Jeff Schroeder: 10 Albums That Changed My Life

Jeff Schroeder: 10 Albums That Changed My Life

Feature Photo courtesy of Jeff Schroeder. Photographer: Travis Shin

As a disciple of all things shred, angular, and distorted, as far as guitar goes, it doesn’t get much better than the virtuoso chops of Jeff Schroeder. Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1974, Schroeder came of age in the eighties, when glitz, glam, and hair metal ruled the day. As such, Schroeder fell in love with the antics of Edward Van Halen, Vinnie Vincent, and George Lynch, officially becoming a dyed-in-the-wool shredhead.

On the other side of the shred coin, Schroeder was enamored with the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen, players who turned guitar on a dime and soaked the scene in waves of instrumental guitar badassery via chops never seen before, or frankly, since. Schroeder’s love for guitar and inherent chops saw him make his first stop with the Violet Burning before founding shoegaze band the Lassie Foundation, further widening his already broad soundscape.

After years spent perpetrating what the Lassie Foundation called “pink noise pop,” Schroeder was given the chance of a lifetime when Billy Corgan tabbed him as James Iha’s replacement in a revamped Smashing Pumpkins lineup alongside Ginger Pooley, Jimmy Chamberlin, and Corgan in 2007.

Schroeder hit the ground running with the Pumpkins, embarking on massive world tours and playing an integral role alongside Corgan’s revolving troop of musicians en route to albums like Teargaden by Kaleidyscope (2009-2014), Oceania (2012), and Monuments to an Elegy (2014), before original guitarist James Iha returned in 2018, forming a triple-guitar attack.

From there, Schroeder stuck around for three more records in Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. (2018), Cyr (2020), and Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts (2023), and additional mega tours before announcing his departure from the Pumpkins in the fall of 2023 for personal reasons and to pursue his own music.

Where Jeff Schroeder goes from here is anyone’s guess. He’s taking the time to regroup and recenter while digesting his many years on the road with one of the world’s biggest bands.

During this period of reflection, Schroeder took the time to look back on the music that’s changed his life while beaming in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dish on the ten albums that changed his life.

# 10 – The Best of John Fahey 1959-1977 –  John Fahey (1977)

John Fahey’s playing and compositions are a more recent obsession. Although I’ve been listening to his albums for quite a few years, it wasn’t until last year that I started to take a closer look and tried to learn some of the things he was doing. This reconnecting with Fahey’s music also came at a time when I was trying to re-evaluate myself as a guitar player and a musician—something I’m still in the process of doing.

Feeling overwhelmed by the electric guitar and all that can go along with it—the seemingly endless choices of instruments, pedals, amps, analog rigs versus digital rigs, etc.—I felt drawn to the acoustic guitar, and I started listening to my John Fahey records again; and this listening to his music has led me to exploring his instructional DVD, reading Steve Lowenthal’s biography, and learning tunes from the various songbooks that are out there.

Fahey was a prolific artist and released quite a bit of music. It can be overwhelming deciding where to begin. I think The Best of John Fahey is a really good representation of his trajectory, and you get a good sense of the contours of the style he named “American Primitivism,” where he was able to incorporate everything from country blues to avant-garde concepts explored in 20th-century classical music. I think it’s this wide-ranging eclecticism that led him to be embraced by the emerging alternative music culture of the nineties.

# 9 – Flammende Herzen – Michael Rother (1977)

I first encountered Michael Rother as a member of two of my favorite bands, Neu! and Harmonia. For the generation of German musicians coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies, there was a desire to create a new musical language that wasn’t connected to the recent past of Germany, but that also wasn’t mimicking the tropes of Anglo-American rock ‘n’ roll as well.

What I love about Rother’s guitar playing and songwriting is that he doesn’t rely on any blues cliches. It is playing, and music stripped so bare that the composition might be based on the harmonic and rhythmic exploration of just one chord and a few extensions. After exploring his work with Neu! and Harmonia, I started to listen to his solo work, which Flammende Herzen is the first. The album features Can’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums and the production of Conny Plank. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

What I love about this album and Rother’s writing in general is how he allows the melodies to speak for themselves. He doesn’t color them with any guitar histrionics. It’s very difficult to accomplish. The notes and the phrasing need to be strong. The melodies are so patient and unfold in a slow, meditative time. The music and tones on this album feel very pastoral to me. I love to put on this album first thing in the morning as I’m starting my day.

