An Interview with
Solo Artist & Madonna's Lead Guitarist
and formerly of Prong & Ministry
that took place on Monday, August 8th, 2016.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: Hi Monte, it’s Glenn from Metalliville. How are you doing?
Monte: Glenn! Hi! How are you doing? I’m doing pretty good man!
Glenn: Cool. That’s awesome! I remember that first time I saw you. It wasn’t at a gig. You were having a beer at Skinny’s Lounge. That was in 2014. OZZFestAmy said, “That’s Monte Pittman who plays with Madonna and played with Prong and Ministry”.
Monte: Yeah, I’ve got to keep busy! (laughs)
Glenn: Yeah, just a bit! I bet you’ve been asked so many times about this but I was absolutely amazed by how you became Madonna’s Guitarist through teaching Guy Ritchie how to play guitar and the story behind that. That must have been pretty amazing to go into playing gigs with Madonna like that?
Monte: Yeah! It went by so fast that you didn’t even really have to stop and think about it until after it all happened. I started giving her guitar lessons and that led to me playing guitar for her. I already knew all her songs, we got along great and we always had a great chemistry playing.
Glenn: Yeah it must be cool being up there with her on stage and playing those songs live?
Monte: Well playing live is as good as it gets. If you are going to play guitar for a living and that’s your job, playing with her is just about as good as it can get. I’m playing the biggest shows an artist can play. What I really love is all the different styles of music I have to do. On this last tour I played ukulele and I’ve never played ukulele live. The tour before that I had to get a banjo, before I had to get a guitar. There’s always something a little different.
On one tour I played bass so I had to get a bass rig. There’s always something different and always something new to learn. I do a lot of acoustic stuff and there’s always some sort of rock part in a song. I didn’t really notice that or realise that before playing with her. Michael Jackson had that a lot. Some of his hits, they had somewhat of a rock element into some of those songs.
Glenn: Yeah. What is actually good is that you find out that some of these artists that play with some of these bands, you never know who their actual members are. You mention Michael Jackson and you get people like Jennifer Batten and then there’s yourself playing with Madonna. It’s good that you get known for yourself as well as opposed to just playing with others. It’s a really nice thing.
Monte: Well mainly it’s different now because you have the internet and different ways to find things like that out. If you wanted to go to a concert you could look that up and if you see someone else playing, look it up and find something out about them. Then there’s also the longevity – we’ve been going 16 years now. There are people who have said that they’ve been a fan since the first tour that I did with her and they’ve kept up with me. I’ve never interacted with them online or anything so you never know who’s watching and paying attention.
Glenn: Would you say there are certain songs that you really like playing with Madonna that stand out from other songs?
Monte: I like to go into it liking everything we do. The more playing there is because those kinds of songs, they’re not guitar heavy all the way through in some. ‘Ray Of Light’ – that’s a lot of fun to play because you could play that song with just a couple of chords or you can mix and match all the different guitar parts that are in that song. I’ve done it different ways on different tours. That’s a song that is multi-tracked and there are eight different guitar parts and it all comes together and makes one thing.
Sometimes I’ve played it like that was altogether and there’s times I’ve broken it up and put in different things here and there. I would say the songs I have the most playing… we did ‘Burning Up’ on this last tour - the ‘Rebel Heart Tour’ and that is the heaviest thing that Madonna has ever done. (We laugh) It’s ‘Burning Up’ just like you know it from the record. The guitars were heavy. Her amp sound was modelled after Kerry King’s amp per player and I gave her my Flying V, my ESP V that I played in Ministry! I gave that to her. That’s the guitar she’s playing.
Glenn: That’s awesome!
Monte: When we can do something like that it’s a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s fun to go back and play the songs just like they are on the record. Something that you’ve grown up with or heard your entire life and you get to do that. Then there are times you get to create something. Part of your job is to help create something new. People have asked me does she say, “Shut up and we’ll tell you what to play!” It’s complete opposite. Sometimes we have guests with her also. We had a trio of singers on the tour before this last one and they didn’t know if they should speak up and give an opinion. I said, “Yeah, that’s one of the reasons you’re here. She loves to get everybody’s input and create”.
Glenn: When I’ve actually watched footage, it’s like a Brother and Sister having a good time on stage. There’s a real bond between you acoustically on special occasions and also when you are doing the solos and she’s got her hand on your shoulder and stuff like that. There’s such a loving, great bond between you from a musical aspect.
You can tell how you get on and I actually expected you to say that, that you had a free reign and put in your input and talk about things. I didn’t think it would be, “You do this, you do that”. I think she gets such a bad thing in the press. They don’t know her and they just assume she is like that and paint this picture about her. I think seeing you with her on stage during the footage, it proves it all wrong.
