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Interview: Jef Whitehead, Top Six Guitar Influences

Interview: Jef Whitehead, Top Six Guitar Influences
Over the years that I have been working with Jef Whitehead on the Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice online stores I have had the opportunity to talk music from time to time with him.  As a fan first this working relationship, that I would say at this point is also a friendship has been an absolute treat.  I am one of those guys that if he likes something, he likes it too much and wants to know everything about it.  So as someone who without argument likes Lurker of Chalice and Leviathan too much this interview was a lot of fun to conduct.  To start the interview you will find a list of Jef's top six guitar influences.  I asked for six but the end result is seven and I certainly didn't complain. 
  • Robert Vigna  
  • Snorre W. Ruch
  • Carl Michael Eide
  • Edward Van Halen 
  • Robert Fripp
  • Mark Shippy
HMP: Robert Vigna makes immediate sense to me. Stoked and unsurprised to see that name.  Though I think Immolation does get some of the credit they deserve, I also think they are under-appreciated.  What is it about Robert’s playing that grabs you?
JEF WHTDH: Vigna’s phrasing and melody choices are unique, even bizarre at times.
He has the ability to write song parts that are crushingly sad without them being “melancholy” or soft sounding.  Also, he’s not shy about writing discordant riffs.
HMP:  Indeed.  Since this conversation started before I left work I drove home listening to Dawn of Possession which I still remember picking up on tape when it came out and being blown away by.   I see two Norwegians on the list, Snorre I am immediately familiar with from Thorns.  Carl I didn’t recognize until I looked him up and realized he played on Dødheimsgard’s 666 International a personal favorite as well as the Cadaver albums.  What albums by these guys did you most connect with and what about their playing influenced you?
WHTHD:  Well usually Euronymous gets the whole of defining the Norwegian second wave guitar playing/ my opinion, Ruch had just as much to do with that chromatic cold sound.  I should probably put Varg and Fenriz on this list too but they get enough attention already.  Ruch played on DMDS, playing and writing credit on seminal Satyricon records, as well as his own project Thorns.  The Thorns demo that was circulating in the early 90’s was the blueprint of that locale of black metal, sounding like nothing before it.  As far as Carl Michael Eide, the records you mentioned him playing on he played drums, he’s one of my favorite drummers as well, but in Ved Buens Ende and Aura Noir you can hear his specific discordant sound full of “chord dragging”, dragging the pick across a chord making a sort of arpeggio within a riff.  He crippled himself in 2005 and isn't able to play drums any longer.  He started a band called Virus doing guitar and vocal duties that like all his stuff, is quite unique and eclectic.
HMP:  I agree Snorre does not get his due and his influence can be heard all over the Satyricon albums.  I also agree Fenriz, Varg and Euronymous have all received their fair share of accolades which of course they are due.  I actually never listened to  Ved Buens Ende or Aura Noir, always been on my list but never got to them.  Will bump those up on the "to listen" list.  So for Van Halen what was your entry point and album of choice.  My first experience was 1984 which as a kid blew my mind.  The Panama video and Dave’s voice and Eddies playing were things I had never heard before that and sent me out to get that tape!  My album of choice would be Fair Warning, what is your favorite Van Halen record and what is it about Eddie’s playing that caught your interest and influenced you?
WHTHD: Fair Warning!!!  I wish I could start every tattoo to “Unchained”.
My entry point was the s/t album.  The stepdad had bought the record, I’m sure after hearing running with the devil or Jaimes Crying on the radio but didn’t like the whole record so he gave it to me.  Definitely a life-changing band.  I’m not a huge fan of the blues, it’s boring and predictable as fuck but what Van Halen did with it will always be with me forever.  Diver Down and back are mandatory for me.
HMP: Fair Warning is s goddamn masterpiece and Unchained is a song that gets the blood pumping like no other!  On long runs I drop that late in the playlist to reinvigorate me when the legs want to quit!  So moving on to Robert Fripp.  I have never listened to one note of music by him.  Never heard any King Crimson in my life.  To someone like me why would you tell them they should listen to them and what album(s) would you suggest they start with?
WHTHD:  Aha wow!  Ok well his playing is phenomenal.  His sound and his “Fripptronics”, some crazy sustain formula he had were before their time.  “In the Court of the Crimson King” was the first of his musick I’d heard.  I think this was a bit before people had started adding jazz to rock (or vice versa) and “Prog” was born... but I’m not sure.
The “Red” EP is simultaneously the heaviest and most heartbreaking records of it’s time.
Definitely had a huge influence on “math rock” and the like.  He also had a school and would have some of his class perform as “The League of Crafty Guitarists”: 14-18 acoustic guitars in a semicircle playing crazy time signatures.  His solo work is amazing also and Voivod and Rorschach have covered King Crimson...Voivod...Fuck...Piggy should be on that list!
HMP:  Fuck yeah let’s discuss Piggy and Voivod!  I was late to Voivod and only got there thanks to Headbangers Ball airing the Astronomy Domine video.   Nothingface isn’t my favorite album by any stretch but is still special to me as my entry point.  What it is about Piggy’s playing that influenced you and what’s your album of choice?
WHTHD: Killing Technology was my entry point but Dimension Hatross was where they started to innovate, in my opinion.  That record and Phobos are probably my two favorites.
As far as Piggy’s guitar playing, I’d say it’s the angular riffs that are rooted in metal but it’s like you can tell he listened to more than just metal.  This created the backdrop for their brand of post apocalyptic sci-fi sound.  His use of effects on Phobos is restrained and perfect.
HMP: I agree 100% Voivod was unabashedly metal while being every bit of something else at the same time.  Bigger than the term metal while staying squarely metal.  Another thing I wanted to talk about was our shared love of some indie rock bands.  I know we have discussed specifically Polvo and Sonic Youth.  What about these types of artists grabbed you and did anything they were doing find it’s way into your playing on the LVTHN and Lurker of Chalice albums?
WHTHD:  I’d say Labradford’s “A Stable Reference” had more of an impact on the guitar playing on Lurker of Chalice.  I dig Ash Bowie’s (Polvo) playing but I’ve never tried to emulate it.  At least not yet.
HMPI never actually heard Labradford and listening to it now.  Definitely dig this and can see how this would lend itself to more of an influence than say Polvo.  I just remember us talking about those bands and always wondered if they crept into your playing even in some subtle fashion.  So I realized I skipped Mark Shippy.  I actually have no idea who he is.  I am of course about to google him but for whoever is reading this what album(s) should people check out and what was it about his playing that put him on the list?
WHTHD:  For Mark Shippy I would say U.S. Maple's Long Hair In Three Stages.  I dig Shippy/U.S. Maple because it’s like post punk Captain Beefheart... well sorta.  Very skilled and sounds like rehearsed spontaneity and very discordant at times.
HMP: Thanks so much for allowing me to punish you with all these questions!  
WHTHD: Danny, I’m way more of a drummer than guitarist.  I can play guitar enough to get by but drums are first but it would be impossible to slim that list down to just 6 haha

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