Interview with Andy Timmons

by Angelo Santoro

I recently had the chance to chat with the revered Andy Timmons about guitars, music, touring, life and how they all come together for him.

Having played with Danger Danger, Pawn Kings, Andy Timmons Band (ATB) and some of the greatest musicians on the planet, he’s also released several critically acclaimed solo albums.  Now with ATB’s superb new Theme From A Perfect World coming out on September 30th, it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with the versatile and accomplished artist.

Angelo:  I got to tell you, I listened to your new album. It is Fantastic. Really.

Andy Timmons:   Oh, man! Awesome. Well, thank you. I’m happy to get any kind of feedback. (laughs) I’m glad you dig it. It’s great to finally get it out there and start to get some response.

Angelo: You know, it got me thinking. Growing up in the ’80’s & ’90’s every song we listened to had a guitar solo. I mean, that’s how we judged music.

Andy Timmons:  That’s true, very true.

Angelo:  In the last decades, it’s really taken a back seat.

Andy Timmons:  There’s no, yeah, no doubt about that. It’s true.

Angelo: Do you think the tide is changing?

Andy Timmons:  Honestly, it’s hard for me to speak to that. Clearly, I am a guitar player, so of course I love the guitar solo part of the songs from back then, but for me now, it’s more like … It’s really about the song. I have to be the singer. The guitar has to carry that role. The joke is when we’re rehearsing, let’s take it from the solo. They’ll go, “Well it’s all a solo.” It really is that. The bottom line for us, and it has been for a long time, which is we’re an instrumental power trio, but the songs have to be good. It can’t just be an excuse for a solo, which again, we talk about our days of the ’80’s and ’90’s when that kind of … For the guitar players anyway, the vocals were just killing time until the solo, right?

Angelo: So you’re sort of evolving the guitar part of it …

Andy Timmons:  Yeah, I think so. Well, It was certainly something that Joe Satriani really mastered back in the ’80’s, when with Surfing with the Alien, where he had … It was some of the best virtuosic guitar playing, but there was good songs happening. There was great, memorable hooks. Not that that’s really the reason for its success. There’s plenty of guys that can shred and play amazing, but he was very crafty with how he presented it.  I think every guitar player that was in a band with a vocalist thought, “Maybe we don’t need a singer? Let’s just play guitar through the whole song.” That’s what resonated with me, and that’s what sent me down the path. Before Danger Danger, I was already recording music that became my first Ear X-Tacy solo record. That’s always been an outlet for me, though I love being in a band, whether as a singer. Of course, I love every aspect of music, whether it’s vocal or instrumental, but as I’ve developed as a player and as a writer, I really love writing instrumental music. I write vocal music as well, but the written language is such a finite amount of ways to express an idea, depending on what your grasp of the language is, but with music I think you can kind of go deeper into, tap into deeper emotions than something’s just specifically verbally, you know?

Angelo: Do you find that you’re able to transcend that with a larger group of people, as you go to countries that don’t speak English?

Andy Timmons: Yeah. There’s no doubt. I think a great example of that is the ’60’s group, the Ventures, who went to … They went to Japan the first time in 1965. They were there a year before the Beatles came, but their appeal still carries to this day over there. The surviving members, there may only be 2 surviving members , but they’ve been touring over there every year since ’65. They’re just huge. But I think it was because there wasn’t the language barrier. Their music just went straight to the heart, and it connected with the fans over there. I think there is something to that. There really can be.

Angelo: With your new work everything just fits in so well together.

Andy Timmons: (laughs) Thank you, man, thank you.

Angelo: Did it just happen to fall into place, or did you compose it that way?

Andy Timmons: The last instrumental record we put out that was our materials, Resolution, which was 10 years ago, which is kind of shocking to admit, but then we put the Sgt. Pepper record out, obviously, which was all Beatles material, in 2011. But through that time, I was composing all these… No problem. I can’t say there was any grand vision, aside from the melodies being as strong as possible, and there being some For there to be a cohesive link in the songwriting, would be at the focal point. We recorded a lot more than what we put on this record, so we did choose carefully what we thought might make a good collection. There’s another 10 songs waiting to be finished, but they might just be for a different release, or maybe never finished at all, depending how we move forward. These seem to work together. Finding the right running order for people to actually still listen to records in their entirety.

