2019.02.07 – ALEX SKOLNICK (Interview)


Everyone knows you mostly as a metal guitar player for Testamenty, but unfortunately not everyone knows about your jazz trio as well. Your band Alex Skolnick Trio was established in 2002 and since then you are regularly recording and touring. How did it all start? What encouraged you to put this project together?

When I started the band I was on hiatus from Testament. I moved to New York City and I knew I wanted to do a different music. I wanted to explore for a while. I also knew that to play the way I wanted to play. I really needed to start over and go back to university. And it was really like starting over and get a university degree. There were few students there that I really connected with. And one of them was Matt Zebroski, who’s the Alex Skolnick Trio drummer and we just started playing together and we really had a great chemistry, it just sounded good, sounded so much better when I played with him. And I had this idea to do covers of heavy rock songs, because I hadn’t hear many jazz guitar groups doing that (covering Scorpions and Kiss – author’s note). Matt was open to the idea and so we hit it off straight away. We started performing together in New York and it was the first time since leaving Testament I felt ready to do an album with my name and felt really proud of it.

Not only an album, but also a band with your name, right?

Also a band, that’s true. I have done a few bands before AST (Alex Skolnick Trio), but I just haven’t quite found what felt right. At first I tried going in a more progressive rock direction, so sort of like in the mid ’90s and then as I got more interested in jazz, I did more electric jazz. But then the trio was my first attempt to have an acoustic jazz, traditional jazz setting. Maybe not traditional but more classic with upright bass and it just felt right, it felt really good. So that was a sign, because it simply felt good.

So it’s pretty much a child of yours?

It’s like that yeah.

So how about Nathan, your bass player?

Oh, we did our first record with a different bass player (John Davis). John is also a very good bass player but he didn’t want to go on the road and he also was a big fan of indie rock, groups like Radiohead, he really wanted to be like that kind of rock band and producing. So we needed a new bass player and Nathan Peck happened to be an old friend of Matt. Nathan had just moved to NY and we needed somebody fast because John had let us know he wasn’t going stay in a band and we had already some shows booked. There were some dates we did with Marty Friedman in fact, that we had to do. We needed a bass player fast and Nathan amazingly just fitted like a glove.

So here we are! And going back to your music education, I did some research and I’m actually surprised that you picked up a guitar quite early, you were like nine years old or something?

About 10, yeah I think 10, maybe be 9 or 10.

And what inspired you to do it? Which artists were your biggest inspiration at that time?

Well, at that time I was 10 year old, I was a big fan of Rock & Roll, early Rock & Roll, from early ’50’s, and especially Chuck Berry and I also liked The Beatles. And I really liked Kiss, because they were like super hero characters. Kiss really made me want to play a guitar. But I also had a very good teacher, I was all well rounded and I learned Chuck Berry and all the early ’50’s rock and The Beatles songs. And then, I didn’t play lead guitar for a few years but guys like Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, made me want to be a lead guitarist.

So you took classes from the beginning, right?

Yeah, I took lessons but once I learned how to play it, I did a lot of self-teaching. And I think a lot of my most valuable learning was self-teaching. But then I did have Joe Satriani as a teacher, before he was very well known.

Yeah, that was actually my next question, I wanted to ask you how was it? What kind of experience was that?

That was amazing. He wasn’t very well known but he was known among all the guitar players and he was a very hard teacher, the kind that makes you practice a lot, which was exactly what I needed. He was definitely the first person I studied with like a serious musician.

Best memory from that time?

Yeah, I remember some advice he gave me, just about trying never to copy the most popular players of the time. It’s funny because, a few years later he would be one of the most popular players.

On the first album you recorded with Alex Skolnick Trio, „Goodbye to Romance: Standards for a New Generation”, you did brilliant covers of Black Sabbath, Scorpions and my favorite Kiss „Detroit Rock City”, it’s a fabulous one. And on the new album „Conundrum” you did mostly your compositions. Except one of Erik Satie „Gymnopédie No. 1”. So I’m wondering how the crafting process of the songs for the trio is looking like? Are you the one who is writing all the stuff and presenting it to the band or is it a more organic band process?

I think it’s both. I usually start the writing for the band and then there’s a quite few songs that I work with Matt. He’s great with what arrangements. But also Matt wrote a song for the record „Dodge the Bambula”, Nathan wrote a song „Protect the Dream”. But then other ones like „Conundrum”, „Django Tango” were written by me. So yeah, we really want to focus on the originals, we’ve done covers for so many years. It’s fun, we still do them live but also it seems like our previous album, „Veritas” came out and it was all originals except one cover and all the magazines focused on the cover. That was a Metallica song. I wanted to do a Metallica song, but then suddenly it was just, we were the band that does the Metallica so I just decided, ok, no more (laugh).

And I think that’s the correct direction, right?

And I think so to, I rather compose and I think we really found the personality, we found the style for our compositions.