Monte: Yep. She’s always taking great care of us, inviting us to parties. There’s been people we’ve been on tour with on other tours that say, “Man, I can’t believe she invited you guys all to her party?” I guess the people they played with would never invite anyone else to join them. But that’s Madonna. It’s a party everywhere you go. It’s second thing. When you have a troop of the best dancers in the world, it’s not going to be boring.
(Photo by Rob Mieves - SAP Centre 2015)
Glenn: There's so much going on on-stage that you no doubt have to concentrate a lot so you don't get distracted?
Monte: Yeah. That’s one of the reasons that we rehearse for 3 ½ months before playing the first show. You know it so well you could do it in your sleep. In fact, you rehearse so much, you pretty much are doing it in your sleep. (We laugh)
Glenn: That’s funny! What’s your preference though overall in bands? You are playing in a club like the Whisky A Go-Go or The Viper to a baseball stadium! Or do you like any sort of shows as long as they have got a good audience?
Monte: A stadium would always be the preference. That’s something you don’t always get to play everyday. You don’t go and play there every week. I like playing anywhere I can. I of course love the intimacy of playing small clubs – small places and then playing on a massive stage is an amazing feeling. That’s one of the reasons we started doing what we do.
Glenn: Do you have a fitness regime in order to get up there and keep moving like that the way you do?
Monte: I didn’t until recently. Once I got to a certain age, I was like, ‘Alright I’m gonna have start working at this now’. You try to change it up but every morning, you hit the gym. You don’t want to wear yourself out where you are exhausted. I always say if you’ve played a really good show the night before you are going to be sore and tired the next day. If you not, then you didn’t play good enough. You didn’t put enough into the show.
Glenn: I was talking to Lisa (Morton Woodard, who does the P.R. for the Ultimate Jam Night,) a couple of weeks ago, and she was saying that you were in Malaysia for one gig. You’d just been in L.A. and we were thinking, ‘How the hell does he do it?’ Do you have to pre-condition yourself or do you suffer from jetlag or are you on no-one’s time and you are just on ‘Monte Time’? How do you go about all that?
Monte: You plan it all out. When I went to Malaysia.. now I went with this group called ‘Karmin’. I started playing guitar for them also. They needed a guitar player and we had some mutual friends and we hit it off great. I love playing with them. I love that it’s something completely polar opposite to anything else I’ve done. They are just the coolest people. They’re so smart. Musically they’ve just graduated from Berkeley and Boston. We have a great time.
We went to Malaysia and what I do is that I get on the schedule for Malaysia. Let’s say it’s 11 O’ Clock there now then you start to kind of live like that. If you can sleep – do that. Even for a long flight like that – that was pretty much 24 hours of travel – going to the airport, having a layover, getting to the airport, go through customs, getting to the hotel – that’s 24 hours. We timed it with a stopwatch. From L.A. to Japan, that’s about 10 or 11 hours. I sleep on the plane – you sleep until you’re up.
Glenn: Do you find it easy enough to sleep on a plane?
Monte: Yeah it’s pretty easy because I am so tired with everything. It’s not really a big deal. It’s late and you’re tired then you just get a little sleep.
Glenn: How did you become part of the ‘Ultimate Jam’ House Band?
Monte: I played with Nikki (McBurrain) who plays drums with The Iron Maidens. That was the first person I played with. I’d heard about it from a couple of different people. I think she set up the initial first jam. We all came in together. We did a Pantera song, Rudy Sarzo played bass, Christian (Martucci) from Stone Sour sang. From there you meet someone else. It was like, “Hey, do you want to play on this song, hey do you know this? Do you know that?”.
Then you get to know everybody and start making friends with people that with everybody there it becomes a little community. One person will say, “Hey I need a guitar player on this song”. Right now I need a bass player for something so someone else that I met in a jam, I’ll call him up and say, “Hey do you know this song? Can you play bass on it?”
Glenn: Did Chuck Wright get in touch to come down for it?
Monte: Yeah. Chuck’s one of the first people I connected with there and he started getting me in – him and Matt Starr.
Glenn: Yeah! Good guys! That’s cool. What would you say your favourite nights have been so far at ‘Ultimate Jam’ that stand out so far?
Monte: We did a tribute to Prince which was pretty incredible. I would say that one, There was a night that I did ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ with Chas West on vocals and Scott and Brad Jurjens on guitar. That was really cool. Brad was the first friend I made when I moved to L.A. from Texas. Then we were saying, “Can you imagine 16 years later we finally play together?”. That was my favourite. One of my favourite things that has happened there.
Glenn: I was just thinking of you saying to Madonna, “Are you free next Tuesday, do you fancy coming down for the ‘Ultimate Jam’ – that would be pretty cool!
