Interview: Barry Weinberg

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Guitarist and composer Barry Weinberg has recently launched his new album entitled ‘Samsarana.’ In the interview below, he talks about the record, but he also lets us know about his musical upbringing, picking up guitar, his technique, pedals, gear, and more.

How would you describe your initial exposure to music?

My brother is six years older than me and he is also very much into music. He’s a drummer, piano and blues harmonica player.  In the early 70’s, when I was a little kid, I would sit in his room and listen to music with him. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, ELO, Foreigner, Kansas, Boston.  This was probably my earliest exposure to music that still influences me today.

Were you in the music programs in school while you were growing up?

Actually in 4th and 5th grade, I played trumpet in the school band.   Other than that, my friends and I had a rock band, Black Widow, in High School and we would play at different school events.  We once dressed like squires and played the music at a school Renaissance festival.   That was a blast.

How did you get into playing guitar?

It was the summer of ’83.   I was 14 years old.   Every weekend, my friend and I would ride our bikes to the local import record store and we would look for interesting new rock and metal bands we never heard of.   One weekend, a new record was there with a bloody hammer on the cover.  It was called “Kill ‘em All.”   This new band was called METALLICA.  It terrified me and I looked at my friend and said, “We gotta get this!”   When I brought it home and put it on my turntable, I was blown away.   I never heard anything like it and I thought, “I want to do that!”  I ran to my dad and said, “I want to get a guitar.”   His response was, “You got hands….work.”  So I got a job, saved up and bought a black Kramer guitar and a Fender Super Champ amp.   I still use that amp today.  That was the beginning of my musical journey.

Did you start to listen to music differently once you discovered guitar?

Absolutely!   I wanted to play everything I listened to.   I taught myself to play, so I would listen to records and figure out what they were playing.   Ozzy, Metallica, Van Halen, Pink Floyd.   Those were my first guitar teachers.

Who were some of your early guitar influences?

I would say my earliest influences were James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen, and David Gilmour.

Tell me about your guitar technique.

I have a very eclectic style because I love so many genres of music.   I love jamming to a 80’s Thrash-like rhythm, yet I also enjoy pulling out some sheet music and my acoustic and playing finger-picking Classical style.   My lead style leans towards an expressive blues rock ala David Gilmour.

What guitars are in your collection? What is your guitar that you trust the most?

I currently have 2 guitars:  An ESP MG-750 and a Martin acoustic. Those are the guitars I play and record with.

With the advancement of the technology and amp/effect simulation, do you still use pedals? 

I still use pedals, but in recording my album, it was very convenient to plug right into the computer and use plug-ins.

In your opinion, what are the three skills that every guitarist must bring to perfection?

Timing
Timing
and, um…. TIMING!

Everything else can be learned. Having perfect time is something that must be obtained through much practice.   Once you have good time, everything else falls into place with practice and study.

How did you work on perfecting your rhythm and solo parts?

Practice with a metronome.   Start at 60 bps and incrementally increase speed as you master each tempo.   Work your way up to 120 bps and beyond.

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Back to music… You have launched your album entitled Samsarana. Lead me through its creative process. 

It was like simultaneously writing a novel, composing and arranging a film score and painting a picture all at once. When starting this project, much of the music and lyrics were already written, but as I started recording, the music evolved beyond what I originally intended and new songs emerged to fill the gaps in the overall story of Samsarana.

The first thing people wonder when they hear about the album is “what kind of music is it?” Is it rock? Is it metal? Is it folk? The answer is yes. Besides the actual music and lyrics, I put a lot of attention on which style would best convey the message and mood of that song or “Chapter” in the story of Samsarana.  In fact, in some songs I combine genres and even transition from one to another. For example, “Endless Sea” starts off as a Bob Dylan-esque folk song evolves into more of a Bob Seger-y rock song and in the middle becomes an all-out Grunge Metal breakout. It was a lot of fun to not be attached to any one genre and just express what needed to be expressed in the way it needed to be expressed.

