Interview: Terry Syrek

Guglielmo Malusardi: From the music, the titles of some of the songs and the CD, it's pretty evident that there is a connnection with certain Indian and other ethnic flavors. Can you tell us more, starting with the meaning of the CD title?

Terry Syrek: "Aum" is the sound of the universe. As for the music, many years back I started listening to traditional music from around the world. i always kept coming back to some favorites (North and South Indian, North African and Bulgarian). As I learned a little about some of the music, my appreciation deepened. It was really cool to finally get together with someone who speaks that musical language (Eric, the tabla player) on "Aum" and make music. I'd love to work with more people that come from those musical backgrounds.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you record at your home studio?

Terry Syrek: Yeah, some. We tracked drums at Millbrook Studios in Millbrook, NY; where they did the Liquid Tension Experiment and Transatlantic CDs. And we did the rhythm guitars at Bilos/Debucci studios in New York City.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You thanked deeply in the liner notes your drummer and the CD's co producer Greg Kalember. In the tunes you really played as if you've been band members for a long time.

Terry Syrek: Thanks, yeah, Greg and I have played together for years. We work on just about everything as a team. Though "Aum" is mainly my songs, it was more of a team effort.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's introduce the other musicians on the CD.

Terry Syrek: Hmm, well Eric Phinney played tabla. I had not met him before recording the CD; he was recommended by a friend. Nice guy, did a great job. And Abdul... well, he's the shy type so i won't say much.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You sing on two songs on "Aum". Did you do this because you think that instrumental music is not enough to tell the whole story?

Terry Syrek: Actually, I'm more of a fan of vocal music. Bands (with singers) were what got me into music in the first place.

Guglielmo Malusardi: About your singing, I personally found a similarity between the way you sing the higher notes and the way the Spanish flamenco singers do it. Did they inspire you?

Terry Syrek: Cool, as long as I don't remind you of Elmo from Sesame Street. No, for me I guess it's all the singers I've listened to and admired like Robert Plant, Steve Walsh, Dio, Chris Cornell - though i'm not even gonna pretend i'm anywhere near that good. I just like to sing and hopefully it's OK with everyone else.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I liked so much the words used on the Guitar Nine website to describe "Aum". Kind of like Yngwie meets Meshuggah meets Rush meets Kings X and then goes to an Indian restaurant. That's great! Am I wrong or did they forgot to put Megadeth's "Rust In Peace/Countdown To Extinction" around that amazing inspiring company that sat at that Indian restaurant?

Terry Syrek: Haha, thanks Guglielmo. Maybe, i don't know. There's probably a lot of other bands that could be at the Indian restaurant with us. Could you ask Marty to pass the curry, please?

Guglielmo Malusardi: Keeping with the theme of inspiration, what inspires you the most when you compose your music?

Terry Syrek: Hmm, tough question. Chicks and cars, mainly. Just kiding, hehe. Many things, I suppose. Sometimes it comes more from the head, so to speak. Like, I may have a cool little lick that turns into something bigger. And sometimes it comes more from an emotional state; like, I'll feel a certain way and sit down at the guitar and something just kinda happens.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I read on the liner notes of the CD about the situation with your left hand. What's that all about?

Terry Syrek: Yeah, it's a problem called "focal dystonia". Basically, the third and fourth finger on my left hand don't really work so well. I've had to readapt a lot of things and there are many things I can't do anymore.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: Can you find a remedy?

Terry Syrek: I've been to several doctors and read much about it. There's really no cure. Some people have managed to retrain their hands and arms, so I guess there is hope.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What are your perspectives about guitar playing relating to this pathology?

Terry Syrek: Well, it's made me see things a little differently. I think it's increased the love and appreciation i have for music. Sometimes, when all we do is focus on one aspect of something, we lose sight of the deeper part. For me and guitar, I was really into the fast guitar playing. Still am to a certain extent, but I realize how much more there is to music besides playing fast. Music is one of the deepest forms of communication and when you stop focusing on trying to impress people and focus on trying to communicate with them, it goes to an entirely new level.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Although you have serious problems with your left hand, the technical level of the CD is so high. How did you attain it? I think your story could inspire people in similar situations.

