Interview: Rob Balducci

Guglielmo Malusardi: Well, let's start talking about your 'new born baby', "The Color Of Light" - your third album, the second one released for Favored Nations. You wrote some lines to explain the meaning of every song on the CD, would you like to comment on every song in a technical way for the readers?

Rob Balducci: Yes. "The Color Of Light" is my new baby and I am very proud of the new recording. I will talk about some of the tracks and/or solo sections that I think stand out to me. Some will be technical and some will be just ramblings in general.

"Falling Water", This track has one of my favorite lead tracks on the CD. This lead track was one of the ones where I had a little of it planned out. I had this cool octave melody for the introduction to the solo and I did a nice harmony to it. It also has this cool arpeggio sequence. I use an unusual arpeggio pattern that covers a lot of ground harmonically, it is essentially in the key of B minor. I look at this sequence of notes as a collection of four arpeggios. The first arpeggio is an ascending Db Major arpeggio starting on the 7th (C) and ending on the 5th (Ab), followed by an ascending C minor arpeggio starting on the root (C) and ending on the 5th (Bb). Then, coming down I use a D Major arpeggio starting on A, ending on the A an octave lower, followed by a descending 3 note triad starting on the G# , ending on a B, sliding down to an A# resolution . The A# is a somewhat dissonant note to resolve to, since the rhythm riff is built around B minor. To me, this adds some color to the riff. The next part of the solo is based around F# Mixolydian mode and is improvised, and the phrasing is somewhat chaotic. I was just messsing around playing over the rhythm guitar parts and we ended up choosing what we thought sounded the best.

The next track that I think is very cool is the title track "The Color Of Light" I love the feel of this song. It has such a heavy feel in the verse sections. I was thinking in my head of like Metalica and Dream Theater. The rhythm guitar tracks are doubled and sound nice and big. The Cornford amps sound amazing in the studio. This CD is not over produced. I was going for a guitar sound that was more like my live sound, which is just my MK 50 Cornford head and 4x12 Cornford bottom and my Ibanez guitars and a little delay, so what you hear is really just that. Not much EQ was added to the mix at all on the whole CD.

Another stand out track to me is "The Queen Of Cups" The song was inspired by and written for my mother. My songwriting is usually inspired by elements in my life experience. I find it helpful to my songwriting to focus on my thoughts on a particular feeling or emotion. In this case, it is my relationship with my mother. The melody is in the key of A Major and has elements of a waltz (an odd time waltz, if ever there was one). The melody was written before I had a chord progression for it, so when I wrote the progression to go underneath it I approached it from a jazz chord-melody perspective. If you listen to just chords, the melody is contained within the chord movement. The chords are basically triad forms over a droning open A. I think of Brian May when I hear this song for some reason.. I love his melodies and vibrato.

"RU Divine" is another tack that I love a lot. The song is asking the question, "are you divine?" Basically meaning if we are created in the image of our creator, we have the power to heal ourselves and heal and help the world around us. It is a very deep song and I love the way it came out. I originally had the idea to have this song recorded as a real trio - meaning just guitar, bass and drums with no overdubs. After recording the bass and drum parts and me being the anal one in the studio, I ending up going against the original idea. I am happy I did because I love the rhythm guitar parts and how they sound. The clean guitar parts you hear are a combination of my main Ibanez guitar and an old Ibanez Strat that just sounds so beautiful. The lead melody guitar is going through the Cornford MK 50 head through a Cornford 4 x 12 cab. I am using my main Ibanez guitar, the head is set for minimal overdrive and I am also running through and old Chandler tube overdrive pedal (used to be Satriani's) The sound of the lead break and melody guitars are so nice. I think the feeling I was going for was captured. The sound you hear at the end of the song mixed in with the guitar is a patch off of Pro Tools. Scott Noll, the engineer at MidTown sound where I recorded this CD, was messing around with different patches and we decided on this sound. I think it sounds weird!

