If you’ve been coming to this site for a while, you know I love trying new ideas. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve analyzed new albums, introduced younger bands launching their debuts, started the “Underrated Albums” series, did gear and movie reviews on YouTube, and tried to find interesting stories from musicians that others weren’t telling. In that same effort to explore new ventures, I conducted my very first interview. I couldn’t think of a better person to kick off this new area of Mega-Depth than Evan Bradley, an incredibly talented musician who is quite literally changing the guitar tab landscape by dedicating his time to transcribing guitar parts of some of metal’s most iconic albums.
A couple of years ago, I published my article on Savatage and TSO. I wrote it shortly after Paul O’Neill died and I wanted to pay tribute to him, as well as to Criss Oliva, a co-founder of Savatage whom we lost way too soon. Evan is a fellow fan. He contacted me to let me know of a Facebook group dedicated to Savatage and we started chatting about all things Sava. During the course of these e-mail exchanges, he started sending me guitar tabs he was transcribing himself. I’m a guitar player myself so I would immediately go through whatever tab he would send me. The attention to detail, the level of accuracy, and the passion with which he approached his work have always amazed me. When you read the interview, you will see how committed he is to raise the bar in guitar transcriptions.
Most recently, Evan transcribed all guitar parts from Cynic’s iconic debut, Focus. The book is out now via Sheet Happens Publishing and you can get it in a few different formats. He’s also finished transcribing all guitar parts in Dream Theater’s most recent album, Distance Over Time. In this interview, you will discover how the Cynic project came about, what Paul Masvidal himself thought of Evan’s work, how he impressed John Petrucci when he won Ernie Ball’s “Match the Master” contest, why he wanted to explore transcribing guitar parts, and how he approaches guitar playing in general.
Evan is doing a lot of work to improve the accuracy of as many tabs as he can get his hands on. It is for that reason I wanted my first interview to be with him. He’s got a lot of cool ideas and already has a few more projects in the pipeline. If you want to buy the Focus book, make sure you visit Sheet Happens Publishing. Evan also sends a lot of tabs from some other bands, like Savatage and Dream Theater, for free if you contact him. Make sure you subscribe to his YouTube channel and get your hands on the best guitar tabs you will find online!
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alper: I wanted to start with a little bit of guitar talk since you’re a proficient guitar player. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, how long you’ve been playing, and who were some of your first influences?
Evan: Sure. I started playing when I turned 11. I’m 29 now; that makes 18 years, I guess (laughs). I was taking private lessons from the very beginning, and I took lessons for several years. I actually teach at that same studio now. So, the guy who was teaching me kind of runs the studio there. He brought me on as a guitar instructor a couple of years ago. As far as influences early on, I usually credit Metallica, no surprise, and Joe Satriani as the two big ones that really inspired me to pick up the instrument in the first place.
Alper: If memory serves me well, we met after you saw one of my articles about Criss Oliva and Paul O’Neill. Savatage is one of my favorite bands too, as that article would probably show. So, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Criss Oliva and Savatage since that was our introduction and they’re one of my favorite bands. Do you remember at all what the first Savatage album you heard was and what was your first impression of Criss Oliva’s guitar playing?
Evan: Well, I definitely do remember that. Just backtracking a little bit, I was trying to remember the other day how… I knew it was Savatage that brought us together. But I couldn’t remember if it was your article or if it was me posting the tabs and stuff. But I think you’re right. It was the article because I must have seen it on one of the Savatage Facebook fan groups or something.
Alper: Yeah, I think so. I’m not exactly sure but I think so.
Evan: Anyway, I got into them [Savatage] through TSO. So, back in 1999, TSO played their first show ever at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. And my family and I actually went to that show. I was 10 years old at that time and I had no idea about anything [related to music]. But I remember seeing all these people wearing Savatage shirts. So, like, “what’s the deal with this? There must be some connection.” So, I guess, after the show, I went online and looked them up. Found out the whole story behind the band. The first album I bought was Hall of the Mountain King. I guess that was the consensus favorite at that point; probably still is. I would say Streets is my personal favorite. At least at this very moment.
Alper: Same for me. It’s my favorite with Jon singing. And with Zak singing, it’s Edge of Thorns.
Evan: Yeah, unfortunately we only got that one album with Criss on guitar and Zak on vocals. Would have been cool to see where they’d have gone from there.
Alper: What do you think about Criss’ guitar playing style? I think he of all people deserves the word “unique”. It’s so easy to identify him even if you weren’t watching a video. I’ve always thought his solos are difficult [to play]; not because I’m not as technically proficient as someone like you, but I thought they were very intricate. He just had a really interesting style.
Evan: Like you said, it’s not so much that he’s doing crazy technical stuff all the time. But just the way he played with such abandon, I would say. He’s almost like one step away from falling off the rails when he’s soloing. But he never does. He’s always on that ledge. Definitely hard to replicate which made transcribing this stuff very difficult in some spots. If we compare [Oliva’s style] to someone like John Petrucci where everything is very meticulously written and, like, metric; versus Criss Oliva who never really played the same thing twice. So, even when he would play his solos live, there would always be these little differences and some improv. So, definitely tough to replicate. If you just go online, so many people are like “Criss is the most underrated guitar player ever.” I tend to agree. Maybe not ever, but he certainly didn’t get his due, unfortunately, when he was alive. Thankfully, people are still discovering him, even now.