Recording each song was like painting a picture. I’d first lay down the foundation with the basic tracks of percussion, bass, rhythm guitar and keyboards, if there were any. Then I’d add the lead guitars and vocals. I’d then listen to the song and in the context of the overall story, I’d add textures and effects to enhance the mood of the “scene.”

Each song carries the story forward and between each song are sound recordings that bridge one song to the next. Another dynamic of the overall story is the influence of polarity in our lives. Love and Hate. Life and Death. Good and Evil. Therefore, I wanted to express this polarity using counterpoint between tones and genres between songs and sometimes within a song. For example, “Come Out and Play” is a fun, hard rock song about teenage crushes and the confusion we have as kids about what love is. This is followed by “A Passage of Time” which is a song I wrote for my wife when I proposed to her. This song is an acoustic, classical guitar and my voice. No effects, no other tracks. Very different than “Come Out and Play.” This play of polarities is expressed throughout the album.

What evolution do you feel Samsarana represents for you as a composer and guitarist?

My new album, “Samsarana” is semi-autobiographical.   Many of the songs I wrote back in the late 80’s/early 90’s and some I wrote in the last few years. Between 2006 and 2011, I had the opportunity to write and record the soundtrack for a documentary film, “Florida Crackers.”  I wrote 18 songs for that film and in that case, the producer would say, “I need a song with this theme and feel for this part of the film…” and I had to come up with the just the right music and lyrics for what he wanted.  That experience really taught me to write a song on demand.   Working on that film, was the first time I worked in a studio and I LOVED it. It was at that time that I decided it was time to record my album and started to slowly build a small studio in my home.   As I performed all the instruments and vocals on the album (minus the drums which were performed by Glenn Welman in South Africa), I would record a little each day, layering different instruments as I felt that day.   It was very cathartic.   Like Brian Wilson used to say, the studio became my instrument.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a guitarist when making Samsarana?

My greatest challenge was the long learning curve of how to effectively record and mix.   It took a lot of study and frustration to get the album to where it is today.   When you play a song on guitar you hear it exactly the way you hear it in your head.   But when you record it and play it back, it often doesn’t sound at all the way you imagined.   People don’t realize the amount of time, effort and creative ingenuity it takes to get the final product they hear on an album or on the radio.

My favorite moment musically has to be the first listen to the final mix and master after working so many years on this album.  I literally cried the first time I heard it.   My next favorite moment was the tears I saw in the eyes of my family and friends who listened to it for the first time.   There’s nothing like seeing your creation impact others.

How do you go about channeling inspiration into writing?

Some start as a musical idea and others start lyrically.   Sometimes, I record the song as I write it.  Then it’s almost like painting…layering the music as an artist does on a canvas.  I am an extremely creative person.  If I’m not composing a song, I’m writing something.  If I’m not writing, I’m drawing.   I am constantly creating something.   I write differently when I have time versus when I have a deadline.   But some of my best music has been created when under pressure.   I have a commissioned music business, where I write music and jingles for businesses, seminar leaders and such.  So I am constantly writing and recording music.  I am currently working on a song for an Empowerment Seminar Leader about being a WINNER.   Besides music, I am also an author and have 2 published books, “A Clear Path to Healing” and “To Face a Dragon.”

Back to tech talk, tell me about your guitar rig you used for recording Samsarana?

To be honest, I am not the most Tech-savvy person, so I tend to be a simplest when it comes to equipment.  With that said, I used Cakewalk Sonar Platinum to record Samsarana.   I used a Roland Quad-Capture Interface and have 2 JBL monitors.   I also have 2 microphones from AKG – a Condenser and a Dynamic that I used for recording Vocals and acoustic guitar.

Now with the album out, what other dragons you looking forward to slaying?

Right now, as a newbie in the music scene, the biggest “dragon” I am slaying is getting my music out to the world.   It’s challenging, but very rewarding!

Samsarana is out now; order it from Barry Weinberg’s website.