Joe Matera of Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with guitarist Michael Angelo Batio. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You started playing piano and composing at age five and then started playing guitar at age ten. How much did you early piano skills influence your approach towards the guitar?
Michael Angelo Batio: A lot, because first up, I'm left-handed and so I played piano right-handed as there were no left-handed pianos. And since I played guitar right-handed too, that's what gave me the ability to do all this stuff because my left hand, the fret board hand, became the stronger hand. And it served me well really early on when I started playing shows at the age of ten, where I developed this whole show of playing over and under. But as I went on, I came to the realization that my right hand was very deficient. When I got to 14 years of age, it suddenly dawned on me that I had this super-fast left hand but my right hand just sucked. So I spent two years developing my picking technique, with strict alternate picking. Literally, I'd play hour after hour to get my right hand to equal the left hand. But the piano playing helped a lot when it came to develop my technique on the double guitar as it enabled me to play two different parts at the same time.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What about when guys like Yngwie Malmsteen came onto the scene doing a somewhat similar thing with the fast playing, what did you think of their playing at the time?
Michael Angelo Batio: I liked it. But you have to understand that when we were coming up in the '80s nobody was calling it shred guitar back then. We all just wanted to be good. But then during the '90s, the critics, especially in the States were part of this whole anti-guitar movement, where you couldn't play solos. And so they tried to make people who could play, like me, not feel good about it. When grunge came in, all the shred-type guitar players either ran away or they went on to become blues players. But I thought to myself, "Why should I change just because some guy in a suit says that what I'm doing is unpopular?" In my career, I've always tried to do things that were different. For example, I came up with the double-guitar, and I had a different sound. While everybody was doing the scooped mids thing, I was doing the exact opposite. And so, I started finding out about the Internet, as I knew back then what the way of where records were going to go. Because records had gone to cassette, and then cassettes went to CDs, I knew CDs had to go somewhere else too. And once I realized that CDs were digital and that the internet was a way to transfer digital data, I knew I had to jump on it. So I got on to that horse and rode it. I got the URL angelo.com and with my previous record industry experience of being on a major label under my belt, I began marketing myself and my playing in a different way. And then soon after, it [the net] exploded.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: When it comes to speed playing in general, what do you think are the integral elements a guitarist needs to be aware of?
Michael Angelo Batio: I would say that in order to play fast, you have to first learn how to play slow. It is all about coordinating both of your hands so that they're able to play together. I used to make my students play slow first. I learned this technique from having taken piano lessons and I used that to teach speed playing on the guitar. When you slow it down and force people to physically and mentally concentrate, it gets more ingrained in their heads and because of that, they can become a better and fast player. And only then would I show them other exercises. So it really comes down to the discipline of concentrating on what you're doing really slowing and getting that right movement correctly. And I pick unusually too, because I'm left-handed and I rest my hand on the guitar like this (demonstrates). I did a study of lot of different guitar players and found that though there are some that pick from the wrist or elbow, I found that it's not that important. The majority of players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, myself and anybody who plays really fast and accurately, when they're playing medium to fast speeds, they never move their thumb and index finger. So it doesn't matter if you use your wrist or elbow, what matters is the motion of your thumb and index finger. It has got to stay stationary. There are exceptions to the rule though but 95% of all guitarists do use this common technique.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Jim Gillette recently commented that he would like to see a reunion of NITRO happen possibly in 2009.
Michael Angelo Batio: Yeah, he asked me but I'm not going to do it. And Jim and I are best friends. But Jim also doesn't want to do any of the old songs. Jim's idea is for a NITRO 2009, not the NITRO from the past. He doesn't want to redo NITRO, he just wants to get back up onstage again and do what he's doing now. It might be under the banner of NITRO though. But what he is doing now is an album with his wife, Lita Ford. And I've heard some of the music and it is really cool. But for me to do a NITRO reunion and not do any of the old songs, I don't think it would be the same.
Read the entire interview from Ultimate-Guitar.com.