Monte: Hey, you never know!
Glenn: You never know!
Monte: I’ve seen a lot of things. Nothing surprises me anymore.
Glenn: Yeah, I was there for the opening night at The Whisky and that was a mind-blowing time. You were on stage on two or three separate occasions for a couple of songs. I really enjoyed it. I think I saw you last year onstage at The Lucky Strike as well.
Monte: Tomorrow I’m doing five songs. It will be the most I’ve done. What I’m really excited about tomorrow is that I used to play in Prong and me and Tommy Victor from Prong are getting together and playing guitar. We haven’t played guitar live in front of people for probably 10 years.
Glenn: Wow! That’s awesome. That’s going to be like a reunion!
Monte: It’s really exciting!
Glenn: Yeah completely! What songs are you going to be playing or are you allowed to say yet?
Monte: We’re doing a Ministry song and we’re doing a Soundgarden song also. Then I’m doing a Tool song with someone, a Pearl Jam with someone and a Nine Inch Nails. The theme tomorrow is ‘Lollapalooza’. It’s all bands that were part of Lollapalooza at some time. It has been gravitating towards the first years of it because when it first came out it was the biggest thing.
Glenn: Definitely. It must be cool at times to do the ‘Ultimate Jam’ because I guess you are playing songs that you wouldn’t usually think of playing and try out as such. Like, “Let’s do this one, let’s play that one”, and then ‘I like playing this one all of a sudden!’
Monte: Yeah! There are songs that I’ve had to learn that I wouldn’t sit and have to learn all the way through.
Glenn: Which ones would you be talking about there?
Monte: ‘Flying High Again’ – I used to know that one. Then I hadn’t played it. I hadn’t got to play it really. ‘Diary Of A Madman’ would probably be the one that would be my ‘go-to’ song if I’m going to play anything like that. ‘Night Train’ from Guns ‘N’ Roses.
Glenn: Oh cool! Great song!
Monte: I love that song but I usually don’t figure out songs but I teach guitar lessons. In that case, I’ve got to learn it and learn it exactly how they do it. From doing it, it makes you a better player. It makes you learn more about someone’s song-writing and performance, sound and tone.
Glenn: What do you enjoy most about playing guitar?
Monte: When someone gets it. When the light turns on. That is one of my favourite things. I had that happen to one of my students on Thursday. When they start to get it, when I start to see… I always tell them my job is to make the world smaller. So it’s not so overwhelming and there’s all these notes and figuring out how it works. That’s my main thing I do when I’m teaching. Because then I can show you a ton of songs.
If you spend all your time learning a song then that’s all you can do but if we build it from the ground up and learn your chords and learn your scales, then we’ll learn some things here and there on the way. So that way I can say, “Okay, this song is this chord, this chord, this chord and you already know those chords”, and you can do a lot more. People can get overwhelmed easier than you may think. I used to teach a lot of things at once but I noticed that people say, “Hey, I need to learn about this more”.
Then they take a break and then they just stop taking a liking and then they just stop playing. When you give just a little bit at a time they can really absorb that information. Then they will play forever.
Glenn: Each pupil is an individual and each one learns at a different rate and can pick up things faster than other things. They might take longer to absorb some other things no doubt?
Monte: Yeah. You get to learn something from every time someone says, “Hey, can you show me this song?” or “I need help with this sort of technique” or “My timing” or something and you have to know it so well where you can get in their head and make them understand that. I always like to figure a song in front of them and then they learn how to do that. I never say, “I’ll bring in a song next week”, because I’ve got a lot of students. I don’t have a lot of time to do that.
You never know what someone will say. You may work on a song all week for them to say, “Oh yeah, that’s great, what about this one?” It could just be another song. So, I like to show them how to and what you’ve go to do to figure out a song. That’s part of the lesson. That’s the top lesson that you can learn really. That’s one of the things you are going to really need.
Glenn: How did you get involved with the Kirk Hammett Guitar Pedals?
Monte: They contacted me and said they wanted me to check out their pedals. That they liked my guitar playing and wanted to see what I’m about which blew me away. I didn’t know if it was a prank or something. Those pedals are great. They add to your sound. They don’t completely change your tone. There are some pedals that do that. They are very consistent so I’m loving those right now.
Glenn: Have you been using them for a while now and you’ve got really used to them?
Monte: Yeah I’ve been using them a while now. Kirk Hammett’s not going to mess around. He’s not going to just put it out there. If anybody’s going to know good pedals, it’s him.
Glenn: Yeah just a bit. I totally agree. As a singer, you’ve got a strong sweet voice but you’ve also got an aggressive voice at the times you need to. Did all that come natural or did you have to train yourself to be able to sing so well and just progressed from there?
