Interview: Michael Abdow

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

Michael Abdow: I wrote the songs heard on "Native Alien" over the course of a few years leading up to the summer of 2009. "Redemption '04" was actually written and recorded in the fall of 2004! I felt a sentimental need to put it on the album because it was the first real instrumental song I wrote and recorded. The process was very drawn out because during that time I also recorded a full-length album with my band Frozen, was working a full-time job, and was gigging/rehearsing constantly. With "Native Alien" I was musically hoping to achieve nothing more than to write genuine songs that I love and to grow as a player and songwriter.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you practice in order to get to the advanced level of playing you are now at?

Michael Abdow: Initially I spent many hours each day practicing technique. The only goal I really set for myself was to practice for a certain amount of time each week. Sometimes it was thirty hours, sometimes forty, sometimes more. During this time, I would assess my progress and make adjustments to my approach to achieve the most for my time spent with the instrument. I also took lessons from my friend and former instructor Tom Kopyto. Soon after rigorous practice commenced, I began working on application; that is writing music and playing in bands.

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

Michael Abdow: In my opinion, the essentialities of a great guitar solo include emotion, intent and conviction. To not emote in music is to not be a musician. Shredding is so often shunned by players and fans because they perceive it as requiring "too many notes" to get the point across when really its purpose is to build tension or push a climax to produce an overwhelming impression of a feeling. It is the most elemental form of impressionism in music. With that said, it is certainly not required in a great solo. I personally love to hear melody and hooks in solos as well as lyrically slow/wide vibrato and story-telling phrasing capped off with shredding licks that make you want to fall to pieces.

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

Michael Abdow: My two favorite tracks from "Native Alien" are "Eurasia" and "Tell Me Why". In "Eurasia", I have what I feel to be the best song I've written so far, as well as chemistry between the players involved; assumingly because we're all in Frozen (Jon/bass, Kenny/vocals, Colin/drums). I'm also a huge fan of Kenny's vocals, not only on this song but in general. "Tell Me Why" is very exploratory in its composition but still retains the hooks that I love in songwriting. I really like the interplay between the guitar layers and I feel like Mike (drums) and Jon (bass) really nailed and enhanced what I was going for. I almost feel like the song grabs the listener as effectively as a great vocal song; at least that's what it does for me.

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

Michael Abdow: "Tat Tvam Asi" is the live track on "Native Alien" and has been my only live exposure as an instrumentalist thus far. The track was 100% improvised at a show with my '80s cover band Aquanett. Aside from that, I'm putting together a four-piece gigging band to play some of the music from "Native Alien" as well as a bunch of new music I'm writing for my next solo record.

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

Michael Abdow: I'm not sure that certain fans prefer instrumental music, but I do know quite a few that are impartial to the inclusion of vocals in music; contrary to most actually preferring vocals. I personally gravitate toward instrumentals because most of the time I want to hear a lot of guitar. In instrumental music you get not only more guitar, but typically more diverse guitar playing as a consequence of the instrument needing to carry the song. This aspect really makes it appealing to guitar enthusiasts. Also the playing and composition of the overall band on instrumental recordings is more complex. This especially appeals to fans of progressive rock/metal or more technical genres such as classical or jazz.

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

Michael Abdow: Many! There are so many awesome new players out there as well as guys who have been around for a while who are still putting out incredible stuff. Concerning new players I have to note Daniele Gottardo from Italy. The guy can play anything, has great tone and is a great songwriter. I feel what he plays! Some of my hardly-new but very favorite players are Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, and John Sykes. Also, my labelmates Adrian English and Toby Knapp are incredible talents who cannot be missed.

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

Michael Abdow: Aside from purely guitar-oriented music, I like jazz, classical, underground electronic, hip-hop and some dance music. Also, I have recently been turned on to traditional Thai music. Guitar-oriented music comprises approximately 95% of what I listen to.

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Dan McAvinchey: Do you use any social media sites to promote yourself or your recordings?

Michael Abdow: I use both Facebook and Myspace to promote myself. Facebook is where most people are these days and Myspace is far superior for musicians so I have both. I have an official website coming soon (

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

Michael Abdow: A solo record is in the works (100% instrumental this time). I'm putting together a live band to play the music potentially far and wide. I am also working on new music for the next Frozen record.

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

Michael Abdow: The first person that comes to mind is Daniel Gildenlow from Pain of Salvation. He has been one of my biggest inspirations and musical heroes for over the last ten years; an absolutely brilliant musician and human being.

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Recently signed to Shredguy Records by their president Mike McDowell, guitarist Michael Abdow has been sharpening his skills with the heavy metal band Frozen, and is now ready to be introduced to the guitar community as one of its most melodic players. "Native Alien" is the title of his 2010 release, which featrues seven blazing instrumental tracks along with two vocal numbers.

Dan McAvinchey asked Abdow to share with Guitar Nine his guitar roots, his opinions on the guitar community, and his thoughts on releasing instrumental music at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.