Touring and session musician, and solo artist Monte Pittman.
Monte takes some time to chat about his early roots as a musician, working with Madonna, previous bands Prong, The Citizen Vein (Adam Lambert), his signature custom guitar, his most recent solo project “M.P.3: The Power of Three” and more.
January 5th, 2013
Guitarhoo!: Hello Monte, hows it going and welcome to the site. Where were you from originally?
Monte Pittman: Hello! Everything is going great! I just got off a really long tour so I’m trying to unwind from all of that and adjust to staying in one place for a little while. I’m originally from Longview, Texas. That’s a city in between Dallas and Shreveport.
G!: When did you first pick up the guitar and what was it that sparked your interest in guitar?
MP: I’ve wanted to play since I can remember. When I was a kid I would switch what I wanted to do a little but I’ve always been attracted to guitars. I finally got my first guitar when I was 13. I found an amazing guitar teacher and started my first band a year later.
G!: Who were some of your early musical influences?
MP: Kiss started it off for me. I was born at the end of ’75 so I have been at the perfect age for a lot of things. Bands like Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, or Quiet Riot were all new when music was new for me. The bands that had the biggest influence were the Thrash bands: Metallica, Slayer, etc. By the time I got my first guitar, there were a bunch of amazing guitarists to be influenced from. Steve Vai was a huge influence on me and still is. Not just from his incredible guitar wizardry, but his career in general also. Jimmy Page is another one that doesn’t just inspire me as a guitar player. I like when a person being an artist is only one thing they do. Page was a session guitarist and Vai played in Frank Zappa’s band.
G!: After releasing 2 heavy rock albums with your band Myra Mains, you left Texas and headed for Los Angeles. What was your first impressions of Hollywood at that time and how would you compare the local music scenes of LA and Texas?
MP: It was hard leaving everyone but it just felt like the time was right. There was a change going on that I didn’t even realize. When I first moved to LA, I got a job at the Guitar Center in Hollywood. I made a lot of friends there. It was a great group at the time. I started playing in Prong not long after I moved there so between work and that, I was keeping myself busy. It’s easy to lose concept of time because there is only one season here all year long.
G!: Is it true you studied at the Musonia School of Music with Delores Rhoads (mother of legend Randy Rhoads), what did you walk away with most from that experience?
MP: Yes. I learned so much from her. The greatest thing I took from her is one of the simplest things…timing. There is so much to learn about keeping time. She has that down to a science. She is one of the most knowledgeable musicians and teachers I’ve ever met. She would pay strict attention to detail. She just has something not too many people have. She’s very special.
G!: You caught a break in a unique way. When you started to give guitar lessons, one of your students was Film Director Guy Ritchie, husband of Madonna, and soon after she had taken lessons with you as well, and this led you to being invited to be in her band. Must have blown you away. Were you teaching from home and they answered your ads, how did they find you?
MP: I had just quit my job at Guitar Center to start teaching guitar lessons. There didn’t seem to be any guitar teachers people were happy with. I taught in Texas but didn’t expect I would be able to in California. Guy’s assistant at the time, Nathan Young, called the store asking for a guitar teacher. Someone gave him my number.Nathan called me saying he needed to get lessons for his boss. I drove to the address and there’s a very pregnant Madonna sitting in her yard hanging out with her daughter.
G!: What did you cover in those lessons, did they already play a little?
MP: I start everyone off on a sheet of chords all in one key. So if you are in the key of “C” all of your “D’s” will be minor. After that, I give a sheet with your scales in the same key which covers the entire guitar neck. This way, when you want to learn a song, you already know the chords instead of spending all your time figuring out the four chords that make up the song.
When the “Music” album came out, I got the cd that night and figured out the entire album. The next day I had a lesson and brought all the songs with me.
G!: Your first appearance with Madonna was on David Letterman’s Late Night Show. Was there much preparation for this, how was the experience?
MP: It was on a Monday about a month after giving Madonna lessons, she said “do you want to come do Letterman with me on Thursday”. I thought she was joking at first but a few days later, I found myself in New York waiting for Biff to tell me when to walk out on stage. It was painfully cold in the studio and I was having a hard time keeping our guitars in tune from the temperature. When I walked out on stage, it didn’t seem like I was playing on TV. Because of the lights in your face, you couldn’t really see the audience.
Monte performing “Don’t Tell Me” with Madonna on the Late Show with David Letterman.
G!: Did the two of you write many songs together that ended up on her albums or even just for fun that didn’t end up on any records?
MP: Most of the stuff was for fun or something that sparked an idea to go some where else. We used to have a mean Nick Drake cover worked up I loved playing with her. We played some of her friends parties and did covers and originals for those.
G!: Having played in Madonnas band and toured the world over for just over a decade, what is the most important thing you have learned from this experience?
MP: Paying close attention to detail and keeping yourself versatile. She’s always reinventing herself and pushing all the boundaries.
G!: In 2007, at the Live Earth event, you jammed with the infamous Spinal Tap, on the classic “Big Bottom”. That was a lot of Bass players, the rumble from the stage must have been intense. How was that show and did anyone manage to get lost underneath the stage on the way to the gig?
