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Article Tools Display Modes Interview: Mike Keneally's DDDorian interviews legendary guitarist Mike Keneally
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Arrow Interview: Mike Keneally

<div align="right"><img src="" alt="Mike Keneally" />
<b>Interview: Mike Keneally</b>
<i><font size="1">By DDDorian</font></i></div><div align="center">

<div align="center">"Mike Keneally obviously doesn't like to be labeled he's a bandleader and bandmember, a rock and jazz fusion player, and also an outstanding guitarist, vocalist, keyboardist, and percussionist. Taking up keyboards at age five, Keneally's life changed when he moved from New York to California in 1970 and heard Frank Zappa for the first time at age ten. Woodshedding for the next 15 years as a self-taught guitarist, Keneally formed a band called Drop Control in his hometown of San Diego in 1985 and became one of the city's musical heroes. Keneally auditioned for Zappa's band in 1987 as a "stunt guitar" replacement for Steve Vai, and was hired as a guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist. The multi-instrumentalist would appear on some classic Zappa albums like Broadway the Hard Way and The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life, but little did he know that his lineup would be Zappa's final touring band. Between 1988 and 1991, Keneally performed with Drop Control and Zappa's son Dweezil's band Z, toyed with studio-musician status, and moved to Los Angeles." -<i><a href="" target="_BLANK"></a></i>

<img style="padding:10px;" align="left" src="" alt="Mike Keneally" /><span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Greetings and salutations, Mr. Keneally! It's a pleasure to be able to speak to you.

<span class="ivred">Mike Keneally</span>: Thank you! You're welcome!

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: First things first: you and your longtime bassist, Bryan Beller, are currently touring across the US with the Dethklok band. How are you enjoying life on the road as a member of an animated metal band? I'm sure with guys like Gene Hoglan and Brendon Small around, there's rarely a dull moment...

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Oh, there are occasional dull moments, but that's life. In general it's a total blast. I love it.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: When the Dethklok touring lineup was announced it was quite a surprise tosee your name on the list. Considering all the big-name metal players Brendon has met through the show, you seem somewhat of an outside choice.How did you meet Brendon, and what led to you joining the band?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I met him through MySpace actually, my girlfriend and I are big "Home Movies" fans (that's the first show Brendon did, a few years ago) and one day a couple of years ago she told me "Brendon's got a MySpace page, you should write to him." So I wrote him a dumb fan email telling him that Sarah and I were big fans of his show (this was before Metalocalypse started) and he wrote back saying that he was a big fan of me; he had seen me do a show in the mid-90s when he was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and I think he had a couple of my CDs. So he started coming to my shows again, and I sat in on a couple of his comedy/music performances and did voices on a couple of Metalocalypse episodes. Then when it came time for him to put a band together to do shows, he asked if
Bryan and I were available to do it.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Have you had to deviate, technique-wise or gear-wise, from your usual live approach to play with Dethklok? I can't imagine Swisgaar being a huge fan of the spackled-pickguard Strat, haha.

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Haha. Brendon said "you should get a Flying V." Normally I play Fenders but I've also been playing a Charvel a lot since Fender now owns Charvel; coincidentally they now own Jackson too so I asked them to make me a Randy Rhodes RR1 sort of half-a-V. I've been playing Krank amps which are cool, but normally I play Riveras and I think next year I'll be playing a Rivera K Tre. Technique wise it's a totally different gig from my normal thing; obviously it involves a lot more precise speed picking (more like the stuff I did with Steve Vai, but even more relentless) and less improv, so it's very different from playing with my own band, but it really exercises some specific musical muscles which I'm very happy to exercise, and I find I play other music better after working out with some Dethklok tunes.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Let's back up a bit: When did you first pick up an instrument, and what inspired you to play?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: My parents got me an electric organ for my seventh birthday, and I just started playing stuff on it right away. I never knew I wanted to play an instrument but I always loved music as a kid, would sing along with records all the time, so my folks just instinctively knew I should be a musician.<img style="padding:10px;" align="right" src="" alt="Mike Keneally" />

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Now, you're probably most well known as being Steve Vai's replacement in Frank Zappa's band, playing both guitar and keyboards. What was the audition process like, and what were your initial thoughts of Frank?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Allow me to direct you here: All About Mike! I wrote this about eleven years ago and it includes some stuff not directly relevant to your question but it also includes a seriously exhaustive accounting of the whole Zappa experience. My initial thoughts of Frank were "wow, he's friendlier than I expected" and "boy, I sure am glad he thinks I'm good."

