If you’re like me and love guitar players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but find that although you love watching them play, you can’t always sit and listen to them for hours on end, then you’re going to want to give a listen to Xander Demos and ‘Guitarcadia,’ the full length follow up to his EP ‘Road to Guitarcadia.’
Now, I like a good shred fest as much as the next person, but I also like a good melody. Make no mistake, Xander Demos knows his way around a guitar, but he also knows his way around a good melody.
That strong focus on the melody along with hard driving riffs are what make this Pittsburgh resident and ‘Guitarcadia,’ his latest studio album which was mixed and mastered by CJ Snare of Firehouse, somewhat unique among the heavy hitting shred masters out there today. Demos and XDB have appeared as a supporting act for Buckethead, UFO, Adrenaline Mob, Lizzy Borden, Kip Winger and Dio Disciples.
I had the privilege to talk with Xander recently and we spoke about his influences, some of the other projects he’s involved with, and exactly what it is he does with some of the money from his album sales.
Carolann Berry: I was going to ask how your day has been going so far, but I just saw that you hit # 7 on the Reverb Nation Metal Charts today. You must be very excited about that.
Xander Demos: Yeah I am, it’s exciting, and I’m feeling pretty good, thanks.
Carolann: I also saw that you did a column called ‘XD Guitar Clinic” for the Pittsburgh Music Magazine. Is that something you’re going to be doing on a regular basis?
Xander: Yeah, I hope so. I told them I would try to put it out as often as possible. Maybe one every couple of weeks or once a month. It’s an online magazine, so there’s a lot more flexibility than a print magazine.
Carolann: I don’t know where you find the time. You’re busy with your own music, give guitar lessons and you play with the Judas Priest/Black Sabbath tribute band Sabbath Judas Sabbath.
Xander: I don’t know either sometimes, but I do somehow. I play with Sabbath Judas Sabbath. But I have been doing a lot less of that lately.
Carolann: I would imagine that because now you have your own CD out and are playing more dates with your own band XDB, playing with the tribute band is becoming hard to fit in. Do you think it’s something you’re going to have to let go?
Xander: Yeah, that’s a good question because even though we haven’t officially disbanded the PA chapter yet, we are sort of on a pretty big hiatus. Number one because our bass player and other guitar player moved out of state, so it’s basically just me, the drummer who’s in XDB with me and then of course there’s James Rivera (Hellstar, Seven Witches) who leads it. But officially I’m James Rivera’s guitar player when he does his solo thing next year. That really hasn’t been announced too much yet because it just happened over the summer. We were doing Warriors of Metal 7 and we started talking about it. We do have something coming up that I can’t talk about yet, but it looks like we are going to be doing a remix of the album.
Carolann: Really? You must have something special in mind because the album sounds great as is.
Xander: Yeah, but I shouldn’t talk about it yet. (laughs)
Carolann: OK, I’ll just have to wait for it then.
Xander: Yeah, I have a list of people I have to send that to and I’ll put you on it for sure.
Carolann: Absolutely, I can’t wait to hear it. In listening to the album I hear a big Dream Theater influence along with some 80’s metal. But I also hear what sounds like a heavy 70’s influence as well. Were you listening to a lot of that growing up?
Xander: I did find myself gravitating towards the guys who would make a hooky melody instead of all the guitar pyrotechnics. I’m more like a melodic, Journey type of guitar player and I like to apply a more pretty approach to it instead of a darker approach. I grew up in the 80’s and that’s the music I was listening to, but I was pretty heavily into Van Halen, Boston, Rush, Kansas, Kiss and Journey back then. So yeah, there’s a big 70’s influence and that’s probably what you’re hearing. And everyone in my band are huge Dream Theater fans.
Carolann: How did CJ Snare become involved with ‘Guitarcadia?’
Xander: CJ and I hooked up because of Facebook, actually. I was already friends with CJ on Facebook and he posted that he was offering his mixing services. I was already putting down some stuff for ‘Guitarcadia,’ and I thought that it would be cool to have CJ do it. I’m a huge FireHouse fan, and not only that, I like the way their albums sound, so I thought he could bring that to the project. I sent him a message and introduced myself and thought well, maybe he will or maybe he won’t get back to me. I was thinking his inbox was filled up with 50 different musicians looking for him to work on their projects, who knows. But he actually ended up messaging me back. He gave me his number and said to give him a call. We chatted for like an hour and a half and it was pretty cool. We became friends after that and we built a really good working relationship, so now he’s going to do my second album.
Carolann: I did notice that the production on ‘Guitarcadia’ sounded really good. But I would expect that with CJ mixing.
Xander: He did a great job. (laughs) Wait till you hear the remake!
Carolann: You keep saying you can’t talk about it, but yet you keep talking about it!
Xander: I know, I know, OK I’m not going to talk about it anymore. But I’ll tell you this much. When you do hear about it you’ll know why I couldn’t talk about it. You’ll be like, now I get it!
Carolann: All right, I can’t wait to hear it. The new album is mostly instrumental, but you do have two songs with vocals, “Under the Darkened Sky” and a metal cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” Did you do those to draw people in that normally wouldn’t listen to a straight instrumental album, or is it something that you enjoy doing and plan on doing more of?
