Saturday, March 27, 2010

Q&A: Guitarist Zach Blair of Rise Against

I met Zach so long ago, I must've still been in high school. We probably both were. I recall seeing his band Hagfish play in various lineups, the constant being himself and his brother Doni until they got George Reagan as singer and Toni Barsotti as drummer. The band was so well known for Zach's great stage presence and guitar riffing that an effects pedal maker even put his trademark "sound" on a pedal, and he was well known for playing cool guitars like a custom Gibson silver glitter SG (at a time when glitter guitars were extremely rare), and another fond memory is at a big Orbit room festival in '97, I got to play his customized lucite Dan Armstrong guitar during my set as the band he was in at the time, Hagfish, was playing the festival too, along with Tripping Daisy.
We cut our teeth in the same Dallas music "scene" if you can call it such, that spawned many other talented people. We both toured and played and although many of our peers quit doing music or playing, Zach and I kept going. I've followed him thru the years as he's been a very influential guitarist to me and many others all over the world, and I was very proud of him when, to my surprise, after not having seen him in forever, he was in a music video playing with Rise Against, a very good, very popular band! I called friends gushing about how cool it was that Zach was rocking out in that band. How great. I managed to track him doown via the wonders of the internet and caught up with him and he graciously took time out of his busy schedule to do an email Q&A. Zach is literally one of the funniest, warmest people you could meet, a great guy with a big heart and guitar skills and chops that can blow anyone away! Plus, he's a guitar nerd such as myself. Read on and get to know Zach a little bit, and go see him perform with RA, you'll have a blast!

Q: Hagfish was in my opinion one of the most fun, greatest pop/rock bands ever. How do you feel about the body of work Hagfish released now that you're so many years removed from it?

ZB: man, I'm very proud of it. listening back now it just sends me to where I was when i was a kid and I feel very fortunate to have put out something like that at that age,sort of a snapshot of who i was then. plus,my brother was in the band and it was just all a very good memory

Q: Name 5 major guitar influences from your past and 5 you like currently.

ZB: pete townshend, angus young, johnny ramone,gregg ginn and tony iommi and currently stephen egerton(always), jay robbins, scott ian, mike scaccia and blind marky felchtone

Q: What sort of gear do you play now? Back in the Hagfish days you were definitely a guitar nerd like the rest of us, but you had some sweet guitars, like the silver glitter Gibson SG and the customized Dan Armstrong see-thru guitar.

ZB: I'm fortunate enough now to be working with the great folks at Gibson guitars. I'm playing standard Les Pauls for the most part but lately have been missing the SG's! For amps i've really been using a Marshall 900 with a Mesa dual rectifier

Q: Do you use effects pedals? maaybe a little-known fact is that didn't you at one time have your own effects distortion pedal named after you?

ZB: ha! it was "the integrated tube" pedal from dod,and they had a preset that was called "the Hagfish sound"! wow,you remember that?! no,no pedals really. i've been using the Seymour Duncan pickup booster for leads but other than that i just run straight

Q: How'd you fall into the guitar position you currently hold?

ZB: well,i knew a guy named Phil Hill from a band called "the Teen idols" that we're on Fat Wreck Chords and this was the time when Hagfish was on that label as well. he went out as a fill-in guitar player for Rise and when they came through Dallas i went to see the show. I really liked the band and at that show Phil told me they needed a player but at the time I was obligated to Gwar(which I played with for four years). Fast forward a few years and I played in a band with Bill Stevenson (ALL/Descendents/Black Flag) called "Only Crime"(a dream come true) by this time Bill had recorded a record for these guys and since Bill's studio is a big family atmosphere(and I've recorded every record I've ever done there) we were prone to get close! Anyway, we went on tour with Rise Against and got along famously. A few years later they lost their guitar player and remembered me and liked my playing and it was a perfect fit! It's been three years and feels like three days!

Q: Tell us all what Rise Against has been up to besides touring like crazy?

ZB: man,a whole lot of that!! This band is the little engine that could. nobody tours as much as this band, I'm convinced. and as a result the band has huge,great crowds worldwide and great fans. I always believed in this band and knew they would have a cool career and being a part of it now is just amazing.

