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16th October 2014
METAL DISCOVERY: For me, virtuosity on guitar is not just mastering technique, but also being able to express feelings in emotionally engaging ways, which is the essence of all good art, I guess. Do you feel like you always connect with your instrument in both those senses; technically and emotionally?
(Chantel McGregor on her substantial guitar hoard)
"Most girls like shoes and handbags but I buy guitars!"
Chantel McGregor in The Engine Shed, Lincoln, UK, 16th October 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
CHANTEL: Yeah, itís a really weird thing because the way I see music, especially guitar, as a musician, is I see it that all the years of practice and the years when I was younger, learning the modes and the scales, and the chords and inversions, and how everythingís constructed and works together, thatís like your toolbox or your palette. And then, when you go on the road and youíre doing the live thing, thatís your emotions and thatís when youíre painting the picture. But without the practice and the tools, you wonít paint a good picture. So, for me, I donít go on stage and think about what Iím playing; I donít even think, ďoh, Iím gonna play a melodic minor scale now, or Iím gonna go into this mode, or Iím gonna play these chords.Ē You just play it and it comes out and itís what you feel, and some nights will be better than others because itís emotions and itís giving everything youíve got into that performance. And I just see it, itís not a conscious thing; itís like an out-of-body thing for me, itís weird. When Iím playing, I always come off stage and go, ďhow did I do?Ē, because I donít actually remember what I played or how I played it or how itís gone down, because you just donít. You just play it and you connect with it and thatís what you do. But the technical things, thatís got to be rooted within you to be able to do that, I think. So it is really important to know all that, and like reading music, a lot of musicians donít read.
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MD: Exactly. Some of the best musicians, yeah.
CHANTEL: Yeah. I mean, I read because I did a degree in it and I did all my exams as a kid and everything, so I can read and thatís fine, but I donít read. Thereís nothing in my life that I think, ďwell, I need to read.Ē However, if I needed to transcribe something for another musician, like a cello part, I could do it. I probably wouldnít, I would just go, ďplay it like this!Ē [Laughs]
MD: So live then, are we talking a lot of improv you do?
CHANTEL: Yeah, every song. And every gigís different. Itís good fun.
MD: You say that you donít think about modes and stuff but you must be restricted by the chord progressions of the songs, so you canít play Dorian or Phrygian over particular chords, for example.
CHANTEL: Not really, I just do it. I hear it and play it. I know thatís the complete opposite of knowing the stuff but you can feel where songs are going and you can feel the progressions. And, all of a sudden, if somebody chucks a different slash chord in and you go, ďwhat?!ĒÖ but youíre only two notes away from the right one so it doesnít matter, does it! You just slide up to it! [Laughs]
MD: Exactly, yeah!
CHANTEL: And if it sounds really wrong, you play it twice and itís jazz!
MD: You have a great, expressive voice too, but do you find it easier to channel your emotions through voice or fretboard?
CHANTEL: Both. Really both. Iíve really been concentrating more on my vocals, especially for this album, because I got to a point where I was singing and singing, and it was great and I was happy and it was fantasticÖ not me being fantastic, I was feeling fantasticÖ just to clarify, that wasnít an egotistical comment! You know, and I was happy with it, but then I got to a point where I was thinking, I want to push this further now because Iíve pushed my guitar as far as I can, and I kind of sit back with my vocals and donít push it as far as I can. So I got a vocal coach and had a few sessions with her and learnt different ways of doing things, and itís made me connect a lot better with my voice. So, yeah, itís weird because itís both. In the past, I wouldíve said my guitar but now itís both.
MD: You play a John Petrucci Signature Series MusicmanÖ
MD: Öas your main axeÖ
CHANTEL: I did! [Laughs]
MD: Oh, you didÖ you donít now?
CHANTEL: Itís still with me.
MD: Itís down as your main guitar on your Facebook page! So what did attract you to that particular guitar? Are you a fan of Petrucciís playing?
CHANTEL: I love Petrucci and I love Dream Theater.
MD: All of it?
CHANTEL: Not all of it, no. I find some of it is too much. Some of it is too much for me to listen to. Itís great in small doses. We went to see them and it was a four hour concertÖ and it was just a bit too much for me.
MD: Prog for progís sake sometimes.
CHANTEL: Yeah. It was just a bit too much for me. Itís great for some people, and I love Dream Theater and I really respect what they do and I would go and watch them again in an instant, just to sit there and analyse, ďhow did they do that?ĒÖbecause itís fun; because Iím a geek! But, yeah, the Musicman, I absolutely adore it. Iíve been playing it since I was about fifteen. A lovely guitar to play. My hands are really small so itís got a really narrow neck, which is brilliant for me for small hands. The actionís incredible; a two-way floating trem without it having to be a Floyd Rose so no nightmare string breakages or restringingÖ and it sounds amazing.
MD: What are the pickups on there?
CHANTEL: I think theyíre just Musicman pickups. I got another one, about two years ago, and it was the new updated pickups, and they sound unbelievable. Theyíre actually better than the old one I brought tonight, but that oneís got a dodgy fret on it so it needs re-fretting! [Laughs]
MD: Where do you stand on Ibanez? Obviously, Petrucci himself used to play an Ibanez for years.