Alper: I completely agree with you. That was one of the reasons I did the [Savatage] article. My primary goal was to spread the word about both Criss Oliva and Paul O’Neill. Criss is definitely one of my favorite guitar players.
I want to switch to, once again, guitar playing. I went through your YouTube videos. I think everybody agrees, judging by the comments that you get, that your technical ability is remarkable; not just in terms of being able to play a specific piece of music, but also getting the feel right. I’d like to get some insights on how you got here. Were you the kind of guitar player that practiced 6-7 hours a day or did you mostly learn by playing songs rather than sitting down to practice?
Evan: I don’t know that I would go the extreme 6-7 hours a day, but that was definitely… you know, especially like high school, I would just come home and immediately go to the guitar. Definitely playing along to albums was a huge thing. I remember, early on I used to play along to Iced Earth so much. Like, full albums straight through! And that [had] a huge impact on my rhythm playing because you have to have, one, stamina to keep up with that stuff, and two, it takes a lot of endurance to make it through that stuff. But, as far as replicating little nuances and stuff… like you were mentioning capturing the feel, which thank you very much by the way, it means a lot that people are picking up on that stuff. Playing along to the stuff, and just trying to figure stuff out by ear, before I was ever actually writing anything down. I’d still be relying on my ear a lot to determine if something was right or wrong. I didn’t even get into lead playing for, probably the first 4 or so years of my playing. It was just rhythm all day. That definitely contributed to my lead playing and the rhythmic specificity of it all. Sometimes, a lot of people try to jump into lead playing too early when they don’t understand some basic things about rhythm and, you know, what a triplet is, and just simple things like that. And they end up kind of being reckless with their picking. So, I felt like my focus on rhythm informed my lead playing later on.
Alper: Dream Theater is another band that I love. So, when I was going through your YouTube channel, I noticed that in 2016 you won a contest called “Match the Master”, which I believe was organized by Music Man. As part of your winning prize, you got to sit down with John Petrucci himself to talk all things guitar. What was that experience like? Can you walk me through what it was like to win that prize and to not just meet John Petrucci but to actually sit down and talk to him?
Evan: Yeah, almost three years later, it’s still hard to put that into words. Sometimes, I just think back and like, “that happened, that’s crazy!” John and Dream Theater have been my favorite band [for] a very long time. They were the first concert I went to. I was 8 or 9 at the time, and that was on the Falling Into Infinity tour. At the time, my dad was into them. When I went to the first show, it’s not like I was some huge Dream Theater fan at age 8, but obviously it must have left some kind of impression because they’ve been my favorite band much of the time since. I guess eventually when I did start getting into playing more complex stuff (…) Petrucci was my gateway into that kind of lead playing and technical, you know changing time signatures and all that prog stuff.
So, when the “Match the Master” thing was announced, I was like “of course I’m gonna enter that!”. There were 10 different riffs that you had to match. The idea was that you would play them as closely to John as possible; every little nuance [like] pull-offs instead of picking, [etc.]. Every little detail, I had worked out. What I decided to do was transcribe all of the 10 first, so that I could practice them without having to keep watching his videos or something. How I accomplished transcribing them was I figured out how to download the videos from YouTube. At any parts that I was maybe unsure what he was doing, I would slow it down and make sure I had every little nuance correct. So, I would practice each one. I think, initially, I banged all 10 out in one day. But as the contest progressed, you could continually update your videos. So, it wasn’t like you had one entry and that’s it. So, sometimes I would discover little things, like, “oh that’s not right!” (laughs). In some cases, I uploaded the same riff like 3 or 4 times. But each time, it was better and more accurate to how he was playing it.
Evan: How they structured the contest was there were weekly winners first. So, there were, I think, 8 weekly winners. So, they would pick a different riff each week and there was a separate prize package for that. I vividly remember, I was at work and it was on a Friday (…) and I never answer my phone if it’s a number I don’t recognize. So, I see my phone ring and I’m like “I don’t know that number, I’ll just let it ring”. They left a message which is unusual. I’m on my lunch break that day and I listen to it, and it’s like “hey, this is Ryan at Ernie Ball. I wanna talk to you about your Match the Mater submission”. And I had just put mine up a few days before. My worry with these things is always that “oh, a million people enter and it’s whoever has the most friends that is gonna win, and not by virtue of the actual quality or content of what they’re playing”. But, thankfully, that was not the case in this contest. But, I got that voice mail from him. So, I called him back later. And he was like “you have been selected for the week 4 weekly winner”. My mind was blown at that point! I had no expectations… because, like I said, these contests… you never know who’s doing the picking and choosing and how things get seen. But, thankfully (…) John was looking at these and he decided that I was the one. But, the weekly win happened first, obviously. Then, it was an agonizing wait till the end of the entry period. There were probably a few weeks between when the contest ended and when they contacted me. Again, I was contacted by Ryan at Ernie Ball. I just remember I got a text saying “hey Evan, can we talk about Match the Master?” and I was like “oh my God! It’s happening!”. So, I called him. I’m trying to remember the exact words he gave me from John, but he basically said there was no doubt. (Editor’s Note: Evan told me later that John actually said “it was a no-brainer.”) So, that was like “holy crap! I can’t believe this is happening!”. I still can hardly believe that it did. Just as a long-time fan and he’s been such a huge influence on my playing. It’s still bizarre.
