Interview: Greg Howe

Guglielmo Malusardi: Just personal data to start the questioning - your full name, birthdate and birthplace.

Greg Howe: (Laughing) OK, my name is Gregory Howe, my birthdate is December 8th, 1963 and my birthplace is New York City, New York.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What about your youth? Were you a good boy, or kind of a hell raiser?

Greg Howe: Weeeell, I would say probably somewhere in the middle. I wasn't so bad but, I wasn't necessarily that good so I got sent to the principal's office sometimes. It was mostly good fun.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When did you seriously think about making a living with the guitar?

Greg Howe: Well, it's hard to say, I think I was very young, maybe ten, when I first thought about it, but honestly, I did pretty good in sports when I was in high school. I was really good in track, middle distance (four hundred and eight hundred), and also I played football as a wide receiver, so I was thinking as well to be in sports, but was so competitive. A lot of people didn't know that I played guitar. I did it like at home, you know, not in front of people, but when Van Halen came out, listening to what he said in some interviews about the way he played, then I really connected with my thought: this is what I want to do with my life.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And how old were you then?

Greg Howe: About fifteen.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What were you doing in the late eighties, before signing the contract with Mark Varney's label and releasing "Greg Howe"?

Greg Howe: Well, we played from the moment I got out of high school, early '80s, '82, my brother was still in, he's younger than me and we had some difficulty playing in the clubs, we had fake IDs to make him older so he could get in. We were a cover band, doing mainly rock. Three pieces and a singer type rock. Lot of Van Halen of course .

Guglielmo Malusardi: Pennsylvania area?

Greg Howe: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York - we did it for years and we eventually did some demo tapes, we had some interest from major labels. We came close to a showcase, but we never got a deal . Around 1987, I sent a tape to Mike Varney, you know, that was one of the several tapes that I sent out. He was the only one that responded positively

Guglielmo Malusardi: Since that album ("Greg Howe") you released seven more. Which one sold the highest amount of copies and which one the lowest?

Greg Howe: The one that sold the highest amount was the first one, because it was released in the heyday of guitar and was different from other guitar records, it was fresh even within that. Mike Varney wanted to make sure that we didn't just another neo-classical album. The one that sold the least, I think, was "Parallax".

Guglielmo Malusardi: Really? It's my favorite one.

Greg Howe: Yeah, I love it too. I think that's an album more for guitar players, not so many catchy melodies, you know.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I think it is your heaviest one.

Greg Howe: Yeah, right, right.

interview pic

Guglielmo Malusardi: And which album do you love the most and which one the least?

Greg Howe: My favorite one today is "Extraction", because the other two guys on it (Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers, for the few readers that don't know) are amazing, it was so much fun to play with such a rhythm section. I like "Five" a lot, I think there are a lot of memorable melodies there. I also like a lot the first album. Actually I would really like to re-record and remix it, because the sound is so bad that I can't even listen to it now. But if the sound was good, I would really enjoy that record again. "Introspection" I love, again, catchy melodies.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And what about the one you like the least?

Greg Howe: Ascend.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I presumed. But let's talk about it later. I read that your last release, "Extraction", seemed to have had a very long and troubling recording process; did you title the CD because of that?

Greg Howe: Yeah, it really was! Originally the album title was going to be "Pulling Teeth", and it just happened that the picture that was going to be used for the album cover of another band. Then they didn't use it and Mark Varney sent me the picture asking, "Do you like this?" And I told him that there was something true about it. I related to the picture because it was the most difficult album that I've ever done. So it is really connected.

Guglielmo Malusardi: After eight studio albums I think it's definitely time for a live album. To be honest, I think that it was already time for it five or six years ago. Why have you never released one?

Greg Howe: You know, I have the feeling that I'm going to release one, and release by myself, because according to Mike Varney, they just don't sell as well. With a live album, I would covering myself, there would not be any publishing money that anybody can collect, so I think that's part of the record company problem. They just don't sell it as well, number one. And number two, there is no publishing money to be made. So it's not such a great deal for him, but I think that would be a great idea for my fans, so I would like to do one, I would really like to do it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: In effect, it is possible for guitar fans to listen and see you playing live on the "Gentle Hearts Tour 2004" live CD and live DVD, together with Japanese bassist Tetsuo Sakurai, (released under his name) and super busy extraordinaire drummer Dennis Chambers. Let's talk about that tour.