CHANTEL: The problem that I have with Ibanez, because Iíve used quite a lot of Ibanez over the years - I used to use a lot of Satriani models and the Vai ones - but the problem that I have is the necks are just a bit too flat for me. Theyíre just a bit too wide and a bit too flat.
MD: The RG series have generally always had pretty thin necks.
CHANTEL: Yeah, theyíre not as bad.
MD: I think the Jems have a slightly thicker neck.
CHANTEL: Yeah, and thatís what I was using, was a Jem, and I was obviously using a JS1000, and they were brilliant and a lot closer to the Musicman than the Jem. But, I donít know, it was the problem with the Floyd Rose trem, and I was going from using the Ibanez to then thatís what got me onto Musicman because I was breaking strings left, right and centre, then taking ten minutes to restring one string and it was so frustrating. So thatís why I went onto a Musicman.
MD: What about PRS, have you ever dabbled with those?
CHANTEL: Yeah, I use a PRS as well. I normally use that on the shows but, since Iíve been recording the album, Iíve gone back to using my old Strat Plus Deluxe. I was using the PRS instead of the Stratocaster but Iíve just fallen back in love with it againÖ [Laughs]
MD: PRS are very lovely but very expensive as well.
CHANTEL: Yeah, Iíve got a lovely Custom 24, itís beautiful. Itís gorgeous greenÖ Steven Wilson had a green one so I had to have a green one!
CHANTEL: Itís lovely but, I donít know, itís too nice! And Iím on the road so much, and I got really upset because pretty much the first week I got it, I went on stage, soundchecking, wore this belt, and put a scratch about four inches in the back of it.
MD: Oh no!
CHANTEL: Yeah, I was mortified. I was so upset. But itís a road tool, youíre on the road with it. You know, itís your tool of the trade, itís gonna get knocks and scratches.
MD: Yeah, exactly. So how many guitars do you actually own? When I was writing these questions, I read an old interview, and Iím not sure exactly how old the interview was, but you said 43 at that time.
CHANTEL: Weíre on a few more now.
MD: A few more?!
CHANTEL: Closer to the fifty mark now!
MD: Is that a guitar for every occasion or are you just a guitar-a-holic?
CHANTEL: I think itís like shoes!
CHANTEL: Most girls like shoes and handbags but I buy guitars!
CHANTEL: Itís one of them things because my dad used to play and, over the years, he sold guitars and things like that, and regretted it afterwards. And Iíve always been like, I donít want to do that; I donít want to buy something and then regret selling it.
MD: So youíre a guitar hoarder, effectively.
CHANTEL: Pretty much, yeah. Itís like one of them houses where you just hoard things!
MD: You could end up on one of those Channel Four programmes in a couple of years - ĎCompulsive Hoardersí or whatever itís called.
CHANTEL: I bet I will!
MD: That would be an amazing episode, though.
CHANTEL: It would be pretty good.
MD: To walk in a house and you canít move anywhere for guitars, thatíd be great!
CHANTEL: [Laughs]
MD: There are various clips on YouTube where youíve jammed with other great players such as Joe Bonamassa and whoever else, but I found one with Jimiís brother, Leon Hendrix. How did that particular one come about? Thatís pretty awesome.
CHANTEL: Yeah, it was. It was interesting. Basically, he was playing at the Cambridge Rock Festival the weekend that I was there this year and Dave, the organiser, got in touch and said, ďwill you get up and jam with Leon?Ē And I was like, ďyeah, alright.Ē So we did and it was fun and everything, and he was a really nice guy; he was really sweet. So it was great fun and the crowd liked it, so it was good.
MD: So there was no practice before, you just went on and jammed?
CHANTEL: No, it was literally like, ďwill you get up and play ĎFoxy Ladyí?Ē This was like half an hour before the gig. And I was like, ďyeah, alright then.Ē Then, about twenty seconds before I went on, I was like, ďIíve never played ĎFoxy Ladyí!Ē
CHANTEL: So it was like, ďoh dear!Ē So it was just like by ear. I was like, I had to go, ďI guess itís in F#... so, yeah, thatíll do, greatĒ!
MD: My final question - youíve been known to play a few covers here and there, but if you could choose anyone to cover one of your songs, who would it be and what song?
CHANTEL: Oh gosh! I reckon I would pick one of the new songs off the new album and it would be ĎWalk on Landí; itís a mega-prog epic, and I would chooseÖ
MD: Steven Wilson!
CHANTEL: Steven Wilson! [Laughs] Just to see what heíd do with it. The thing is, when I wrote this song, I was obsessed big-style with Steven Wilson, and Iíd just been to see him at the Albert Hall, and it was just, oh my god, amazing. So I was like, ďright, Iím gonna write a song that I would picture Steven Wilson playing.Ē So I wrote it, produced the whole big, massive, epic in Logic myself, all the string parts and everything and, at the end of it, I was like, ďactually, this is really cool, maybe I should put this on the album.Ē And itís a bit different to the rest of the album because the rest of the album is just three minute rock songs, whereas this has got a five minute guitar solo at the end of it. So itís pretty cool. But, yeah, the album versionís just sounding crazy now.
MD: A future collaboration between yourself and Steven, maybeÖ
CHANTEL: [Laughs]
MD: Well, thank you so much for your time, that was really interesting.
CHANTEL: No, thank you, itís been really lovely.