BRIAN HUNSAKER
Across The Galaxy
(Brian Hunsaker Music)

 

Influenced early on by legends like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani—as well as hard rock bands like Iron Maiden—guitarist Brian Hunsaker strikes a blow for furthering the spirit of hard rock guitar with his all instrumental album Across The Galaxy. With its scintillating guitar-centric focus, the 11 track Across The Galaxy is getting major kudos from rock instrumental guitar fans. Performing all the guitars, keyboards, classical guitar, bass and drum programming, Hunsaker sounds like a one man R.I. (rock instrumental) swat team—his searing electric guitar leads flying through the sonic spectrum at the speed (and sound) of light. A couple tracks—including the CD-closer “Farewell To The King”—showcase Hunsaker’s acoustic fretboard skills and demonstrates yet another side of his multi-level guitar-centric identity. Recorded at Nebula’s End studios in Washington state, Across The Galaxy is a monumental sounding CD debut from a hard rocking, heavy metal guitar instrumentalist on the rise. www.BrianHunsaker.net


mwe3.com presents an interview with
BRIAN HUNSAKER


mwe3: Where did you grow up and when did you become interested in playing and performing on the guitar? What was your early musical training like, including early lessons and instruction and was there a moment in time when you knew that being a musician was really for you?

BH: I was born and raised just north of Seattle, in a city called Lynnwood. My first musical instrumental was a violin I played in 3rd and 4th grade. I didn’t enjoy it and rarely practiced, but it likely helped my coordination when I took up the guitar later. When one of my friends played Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien for me in 1989 I was totally blown away. I had no idea a guitar could make such amazing sounds! I knew right away that I wanted to learn all those crazy guitar tricks, on electric guitar. I knew I wanted to be a musician right then, whatever it took!

I was never interested in acoustic guitar. I found it too limiting. Electric guitar is and always has been my inspiration, and it’s by far more versatile. I only use acoustic guitars for recording, never live.

After hearing the Satchman, I got my mom to buy me a weird-shaped, high-action 1982 Gibson Corvus from my friend in 1989 for $150 and started trying to learn Iron Maiden and Joe Satriani songs on my own. I figured since I am a left-handed person, I should play guitar left-handed. So I tried it that way for a few weeks, and wasn’t getting any better. Then I had the thought to hold up the guitar like my old violin, and noticed that I had the wrong hand on the fret board! I immediately started playing right-handed and was instantly better.

I took lessons for about a year in 1990 from a local teacher named Curt Hamblett. My friends always thought his name was a little too close to Kirk Hammett, but he was a good teacher in spite of that. I definitely got my fundamentals down in the very beginning, which is super important. There was also a great guitar player that worked at that same music shop named Omar Torrez, I hear he’s famous now, who got me into Yngwie, Al DiMeola and some other players. He was already a really great player back then. He knew how to play every song you could name. It was uncanny! Seeing him play motivated me to practice hard and keep seeking out new music for inspiration.


mwe3: You were greatly influenced by guitarists such as Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani while growing up. Can you add in some other information about your musical influences while growing up, and what about some other factors that convinced you to go into the rock instrumental music genre?

BH: Yeah, in the beginning Satch was untouchable to me. Later I got into Steve Vai (Passion And Warfare), Eric Johnson, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Andy LaRocque and just about every new shredder that came out. At that time in the early 1990’s when my style was still forming, I hadn’t figured out what made certain melodic virtuosos such as Satriani and Neal Schon so much more popular and more pleasing to the ear than others. It wasn’t the blinding licks, it was the melodies between those and how they blended the two together so seamlessly. I used to be all about speed for the first five or so years I was playing. People said I played like a robot and had no feeling at all. In hindsight, that was pretty much true. But it did really hone my technicality for later when I’d concentrate on using it wisely and in context.

In college I took a lot of music classes including jazz improvisation and music theory. I met some really amazing players during that time, and it really humbled me. I continued to find new influences like Ritchie Blackmore and Trevor Rabin and further refined and expanded my technique by making up songs targeting techniques I wasn’t good at. This worked amazingly and I recommend it!

In the early nineties, as we know, the American music scene shifted to favor alternative music. I could not for the life of me find a singer I liked the sound of at that time. After failing to complete a solid band for a few years, I pretty much quit playing guitar in 1996.