Especially if you guys fit together, it makes the process much easier.

Yeah, and I think doing the covers really helped us to find the right style.

And so, congratulations on the album!

Thank you.

It’s a brilliant one. How long did the working process take as you were doing your own compositions?

I think it took probably a year and a half. We actually did a live recording before that. And couple of the songs we’ve done live first. But because there were so many new directions it really helped to play the songs live. By the time we went to the studio we really knew how to play the songs. It just helped us a lot.

So it was you who decided, ok we’re going this direction or do you all the guys agree?

We agreed. Even though it’s under my name, it’s still a band. You know, if they don’t like something, we’re not gonna do it. They have to like it. But I also trust them, so I know if they do like it, it’s gonna be good.

And what are the tour plans with this album?

We did an album release shows in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles already. We’re doing shows when we can. We just did some in New York, Pennsylvania, Boston. We went to Texas for a week. And our next stop is Europe in March and we’re gonna be there most of March, including the Larvik Guitar Festival.

So you’re doing a full tour in Europe?

Yeah, it looks like it.

That’s great! I would like to know what were your early jazz influences? Which artists got you interested into jazz?

I got interested in Miles Davis. I discovered his electric style from the ’80’s and it has a great rock energy and I realized that to play that, or even just to learn parts of the music, you really need to know how to play jazz. Like straight-ahead jazz. But I liked the music so much, even thought it was gonna take years of building a foundation in jazz, it was worth it because this is how much I like this music. And then through Miles Davis, just other artists who would play with him. So from the early days, you know, John Coltrane and Bill Evans, through the ’60 Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter. But especially the late ’60’s, early ’70’s, when he played with artists like Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett and then some of the others jazz rock players like John McLaughlin, who would play with Miles Davis. Chick Corea „Return to Forever” which had Al Di Meola and then I discovered Al Di Meola’s music. It’s like a tree, you just discover so much it’s growing. And then in the ’80’s John Scofield who would play with Miles Davis and Mike Stern. So many, so many artists.

Any favorite album of Miles Davis?

„Kind of Blue” is my favorite now, on my desert island list, yeah.

I also think he was a brilliant artist…

Oh, even his paintings…

Yeah, or even soundtracks for movies like „Siesta”…

Just yeah, one of the greatest.

I also heard you’re a huge fan of Allan Holdsworth, right?

Yeah, I discovered Allan Holdsworth before I was actually playing jazz. A lot of players that inspired me were rock players, like Eddie Van Halen, one of my favorite guitarists.

Any inspiration of Allan Holdsworth to be found in your music?

I don’t think you can really hear it but it’s there. You know, just learning little pieces of Allan Holdsworth’s music, even just a few chords here and there. Like inspired ideas for how I may approach a chord. But it’s very hard to play like him so only Allan Holdsworth can play like Allan Holdsworth.

Sure, but you’re still doing great, you’re a fabulous jazz player!

Thank you, thank you so much.

I’m actually wondering what you’re listening at home, is it still jazz or are you into other music genres as well?

I do listen to jazz but lately I listen to more classical piano. Because I’m performing music all the time and I’m often warming up to jazz music, so sometimes it’s to relax, I wanna just clear my head and hear a classical piano sound. And that’s how I ended up in doing arrangements of Erik Satie, just because that was some of the classical piano, that I was listening to. Even though I wasn’t planning to have that influence my music, it still did! (laugh)

I thinks it’s amazing! Also like most of the metal guitar players, they don’t listen to metal at home, you just need to have a kind of space, right?

Yeah, absolutely. There are so many metal musicians who don’t listen to so much metal.

No, they actually listen to jazz at home, most of them.


I’m also curious what you’re doing when you’re not playing guitar? What other passions do you have, in your spare time, if you have a spare time?

I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I like to read. I’m a big reader.

Stuff like for example?

I like good literature. Great writers, there’s so many. I guess, who have I read recently, like Don DeLillo, he’s really great. Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis. I try to be pretty well read. And I follow current events, I pay attention to politics, I wouldn’t want to be involved but I’m fascinated.

So it’s reading and politics apart from music, right?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

And I heard some rumors that wine is a big passion of yours as well?

Oh, I love wine. Yeah, I really love good wine. Especially red wine.

Full bodied one?

Full bodied, yeah. French, Chilean.



Sounds tasty! Is there anything that you would like to say to the fans of the Alex Skolnick Trio and readers of RockArea?

Oh, I feel grateful for the fans, without our fans we would be just playing to empty rooms. And the fans in Poland especially make us feel so welcome! Whenever we’re there with AST or Testament, it’s just always very welcoming and we love going back to it!

So you’ll be touring Poland as well?

Not this time unfortunately. But we did last time and it was really great. Hopefully soon! I think next time when we go to Europe, which hopefully will be very soon.

But we see you in Europe in March!

Yes, see you in March!

Interview & photos: Katarzyna Kozioł

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