Terry Syrek: Thanks. The old saying 'where there's a will, there's a way' really rings true. If you put all your energy into thinking about what you can't do, it just creates more negative energy. I try to think about what I can still do. I'd say to anyone struggling with something similar to just rethink it. The things you used to do or ways you used to play may not be do-able right now. Maybe they'll come back (if you've lost them) or maybe you're frustrated because you want something, or you want to play a certain way, but because of some limitation you can't. Well, focus on how things are now. Not the past, not the future. Think about what you can do and do it.

The important thing is that you're making music and communicating. For me, that meant focusing on trying different techniques like using more fingers on my right hand for runs, or focusing on writing songs, or singing or whatever. I even took up drums and have really been diggin' it. Every time I find myself getting a bit down about the condition of my hand, I think of some of the amazing people who have overcome something big or persevered in the face of opposition. Jason Becker's story is really inspirational. Here's a guy who was a child prodigy, really, and had just started to make his mark in bigger circles and he got hit with ALS. Now he can't even eat or breathe without a machine. Can't move a single muscle in his body except for his eyes; which he used in conjunction with a computer program his father made to translate his eye movements into speech. He did several CDs this way. i mean... wow! So, I think, "Here I am complaining about how a few of my fingers don't work and Jason still makes music though he can't even move." They told him he had a short time to live, but years later he's still here, remaining positive and working. Blows me away. If the readers don't know the story, go to and take a look.

Guglielmo Malusardi: If you should choose a representative song from "Aum", which one would you choose?

Terry Syrek: Wow, that's tough. As far as solos, I'd say I liked "Dance of the Dark Stars" and "13th Planet", as far as overall songs, maybe "The Maharaja's New Slippers" and as far as songs I'd play for non musicians I'd go with "The Clockmaker Dreams The Perfect Clock".

Guglielmo Malusardi: Who are your main influences?

Terry Syrek: I started guitar because I started really paying attention to music as a small child (age 3 or 4) and knew I wanted to make "that sound". I listened to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple the most from age 3 to age 7, then I became a big Kiss fan and later, AC/DC. At the age of 13, I picked up the guitar and started taking lessons. My early influences were Randy Rhoads, Gary Moore and Angus Young. Then came Yngwie and Paul Gilbert and later Ty Tabor and Allan Holdsworth. Now, it's way less about guitar and more about cool music. i listen to everything from Meshuggah to Chopin to the old prog bands (Genesis, Yes, Rush, Tull, Kansas, ELP, King Krimson) to traditional music from around the world.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk now about your gear. Are you still endorsed by Jackson?

Terry Syrek: Yeah, I was for a while. Not sure if I still am or not. I'm still on the web site, but a few years back Fender bought out Jackson and fired all the employees. I haven't talked to them in a few years. Mainly because the very cool artist rep guy, Kevin Easton, had to go and also because I haven't wanted any new guitars.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Are you a guitar collector, or do you sometimes sell your guitars?

Terry Syrek: Well, I'd say neither. I have a bunch of guitars but I use them all for various things. And I think I've sold maybe one or two guitars in my life. I got them all for good reasons, so I keep them for those same reasons.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which ones did you use on the CD?

Terry Syrek: The rhythm tracks were done on my hideously beautiful purple and green striped Jackson RR custom I got back in '89. The leads were split between another Jackson RR custom they made for me in 2000, a Jackson SL1 custom they made for me in 2002 and a Fender strat. I also used a Takamine nylon string that I've had since I started playing guitar and an Alverez/ Yari 12 string.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Five years ago you released a four track mini CD entitled "Obscura".

