The Aristocrats were formed almost by accident when Guthrie Govan was called in as a late replacement for fusion-meister Greg Howe to play The Anaheim Bass Bash featuring Bryan Beller on bass and Marco Minnemann on drums, Guthrie said in a recent interview with Guitar Player Magazine that when they walked off stage they simultaneously said “This is working. We should record this.” and so The Aristocrats were born.
Guthrie had been touring around the world doing clinics with Suhr Guitars for years promoting his growing collection of Guthrie Govan Signature models and usually accompanied by long time Suhr employee Ed Yoon. Ed has now left Suhr and is The Aristocrats full time manager, he has been posting photos of the recording process on various forums including Guthrie’s latest setup which includes a Suhr Badger 30 and Custom Audio Amplifiers (by Suhr) PT100 replacing his amp of choice for the last 5 or so years since his debut solo album ‘Erotic Cakes‘ was recorded.
Meanwhile Bryan Beller was someone who I knew via the Steve Vai live DVD ‘Where The Wild Things Are‘ and Dave Weiner’s album ‘On Revolute‘ but my god the man has played on so many albums it is quite incredible, check out his discography which includes a huge chunk of Steve Vai’s back catalogue which I didn’t realise as well as Dweezil Zappa and Mike Keneally, oh and Dethklok of course!
The final piece of the aristocratic trio is Marco Minnemann, someone Guthrie Govan describes as a “preposterously accomplished drummer… He’s a freak. He’s not physically possible. Plus, there’s something a little bit naughty about him” (see the album back cover below!). When I think of Marco I think of this video in particular Paul Gilbert – Scarified but you can check out http://marcominnemann.com/ for more info, he was also one of the selected few to be chosen to audition as the new Dream Theater drummer which in itself is very high praise.
So that’s a little background into the trio of utterly incredible musicians known as The Aristocrats, so onto their self-titled debut album.
“One thing I really hate is when it’s just the guitar player doing all the interesting stuff and in the background you’ve got the drums just laying down a simple beat and the bass playing root notes. That bores me. Live music should be about the interaction between the people in the band. People already know that our trio is going to be about the interplay between its players.” – Guthrie Govan in a recent Guitar Player interview.
That quote really sums up this album, it sounds like a really well produced live album, in fact that is probably what it is? I’m not sure these guys would ever need to overdub anything with their talent. What they have done to make this sound live is to avoid the multi-layered over-produced albums that are such common place these days, sure there are tracks which have rhythm guitar parts as well as a guitar melody over the top such as the first track ‘BOING!… I’m In The Back‘, but even then it is only in places, for the most part it is a single guitar part playing both the rhythm and lead parts. If you think of what Andy Timmons did on ‘Resolution‘ you will get the idea. What this obviously does as well is to enable this music to be faithfully recreated live without the audience feeling anything is missing, but it also demonstrates the utter brilliance of each of its members. By the way when I first heard this track I thought I was listening to a demo mix for the first minute… you’ll see what I mean when you hear it but I’ll just say that the title is very fitting and it had me tricked!
When I heard the intro to the cheekily titled ‘Sweaty Knockers‘ I stopped what I was doing, restarted the track and turned up the volume really loud. THAT is the rhythm tone I have always wanted, if I could bottle a rhythm tone this is it, but what makes this track stand out isn’t the wall of sound that this track begins with but the amazing dynamics throughout from all out rock to delicate melodies which are instantly recognisable as Guthrie Govan. This is a pretty epic track clocking in at 8:09 with many twists and turns including a great Bass solo from Bryan using a Wah, it’s like Cliff Burton and Jaco Pastorius had a baby. This track is my favourite on the album it has everything from all out rock to Guthrie’s pseudo slide playing a la Jeff Beck and country licks and then little jazzy breaks where Marco gets to strut his stuff in spectacular style.
As this is a trio with plenty of room for each player you are more aware of the bass playing and drumming. This is probably one of the only albums I can remember in years that had me humming a bass line for days after hearing it, Bryan Beller is amazing he doesn’t overplay but when the music calls for it he just steps it up a notch and you hear little chord slides and licks that fit so well under Guthrie while being totally locked in with Marco. Oh and the bassline I was humming was from ‘I Want A Parrot‘, the melody is actually the main theme that Guthrie plays at the beginning but when you hear it played by Bryan it is transformed from Guthrie’s distorted rock melody into a very vocal sounding unforgettable melody. Bryan’s playing throughout this track is astounding I find myself listening to what he is doing a lot.
This album is quite eclectic and I think ‘Furtive Jack‘ is probably the best example bringing together many styles, it has a Tango feel to begin and then suddenly after a couple of minutes dives into a bebop version of the main theme, super fast walking bass line and super smooth octave lines and fast runs from Guthrie. To completely contrast this section there is another change of pace and feel halfway through maintaining the main theme but with overdriven guitars.
It wouldn’t be right to have these guys together and not produce a track with some humour in it and ‘Blues Fuckers‘ certainly has that not only in the title but also in the playing, it starts off like Peter Gunn on speed before taking a funk turn with Guthrie using what I believe is an Xotic Effects Robotalk a crazy envelope filter that sounds really cool with Guthrie’s fast funky chord strumming.
When I was sent the album I was told to give it a few listens to really absorb what is going on, I think that is actually good advice, I have listened to it about 10 times before writing this review and each time I’m hearing more detail and enjoying each track more. Of course as a fan of Guthrie Govan there is absolutely no possible way of being disappointed but this band is as he says much more than just a solo guitar album, this is a real band with each member contributing equally to the music. As a guitar nerd it’s cool to hear how different Guthrie Govan’s playing is 5 years on from ‘Erotic Cakes‘, now don’t get me wrong I love that album but if you are not a guitarist it is probably a bit intense, there is a lot of shredding on that album. The Aristocrats is much more restrained in a sense, it is more about the music, the melodies the interplay of musicians. Guthrie doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone, we all know he is one of the most talented guitar players in the world so now he can just concentrate on doing what he loves, writing and playing great music in a band. The final track on the album ‘Flatlands‘ is the perfect demonstration of this side of Guthrie, I think of it as Guthrie’s “Lenny”, a beautiful piece of music with tasteful bluesy playing.
The most exciting news for me is that The Aristocrats intend on making the trip downunder at some point and I for one cannot wait for them to tour Australia because I think it will be really exciting to see them play together.
You can grab a FREE download from the album, the track ‘Sweaty Knockers’, click here to find out how.