There are of course plenty of guitarists out there and plenty of shredders, but last year Xander Demos caught our ear with his first full-length album 'Guitarcadia' - it was about time we settled down for a chat...
Thank you for taking the time to talk to the Rockpit.
Thank you for having me! I’m honoured…
How’s the weather in Pittsburgh at the moment?
Downright Arctic! I think we were a balmy 30 degrees F today, but we were down around 0 for the previous two days. That’s why I like to travel to Florida, as often as possible. Haha.
For those who aren’t familiar with Xander Demos can you bring us up to date?
Yeah, absolutely! I consider myself a tasty shredder, with melodic sensibilities and a pinch of attitude. I’ve been playing for over 25 years, but have really started to dig in deep over the last 3. My solo band has been playing some pretty big shows over here in the states. We did shows with some of the guys from Stryper, Ted Poley from Danger Danger, Phil Lewis from LA Guns, Ron Keel, Enuff Znuff, Tony Harnell from TNT and a bunch of others. I’ve also played shows and recorded with James Rivera from Helstar and Malice, as well as in Sabbath Judas Sabbath with James. I was on the Ged Rylands’ Rage of Angels album and Liberty N Justice’s Cigar Chronicles, and a few others. I’m currently working on my second album with my band, XDB.
You first came to our attention with 2012’s “Guitarcadia” which showed remarkable variety for someone primarily recognised for their shredding – what did you hope the album would achieve?
Well, thanks, first of all. I’m glad that you thought it showed some range. I was just hoping to put out an album that was like those great ones from Shrapnel back in the day. It felt like there hadn’t been anything of that magnitude for a while. I had all this music that had been bottled up for a while and I finally just said, to hell with it, let’s get it recorded and see what happens. I guess a lot of people felt the same way about that style of music, because it was well-received by my fans and listeners in general. I was just hoping to show people that you can have melody and speed at the same time, without being pigeon-holed into one or the other. I think I accomplished that, or at least, I hope I did.
Did it come together quickly or do some of the songs or the ideas they came from date back a few years?
Some of them were very quick. Just some riffs that came from rehearsing and practicing. Once those came, just expanding on it and getting the melodies to work came pretty quickly. Others had been around for years. “Metagalactic” was originally called “Up From the Skies” and it dates back to the ‘90s, believe it or not. A couple of the other tunes were from 10 years ago, or so. I had performed them with bands I was playing in, but they still seemed to work with the sound I was going after on the album. So, we gave ‘em a little update and a tweak here or there, and there you have it.
Are you pleased with the response you’ve had so far?
Couldn’t be happier. Putting out an album that is 80% instrumental guitar is obviously not going to sell millions of albums. It’s a very niche market, for sure. But, I have been absolutely stoked about the response. This album opened a lot of doors for me, with the press, reviews and even some airplay that we got. Imagine that…instrumental shred guitar on the radio! I’m just looking to take things to the next level on my follow up.
When are we likely to hear a follow-up? And will that follow up be in a similar vein or will you be looking to do something different?
The follow up is going to be a lot more vocal-heavy. We’ve already released the first track, “Dancing Through Daggers,” which is on itunes, amazon, etc. The sound of this record is a lot more cohesive, because we are using a band, instead of studio guys, like on the first record. This band for the second album has been playing together and touring, so we are gelling and really nailing every song. We’re about ½ way done on recording the follow up. I think it’s going to be an EP, at least at this juncture, with about 60-70 percent being vocal. Our sound has evolved to a Queensryche meets Dio meets Malmsteen sort of vibe. We’re definitely moving into a more epic prog area. Of course, the solos are still there in HUGE proportions, so anyone that liked the first album will definitely dig this one. The first single was mixed by JK Northrup of King Kobra/XYZ, and he’ll be doing some more work on it, along with CJ Snare from Firehouse, who did Guitarcadia.
Do you have a particular favourite track, or one that listeners should check out first?
Well, you know how artists feel about their tracks…they’re like our children. I still really love “Right Angles” from Guitarcadia. It’s the first track on the album, and it’s the first “single” release we did a few years ago. It really went a long way in helping put me on the map. I also love “Under A Darkened Sky” because it was a big vocal track on that album, and it gained a lot of attention, because it had vocals. And, of course, the new single. It’s taking us to the new direction we’re headed, and since it has the new band on it, it’s just a special track.
You play live with not only your own band but also a number of cover bands, does the feeling you get playing change between your own material and covers?