"Empress" is another one of my favorite tracks on "The Color Of Light". This song was inspired by, and written for, my wife Carina. When I write songs I want the melody of the song to be able to stand on its own. "Empress" is a track that I feel really captures this idea. If I play the melody on the guitar and play only the melody without any other instruments, this melody stands out on its own. Even the lead break sections stand out on their own. The melody really sticks in your head, which is my main goal when I write my songs. Another cool thing about this track is the feedback that happens in the middle of the song after the solo break and at the ending of the song. I remember when we recorded this I closed myself up in the booth with the amp blazing, and I found the sweet spot in the room where I thought the feedback was best - and we went for it. The ending feedback is so cool - it goes to 4 harmonic levels! In combination with the Ibanez guitar and Cornford amp I also used a modded Boss SD-1 modded by Robert Keeley of Keeley Electronics.. I endorse Keeley's products because they are just awesome and add to your tone and do not take away from your tone. I also want to mention George L's cables. I only use these cables and in combination with all my other equipment - the tone is just to die for.

Guglielmo Malusardi: After "Balance" and "Mantra", produced by Ben Fowler, you took the producer role into your own hands (together with Ethan Meixsell). What pushed you in this direction?

Rob Balducci: This new CD was produced by Ethan Meixsell and I. It went in this direction basically because of funds. Ben Fowler, who is just awesome, and I am so happy and lucky to have worked with him on my first two releases, is a very busy person. Timing and money were two reasons why I decided to go this route. Ethan and I have worked together before on other projects that I have done. I have been doing some tribute CDs on Progressive Arts music. Ethan and I worked together on "Crushing Day" (the Satriani tribute CD), "Rewired" (the Jeff Beck tribute CD) and the upcoming release on Progressive Arts Music label, a Santana tribute CD. Ethan, who is not only a great bass player and keyboard player, is also a singer and guitar player. We met around the time "Balance" came out; Ethan studied guitar with me for around three years, and in that time we became great friends. He knows my music and knows what I am looking for - so we made a great team. I really would not change a thing on this CD.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did you feel in this new role?

Rob Balducci: It feels great! I love the studio and I love the whole recording process. This was a learning experience for me as well as Ethan. The next CD we work on will be just that much better.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I know you need quite long time to give an album to the listeners . Let's talk about the genesis of "The Color Of Light" from the real beginning, to April the 19th.

Rob Balducci: Well to go back a little bit into the past. "Mantra" took some time to release because I was looking for a distribution company to release the CD. I don't have to tell you the sad state the music business in and what kind of bands are being signed to major record labels. I knew I had a great CD with good songs, so I waited till I found someone who believed in it to release it. Thus I ended up talking with Steve Vai and he was gracious enough to put out "Mantra" in Japan and then Europe in 2001 and the end of 2002. So in that long period of trying to find a label I was not really writing new songs, I found it difficult writing new songs when I had a full CD ("Mantra") waiting in the wings.. Once "Mantra" was released we then ended up touring for it in the US as well as in Europe. When you are at the level that I am as an artist, it is very grass roots. You have to take it a day at a time and play and promote yourself as much as possible. This takes time.

I started writing for my new CD "The Color Of Light" around when "Mantra" was released - around 2002. The first songs that were written were "Dementia" and "Of The Earth". My songwriting process in a difficult one. I am not your typical songwriter. You hear a lot of bands saying they go into the studio with 20 songs and pick the best 10 to 14 songs. I don't do that. I need the songs to have meaning and they revolve around things in my life - whether personal experience or from reading a book or seeing a movie. I then take the feeling or the emotion I get from whatever and start to write a song about it.

"The Color Of Light" was written starting at the end of 2002 through 2003 and the beginning of 2004. We entered the studio at the end of February, and we finished mixing and mastering in December of 2004. We took a long time mastering the CD because Favored Nations had to schedule us for a release date, so the reason why it was released in April of 2005 is because that is what was available on Favored Nations.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you describe "the arsenal at your command" in the recording studio?