Angelo: The title “Theme From A Perfect World” it’s a great title for a song but it also works so well as a title for the whole album.

Andy Timmons:  Thank you, yeah. The song title was mine. That was a very thinly veiled reference to Todd Rudgren in Utopia. That whole song is completely a tribute to Todd, and ’70’s, because the first incarnation of Utopia was very much a Mahavishnu influenced prog band. Kind of poppy version of Mahavishnu, I think.  Mike Daane, as we were trying to come up with a title for the record, he really put that forth, and I thought, “You know, it really makes sense.” I love titles that can mean things on a lot of different levels. You know what I mean? You could take it literally as, obviously, for a life to exist on this planet, it’s kind of a perfect world, depending on how far from the sun we are, and all the things that have to line up for this to even work. Or some people might think it’s highly sarcastic, because, is this a perfect world? (laughs) There’s plenty of things wrong with it. The bigger meaning for me really is that, it’s anywhere you are, it’s kind of what you make it. We’re all dealt with different situations and lives, some with a lot more difficulty than others. I’ve met some incredible people with unbelievable hardships that you would never know in a million years that they had those hardships, judging by their spirit, their positive  There’s a video on youtube of me playing with a guy named Jonatha Bastos. I don’t know if you’ve seen this. This guy is a guitar player based in Brazil, and he was born without arms. He is every bit of a good player as anybody that I’ve heard, and he plays with his feet. I know! It’s incredible. I met this guy, and was just blown away by the fact that this guy has no arms, and people are telling me he’s a guitar player. So I set it up for us to be able to play at this trade show in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last year. What happens on this video is completely unrehearsed. I was trying to think of something we could jam on, and I suggested this song, Cry for You, which is 1 of my well-known instrumental ballads. I had this stretch of the song that was just looped, so it’s just 2 chords you can jam over. He goes, “I know that song, Cry for You.” I could tell by the tone of his voice, he really knows this song. Let’s just play this song, so I had the backing check. We sit there, and unrehearsed, play the entire song together, and it’s incredible. People watch this video, and they’re in tears, because they can’t believe this guy, and how he’s playing. If you weren’t watching the video, you’d think, “Oh, that’s a nice sound. That’s a nice vibrato. He’s got some great tone.” Again, it’s just, he had music in his heart and soul, and he wasn’t going to let the fact that he had no arms stop him from doing what he felt like he really needed and wanted to do. That’s why I say, Theme From A Perfect World is any place you are, it’s what you make it. It’s how you take whatever hand you’re dealt and how you move forward.

Angelo: There’s a lot of great guitarists right now, performing Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai. Few of them are coming up with new materials. How important was it for you to create this, before touring? 

Andy Timmons: The crazy answer to that is that we’ve got 3 weeks of dates here in the States, and we’ve never really toured the US. We’ve done little pockets of shows maybe, like we would go to New York twice a year to play at the Iridium, but we’d primarily go to Europe and Southeast Asia. We just never really had the opportunity or put it together to where we thought this made sense to go do, and be away from our families, etc. This is really our first proper tour, releasing a record and going on tour. It’s kind of the old fashioned way of doing it, but we’ve just somehow avoided that all these years. (laughs) It’s been a long time coming, and the first run is only 3 weeks. We’re just going to go. We’re starting at Texas, and heading towards the East Coast, and we hope to do the West Coast, and more of the US in 2017.

Angelo: We’re really looking forward to the Iridium shows.

Andy Timmons: Oh, man! Yeah, please come down! That’s been our home gig when we’re in New York, yeah.