Monte: Thank You! Yeah! I had to take so many vocal lessons just to get to this point – different vocal teachers. Most recently I started taking lessons from Ron Anderson. He was Chris Cornell’s Teacher, Axl’s teacher – many of the top singers out there. He really made me understand what to do. I just didn’t understand the breathing part but he said it in a way or maybe just from hearing it a few different ways where I got it.
I can see how it works and it’ll be a lifelong journey as long as you have a voice. Trust me, if I could do the heavy voice I would but this is what I’ve got. This is what I’ve got to work with so that’s been it. Hopefully it does that. Hopefully something different. That’s why I always like those things.
Glenn: You’ve got a great voice.
Monte: Thank you.
Glenn: No problem. I did trained singing for a couple of years and I’ve been in a choir and I think one of the most intriguing things that you are surprised with is what you find your range is and what it can do sometimes bit by bit and it strengthens. You find you can sing well just by singing along to a few records. It’s pretty daunting at times.
Monte: You know what, my last album, ‘The Power Of Three’, I think I got more compliments on my vocals than my guitar playing. People said, “I love the album, I love your vocals”. I was like, “What?”. I feel like I am a guitar player that has to sing because someone has to do it. I definitely don’t feel like a singer who plays guitar. It’s kind of a weird thing. I was always I couldn’t sing. I didn’t even need to be doing this. I wasn’t singing, I was talking – it’s different. Talking and singing is two different ways you use your body. Singing is like playing an instrument. It’s two different places. That’s what I figured out at least. (We laugh)
Glenn: When you sing, what do you find is the hardest phrasing or hardest notes? Do you have to bring it back a bit with notes at times and not push too hard from a vocal point of view?
Monte: Well a lot of it, if you can’t hear yourself you can’t judge how loud you are, especially if you are around really loud music. If you can’t hear yourself singing one way or another then you are going to push too hard – push too much air. You shouldn’t be pushing that much air at all. It should almost be like a yawn. I’m making a conscious note for the next album to take out every ‘F’ because that’s always a note with recording.
Glenn: Now you’ve found you’re a good singer now, can you see yourself doing more singing on stage with someone like Madonna, like a few back-ups as well as just playing guitar or do you feel you will stick to guitar?
Monte: If it were to need it. She doesn’t have a lot of male.. there’s no male on ‘Material Girl’ and there’s not much backing elsewhere for Madonna. If there’s someone I’m playing with that’s needed yes. I did that with Prong. That’s where I started to find my voice. I backed up with Prong. I remember one show that I was doing something and I just relaxed. I was exhausted from playing every day. My monitors sounded amazing and I relaxed and sang. I thought, ‘Wow’.
I watched the video back and I said, “Hey, it sounds like I’m actually doing this. Then you try to chase and think, ‘How did I do that?’ It’s not just about breathing, it’s equally about resonance. If you record acoustic guitar the best sounds come from playing really soft. It doesn’t sound like it’s being played real soft because the instrument is so dynamic that it’s a balance of that sound.
(Photo by Rob Mieves - SAP Centre 2015)
Glenn: Do you find you put more into your singing as well depending on how your audience reacts to you like if you were playing guitar, do you find you put more into everything when you get more of a reaction from the audience?
Monte: Yeah always. That’s another tricky part of being onstage. If the crowd’s going crazy then you want to go crazy that you can sometimes fly off notes because you are pushing too hard. That happens and another thing from the last album. A friend of ours was up close while playing the whisky and it was the song ‘Before The Mourning Son’ – it was the second single we did and he was mouthing the words and getting into it and that got me into it. Then I flew off the note because I pushed too hard because I was getting all excited. You try and be really calm.
Glenn: What do you enjoy doing outside music?
Monte: Well all I do is play with people, teach and got to the gym. That’s about it. I don’t get to watch tv or movies. That’s about all I know. It’s all I’ve known since for the last 2 ½ years.
Glenn: What have been the most wildest and outrageous shows you have done over the years?
Monte: Definitely the ‘Live 8’ or ‘Live Earth’ – both of those. ‘Live 8’ featured Paul McCartney, The Who & Pink Floyd. It really was the last time that Pink Floyd played together and I happened to be standing backstage by myself while they were all saying goodbye to each other.
Monte: We were in Hyde Park and our hotel was across the park and it was at night. Everybody said, “You can’t leave, you can’t go by yourself” but everybody else had left but I wanted to stay and watch all the bands. I was waiting for some of our crew to be done and I was going to walk across the park with them. I happened to be talking with Roger Waters and his Manager, then the rest of them came and said goodbye to each other and left. I thought there should have been a camera there to see that.
