Guitarist, singer/songwriter and leader of Bay Area rock band Y&T (a.k.a. Yesterday and Today) Dave Meniketti takes out some time to chat about his early years, vocal techniques, performing live, recording in is his home studio and much more. Up to now, Dave and and Y&T have released a combined total of 29 albums, and have toured the world over several times.
December 14th, 2012
Guitarhoo!: Hello Dave and welcome to the site. When did you first pick up the guitar and what first attracted you to music?
Dave Meniketti: I was 16 years of age when I first picked up the guitar. While I was completely enamored with anything lead guitar oriented at the time, unquestionably Jimi Hendrix was the biggest influence to me at the time.
G!: Prior to forming Y&T in 1976 did you form any bands in high school (if so what were they like)?
DM: No bands of any significance in High School. Since I learned to play guitar in the start of the 3rd year in high school, it was mostly jam bands and such. I started out by jamming with what was a loose version of a band with a bunch of older guys that taught me about the blues. We only played one show, and mostly played in the other guitar player’s front room. Then after that I played in a local group we called Skin Tight. It was a trio and was actually kind of cool for the day and considering I’d only been playing for 2 years at the time, but it never went anywhere because the other 2 guys got heavily into heroin and such. I was just out of high school and that wasn’t something I wanted to be around.
G!: Coming onto the scene with Y&T in the mid 70’s, how would you describe the music scene vibe and energy in the Bay Area of California?
DM: It was very much an open book in the Bay Area, much as it always has been and continues to be. Bands coming out of the bay area, which is quite a large region, were as varied as you could imagine. When we first started the only band around that was even close to what we were doing musically was Montrose, and Ronnie had mostly given up on that project by the time we got going and was concentrating mostly on his newest band, Gamma.
So at the end of the day we ended up being pretty much the only hard rock band coming out of the area at the time. The energy and interest in us at that time was like a dream and very inspirational. We felt like we were carving out our own unique place in the Bay Are scene, which it turns out we actually were.
G!: What are some of your fondest memories from your early years as a musician, which have stuck with you until now?
DM: One of my fondest memories of the beginnings of our band was how we took our careers in our own hands and started the ball rolling by becoming in essence our own promoters and managers at that time. We would scrape together $150 between all of us and rent local halls, printing up cheap posters that we stapled to the light posts outside the local high schools. Then we would pack the places with wild young rock fans that didn’t have a clue who Yesterday and Today was, but heard there was a concert with free kegs of beer. It ended up being a brilliant plan that worked amazingly well getting a name for ourselves and introducing the locals to our style of rock and our musicianship. We followed that up with a tour, of sorts, of the local High Schools, asking for permission to play lunch hour or after school on their campus. A simple idea, but it worked fabulously well to get people talking about this band, making it that much easier to attract the local big wig manager.
G!: You’ve got a powerful rock singing voice. Do you ever find it challenging to be both the guitarist and singer?
DM: The biggest challenge for me after the first few records was to take my singing more seriously. I was always a guitarist first in my mind and singing was just something you had to do, not something I was trying to be particularly brilliant at. And at first, I wasn’t very good at it. I was able to keep pitch well enough and had the makings of a decent voice, but not until the Mean Streak record did I really have it all come hit me in the head that I was The Lead Singer in the band.
After that recording I realized that I better get on my game or the band was ready to find a dedicated singer. So I worked hard on becoming a better singer, along with the coincidence that I happened to work with a great vocalist on the next record. Between his tips and my inner insistence on becoming a better vocalist I made a huge step towards becoming a more professional rock singer.
As far as the difficulty of doing both at the same time, I never really felt it was an issue. It all seemed second nature since I had pretty much been doing it since I first started playing with other musicians. Only on those rare instances where the licks of the song were so far away from the timing of the vocal lines did I have to really pay attention and practice a lot more. I just would work it to the point where it became comfortable and I no longer needed to concentrate so I could just enjoy the performance.
G!: Are there any particular warm up rituals you do while on the road to keep the voice in check?