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: You joined the band almost twenty years ago now, and Frank passed on almost fifteen years ago. When you look back at that period, what do you think of your time spent in the band and the contributions you made to Frank's music?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: It was a mind-blowing experience in every way. Frank's music was about the most important thing in the world to me when I was growing up and to have the opportunity to be a part of that was immense. When I listen to the recordings of the band I was in, I feel tolerant of my contributions, but I hear a lot of things I would like to have done better -- it was my first professional gig, I was really young and I had so much to learn. But I'm very glad that I was there because my love and knowledge of his back catalogue allowed Frank to add some old and obscure material back into his repertoire, and my enthusiasm added a spirit to the music which I'm happy to still be able to hear when I listen to the CDs.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: While the spectre of Frank's music still looms large, the man himself has been gone for quite a while now. Do you ever get sick of fielding questions about him or being forever known as "that guy that replaced Steve Vai in the Zappa band"? (If so, feel free to systematically ignore a significant portion of this interview.)

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Certainly not; I'm so grateful to have been a part of it and will never take it for granted, so if the worst thing I have to deal with is people who are curious about the experience, that's way OK with me.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: You then went on to play guitar in Dweezil Zappa's band as well as guitar and keys for Steve Vai, whilst working on solo projects in between. Was it difficult to juggle being a sideman with being your own musician?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Still is in a way. But it's worth the effort, as I love having a lot of different kinds of musical experiences, and I'm grateful that the money earned from doing projects like Vai and Dethklok give me the wherewithal to devote time to some very uncommercial projects of my own.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Coincidentally, both Dweezil and Steve are involved in the Zappa Plays Zappa shows that have been taking place for the last couple of years. I've yet to see it, but from all accounts it makes for a great show and a faithful tribute to Frank's music. Were you approached about being involved? Have you managed to catch a show?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I was involved in the early stages, helping Dweezil to learn several of the more complicated pieces in the repertoire. I've seen shows in both of the US tours so far and I'm happy to say the band is doing a fantastic job and I'm very glad Dweezil has taken this on.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>:Your most recent release has been the Guitar Therapy Live CD/DVD, which really showcases the other guys in the band whilst still being perhaps the most guitar-centric album you've released thus far. The vibe is just phenomenal, you'd never know it was pieced together from different shows, which I think is a testament to the tightness of the band. Was it always your plan to release a live album, or did you realise afterwards that the band was really onto something?

<img style="padding:10px;" align="left" src="" alt="Mike Keneally" /><span class="ivred">MK</span>: I had it in my mind from before the tour that we should release a live document of that particular band, because I knew we really had something going on, and I'm just glad that we managed to capture such fantastic performances on the CD, and that in the case of the DVD (which is all from one show), that it just happened to be the best show that band ever played.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: You've also just re-released the .hat and Boil That Dust Speck albums with new liner notes and bonus discs. What do you think differentiates the Mike
Keneally of that period to the Mike Keneally we see and hear today?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I was a lot more of an asshole then, and a lot less aware of how one's actions impact on their surroundings and on the energy of a moment. I was ambitious as ...., though, and did a good job of getting some really peculiar stuff out of my head and onto a CD for people to hear. I'm still delighted by how those two albums sound and how faithful they were to my ideas. I'm a much better musician now though.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: You've had quite an involved online presence for a while now; a lot of musical content is available exclusively through your online store, you've been "blogging" before there was even a buzzword for it and through your entire back catalogue is available for streaming. Is this due to the changing landscape of the music industry, or are you just a filthy nerd like all of us, haha?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I suppose there's some filthy nerdiness involved, but really it's just that there is so much music lying around here and no way to put it all out on a physical CD. So it's way cool to have avenues available to let people hear all this stuff. That's the same reason I don't mind people taping and distributing recordings of my gigs -- every show is so different and each has more than a few moments which can never be replicated, and which I would never get around to releasing officially.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: A few years ago now you put together an album of Steve Vai tunes arranged for solo piano which really showcase your skills as a pianist and arranger. Did this project affect how you approach your own music as a pianist/keyboardist? Are we likely to hear a solo piano album of your own tunes in the future?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: That album was such a ferocious bitch, the hardest album I've ever done. Solo piano is such an unforgiving medium, there is NO place to hide and I worked my ass off on every second of music. There's no way to really quantify the impact it had on me, but it certainly did. Steve edited together all the outtakes of me screaming my head off at the piano every time I made a mistake, someday we may release that. He's given me his list of songs for a second volume and it's going to be even more bloody and violent for me, but I still relish the challenge (I won't be able to get around to it until I finish Scambot though). A solo piano album of my own music is probably a good ways in the future, but it is on our minds.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Do you find yourself having to reconcile releasing a piano-based album by releasing a guitar-heavy album the next time around? How does playing one instrument influence the other?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Every album I do is somehow a response to the last one, but I actually recorded the piano album back in '98 and '99, so the response to that album was probably Nonkertompf, which had a lot of piano stuff AND guitar stuff on it. I like to write things on piano which are very not guitaristic and then learn it on guitar, and vice versa. I think I learn a lot about each instrument that way. <img style="padding:10px;" align="right" src="" alt="Mike Keneally" />