Monte performing with Spinal Tap along with Foo Fighters’ Nate Mendell, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield, Robert Trujillo, the Beastie Boys and… just A LOT of bass players.
MP: Madonna’s band at the time watched Spinal Tap all the time because all bands go through all of their scenarios at one time or another. Spinal Tap wanted to get as many bass players as they could on stage for “Big Bottom”. It just so happened that everyone in the band could play bass! It was an amazing experience and one of the most memorable moments of my life!
We all went to their dressing room before and went over the song and they wanted everyone to do a bass solo. I asked Nigel if I could play his infamous chromatic solo and he said sure.
So – we’re on the side of the stage and Metallica is on at the time. It’s a pretty cool feeling feeling the rumble of the stage from Metallica when you have YOUR guitar (or bass) on. Anyway – Robert Trujillo came up to me and asked how the song went and made some notes on his hands. Later I see him showing Kirk Hammett the riff but one note was off. I thought “should I say something?” So I went over and showed them the riff. That’s just crazy…
On stage, the amps were all set to where they didn’t sound good. So we all had a Spinal Tap moment… Robert and I were the only ones who wound up doing a bass solo.
Later that night when we were going to the stage, we didn’t know which way to get there. We ran in to Michael McKean and Harry Shearer and said “how do we get to the stage?”. They just smiled and said “yeah, yeah, really funny” and we were serious.We didn’t know where the stage was because they had changed the entrances.
G!: You’ve been involved on some really cool sideline bands. Joining thrash metal band “Prong”. You played guitar and bass on “Scorpio Rising”, really heavy dropped down riffs. What were you using for guitars and bass on these tracks?
MP: All of Prong’s gear had just gotten stolen in Dallas (of all places) after a show there. We borrowed a guitar cabinet from Dino Cazares and Tommy Victor had just gotten a Baritone guitar from his endorsers, Schecter. Tommy would track guitars.Put the guitar down. I would pick it up and track from there. We didn’t have much time or budget to make that album. We switched producers in the middle of it too. It felt like we were doomed. The first producer after a few days wanted us to get sounds through one of those cigarette amps. It was scary.
G!: You formed a band with Prong guitarist Tommy Victor, and Adam Lambert before he entered American Idol, named “The Citizen Vein”. How did you guys all meet up, how did you hear about Adam?
MP: I used to play in some local shows sometimes. It all stemmed from something called “Club Makeup”. Makeup happened one Saturday out of the month. There was a different theme each month. David Bowie, Prince, etc. The band was made up of musicians from different bands around town and there was a different singer for each song. I met some really amazing singers. I asked one of them who the best was and that I wanted to start a band (which is one of the reasons why I moved to LA). That’s how I found out about Adam.
G!: Did “The Citizen Vein” gig around much and how was the reception to what the band was doing?
MP: I got us some gigs at The Cat Club on Sunset. I wanted to start there because it used to be The London Fog a long time ago and that’s where The Doors played their first gig. We had a nice following which was half from the Madonna side and half from the Prong side. To me, it’s all about having a great time out with everyone and that’s what we did. Adam and I couldn’t agree on a name and his dad, Eber, came up with The Citizen Vein.
G!: The songs from The Citizen Vein were cool. A bit dark, almost like Black Sabbath meets Queen in the alternative genre. How did you like the direction Adam went into with his solo records after American Idol?
MP: That’s funny you mention Black Sabbath because I wrote a lot of that (fantasizing) as if I were writing songs for Ozzy and I would want it to be more like Sabbath. I would do all of the music in Pro Tools and email the track to Adam. He would be on the road doing Wicked a lot and would do a vocal in his hotel room and send it back to me. Another weird thing about it all is that my main “Adam setting” that I saved and made up for him was named “Adam Mercury”. Strange foreshadowing.
I personally prefer him to “rock” but every style he sings is great. My favorite thing we ever did together is the stripped down acoustic stuff done at radio stations. I think his voice lends itself to the harder stuff. It penetrates through the mix like a hot knife. I think that rock is the kind of music that relates best to an audience. That’s one of the reasons AC/DC still sell out stadiums. It’s a type of music that’s exciting live (where it really matters) and it always sounds good. The more electronics you add, the worse your mix is going to be. I’m not a big fan of any of the singing shows on tv. It’s been great for him, obviously, and I’m extremely happy for him and his success. All of these singing shows are one of the problems with the music industry today. The market is flooded with whoever the flavor of the year is and it’s always the same boring thing. I hope it ends sooner than later.
Songs from The Citizen Vein (from left to right): “Avoid”, “Chalice” and “Beyond the Sky”
Featuring Monte (Guitars), Adam Lambert (Vocals), Tommy Victor (Bass), Steve Sidelnyk (Drums)
G!: You’ve got a custom signature guitar series with Jarrell MPS Guitar. Very cool finish and body. How involved were you with the making of these and what are some of the specs?
