Monte Pittman is an American musician , composer and studio musician , based in Los Angeles. Known around-the-world as long-time guitarist for Madonna, he boasts a very diverse professional resume, ranging from stints with glam-pop star Adam Lambert to working with metal band Prong. Monte started playing guitar at age 13 – and admits he was influenced by artists like Kiss, Metallica, Slayer and Pantera .
Monte moved from Longview, Texas to California in 1999. In Los Angeles he worked in a guitar shop and he started to provide guitar lessons to Hollywood’s illustrious glitterati. One of his first students was movie director Guy Ritchie. After teaching Guy to play, Monte was invited to teach Guy’s current girlfriend – the mega-star Madonna. The guitar lessons must have gone exceedingly well – subsequently Monte was invited to join Madonna’s live band on the “Drowned World Tour” (2001). He has played in every incarnation of the Madonna live band, ever since.
His début solo album, “The Deepest Dark”, was released in November 2009 and featured eleven self-written songs. Monte was able to collect $65,500 in donations for his second solo album “Pain, Love & Destiny“ – through Kickstarter – in 2011. The album went on to win many awards and gain wide recognition.
Monte started working on his 3rd solo album on July 1, 2012 in Copenhagen (with Danish “Metallica producer” Flemming Rasmussen.) The project is titled “The Power Of Three” and will be released in 3 parts, one part acoustic, one metal and one blues. The entire album will be released January 21, 2014 .
We had a rare chance to chat to Monte Pittman about his new project and about his return to the world of heavy metal:
THE PLAN FOR ‘THE POWER OF THREE’ IS TO ISSUE IT IN THREE PARTS: ACOUSTIC, METAL AND BLUES … DO YOU FEEL THAT EACH GENRE CARRIES THE SAME WEIGHT & SIGNIFICANCE AS THE OTHERS?
That’s a great question! Originally it was going to come out in 3 parts and that’s what it was meant to me. In 2012, I released 4 acoustic tracks that I did with Flemming Rasmussen. That led to us recording the new album that’s coming out now. Somewhere along the line a switch went off with me and I started writing all of these heavy songs again… that brought me to a full circle moment reminding me of why I even started doing this in the first place.
Flemming strongly encouraged me to focus on the heavy songs […] I had been writing. Life goes in cycles and somehow I hit that starting point again where I first picked up the guitar. It’s hard to say one [genre] carries more weight than another. Having a band playing with you and having your amp cranked up and jamming is a lot more dynamic than just playing an acoustic and singing in a room. The “M.P.3: The Power Of Three, Pt. 1” EP now, to me, represents the ending of a chapter of all of my 3 previous solo releases (“The Deepest Dark”, “Pain, Love, & Destiny”, & “MP3: The Power Of Three, Pt.1”) and the calm before the storm of what’s to come.
“The Power Of Three” starts a new era. When making it, I never imagined being signed to a record label on my own. After the album was recorded, I played it for Brian Slagel and that changed everything by signing to Metal Blade. Everything came together at just the right time.
WHAT ELSE DOES THE ALBUM TITLE MEAN TO YOU?
Well, there are 3 people in the band. It could be a musical reference. The 3 in music tells you if the chord is Major or minor. The song “Blood Hungry Thirst” ends with the line ‘strength in the power of three’.
PEOPLE WILL BE GLAD THAT YOU ARE RETURNING TO METAL – WHICH PART (OF THE THREE) HAVE YOU ENJOYED WORKING ON THE MOST ?
This new album has gotten a great response by those who have heard it. I grew up in Texas and had a band with my friends called Myra Mains. We were a heavy band and had an awesome loyal following for the surrounding areas. I know a lot of my friends tell me they are happy I’m doing heavy music with my solo project. When I played in Prong, I got my heavy fix from that. I love it all but playing the heavy stuff would be my favorite It’s so much more fun live. I LOVE playing acoustic and I love acoustic artists. Ray LaMontagne is one of my favourites. I even own one of his signature guitars. I’m a fan!
But playing acoustic live can be a nightmare. Unless you have the luxury of being able to mic the guitar, it never sounds anywhere close to the way it sounds if you’re just playing in a room. Technology has made it way better than it’s ever been though. Fishman make a pedal which uses the sound of the guitar you have to make up for what gets lost plugging in. When you play using an electric guitar, the sound of your amp is consistent from home, rehearsal, and the stage.
WILL YOU BE PERFORMING EXCLUSIVE BLUES EVENTS OR EXCLUSIVE ACOUSTIC EVENTS WHEN YOU PROMOTE THIS ALBUM?
I may not do the blues songs until I’ve done a couple more heavy albums after this. What I think of as blues, some may take it as sounding like Black Sabbath who were a blues band playing the modern day equipment of their time. We’ll see what happens with all of that. The great thing about playing acoustic is I don’t need anyone else with me and I can perform it anywhere. I’m sure I’ll do a few things for promo when the album comes out. That’s how I started my solo career. My first album, “The Deepest Dark”, was acoustic and vocals. Starting out that way naturally built up where it’s brought me now.
