The instrumental trio of Guthrie Govan (guitar), Bryan Beller (bass) and Marco Minnemann (drums) have just released “Freeze! Live in Europe 2020 », a new live album as a result of his concerts in Spain, shortly before the pandemic hit. We get in touch with them so that you can tell us about him and his future plans, both at the level of this project and at the individual level.
M.S.:Hello, how are you? We hope that both you and your families are safe.
Marco: Thank you kindly. Difficult times for many, and I hope things will be on their way to betterment soon. Yes, all is well on my end and I’ve actually enjoyed my time home for a change. Hope you are well, too.
Bryan: Doing well, all things considered in these crazy times! I’m happy to report that my family is good as well, and I was just able to see them for the first time in quite a while. I hope it’s ok where you are, and that we’re all able to exit this strange period of history in one piece together.
Guthrie: Needless to say, I’m very much missing 1) gigging and 2) real draught beer but, apart from that, I really can’t complain! Thanks for asking and I do hope that everything is equally okay at your end 😉
M.S .: You have just released a new direct “Freeze! Live in Europe 2020 ”as a record of what was the tour of your latest studio album“ You Know What…? ”. What can you tell us about it?
Guthrie: The album is essentially a “snapshot” of a period during our 2019-2020 European tour during which we felt really comfortable playing the new material from the You Know What…? album and yet we were still finding new ways to interpret the songs every night. For me, the performances captured on FREEZE! somehow represent a kind of “high point” from the tour – precisely the phase which a band would ideally want to document in the form of a live record! – so it makes me especially glad that we were able to record some shows from that period… and share the results with the world!
I really hope that people will check out the album and, hopefully, enjoy it! Other than that, I guess I’m just happy to “let the music do the talking” 😉
M.S .: We are very excited that the recording has been recorded in our country Spain, what did you remember from those concerts?
Marco: Wonderful, I’m glad that you’re excited about that fact. All I can say is that first of all, I always like our times in Spain. Great weather, food and audience. Some of the best audience reactions in the world I have to say. At a lot of the Spain shows, people actually sing along our pieces, which for an instrumental band of our kind and format is not necessarily common. So, we very much appreciate that.
M.S .: A few days later the pandemic arrived at these recordings, I imagine it interrupted your tour, leaving part of the concerts canceled. How did you live that moment?
Bryan: We were actually fortunate in that the pandemic did not result many cancellations for us. We toured Europe in November and December of 2019, and then again from January to early March of 2020. Out of over 50 dates, only two were cancelled, in Italy on February 24 and 25. So we are definitely not complaining about that outcome, because we know it was much worse for other bands whose tours started later. Actually, because we left Italy right as the COVID shutdowns started, and we were able to finish our tour in Northern Europe in early March, we felt like we were outrunning the virus…by a matter of days!
M.S .: Once you have listened to Freeze !, it clearly captures the magic of your live concerts, your complicity, your improvisations. The truth is that your concerts are very interesting, especially because all your songs usually have a fun origin that you tell us at concerts, turning the show into a gathering of friends. Do you see it that way too?
Guthrie: Thank you – it’s really good to hear that what we do comes across to you in that way! I hinted in my previous reply that many aspects of touring life can be disorientating due to the constant changes in surroundings etc but, as I’m sure you can imagine, the one situation which consistently feels natural and makes total sense to us is when we’re actually on a stage, playing to a crowd. We really enjoy playing music with each other anyhow – there definitely seems to be an unusual musical chemistry within this particular lineup, and we all recognise how fortunate we are that this chemistry somehow just appeared, organically – but when we also have a nightly opportunity to “do our thing” in a room full of people who truly understand and appreciate what we do, that adds a whole new dimension to the fun we’re having when we make music. In short, we’re genuinely having a really good time up there on the stage so that feels like that’s the primary thing which we want to share with the crowd… I suppose we’ve always wanted to make our shows feel more like a fun celebration rather than a mere “recital.”