DM: Nowadays I do some light vocal warm ups before going on stage. Mostly I will sing 5 to 10 minutes of scales, taking it easy at first to warm the cords up slowly. In the previous years I went from about 15 minutes of warm ups early on in the career to no warm ups at all the last 10 years.
I remember talking with Ronnie Dio about warming up the voice before a show, months before he passed away, and he told me the first notes he sang at the concert were the first notes of the first song on stage that night. I was amazed that we were both doing the same thing, since I thought only I was as reckless as to do that with my voice. Luckily it all worked, especially considering how high and long I sing every night. I am much more focused nowadays since I sing 2 to 2 ½ hours each night with sometimes 5 shows in a row without a day off.
The only other things I do nowadays that seems to really help me on these long tours is to limit my talking before and right after a show. That, along with trying to get enough sleep before each show are important parts of my voice management. It can be a pain in the ass, but I’m used to being aware of these things on the road and it just becomes part of my tour demands I place on myself.
Dave hanging out with the late great Ronnie James Dio
G!: I hear a bit of Ian Gillan in your voice in the more recent Y&T and Dave Meniketti records. Who are some of your influences vocally?
DM: I always seemed to be most attracted to the bluesy, soulful singers. A perfect example of a singer that personified that style was Paul Rogers. I know that I also got bits and pieces from other varied vocalists such as Greg Allman, Sammy Hagar, Ronnie Dio, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, David Coverdale, and even the brilliant under-appreciated voice of Trower’s bassist/singer James Dewar. Soulfulness and power were undeniably my favorite types of singing styles.
G!: Who were your biggest influences as a guitarist?
DM: At the start of it all, when I believe you are most likely to be impacted by hearing other guitarists, there was Jimi Hendrix, Dwayne Allman, Dicky Betts, Jeff Beck, Leslie West, Richie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Neal Schon, and Gary Moore to name a few. There were many others as well in those early days as I was carving out my own place in the madness that is lead guitarists.
G!: In 1979 John Mayall approached you at one of your gigs and asked you to collaborate on a record. What was the outcome?
DM: I was of course shocked and profoundly honored to be approached for such a thing in my early days as a player. To be honest, it scared the hell out of me to think of doing a recording with John Mayall, considering the talent level of previous guitarists that had recorded with him. However, as it turned out, he never was able to get a record deal at that time to make it happen and I never heard from him again. I am happy enough to say that I was even considered to be one of the great players that have crossed his path.
G!: Your solo record, “On the Blue Side” is amazing! When you approach an album like this, being blues based, were many of the solo’s first take improvs? (you really opened up a lot more than on a lot of the pop rock songs of Y&T)
DM: That recording still ranks with me as one of the proudest projects I’ve been involved with. The real range of passion and emotional level in my playing still makes me proud when I hear it today. Some of the solos were first takes and some I did multiple takes. When you have a recording studio right there at the house it makes it so much easier to be by yourself and catch a magic moment at say 3am when all the stars are aligned. So much different of an energy when you are spending thousands of dollars a day for a studio, and an engineer is patiently waiting for you to do a solo for the first time, not knowing where you are going with it.
That is how I approach 99% of my solos. I don’t usually work them out in advance and let the moment lead me where I will be going. It might take me 5 to 30 attempts until I get my sea legs, but I find it allows me to truly come up with something inspired.
G!: Owning your own recording studio, do find it gave you many advantages when approaching songwriting, or arrangements?
DM: Well, as I mentioned in the previous question, it helped tremendously for solos, and it’s the same when doing vocal performances. It absolutely gives me a huge advantage as far as songwriting is concerned, as well. I can go out there any time of the day or night, set up a microphone and a guitar rig, and have them both ready to go routed into my computer workstation. Then I can sit down and just start bringing ideas out on the fly, or run out there to put something down if I come up with an idea. It’s really helped to have the rehearsal space there as well since we also come up with a lot of our writing ideas by jamming together.
G!: Do you take on any other work in your studio, producing other bands or other audio work?