Alper: Did they fly you out to New York to meet him after you won?
Evan: That’s another interesting wrinkle. (laughs) This was for The Astonishing record. It was like late January and they kind of announced the contest right when the album was released. They had a US tour booked in April and May. Of course, I already had my ticket for the show in Upper Darby before this contest even happened. The original plan was to fly me out to LA – I forget where exactly the show was – and we would do the masterclass there. But due to scheduling conflicts or whatever, we ended up just meeting up at the show I already had tickets to go to, which was, I believe, three days from when they called me [to announce me as the winner]. It was a whirlwind week because, all of a sudden, “oh this is really happening! oh crap, it’s only three days! I gotta figure out what I’m gonna say!”. I couldn’t believe it was that quick of a turnaround. Once I got there and started talking to him, any nervousness or anything like that just immediately dissipated. It was like we’d known each for a long time. So, that was really cool.
Alper: Outside of talking about guitars and whatnot, did you get to jam with him too?
Evan: Yeah. So, the masterclass portion of it was about an hour. We talked about… Well, here’s one of the things that just made me kind of melt (laughs). Before we started actually playing, he was telling me, “I was thinking about what to teach you, what to talk about with you because your technique’s already so good and you have great vibrato”… I could have died happy right there!
Alper: I can’t even imagine what that must feel like. Your favorite guitar player telling you all those things.
Evan: I would have been satisfied with that! Like, “okay, thanks!”. You know, everything else was kind of a bonus to that. But we talked a lot about specific intervals that he likes to use in his solos… You know, stuff that you might normally not get in a YouTube lesson, you know, stuff he does for Guitar World or something where he’s just showing riffs. It was more of like how he looks at the instrument, different ways of traversing the fretboard, certain types of string crossing techniques that he was working on… I remember he specifically mentioned Rusty Cooley, a friend of his, working on these crazy… I know Cooley does a lot of those 4-note per string scales and stuff like that. I think he was working on stuff like that at the time.
Alper: I do want to get to your projects in a bit. But one thing I’m into is, I guess we all are, tone chasing. I noticed there was one video where you presented each guitar tone that you’d created for your Savatage covers. It’s obvious that you pay a lot of attention to the tones that you’re chasing. Can you tell me some of your favorite gear with which you create these tones?
Evan: Sure. As far as the tone-matching with Savatage goes, that was kind of a revelation I should have had earlier. But it came probably toward the end of as I was transcribing all that stuff. The way that was done was just with the Axe-FX II by Fractal. That thing has been a huge help. I actually used that for all of the Match the Master clips. I think you can see it in the background on most of them. I’ve used it in different ways over the course of all the different videos. With the Match the Master stuff, I purposely used the camera audio for my videos because I didn’t want there to be any manipulation, any question that what I was playing was what I was playing. Because, obviously, when you record digitally, you can do all kinds of crazy stuff and manipulation and make it sound super human. I didn’t want that. I want to think that was one of the factors that led to them picking me. But with the Savatage stuff, again, I’m pretty new to the world of recording. I’m sure you know more than I do. But with the Axe-FX, I can just record direct. It basically acts as an interface in itself. So, I just have that USB right into my computer. And I don’t have to worry about volume, or mic placement or any of that stuff; versus recording my Mesa Boogie or something. It’s not always that easy. The Axe-FX has this awesome feature in it called tone-matching. It’s been a while since I’ve done it. I did all those tones in like a day for the Savatage stuff. In the Axe-FX editor called Axe-Edit, you can edit different blocks. There’s a block specifically for tone matching. You basically play the original audio that you’re trying to replicate. It analyzes it. Again, I’m totally ignorant to the details here. But you play the original audio. Then, you play on your instrument, I guess as close as you can replicate whatever part it is. Then you just hit a button and it kind of synchs them up and matches the tone. It’s really pretty easy. I probably made it sound more complicated than it really is.
Alper: Some guitar players prefer a really complicated signal chain. But other guitar players prefer a leaner approach, kind of less is more kind of deal. Sounds like you’re one of those “less is more” kind of guys. You’ve got a great guitar that you love, you’ve got the Axe-FX, you’ve got your Mesa Boogie if you want to play through that. Would you say that that’s a fair description that you’re one of those “less is more” kind of guitar players when it comes to your signal chain?
Evan: Definitely yes. But mainly because I just don’t have the time or patience to be tweaking for hours on end. I know what I like, but I’m not one [to be] tone chasing. I’m not always in pursuit, like some people are; which may sound funny for someone who owns an Axe-FX, which is like endlessly… But one of the reasons I got that was for recording, but also being able to make sounds just through the software. With any given tube amp head, there’s kind of a limited range of sounds you’re gonna get out of that. Whereas with the Axe-FX, if I want to experiment, have fun! There’s an endless number of sounds you can get through that. For the most part, my videos are pretty consistent tone-wise. Like, I’m using the same amp model, the Friedman HBE, sometimes with delay on, sometimes not. But most of my videos are just that same patch. But there have been some videos where I experimented more. I think the Third Eye Blind video that I did; that one I used a bunch of different variations with the tone. And also the guitar I used definitely had some bearing on that because that’s tuned to a step-down. Definitely, I’m more of a simpler… just get me like three good sounds; a nice crunchy rhythm, nice searing, smooth lead, you know very Petrucci-esque, and then, a nice, bright clean. Those are my main three sounds for sure.