Xander: Well, both really. Most of my songs are written in such a way that if you took out all the guitar wankery, you could put vocals behind them. The new version of the band is actually a vocal band. It’s still called XDB but we only play one or two instrumentals when we play a set. “Under a Darkened Sky” was written years ago when I was playing with a power metal band, “Into the Arena” and “Boys of Summer” were songs I was doing at one time with a cover band. I didn’t want to make a “who can play faster than who, finger exercise” album. I wanted it to be a little more melodic. As much as I like Yngwie, you can’t really hum a lot of his stuff.
Carolann: Well I have to say that I listened to “Boys of Summer” about four times before going on to the rest of the album and loved the way it was done.
Xander: Well the way that happened was, I had picked up a Rush tribute album called ‘Working Man,’ and the song “Analog Kid” had some of my favorite people on it. Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums and this guy I hadn’t heard of at the time, Michael Romeo on guitar. So I hear him do this crazy solo, then do things in unison with the keyboards and I was inspired. So the “Boys of Summer” cover follows the way they did the “Analog Kid” cover. When you listen to the original version of “Analog Kid,” it sounds like a typical Rush song, which is great. But when you listen to the updated version that was on ‘Working Man,’ it’s got something more. It’s totally metal and heavy. So we wanted to do something similar. (laughs) Kind of a tribute to a tribute, and it just worked.
Carolann: Did you start playing at an early age?
Xander: No, I actually didn’t start learning guitar until I was thirteen and I found it pretty challenging. But once I got the basics down I found myself really becoming able to hammer things home. The fast picking thing came pretty natural. But I did have a teacher in the late 80’s who called me out on it and told me don’t jump in and do it fast just because you can. Go back, slow down and make sure your brain coordinates with what your right and left hand are doing and do it right.
Carolann: So what would you say to someone who’s older, that wants to start learning how to play. Is there any hope?
Xander: You know, it might sound hokey, but you may be unlocking something that’s always been there. So yeah, I believe there’s always hope.
Carolann: Tell us about the signature guitar you have out.
Xander: My signature with McNaught has been out for about a year now. I’ve been playing David Thomas Mcnaught guitars for about ten years now and about three years ago he approached me about becoming an artist for him and I jumped at the chance because I’ve always loved his work. I’m not the easiest guitar player to build for because I’m so specific, but I noticed some of the core things that I picked, like the neck woods or body style and for example, my guitar has twenty seven frets as opposed to twenty two or twenty four, a lot of guitar players are jumping on that now. They are a small company but they have sold a few already. I’m pretty proud of it.
Carolann: You have been donating part of the profits from the sale of ‘Guitarcadia’ to the ASPCA. What made you pick that particular charity to donate to?
Xander: Well number one, Sarah McLaughlin and those horrible commercials that ruin your day. The other is that I am a very large supporter of animals. I’m not a PETA person or anything. Just because I like hamburgers doesn’t mean I want to meet the cow, you know what I mean? But nothing gets my blood boiling more than finding out that someone is abusing an innocent animal, especially one that they brought home and then decided that they don’t want any more and they do something really repulsive. So I support the ASPCA for what they do. I also support some local shelters here in Pittsburgh. I have a business, I have a career and I don’t need all the money from the album sales, so even though it’s only a portion of the sales, I feel like I’m doing something for them. I have two dogs and three cats, so it’s something I feel pretty strongly about.
Carolann: We talked about some of your early influences but are there any newer bands and albums that have been catching your attention recently?
Xander: I’ve been listening a lot to ‘Second Coming’ from Stryper, it’s pretty awesome, I love it. ‘American Capitalist’ from Five Finger Death Punch is really good. I do like Trivium and Bullet for My Valentine. And I know it’s not new but recently I was on a big Whitesnake kick.
Carolann: Is being in the music business something you always saw yourself doing?
Xander: Well, I started working in software seventeen years ago, but I’ve been a musician for thirty one years. I always wanted to be a working musician, but to tell you the truth, once I got involved in software I didn’t want to give up the cushy life to follow that. Plus, I was very pig headed and stubborn about the music. Back then I was like, if it wasn’t Dream Theater it sucks. (laughs) And I didn’t like grunge. I guess I’ve matured a little bit because now I like and can appreciate it a little more, but back then, for a guitar player like me, I didn’t want to join a band, put on a flannel shirt and play three chords. So I got out of music for a short time.
What really kicked it off for me was about seven years ago I went to my first NAMM show. I started making connections and I thought, hey, I can do this. I even had this guy who was my guitar tech tell me, “Dude, you’re too old to do this.” But I didn’t believe anyone is ever too old. I mean, Chris Broderick joined Megadeth when he was 42. That was his big break and he’s a phenomenal guitar player.
Carolann: Do you have a Facebook page where people can get more information on you?
Xander: I do and for the most part I answer the questions myself. I try to be as involved as possible. There are too many bands that have pages but don’t respond to questions themselves or don’t allow comments. I like to have as much interaction as possible with the fans.
Carolann: So is that the best place for people to find information about the album and tours, etc.?
Xander: Well, I would have to say my website, xanderdemos.com, would be, because I have all the links on there to my Facebook, twitter and all the tour information and links to everything else. We’re playing a lot of good music festivals coming up in the fall and people can find all the info there, so hopefully we’ll see everyone out there.