This interview is from Guitar World Magazine September 1991 by Alan Paul.
THE TWO JAKES - Interview with Jake E. Lee - September 1991
Speed versus feel?� Rock star versus serious musician? With Badland�s �Voodoo Highway�, Jake E Lee sets out to prove he can have his cake and eat it too.
�Some guys want to be rock stars rather than musicians,� says Jake E Lee scornfully �And they�ll do whatever it takes and go in any direction an outside producer pushes them in order to reach that goal.�� His eyes masked by dark sunglasses, Lee sits smoking on a plush couch in a cramped office at the Manhattan headquarters of Atlantic Records.� �But I fought hard to have control of what we do, because I�m a guitarist� he says leaning forward to extinguish a Marlboro.
Lee�s modest self-appraisal notwithstanding, he is considerably more than a �guitarist�.� After years of cutting heads in Southern Californian bars, �two minutes� stints in Ratt and Dio and a four year two album run with Ozzy Osbourne, Lee has solidified his standing as a rock guitar hero with Badlands, a hard hitting quintet reminiscent of Seventies power outfits like Grand Funk Railroad, Free and Bad Company.� Both Badlands, the bands 1989 debut and the new Voodoo Highway resonate with the sort of raw, bluesy energy seldom heard in this techno shredder era.
Though Lee has chops to burn � he once was a fusion player, as he grudgingly acknowledges� - he always favors a strong, emotional punch over vacuous noodling.� Voodoo Highway is a fine illustration of Lee�s diversity: the brief acoustic blues interludes of the title tune, Joes Blues and In A Dream nestle comfortably alongside scorching rockers like Shine On and Whiskey Dust and the solid grove of 3 Day Funk gives way to the guitar extravaganza of Silver Horses.� It�s an impressive album and Lee is rightfully proud of it.� �We did our own thing� he says �And if you don�t like it at least give us credit for trying�.
GW: Was it a big change for you to produce this record?
LEE: �No because we actually produced the first record too.� Atlantic signed us for a decent amount of money, and they weren�t about to let a new band produce its debut album.� So we got Paul O�Neill, who was attempting to manage us at the time, to also attempt to produce us.� We made him a figurehead producer, so we could do it ourselves.� So when the second album came around we told Atlantic �well we did the first one and we want to do this one too� and it worked.� I think a lot of bands need a producer if they�re young or they aren�t quite sure what they want to do.� But I don�t think I�ll ever work with a true producer again, because it�s always turned into a head butting contest�.
GW: That was one of your dissatisfactions with Ozzy, correct? You were never given the time to come up with the guitar tone you really felt comfortable with.
LEE: �Yeah, they never gave me time � and once we all arrived at something, they said, �Do all the songs with this tone�.� Well I like variety and I like to have the creative freedom to search for the right guitar, the right amp, the right sound for any particular solo or song.� I think what a producer should do is try to capture the bands essence by offering suggestions � without forcing their ideas.� But, of course, a lot of producers are brought in by record companies strictly to make an album more commercially viable, which I just hate.� Because what they�re really doing is making everything sound like everything else�.
GW: One thing I particularly like about Voodoo Highway is that the drums sound like real drums.� That�s very unusual these days.� Even when real drums are used they�re usually so compressed�
LEE: �Oh yeah! And then they use them to trigger a sample.� God I hate that.� On the first record we hired Dave Thoener to do the mixing and, though I was there, he had the final say. He still occasionally used a snare to trigger a sample and all I could do was try to mix it so low that it was barely noticeable.� But I had control on this record, so there are absolutely no samples and we only used compression to even things out � not to alter the sound.� The snare sounds like a goddamn snare, not like a clap of thunder.� When people first started doing that, it was very cool: �wow listen to that snare!�� Now every damn record has that sound and I�m sick of it.� Its almost like today�s songs are all written with the same formula � they have the same snare sound, the same bass sound and the generic rock guitar tone.� The only thing that differentiates one band from another is the vocals.� I hate that, man.� We decided that we just wanted to represent ourselves as honestly as we could�.
GW: Can you think of any other bands out there that are trying to do a similar thing?
LEE: �I don�t know of anyone who�s taken it as far as we have.� Even the bands I like still trigger samples with snares and use lots of these recording techniques were talking about.� A lot of low budget bands have gone our route, but it costs us a lot of money to sound low budget [laughs]�.
GW: Are you worried that the albums raw sound will trigger a backlash?