Glenn: The chances of that. It’s absolutely mind-blowing isn’t it? A chance in a lifetime!
Monte: It was pretty crazy. Then the ‘Live Earth’ with Spinal Tap and Metallica. They were playing with Spinal Tap. A bunch of different people played. We did ‘Big Bottom’ and they got all the bass players they could get there. Kirk and also MCA from The Beastie Boys - he was there! That was one of those things that was only going to happen one moment in your life. If someone were to tell you that was going to happen…
Glenn: You’d never believe them would you? There’s not way!
Monte: Oh I know. Also with Madonna, the people that come to the shows. You’re playing and you see Jimmy Page – it’s like ‘Wow!’ It’s usually the other way around. “I want to see you on stage”.
Glenn: What you’ve done it’s almost dream-state and surreal but I guess for you personally, you get used to what you do and it’s like, “Yeah, I play with Madonna, I’ve played with Prong, I’ve played with Ministry”. It’s your life and what you’ve been used to. I guess first off it must be daunting and you are thinking, ‘Holy hell! What am I doing here?’
Monte: Yeah. I say that all the time. I’ve been playing with the LA Kiss house band, (who play alongside) the arena football team that Kiss have. Another moment where I can’t believe this, is that after the game, fans come down the field and get pictures with cheerleaders and Gene and Paul are usually there signing. We were doing ‘God Of Thunder’ and I had thought that they had left and I saw Gene signing something and look up at us. Just look over and watch for a second. I was thinking, ‘I’m playing ‘God Of Thunder’ and Gene Simmons is watching’. Damn! You’re kidding me!
Glenn: Yeah you either freeze, carry on with it or sh*t yourself. You’re thinking, ‘Holy hell – this can go one way or another’.
Glenn: What was going through your head at that point?
Monte: I don’t know. If I had a time travel and go back and see myself as a little kid I’d say “Practise More!”. (We laugh)
Glenn: Absolutely amazing! How did you become a part of the ‘LA Kiss Houseband’?
Monte: Through Matt Starr of ‘Ultimate Jam Night’. I told him in passing and I know he’s had an amazing guitar player. I was joking around and I said, “If you ever need another back-up guitar player, I’ll play off-stage or whatever. We just laughed about it but then when Matt got to put together a band for the LA Kiss he said, “You’re the first guy I thought of because you said that” and that’s how that came about.
Glenn: You are signed to Metal Blade. I know it’s a legendary label but what was it that made you want to sign to Metal Blade?
Monte: I didn’t think I would get signed to Metal Blade. As a bizarre sequence of events, I met up with Brian Slagel. In fact, I met up with him before I recorded ‘The Power Of Three’ but things just change. We got together and I played it for him. I said, “What do I do with this? I feel like there’s got to be somebody who would want this. I shouldn’t have to just put this out myself. You’re telling me that no label or nobody’s going to want it?”
I was thinking that it wouldn’t be heavy enough for what they do. But they do actually have some other things than just the heavier stuff metal out there. They do have a bit of a variety of heavy music. When I played it for him that was it. He pretty much… in fact he said, “I’ll take it!”. I said, “We don’t know anybody that will take it”. Actually when I left I thought. ‘I just got signed!’ and that’s what it’s like. That really happened!
Glenn: It’s cool. You can’t really wish for a better label.
Monte: It was pretty simple actually. It’s great. I love working with them. Such a great team of people. I love it that I can trust everybody that’s involved and go to them for advice. What should I do here? What should I do there?
Glenn: That’s cool. What would you say you are most proud so far of over the years in your career?
Monte: ‘The Power Of Three’ – doing it on my own. After all these years of playing with other people and getting my own record deal. I’m a band guy. I love playing in a band. I love having a group of guys. I’ve always wanted to have… we’re a band, we go to rehearsal, then lets do dinner and go to a bar together, hang out together and grab a song. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do but it just so happened that it didn’t turn out that way. But getting signed as me, Monte Pittman is just even crazier. I guess that would be the main thing because that’s what I set out to do at the beginning.
I loved teaching Guy (Ritchie) how to play guitar and helping Madonna with a new skill and getting her music out there. She’s progressed so much over the years so that’s pretty cool. Teaching Guy how to play guitar! That is cool. Helping Prong get back together because Prong had split up after ‘The Rude Awakening’ came out in ’96 . When I met Tommy Victor in 2000, I got Prong going again. He’s really smart. Tommy’s been knocking albums out right and left.
(Photo by Rob Mieves - SAP Centre 2015)
Glenn: That’s great. What’s your favourite guitar? Do you have a certain guitar you like to play all the time or do you have a variation of guitars?
