What a conversation! Nuno is a one of a kind guitar player and he shared a lot in this interview. I had to pause it every 30 seconds to take notes and internalize what he was saying.
Nuno and Rick covered a lot of ground. They discuss Nuno’s infamous RAT Distortion pedal, his relationship with Van Halen, guitar solos, songwriting, the mystique of Rock`n`Roll, live performances, and much more..
Table of Contents
RAT Distortion Pedal
A distortion pedal, originally made for players that only had a “clean” amp and needed distortion.
The “secret ingredient” piece of gear that shapes Nuno’s tone.
Gives Nuno his distinct “percussive” “kick drum” tone, adding a bit of bottom end.
Nuno’s settings: like a cross, Distortion at 9 o’clock, Filter at 12:00, Volume at 3 o’clock.
Chain: Go from Guitar to Rat Pedal to Head of Amplifier.
To Nuno’s ear makes everything chunkier, fatter, tighter.
Playing Van Halen’s Rig
What do you play on Eddie Van Halen’s rig when he is standing right there watching you? Nuno starts playing the tapping section from the solo of Get The Funk Out.
Playing through Eddie’s rig, Nuno sounded like Nuno. He didn’t sound like Van Halen. The fingers, the intonation, the player create the sound of the rig, not the rig itself.
Nuno realized that your sound is your fingers, how you hold the pick, he started to think about these things, noticing them.
The least amount of things between your fingers, strings, and amp, the most you will sound like yourself. This led Nuno to minimize the amount of “gear” between his finger and amp, and so the RAT pedal became the foundational piece of gear.
Simple, Dry Guitar Tone
In your recordings, do nothing, keep it simple. No reverb, no special effects, the tone is as it is, in your face, clunky, all mistakes, all warts, let it be.
Nuno has always recorded “dry”, it allows for you to really hear what the player sounds like.
In Extreme’s “Rise” guitar solo, Nuno is not using delay.
Nuno doesn’t have a music theory background, not a specialist in identifying chord names.
Takes the approach of vocalizing chords, uses his ear to find the chords for different sections of songs.
Writing a Guitar Solo
Nuno’s influences: Elliot Easton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Van Halen, Neal Schon.
It’s about melody, being memorable, something that is perfect for the song, tone, something you want to hear over and over.
You can take one of two approaches to a solo: “Guitar Olympics” (your time to shine, show off your technical skills) or you let the song guide you, talk to you, show you where to go. Listen to the song groove, the energy, build your solo by getting lost in the song, what does the song do to you emotionally?
Think about the solo as being a song within a song.
Take your Audience on a Journey
As a musician, you have the unique opportunity to take your audience away from their daily grinds, on a journey powered by your lyrics, your melodies, grooves, guitar solos, show, set, the musical experience you deliver.
Insights about Van Halen, Simplexity
Eddie started as a drummer – this gave him a unique perspective to the guitar, led him to introduce the concept of guitar “fills”, riffs in between sections of songs, moving chordal shapes.
Concept of “simplexity” – a simple song structure that had complex, tasteful guitar work underneath it. The music is approachable for mortals, but has a lot of cool stuff going underneath it. Playing for the song versus shredding over the song.
The importance of rhythm guitar having swing, feel.
Drums, Rhythm, Dancing to the Guitar
Think about it, why do we have a beat (drums) in a song? What’s the purpose? It’s to dance, it’s to move, to get locked into something. You have to be able “to dance” to the guitar.
The drummer may be keeping time, but you have so many variables to explore within a beat to create that “dance” type of feel.
Extreme’s “More Than Words” is a prime example of this concept. Dancing, moving, getting physical with what you are playing.
When practicing be sure to sometimes play standing up, feel “that dance”, feel the swagger, moving with the rhythm.
Will AI Replace Musicians?
Nuno isn’t worried about AI replacing musicians – to him it’s already been here for many years, autotune being one major example.
Let’s see more AI in music, as it will make the raw musicians stand out even more.
On Brian May
“The bender” – something about the way Brian May bends notes sets him apart.
Queen’s “Queen 2” album – Nuno considers this Queen’s best album. An iconic album cover. The album has the “white” and “black” side.
Van Halen 1
“Get Your Wings” by Aerosmith
The Mythology of Rock`n`Roll
Before social media, before the web, all you would have is the album, photos in a magazine. You would listen to the album, anxiously wait for the concert, see the artist live. Imagine what they are doing backstage, in their life. You could only imagine it. You put the artist on this mythological god-like level. And today social media has unmasked all of it by giving you unfiltered access to the artist’s entire life.
The live experience is your experience, their music is the soundtrack to your life, and that’s it, how much more can you ask for? And yet today it’s all about “more”, giving more.
Band member versus Guitar Player
When it comes to Extreme, Nuno views his role as “band member” first, not just “the guitar player”. He plays his role in the band which happens to be the guitar player. A band is a team, and to maintain the chemistry every member needs to play their role.
Hasn’t recorded a song demo for Extreme since the first album.
The importance of a track is capturing the energy of the song, the moment of creation, creating a demo and then re-recording it, you may never recapture the original energy.
“A good producer knows when he needs to step in and do 80% of everything to get things across the line, help people play their parts, do this, do whatever is takes, and sometimes the best producer just gets the fuck out of the way, and let it happen, maybe just do 1%, mix it…”
Able to adapt from artist to artist.
If you aren’t hating your producer by the end of the project, in a way he isn’t doing his job (pushing the artist enough, to pull out the best from the artist).
The Music Isn’t Mine (song writing concept)
Sometimes the first thing that you play, it’s the thing you are creating, don’t stop, and piece the riffs together, let them come out naturally, don’t stop, finish it
“All these things happen as if they were imprinted…”
This is how “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” were written.
Writing sessions – Hit Writing
The problem with a writing session is you can’t intentionally go in to write a hit.
“Real, evergreen, classic songs are never written sitting down as writing a hit, you write songs, you write beautiful and great songs, and you hope that enough people will connect…”
Authentic Creativity: Creating what you want to create
Do what you love, build it, and they will come, and maybe they won’t but as long as you do what you want to do, you’ll go to sleep at night feeling proud that you created what you wanted to create.
A quote from Pete Townshend stuck with Nuno, “Any artist who tells you they do anything for the fans, is lying, and if that isn’t true, I don’t want to hear that artist…”
The fans don’t want you to do what they want, they are coming to see you, to expect the unexpected, to hear what you are creating.
Believe in your ideas, believe that they are just as good as the creations of your hero’s, you can’t have a timid “I hope they like it” attitude.
“If we don’t believe that we can actually go after our idols, then what are we doing here…”
Upbeat picking technique
Influence was Al Di Meola.
“Electric Rendezvous” is one of his favorite Al Di Meola albums.