Sometime around 2002, I noticed that virtuosity was no longer “uncool”. I found new bands like Symphony X and a ton of European bands that I really loved. So I picked up my guitar with steely resolve, never to put it down again. I woodsheded like mad and became a far better player than I ever was before, in every way. I even seemed to find the elusive “feel” that I never had. I was no longer the robot player. I had understood and accepted what made certain shredders stick out from the pack, and decided to focus on furthering my style and song writing as far as I could, while remaining accessible to hopefully more than just guitar players. Melody is king if you want a song to be great! The next year (2003), I realized I had never really tried to write a full instrumental song, and that being a huge instrumental fan, I needed to rectify that!


mwe3: What were some of the challenges involved with recording the entire Across The Galaxy album yourself and where and when was the CD written and then recorded?

BH: I write as I record, in my home. I improvise most of the lead guitar until I find the best melodies and licks, recording each take. So by the time the song is written, I’ve forgotten how to play most of it since a lot was first takes. Then I go back and learn the song so I can record the final takes. It may sound weird, but it works well for me.

I wrote my first complete instrumental song in 2003. The song, “Spring Break”, which is on my CD took about 30 hours to write and record. I liked the song but didn’t pursue writing any more like it.

I didn’t write any more instrumentals until 2008. That’s when I met John Jaunese—a fiery neo-classical player who lived nearby. He told me he wanted to make an instrumental compilation CD, and he wanted me to make a couple tracks for it. This started to light a fire within me, and I cranked out two more—“The Voyage” and “Blue Angel”—for the 2008 Northwest Shred Fest CD. Around this time, several players, some of which played on the CD, were contacting me and telling me that they loved my songs and that I needed to make a whole CD worth of them. So now the fire was raging and I started to crank out more rocking tunes to go with the first three. I wrote three more, and then moved to China in 2009 for two years. While over there, I finished ninety five percent of the rest of the material on the CD. When I moved back to Seattle last year, I finished up what I had and spent a month re-recording and remixing.

As far as what challenged me—when I wrote “Spring Break” back in ’03 I had a very basic computer, a forty dollar SoundBlaster, and a 10-space rack guitar rig that did not record well. I also knew almost nothing of mixing. I had a huge uphill battle to make a pro sounding record. By the time I wrote the next few songs, I had much better equipment for both recording and playing. I constantly upped my game and each song started to sound more and more hi-fi. I started attending a Sonar user group in Seattle and learned tons of mixing tricks from the very experienced users there. That was invaluable. I bought a couple great books on mixing. In the end, when everything was written, I had to re-record large parts of my earlier songs from scratch, but it was worth it! When I was in China, I recorded those last five songs in the same tiny 7x9 foot room I slept in, with nothing but my guitar, headphones, preamp and computer!

mwe3: The artwork for Across The Galaxy is also fantastic. Can you say something about the design of the album and CD artwork? How about the video for “Gila Monster”? Is there a story behind the making of the video and are you planning more videos in the future?

BH: My childhood friend Brian Laws came up with the cover concept off the top of his head and took a few days to get the cover art looking amazing. That is my main guitar on the cover, a McNaught Phoenix Rising I had custom made in 2009. I had to take a lot of photos to get one that would work for the cover. Brian did an amazing job on the artwork and I am blown away. He’ll get my next CD artwork job for sure!

“Gila Monster” is a funny story. One of my friends said it would be cool and a little wacky to have a super heavy song named “Gila Monster”. I needed one more song for the CD and decided to do something different. I detuned it down to B, like a 7-string, for the rhythm guitar. I have been adamant in the past about never detuning and that it was just a fad, but I figured what the hell. The song turned out pretty cool and heavy. This is the only song I’ve ever written where I named the song before writing a single note. I should try that more often! I chose “Gila Monster” for the first video because the song was still fresh in my mind.

There will definitely be more videos. I’m currently wrapping up the video for “Farewell To The King”. It may be done by the time this interview goes live. After that, I will make at least one or two more videos featuring songs from Across The Galaxy. Stay tuned! I’m also going to start creating more instructional videos.


mwe3: What guitars are primarily featured on the Across The Galaxy album and how about matching your guitars with certain amps and how about other sound enhancing effects that are used on the Across The Galaxy CD?