Alper: That’s actually the perfect segue to my next question. I’ve written a few articles about my personal struggles and trying to improve my guitar playing. Especially as somebody who has limited amount of time every day to play guitar. I try to share all these with my readers, which is why I wanted to ask you. We are in this digital age where we’re blessed with so many great products that allow you to chase, literally, an infinite number of tones. I sometimes find myself spending more time playing around [with] my pedals than actually playing. Do you have any recommendation for people like me? What’s a good way to get out of this habit and to focus more on playing?
Evan: That’s a good question. And I think a lot of that kind of symptom is due in part to all the online forums and stuff, like the gear forums. Everyone’s always looking for the “next thing”, the “greatest tone”… Obviously, tone is important to me. But it’s never been the be-all end-all like I’m always constantly thinking about it. I’m more definitely along the lines of playing the instrument and obviously, transcribing now – that’s my thing. But maybe a way to break yourself out of [spending more time on tone chasing than playing]… So you’re using the Helix now. Do you have any other amps, just plain old amps lying around?
Alper: I used to have a combo Marshall amp but I sold that because I switched to the Helix and an FRFR. But I do have a small Yamaha THR practice amp. So, sometimes if I want to get away from the distractions, I just plug my guitar directly into that.
Evan: What I was thinking was, try playing with no effects on. Or maybe just find a good, clean tone with nothing else. Just dry. And see how good you can make that first. It’s probably the Roland JC-120 that’s making me say that. Are you familiar with that amp at all?
Alper: No, I don’t think I am.
Evan: It stands for Jazz Chorus 120. If you look up probably any live Metallica video, you’ll see them. He [Hetfield] uses them for his clean tones. I don’t know where I first heard of the amp, but I remember hearing, like “Petrucci used this for his clean tone on Images and Words” and all these albums. I think at the time I was really, really big into Between the Buried and Me, and I’d heard that they’d used that for cleans. So, I was like “oh man, I gotta get one of these!” (laughs) So, eventually, a few years later, I did. And that was my main amp for, probably a year or two… I would just play clean pretty much all day. It does take pedals very well, though. There’s actually a distortion on channel two, but it’s the most god-awful sound you’ve ever heard. (laughs) If you’re buying a JC-120 and plan to run distorted sounds through it, do not think that the built-in one is a good option, ‘cause it’s awful. But just the pure, clean tone out of that amp is probably my favorite clean tone; at least that I have at my disposal. And the chorus, the chorus effect on it is in true stereo. So it’s a 2x12 amplifier. But the JC-120, just for a pure clean amp, is still kind of the standard. So, maybe try just going kind of the opposite end of the spectrum, and playing with kind of the minimal tones, but tones that are really pure and just sound great without a bunch of stuff added on to them.
Alper: You mentioned that transcribing music is the big thing that you do. And I do want to talk to you about that. I’ve seen your transcriptions for bands like Savatage, Dream Theater, and lately, Cynic, which I’m gonna ask in more detail a little later. But I wanted to learn from you, what was it that interested you in transcribing music in the first place? Was it because you noticed a lot of demand for tabs of these bands online, or was it more that you weren’t satisfied with the accuracy of what was already out there?
Evan: Overwhelmingly, accuracy would be the answer. To a certain extent, the audience thing…there being a demand for… but it really goes hand in hand. There may be tabs for songs out there, but are they actually good and accurate? No. (laughs) You know, Savatage, case in point. But yeah, overwhelmingly, it was an accuracy thing.
So, kind of my history with transcribing… Back when I was playing in bands like [in] high school and afterward, I would always write out my own stuff in Guitar Pro, mainly for cataloging purposes because, you know, I’ll write a riff 6 months ago, but if you asked me to play it now, I might not even remember that I wrote it. It’s a lot easier to, in my view, recall it when you have an actual transcription of it, rather than just simply recording it or even taking a video of yourself. So, that was, kind of my very, very early beginnings into transcribing. I’m sure if I looked at them now I’d be like “oh my God those are awful!” (laughs) You know, all the little details with transcribing that you have to take into account… but it served my needs at that time.
When I quit working in retail a couple of years ago, I had nothing lined up. I was like “I have to do this for my own sanity and to focus on music in any way possible. I just know I have to do that.” That was like a year after I won the “Match the Master” thing. So I definitely would consider that a catalyst for being like “you gotta do what you really want to do.” Like, the area in retail that I worked… I worked in music stores which was cool; you know, I made a lot of friends that way, made contacts with people who worked for companies like Ernie Ball… but ultimately, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So, just over a period of a few months I guess, somehow I fell into this [habit of taking] a solo I really like, try to write it out and then record a YouTube cover of it. I guess I felt I was getting pretty good at that. At that point, I did a bunch of Dream Theater, Freak Kitchen, and I did some Cynic stuff. So it really just started out with solos.