LEE: �I�m expecting people to give me shit.� We are very happy and proud of the way it came out, and fought very hard with the record company to have it sound the way it does.� Its not that I don�t care what people think.� But if they don�t like it screw them; then we didn�t make it for them.� We made it for ourselves first and foremost.� I can only assume that a lot of other people are equally sick of hearing the same shit�.
GW: There�s a very definite 70�s hard rock vibe to the whole album.
LEE: �Yeah, it wasn�t so much an attempt to sound like a Seventies album as to maintain there ideals � real or imagined � that we felt the bands had back then.� Leave in mistakes if they�re true to the emotional content of a song; keep it dirty �its rock and roll!� It�s not supposed to be sterile, clean and glossy�.
GW: It�s almost like you decided to pretend the eighties never happened.� I don�t think there�s any tapping or artificial harmonics on either Badland�s albums. And you seem to be moving further and further away from the guitar gymnastics approach.
LEE: �I don�t tap because I can�t do it any better than Eddie.� Actually, I�ve hardly ever done any � even with Ozzy.� As for the gymnastics, I don�t really shy away from them, but I look for the emotional content first.� I mean, I like John McLaughlin � Birds Of Fire is a monster record! But not because he played fast.� He played in tremendous emotional outbursts and speed was almost secondary � it was just a vehicle for his expression.� For instance, I never liked Al DiMeola, who was faster and cleaner, but lacked the emotional crying that I heard in McLaughlin.� Though I�m not trying to out duel anyone, I�m happy to go speed crazy � or at least attempt it � if that�s what called for.� But I�m not going to do that every song, every solo.� That�s boring for me and for the listeners�.
GW: But you did actually play fusion at one point, right?
LEE: �Yeah, I admit it.� Most of the musicians I played with didn�t make any sense.� They just played complicated stuff for the sake of playing complicated stuff.� One day, when they were really annoying me, I played a solo that made absolutely no sense melodically or harmonically � and they loved it.� They said �That was great, really outside!�� Right then, I just realized that it wasn�t working and quit playing the stuff.� Take Coltrane, who I love.� He didn�t just futz around, but would hear those notes in his head and go after them.� There�s a huge difference between playing that and playing outside just for the sake of playing outside.� I think McLaughlin was trying to put Coltrane�s ideas onto the guitar�.
GW: Interestingly in that context, Shine On � one of the new albums heavier songs � has a bass line that is almost jazz like.� You also have a great overdrive tone there. How did you achieve that?
LEE: �It�s just amp and speaker distortion.� I run into a Boss Overdrive but the drive is always on �0� because I don�t use it for the distortion.� I use it for the bass cut � it tightens up the bottom end.� I like my EV speaker because they�re nice and clean when I play soft, but they get woofy when I turn it up.� So whenever I play loud I hit the Boss and it cuts out some of the real low end and tightens it up.� The overdrive is backed off to about 7 o�clock and the gain [level] is full on when I play live; in the studio, it varied between 12 o�clock and 8 o�clock, depending on how much distortion I wanted�.
GW: What sort of amps are you using?
LEE: �I�ve got about 14 amps but only 5 of them work.� I used three different Marshall�s on the album.� I had two 100 watts � a �69 or a �70 with the metal face, which got a grungier sound, and a �68 Plexi-face one which is a little smoother sounding. I also used an old 45-watt with the Plexiglass logo, which is like a combination of the other two � dirty but smooth.� Live I use Marshall 100�s � the one that goes to 20 [laughs]�.
GW: It sound as if you took a different direction with this album than you did with Badlands.� For one things its even blusier.� What have you been listening to?
LEE: �Before recording I was listening to a lot of Trapeze.� There not very well known but they all went onto big things � Glenn Hughes went to Deep Purple, Dave Holland went to Judas Priest and Mel Galley ended up in Whitesnake.� He�s fantastic; his playing is the epitome of good taste.� Also, I was listening to a lot of Creedence � which I guess is pretty obvious when you hear Whiskey Dust � and The Band.� While we were recording I started listening to Robert Johnson, Hot Tuna and, especially Lightnin� Hopkins, which is probably why I did Joes Blues.� That song has a lot Lightnin� in it.� I really love the way the man played.� His sound was very unique�.
GW: Silver Horses is a very interesting guitar song.� It sounds like it could be a tour of your favorite guitar players styles.
LEE: �I never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.� First the intro is pure Hendrix � my hero.� Then there�s a Santana-ish segment, a part which reminds me of Tommy Bolin � another of my heroes � and the middle section with all the effects, where I have two guitars doing feedback and a third just doing wah-wah.� I don�t know who that it�.