Greg Howe: The live tour was put together pretty quickly, I had about one month advance notice and some of the songs were really complicated, plus you know, at that time I was living in Pennsylvania with a lot of responsibilities, so I was trying to find the time to get prepared for that quickly, so it was really difficult. The experience was fun, but it was not the way that I would have liked to have been featured you know, I felt like most of the stuff they wanted do was featuring me, and I learnt my parts pretty much off the CD and that was hard enough and then when we met they told me. "Well we'd like to change this, to add that, we'd like it if you could take the solo for another thirty two bars." Aaaaaaah, maaaaaaaan, jeeeeeeeeeez...

Guglielmo Malusardi: Hard stuff?

Greg Howe: Yeah, you know, I wasn't ready for it and we just had two reharsals. You know what, music is so precious to me, and when I'm going to do it in the way that I feel to do it - I don't want to just do it half way. It is what it is, I'm not completely satisfied with it, and also we had some good performances over there not captured on the DVD. We had some great shows but that wasn't one of them. Even Akira Onozuka, the keyboard player (he's amazing, one of the best that I've really heard), he sounded good on the DVD, but he doesn't sound anywhere near as good as he really is. So, I was disappointed at a certain level, but you know, there's nothing you can do about it, here it is and hopefeully I can do a live album on my own.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Keeping the spotlight on your partnershp CDs, I think you absolutely have to tell us something about your two CDs "Tilt" and "Project" with Richie Kotzen.

Greg Howe: They were just projects that Mike Varney thought would be good to do. He just thought that we had a similar style but different enough to be interesting to put together, and the first one we did, "Tilt", I think sold really well, so that's why we did the second one. And really it was nothing more than a suggestion from the record company.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to release another "four hands" album? Do you have anybody in mind?

Greg Howe: Well, actually when I'm thinking about collaborating nowadays, I think about collaborating with somebody that's not a guitar player. When I put myself in the position to be a listener, with an album like "Tilt" there are a lot of guitars to digest. You know, what's really weird about me is that I'm an artist, I consider myself as an artist and musician first, and a guitar player secondly, you know, guitar is not the thing that motivates me. Music is.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Yeah, I read when you mentioned that you would like to leave the stage and see the audience still entertained by the rhythm section.

Greg Howe: Yeah, exactly! The music has to mean everything. The guitar is just part of it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You gave a big surprise to your fans playing guitar on Ukrainian keyboard virtuoso Vitalij Kuprij's CD "High Definition". How did that situation come about?

Greg Howe: Well, originallyI was supposed to produce the record, and a neo-classical player from the Czech Republic I think, whose name I can't remember anymore, was going to play guitar on it. And I thought that should really be fun, sitting behind the scenesand taking control, directing something and you know, not necessarly playing, but then things changed as sometimes happened in typical Shrapnel style, they had a falling out. He then quit the project, and then all of a sudden, Mike was asking me to play guitars on the CD, then he asked me to also play bass, so I went from somebody who was only going to be the producer...

Guglielmo Malusardi: To be the one man show (laughing)!

Greg Howe: Yeah, exactly! And Vitalij was a little bit upset about it, he told me,"You know, I don't think it should be listed this way." You know, from the album cover it said guitars by Greg Howe, bass by Greg Howe, mixed by Greg Howe and I told him " Vitalij, I did a lot of work on this. This is what it is you know." So, that's how it came about and it wasn't that much fun of an experience, there was a lot of work and some of that parts were really difficult for me and I had to really work on them.

Guglielmo Malusardi: That experience seemed to have a big influence on your next album "Ascend", where you definitely added many prog textures. Do you agree, or should the whole project be analyzed using another point of view?

Greg Howe: No, as a matter of fact, it was actually a business decision and one that I somewhat regret. You know, "High Definition" sold well, so the Japanese market was becoming excited about me doing a solo album in the same genre and having Vitalij on keyboards. So I figured I'd do it, and you know everytime I make decisions in the past based on money, they always backfire. So, I'm never doing that again. I' m only making decisions from here (touching his heart). Not that the album is terrible, I think it's a good album.

