Tyler Morris is a 17-year-old Massachussetts based guitarist, who has just released his first album, And So It Begins. This dude has shared stages with the mighty Steve Vai, Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Robben Ford and a slew of others. He is definitely someone to keep your eye on. He was kind enough to answer Korea Guitar’s 20 Questions…
1. How old were you when you started playing the guitar?
I first began seriously learning guitar when I was 10 years old, however, the guitar first sparked my interest when I was a little kid; I was probably about 6 years old when I first began to desire to play guitar. Growing up, I constantly watched my dad’s rock band rehearse at home and perform at many local Boston area clubs. I tried to imitate my dad and he even tuned my guitar to an open chord so that I could strum the open strings on the guitar (which is all I knew how to do at the time) and sound in tune with the song that the band was playing.
- When did you realize that the guitar was something you wanted to master?
After years of simply strumming open chords to my dad’s band, I decided that I wanted to take guitar lessons seriously at the age of 10. What drove me to the guitar was the freedom of improvisation; I would watch my dad play the same songs differently each time he performed and I was drawn to this freedom of interpreting my favorite songs in my own unique way.
- How many hours a day did you practice when you first started? How many hours a day do you practice now?
When I started playing, I practiced for 1-3 hours a day. Eventually, when I was around 12 years old, I extended my practice length to 4-8 hours. Currently, I practice 8 hours a day during the weekend and 4-6 hours a day during the week (because of school work). When I am not practicing, I always have a guitar in my hand. A great way to take a break from practicing is to jam to a groove on a drum machine or a backing track. I am currently using a Korg PXD Drum Machine. Additionally, much of my practice routine consists of learning new songs from my favorite artists by ear. I spend as long as it takes on each song in order to get the songs good enough that I could perform them at a live show.
- Who were your main influences when you started playing the guitar?
When I started playing guitar, my main influences were Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Angus Young, as well as Joe Perry and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith. Eventually, I heard the music of Van Halen and instantly became intrigued with all 70s and 80s music. Next, I discovered instrumental guitar and was inspired by the music of Yngwie Malmsteen. More recently, I have expanded further and am now studying Jazz musicians such as George Benson and Wes Montgomery as well as many classic Blues artists such as Freddie King, Albert King and T-Bone Walker.
- You’ve jammed with an incredible list of guitarists, including Steve Vai, Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy, Whitesnake, Quiet Riot), Leslie West (Mountain), Ronnie Montrose, Kip Winger, Lita Ford, George Lynch (Dokken), Ritchie Kotzen (Winery Dogs), Bruce Kulick (KISS), Joe Stump, Fred Coury (Cinderella), and Robben Ford to name a few. How did these opportunities arise? How did it feel to be up on stage playing with your heroes? Every opportunity that has arisen for me to perform with one of my idols arises differently. I find that with each opportunity, the more connections I make, the more opportunities arise. Whenever I get the opportunity to perform with one of my idols, I am quite nervous because I am quite critical of my playing, whether it be while performing with a famous musician, or while performing with my own band. That being said, I always overcome my nerves of playing with these artists almost immediately after starting the first song. Despite my nerves, every experience that I have had with playing with my idols has been phenomenal. From each of my experiences, what I always remember the most is the moment after my solo where I look over at the artist whom I am performing with to check for reassurance and they seem to have a huge smile on their face. My favorite experiences have been the ones in which I have gotten to trade licks with the artists; such as, Steve Vai, George Lynch, Leslie West, Phil Collen, Robben Ford and Joe Stump. No matter which artist I am performing with, I always walk away from the performance more experienced and proud. I learn something new every time I perform with an artist.
- Who’s next on your list of people to jam with?
In the future I hope to perform with Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, David Lee Roth, George Benson, Uli Jon Roth, Ritchie Blackmore, Alex Van Halen and Wolfgang Van Halen. The number one person that I absolutely want to perform with and meet is Eddie Van Halen. He is my biggest inspiration at this point and I would love to meet him and tell him how much his music has really influenced me.