GW: Did you use the same guitar for the whole song?
LEE: �Yeah, my white Charvel Strat.� Burt to get that Hendrix sound I went through a Unicorn, which is an old noise effect � and the best chorus effect I could find.� It�s got a tube, which makes it smoother than an electronic chorus effects.� You can come very close to the Hendrix sound with it, but its incredibly noisy � I couldn�t even speak over it�.
GW: You�re still using that Charvel?
LEE: �I did on the album, but now I am endorsing ESP guitars.� I have a custom with a Gibson scale neck and Gibson frets up to the 12th fret; from the 12th fret forwards they are Fender frets.� It�s got a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge and two DiMarzio SDS1 single coils. But still no whammy bar�.
GW: You play some really nice counterpoints on Love Don�t Mean A Thing.
LEE: [unzips gig bag removes ESP Strat and demonstrates rhythm guitar section of the song] �Do you mean that?�
GW: Yeah, that�s great.� Unlike a lot of other players you really seem to really get off on rhythm guitar.
LEE: �Yeah, and I don�t know why more guitarists don�t get into it, because its what you play 90% of the time.� Most guitar players just do the clich�d rhythm patterns.� I don�t want to pick on him, but George Lynch is a really boring rhythm player.� His lead work is phenomenal, but I can always predict what he�ll do on rhythm�.
GW: Are there any players around now who you really like?
LEE: �Nuno Bettencourt � who happens to be a very good rhythm player.� All I heard of Extreme�s first record was the cut that sounded just like Eruption and I wrote him off as a Van Halen clone.� But then Pornograffitti came out and I thought it was really good�.
GW: Nuno always leaves enough space for the track to breathe, which is something that you also do.
LEE: �Yeah, I think that Three Day Funk is a good example of that.� It�s a clich� but what you don�t play is just as important as what you do play.� The holes are just as important as the notes�.
GW: Fire And Rain is a great cover, but its really from left field.� No one is his right mind would have predicted that Badlands would do a James Taylor song.
LEE: �That began as a mistake.� We usually open our sound checks with Free�s Fire & Water.� Somewhere mid tour, Ray accidentally called for Fire & Rain.� We started playing it as a joke, and I couldn�t believe the way Ray was singing it � it sounded so good.� Se when we got bored on tour, we threw it in � and the audiences loved it.� Atlantic heard it and said it had to go on the record.� We wouldn�t usually do that type of thing, but I think we gave it a different enough slant to make it justifiable.�
GW: Between leaving Ozzy and forming Badlands, you didn�t play at all for six or seven months.� Did the layoff alter your approach in any way?
LEE: �Yeah, and I think I went back more to the way I used to play.� Look, I love playing guitar, I love listening to guitar, I love different kinds of music � blues guitar, jazz guitar, country guitar � and I absolutely don�t understand people who don�t like the other stuff, because every music has something to offer.� And its not that I was playing completely foreign stuff in Ozzy, but I restricted myself to one area.� I couldn�t do this [plays soaring jazz lick] because there were definite boundaries I could not overstep.� After being locked into that for four years, I released myself by not playing for a while, then re-exploring all the aspects of the instrument I�d enjoyed so much before.� Since then I�ve never stayed away from the instrument for such a long period of time.� But it�s a weird on and off thing for me.� There are times when I can�t keep my hands off the guitar.� Last night I literally fell asleep with one in my hands, and woke up in the middle of the night and just kept playing.� But then there might be two or three weeks where it just sits in the corner�.
GW: It sounds as though playing music with Ozzy had become more a job than a joy for you, and that staying away allowed you to be reborn musically.
LEE: �Yeah.� I also became really disillusioned about the whole music business because of all the shitty things Ozzy said about me in the press.� I also rejected a few offers because I knew that if I became a sideman again, I would be pigeonholed as such for the rest of my life � like Earl Slick and many others.� I knew that if I didn�t go out on my own after Ozzy, I�d probably never do it�.
GW: Is it very important to you that Badlands is a band and not the Jake E Lee guitar show?
LEE: �Yes.� It would get pretty one dimensional if all the input was from me.� I think Greg is a fantastic bass player.� He�s no Jaco Pastorius technically, but he�s very melodic and his lines are extremely inspiring to play over.� You could take away the guitar and the drums and listen to what he�s playing and not be bored.� I love the way Ray sings, and Jeff can play Mitch Mitchell to a tee, which is great for me, because I can play Jimi licks.� What more could I ask for?�
TRANSCRIBED BY ANDY CRAVEN