Rob Balducci: I recorded "The Color Of Light" at MidTown sound New York. The studio was awesome and the environment was great for creativity. We recorded this CD all in Pro Tools; some of the studio equipment used was: Pro Tools HD (24 bit 192k sampling) Yamaha DM2000, Macintosh G4 Dual Processor, Genelec 1031A monitors, Yamaha NS10 monitors, 2 Avalon 727 mic pre-amps, Avalon 1031,TubeTech compressor, Digidesogn Midi I/O, Reason Sampling Software, and an extensive plug-in collection. As far as my equipment, I used my collection of Ibanez guitars: my main Ibanez Libra guitar, My Ibanez RG 7 string, an old Ibanez super 70'a Les Paul, Ibanez Silver series Strat, Ibanez AE acoustic, Ibanez nylon acoustic, Cornford MK 50 head, Cornford 4x12 cabinet with vintage 30 Celestions, Morley wah wah, Digitech Whammy One (original), Boss SD-1 Keeley modded, Keeley Compressor, Chandler tube overdrive pedal, Fulltone ultimate octave, and an MXR Phase 90. All guitars are strung with D'Addario strings, all cables used are George L's cables. Guitar pick-ups are all Dimarzio. I also used an electric sitar that I rented from Carol Music in New York City.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about the musicians on the CD.

Rob Balducci: I am very proud to have worked with some great musicians on the recording of this CD. Some musicians included on this CD are: Rob Stankiewicz - drums, Ethan Meixsell - bass, Keyboards, piano, Maria Dessena - piano and Rhodes, Jim Pegg - percussion, and Ben Whitman - djembe and tambourine.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk now about your live band. I saw you playing live in the last three years and every time there were some lineup change. Did you get "the famous Swedish disease" virus, or there is some other reason?

Rob Balducci: Ha ha - no disease! The reason for the lineup changes is that this is a very hard business, and it is very rough trying to make ends meet. I also want to surround myself with musicians who have good attitudes and who will play my music the way I see it being played. I have been doing this since I was 11 years old and I have put a lot (and when I say a lot I mean a lot) of time and energy and my own money into my career. I need people in this band to have respect for my craft and the time and energy it took to get here. So I am always on the quest to find not only people who can play, but people who have the talent - and talent with no egos. No room for egos in The Rob Balducci Band.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Kidding aside, let's talk about the ultimate lineup of the band. Being a gentlemen, we have to start with the drummer - a not so common one.

Rob Balducci: Yes, let's start with the drummer - on drums we have the talented and beautiful Veronica Bellino. Veronica is an awesome musician and is a great addition to the band. She is an all-around talent and her attitude is one that works well for all associated with this band. She was able to write out the drum parts from my CDs and play right off the manuscripts. This surprised the hell out of me and was a great plus for us. She was able to fit into the band and learn the material much faster.

On bass we have Ethan Meixsell. Ethan is also very talented and is an awesome all-around musician. His attitude goes hand in hand with being a great musician. I am very fortunate to be playing and touring with these two fabulous and young musicians. God willing, this will be the lineup for the next CD.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Satriani, Vai, Pitrelli, Petrucci, Balducci...All from New York and all with some italian blood. Is it a kind of secret to became a real guitar hero?

Rob Balducci: That's funny, ya know we are all from really the same area. The secret is rumored to be in the New York, Long Island water and, well, ya know, eating a lot of pasta!

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Guglielmo Malusardi: Keeping the light on Vai, "The Color Of Light" is your second released for his label, Favored Nations. I think that a lot of guitarists would like to put their signature on the same paper you signed. How did you become a Favored Nations artist?

Rob Balducci: At the time when I was looking to get "Mantra" released, Steve Vai was also working on getting his own label together. I've known Steve for some time - since his Relativity days. I ended up sending him a copy of "Mantra". He told me that once he got the label going he would give it another listen and let me know if and when he might be able to release it. The thing you have to understand is this is a business, and in business you have to make money. It is a hard enough thing as it is to make money off of music, never mind instrumental music. I followed up with Steve and he said he wanted to release "Mantra" in Japan. We released "Mantra" in Japan first and then Favored Nations released it in Europe. The CD did well for an independent artist. Plus there was not to much promotion at all behind it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What is it like to work with him?

Rob Balducci: I would first like to say that I feel it is an honor to be signed to the Favored Nations label. It is awesome to be associated with a label that has such great artists on it - Eric Johnson, Dave Weiner, Eric Sardinas, Alan Holdsworth, Steve Lukather, Billy Sheehan and many, many more. As far as working with Steve, I can say that it is a pleasure, I said this in another interview a while back and I want to say it again. The business of music is in a sad state, labels do not sign bands or musicians for their talent - it all goes by trends and what is hot at the moment. The people running most labels today are finance people. The age of developing an artist is long gone.