So, fast forward a couple of months. And out of the blue, Paul O’Neill passed away. That was in April of ’17 if I’m remembering correctly. The first thing I did was the solo for All That I Bleed from Edge of Thorns, just because I felt like it was a fitting tribute to not just Paul but to Criss too. So, that was the first thing Savatage that I ever transcribed. I would play their songs when I was playing guitar early on. And I was playing from the wrong tabs just like everybody else. All the tabs that say that all the early material is in Drop D tuning, which it is not! Let me state it for the record right now! Oh my God! (laughs) So, yeah, I’ve been playing Savatage songs on and off for a long time. But only when I got into transcribing did I notice that [the tabs available at the time were] way wrong! Plus, a lot of them are just old text tabs. So you have no indication of rhythm whatsoever. You’re just going on your memory of the song. If you put that in front of someone who doesn’t know the song, they’ll be like “this is just a bunch of numbers, dude.” (laughs) I understand that a lot of these tabs were made in the ‘90s, probably before we even had this notation software. So, I understand it was a valiant effort by some people before the days of YouTube and a lot of the technology that’s available now that makes transcribing a lot easier, really.
So, the first idea I really had regarding the Savatage stuff was to do a small e-book type thing of just Criss Oliva solos. Obviously, All That I Bleed was the first one that I did. I think Conversation Piece off of Edge of Thorns was another one that was gonna be part of that. [It] starts off with this diminished lick. That’s a really cool one! Even though Edge of Thorns is certainly not my favorite Savatage album, you can’t argue that Criss’s playing was at its peak there. Seeing his trajectory as a player through the years, he was always improving, always adding, expanding his vocabulary… So, definitely Edge of Thorns [is] awesome. Some of the other solos… Fountain of Youth from Power of the Night… I remember that was one of the first ones I was working on. It has this annoyingly long tapping lick that I got frustrated with and left it unfinished for a while. (laughs) I learned so much by just from doing all the Savatage stuff. I think it kind of set me on the right path for future stuff.
Alper: So, did your idea of [preparing complete e-books] evolve from solos to actually doing the rhythm tracks and coming up with transcription packages of entire albums?
Evan: Yeah, it was definitely a snowball effect. When I started, I had no intention of probably even doing one full album. I guess at the time it seemed like such a daunting task to even consider that. But then again, I didn’t know then what I know now. Like, having the experience of transcribing all this stuff. I’m trying to think of the first song I did… It might have been Strange Wings (off of Hall of the Mountain King) because I did a video for a full play-through of that song. So, that was definitely one of the first few full songs that did. But, it just got to a point where the more I did it, the more I saw how wrong all the previous information was. My girlfriend and I always joke that I’m on a mission to civilize. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show The Newsroom with Jeff Daniels in it?
Alper: I did. Yeah.
Evan: Do you remember that line?
Alper: Oh yeah, that was his big thing, right?
Evan: Yeah. So, that’s kind of (laughs) trying to carry the torch, as far as that’s concerned. There’s also another… It kind of sums up my whole way of thinking (laughs) is this old cartoon meme with stick people in it. And it says “honey, are you coming to bed?” and the guy sitting at the computer saying “no, there are people wrong on the Internet!” (laughs) So, that’s me, basically. It may be a foolish kind of mindset to think that you can change all these people’s minds, or be like “this is the correct information”… People don’t like to be told that they’re wrong. I will happily admit when I’m wrong about something. If I make a mistake in a transcription, I always want to fix it. I will readily admit when I’m wrong on something.
Alper: I think what you’re doing is great because you’re essentially giving fans of Savatage, and other bands too, an opportunity to get something accurate. And it’s definitely not foolish because you just released your first book (through Sheet Happens Publishing) which is about the amazing album from Cynic called Focus. [There’s] a lot of guitar playing from the legendary Paul Masvidal. First of all, congratulations on that! All the guitar notes and tabs are transcribed by yourself on that book. Can you tell me a little bit about how that project came about? What was it like to communicate with Paul himself? What’s it like to finally have this book released to the public and seeing the fruit of your labor?
Evan: There’s a lot to unpack there! Also, I want to shout out to Jason Gobel, the other guitar player on that record. And he’s been very supportive too. I appreciate that. So, the genesis of this project can be traced back to… remember when I was saying I was doing the solo covers on YouTube? So, I had done a few of the solos from Traced In Air (Cynic’s 2008 album, their first since 1993); Unknown Guest… that’s actually a solo from Tymon [Kruidenier], the other guitar player at the time, Paul’s solo from King of Those Who Know, which is, like… I remember the first time I heard that song, I was just blown away! Even now when I listen to that song, it just transports me… So, I did a few of those. And I found Paul’s e-mail and I was like “why not? I’ll send them to him and see if he’s interested in doing anything.” This was probably like a year and a half ago, close to two years. My work was nowhere near as good as it is now. I have no problem saying that. But, he and Sean Malone actually responded to me, which was a rarity. I was so used to sending e-mails out [saying] “hey, you wanna do official transcriptions” and I would just get nothing. At least tell me my work sucks! (laughs) Like, if you’re not interested, cool. I just wanna know either way. But, let’s see… Yeah, they got back to me. This was after the split with [drummer] Sein Reinert had occurred. I’m not sure how up-to-date you are on all the goings on with the line-up.
Alper: Not super up-to-date to be honest.
