Following the success of my interview with Tenacious D guitarist John Konesky, I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to ask another of my long-term idols some questions. Michael Angelo Batio is a super- and multi-talented metal musician from Chicago, Illinois, who is often dubbed the world’s fastest guitarist. He performed with the bands Nitro (with super-high vocalist Jim Gillette) and Holland back in the 80s, and is now a decorated and respected solo musician with a bunch of mindblowing albums and instructional guitar DVDs. Batio is also a producer, a columnist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a designer, so he’s not short of skills and attributes. Mike is also a brilliant guy, a pleasure to talk to, and extremely friendly and helpful. Check out the questions I asked him below, and the interesting responses I received.
So Mike, how has this year been for you so far?
2011 has been amazing! I debuted my multimedia “Hands Without Shadows – A Tribute to Rock Guitar” show in Las Vegas in late September and got a great response. I won the Guitar World magazine readers’ choice poll and was voted the “Fastest Guitarist of All-Time”. One of my Dean Double-Guitars is going on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Plus, I performed a lot of shows around the world this year. I am extremely grateful and thankful for all of it!
My life basically revolves around two things – touring, and recording albums. The things that I love about being a musician are being able to see so many fantastic countries and places – 52 countries so far – and working on new music. Every time I do either I can count on one thing – that there will be something different. No two shows are alike, and everything I work on creatively is different from one project to the next. I absolutely love what I do…
Who were a few of your main musical influences when you were growing up?
I started playing piano at five years old; I started playing guitar at ten years old. My main influences for the first few years of playing the guitar were the ones that most people mention if they are close to my age – Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, etc. But a few years later I started studying jazz, and started listening to players like George Benson, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt, and a whole new world of musical expression opened up for me. A few years after that, I was really influenced by Al DiMeola, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin and keyboardist Keith Emerson.
And are there any specific bands or artists around today that you really like?
I like a lot of current bands and music, in many different genres. I really like Dream Theater and Symphony X; I like Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed and Alter Bridge; I like Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts; I like Andrea Bocelli. I have thousands and thousands of songs, of all types of genres, on my iPod. I have always liked a lot of different types of music.
Yes, it is true. Tom took guitar lessons from me when I taught privately during my years attending college. I used to teach at a fantastic music store that is still doing great today called The Music Gallery – that is where I taught guitar to over 30 students a week and Tom, at that time, was one of them. Tom is a great person off-stage, and is very true to his convictions. Yes, we are still friends. We hang out occasionally but, as with many of my other ‘rockstar’ friends, touring and scheduling make it difficult to be in the same place at the same time. The best time for me to see my friends is at the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] music convention in Anaheim, California every January. It really is ‘rockstar central’ there, and is one of the best places to see groups of famous musicians hanging out and just being themselves.
You are often dubbed the fastest guitarist in the world, and as you mentioned recently topped a readers’ poll by Guitar World magazine to find “The Fastest Guitarist of All-Time“. Is this the impression you were hoping to make when you first started performing?
I am humbled that people have voted me as the fastest. To me it meant more that so many fans voted [over 400,000] than what the actual award was about. Being the fastest on guitar was never my goal; my only goal was to be the best Michael Angelo Batio I could be. I enjoy playing fast. It is an exhilarating feeling to be ‘blazing’ up and down the fretboard. It is also extremely gratifying to write a nice melody and play it with as much feeling as I possibly can. I just never wanted limits on my playing. I believe that I am a better guitarist and artist this year than last year, and want to be better next year than this year. That is the quest for me – to become better every year.
There are many factors that go into being a skilled guitarist. The two most important things, in my humble opinion, are natural talent and a great work ethic. If I had to choose one over the other I would choose a great work ethic. Music is subjective, which is why so many people think they can ‘outplay’ the pros. The work ethic becomes evident when you develop a ‘track record’ and can look back and say “I finished this, and this, and this”. There have always been a lot of good players, but it is the work ethic – including one’s thought processes about what their playing is and who they are as an artist – that, to me, defines the great player.
Many people do not understand the attraction of the type of music you play. How would you say your music differs to that of the average ‘shred guitarist’?
I understand that not everyone will like what I do. I also understand that 100% of the time, if you are doing something different or something that causes attention, you will get some criticism. 99% might love you, but there will be that 1% that don’t – that is just human nature, and I accept that. But I am true to myself. I have never changed or sacrificed how I play because of any current trends in music. However, I never take anything for granted and feel that I am blessed to have a career that keeps going strong year after year. I think the biggest difference between myself and the ‘average shred guitarist’ is that I am one of the originators and ‘pioneers’ of the genre. There is an historical timeline and perspective to me, and to my music, that sometimes gets overlooked. I also realise that the genre of music I am known for is more extreme than mainstream, but that is what I like and I don’t want to change even one note!
I would have to say Nitro was my favourite, then Holland. C4 was great as well, but more of a ‘project’ than a group. Holland was my first ‘major label’ band. I found out, for the first time, what it was like to have people come to shows because they loved the music we as a band had created and written. Writing the music with the Holland band members was a great experience and I am very proud of what we did. Nitro was an amazing band in an amazing time. We were a Hollywood metal band during the height of Hollywood metal bands. It was an era that was special for so many reasons. Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette and I wrote all of the songs, and to this day we are still very close friends; I consider him ‘family’. Also, Jim was/is an amazing frontperson, and has one of the best work ethics I have ever witnessed. Plus, he is extremely intelligent. That is a hard combination to beat!
You’ve also invented a lot of revolutionary products over the years, including the Double-Guitar, the Quad-Guitar and the String Dampener. Do you have any other ideas in the works?
I like to be creative in ways outside of just playing the guitar. I have some new ideas in the works now, and they all pertain to my “Tribute to Rock Guitar” show. My focus now and in the immediate future is to better the production of the show – from the background screens to the kinds of guitars that are used. So in conclusion, more theatrical and better versions of what I have already created.
I have several new projects that I am working on. First and foremost is my “Hands Without Shadows – A Tribute to Rock Guitar” multimedia show. We debuted the show in Las Vegas in late September 2011 and have a 14-country tour scheduled starting in May 2012, along with other shows in the USA before and after the European tour. I am also working on a new instrumental CD, which will be released in 2012. In addition to that, I am working with Dean Guitars on the new MAB series signature models, as well as designing a new Double-Guitar for 2012. A lot is going on, and again I am grateful and I never take any of it for granted!
What else can we expect from you in the future, and when are you coming back to England?
I will be doing a column for the British company Lick Library’s new iGuitar magazine. It is a fantastic company, and iGuitar is a mind-blowing digital magazine! I love performing in England, and have been there many times over the years. I hope to bring the “HWS” show there in 2012; we are working on it now.
Thanks very much, Mike!
Thanks for the great questions!