- You have a new album called And So It Begins. First off, congratulations. It’s a great CD. Can you tell us about the recording experience? Who produced, who played etc.?
Thank you very much! I really appreciate your kind words! “And So It Begins” was engineered and produced by Taylor Barefoot. First, I recorded scratch tracks at my home studio; these tracks included the guitar and rough bass parts as well as some programmed drums. When I brought the rough takes into Taylor’s studio, we began the recording process by recording drums first; we hired a professional studio drummer to play all of the drum parts to the scratch tracks. Next, we hired a bassist to lay down the bass tracks based on the rough bass tracks that I had recorded. After the bass was recorded, I recorded my rhythm guitars and next, a keyboardist came in to record the synthesizer tracks. Lastly, I recorded my lead guitar tracks. Everything on the record was recorded before I was 16 years old, as the last recording session was the day before my birthday 16th birthday. After my final tracks were recorded, Taylor mixed and mastered the album. All in all, “And So It Begins” absolutely met my expectations and I am definitely proud of my work on the album.
- The cover of the album is a nod to Yngwie’s Trilogy album cover. Did you pass this by him? What did he think?
At the time that I played for Yngwie, I was still in the process of recording the album so, unfortunately, I was unable to give Yngwie my CD. Recently, however, I sent my CD to Yngwie and I am currently awaiting his response. The cover art is a nod to Yngwie and his inspiration on my music. “Trilogy” is one of my favorite Yngwie albums and the cover art is extraordinary! My original idea for the cover art was for me to be an animated figure in the kneeling pose that is featured on the cover artwork. The artist who designed the cover artwork is the incredible Brian Allen.
- What do your parents think of your dream to be a professional musician?
My parents have always been incredibly supportive of my music endeavors. My dad was the one who first sparked my interest on guitar. He continually drives me to my shows; I play out in the local Boston area 3-5 nights a week. My dad was also the person who came up with the idea for me to finally make an album and get some of my original compositions down on a recording. Additionally, my mom has always encouraged me to pursue my passion. She is constantly supportive of my performances and my compositions. My hope is that I will be able to pursue music professionally.
- When I was 17, I was working at a fast food restaurant and doing homework. You are playing clubs, releasing CDs and jamming with Steve Vai. Shouldn’t you be doing your homework? How does your dedication to the instrument affect other aspects of your life (school, family etc)
I manage to juggle all of my homework into my daily life by finishing most of it during the school day. Most days I will take advantage of lunch time to complete my work and I am usually able to finish my homework in time to fit in my practice session and prepare for my show. I also start preparing for tests several days in advance as opposed to simply studying the night before a test.
- I heard that you have some endorsements already. Tell us about which companies you’re working with.
I am currently working with Fishman Electronics, GJ2 Guitars, REVV Amplification, Asterope Cables, ZVEX Effects, Dunlop Picks as well as some other great companies. The products from Fishman Electronics that I am currently using are their groundbreaking new Fluence pickups as well as the TriplePlay wireless midi-guitar software. The Fishman Fluence pickups are by far the best pickups that I have ever heard! They are incredibly high output but, unlike some other pickups, Fluence pickups maintain clear note articulation even with an immense amount of gain. Additionally, the tone of Fluence is the same from volume 2 to volume 10, as opposed to other pickups that sound weaker when the volume on the guitar is turned down. Additionally, the Fluence pickups have a pickup booster coil tap and a humbucker/single coil tap which sound legit and, in my opinion, the humbucker position is even hotter than on my guitars with humbuckers (I currently use the single coil pickup models). Also, I use Asterope cables, which are produced by Fishman as well. Asterope cables are the ONLY cables that I have heard that have tone. Asterope made me realize that cables are vitally important in your sound quality. For amplifiers, I use REVV amplification, which is made in Canada. REVV amps are the most versatile amps. The 120 watt model that I use contains 8 different channels and each one is equally excellent. What caught my eye about REVV amps was that after using the distortion on the last channel, it blew me away. It makes most of the modern production amp gain channels sound in-superior by comparison. Additionally, REVV amps are also one of the only high gain amps that I have experienced that have an excellent sounding clean channel. For guitars, I use GJ2 Guitars, which are produced in the USA by none other than THE infamous Grover Jackson. GJ2 Guitars are the highest quality guitars currently on the market today in my opinion. I currently have two spearmint green Glendoras, one with a maple fretboard, two humbuckers, a Floyd rose and no pick guard, while my other GJ2 has a rosewood fretboard, a humbucker in the bridge and two single coils, a vintage style GJ2 tremolo and a mint green pick guard. Both guitars are spearmint in color and the HSS one with the pick guard was my main guitar for “And So It Begins”. I use the Fuzz Factory 7 and The Box of Rock from ZVEX effects and I also have my own Dunlop artist picks, which feature the cover artwork from “And So It Begins”.