Monte: Yeah my ESP Eclipse. That has been my favourite. At first what really attracted me to ESP is their FRX. I like how it looks. It looks like it could be a weapon and it looks like it’s a violin. A great playing sounding guitar and it was something different than anybody else would play. That’s what really first caught my eye with them. I got an Eclipse which is their version of a Les Paul shaped guitar. I love it. That is my favourite.
I’ve got a white V from them that I recorded my next album with and I did the whole album with just that guitar. Before I’ve done all kinds of different guitars on different songs and layered things. The Eclipse – that’s my favourite as far as sound, playing, weight, shape, feel. It just makes me want to play. That’s what I like!
Glenn: Which songs of yours that you’ve written, recorded and performed live have meant the most to you?
Monte: ‘Dark Horse’ – that was a huge breakthrough for me in my playing and my songwriting. It seems to be that people go back and forth. They are playing that one or ‘Before The Mourning Son’ as their favourite. Someone told me yesterday, we were talking about that album. Through everything I’ve done, not only getting signed as my own group but two years later, people are still listening to me. They are not just listening to it when it came out and just forget about it, they still listen and that’s good. That’s what matters to me.
Glenn: You’ve done so much. Your schedule must be months or years in advance. How do you put it all together because that must take some sorting out?
Monte: Well you know, one step at a time or you get overwhelmed because I get overwhelmed. If I get overwhelmed I just have to stop and take a breath and just do what you can do then. I’m swamped until January.
Glenn: I can imagine!
Monte: It’s a blessing and I’m very happy to have that. You have to watch out because sometimes things will can themselves out. If you get too many things and you plan to this, then something else happens that you didn’t plan for it makes it to where nothing happens at all.
Glenn: That makes a lot of sense.
Monte: You keep tending to the fire.
Glenn: You’ve done quite a few gigs with your own band. What shows have stood out for you so far and why?
Monte: We played the Sony Stage at South By Southwest when ‘The Power Of Three’ came out. It was on top of a roof outside. It was great weather and a great crowd. I made friends with a lot of bands. I’d just made friends with the band ‘Crobot’ and we’ve just started hanging out now. We’re still great friends and that’s been my favourite one.
Glenn: That’s brilliant!
Monte: Selling out the Whisky on a Saturday night! That’s a cool thing!
Glenn: You do the ‘Ultimate Jam Night ’ quite a bit. Would you say it’s more nerve-wracking for you personally when you go out there with your own band than getting up on stage with the ‘Ultimate Jam Night Guys’? Or do you find that you know your stuff, you guy out there and do it?
Monte: Playing on my own shows, that would be much more nerve-wracking. I’ve got to load all my gear, set-up merch, I’ve got to sing, make sure the sounds right, make sure everybody’s getting there. There’s many more jobs to do. With Jam Night, you never know. Sometimes you get a call at the last minute. “Come play this song!”. It’s about fun.
Sometimes it’s not going to be perfect and you can’t beat yourself up about that. It’s all about having a good time and getting to do that. I’m very lucky to have a jam night. I think it’s going to start a new scene. I know eventually more and more people are starting to take notice. I’ve had more notable musicians as time goes on say, “Hey, I’ll come and check that out!”. So they come and see and say, “Hey yeah! Come and play on this song”.
Glenn: I was saying to Chuck the other week, that I think one of the great things about the ‘Ultimate Jam Night’ is that it opens the doors for other people to see artists on stage that they wouldn’t be used to seeing. It brings people on to seeing their own shows such as yourself. There’s no doubt that people will have gone online and checked out you playing with Madonna when they weren’t even Madonna fans or checked you out as a solo artist. I think it’s such a great outing for any musician that wants to get known in their own right as well as playing with other people in the Whisky.
Monte: Yeah it’s definitely great for us being exposed to all those people. They won’t know who you are or hear you any other way every week.
Glenn: It’s amazing! What are you currently up to right now music-wise?
Monte: Well my next album is done so I’m just doing a lot of planning and preparation for when that comes out. I’m starting to write for what will be the next album and I know where I want that to go. I want to do that. It’s always a long process. I’m getting ready to go to Japan with Karmin and that’s it really right this second. That’s August!
Glenn: Wow! (We laugh)
Monte: I got another thing which is a cover band with some friends and we’re going to start doing some gigs. Just a jam night but doing ZZ Top songs, AC/DC songs the first Friday night of the month in Hermosa Beach or somewhere like that. That kind of stuff. Just playing everyday - AC/DC to ZZ Top!
Glenn: Awesome! That’s great. And why not? When you write your material, how long on average does it take you to put an album together. Does it take months or maybe a year or two depending on how your schedule is?