Well, we still play a lot of covers in XDB, too. We like to play some Sabbath, Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Priest, Dio, Dream Theater. These are bands that the fans love and that we adore. So, paying tribute to those acts during our live sets is very natural and a ton of fun. I think audiences are more receptive to hearing an act that they may not know, when they play something that they recognize. Then, you hit ‘em with your original stuff, and they open up to it. I think we may even cover a tune on our next album, too. It’s still up in the air. We did a cover of “Boys of Summer” on Guitarcadia, and it was one of the fans’ favourites from the record.
You’ve supported some big names over the last few years – what has been your favourite tour and the biggest eye-opener?
Favorite show we did was with Buckethead in Pittsburgh. It was just the perfect blend of music. The fans were totally into it. It was a “guitar-friendly” audience. We sold out of CDs that night. I’ve also enjoyed travelling across the US doing Skull Fest, Wolf Fest and Rock Harvest…not to mention NAMM Metal Jam. I’m doing that again in a couple of weeks, in LA. We’ve got Michael Angelo Batio and some former members of Whitesnake, Dio, Rising Force, my buddy Neil Turbin, the original voice of Anthrax, and a ton more of the best metal players.
Who would be your dream concert ticket – your band and two others – who are they? And why?
Journey and Dream Theater. Melodic, skilled players and incredible vocals. Timeless music…and I think they can both sell some tickets. Haha. I’ve always admired the playing of Neal Schon, and of course, John Petrucci. I think to share the stage with them would be an unbelievable experience.
What have been your greatest challenges to date, and your favourite moments musically?
Greatest challenges would be releasing a mostly-instrumental guitar album…and that would be my favourite moment, too. Haha. Just kidding! There are a lot of challenges in today’s music business. Budgets are hard to come by. There’s a lot of DIY from bands. When you get a little older, it’s harder to find band members that are as committed as the ones I have in my band. Everyone has families and commitments that can hold them back from touring. I think we’ve been lucky to find guys that are all in. Especially as a “solo” artist. It takes a special kind of team player to get on board for that. Egos have to be left at the door. Favourite moment musically, so far, would be the Metal Warriors Open Air Festival with James Rivera. Great show…treated us very well there.
With technology changing so much over the last few years and seemingly not slowing, and TV force-feeding us the lowest common denominator, what hope is there for rock music?
The fans. That’s it, in a nutshell. The fans are the ones that make the difference. They are the ones that buy the music and come to the shows and share our stuff on social media. Without them, we couldn’t survive, at all. As rock musicians, we’re pretty lucky, that we have to be able to play our instruments. I think it’s one of the purest forms of music left. As long as bands remain true to who they are, and not fall prey to the latest greatest trend happening, they will find a way to survive.
Thinking back to your early memories of music, what was it that firs made you decide you needed to be in a Rock and Roll band?
Well, the guitarist that made me want to pick up a guitar and play was Brad Gillis when he played with Ozzy. Seeing him and some of the other “Gods” on MTV made me sit up and say, I want to do that! I had started on drums, but nobody sees the drummer. Hahaha.
Where did it all start for you with guitar? What made you pick up that guitar in the first place?
I guess I just answered that one…it was seeing guys like Gillis, Vandenberg, Lynch, Van Halen, and all these amazing, larger than life players on MTV. They got the girls, they had the cars, they were the “stars.” How could I resist?
Who do you think has been your most enduring influence as a player?
Neal Schon. Always tasty, forever melodic, timeless. Yet the guy can shred with some of the best.
From what you’ve learned so far what is the most valuable advice you’ve been given so far as a musician?
To stay true to yourself. Don’t follow the trends. If you are honest about what you are doing or playing, the fans will see that. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. I think it’s pretty valuable advice, and it’s served me well.
Can music change the world?
I don’t know if it can change the world. It can certainly help the world. It can help someone get through some difficult times. It can be uplifting or it can help get out aggression. It can make a difference with different causes and charitable things. For instance, I am a big animal supporter, and I’ve donated a portion of proceeds from my music to animal charities. So, in that way, I guess music can change the world. But, more than that, it’s people that change the world. If they happen to be musicians, then all the better!
What does 2014 have in store for you and the band?
We’ve already got Skull Fest 2 and Rock N Skull festivals on the calendar. We’re finishing up the new album. We’ve got dates with Primal Fear and Metal Church scheduled. There are some other pretty big things on the horizon that I can’t talk about yet, but basically, we’ll be taking this thing to even greater heights in 2014. I look forward to reaching more fans and showing them how we do it.
If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album from any period, just to see how the magic happened and it all came together, what would it have been for you any why?
Wow… I guess I will have to stay with Journey on that one. Escape. It could be the perfect melodic rock record of all time. “Don’t Stop Believin’” “Stone In Love,” the title track? I’d love to hear how they came up with that stuff. Again, timeless.