Interview: Christian Muenzner

Dan McAvinchey: Christian, let's talk first about your solo album, "Timewarp". When did you write the songs, and what did you want to achieve when recording started?

Christian Muenzner: I started with the songwriting for the album in September 2010, right after I finished recording my solos for the current Obscura album "Omnivium". It wasn't really planned long before, although being a fan of virtuoso guitar playing and instrumental music myself, it has been a dream of mine for many many years to do an instrumental solo album one day. Since the band wasn't on tour for a couple of months, I had some time on my hands and felt really, really inspired after the "Omnivium" sessions, so the writing process in total didn't take more than three months, although I of course had many many ideas that I had collected over the years, which finally turned into real songs on "Timewarp".

What I wanted to achieve was to record an album that would capture the essence of all my favorite classic '80s and '90s shred albums (Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Michael Lee Firkins, etc.) and to combine that with my more modern metal influences - I like to describe it as 'Shrapnel Records shred meets modern metal'. I of course wanted it to showcase a lot of the technique and knowledge I learned over the years. I wanted to try a lot of stuff I never get to do in the context of a band setting, but I also wanted it to be real music, with the main focus being on songs, the riffs, melodies and arrangements. I think that's what made all those classic albums like "Maximum Security", "Passion And Warfare", "Rising Force", "Dragon's Kiss", "Mind's Eye", "Surfing With The Alien" and "Perpetual Burn" special. Beyond the flashy guitar work they featured really strong and epic songs that people would still remember 25 years later. Many modern shred albums totally lack that, as often it's just a bunch of randomly thrown together riffs and bad drum programming with a guy noodling over that. I definitely tried to get away from that as much as I could.

I also strived for a good, organic production with only real musicians being involved, instead of a plastic release with me doing everything myself. I also wanted to showcase the other musicians a lot, to make it more dynamic, musical and interesting for the listener.

Dan McAvinchey: A lot of new fans of your music are probably wondering, how did you practice in order to get to the advanced level of playing you are now at?

Christian Muenzner: At first I was just learning songs from bands that I liked as a kid, such as AC/DC, Iron Maiden or Metallica. That way I learned the fundamentals of guitar playing. I'd also been playing in bands pretty much right away. When I got interested in playing solos too, I started taking guitar lessons from a private teacher.

When I was 14, I really got into more extreme guitar playing after discovering Yngwie, Steve Vai, Dream Theater and Paul Gilbert. I went through a period of two or three years of extreme woodshedding, in which I didn't really do much except for playing guitar and doing the minimum amount of school work I could possibly get away with. Later on of course I got some other interests as well (which almost always start with a girl - haha) and didn't practice that extremely anymore.

When I was 20, I went to the Munich Guitar Institute (MGI) for one year, in which I learned a lot of theory and got a little bit more into jazz and fusion stuff. During that period I used to transcribe a lot of music, finding my own ways of playing things and learning how all that newly absorbed information could actually be used to make music. And of course I've always been playing in bands, all the time.

I don't really believe too much into brutal practicing, like forcing yourself to play 8 hours a day, I did that for a while in my pubescent years, but in general I believe that you should mainly play and practice when you feel like doing it, as you improve a lot faster if you actually have fun doing something. Nowadays I mainly play to write or record stuff, sometimes I may come up with a line I can't play yet, so I would still sit with a metronome and work on it until I have it down, but it's not as ritualistic anymore as it was in my youth.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think is essential for a great guitar solo?

Christian Muenzner: Most important of course is that a guitar solo compliments the song, but I guess that's a pretty standard answer! I think every note has to make sense and have a certain meaning, and I think a good solo always transports a certain mood and has a certain color, or even better, creates different colors and pictures. It's like telling a story. Of course it also has to show some skill in my opinion, that's also what a solo is there for, but make it musical. Take it fast, take it slow, but know exactly when to do it.

Phrasing is what makes the big difference between just mindless noodling and a great guitar solo in my opinion. Think more about which notes you play and when you play them, and then just use your chops to play the notes you wanna play. Don't think now I sweep, now I pick, now I tap, etc. Think of musical phrases and use speed to add intensity. Intensity is essential for good music in general to me.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your favorite tracks on your CD?

Christian Muenzner: I'm actually really happy with the outcome of all the songs on the CD. My very favorite is probably the 8 minute track "Wastelands" as it combines all the elements that I like - super heavy 7 string riffage, odd meters, neoclassicisms, jazz/fusion sections and spacey melodies. I'm also really proud to have Per Nilsson's (Scar Symmetry) unbelievable solo on this track.

Another favorite of mine is the semi-ballad "Soulmates", as I'm really proud of the melody and the phrasing in this one, it's probably the most emotional and expressive playing I ever recorded. I really like the fusiony chord changes in the solo section. Also to the list belongs "The Tell-Tale Heart". It's really heavy, technical, dark and neoclassical. I like the riffs, melodies and the trade off section with Bob Katsionis (Firewind) on keys. I like the song "Victory", mainly for the huge orchestrations, which come out nicely, especially the middle section before the solos sounds huge and epic. And I like "Confusion" a lot, as it combines a lot of crazy harmonic concepts but still maintains a nice flow and has some really cool riffs.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to showcase your instrumental music in a live setting?