Evan: Well, without getting into the nitty-gritty, Paul and Sean Reinert, they were the two founding and original members. Sean decided to leave the band. So, they were kind of laying low for a while and figuring out what they were gonna do moving forward. They [Masvidal and Malone] basically indicated that to me in their response. Like, “cool, thanks for sending these over. We’ll keep your contact info for the future. We’re still figuring out what we’re gonna do”… So, I was like “cool, no problem!”. I’m pretty sure at that point I was just thrilled to even get an e-mail back. Fast forward from there… Just about a year ago, they released the Humanoid single out of the blue. And that’s actually what kickstarted this whole thing. With a brand new drummer, Matt Lynch, he’s an awesome drummer! So, they released this new song. I decided I should transcribe it and send it to Paul. I had it done the next day after the song came out. I got an e-mail back from him [where he said] “Cool, I’ll take a look at this soon and get back to you”. Probably a few weeks later, he was like “Finally I had a chance to look it over and this is nearly perfect! Would you be interested in possibly working on a project in the future?” which, of course, my answer was yes! I couldn’t emphasize it enough, “yes!”. The transcription [for Humanoid] was not perfect, but I was going off of the YouTube audio. I just ripped it from there.
I don’t remember how much time passed [from] that point, but he asked me in an e-mail if I would be interested in transcribing Focus for its 25th anniversary, which was like September of last year. I was like “Of course! That would be an honor!”. It has been an honor! It’s one of those [Match the Master] things. I can’t believe this is actually happening. I still have to remind myself sometimes that it is and has.
The actual anniversary [of Focus] was in September. We’ve been working on this, though, since almost a year to the day from when we’re speaking now. I looked it up the other day. I went back through all my e-mails to see when this officially started. I think it was February 26th (of 2018) or something when he actually said “Let’s do Focus transcriptions.”
The first thing we did was he sent me isolated guitar parts for all of the songs. For anyone who’s listened to Focus and has an understanding of it… or at least tries to understand it because even 25 years on it’s still very much an enigmatic record… the two guitar parts are almost never playing the same part. And the way the record was mixed was unlike most metal records, especially modern metal records now, where you have one guitar panned hard left, another one hard right. They intentionally went for this kind of amorphous middle where the guitars are not hard panned. So, if you wanted to transcribe it, it’s insanely difficult to kind of know where one part begins and the next one ends. They’re this intertwined tapestry. It forms a singular thing. Historically, and Paul mentioned when they announced the release of the book, he’s been approached several times in the past by people – I don’t know who – about doing transcriptions but they were never to his standard. I was just blown away by him being receptive to me presenting this idea in the first place, and then having the confidence in me to do it accurately and do this album justice. This album means a lot to me and I know tons of people all over the world [feel the same way]. So I’m not gonna do it if I’m not gonna do it right! So, he sent me the isolated parts. I got several different batches of tracks because as I worked through the songs, there were some parts where there were a lot more than 2 guitar parts going at the same time. One example is, a bunch of the solos are harmonized. Trying to think of the best example… Paul’s solo on How Could I is all harmonized. I don’t know if some people just assumed that he was using a harmonizer on the record, but it was definitely not [tracked that way]. All those solos were tracked and then the harmony was tracked separately. So, even with stuff like that, there can be little inflections and nuances in the harmony that don’t fit exactly with the original solo part. My point being, having each part isolated is really the only way to do it! Trying to pick out that stuff in a mix is just not gonna happen, especially when you add drums, vocals, and keyboards…
Alper: I already purchased the electronic version of the [Focus book] so I have the pdf and the Guitar Pro files, but for anyone who’s interested in getting their hands on these transcriptions, what’s the best way for them to purchase this book?
Evan: The only place you have to go to is sheethappenspublishing.com and it will be front and center because it’s their newest release.
Alper: It sounds like there wasn’t one universal way of transcribing music. You mentioned, for example, you downloaded a video off of YouTube for a Dream Theater song, but for Cynic’s Focus you received isolated guitar tracks. So, if somebody wants to transcribe music, they just need to first listen to the album and figure out what the best way to transcribe the album would be. Would that be an accurate description?
Evan: Well, whenever it’s an option, isolated tracks all the way! Because, if you can’t hear something, you can’t transcribe it. The most prime example from Focus is probably I’m But A Wave To… track 5 on the album. At one point, there are 6 guitars at the same time! This is during Jason’s solo near the mid-point of the song. There are 2 distorted rhythm parts, 2 lead parts, and then there are 2 clean guitars. Imagine trying to transcribe that from the album mix on a CD! You just can’t do it. You [can’t] know where one part begins and the other ends. (laughs). Of course, not everything is as complex as Cynic, but unfortunately, you’re probably only gonna get isolated guitar tracks from anybody if you’re in contact with them and doing something in an official capacity with all the legalities involved.
