Interview: Toshi Iseda

Dan McAvinchey: Toshi, what were you trying to achieve with the new RAMA CD as compared to your first solo release, "Full On!"?

Toshi Iseda: Since the CD was co-produced by myself, Andy West, and Mike Keneally,
it was bound to be a departure from my solo CD where I was in control of
everything. The RAMA CD is a project for one thing. It's a collaborative
effort by all the musicians who participated on it. No one was told what to
play or how to play certain parts or any of that.

When Andy lived in Chicago a few years back we had a band called
RAMA and this CD is essentially a take off of that. Many of the songs on the
CD are ones that we played in this band. Basically Andy and myself chose
all these guys not just for their ability to play their particular
instruments, but also for their creative minds and musical input. They're all
friends who we simply wanted to make some cool music with, really.

Whereas on "Full On!" I was totally in control. From not only
having written all the music, producing it, engineering it and doing it all
in my studio, but down to what I wanted to hear from different individuals and
the actual artwork.

Everyone included in the project include myself on guitar, Andy
West (The Dixie Dregs) on bass, drummers Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater/Liquid
Tension Experiment), Rod Morgenstein (The Dixie Dregs/Winger/Jazz is Dead)
and Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani/Einstein). On keyboards we have Jens
Johanssen (Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarious), T. Lavitz (The Dixie Dregs/Jazz
Is Dead), Kit Watkins and Mike Keanelly (Frank Zappa/Steve Vai/Beer For
Dolphins) who also did some guitar stuff too. This is the first time the
original Dixie Dregs rhythm section has recorded together since the last
"original" Dregs album. So needless to say it's pretty exciting!

Sound Clip from new RAMA CD.

Dan McAvinchey: Where was the new CD recorded?

Toshi Iseda: The RAMA CD was recorded in various studios around the country... and the world. I recorded all my parts at my studio, Over The Top!
Studios. Andy recorded all his bass tracks at his studio in Arizona. Mike
Portnoy recorded his drum tracks at Beat Street Studios in Manhattan, which
is actually owned by (drummer) Joe Franco. Rod Morgenstein recorded his drum
tracks at Tikki Studios in Long Island. Jens Johanssen recorded his
keyboards at his studio in Sweden. Mike Keneally recorded his parts at Andy's
place. Jonathan Mover recorded his drums at Alien Flyer Studios in
Manhattan. T. Lavitz at his studio. So you see, we literally recorded in many
different places.

Dan McAvinchey: RAMA features a number of drummers and keyboard players. What do you get from interacting with a variety of musician on one project?

Toshi Iseda: Well, it's kinda funny in that respect because I've never met or
even talked to Jens Johanssen or Kit Watkins, but yet we have this record
together. (laughs) That's all in "thanks" to technology. So as far as "interacting" goes I'm not quite sure how to answer that. (laughs) Everyone else involved in the project are friends that I've known for a long time.

For example Mike Portnoy and I were at Berklee College of Music
together. Jonathan Mover was actually living in the Boston area (he's from
there) but not going to Berklee. He used to teach drums to some of my buddies
like Bobby Domings who plays drums on "Custer's Last Groove", a track from my
CD 'Full On!'

Dan McAvinchey: What will your second solo CD be like?

Toshi Iseda: It'll be a lot heavier. I've played a few of the tracks for close
friends and I think the best description would be, imagine Back Label
Society meets Pantera... but instrumental! (laughs) Yes, it's gonna be
HEAVY folks!

Unlike my first CD, we won't be giving any "sneak peaks" to the
general public of this one. I had three different songs from "Full On!" that came
out on Guitar World magazine's "Indie Bin" CDs. As well as a one of a kind
version of "Maryjane Rottencrotch" that came out on the first CD. I'm the
only person who has a song on all four of the "Indie Bin" CDs. I think we over
did it a little. We were just really excited to get the music heard and out

This next CD will also be slimmed down. Meaning it won't be as
long as "Full On!". "Full On!" is a little over 74 minutes of music, which is
not really easy to digest in one sitting. I was really wanting to give people
their money's worth for the CD so I put all this music on there. (laughs) Not
to worry though, this one will have plenty of bang for the buck but will have
all the "fat trimmed off"... to quote Dimebag Darrell.

I'll also have some very cool people guesting on the CD, like Phil Bynoe (bassist for Steve Vai), Snake Green and Paul Hopkins from the band 'Skinlab' and quite a few more that I'll leave as a surprise. Remember, I don't want to give away too much info on this CD. (laughs)

Dan McAvinchey: Did you try any new recording techniques or modify your equipment set up for your most current recording projects?

Toshi Iseda: Well, as for new recording techniques, I'm always experimenting.
That's one of the advantages of owning your own pro studio. So that's kind of
a given. The one thing I did use to record with though is the Randall
'Isolation Cab'. We were able to capture some great tones with it. It was
very helpful, especially when it got really late at night! (Laughs) I'll also
be using that on the road for a direct feed to the mixing board for true
isolation. I've used it on a few select gigs and it really helps clean the
mix up in front.

I did use a Carvin Legacy half stack that is simply amazing!
Steve Vai sent me a Carvin Legacy half stack as a gift last year and let me tell you brother, this thing absolutely KILLS! I was extremely impressed by this amp straight outta the box. I had GREAT tones on both channels in less than 30 seconds after I got it all plugged up. Literally! Steve and Carvin really out did themselves when they built the Legacy. I honestly believe that they've set a new standard for amp companies to live up to. This great of a tone at this great of a price is gonna be hard to beat. Way to go guys!