DM: I did years ago, especially right after I built the studio in the early 90s. It helped to pay the bills of the costs to construct the building, and helped to hone my studio engineering and producing chops. I had already a decent knowledge of recording before that, but all the varied projects that came through the door was an eye opener in many ways.
After many years of juggling both my projects and outside projects, mostly in the 90s, I was happy to put that away once Y&T got back to full time again in the early 2000s. Engineering, producing, and doing digital editing can be fun, but my heart lies in performing and that’s what I want to spend most of my time doing. Luckily that’s exactly most of what I’ve been doing again over the last decade.
G!: Do you use quite a lot of analog gear in the studio, is it more digital based, or a fair blend of the two?
DM: It’s was a combo of both for a while there. I have a 2″ 16-track analog deck, and of course a full digital workstation. I have a few tube preamps as well that I love to use for my vocals and guitars when working with digital. My Meniketti CD was tracked on 2″ analog and overdubbed and mixed on digital. The latest Facemelter CD was all digital. It’s getting increasingly difficult to get good 2″ tape to do analog projects nowadays. Plus the convertors have gotten so much better for digital that it makes it easy to just stay in that mode. I still like having it brought out to a good analog console for mixing, but I don’t do much of the mixing any longer so that only happens on rare occasions lately.
G!: Do you use the same guitars/amps for recording as you do live on the road?
DM: Mostly yes. I have a few different guitars and amps that I’ll swap out depending on the song, or if there is a particular sound I’m going for, but mostly I stick with the stuff I play with live. What has worked best for me the last few years is a choice of both my Diezel VH4 and any one of my Mesa Dual Rectifiers depending on the song. I also have a few more Strats and Yamaha SG guitars that I jockey between on some projects, as well as my old standards of late (68 Les Paul, Blue and Black Fender Strats, White Kramer Baretta, and my custom Bisceglia guitar.
G!: Throughout your career you’ve played everything from small intimate clubs to massive sold out sports stadiums. Do you prefer one over the other and do you find your performance changes between the two?
DM: Yes, I find that I play better in the smaller intimate places. There is nothing to match the intensity and vibe you get when fans are right on top of you in a sweaty club. And when all the starts are aligned, and you literally feel as if you are leaving your body, it is that exact magical feeling that makes you never want to stop playing live shows.
That’s not to say that outdoor festivals aren’t fun at times, because we enjoy playing them as a rule. However, most times the nearest fan is 100+ feet away, you are thrust out onto a stage with no sound check, mostly rented gear, and have many times less than an hour to crank out a genuine brilliant performance. It could be raining or windy at the time, in the middle of the afternoon when there is no vibe at all, or any number of things could be happening to reduce the experience to nothing more than an elongated talent show experience. Hey, none of us want to turn them down, but I’d much rather play inside for an audience that can communicate with the band easier and have the ability to play our 2 hour+ show for them. It can be infinitely more satisfying.
Y&T Live (left to right): John Nymann, Dave Meniketti, Brad Lang
G!: Its seems Y&T has been touring non stop since 2010, are there any plans for a new album in the foreseeable future?
DM: We have no concrete plans at the moment to stop and write for a new CD, but we’ve all been talking of working to get something out there by 2014. So we’ll see what happens. For certain we are looking to bring another live DVD out there on the market as well.
G!: Do you have any advice for musicians today, you’d like to pass along?
DM: If you have even the slightest clue of who you are as a musician and what drives you, then follow your gut and you’ll be better off in most instances. You will find some knowledgeable folks out there that will offer their input, but don’t forget to listen to yourself first and foremost when it comes to the big choices. You likely only have 1 time going around this planet so make it count and take that special thing that you have to offer that is different and unique and stick with it. There are enough musicians that will copy others to go around – stand out of the crowd and do what you do best. If you do it right, everyone wins and others will end up copying you.
G!: Dave, thanks for taking out the time for this. We all look forward to your future works!
DM: Thanks, my pleasure. Cheers!
Interview © 2012 Guitarhoo!