THE SECOND SINGLE FROM ‘THE POWER OF THREE’ ALBUM ‘BEFORE THE MOURNING SON’ HAS SOME SIZZLING GUITAR SOUNDS – THEY SPARKLE LIKE GOLD-DUST – BUT IT IS THE DEEP CHASMS OF YAWNING BASS THAT REALLY SETS THIS SONG APART …
You’re hearing an Orange TH30 and my signature Jarrell MPS guitar. The MPS is loaded with custom made Seymour Duncan pick-ups made just for those guitars. There are several factors that make it up. Max Whipple (on bass) and Kane Ritchotte (on drums) play together seamlessly. The subject matter could be about an eclipse and it could be about a changing of the guard in royalty. A Prince becoming a King, for example. “Bow down before the mourning son” could go 2 ways. The production all comes from Flemming Rasmussen. I didn’t really notice this when we were recording or even after it was mixed and mastered, but I noticed lately a few places when a chord is ringing out and you hear how well the individual recorded layers work together. That could be the ‘sparkle’ you are talking about. It reminds me of “Damage Inc.” right as the song is swelling up and about to kick in. It almost sounds like a synthesizer. That’s just part of Flemming and his magic. We used some of the same microphones and equipment he used then on this album. There are a few times throughout the album he uses his audio tricks to “Rasmussenize” it.
‘A DARK HORSE’ IS ALSO UTTERLY DARK … ALTHOUGH IT HAS A WHISKEY-SOAKED EDGE OF GUITAR – DO YOU THINK THAT YOU HAVE ENTERED A PHASE THAT IS EVEN DARKER THAN ‘THE DEEPEST DARK’ – OR ARE YOU ENTERING A PERIOD OF LIGHT ?
Thank you very much! “A Dark Horse” is a hopeful song. It’s about ‘expect the unexpected’. It’s about ‘the best things come to those who wait’. On “The Power Of Three”, there’s not a reoccurring theme that I’ve found yet. The songs were recorded in the order you hear them so as we go along, the listener experiences the same dynamics we felt making it.
The song “The Deepest Dark” was written after reading about Benjamin Creme discussing channelling Maitreya… I thought the story was interesting and immediately wrote that song. I actually don’t remember writing it! I was moving out of my apartment the next morning. I found a hard drive a couple years later with a folder titled “The Deepest Dark”. The demo of that is on the re-release of “The Deepest Dark”. I don’t remember writing it or recording it and I must have read about it, wrote and recorded it, then passed out. Bizarre. That’s about ‘you can find the brightest light in the deepest, darkest places’. So, I guess they are both hopeful.
IS THE DEPTH AND DARKNESS MORE TO DO WITH THE INFLUENCE OF SCANDINAVIAN PRODUCER FLEMMING RASMUSSEN?
He put us on the right track. He kept us inspired in a different way every day. He kept us focused. We all absolutely love working with Flemming. I can’t wait to record with him again! We all learned so much. It was great to travel and not even be able to have any every day distractions. We came in extremely prepared and he worked us hard. He’s made some of the best albums ever and he recorded the best heavy metal album ever. The band tracked in the day. Every morning we would have breakfast and it was inspiring to be surrounded by all of the gold and platinum records on the wall. Those are some of the albums that brought me there. We tracked vocals, guitar layers, and solos at night. That was just me and Flemming in the studio. I would walk outside and it would be snowing which I love because I never lived anywhere where it snowed. It was cold, dark, and quiet outside. Maybe you hear some of that in the recording. A lot of it was written in Death Valley though. A completely opposite environment.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE THE RECORD IN DENMARK?
That’s where Flemming lives. We flew there with all of our gear. I love it there. Flemming almost came to LA and he was going to do the “Pain, Love, & Destiny” album but our schedules didn’t work out.
HOW VITAL IS THE METAL SCENE IN SUNSET BLVD WEST – HOLLYWOOD METAL RIGHT NOW?
In Hollywood things always come and go. If a band gets big they hit the road and they’re gone. If it doesn’t work out, you don’t hear from them because of that. I just saw a band called Sirion that were really cool! Check them out. They were opening for Holy Grail. What’s important for a ‘scene’ is to have a group of bands that know each other, support each other, and have a similar style of music.
Los Angeles is a massive city and there could easily be bands like that around here that I just don’t know about. When I lived in Texas, I lived in between Dallas and Shreveport. As an example, what ‘Myra Mains‘ would do was play in Dallas with our friends ‘Dead Industry‘. Then we would play with our friends, ‘Covenant‘, out of Shreveport. All bands would do shows with each other and each bands following would get in to the others band. Then all bands included immediately had a following in the next city. ‘Drowning Pool‘ became the band of those bands that made it. It would always be one of us, if not more than one, together opening for ‘Crowbar‘, ‘Acid Bath‘, or ‘Soilent Green‘.
HOW IS IT WORKING WITH KANE RITCHOTTE AND MAX WHIPPLE?
I love those two guys! They are some of my favorite musicians I’ve ever played with. They are young. They just turned 21 when we recorded “The Power Of Three”. I’ve been playing guitar longer that they’ve been alive! Kane and Max grew up playing together. I turned them on to “Master Of Puppets”, “South Of Heaven”, and “Vulgar Display Of Power” right before we recorded. They knew a little about that music but that had already come out pretty much before they were born. I think they give this type of music new life and new blood by doing that. Kane played on my last album, “Pain, Love, & Destiny”. That’s how we met. Max played bass in the band they had together. Noah Shain (Dead Sara, Atreyu, Skrillex) wound up producing that album and was doing Kane & Max’s album after mine so he had Kane play drums on my album. That’s how we met.
HOW DO THOSE CONNECTIONS MANIFEST THEMSELVES ON THE RECORD?
When we recorded, Flemming had us all playing in the same room. I was standing as close to the drums as I could reach. The emotion is captured in the recording. We love jamming together and rarely get to do so unless it’s one rehearsal if we’re lucky before a gig due to everyone always keeping busy with gigs. Hopefully one day sooner or later we can just do this and actually practice together.
THANK YOU MONTE PITTMAN
– © Neil_Mach January 20134 –