I might even try to incorporate it into my live setup too. The
only concern is that my whole rig is MIDIed together, including the Trace
Elliot 'Speed Twin' amps I use and the Legacy isn't MIDI compatible...
yet. Everything has to be able to speak to each other, especially when it
comes to changing between clean and distorted tones. So, we'll see. It'd be
great if Carvin could put this Legacy head into a rack mount version and MIDI
it. Hear that guys - hint, hint. (laughs)

Besides that, I'm using very few pieces of new gear. I 'm really
very happy with what I've been using for, in some cases, years now. I'll give
you a run down of what I'm using; Washburn guitars (electric) outfitted with
Dimarzio pickups and straps, Eventide processors (exclusively live and in the
studio), Gibson strings and picks, Trace Elliot 'Speed Twin' amps - three
heads and three 4x12 cabs, Ovation acoustics, SansAmp (Tech 21) amp
simulators, Morley and Dunlop wah and volume pedals, Monster Cable (the
'Studio Pro 1000' cable exclusively), Audix microphones and everything is
plugged into Furman Voltage regulators and conditioners. You can check my web site at for pictures of everything.

Dan McAvinchey: Are there any other guitarists you'd love to record or collaborate with in the future?

Toshi Iseda: Very few. Not so much guitarists as opposed to recording artists
though. As far as guitarists, mostly a lot of friends. While I have been incredibly lucky to jam and record with some of the best in the business, Greg Howe is definitely at the top of my list. He's one of the very few guys out there playing stuff where I ask myself "how's he doing that?" (laughs) Steve Vai. Zakk Wylde. John Petrucci. He's been a long time friend so I definitely feel one of these days we'll have to do something together.

I'm not as much a fan of guitar as I am of music in general. So other artists I'd like to collaborate with would be David Bowie, DMX, Prince, Byork, Rob Zombie, Trent Rezner, Nelly, man, the list could go on and on.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel doing clinics enhances your musical career?

Toshi Iseda: It's allowed me go to places and promote myself where I wouldn't
have been able to have even dreamed of going to. Places like Argentina! Last
year I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina and had a GREAT time. I was there for
Washburn guitars and their distributor, Tevelam S.R.L., treated me like a
king. Everyone was so wonderful to "work" with. Playing in Espana (Spain) was
the same. All my bro's at Alberti/Adagio were absolutely wonderful to play
for and hang out with. Hey guys, remember the "Carioca"! I LOVED both of
those places! The people were all so very warm and friendly.

I've done clinics/workshops/performances in Germany, Spain, Japan, Greece, Sweden, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Canada, Belgium and of course the U.S. Being one of the top clinicians in the U.S. has gotten me to places I only read about in school.

Of the current companies I endorse, I've done clinics for Washburn guitars, Eventide, SansAmp (Tech 21), Morley, Gibson strings and accessories, Trace Elliot, Monster Cable and DiMarzio.

Dan McAvinchey: What musical directions do you see yourself exploring in the future?

Toshi Iseda: Jeez, I don't really know. I mean I listen to so much music and
so many different kinds of music, I don't know what I'll be doing next Tuesday, let alone six months from now, or next year.

interview pic

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel the music press, including the well-known guitar magazines, are currently dealing with guitar-oriented music, especially from instrumental artists and bands?

Toshi Iseda: They're not. Not really. It's a little disheartening to see guys like
Kid Rock on the cover of Guitar World when there are people like Tony
MacAlpine who have never been on the cover of any of the guitar magazines in the U.S. I mean let's face it, that guy should be on the cover of not only all the guitar mags but Keyboard too!

This is a touchy subject for me because a lot of the guys at these
magazines are guys that I'm friends with and that I see at every N.A.M.M.
show or Frankfurt MusikMesse show and that I go out to dinner with or have a
drink with.

Understand that I do buy all the guitar mags when they come out. I have every issue of Guitar World since the start when Johnny Winter was on
the cover, every issue of Guitar F.P.M./Guitar/Guitar One since they started
with Steve Howe on the cover and every issue of Guitar Player since 1979 and
selected ones before then.

I understand that the bottom line is sales... with just about
everything in commercial marketing, but at the same I do think that it's
their job to expose guitarists to other guitarists who might not sell a million
CDs. Maybe just because they're simply great at what they do. Ya know,
guys that actually practice. What a concept, right? (laughs) It doesn't have
to be the cover but maybe some sort of write up or coverage instead of
totally ignoring them. There are so many great players out there that a lot of
people really should hear.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you have in mind for promotion for the new CDs?

Toshi Iseda: I don't really have any involvement in that... at least I try
not to. That's all up to the record label. Talk to Brian Polka about that. (laughs) I do know that I'll be doing some clinics for Washburn guitars around the world in support of the CD. Otherwise I'm not quite sure, but whatever it is we'll be going at it "Full On and Over The Top!" that is for sure! (laughs)

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Toshi Iseda is a brilliant guitarist, one of the nation's finest instrumental musicians and the Midwest's most in-demand guitar instructor. He released his debut solo CD "Full On!" several years ago to an overwhelming response from critics and fans alike. Iseda is currently working on an upcoming CD called RAMA, featuring players such as Andy West, Mike Keneally, T Lavitz and other experienced musicians.

Dan McAvinchey hooked up with Iseda to discuss his latest recording project, his recording set up, and music in general.