MS: For me, the great attraction of The Aristocrats is being able to see and hear teachers on their instruments, having fun and creating great songs without limitations of musical styles, complicated songs of great merit without taking them seriously, with that funny dose of humility and of approach to the listener. When you get together both in the studio and live, the chemistry is evident. How does all that magic come about?
Marco: Thank you very much. We really just like to have a great night and bond with the audience. Magic? Well, you can’t predict these sort of things. But I’m glad you see it that way. All I can say is that we actually don’t try too hard or put extra conceptual work or effort into achieving a certain magic, haha. It just happens automatically between us, nothing planned. It’s as you correctly wrote a sort of chemistry. And indeed, we don’t take ourselves too serious either. It’s about making the audience happy and having good times together. The times on stage are sometimes better than the travel days during a world tour, hehe, so let’s celebrate music.
M.S .: A question out of curiosity, in the promo for «Freeze!» to which we have had access and that we have reviewed on our website, we note that it only includes the songs but not your funny interlocutions between song and song, explaining its origin or telling something funny. Is it presented like this in the final release? .I understand that if it is not included it is for reasons of time, is it not?
Bryan: Time was definitely a factor, as it would have been a bit strange to have FREEZE be a double album due to the length of the talking parts in between songs as opposed to more music. But also, we felt as a band that it would be weird to have these spoken moments on a live album. A good part of what makes those introductions work is that we’re all in the room together, the band and the audience, sharing that experience. Without being there, 20 minutes of talking starts to feel like a stand-up comedy album, and despite the name of the band, we are definitely not stand-up comedians! Finally, we also felt like the music alone could comprise a nicely flowing artistic statement all on its own.
M.S.: Freeze !! It is the result of a long tour of almost 100 concerts around the world, quite an adventure, can you tell us some of the many funny situations that occurred in that period (of which you can tell of course!)?
Guthrie: That’s actually a more difficult question than you might think!
During any long tour, I think a kind of “bubble” inevitably forms after a while and the musicians, tour manager and crew will start to find themselves existing, to an ever greater extent, within this miniature world which we’ve somehow created for ourselves – after all, that’s the only thing which truly remains constant as we move constantly from one city (or country!) to the next.
Many of the incidents which we find particularly funny on the road derive their humorous appeal from the fact that we’re experiencing them through the lens of all the running jokes which have gradually evolved within our touring “bubble”. Frequently, these are things which only really make sense to us so it can be hard to translate stuff like that in a way which would be meaningful to anyone in the “real” world. (I suspect a lot of musicians can probably relate to the experience of returning home after a long time on the road and trying – but failing! – to explain to their friends or family why a certain touring anecdote is supposed to be funny…)
At any rate, I think it’s fair to say that our best stories generally end up being immortalised in the form of an Aristocrats song, anyhow 😉
M.S .: I am one of those who think that The Aristocrats concerts have to be seen at least three times on each tour, to look at each one of you without losing detail, because it is fascinating to see you play such complex songs with so much class. When you go on tour, do you usually rehearse a lot beforehand?
Marco: No, we rehearse maybe one or two days and then do two warm up shows in an intimate setting. We meanwhile know each other really well, playing wise, and can sort of zen like connect on stage. Very cool and spontaneous things happen and indeed every show of ours has surprises and different moments. Which I think is important as otherwise routine sneaks it and you’re running the risk of things getting boring and repetitive.
M.S.:The current situation in which we find ourselves has led us to lead to a new world order, many things have changed and the impact on the world of music has been very great. Out of necessity, it has been changed to a model where it has been necessary to be creative to find new formulas and outlets in order to continue. This will happen sooner or later, we do not know if we will return to the same customs, we all want to return to the concert halls, how do you see the future at this point?
