Initially inspired by Ace Frehley and the music of Kiss, Italian guitar and composer Daniele Gottardo has gone on to have a career defined by hyper-eclecticism and grandiose virtuosity. Of course, none of this news—especially given that Gottardo was tabbed by Steve Vai as “one of the brightest talents in electric guitar” some years back. But to be fair, Gottardo has held up his end of the bargain, unleashing eclectic yet iconic solos records, Frenzy of Ecstasy (2010), Non Temperato (2014), INkBlot (2022). In fact, those records were so good that Guitarist Magazine tabbed Gottardo as one of the “10 contemporary guitar virtuosos you need to hear.” Not too bad, eh?
Beyond his solo career and the red-carpet praise deservedly showed upon him, Daniele Gottardo has appeared at multiple international guitar festivals, such as the United States’s Malibu Guitar Festival in 2017, France’s Guitar En Scene in 2016, Romania’s Ziua Chitatelor in 2016, Jason Becker’s Not Dead Yet Festival, which took place in Holland in 2013, and Italy’s Eddie Lang Jazz Festival in 2010, 2013, and 2015.
Other highlights include working with The Nuts for 2016’s Giant Nuts, appearing on Jason Becker’s 2019 comeback record, Triumphant Hearts, and ripping it up on Gretchen Menn’s 2016 record Abandon All Hope. And so, there’s no telling where Daniele Gottardo might turn up next, but to be sure, it’ll be worth hearing.
During a break from the action, Daniele Gottardo beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into his origins, process, gear, and more.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
I found my dad’s guitar and randomly decided to pick it up one day when I was about 13. I strummed open strings with a lot of distortion. There began my journey.
Who were your most significant influences? How do they remain within your sound, and how have you diverged?
Ace Frehley and all incarnations of Kiss were my first big inspirations during my early years of playing. Then, I discovered Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, John Petrucci, and Dream Theater, who sparked my interest in extended techniques and instrumental composition. Greg Howe introduced me to the rock-fusion sound, and I took his playing as a model while developing mine.
Though I have stretched out into genres other than my initial rock-based inspirations, I retain the use of high-gain in my playing, regardless of genre. My approach to improvisation is more jazz than rock, and my harmonic vocabulary is based mainly on Romantic and 20th-century composition. My approach to note choice and articulation on the guitar has become increasingly influenced by classical woodwind and string players.
Do you remember your first guitar and amp?
Yes, it was my dad’s Fender Stratocaster and Marshall Jubilee combo. I spent a lot of time practicing without much gain or effects, which helped me develop a clean technique.
What was your first professional gig?
I toured with the Eurodance singer Alexia in the early 2000s for about four years. I was very young and inexperienced, and I can’t believe they tolerated me for as long as they did. I learned that no matter how easy a part seems, it takes work to play it well. To this day, I can find challenges even in the most seemingly simple parts. I also learned a lot about professionalism and how things work on a larger tour.
How do you view the way you play today vs the past? What has changed most?
When I hear myself from ten years ago, I notice that my taste in vibrato has changed a lot. In my earlier years, I was more influenced by metal and rock. I have moved toward greater restraint and variety of vibrato instead of the “more is more” approach. Now, my inspirations for touch and articulation might come from performances of a Poulenc Flute Sonata or a solo of jazz cornet legend Bix Beiderbecke.
I have also developed my compositional voice quite a bit. I am an avid student of harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration, which has affected how I approach the guitar. I am more conscious of dynamics, textures, and blending the electric guitar with a larger ensemble instead of playing over it. My most recent album, INkBlot, explores this quite a bit.
Tell me about your riff and solo writing process.
Perhaps unusual for a guitarist who started with rock, but I don’t write riffs. I moved away from riff-based playing years ago to explore less common approaches. I have based my sound and style on using the guitar as a melodic instrument, focusing on counterpoint and interplay with other instruments. I find the concept of the often-assumed dichotomy between rhythm and lead guitar restrictive both to guitar playing and imagination.
For solos, it depends on the context. I really love improvisation and have spent a lot of time studying the great jazz improvisers and developing my abilities in this area. But I also enjoy composing solos. In either case, I try to create rhythmically interesting solos with elements of lyricism and harmonic sophistication. A risk in composing solos is they can sound rigid, so I make it a point to convey a sense of organic unfolding.
How do you view guitar solos in the modern era?
It depends on the player and the context. It is great that people are still playing and enjoying solos in 2023, especially given that the mainstream is dominated by electronic music, many producers of which don’t play an instrument. To be sure, I do like and admire aspects of a lot of mainstream, non-guitar music, but I don’t take the viability of guitar solos for granted. I am glad there is still a place for them.
Bands and guitar players are doing some amazing things technically right now. Still, a trend I am noticing in newer generation rock and metal players is less of a foundation with improvisation, which is a shame. Electric guitar playing is historically rooted in blues and improvisation, and the skill of being able to create spontaneously is part of being a well-rounded musician. It’s also a lot of fun and a great challenge.
Is a little self-indulgence okay, then?
In terms of self-indulgence, it can be okay if done with good taste rather than disregarding all others. There should be a musical reason for extended solos or full-blown shreds. Of course, what is good taste is subjective. But no genre excludes great solo possibilities or protects you from being annoying if you’re self-centered in your approach. I have heard beautiful, expressive shred solos and boring, cliché-ridden blues solos. It’s all about the musical ideas and the journey they take you.
Tell me about your guitars, amps, and pedals. What goes into those choices?
I am a gear minimalist. I have one main guitar—my Charvel custom with Seymour Duncan pickups. My amps are Two-Rock and Laney, and I have a handful of pedals, with favorites being Black Country Customs Secret Path Reverb and Difference Engine Delay. My wife, Gretchen Menn, has more gear than you could imagine, so I can access whatever I need. There are guitars, amps, and pedals absolutely everywhere around our place. I often ask her, “What new gear showed up today?”
What are your short and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?
Most of my time lately has been devoted to working on a three-movement guitar concerto, which will premiere with the Utah Symphony in April of 2024, conducted by David Robertson. Though I have composed quite a bit for guitar and chamber orchestra, this is my first piece that includes a full orchestra. It is a great honor and opportunity to put my studies into practice and expand this part of my musical journey. I’ve been a longtime fan of Thomas Goss’s online orchestration materials and have been working with him on details of the orchestration to ensure everything is polished when I’m with the live orchestra.
I am also working on some new material with a jazz-rock trio scheduled for release early next year. In January of 2024, I will teach at the Steve Vai Academy in Orlando, FL, alongside some fantastic musicians, some of whom I consider friends. Dreamcatcher puts on unique educational events, which are also great hangs and lots of fun, and I’m thrilled to be part of this one. As of this September, I am officially a graduate student at ThinkSpace Education, working on a master’s degree in professional media composition.
Daniele Gottardo: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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