It was supposed to be just another typical NAMM show gig – some highly-touted musicians getting together to entertain the gear enthusiasts and industry folk who congregate in Anaheim, CA in mid-January every year. More improbably, the show at The Anaheim Bass Bash – featuring guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drummer Marco Minnemann – wasn’t even supposed to contain Guthrie at all; he was a late replacement for long-time fusion guitar hero Greg Howe, who had something come up on short notice. It was a Guthrie fan who recommended Govan to Beller, who had literally never heard him play. A quick YouTube browsing session was all the convincing Beller and Minnemann needed to ask him onto the gig, and Greg Howe was kind enough to furnish Guthrie’s contact info. After some consideration, Guthrie said yes.
The three members of the band all had their individual reputations and followings. Guthrie was an underground internet guitar hero (those YouTube clips convinced lots of folks), with a highly acclaimed solo instrumental album under his belt, 2006′s Erotic Cakes. Bryan was a respected touring vet with Steve Vai, Dethklok, and Mike Keneally, and also had three solo albums out. And Marco was a veritable superstar drummer/clinician, having played with artists ranging from Adrian Belew, to Eddie Jobson’s UKZ, to death metal outfit Necrophagist…and had over ten solo albums out.
Separated by thousands of miles (Govan in London, Beller in Nashville, Minnemann in San Diego) and occupied by numerous separate commitments, the guys began swapping mp3′s of the songs for the 6-tune set. Each member contributed two tunes. It was late December of 2010, and NAMM was only a few weeks away. The material was difficult and there was a lot to learn. Also, Bryan and Marco, who’d played together many times before, weren’t quite sure what to expect from Guthrie. But on January 13, 2011, when they got together for their one and only rehearsal, it didn’t take long to realize that something special was going on. More than a few side glances and smiles were exchanged while running the set. It went so smoothly, it was almost unnerving.
JT Schmid’s restaurant, the site of the annual Anaheim Bass Bash, is a typical Southern California brewpub – nice, clean, even generic atmosphere. It was an unlikely place for such a momentous gig. But once the band ripped into Govan’s ”Waves”, the uncanny chemistry was obvious to both the crowd and themselves. By the third tune the band members were completely locked in to each other. Individual virtuosity gave way to a near-telepathic interplay, and it became clear to the stunned audience that they were watching a real band come together right in front of their eyes and ears. They were playing as though they’d been on the road for years, and were still having fun doing it.
Afterwards, all of the band members were elated. Talk of doing it again immediately followed. The conversation went from doing more gigs to making a record (after all, everyone in the band was a songwriter) consisting of material written specifically with this band in mind. Soon Suhr Guitars, the high-end guitar company with whom Guthrie has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship, became actively involved in supporting the project. Ed Yoon, formerly the marketing and artist relations director at Suhr and now the manager of the Aristocrats, coordinated the difficult logistics of getting the three very busy musicians together in a Chicago studio in late April. The crammed schedule notwithstanding, the guys earnestly proceeded with the writing process from wherever they happened to be, and began exchanging mp3′s and charts in a frenzied month of traveling and song-digesting. Ultimately the Chicago sessions only saw the band together for 5 days, in which they tracked 9 very challenging songs, 3 from each member, as quickly as humanly possible.
The music turned out to be a melting pot of their respective influences, ranging from the seminal ’70s jazz-rock fusion of Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra, to the progressive rock of King Crimson and UK, to guitar heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, to the absurdly complex and satirical music of Frank Zappa and Mike Keneally, and even to ’90s groove metal like Rage Against The Machine. But this strange brew is peppered with memorable melodies, myriad shifts in dynamics, and sensitive treatment of musical timbres that explore the limits of what the electric guitar, electric bass and drums in a power trio can achieve.
The worldwide release of the eponymous debut CD The Aristocrats occurs on September 13, 2011. To support the album, the band is touring the eastern U.S., Canada and Chicago in late-September/early October, and a full schedule of international dates is already in the works for 2012. Interest has been intense. Guthrie Govan appeared on the cover of Guitar Player‘s July 2011 issue, other international cover and feature stories followed, and both Beller and Minnemann have fielded repeated inquires about the record: What does it sound like? What happens when you play live?
It’s not just fusion. It’s not just shredding. It’s not even meant to be taken seriously at times. It’s just the sound of a new band, consisting of three guys who did a NAMM show gig and discovered they had something musically deep going on together…and also had a propensity for employing R-rated song titles.
So what do you call an act like that?