MP: Thank you! You have to play one for yourself! I got a Jarrell guitar a few years ago after seeing them at NAMM. I fell in love with it and Phillip Jarrell approached me about making a signature guitar. The problem is, I need several sounds and combinations for just about every gig I have done. This resulted in making one guitar that covers everything. I could do an entire Prong show with it and if it were needed to be authentic on something like “Prove You Wrong”, the option is there. With Madonna if we break out “Holiday”, I can match the original guitar sound exactly. If we are covering some Pantera, I’ve got that covered too. Phillip and I kept giving ideas to each other until we made the final product.
Monte’s versatile signature Jarrell MPS Guitar
G!: You’ve released 2 solo albums, “The Deepest Dark” and “Pain, Love & Destiny”. “The Deepest Dark” is an all acoustic and vocal album. What inspired these songs and this direction?
MP: I made “The Deepest Dark” all acoustic so I could recreate it anywhere. We ran into a problem with The Citizen Vein because we were all out of town with other gigs most of the time. Steve Sidelnyk and I both had Madonna. Steve started playing for Seal. Tommy and I had Prong and he also had Danzig shows and Ministry shows. I figured if I call it “Monte Pittman”, I only have myself to have to worry about with when booking a gig. “Pain, Love, & Destiny” was going to be an acoustic album with bass and drums. I started adding guitar solos into the set live to make up for time and people spoke up and said they wanted more of that. After adding the solos to the songs on “Pain, Love, & Destiny” and putting an electric guitar track on, it became a rock album. I guess it’s been deep down in there and will make it’s way out one way or another.
A sampler of “Pain, Love and Destiny” Monte’s 2nd solo album.
G!: Your current solo project is a 3 part series, “M.P.3: The Power Of Three”. Is the concept that you’re creating 3 separate music genres/styles that have inspired you the most and releasing it in stages?
MP: It comes from me having different groups of songs that I think are too extreme to all go on one album together. I base it all from what I need in my live set. That’s even more stripped down acoustic songs, faster and heavier songs, and some jams and traditional old school blues songs.
G!: You’ll be recording with producer Flemming Rasmussen, who has worked on early Metallica records, for “M.P.3: The Power Of Three – Pt. 2”. What do we all have to look forward to with the direction of M.P.3 – Pt. 2?
MP: Flemming recorded “M.P.3: The Power Of Three, Pt. 1”. We’ve talked about working together for a few years now. When I was in Copenhagen in July, I had one day off. He set up the studio and we knocked out these four acoustic songs. The next thing we are doing is a full on heavy album. You can hear some of the demos in the background of my Kickstarter video on the page. I used to play in a band when I lived in Texas called Myra Mains. We were heavy and I’ve kind of gone back to a little bit of that.
G!: When you release M.P.3 Part 3, will you then tie it all together and release an anthology featuring all three stages with some bonuses?
MP: When Part 3 comes out, then it will all be released on one cd. Part 1 is the end though…
G!: You’re using Kickstarter to assist in funding of M.P.3 Pt. 2, and you’ve had major success taking the same route for the Pain, Love & Destiny album. What are some of the rewards fans will be getting for participating?
MP: I wasn’t going to use Kickstarter again. It can be a lot of work getting all of the incentives mailed out all over the world. This time, I’m making the incentives more immediate. It features guitar lessons, guitar picks, house parties, and some signed things. Launching it right before Christmas wasn’t the most ideal time but whatever it does, I want it to be over with before we record the album. If it just helps with flights, a place to stay, and shipping gear then that’s a big help. If it pays for the whole thing and exceeds $5,000 then I can make a really kick ass album and take myself to the next step. Hopefully I can have a couple of guests on there too. The whole purpose of doing this Kickstarter project is including everyone else in the process who wants to be.
G!: You’re an Honorary Board member of charitable organization “Little Kids Rock”. When did you get involved and can you mention some of the successes the charity has had?
MP: I designed a guitar that sold and made a lot to help out the organization. I’ve also gone and taught in some of the classrooms. Being a music teacher, I like to pass what I’ve learned on to kids any chance I get. You never know what little thing you say is going to mean to someone. You never know what that spark is going to lead to.
G!: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of music?
MP: I don’t have too much free time to take on any hobbies. If I’m not playing or on tour, I try and hang out with family and friends as much as I can in between. I’m always just working on music. Fine tuning, knocking it down to build it up again, or writing for the next album after this.
G!: Who’s “Uncle Soy Sauce”?
MP: Ha. I’m not really sure. Some fans in Malaysia or Singapore, I think, gave me that name. I think the idea is Soy Sauce goes with just about anything or something like that.
G!: Do you have any advice you’d like to pass onto aspiring musicians?
MP: Keep yourself always ready for anything. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you can’t get along with people. You have to know and be prepared when to pick and choose your battles. You have to always stand up for yourself and your friends It’s not how you stay on the horse, it’s how you get back up on the horse WHEN you fall off. Less is more.
G!: Monte, thanks for taking out the time for this! We’re looking forward to your new releases!
MP: You’re welcome! I look forward to kicking your ass with what’s to come!
Interview © 2012 Guitarhoo!
Monte on the web