Bryan: Smarter people than I have tackled this subject, and no one needs to hear another lecture on the topic of album sales, streaming, downloads, and all of that. The COVID era was extremely unusual because you could not play a concert. When was the last time that really happened, in the States? 1918-1919? The financial state of recorded music will probably continue to be challenging. But when we get past this, there will be a lot of concerts, and that will always be the one part of the music business that can never be replaced by a digital file.
M.S .: Let’s go on to talk about future plans, the three of you make this project compatible with others, you are excellent musicians and you are immersed in a multitude of projects. Can you tell us what is on your mind right now?
Bryan: I’m currently tracking an album for Joe Satriani, which is the first time he’s ever done an album under his own name remotely as opposed to the more traditional “get in a room and play together” method. It’s been a very cool and rewarding collaborative process, with musical revisions and creative conversations along the way. Another exciting artist I’ve just done a big chunk of work for is TV/film composer Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead, Snowpiercer, Battlestar Galactica, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters). I can’t say anything about that yet in detail, but I think metal fans in particular are really going to enjoy that one! I’m also working with a few different independent artists who perhaps aren’t as widely known, but are making some great music, and I look forward to sharing that as well. This has been an opportunity for more home recordings, without the distraction and exhaustion and recovery from constant touring, so that’s a silver lining to this whole strange experience. But finally, it’s been an opportunity to simply work less and enjoy life and the outdoors more! I think we all know that when touring resumes, there will be a lot of it. So I’m enjoying the precious time at home as much as I can.
Marco: Over the last year and a half I’ve made two albums and an EP together with the incredibly talented Randy McStine and right now we’re completing our third ‘McStine & Minnemann’ album and have our first show in October 2021, followed by a very nice surprise happening with that band in 2022, which will be announced soon as we have to keep it a secret for now.
Guthrie: Most of my recent musical activity has actually been occurring within the world of film music… through my involvement with Hans Zimmer’s live band, I somehow ended up doing a lot of remote recording for films like Boss Baby 2 and Dune. This generated an unexpected boost for my proficiency on various other vaguely guitar-like instruments (mandolin, ukulele, banjo, lap steel etc) and it also prompted me to experiment with some more textural, “sound design” approaches. I’ve really welcomed these excuses to explore some less obvious facets of being someone who plays a stringed instrument for a living but… please don’t be alarmed: right now, I’ve very much reverted to the world of playing “normal” guitar! Today, for instance, I’ve been collaborating on a new, crazy (and very guitar-centric!) rearrangement of one of HZ’s “old favourites”: It looks like this will be featured in his new live set, which we’ll hopefully be able to start touring around Europe in the first half of next year…)
M.S .: Adjusting schedules is always a complicated job, will we have to wait a long time for a new studio album?
Bryan: You are correct, and it really depends on how the re-opening of live concerts unfolds. We all have obligations that were pushed back again and again from March 2020, and so once life returns to normal and the schedules become more firm, we’re all going to have a much clearer picture of how that looks. The good news is that the re-opening seems to be coming soon, which I certainly could not say one year ago.
M.S .: We have reached the end of the interview, we just want to be able to enjoy your live shows again in our country, which we hope will be soon, if you want to leave a message to our readers, this is the moment.
Bryan: Speaking for myself, I love Spain and *always* look forward to coming back! I love the dry climate, the beautiful mountains, the scenic beaches, and wonderful people. And the food! Also, my mother was a Spanish teacher for 25 years in the USA, so it’s always been a part of my life. I hope it’s not too long before we get back and play very loudly in Spain once again. 🙂
Marco: Very much so. Thank you for being such loyal and dedicated followers. We hope that you’re enjoying our little but hopefully to you valuable souvenir from our last tour. Thank you for your kind words. All the best.
Guthrie: Spain – you are greatly missed: I’m a big fan! Here’s hoping that some kind of normality will return to our lives ASAP, as I can’t wait to come back – it feels like last time was far too long ago. Stay safe, stay positive and… hasta pronto!