Christian Muenzner: Unfortunately not to this point. I would really love to present my songs within a real band setting on a stage. Touring with that type of music is pretty much impossible though, as there is only a small market for it, and touring with real people costs a lot of money. But I really do hope I can at least play live in a festival setting for example, some guitar music or progressive metal festival. I will definitely be playing my songs with backing tracks at guitar clinics in the near future.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Christian Muenzner: I actually think you can often express a lot more in the context of instrumental music than in traditional vocal oriented music, especially if you're a guitar player of course. There is a lot more freedom for an instrumentalist, instead of only being a functional part of a band you can express yourself a lot more freely, and real music fans like that. If fans really wanna hear everything a certain player has to offer, this is only really possible in instrumental music, where you have a lot of room to express yourself instead of the common 16 bars for soloing in a traditional band setting. Not saying this is bad - being in a band you have to be a team player and work to be very functional.

There are also certain melodies which work a lot better on an instrument and can touch you a lot more. While I certainly love a lot of vocal oriented music (this even makes the biggest part of my record collection I think), I never heard anything that moved me as much as the melodies on Tony MacAlpine's "Hundreds Of Thousands", Vinnie Moore's "Daydream", Steve Vai's "For The Love Of God", just to name a few. I could never solo over jazzy chord changes for two minutes in the format of a rock band with vocal songs of course, if people wanna hear me do that, they can in some of my instrumental songs, where it definitely has a place.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Christian Muenzner: I don't know what qualifies as new, but some players I discovered in recent years were Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry and Ryan Knight of The Black Dahlia Murder. I know Per's been around for a while and playing a lot longer than me actually, but he wasn't really in the scene until 2005 or so. I've heard him first in late 2008 I think, and I was blown away by his phrasing and note choice, and he always continues to amaze me every time he puts out something new.

Ryan is another player I know because we toured together a lot with our bands, and the guy has always been impressing me with his chops and tone. He's one of those guys who never stop improving. Just very recently I discovered a guy called Paul Wardingham, he hails from Australia. I first found him on youtube because he covered some of Per's solos really well. Recently Paul sent me his instrumental album "Assimilate Regenerate", and I can't get over how good it is. Ridiculous chops, great phrasing and melodies and a very deep harmonic understanding with a lot of ideas which are way out there tonally, all within the context of great, catchy tunes. By far the best instrumental album I've heard in years!

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Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Christian Muenzner: I'm definitely a metal head! Apart from instrumental guitar music I like anything that's good from '70s/'80s hard rock to the most extreme death and black metal. Some of my favorite bands include Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Dream Theater, Symphony X, Helloween, Angra, Scar Symmetry, Wintersun, Stratovarius, Firewind, Megadeth, Annihilator, Coroner, Helstar, Death, Cynic, Atheist, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Nile, Spawn Of Possession, Martyr, Gorod, Blotted Science, Spastic Ink, Planet X, Opeth, Meshuggah, Nevermore, Decapitated, Strapping Young Lad/Devin Townsend, Emperor, Dissection, At The Gates and many many more, just to give you an idea.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Christian Muenzner: Right now we're in touring mode with my main band Obscura, promoting our recent album "Omnivium". We just finished our first European and American runs, but we will continue there soon, as well as a trip to Southeast Asia in the fall. In between, I'll be hosting my first guitar clinics.

I also joined one of my favorite bands a while ago, Spawn Of Possession. I'm currently recording solos for their upcoming album, and hopefully I'll do some touring with them as well when it's released. I also have a couple of other projects on the horizon, one is gonna be a neoclassical power metal band with a clean singer, something I've always wanted to do and am very excited about!

I also have the plan to work on an instructional guitar method in the form of a book. And hopefully I'll find the time and inspiration to do another instrumental album as well one day, but I have to go step by step.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, if you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist
in the world, who would it be?

Christian Muenzner: That would most probably be Tony MacAlpine. It would be super awesome to trade some epic melodies and wild solos! I like everything about his playing, the wonderful melodies, unbeievable repertoire of chops and his natural phrasing, and "Maximum Security" is probably the best album ever recorded in my book, so he's been a huge inspiration to me over the years, I would be unbelievably honoured to work with him. Runners up for the same reasons would be Greg Howe and Vinnie Moore.

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Spawn of Possession guitarist Christian Muenzner has recently released an all-instrumental solo album, "Timewarp". The solo album format allowed Muenzner to break away from the confines of his band projects, and so, offers insane instrumentation and arrangements you can only find on albums recorded with a singular vision and total creative freedom.

Dan McAvinchey tracked down Muenzner, who was just coming off a European and American tour, to discuss his solo project.