There’s a lot of different tactics that I’ll use when isolated tracks aren’t at my disposal. The first tool that I specifically wanna mention that I use every day for transcribing, it’s called Amazing Slow Downer. It’s a stupid name but it’s awesome. (laughs) Of the many things it allows you to do, one is panning; so you can listen to the left side and you can listen to the right side, or you can just hear the center. Definitely helps for a lot of metal music because, as I mentioned before, a lot of the guitars tend to be hard panned to one side or another. And especially if you have harmonies going on, just listening to the center channel can be tricky to pick out different harmonies. But if they’re panned, you can just click over to the left or click over to the right, and do them separately that way. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re not quite panned. Then, you gotta figure it out! But, that’s one instance…
With the Savatage stuff, I actually cataloged every live show I could find and used software to download them onto my computer. That way, I could jump to any part I wanted super quickly if I had to reference something. Those are helpful sometimes just for getting the positioning of the notes correct. Sometimes, you can easily play a riff in two different spots but I always want everything I do to be as accurate as humanly possible to how the musicians actually perform it. Even if I had the riff note-wise perfect, if he played it in a different spot, I would then go back and revise that. So, videos are definitely helpful for that reason. However, another kind of wrinkle in that is you have to consider when the video was made in relation to when the song was recorded and written. For example, Focus, which came out in 1993. If you’re relying on videos from 2008 when they re-united, you’re gonna see some differences in the way Paul plays the songs now versus what he recorded back in ’93. Obviously, one reason for that is being away from the band for 14-15 years. No one’s memory is that good! So even during the course of that project, there were actually just little things [I corresponded with Paul about]… One part I can specifically remember is near the end of Celestial Voyage, there was a particular chord voicing in the outro that I was hearing and I said “Hey Paul, does this seem right?”. It’s the same chord voicing that he uses in another song… It’s kind of weird to play but I already had a basis for coming up with that chord voicing because I knew he used it in another song. But he was like “That doesn’t seem right to me.” I guess I sent him the exact time stamp of the part of the song I was referencing. And we basically concluded that he played it that way when he recorded it back in ’93, but then when he kind of re-learned the songs when they got back together he just plays some things a little differently. So, he was like “Thank you for correcting me” (laughs). So that was funny and cool. So I just want to make the distinction between live videos and recorded album performances. Whenever possible, I try to find videos that are from that album’s tour. Because you know that’s how, at least most likely, the musicians were playing the songs. Not only just [in terms of] memory, but sometimes you just say “I don’t like the way I wrote that part. I’m gonna change it up a bit.” There’s certainly an element of that. It’s the old adage of “a song is never finished; it’s just abandoned.” You know, you can always be tinkering and adding in new little details here and there. As far as transcribing advice [goes], use videos but ultimately – assuming your goal is to transcribe the record and not a live performance – you’re gonna have to defer to what is on the record.
“Sometimes, you can easily play a riff in two different spots but I always want everything I do to be as accurate as humanly possible to how the musicians actually perform it. Even if I had the riff note-wise perfect, if he played it in a different spot, I would then go back and revise that.”
Alper: We talked about Cynic’s Focus that you recently transcribed. Are there any other books in the works that you can talk about?
Evan: As far as Cynic is concerned and Paul is concerned, Focus is just the start! We’ve already been working on more stuff. This bit of information he has already stated several times publicly, so I have no problem sharing it. He’s been working on some solo records entitled Mythical Human Vessel. It’s much more like a stripped back… I mean, there’s definitely some cool production and stuff but it’s not like Cynic where it’s a barrage of electric instruments and stuff. It’s acoustic, mainly. Just really cool songs and I’m very excited for people to hear it. So, that’s one thing [I’m working on]. There are plans for another Cynic album. Nobody knows when. Not even Paul. It’s just one project at a time sort of thing.
Alper: So, you’re in talks to do the tab book for the solo album you mentioned and the upcoming Cynic album?
Evan: I don’t know if the plan is still to include Humanoid, you know the single track, on the forthcoming album. I don’t know if that’s still the plan or not. But early on, I was mentioning to [Paul] that it’ll be awesome to do, whenever a new album does materialize, to do a simultaneous book release because that really never happens. I could be missing some smaller bands who do books that I just don’t know of. But like the last Dream Theater record, The Astonishing, it came out in January (2016) and then the book came out through Hal Leonard in October; so that’s a 9 month period. And that’s 9 months for crappy tabs to surface online. That’s what I look at it as. Because you know there are cover videos that are popping up the day the album comes out. And, again, it seems foolish to try to combat [inaccurate tabs] but I’m doing my best. (laughs)
Alper: You’ve done some Savatage e-books in a way, because it’s the entire album. If memory serves me well, you told me you’d had some conversations with Chris Caffery about [potentially doing an official Savatage tab book]. Is there any update on that? Can we expect any Savatage book in the future?
Evan: I did very, very briefly talk to Caffery when I saw TSO in December of 2017. That was actually before I completed the whole discography. I was pretty close but it was like 100 songs or something at that point, not 140. It was mainly Jeff Plate, the drummer, who I was in contact with regarding the project. This was when I maybe had a few songs early on and I was like “It would be awesome if the band did something official because these songs are, in some cases, 30 years old and there’s never been proper sheet music available for them”. So it’s way overdue! So Jeff was kind enough to respond. Basically, the gist of [his response] was “This is a great idea. I would like it to come to fruition someday.” He basically indicated that he has no input regarding ever releasing something like this. So, basically, where it stands is things need to be sorted out between management and a publisher for something like this to ever see an official release. It may not have been different if Paul [O’Neill] were still here, but I feel like it would have a better chance if Paul were still alive. Maybe this wouldn’t have even gotten on his radar but obviously we’ll never know. I just feel like it probably would have had a better chance were he still alive. And now that he’s gone, there’s the changing of the guard and everyone’s probably assuming all these responsibilities with how big TSO is now. They may not see the demand for a project like this. But I just know that were it to get in the view of the fans all over the world, they’d eat it up. Just through my grassroots kinds of methods, I’ve reached a bunch of people. That’s just one guy with a very limited range.