Angelo: What do you think about playing there? It really strips away everything around you. You know, there’s no special effects, or high-tech  lighting.  It’s eye to eye  With everybody in the audience.              

Andy Timmons: When the Andy Timmons Band formed in 1988, that was how we played. Sometimes we set up on the street and played until the police came, or played these really small, little clubs in Denton, Texas, where we formed. Those are still to this day some of my favorite shows, just because of the energy that you get in a smaller place, and people are right on top of each other, they’re on top of you. Yeah. You’re sweating on each other, and it’s just all a collective energy that’s hard to get. I’ve played arenas, back in the Danger Danger days opening for KISS, and that’s a cool experience, but it’s highly impersonal compared to once you’ve had that adrenaline, that connection. This tour will be some nice theaters and clubs along the way, but we were happy to play anywhere that’ll have us, at this point. The Iridium has been a great home. I love the crew there. They treat us well, and yeah, we play a couple of nights, a couple of sets sometimes, and it works out great.

Angelo:  We can’t  speak  about the Iridium without talking about Les Paul. Have you ever, seen him back in the day?

Andy Timmons: I did. I saw him twice and met him met him twice, yeah. I saw him at Fat Tuesday’s Which was when he first started a residency, when he started playing again. That’s where he first located. That was in the Danger Danger days, so it might have been 1990, or ’91. Then I saw him at the original Iridium location and met him and he signed a record for me. That’s a very fond memory. Then after he passed, and they carried on the Monday tradition, I got to play with Lou and the guys, I think 3 different times. We had shows where they invited different guitar players to come up and guest with the Les Paul band, so it was a huge honor that I got to do that, several times.

Angelo: Lift Us Up. That song really connects. You feel it. When I listen to it, it gives you a feeling like, I can go out and do this. Whatever it is

Andy Timmons: (laughs) That’s awesome.

Angelo: It brings out the best in people, I think.

Andy Timmons: Right on.

Angelo: What was the inspiration?

Andy Timmons:  And of course the addendum, something wicked this way comes. It was very much … I’ve had that riff for a long time. I kind of imagined it like a soccer chant. When we tour over in Europe, sometimes in between songs when the crowd’s all fired up, you’ll hear them break into these unison chants that they chant at their favorite soccer, football matches. When I first found that melody, I thought, “This sounds like one of those. I can hear the crowd singing this,” you know? But I had the riff forever, and just could never finish it. I had the B section, which to me is kind of a Todd Rundgren or Raspberries kind of pop section, but I could never quite figure out what to do with it.  We were actually in the studio with Mike Daane and Rob Weschler, and they said, “Let’s just play and see what happens.” I wrote the bridge on the spot, where it goes to what I consider kind of a David Bowie-ish kind of chord progression there in the middle where it mellows down a little bit. Then it goes back to the roof again eventually, but the ending was also unplanned, and that’s where something wicked this way comes, because it turns into this dark scene at the end.

Angelo: What’s the last 45 seconds, there’s some screaming sound?

Andy Timmons:  Mike and I love to do just whatever we can think of to make noise sometimes. That was every pedal on my pedal board turned on, with the wah-wah, and that’s what creates the screaming. There’s like 3 or 4 distortion pedals, and echoes and I turned everything on, and then there’s the tape echo, in addition to that. It’s the old Maestro MP3 where we’re doing the thing where you speed and slow down the tape delay time, and you crank the regeneration up, and it just goes absolutely bonkers. We just wanted this chaotic vibe to go with the darkness of the mood of that part of the song. That’s the wah-wah with every pedal on. That’s like 10 pedals or something crazy.

Angelo: My first guitar was Ibanez Roadstar, growing up. I know Ibanez is special to you. How much has Ibanez Guitars influenced the way you create music and how much does your creative influence evolve their guitars?              