There’s another song I just wrote and I like that better, so now I’m going to go back and change this other part. It’s like I’m moving things around like puzzle pieces. If I’m playing guitar, I usually come up with a riff or chord progression, then you see what gets stuck in your head. Then you come up with a melody idea and try not to get too married to that melody idea. You have to think about it another way.
What I’m doing right now is not taking the first thing that I come up with. I’ve got a melody for a song but I don’t want to record it. I don’t want to do anything like that. I just want to think about it and now it. Then I’ll just play the song every time I get a chance. Every time I hear that song it’s going to be a little different and whatever sticks with me, eventually that’s going to become the song.
Then I’ll do a demo of that and whoever produces the album of whatever’s left in, it will reach a point to where you say, “Okay, now I’m washing my hands of it now, this is yours. Tell me what to do”, and have them say, “What if we did the melody where you are going up on this first line? Or, what if you go up on the second line? Let’s switch these and it helps refine it.
Glenn: If you have the chance to choose any particular Producer to produce your next album who would you want to have as the Producer and why?
Monte: Jerry Rushden just did my new album. He was awesome. Then Flemming Rasmussen did ‘The Power Of Three’. Both of those is where I learned so much. I guess Jerry. He’s one of the top Producers right now.
Glenn: I guess you get ideas surreally where you happen to be. Do you ever get ideas popping into your head while you are playing another song live at a concert?
Monte: No usually I am just trying to think of what I have to do live. Unless you are doing like a freeform jam and then you can do that. For the LA Kiss band, when we do ‘Whole Lotta Love’ in the middle we break it down and we play whatever like what Led Zeppelin did. You’ve got to play it different every time and that’s the point.
Glenn: Do you ever find that you put things into the jam that have been floating around your head for a while and the other guys in the band ask you what it is?
Monte: Usually riffs just come to me once. That’s why I always record myself. Before I realised I should be doing that I would just be playing and if I was writing with someone they’d say, “Oh, do that riff again!” and I’d say, “What was I doing? I was just tuning my guitar!” You never know. Sometimes people will see one thing and another person thinks it means something else. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to describe music because everyone sees it differently.
Glenn: You have played so many different styles of music over the years. Do you find it’s hard to switch between one style or another?
Monte: No, I just treat music as music and just adapt to it.
Glenn: I was just thinking that you could be on stage with Madonna and all of a sudden, you have this urge to throw some other thing together but then think, ‘No I can’t do that!”, because you are playing all different styles?
Monte: There’s more similarities in those two than you’d realise. It’s all just the setting on your amp.
Glenn: Yeah you don’t realise that when you hear something like Madonna or Prong or anything else that there’s so much good stuff that’s happening in the music. You don’t expect Madonna music to sound as heavy and as brutal as it does but when you get somebody like a guy like you onstage, it adds like a brand new set of colours to a song and it’s pretty incredible to see the footage of that. It’s incredible how you manage to do that.
Monte: Wow! Thank You! I think that having a little touch of that heavy side to her music, it’s part of her personality already. It’s something which fits with that. When she plugs in an electric she goes for that heavy sound. Like, she will say, “Turn the distortion up! Louder!” The thing is, she didn’t always do pop. She could have very easily gone down the road of Blondie or more Punk - like Pattie Smith! Someone who grew up in the late 70’s and went to CBGB’s. She was there through all that in that whole time.
(Photo by Rob Mieves - SAP Centre 2015)
Glenn: Yeah. She’s been there, she’s done that and she was a drummer.
Monte: Yeah! That’s always a weird similarity to me that she played drums and played at CBGB’s and Prong started from CBGB’s. Tommy was the soundman, Ted worked the door, Mike booked the bands or something like that but Prong came from CBGB’s.
Then Tommy did sound for Living Colour when they played at CBGB’s. Vernon Reid was playing for Mick Jagger. So Vernon Reid introduced him to Epic Records or Sony which Mick Jagger was on and that’s how they got signed.
Glenn: Awesome. That’s incredible.
Monte: I know. A lot of things you don’t hear.
Glenn: You don’t, no. How do you find audiences are different from one part of the World to another? Are there any things you find that it’s a bit like black and white so to speak with regard to the reaction you get while they are watching you?
Monte: Yeah! Well they never are in different places. I don’t know why that is. Usually with Madonna they just go nuts. They do in South America. I mean, people go nuts everywhere. I don’t know why the crowds are different in different places. Maybe it’s the access they get to listen to music – they use the music as their outlet.
Glenn: Are there certain parts of her show that you enjoy and really look forward to or do you just enjoy playing all of it?
Monte: Yeah! It becomes one thing. You get into this zone and become one with it. It’s all one show. Anytime I’m playing or if there’s a song that doesn’t have a lot of guitar, you just wait for the next part. Then I get to look around and check out the audience but normally I’m just paying attention to what I’m doing.