BH: As I mentioned, my main guitar is a McNaught Phoenix Rising custom built by McNaught Guitars. It’s absolutely amazing sounding, feeling and looking. That’s on about half the tracks. I have WCR pickups in it and I cannot recommend them highly enough. They have a completely thick and rich sound. The songs written before I got the McNaught mostly feature my 2006 Ibanez S. “The Voyage” was recorded with my LTD MH-400. I used a Kramer Sustainer for “Spring Break” to get those feedback harmonics and endless sustain. Acoustics used on the album include a forty dollar Chinese acoustic-electric and a Cordoba classical guitar I picked up last winter. For the “Gila Monster” rhythm tracks I borrowed a couple guitars from friends so I could tune down to B and use really thick strings.

As far as amps, I’m very nontraditional because I haven’t had a normal amp for about 17 years. Very early on I decided to go all digital as it was far more flexible and less expensive than armfuls of stomp boxes. I have owned multi-FX units by Yamaha, Zoom, TC Electronics, SansAmp, and in 2003 bought the Line 6 Vetta head after asking Michael Romeo (Symphony X) about it after their Seattle show. I was pretty satisfied with that amp for a few years. You are hearing it on five of the tracks on Across The Galaxy. I did have to multi-mic it through my Bogner speakers to get the sound I was after. In 2009 I bought the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra, which has been my main rig ever since. The majority of the disc was recorded with that. No mics, no guitar speaker cabinets. It’s all virtual. My best gear purchase ever, truly. I can’t see ever wanting a non-digital amp now. Sounds and feels totally authentic to me.

Matching amps with guitars—since I only ever had one “amp” at a time, that wasn’t an issue. I did sometimes create specific patches for songs using the virtual amps contained in the Vetta and Ultra. On both of these units you have the capability to use 2 amp models at once, which I almost always take advantage of. Since these are virtual amps, I won’t go into detail on which I use for what. Anyone who’s interested can contact me for more info.

For other effects on the CD, I used compression, delay, reverb, chorus, stereo expansion, tube plug-ins and a very subtle harmonizer on one song. I normally record all my harmonies on separate tracks and play each one.


mwe3: What do you look for in a guitar and what advances in rock guitar technology most interest you as a working musician these days? What do you think about the fascination with collectible vintage guitars and if you could have one guitar, new or vintage, what would it be and why?

BH: To me, a guitar must be great to look at and feel nice to hold, but how it plays is the most important aspect of all. However, almost any guitar can be made to play amazingly for around $300 by taking it to our local pro Seattle guitar setup shop (Mike Lull Guitar Works). The sound of a guitar can also be upgraded by changing pickups. I never keep stock pickups in any guitar. The magnitude of sound improvement by switching pickups is dependent on the quality of the wood though.

Some things I stay away from are locked bridges and smaller scale length necks like Gibson and Peavey make. It gets too cramped up on the highest frets, even for my small fingers.

Newer stuff that’s cool—someday I should try a roasted neck. They are supposed keep their neck tension a lot more constant during the temperature changes, meaning they stay in tune better. Vintage gear doesn’t interest me other than looking at it and thinking it looks cool. I wouldn’t want to plug in. I’m a product of the digital age! I need all my limitless effects at my fingertips at all times. I don’t think recorded guitars sounded all that great anyway until Boston and Van Halen came out in the late 70’s.

If I could have one guitar...well, I already have my dream guitar, the McNaught. It really was, for me, the guitar to end all guitars. I’d someday like to play my buddy Jaeger’s guitar (a custom Suhr) and see how that stacks up. I also want to buy a composite acoustic guitar from Composite Acoustics. Those are completely amazing sounding.


mwe3: What new and exciting directions are you planning to take in the future both as a guitarist, performer and a composer?

BH: I’m starting a vocal progressive metal project as we speak. How progressive it will be remains to be seen. Melody and vocal harmonies will be the main focus. We currently have a full band, but still want to add a keyboardist. We will be writing and recording simultaneously, then start to gig and label-shop afterward.

I also may try to write more classical guitar pieces, flat picked, since “Farewell To The King” had such a phenomenal response. I am not confident in my jazz abilities so I’ll probably continue to stay away from that. It’s been too long since my jazz improv days and I never was a great jazz player. It’s too cerebral for me.


Thanks to Brian Hunsaker @ www.brianhunsaker.net

 

 
   
Attention Artists and Record Companies: Have your CD reviewed by mwe3.com.
Send to
: MWE3.com CD Reviews Editor Robert Silverstein, P.O. Box 630249, Little Neck, N.Y. 11363-0249
E-mail: mwe3nyc@gmail.com
 
 
CD Reviews Feature Reviews & Features Archive Photo Archive Contact MWE3 Home
 

 

Copyright 1999-2012
MWE3.com - All Rights Reserved