Guglielmo Malusardi: A good album? I love it!

Greg Howe: Oh, thank you!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Your version of "La Villa Strangiato" (I hope that some die hard Rush fan won't kill me when he reads this), is, in my opinion, better than the original!

Greg Howe: Wow, that's great.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Why did you choose that song, are you a Rush fan?

Greg Howe: I was, and I still am. I like the old albums. I went through that. Awesome! You know, when I was that age as a teenager, I never really paid that much attention to their songs, but then going back and listening to it - they really recorded some pretty cool songs.

Guglielmo Malusardi: On your next CD, "Hyperacuity", it sound like a compromise: kind of a mix between your typical trademark style from your first five CDs and the sound from "Ascend" along with new excursions in experimental stuff. Am I right? What's your opinion?

Greg Howe: Yes. There were two things happening during that album: one was that I was trying to make sure that my fans knew that I was not becoming a neo-classical player, I wanted to make sure that they understood that I was coming back. Number two, I'd just gotten the gig with Enrique Iglesias and I was going to be leaving at beginning of 2000, January of 2000. That album was recorded at the end of '99 and I had to finish it. So Kevin Soffera came over to my house. A lot of that album was written in the studio and done in a matter of a few days and because of my lack of time to really prepare songs in the usual fashion that I would, I figured let's just have some fun and try some crazy things.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Yeah, like "Receptionist", for example.

Greg Howe: Yeah, exactly (laughing)!

Guglielmo Malusardi: In your career you experimented with some very different situations. Apart from your solo career you've been called by, and toured the world with pop music heavyweight names like Michael Jackson, N'Sync, Enrique Iglesias and Justin Timberlake. Let's compare the different feelings. Be the "unknown" guitarist of a world famous pop star, playing in front of ten of thousands of people, and be Greg Howe, a world famous guitarist, playing your own music in front of hundreds of devoted fans or clinicing in front of a few dozen of them.

Greg Howe: Which one do I prefer?

Guglielmo Malusardi: Not exactly, the different feelings in the different situations.

Greg Howe: The smaller the crowd is, the smaller the the situation, the more intimidating it is. I can get on stage in front of 60,000 people - no problem.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Even if you play your own music?

Greg Howe: Even with my own music yeah, but sitting doing a clinic in front of dozens of people is much more intimidating. Because it's so... naked. You know?

Guglielmo Malusardi: Yeah, the king is naked.

Greg Howe: Exactly (laughing), yeah.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you still feel comfortable wearing, after almost a twenty year career, the "guitar hero pants"?

Greg Howe: I was never that comfortable with it. I'm being honest with you. When I hear myself play, I only hear my faults so it's very difficult for me to understand what it is that people like so much. I appreciate it, I'm completely flattered, but I feel uncomfortable with it, I don't understand it sometimes.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Maybe you're too modest?

Greg Howe: No, no. You know, when I hear myself as a guitarist it's good, but I don't know, it's hard to explain. I hear so many great guitar players, so it's hard to me to understand why somebody thinks that I'm one of them. So it's been uncomfortable, I like it so much and it always makes me feel like giving these people what they really deserve, because they're giving me some kind of title that I don't know that I'm worthy of yet.

Do you know John Mayer? He won a Grammy a couple of years ago; I can relate what he said when he got on stage, "I promise I'll create music then makes me worthy at having received this award." So I can relate, I feel like I still owe everybody my best project - that I haven't done yet.

Guglielmo Malusardi: This is your first time in Italy playing your own music in a series of clinics (a big thank to Riccardo Cappelli for bring you to Italy!) What 's your feeling about this experience?

Greg Howe: I can't explain how much I appreciated that I am over here, and that we were able to put things together. It's unbelievable. I feel very blessed to have been able to have the privilege of having fans that like my music, and afterwards want to come out and see me play and talk about it. I think it's a real blessing for me.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tonight you will be the guest star at Alessandro Benvenuti's gig. How was this musical joint venture put together?