Steve Vai is from the old school of music label CEOs and presidents, he is a music man. By that I mean he is able to see something in an artist or a musician. Something that he finds is talented or meaningful, or says something to his inner spirit. He then in turn signs that artist or band and releases their music. It is an honor to have my music released on Favored Nations Entertainment and I never take this for granted.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I know that the titles of your songs are strictly connected with the songs themeselves. Tell us a little more about this.

Rob Balducci: I draw my inspiration for writing songs from relationships I have with other people, movies that have made me feel a certain way, dreams (and nightmares) I've had, and even books I've read. I find writing songs this way really helps me focus on a feeling or emotion. I think people can really relate to my music because of the emotional content in my songs. I receive emails from fans who say, for example, my song "Waiting For The Son" from "Balance" had an effect on them when they hear it. This one fan said, "Wow you must have been going through so much when you wrote this song, it almost makes me cry when I hear your guitar at the end of the song". The song "Waiting for The Son" was written for my brother-in-law who died of cancer. As a composer, getting emails like this really feels great because I know my message is being received. On "The Color Of Light" I took it to the next level by writing a blurb about what each song means, I hope this helps people who listen to it relate my experiences to things in there own life.

Guglielmo Malusardi: In my personal opinion, instrumental music is the highest form of musical art. Every human being from every country, language and even religion can enjoy it immediately and totaly without any barrier. What is your opinion about this?

Rob Balducci: I totally agree with you! I would not be doing this if I did not feel the same way. I am a musician and artist, first and formost. My songs are my art, and I am very connected to it. It is my opinion, the more people that hear my music the more they will like it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How was your first meeting with music? You met her, or as somebody once said, she met you? How old were you the day that you told to yourself, "I wanna be a professional musician?"

Rob Balducci: My first meeting with music was through my older sister Barbara. When I was just a little baby, Barbara would hold me and listen to the Rolling Stones and other records she had. Barbara used to sing and play the guitar. When I was around 10 or 11 years old Barbara let me play her acoustic guitar. I remember it, it was an old Sekovia guitar and the strings were many inches off the fretboard - my worse nightmare. I was hooked! I stared taking lessons at the age of 11 at a local music store called Larry Downs. I ended up teaching there when I turned 14 years old. I taught there until around 18 years old. After that I started teaching guitar from my house. I still give lessons to this day. I knew right away that I wanted to be a musician, I would stay up all day and night practicing. The guitar and music took me to a better place; I was hypnotised by it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The more I meet guitarists, the more I know that they are not pretty "updated" about the guitar scene...Maybe because everybody is busy with their own music...What about you?

Rob Balducci: Well, I wouldn't say I am not updated. I know what's going on around me and I listen sometimes to what is on the radio. The guitar scene today is not that interesting. What is being played on the radio in the USA sucks.The radio and media are all controlled by big corporations. Radio is very much still involved in payola. I am going against the grain doing what I do. I am doing not this to make money (I would have quit a long time ago), I am doing this for the love of the guitar and for my art. I once said, "I am like a warrior and It is an uphill battle at every show and around every corner". It is labels like Favored Nations and web sites like Guitar9 that help artists like me win the war.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You seem to be pretty well endorsed, give us some more details.

Rob Balducci: I am not one of those guitar players who like to talk about all the companies they endorse and go out and try to pick up any and every endorsement they can. I call them endorsement whores.

I am very thankful to all the companies that I endorse. If I am using a product, it is because I feel that they are the best and I would be using it endorsed or not. I am proud to endorse Ibanez Guitars, Cornford anplification, Dimarzio Pick-ups, D'addario strings, Morley pedals, Robert Keeley pedals, George L's cables and OnBoard Research Tuners.

These companies have been very supportive of me throughout my career. I feel that with their help I was able to express my creativity and take my music and playing to a higher place.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Coming back to your new release...You broke all the duration barriers, "R U Divine" and "I Bleed" are beyond six minutes and you reach and go beyond seven minutes with "Empress" and "Ciree3" (my personal favorite from the album). Did you do it on purpose, or did you simply need more minutes to express yourself?