Q: Do you have any funny or crazy tour stories you can share with us?

Well our singer, Tim was moving around on stage and picked his guitar up and just dropped it on my head! a Les Paul custom! It knocked me out! He's done that a few time actually. Also,theres a ton of weird Gwar s**t that would probably be litigious territory if you printed it.

Q: What are some of your favourite places you've been on tour and why?

ZB: Dublin, Ireland is amazing! It's like a movie set! Really small,quaint town. I love it.

Q: are you getting to take a hand in any songwriting or arranging, or any musical ideas when ya'll record?

ZB: Well,the band was already operating very well in that area and the writing is handled by Tim the singer and Joe the bass player. but everyone gets a say and being a writer myself I have to put in my two cents when I can!

Q: You went bald at an earlier age. yet, I've never seen you do the full beard thing many bald men do. What's your opinion on the beard thing and why do you stay clean-shaven. Also, what sort of razors/ shaving products do you swear by?

ZB: That's funny, I just grew a beard on a bet!! I just personally like the streamlined look. plus, I've toured my whole life and this is just easier for me, shave it ever so often and don't worry about hair care products, ya know? I shaved initially because I saw the writing on the wall and nothing is sadder than a guy that hangs on! And the Gillette Mach 5 is by far the superior product.

Q: Do you drink or smoke or anything? Why or why not?

ZB: I don't do either and never have. My parents were big fans and purveyors of both and I just grew up with it. It wasn't taboo like in most households. I could have done it with my parents! It was more rebellion to not do it in my house! Anyway, I always knew I wanted to do this with my life as well and I've only seen drugs and booze f**k this life up. Plus,when I was a kid I discovered the whole straight edge movement and identified with that. Now as an adult I still make the choice. It's just not for me. I have nothing against those that chose to partake, everyone in the world does practically!

Q: how do you feel the music biz changed over the last 15 years and do you like the changes or not?

ZB: It seems to be more widely accessible. and free! I'm on the fence,really. I mean,every decade or so there's a new way to buy music, a new medium. vinyl,8 track,cassette,cd and now mp3's. The problem is now s**t can be stolen in the privacy of your bedroom. I'm for more people getting turned on to music. And,for me,as a working musician it really seems like the one thing you can't download is an organic live experience. You can watch youtube but it's not the same. So more people are going to see these bands they're getting turned on to which works out for those of us that are still out there 250 days a year.

Q: What's next for you and do you have any other musical projects other than RA?

ZB: There's no time for anything else. it's Rise life! And I'm happy with that. I've found my tribe, so to speak and am ready for anything this throws at me. That having been said, we have some weekends in December including the tenth anniversary show at the Metro in Chicago on the 18th and we're just going to play the first two records! Should be fun and it's for charity. After that we go to Australia in January and then we're home for the good part of next year with much needed time off to write.

Random topic round.

Topics: Rubiks cube. Atari. Simon. Guitar hero. Rubiks snake.

ZB: I'm no good at games. if there was one about obsessing and fidgeting nervously I'd be a pro

Topics: Skateboarding. Surfing. Cycling. Olympic sports. Luge.

ZB: I do yoga. I'm not good at stuff.

Topics: gun shows. pornography. church. gay marriage.

ZB: I think gay marriage should be legal worldwide. If someone has the capacity to love ANYONE enough to marry them they should be able to.

Topics: coffee. energy drinks. sodas. juice.

ZB: I drink far too much coffee and used to only drink Diet Dr. Pepper. I got really sick last year and since then haven't been able to drink it at all.

Topics: cereal. burgers. truck stops. drive-thrus.

ZB: hmm, I only eat a few things and you haven't mentioned any of them so there!

Topics: jeans. slacks. shants. pahorts.

ZB: jeans. I'm always on the search for good jeans. but,then again, aren't we all?

Topics: boxers. briefs. tighty-whiteys.

ZB: boxer briefs!

Topics: rims that cost more than the hooptie they are on, bassing loud
with the windows down in 100 degree heat, jorts so long they are like
pants, t-shirts so long they are like a mumu

ZB: why you gotta hate?

Look for Rise Against and Zach at a concert hall near you and check out their music!