Talking Tone With Queensryche’s Michael Wilton

Seymour Duncan and Queensryche have had a long and fruitful partnership over the years: our pickups have been a part of the Queensrÿche sound for decades, and the band met vocalist Todd La Torre at our NAMM party a few years back. As guitarist Michael Wilton told Bravewords.com recently, “I didn’t know Todd at all. He bumped into me getting hors d’oeuvres at a Seymour Duncan party at NAMM (laughs). If I had blown him off I never would have met him. He thought I was Eric Peterson of Testament and he says ‘Hey man, good show.’ I looked at him as I’m putting shrimp on my plate (laughs) and he goes ‘Oh, I’m sorry, now I know who you are…’ We talked and exchanged emails, but if it wasn’t for that moment this never would have happened.” And now the band is on their second album with La Torre at the mic. The past few years have been a true rebirth for Queensrÿche, with the band going back to a more metal-driven sound, and Condition Hüman is a captivating document of where the band is today. We caught up with Wilton to chat about it.

This record really shows your writing style, and it’s great to hear your voice coming through again.

Right! With this recording we had a little more time to spend on the songs and we really brought more of the ingrained roots of our past, especially in my guitar playing. With the producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris we wanted to recapture that magic of how we used to record guitars, and bring it into the 2015. And I was more than willing because that’s a great guitar sound, and that is me (laughs)!

So you’re a long-time Seymour Duncan guy!

I love Seymour Duncan! I’ve been using them for years and years and years. Sometimes it’s a JB Model, sometimes it’s a Duncan Distortion because some of the guitars can be a little dark-sounding so you need a ceramic magnet to kinda brighten it up.

So what guitars did you use on the new record?

Primarily a few ESPs – my old trusty skull-and-bones ESPs that I use all the time. And they all have Floyd Roses on them. I also used some of the ESP Eclipse models, their Les Paul-style guitars. Basically once you get one basic sound you tend to use that all the time. We did sometimes use a Gibson ES-335 and then a few ESP single coil, Strat-style guitars.

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What about acoustics?

Acoustically I used my Taylor. That really is the tried and true acoustic guitar for Queensryche. That was pretty much it! No more than six electrics and two acoustics.

Which amps did you use?

We used my Marshall Jubilee, one of the older ones. We’ve used that on numerous recordings and it’s just a tried-and-true workhorse. We put a Maxon overdrive in front of it for leads or just to brighten up the sound. But we did a lot of reamping too: when vocals were being done in my studio I’d be in another room with the session on my laptop, recording into there, and then we’d go into the main studio, import it and reamp through the Marshall. I’d never done that before and I was amazed that you can do that. You can reamp wherever you are! On hotels, on the bus, and as long as the performance is solid you can always go back and reamp through your main rig.

How do you and Parker Lundgren create your dual guitar parts?

It all starts with a riff. I’m sure you’ve heard that ten million times! But it all starts with a riff and the idea grows, and then you need to leave it alone and come back to it. It’s just not really thinking about it, right? Not really scrutinising my technique or anything. It’s like… it’s like when you go on the iPhone and you get that rapid burst thing to take a picture? It’s like that! You get like 20 pictures, and that’s kind of the way you create riffs. It’s really important to have a break when you’re creating, because you need your mind to start hearing things. Once the notes start pouring into your mind as addendum to what you’ve been hearing, you can apply it like clay to a mould. And then it’s a matter of interpreting that on guitar. I think it’s taking time with the arrangements and making them as interesting as possible and just really bringing the most that we can pack into a song, layer-wise, and just giving it the depth. And that layering, first and foremost, does that. It’s just a process we’ve always done over the years that has evolved from album to album.

What’s your approach to playing a solo? You often seem to include major notes against minor riffs in interesting ways.

I can’t really pinpoint telling you what scale or mode I’m in: it’s more of an intuitive feel thing. I just hear the notes in my head and that’s how I interpret them. And I think as a technician I tend to balance the minor scales with diminished and augmented situations, a lot of harmonic minor, melodic minor and natural minor. And when you’re a guitar player it gets kind of mundane staying in those minor scales so you throw in something major every now and then. It opens up the whole experience. For me a lot of the old classics have these outside movements. A good example is “Eyes Of A Stranger.” After Chris and I have our double solo we go to this B section as a bridge, but then all of a sudden we add two major chords in there and it kind of pops that part before we bring it back to E Minor. For us as musicians that’s how you keep things interesting.

 

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