Andy Timmons: My signature model with them, which I’ve had since 1994, is really a modification of Leo Fender’s original design. It’s basically a modernized Strat. That being said, the music that I’ve played, especially on the last few Andy Timmons band records, I couldn’t … I’ve done on a Strat. The nature of the different bridge that I use, the different pickups. It’s definitely a more modern version. That being said, I’ve used that guitar in about half the record, but there are some vintage guitars on the new record as well. There’s a couple, it’s a 1960 and a 1965 Strat. There’s a Pete Townshend Les Paul Special. I mean, SG Special, sorry. A Pete Townshend SG Special. That’s the guitar on Theme From A Perfect World. That’s that SG Special, with 12 gauge strings on it. That produced a pretty amazing tone, heavy strings with those P-90 pickups, man. I really love that.  The Ibanez thing. There’s no other guitar I could create the music that I do that I do with that guitar. I couldn’t do an Andy Timmons Band show without it. I love every vintage guitar and have things in my collection, and I love them for their uniqueness, but as far as something that I could do everything on, that’s my true voice, you know?

Angelo:  You can never have enough guitars.

Andy Timmons:  No, I say that, and luckily my wife understand that. (laughs) She’s been very understanding, that’s for sure. Yeah.

Angelo:  The Next Voice You Hear. That is the most powerful song, it really is. Did you realize how powerful it is while you were writing it and recording it?        

Andy Timmons: The thing is, the only reason the song was written in the first place was as a gift for Takeshi. I got the message from a mutual friend that this fan that we’d met many times in Japan at our shows, and who was clearly born with some incredible hardships, but he was in a coma, and they basically said, “He’s not gonna make it. Please send him a message.” In that moment, and I’ve done this numerous times in my life, where I write music, like the song Gone, or there’s all these songs in my past that were written on these particularly heavy occasions, and when I got that news, I just thought, “Man, this is so sad,” you know? I really thought I’d never see him again, and I think they just wanted me to record, “Hey,” sub-verbal, “Hey, Takechi! Man, I hope you can power.”   I was moved to write a piece of music, and I very hurriedly … It all came at once, and I recorded it in Garage Band in my office, which I never do. It’s just not something that I do. I’ll make a cassette, or a voice memo usually, but I just … Let me just flesh this out, and I sent it immediately. Then I got that word. Within, I don’t know, several days of whenever I sent it, and it is a heavy thing, to think that somehow that might have triggered him waking up, and to know that, to realize, that obviously somebody in a coma. You’re there. You’ve probably been in that hospital situation, where you’re speaking to somebody, and you don’t know if they can hear you or not. But I think this is an amazing proof that I think they can. You know? (laughs) Because they literally said, tears formed in his eyes when he heard the music, and he woke up.

Angelo:  Andy, did you imagine how powerful it is for this kid to hear this and know that it was sent for him from you? Put the music aside, it’s amazing, but to know that somebody went out of their way like you did, to do that, I think that probably really was uplifting for him.

Andy Timmons:  Well, maybe so. It’s hard for me to be objective because I’ve been doing that same thing for so long. I’ve written so many songs as gifts for people that nobody’s ever heard except those people. There’s been many occasions when a family member has died, or somebody got married, or somebody had a child. I just love writing music as gifts. I’ve been doing it for my family since I was in college because I couldn’t afford presents, yeah. So I would just make these little cassette tapes of my songs. One of my first instrumental ballads called There Are No Words was exactly that. It was a Christmas present for my family, saying, “Thank you for supporting me. There are no words to express this, so I wrote this music.” For me to do that for Takeshi really wasn’t unusual. But again, it’s an incredibly story, and it’s very humbling to think that I had maybe a small part of that, or it could have … I mean, who knows, but again, I just got word yesterday that he’s now home. He’s home from the hospital, and I’m not sure what the long term prognosis is, but I go back to Japan in November, and I’m hoping I get to see him. That would be … I got this beautiful letter from his family, and you can’t imagine … just, not a better gift to give or receive, man. It’s incredible.

Angelo:  Yeah. You kind of just answered this, but in a few words, take your guitar away, who is Andy Timmons?