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What's your typical approach to songwriting? Are you more likely to sit down with a book of manuscript paper and notate a piece of music or rely on intuition? When do vocals and lyrics come into play?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I'll sit down with manuscript paper when I'm writing stuff for orchestra -- sometimes (sometimes I'll just record ideas and then transcribe them later, or have someone else transcribe them). When writing songs for myself or rock band, it's much more intuitive, usually just demoing things in the computer and re-learning and embellishing it later. Vocals and lyrics sometimes come first, sometimes don't -- it's really a different story with every song.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Would you consider yourself a composer who plays an instrument, or an instrumentalist who writes musc?
MK: I consider myself a conduit for music, flailing around and trying on every method available to me to make it something other people can hear.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Here at we're into all things extended range, and the Guitarp has certainly piqued our interest. What inspired you to play such an instrument, and how in the hell do you amplify/process it? Could you ever see yourself playing an extended-range guitar full-time?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: I'm such a total neophyte when it comes to Guitarp. Phil de Gruy is such a master of it, and I am flea nipping at his heel in comparison. I only ever used it on the song "Louie" as a result of Matt Resnicoff -- friend of me and Phil -- giving me a Guitarp and basically saying "do something with this." I just run it to two different amps and process the guitar signal pretty dirty and the harp signal pretty clean for that song, but I haven't played it in four years. It was nice to be able to tune it down to low A, and still have the weirdly tuned high harp strings at the same time. It served that particular song. But de Gruy is the god, the man, and everything in between on that instrument.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What kind of live rig would one typically see at a Mike Keneally performance?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Rivera Quiana, volume pedal, wah, T-Rex Mudhoney pedal, sometimes a delay pedal but usually not, a tuner, a synthesizer (lately a KORG Karma), a vocal mic. Pretty damn basic. When Rick Musallam is playing with me he has a pedalboard the size of a Cutlass Supreme with dozens of things on it.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Are there any current or future musical projects in the works that we should know about? Personally I'm holding out for the thrash-metal Keneall' Em All album, haha.

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Early in June we'll be releasing Wine And Pickles, an album of unreleased material recorded from 1998 to 2006. The main project this year is Scambot, a double-CD plus book which will be released before the end of the year. I'm working on a project with drummer Marco Minnemann called Normalizer 2; Marco recorded a 52-minute drum solo and gave it to about eight different guys and we're all writing and recording our own different music to go with the drum solo. I'm about eight minutes into my version and I'm going to be recording a bunch more of it this weekend. I've started work on an instrumental album, influenced by Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow although it won't sound anything like it by the time it's done, I'm sure. I'll be back on the road with DETHKLOK throughout June, then going to Europe with Adam Holzman, Bryan Beller, Franz Hackl and Marco Minnemann in late July to play Miles Davis music in Germany and Austia. I'm writing a saxophone quartet for a fantastic Dutch ensemble, and I'll be going to England late in the year to continue an ongoing collaboration with Andy Partridge from XTC.

<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Once again, many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words to your legions of adoring fans?

<span class="ivred">MK</span>: Thanks for listening, ....ers! I love you!

<div align="center">
<a href="" target="_TOP"><span class="ivred">Mike Keneally Official Website</span></a> - <a href="" target="_TOP"><span class="ivred">Mike Keneally on MySpace</span></a>
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By DDDorian on 05-04-2008, 09:37 PM
Reading over this again, I realise just how tenuous the connection with seven-string guitars seems... anyway, hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
By Drew on 05-06-2008, 02:13 PM
Awesome interview, with an awesome guitarist.
By Blackrg on 05-07-2008, 08:39 AM
hey thanks, nice interview and really inspirational dood, I was checking his videos out for the first time on youtube only last week and hey, heres an innerview already.
By distressed_romeo on 05-16-2008, 03:08 PM brilliant interview. I love the 'hat' album, and he tore it up with Vai on the original G3. Well done DDDorian.
By Pablo on 05-17-2008, 01:18 PM
Great interview with one of my favourite musicians... that really needs to begin playing 7-strings - there's your link
By Chris on 05-17-2008, 01:33 PM
Great interview all around guys - Mike, thanks VERY much for taking time out to chat with us!
By Foundation on 07-19-2008, 09:43 AM

Been a huge fan for years.Think its awesome he is one of the touring members of Dethklok.Big fan of Metalocalypse too.
It shows a lot that he would alter his normal gigging gear for this.Some guitar players never would..

By shadowlife on 07-19-2008, 11:18 AM
Keneally is truly a monster musician. I saw him at the Zappa's Universe show, and then with Vai, and both times his playing was the highlight of the night.
By nbarts on 12-27-2010, 04:45 PM
Awesome stuff! Cheers, Bipolar Music
By socio on 01-10-2011, 07:50 PM
Amazing musician! <a href="" style="text-decoration: none"><font color="333333">Sociopath</font></a>
By RussellNelson on 04-14-2013, 04:08 PM
That's awesome. I love metalocalypse. I'll have to check out more of this guy's work.


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