Rob Balducci: This is one of the great things about being an artist on Favored Nations. I am in control of my art. When I write songs, I never think about how long a song is - my songs and arrangements are done the way I envision it. If a song is a certain amount of time in length it is because it took me that long to express my idea and arrange my thoughts.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Talking about long compositions, did you ever think to compose a kind of guitar suite, I mean one really long piece, structured in several parts (a la Patrick Rondat in his album "Amphibia")?

Rob Balducci: I like the idea you are speaking of, I just have not done that sort of composition yet. Maybe on a future CD, you never know.

Guglielmo Malusardi: There is another 'new taste' on "The Color Of Light", your acoustic debut on "Cupra". How did this idea come about?

Rob Balducci: Yes, "Cupra" is a very cool tune. It is actually the introduction to "Ciree3". I had this idea of the song "Cupra" for many years. I just did not know what to do with it or how to place it on a CD. I originally had the song being longer and with a lead over it. But it just seemed to fit better the way it is now on this CD. This song could also work as a Spanish guitar piece - would also be very cool to do.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Ten years have passed since your first released "Balance". How do you feel looking back?

Rob Balducci: I feel great looking back. I would not change a thing. I feel things happen and are a certain way for a reason. This is my third CD and looking back I would not change a note. I feel as an artist that I have grown with each CD. I also feel that each CD has a great selection of songs. Each song on every CD has its purpose. There are no filler tunes on my CDs. Not many other artist can say the same.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What are your goals for the near future?

Rob Balducci: My immediate goals are to play as many shows as I can. We will be touring in support of this CD through 2005-2006 and will play in the USA and Europe. In June/July 2005 "The Color Of Light" will also be released in Japan with a special bonus track titled "The Black Garden Of Lillith". My next goal will be to write music for the next CD and record it with this band. I am slowly developing new song ideas - to mention a few titles, "Float" and "Sleestack".

Guglielmo Malusardi: You were born, grew up and are still living in New York City. Do you still feel some 9/11 effect in the air after almost four years?

Rob Balducci: Yes we still feel the effect here in New York. I think mostly on our economy. I actually think that after four years that most of the public and our government have forgotten. It is a horrible thing to say. I feel that we should have more police and our armed forces should be more active all over our city and country. I feel another attack will happen - the only question is when.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When you wrote "Black Garden", did you think about that tragedy?

Rob Balducci: "Black Garden" was written with 9/11 in mind, but it has to do more with the state of the world. When I look at the news all you hear about is the unrest all over the world - people dying, children starving. Evil is winning and we all need to come together as human beings and help save our world.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Microsoft's Bill Gates says all music will be digitally distributed by 2010. What's your opinion about this?

Rob Balducci: I feel that a lot of music will be digitally distributed, the reason being is because of the sad state of the music industry. It is easier for artist to just release records themselves and sell it through our web sites then to share our profit with a record company who is ripping us off as well as ripping off the consumers.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I remember a Steve Vai sentence, "To a lot of people a great guitar solo sounds like a series of Morse code."

Rob Balducci: Not sure what this means, to me I think it means that most people hear guitar solos as something they can't quite grasp. But a real guitar solo should not be a series of Morse code, but should be something a listener can remember and relate to.

Guglielmo Malusardi: That's all Rob. I thank you very much indeed for the interview and feel free to say what you want to Guitar Nine readers.

Rob Balducci: I would first like to thank you, Guglielmo, and Guitar Nine for their support of my music. I want to thank all the Guitar Nine fans for their support over the years. Without guitar fans and fans of music it would be even harder for artists like me to do anything. Please help us win the war and support instrumental music! I hope you guys dig "The Color Of Light" and please visit my web site at, and email me your thoughts and questions - or just say hi!

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There are so many reasons to think about New York City, one of the very first, for those into guitar music is undoubtedly Rob Balducci. The Queens based guitarist, a brilliant member of the unofficial 'New York Italian guitar legends', just released his third album, entitled "The Color Of Light", that surely will increase the number of fans of his music all around the world.

Guglielmo Malusardi snagged the busy Balducci and got him to open up about his new album and about all things musical.