Andy Timmons: Oh man! A very lost person. (laughs) But… Yeah, no. (laughs) No, a … I ought to be really at a loss for what to do. I would just be the world’s biggest music fan, if I had a guitar or not. It’s my hobby, it’s my profession, it’s my obsession. It’s just what I’ve always done. My earliest memories are all music based, and it’s still to this day what drives me. I have a beautiful wife, and son, and of course they’re my utmost of love and perspective, but when it gets down to it, I am music, and I am a guitar. Luckily, I do have it, and please don’t take it away.

Angelo:  You went to Brazil recently?

Andy Timmons:  Yeah. I just got back last Wednesday.

Angelo: Performing? Writing?

Andy Timmons:  Yeah, I was there doing a couple weeks of master classes. I had to do signature pedal at a company down there called GNI is making. It’s basically a version of the old Octavia effect that I’ve been using. I’ve been using that particular pedal for about 10 years. They did a limited signature edition of this particular pedal, so I was down there partly to promote that, and to do these master classes, and I also, while I was there, recorded a Bossa Nova record.

Angelo: Oh, really?

Andy Timmons:  Yeah. I’ve been a Brazilian and especially bossa nova music fan since my teens, and so to have a chance to be there and record in Rio, where the … That’s where the actual genre was founded in the late ’50’s. It was basically me and Anna, and a good friend of mine, Cindy Cavalio, who played a Marilyn string acoustic. I played my usual electric. A guy named Roberto Menescal, who … He was one of the guys that founded the genre, he produced the records.

Angelo: When are we going to hear that?

Andy Timmons: I’m not sure when it’s coming out. I think it may be out as early as later this year. It’s kind of out of my hands. We’re letting Menescal run the whole thing, because he’s like the pope of bossa nova, he’s one of the last living proponents of the original founders of the style. He’s obviously extremely well-known in that circle, so he’s going to find deals for it all over the world, in different territories. I think it’s going to be mixed maybe in the next couple of weeks, but it was done very quickly. We did 14 songs in 4 days, but they’re all the classic bossa nova hits, everything from way … all the Jobim classics. Girl from Ipanema, Wave, Desafinado, Chega de Saudade, any bossa nova’s you’ve ever heard are probably on this record.

Angelo: You’re going to tour of course, for that, right?

Andy Timmons:  In Brazil, for sure. I’m not sure about the US yet. We’ll see what happens with that, but obviously my prime focus now is getting this new record out, and playing with the trio and having fun, man. But yeah, I’ll be doing lots more in Brazil, too. I love the people, I love the music, I love the culture.

Angelo:  I’ll tell you, Andy, this year, there’s been a lot of great music out there, for sure. But your CD really ranks up there. so I’m starting to see in the last 5 years, music is becoming more about music, rather than showmanship

Andy Timmons: I think maybe it’s always been there, but I think now because of the way the labels have kind of imploded, it’s not about the corporate driven music nearly as much. There’s just all these artists that now have exposure through the internet, that if they’re truly good, that people will go rise to the surface. There’s a lot of gluttony obviously. There’s a lot out there, but at the same time, it gives the kid in his basement in nowheresville, he’s got every chance as anybody else in the world, where it used to be you had to move to a bigger city, or New York or LA or wherever, and try to be discovered. Now you just have to be great. (laughs) Which is kind of a funny thing to say, but before it used to be you had to be great and do all these things, and then it may never even happen. But now, it’s like, okay, it’s leveled the playing field, and people have that opportunity.

Angelo:  Yeah.

Andy Timmons:  You know. That makes it really exciting. I don’t think my band would have anywhere near the notoriety had it not been for Youtube and people sharing those kind of videos. That’s the MTV of the day, is the virals that get out there, people share, and turn people onto, and it’s pretty amazing.

Angelo:  Hey, good luck with this album release.

Andy Timmons: Thank you very much for helping to spread the word, man. You know, we appreciate it.

Angelo:  Thank you.

Andy Timmons: All right. Thanks, man! We’ll talk to you soon.

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