Interview with Alex Masi

Grammy Nominated Guitar Shredder, Alex Masi, recently released In The Name Of Beethoven which represents the third and final part of Alex’s “In The Name” series. This series pays homage to some of the greatest Classical Music composers (Mozart and Bach being the other two). Metal Express spent some time with Alex asking him his motivation for this series of classically influenced releases.

Alex, your current release is the final in the trilogy of the “In The Name Of” series with the first two being dedicated to Bach & Mozart and this one to Beethoven. What motivated you to record these three releases?

Extreme boredom, living the jet-set life of the multi-billionaire rock star… hmm, maybe not. Well, the reason I get into a project is always basically the same, I get obsessed with an idea and it won’t leave me alone until I get it accomplished. As you might or might not know I have a love of all great music regardless of genre, etc. Having been raised on a steady diet of classical music it is quite obvious that at some point I would have had to deal with that sort of baggage (laughs). Of course in the past 15 years or so I completely rediscovered what classical music really meant to me. I didn’t want to do a classical guitar album, that’s not my goal, I wanted to take music I loved, period, regardless of what instrument it was conceived for and arrange it for the guitar. Bach was an obvious choice, if nothing else, because he’s the greatest western composer. Mozart was next because his childlike spirit always fascinated me. Beethoven is the incarnation of everything good music has become after it got emancipated from the slavery of the Church and much more obviously.

These three releases are really radical in format and style compared to the other music you’ve recorded, and are known for. Was there any apprehension or concern that your fans and record label might not embrace these releases with open arms?

Not at all, I don’t do music for record labels. I don’t really do music for fans either, don’t take it the wrong way, I mean I don’t think about things like “are they going to accept it if I try something different”? The whole point of music and being a musician is to offer new ideas, views etc. The safe repetition of well-rehearsed formulas has no appeal to me; at that point I’d go to work in a bank or something that requires safety and predictability. I’m in this game mainly for myself; if I’m not challenged musically it’s not worth it.

These three releases require a special appreciation by the listener. How has the fan base responded to these releases thus far?

Very well actually, Bach was incredibly well received. Everywhere I go around the world I find someone who asks me to sign his or her copy of “In The Name Of” Bach or Mozart and I’m sure Beethoven soon. I don’t really think people have to have a special understanding of classical music in order to appreciate these albums, all you need is the will to let your mind be open enough to accept sounds which are not MTV approved or codified by category. Personally I’m sick of the whole “I only listen to this or that style of music”, it’s a symptom of a society in a dumbing phase.

How did you go about selecting the Composers and compositions that you recorded? Did the compositions chosen have special meaning to you?

As I said Bach is the greatest of all time in western music. I have a special fondness for his music, which can give me intense joy and bring me to tears at the same time. Mozart and Beethoven complete a sort of trinity of classical music, which I think more or less, symbolizes the best the west has to offer in terms of rhythm, melody and harmony, harmony especially.

I chose familiar and not so familiar compositions. For example, “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin is an amazing song but it’s so overplayed that people tend to get annoyed by it. The same thing happens with Bach’s “Toccata” and “Fugue” or Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” but the music itself is superb. It’s just what’s been done with it later by people that can be criticized. That’s why I wanted to record it in such an unorthodox way, I mean, a steel acoustic doing the fifth symphony?

You grew up with a love for the fine arts with your father being a painter. How has he influenced your musical career and life?

Musically only when I was a kid. Both him and my Mom were always playing classical albums in the house. When they got a maid who was smuggling Rock ‘N’ Roll albums for my sister and I to listen to it was all over though (laughs). The main influence I got had actually to do with a certain sensitivity towards aesthetics etc., music is just another expression.

Other then the three composers you paid tribute to who else has influenced your playing?

Oh God, you don’t have enough room in your magazine (laughs). I’ll just throw you a few names ok? Vivaldi, Liszt, Chopin, Beatles, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Parker, Scriabin, Wagner, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Franz Biber, Keith Jarrett, Zappa and a billion others.

Are there any thoughts or plans to one day revisit the musical fine arts? Maybe record with an orchestra for example?

Yes, I will definitely do classical music again, not sure what yet. I’d like to do some more Baroque stuff, maybe some Italian like Vivaldi or Corelli but I also would like to tackle some more thorny composer like some 20th century maniac like Alban Berg or even Zappa (the serious stuff). I’m not a big fan of rock music combined with orchestras, it never works, if I’ll work again with an orchestra it’ll be in an “orchestral context” without attempting at making a rock/classical hybrid.

What’s next for Alex Masi?

Well, right now I’m playing on an album by Joseph Williams who was the singer for TOTO but that’s more as a session man than anything else. I’m putting together the foundations for a very wild project which involves heavy music and drums/percussion loops, a sort of drum and bass/jungle heavy rock album, something that could remind one of Jeff Beck’s latest releases but with a heavier edge and massive guitar insanity. Some collaborations with various people coming up as well.


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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