Alper: You mentioned a grassroots effort. I know you send some of these tabs to people. What’s the best way for them to reach out to you if they want to get some of these tab books?
Evan: Sure. Just another point, though, about our previous bit of discussion. Getting [official Savatage tab books out]… This is just me speculating in my head but I think maybe part of the reason, if they would be hesitant to release official books or something, would be the obvious and immediate uproar for them to tour and reunite, which of course I would love because I never got to see them live. I was, what, 12 years old when they last toured and then they did that one-off show at Wacken.
Alper: Before we end, is there any project that you’d like to tell people about? I know we talked about possible transcriptions projects, but is there anything else you’re working on like maybe your own music or another transcription project that we didn’t cover yet?
Evan: I wish I could say I was working on my own music but that’s not the case. Hasn’t been for a while. I’ve just been totally in transcription mode for a while. There are some videos on my channel where I’m playing some of my original ideas. They are basically from when I won the Match the Master thing and I was getting all this new gear. I was kind of doing little demo videos for each thing and I would mainly play some of my original stuff in that. If anyone is curious about that, check out my Fractal Axe-FX videos and stuff, and the Mesa Boogie Mark V videos. I would like to do more interpretive covers, like I did with the Third Eye Blind track. (…) I’d like to do more stuff like that where I’m going out of the realm of what you would normally expect from me and put my own spin on things. I have some ideas floating around for that but nothing’s imminent. As far as transcription project, I was trying to count it out before you called me, seeing how many full albums I have that are just sitting on the hard drive. So, in addition to the Savatage stuff, I also did the Doctor Butcher album. I did a bunch of the Jon Oliva’s Pain [stuff]. I did some Circle II Circle stuff too. In terms of Savatage, I’ve got the whole universe.
Alper: If people wanted to get their hands on those tabs, should they find you on YouTube or is there another preferred channel where they can reach you?
Evan: YouTube, Facebook, I have an Instagram – I’m trying to make that more active. On YouTube, I think in all of the videos, I’ve put “email me for all the information” and all that stuff. Facebook, always feel free to send me a message. Especially since the Cynic thing came out, I’ve been patrolling the comments and stuff, making sure everyone understands my role with this book. If they have any questions about it, I’m trying to keep everyone informed. I enjoy answering questions about this stuff. So, any questions, I will happily field them. Going back to projects in the works or completed, since there’s nothing in the works in an official capacity, I don’t mind revealing that last year, right around this same time last year, I started transcribing the Death discography. As it stands now, all 7 of the studio albums are done. The first 3, Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy, and Spiritual Healing I do not have solos transcribed for those. And the only way I can see doing those is by getting the isolated tracks. Some of that stuff is just so murky and weird. Just kind of buried. It’s really kind of stupid to spend a ton of time picking at that for hours to get one solo done; even some of the rhythms are hard to distinguish just because of the recording quality and all the other factors at the time. But I’ve always been more of a fan of the later Death stuff. So from Human onward. Human has Paul and Sean from Cynic, so that’s how it kind of ties into the Cynic conversation. The next album after that [Human] was Individual Thought Patterns and if you know anything about Death, you know they were always changing line-ups. So, one of the interesting things about transcribing their stuff is basically you’re learning a new style on each album because it’s a different second guitar player. So, you got Paul on Human who is totally unlike anyone else to play in that band, and then you have Andy LaRocque from King Diamond on the next album… He’s got some tasty solos on Individual Thought Patterns, a lot of cool harmonized leads on that one. Then the next album, another new guitar player, Bobby Koelble, really awesome lines on that, like really intricate, which I never realized until I sat down to write them out. And then, on their last album, The Sound of Perseverance, again, another new guitar player who had… He’s almost more similar to Chuck in terms of his lead playing where he’s not all about precision, but he had more technical facility, I would say, with sweep picking and stuff. But it’s such a unique trajectory with all the unique styles going on.
Alper: So, your hope is to get some Death stuff going on now that you’re in that universe because of the Paul connection?
Evan: Ideally, I would want to get all the stuff I’ve already done released and then work on some new stuff. But there’s so much involved getting these projects really going. Obviously, having Paul as a connection has been a huge help and it is opening doors already. There was actually a “Best of Death” tab book put out in 2013 or ’14 and it was put out by Relapse Records who has been doing all of the Death stuff. And this was before I got into transcribing myself. So I bought it straight away. Once I started doing my own transcriptions, the more I looked at it, I’m like “Man, I hate to say it because professional musicians did this book but even this official release [had inaccuracies]”. So a big goal of mine is to get [an official tab book for Death] going. We’ll see.
Alper: Best of luck with all of that! Hopefully, by doing what you’re doing with the grassroots thing, as you named it, by having more connections and having more people seeing the pdfs or Guitar Pro files, I’m hoping that those people can make their demands known to certain publishers and bands or whoever owns the royalties. And I’m hoping that that’ll in the end help you too once people realize there’s demand for [what you do].
So, that was actually the last question I had. Thank you so much for doing this! I genuinely appreciate it. Thank you!
Evan: My pleasure! Thank you for taking the time.
Many thanks once again to Evan Bradley for taking the time to talk to me. If you are a guitar player, do yourself a favor and make sure you follow him on social media for updates! Finally, I will leave you with this amazing cover he did a while back of Death’s Scavenger of Human Sorrow.