# 8 – Evening Star – Robert Fripp and Brian Eno (1975)

Like Fahey and Rother, Robert Fripp has been a significant inspiration to me in more recent years, and I’ve found great pleasure listening to his work with King Crimson, his collaborations with Brian Eno, and his solo albums. In particular, I love his Frippertronics-based recordings and find it fascinating how this process has evolved over the years from analog tape-based processes to the use of digital units. And like Rother, I appreciate Fripp’s dedication to constructing a unique musical vocabulary that looks for influences outside typical rock harmony.

Working within alternative music, it’s pretty difficult to escape the influence of Brian Eno. I know within some circles of the current music community, there are those who find his influence to be almost too pervasive. For me, however, I’m a big fan and continually inspired by how he was able to bring a conceptual art mentality to rock music as a musician (even though he always considered himself a non-musician) and as a producer.

Evening Star is an album I almost never get tired of listening to, and every time I listen to it, I almost always listen to it two times in a row. While I love the soundscapes Eno creates on the album, it is Fripp’s guitar lines that truly draw me into this recording.

# 7 – Goo  – Sonic Youth (1990)

My choosing of Goo is somewhat arbitrary since I would have been just as happy choosing so many of their albums. That being said, Goo is the first album I heard by them and is what introduced me to their musical and artistic universe. By this point in my life, I had already acquired a certain degree of skill as a guitar player, and I was pretty influenced by a lot of heavy metal and classic rock.

When I heard Sonic Youth, I was introduced to a lineage of guitar playing that I was completely unaware of, and for a long time, I had no idea where it emerged from. Figures like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham were nowhere on my radar. I was also completely unaware of movements like No Wave. Hence, what Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, and Kim Gordon were doing on their instruments seemed completely alien to me. I’m still in awe of how they were able to construct a completely different way of playing guitar than what was happening in almost any other genre of music, be it mainstream or underground.

I recently bought an old issue of Guitar Player magazine from August 1991 with Thurston on the cover. In the interview with Lee, Kim, and Thurston, the interviewer, Joe Gore, mentions that in another publication’s end-of-year list, Joe Satriani listed Goo as the guitar album of the year. They seemed very surprised to hear that, but there were certainly lots of people like me who liked both styles of guitar playing.

# 6 – Under Lock and Key –  Dokken (1985)

While I certainly liked Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch was one of my biggest guitar heroes of the era, and Under Lock and Key is certainly a career highlight for him. His guitar solos on this album are stellar, and his tone is phenomenal. What I love about Lynch’s playing is how he’s able to mix melodic lines with faster runs. He very rarely just blazes over a solo section. He always connects the faster parts with very catchy, melodic hooks. There are so many incredible solos on this album: “Unchain the Night,” “The Hunter,” “In My Dreams,” and “It’s Not Love.”

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be able to share the stage with Lynch. It was during the Smashing Pumpkins 20th anniversary tour. We invited him to play on a 20-minute song called “Gossamer.” Needless to say, his playing blew the crowd away. I’ll never forget what it sounded like standing next to his amp during the performance. When I listen to Under Lock and Key, I always remember that night.

# 5 – Passion and Warfare –  Steve Vai (1990)

I first became aware of Steve Vai when he joined David Lee Roth’s solo band for the Eat’ Em and Smile album and tour. From there, I went back and bought his first two solo albums, Flex-able and Flex-able Leftovers. His appearance in the movie Crossroads was also quite inspirational for a whole generation of guitarists like myself.

Passion and Warfare is a true masterpiece and is, without a doubt, one of the greatest guitar albums of all time. Not only is the playing incredible, but Vai’s composing and arrangement skills are out of this world. I love Vai’s playing immensely and I still buy every recording, listen to every interview, and continue to try learning as many of his lines as possible.