Glenn: Well you can watch Madonna up there, fair do’s, but I think that when you are on that stage as well, I think you really, really make that show as well. It’s not just about Madonna anymore when you’re playing guitar. I really think she appreciates that. You just bounce off each other musically.
Monte: Which show did you see?
Glenn: It was footage of a show from Detroit last year playing ‘Burning Up’ on the Rebel Heart Tour and also acoustically at the Ziggo Dome Amsterdam, July 7th, 2012 performing ‘Masterpiece’. I will put my hands on the table here, I’m not a big Madonna fan at all but after seeing footage of you with her, it was a case of, ‘Wow – she’s really worth checking out just to see what goes into the show from a musical point of view.
Monte: Wow! Cool!
Glenn: What else would you like to discuss that we haven’t covered in the interview?
Monte: The new album, ‘Inverted Grasp Of Balance’ comes out in September on Metal Blade Records. That’s the big one! We’re doing the launch on 16th August. It will be the 1st single, ‘Pride Comes Before The Fall’ and then the pre-order for the album.
I teach guitar lessons online and you contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org When I was in Malaysia, I was still teaching. My students were saying, “It looks different there, where are you?” “I’m in Malaysia”, “What time is it?”, “It’s 2:30 in the morning”. They were asking, “Don’t you need to sleep?”, I said, “No, I take naps in-between my students”.
Glenn: That is one of the beauties of the internet. You can be anywhere in the World and do whatever you need to do. Can you imagine doing that 20 odd years ago? It was impossible wasn’t it! You could not do it!
Monte: I know and I was in ‘Vegas with one of my friends and I said, “Hey, I’ve got to go back at six and I’ve got to teach one lesson for an hour”. They said, “What? Who are you teaching here at six?” and I said, “No, he’s in Hong Kong and it’s around 10 in the morning there”.
Glenn: Yeah, it’s unreal. I mean, it’s just constant! You just don’t stop do you? Amazing!
Monte: I wouldn’t even know how to!
Glenn: Good Job. (I laugh). I don’t think your schedule allows you to stop to be honest with you. What songs have been the most joy to record on the forthcoming album?
Monte: All of them. If there was one that wasn’t then I would have had it on. There are other ones I could have put on there. I’ve had a great time. I keep pushing myself. I record something and I play it and say, “You know what, what if I do it like this or what if I do it like this?” I think from trying to get just a perfect take, doing it over and over again and being able to do that. I’ve never been able to do that before.
This is the first album where I’ve been on a record label from day one of the process. With ‘The Power Of Three’, I recorded it and played it for Metal Blade and got signed. With this one we were able to plan things out then I could work on it until I was completely happy and say, “Okay, this is absolutely perfect!”, then deliver it.
Glenn: Nice! Are there certain songs that you are really looking forward to playing live to the fans or are you wanting to get all of them out there?
Monte: Every one of them. The set list may well be the whole album. (We laugh). No I’ll mix it with other ones and I’ll switch them around a lot.
Glenn: In your own set, do you like to throw a song in by bands that you’ve been part of such as throw in a Prong song, a Ministry song in or even a Madonna? Do you put uncalled for things in just for a bit of fun or do you stick straight to your own material that’s been written for your own bad?
Monte: I cover ‘Hot For Teacher’ (By Van Halen) & ‘Rise’ from Pantera.
Monte: That’s really the only ones although back when I first started playing live I’d do a Hendrix song and a lot of stuff like that. When I first started playing out, I was playing acoustically because that way, I could play a show whether I had a band in town or not. I used to do an acoustic version of ‘The Four Horsemen’ by Metallica.
Monte: That’s one of their only songs you can break down and play pretty much all acoustic without having to utilise the riffs. Just riffs! With one or two strings you can play everything with open chords.
Glenn: So you have no preference whatsoever? As long as you are playing the guitar, it doesn’t matter if you are playing acoustic or electric or whatever, you are just happy to play?
Monte: Yeah! Pretty Much! (We laugh)
Glenn: That’s great. It’s been a pleasure having a good chat with you.
Monte: Yes. Same with you Man! Same with you!
Glenn: Cheers Dude! I’ll see you in January at the 'Ultimate Jam Night' or something like that.
Monte: Cool! That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to that.
Glenn: Awesome! You take care Monte.
Monte: Okay Dude! Bye.
An almighty thank you to Lisa Morton Woodard for setting up the Interview and of course Monte Pittman personally, for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to talk with us in fantastic detail not to mention giving full authorisation of all owned photographic images used throughout the Interview! Opening photo by Kevin Wilson.
Ultimate Jam Night Photographs by Ronnie Lyon!
Be sure to check out http//www.montepittman.com for all the latest information.