Greg Howe: Originally the clinic tour would have ended I think a couple of days ago, but was actually I think, Alessandro's idea. I thought immediately that was a great idea, it would be cool. I've heard his playing, I love his playing, so I figured out :"Yeah, let's get together and play, it sounds fun," and I wanted to do it. You know, ideally I'd be over here with Dennis Chambers and Victor Wooten doing some shows, but as I said before, it's hard to put things together, so it was also a way for me to play in a live situation, and not just do clinics.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I heard rumors about a phone call to join the sickest prog metal band in the world, Virgil Donati/Derek Sherinian's Planet X. What was your answer?

Greg Howe: We are talking, we are still talking.

Guglielmo Malusardi: So you're still thinking about it?

Greg Howe: Yeah, yeah (he was laughing because I was whispering/imploring "Do it man, do it.") If anything happens, it won't happen until next year, before January of 2007.

Guglielmo Malusardi: If you received a call like Reb Beach, Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Moore or Steve Morse to join bands like Whitesnake, U.F.O. or Deep Purple, would you accept?

Greg Howe: I don't know, I'm not sure. I mean it would depend on a lot of things; it would depend on the schedule, it would depend on the money and it would depend by how much I enjoy that particular music.

Guglielmo Malusardi: So you should be a fan of whoever would call you?

Greg Howe: I think so, unless, you know, some pop band offered a lot of money and then sometimes it's not smart to refuse it, you know, because I can make my situation better.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Is part of it some fan writing you, "Hey man! What are you doing with that band?"

Greg Howe: Yeah, you know, I think that fans understand that if I can go out and make a lot of money, it makes it easy for me do my own things.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I completely agree. Well, I know you're actually working on an online project. Could you give us more details?

Greg Howe: Yeah, my main project right now is getting this online video. I'm really excited, because I think it'll be really cool, and what it is going to be is every month a new package.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Will it be released through your website?

Greg Howe: We may actually get another website, just for it. There will be clips of me explaining a little bit about what it is, but that's the thing I'm most excited about: people have been asking me over the years how I write songs, how I sequence drums, how I do this lick, how I get tone in the studio, what kind of effects I use, how I mix songs and all these kind of things, and I want to answer talking about everything, business and industry included.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The whole thing?

Greg Howe: Yeah, right. The whole thing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Last question. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Greg Howe: What I'd like, a perfect life for me, would be having the online lessons turn into a big thing, where it's not just me teaching anymore, but also other players that offering lessons through this website.

Guglielmo Malusardi: So you would be a kind of musical supervisor?

Greg Howe: Yes, and it would be a little different then everything else because I want to talk about the whole thing. And then, be involved in musical situations that I'd love to be part of. Three or four months a year I'd go out on tour.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And what about music, I mean your own?

Greg Howe: Yeah, yeah, you know, as I would say in my perfect world...

Guglielmo Malusardi: You would sell out one week at the Madison Square Garden and N'Sync would tour the college clubs.

Greg Howe: Yeah, right! Exactly (laughing). Well it would be nice to just go out with a good band and do some great music and you know twice a month go up to the Baked Potato (a very famous live music club in North Hollywood, California) and play some gigs. Do these kind of things, be involved in music and be involved in contributing to the music, that's really what I want to be doing. I hope to make a comfortable living doing it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: OK Greg, thank you very much for the interview. Any last words for G9 readers?

Greg Howe: For those of you who are fans, I really appreciate knowing that people enjoy what I do and I really appreciate what is doing. Really great.

interview picture
If he were a boxer, we could introduce him as one of the most famous heavy weight champions of all times, but we are talking about a guitar player, that although he was very good in sports (track and American football), decided (thank God) to play guitar. We saw Greg Howe at three different dates of his Italian clinic tour, where he was welcomed by enthusiastic fans that were roaring their appreciation and love for his music.

Guglielmo Malusardi recorded this extremely sincere interview a half an hour before his Rome date, where, after a clinic in the afternoon, he joined the Alessandro Benvenuti band on stage (featuring Pierpaolo Ranieri on bass, Pierpaolo Ferrari on drums and his brother Gianmarco on keyboards), for a fantastic live show.