans to go to Australia. For me, it’s very important because it gives you the chance to sit the fans one-on-one with another generation of guitar players.

It’s weird because you don’t have the camaraderie of your bandmates – you’re just out there by yourself. When I first started doing it, it was nerve-wracking. It took me about a week to get into it since I’m not a guy who talks a lot. Now that I have a grasp on, it’s been very fun and beneficial. But as far as Nevermore, it was hard to say goodbye to it since it was such a big part of my life, but as they say – every book has an ending. You did a run of dates in the spring with Protest the Hero and Periphery. That being your first solo tour with the aforementioned group of guys, were you surprised at the reaction?

Loomis: I really was. I didn’t know how it would go over. I was expecting a lot of people in the crowd to be saying “Go back to Nevermore!” and things like that. You always expect the worst when you start something, but I was really blown away by the response and reception from the crowd. People were going nuts. I think it was a good tour for us to be on from the get-go; Protest the Hero is very guitar-oriented and so is Periphery. It was one of these tours where no egos were involved, everybody just went out and enjoyed playing, so that was really awesome. That tour made me feel like I can continue on by myself as a solo artist. I think it was a smart move to pair you with “fresh” bands like Protest the Hero and Periphery. It might have been more difficult for you had you gone out with bands that Nevermore used to play with.

Loomis: That is true. There’s nothing wrong with capturing another audience with what you do. I think with Nevermore, it was a vibe where we were climbing up the ladder, but taking two steps back all the time. We could never reach the goal that I wanted to reach; it was always a continuing struggle. It seems like now that I have option of clicking my own fingers and being the director, no egos here at all [laughs]. I have the opportunity to do things my way. By all means, I don’t mean that in a bad way, but sometimes, when someone has a vision, it helps; it helps move things along better. As for Plains of Oblivion, when you left Nevermore last year, was any of this material slated for the next Nevermore album?

Loomis: There was one song that ended up being on the record, just a couple of parts. Everything else is completely fresh. Every musician has their own vault of riffs and Pro Tools sessions and whatnot, but when I get inspired to do a record, I sit in a month in my studio and come up with stuff. And unless I’m really hurting for stuff, I don’t usually go back for parts. So yeah, everything for the new record is completely fresh, save for a few parts, which ended up being the song Chris Poland played on [“Continuum Drift”]. Speaking of which, you had two of Megadeth’s best lead guitar players to play on the album. There’s always been the Megadeth connection going back to Sanctuary, so how cool was it to have Marty and Poland on the album?

Loomis: I’m overwhelmed by that because those guys are my influences, especially Marty Friedman. A lot of people know I grew up in the whole age of shred with Shrapnel [Records]. I’m still a big fan of Jason Becker, Vinnie Moore, Tony McAlpine, and Marty Friedman. It’s funny that I’m more of an acquaintance with Tony McAlpine and Chris; Marty I know because I played on some his albums in the past. To be able to just send an easy email to these talented musicians asking them politely to play on the record, then having them say “yes,” is so incredible. It was just a simple email…I didn’t have to beg and plead [laughs]. The song that seems to work the best for me is “Chosen Time,” which has Christine Rhoades on it. She did a few songs on the record and those come across as the most melodic, which I think is the best aspect of the album.

Loomis: I’ve known Christine for almost 20 years. She’s a Seattle native and grew up where I’m from. We’ve always talked about doing a project for years and years, but it always got blown off. She ended up doing backing vocals on “Dreaming Neon Black,” a Nevermore song. She has such an amazing voice, but she was never in a signed band or anything. When Nevermore played Los Angeles, she came down the show and we started talking about working together again. So I started sending her demos and it was one of those deals that because she has so much talent, I wanted to give her an opportunity to make that talent shine and to show the world who she is. She’s absolutely incredible. It gave the record a little more diversity. I know you’re in the studio now working on some stuff that is supposed to be more death metal-sounding. Can you elaborate?

Loomis: Yeah, we’re going back to old-school thrash, but still melodic. I have a lot of people telling me that every time I write something it sounds like Nevermore [laughs]. It’s hard to get away from that since I was one of the main songwriters in the band. There’s a lot of faster stuff going on, but still melodic at the same time. And Joe [Nurre, guitars] is completely going-off with his death metal vocals. I think it’s going to add a huge edge to everything. Obviously, there’s going to be people out there who will disapprove since they’re used to hearing me with a clean singer. But hey man, that doesn’t bother me. I want to do something that makes me happy first and if the majority people enjoy it, that makes me happy too. Not counting Ihshan, you’ve never used any type of growled vocals. If you take some of the Nevermore stuff like This Godless Endeavor, you could easily stick a death metal singer on it.