And as much as I love his guitar style, I am just as enamored with his compositional style. I was lucky enough to be able to hang out with him at his studio recently, and he played me some of the orchestral work he’s been working on, and it was really amazing.

# 4 – Surfing with the Alien –  Joe Satriani (1987)

In the eighties, I was an avid reader of guitar magazines, and I’m almost certain that’s where I first became aware of Joe Satriani. I distinctly remember going to Tower Records in Anaheim, CA, and buying Surfing with the Alien on vinyl. I still own that copy, by the way.

This album was so inspirational at the time. Although I couldn’t play much of it, I did my best to learn as many riffs and licks from this album as possible. I’m still trying to learn things from it! I never tire of listening to this album.

Although I like the sprawl of Flying in a Blue Dream, in many ways, Surfing with the Alien is the perfect album. There isn’t a bad moment on it for me. Like Vai, I own every single album, DVD, and book that Satriani has released. I find him to be a true inspiration—musically driven and full of artistic integrity.

# 3 – Rising Force  – Yngwie J. Malmsteen (1984)

I’ve been a huge Malmsteen fan since his second solo album, Marching Out. After hearing that album, I went out to find this one. This is another album that continues to inspire and motivate me to be a better guitar player. While I love his note choice and phrasing, more than anything, I love his tone.

What’s so striking to me is that Yngwie had his style together from the second he landed in the United States as a very young man. It’s fairly remarkable. If you watch the Hear’ N Aid sessions for the song “Stars,” it’s abundantly clear that Yngwie was the scariest guitar player in the room. It must have been intimidating to play around him.

When I was 16, I waited hours outside the same Tower Records where I bought Surfing with the Alien to have Yngwie sign a poster for me.

# 2- Shot Forth Self Living – Medicine (1992)

In the early nineties, I fell under the spell of shoegaze. And while I certainly spent countless hours listening to My Bloody Valentine, my favorite band to emerge out of this scene was a band from my own neck of the woods, Los Angeles’s own Medicine. Medicine’s mastermind and leader, Brad Laner, has made it clear that while influenced by some of what was happening in the UK during this time period, Medicine isn’t really a shoegaze band, and I would have to agree with that.

That being said, their debut album, Shot Forth Self Living, has the most shoegaze elements of any of their albums. As they would progress, more of their stranger influences would come to the surface. Brad Laner’s guitar sound on this album is one of my all-time favorites. Fans of the band know that he used a four-track cassette recorder as his distortion pedal. It’s a bit of a love/hate thing: Some people just can’t deal with it. But for me, I love it, and I’ve been trying to find ways to ape this sound for decades.

This album is also the most band-centric of their catalog. After this, the band essentially became Laner, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall, and the records became more diverse and eclectic. From the opening drone of “One More” to the dying notes of “Christmas Song,” Shot Forth Self Living is less a blissful celebration of ambiguity and jouissance like Loveless and more of a journey through a dark and twisted dystopian Los Angeles cityscape.

# 1 – The Unforgettable Fire –  U2 (1984)

Through my own musical shifts and transformations, U2’s The Unforgettable Fire has remained my all-time favorite album. I was already a fan of the band when this album was released, but this was the first one that spoke to me so heavily. The first song I heard was “Pride (In the Name of Love),” and it was Edge’s guitar sound that drew me into the inner sonic landscape of the record. Back then, I had no idea about Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois.

But here in this song is everything that still inspires me today: A unique approach to guitar and rock music with a twist of a conceptual art approach. It must also not be forgotten about the marriage of art, politics, and spirituality that moves through the album.

I recently picked up the deluxe edition of The Unforgettable Fire, and I was blown away by some of the material that didn’t make the album. Although it does make sense to me why the B-sides weren’t on the album, the material on the deluxe edition demonstrates what a creatively rich period it was for them.

Don’t miss our previous interview with Jeff Schroeder

Jeff Schroeder’s 10 Favorite Smashing Pumpkins Tracks to Play Live

Jeff Schroeder: 10 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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