Terry Syrek: "Obscura" actually happened after "Aum" in some ways, though I put it out first. "Aum" took me like 6 years to finish for various reasons. I did "Obscura" while I was waiting. It was simple enough, as that it was all recorded here at my studio and I played or programmed all the instruments. With "Aum", I had to wait on and rely on a few other people and situations.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The CD was co-produced and mixed by Sheila Syrek. Who is she?

Terry Syrek: Sheila (aka "The Squee") is my wife. We met at Berklee College of Music. She was an engineering/music synth major and very good at both.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Is "Obscura" still available?

Terry Syrek: Yeah, I still have a few copies around.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I read that you'll appear on the upcoming album of one of my favorite guitar players, Dave Martone. I think you should plan to work together in order to release a "four hands" CD. In my opinion, a combination of your individual styles would be more explosive than a combination between nitro and glycerin - kind of like "Garsed and Helmerich having fun in the hell." What do you think?

Terry Syrek: Yeah, myself and two other guitarists, Chris Buono and James Hogan, did solos on one of Dave's new tracks for his upcoming CD. Everyone kicked some serious ass and sounded great. I would love to do something with Dave, I agree. We planned on trying to do something with Liquid Notes Records but it hasn't come to pass yet.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which guitarists you like listening to the most?

Terry Syrek: I don't listen to many anymore. Partly because I got very burned out on guitar music from listening to tons of it as a kid, partly because I believe listening is an enormously strong influence and I want to try and distance myself in any way I can from sounding too much like someone else, and partly because with the hand condition I have, sometimes it's a little depressing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: European guitarists, Italians particularly, have a common opinion. To have more success and consequently larger fame and, last but not least, larger profits, would be enough. What's your point of view? Do you agree?

Terry Syrek: My goal is just to continue to make music and hopefully it speaks to people. I don't care so much about fame, I don't care so much about profit. The fact that I can still get up in the morning and play guitar and record something and maybe have a few people interested in hearing it is really cool. I'd say to European guitarists, or any guitarists, just make good music. America is a relatively cool place at times, but don't expect to have many people interested in musicianship; especially instrumental guitar CDs. When you have people named Chingy and 50 Cent leading the charts of popular music, be assured that your 20 minute neo-classical guitar epic based on the "Lord Of The Rings" won't have a snowball's chance in hell.

Guglielmo Malusardi: A very common question posed to musicians is, "Do you prefer the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" I would focus more on guitar and I would ask you, "Do you prefer Satriani or Vai?"

Terry Syrek: Ha, ha. I prefer the Rolling Satrianis, actually. Well, really I think both those guys are great players. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Although I gotta give points to Joe for being cool. When I was 16, i got his phone number and a friend and I called him. We were like, "Joe?" and he said, "Yeah?". He thought it was some kind of joke for the first two minutes but then realized it was a couple of kids and he was the nicest guy to us.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What are your plans for the future?

Terry Syrek: I'm writing stuff for the next CD. Right now, it's a little more of a vocal thing. As long as the hand holds up, there'll be plenty of guitar, though. We'll see. I also have a track I did with Bumblefoot called "Threehundredpointtwentyone" that will be on the soon to be released "Alchemists, Volume 2" from Liquid Notes Records.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Last question. Could you be so kind as to tell me what you wrote on the inside package of the CD? I used a mirror because I found I needed one in order to read that reverse writing. But I had to give up.

Terry Syrek: Ha, ha. Keep trying! It's a very cool quote from a very cool individual - that's all I'll say.

Original Italian language interview appeared in Axe Magazine n.113 September 2006 - © Guglielmo Malusardi / Edizioni Palomino

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Metal food, curry spiced... We could jokingly, but nicely, file Terry Syrek's last CD in this category. In his latest release, "Aum", this amazing American guitar player, a Berklee College of Music graduate, shows all his musical abilities and sensibilities. "Aum" is the CD that has been described as "kinda like
Yngwie meets Meshuggah meets Rush meets Kings X and then goes to an Indian restaurant."

Guglielmo Malusardi recently caught up with Syrek to talk about his CD, the music and other interesting things - not just about music, but about life.