Loomis: Easily. Like a song such as “Born,” that could easily be a death metal song. It’s going to be cool. I think there’s some diversity in these songs and Joe wrote one. We hope to release these in a few weeks so I hope we can get it out fast. It’s awesome you could put something out so quickly these days as opposed to before, when it took two or three years.

Loomis: Some people are freaking out about that [laughs]. I had this idea when we were on the last tour and since things were going so well, I figured “why not?” I’m bringing that up because Zero Order Phase only sold 600 copies in the first week and the new one sold 3,000 and we wanted to make people know we’re still into touring and wanted to people to hear this stuff as soon as possible. You mentioned when we opened our chat that you’re thinking of putting together a new band with a new name. That’s a risky endeavor, wouldn’t you say? What do you think would be in store?

Loomis: Oh boy [laughs]. It would almost be smart to keep the band I have now because we’re developing, and if I started a new one, I would be starting all over again. There’s going to be discussions when we’re out on the road, if the musicians who I have now would be interested in moving onto that next phase. Joe is really a death metal singer at heart and I don’t know if I’d want to stick with that 100%. I’d really like to have a singer like Devin Townsend. He’s so amazing with the way he can change up his voice…he could do everything. I’m looking for a singer like that. We’ll see what happens. It will need some time before we decide and I don’t want to make the wrong move. Might as well take my time in doing it. With the whole Nevermore thing, you’ve stayed relatively quiet, while Warrel [Dane, vocals] has made some statements regarding that he might get some new people, or he doesn’t know if they’ll continue. Are you going to remain with this stance and let the chips fall where they may?

Loomis: If they want to reform Nevermore with new members…I just don’t think that’s a great idea. A lot of the heart and soul is, and was, from the whole band. If you change up a band that drastically with the original drummer and guitar player, with somebody else, it’s not that band anymore. It’s not. It’s impossible. Sure, there’s guitar players out there who could learn and play this stuff, but as far as writing new material, it’s going to be a different band. It’s their call. I wouldn’t be hurt by it, but I know for a fact that it wouldn’t be right. It would be cheating the fans. I don’t keep in communication with those guys as much. I’m not ruling out that there would never be a reunion thing or a festival of some sorts in the future. I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But working with those guys again, it’s just not my cup of tea at all. You mentioned getting another guitar player [to fill your spot]. You guys struggled for years filling the second guitar spot between Pat O’Brien, Curran Murphy, Attila [Vörös]…

Loomis: And Tim Calvert. He just texted me right before we got on the phone. A lot of these guitar players I still keep in contact with. I’m probably the closest with Tim since he comes to the shows a lot. He’s a great player.

Loomis: He is. He has a very unique style. So Nevermore was always lucky to have great guitar players in the band, but unfortunately, it never worked out in the long run. I think a lot of the reason for that was because Warrel and I definitely had a writing chemistry going on. And when tended to horde it and that was the whole thing that pissed off some of the players we had that wanted to do their thing. It’s funny that you mentioned the death metal project and I was on Blabbermouth today or yesterday, and someone commented about a recent article of yours saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Pat O’Brien was involved?”

Loomis: It was so much fun working with Pat. He was really the first guitar player we had in the band in ’93 or ’94. I ended up going to Kentucky to his house to audition and spend some time with him to see if he was right. But I could tell there was always something in the back of his head that he was a death metal guy at heart. He was the guy who would wake up with a cup of coffee, then crank Cannibal Corpse. He lived and breathed that stuff, but was still playing Nevermore at the same time. Do you keep in touch with Van [Williams, ex-Nevermore drummer]?

Loomis: I do. He moved back to New York, where he’s from. He’s got a side-band, Pure Sweet Hell. That’s about it. He’s taking some time off…he’s got a family and kid. I talk to him about once a week. I’m in contact with him the most out of the whole band. As are you adjusting to being the now ex-Nevermore guitar player? Do you worry that will always be your tag?

Loomis: I don’t mind it, but it’s getting boring reading it on Blabbermouth. I wish they would say “Jeff Loomis.” It doesn’t bother me, but they could state that differently. I think people write it that way is because people still care about Nevermore a lot. People still listen to the tunes, which makes me happy.

 Jeff Loomis official website

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