One of the few guitarists able to transcend the band where he staked his career, ex-Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis is all-systems-go on the solo front in 2012. His latest Plains of Oblivion is a multi-faced shred du jour, rounded out by several key guest appearances from former Megadeth guitarists Chris Poland and Marty Friedman, along with former Emperor mainman Ihshan. Yet it is the female vocals of Christine Rhoades on “Tragedy and Harmony” and most notably, “Chosen Time” that effectively jolts the album to another level, proving that at heart, Loomis is still a sterling, melodic metal songsmith.
The aftermath of his departure from Nevermore is still very much fresh and proved to be a topic we couldn’t avoid during our 30-minute chat, but it’s not like Loomis won’t be keeping busy. The man has already hustled back into the studio to record a 3-song EP just in time for a summer run with The Contortionist and 7 Horns, 7 Eyes, and as our conversation revealed, the shredder has plenty of surprises left in store…
Blistering.com: When Nevermore had its down-time in between albums, you did a lot of clinic work. In hindsight, how beneficial was it that you were so active on the clinic circuit?
Jeff Loomis: That was something I was never able to accomplish with Nevermore, like getting in touch with the fans and the techniques I use when I play. That was a great opportunity; we hit a lot of territory as far as doing clinics. We went all over Europe, went to Japan and China, and we now have plans to go to Australia. For me, it’s very important because it gives you the chance to sit the fans one-on-one with another generation of guitar players.
It’s weird because you don’t have the camaraderie of your bandmates – you’re just out there by yourself. When I first started doing it, it was nerve-wracking. It took me about a week to get into it since I’m not a guy who talks a lot. Now that I have a grasp on, it’s been very fun and beneficial. But as far as Nevermore, it was hard to say goodbye to it since it was such a big part of my life, but as they say – every book has an ending.
Blistering.com: You did a run of dates in the spring with Protest the Hero and Periphery. That being your first solo tour with the aforementioned group of guys, were you surprised at the reaction?
Loomis: I really was. I didn’t know how it would go over. I was expecting a lot of people in the crowd to be saying “Go back to Nevermore!” and things like that. You always expect the worst when you start something, but I was really blown away by the response and reception from the crowd. People were going nuts. I think it was a good tour for us to be on from the get-go; Protest the Hero is very guitar-oriented and so is Periphery. It was one of these tours where no egos were involved, everybody just went out and enjoyed playing, so that was really awesome. That tour made me feel like I can continue on by myself as a solo artist.
Blistering.com: I think it was a smart move to pair you with “fresh” bands like Protest the Hero and Periphery. It might have been more difficult for you had you gone out with bands that Nevermore used to play with.
Loomis: That is true. There’s nothing wrong with capturing another audience with what you do. I think with Nevermore, it was a vibe where we were climbing up the ladder, but taking two steps back all the time. We could never reach the goal that I wanted to reach; it was always a continuing struggle. It seems like now that I have option of clicking my own fingers and being the director, no egos here at all [laughs]. I have the opportunity to do things my way. By all means, I don’t mean that in a bad way, but sometimes, when someone has a vision, it helps; it helps move things along better.
Blistering.com: As for Plains of Oblivion, when you left Nevermore last year, was any of this material slated for the next Nevermore album?
Loomis: There was one song that ended up being on the record, just a couple of parts. Everything else is completely fresh. Every musician has their own vault of riffs and Pro Tools sessions and whatnot, but when I get inspired to do a record, I sit in a month in my studio and come up with stuff. And unless I’m really hurting for stuff, I don’t usually go back for parts. So yeah, everything for the new record is completely fresh, save for a few parts, which ended up being the song Chris Poland played on [“Continuum Drift”].
Blistering.com: Speaking of which, you had two of Megadeth’s best lead guitar players to play on the album. There’s always been the Megadeth connection going back to Sanctuary, so how cool was it to have Marty and Poland on the album?
Loomis: I’m overwhelmed by that because those guys are my influences, especially Marty Friedman. A lot of people know I grew up in the whole age of shred with Shrapnel [Records]. I’m still a big fan of Jason Becker, Vinnie Moore, Tony McAlpine, and Marty Friedman. It’s funny that I’m more of an acquaintance with Tony McAlpine and Chris; Marty I know because I played on some his albums in the past. To be able to just send an easy email to these talented musicians asking them politely to play on the record, then having them say “yes,” is so incredible. It was just a simple email…I didn’t have to beg and plead [laughs].
Blistering.com: The song that seems to work the best for me is “Chosen Time,” which has Christine Rhoades on it. She did a few songs on the record and those come across as the most melodic, which I think is the best aspect of the album.
Loomis: I’ve known Christine for almost 20 years. She’s a Seattle native and grew up where I’m from. We’ve always talked about doing a project for years and years, but it always got blown off. She ended up doing backing vocals on “Dreaming Neon Black,” a Nevermore song. She has such an amazing voice, but she was never in a signed band or anything. When Nevermore played Los Angeles, she came down the show and we started talking about working together again. So I started sending her demos and it was one of those deals that because she has so much talent, I wanted to give her an opportunity to make that talent shine and to show the world who she is. She’s absolutely incredible. It gave the record a little more diversity.