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SEEK AND DESTROY: Paul Gilbert’s insatiable lust for all things guitar is only surpassed by his passion for sharing his gifts with other players.
By Chris Gill | Photos by Ty Milford
When you find yourself writing songs like ‘Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal,’ it’s a clue that you need to walk a little more and drive a little less,” Paul Gilbert says. Comfortably reclining in a chair in the studio inside his new home in Portland, Oregon, Gilbert seems like the usual affable, friendly, and humorous person he’s always been since he first came to prominence in the guitar community with the Hollywood shred metal band Racer X in the mid Eighties. However, that song title—from his new album, I Can Destroy—and a similar sentiment expressed as the title of his 2006 album, Get Out of My Yard, suggest Gilbert could be entering a grumpy-old-man phase.
Fortunately, he hasn’t turned into a cantankerous complainer; rather, the song title was inspired by one of the main reasons Gilbert wanted to leave behind the traffic-clogged, slow-moving “fast lane” lifestyle of his former Los Angeles home and settle in Portlandia. “I was spending too much time in my car in Los Angeles,” he explains. “So I moved to a place where I could walk to just about everything. I hardly ever get in the car now.”
While the pace of life may seem slower in Portland, the move made it easier for Gilbert to maintain and possibly even increase his industrious work schedule. Since leaving hard-rock supergroup Mr. Big in 1997, he’s released 14 solo albums, two live albums, and an EP. He’s also been productive as a guitar educator, posting a mind-boggling 4,000 videos on the ArtistWorks Video Exchange during the four years he’s been an instructor for the acclaimed online school. Gilbert recently hosted his third Great Guitar Escape, a week-long “camp” filled with guitar seminars, jams, and performances, held each summer in Cambria, California.
At a time when many guitar heroes seem embarrassed to even admit that they play the instrument, Gilbert is unapologetic about his love of guitar. This is most evident in the stunning solos prominently featured on his new album, even in the middle of well-crafted pop songs. “There’s certainly a fair share of widdly-widdly shredding on this record,” he admits. “I Can Destroy may not be an instrumental shred guitar album, but it’s not exactly a Dire Straits record either. I’m unusually blessed to have an audience that includes everyone from people who want to hear my athletic guitar stuff to fans who know me best for the hits I recorded with Mr. Big. I’m a people-pleasing person, so I want to make sure that everybody is happy.”
On most of his albums since 2009’s United States, Gilbert has worked with a second guitarist, either Freddie Nelson or Tony Spinner. On I Can Destroy, he decided to work with both. “They’re both around my age and grew up with Seventies-era rock,” Gilbert says. “The first thing I did for this album was hire Kevin Shirley as the producer. I’ve worked with him before, so I know the kind of energy that he likes to get and record. When you work with Kevin, the music really needs to work live, and you need to capture everything within a couple of takes, because he doesn’t like to do a lot of overdubs. Because of that, I put together a really good band that knows how to play live and listen to each other to make things come together quickly.”