- If you could form a band with anyone, living or dead, who would be in it and what song would you jam on?
I would love to form a band with Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth. If I formed a band with Hagar, I would jam on “Right Now” because I always loved the powerful energy that is present when hearing that song. If I were to form a band with Roth, I would jam on “House of Pain” because I have always been a fan of that song and I have only seen one live video of it, which is from the 1984 world tour. I don’t think that Roth has performed that song since then so it would be cool to finally play it with him.
- What does the future hold?
I am now in the process of finishing up my second album, which is currently unnamed. I am really excited about this next album and I hope to release it before next year. I also plan to increase my touring schedule this Summer. My goal is to tour outside of the U.S., in Europe, Asia and other continents. I am also playing a lot of solo Blues guitar shows lately. Eventually I would like to make a blues album as well. Another hope for the future is for my music to keep receiving exposure and radio play as, the more exposure that my music receives, the more places I will be able to travel to and perform my music. Overall, though, my hope for the future is that I will continue to improve and develop my craft on the guitar and my songwriting.
- Give us your opinion on the state of Rock music. Is it possible to make a living as a rock musician these days?
Currently the state of Rock Music is not great. While bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and others are still profiting and touring arenas, there hasn’t been many rock bands lately that have had the public recognition that Pop artists have. I think the primary reason of this is because of the invention of social media and other online media platforms that are making the CD format outdated. Because people now have the ability to release albums and music by themselves, there is not much need for record labels anymore, but unfortunately, labels used to provide the exposure and money for bands to become popular. The good thing about rock music today is that anyone has the ability to create their own music but the downside to this is that it is harder for musicians to get discovered and make any money anymore because there are so many musicians out there nowadays. I believe that Rock music is in the same state that it was in the 1970s when disco was popular, but bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith and Van Halen eventually came along and popularized Rock into the Pop front again. I believe that eventually Rock music will come back and people will get tired of computer based music because most of the computer based electronic music cannot be performed live in the manner that a Rock band performs live. I hope that I will be able to take part in this Rock revival with my own music being a vehicle for spreading Rock back into mainstream media again.
- To shred or not to shred. Less is more. What are your views on shredding?
As a supporter of Instrumental Guitar Music, I believe that the best guitar shredding comes from melodies. Melodies are the most important tool in making the best instrumental music, not speed. Being limited to the guitar as the main source of musicality in a song, the guitar should take on the roll of the vocals, the melodic roll. I believe that truly great shred guitarists such as Yngwie, Jason Becker and Andy Timmons do more than simply play fast. All of these artists create melodies and, even though their phrases are fast, they are still melodies. The more melodies and songs you learn to play, the faster and more melodic your speed playing becomes. I would advise that the less you worry about the speed of your playing, the quicker you will learn to play fast because the better you are at playing slow, the better you are at playing fast.
- What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on guitar?
I would tell a beginner guitarist to not use tabs to learn guitar, but rather use your ears to learn the songs that you desire to play. The more work you put into hearing the songs properly, the better your ears, and ultimately your musicianship become. Additionally, learn every part of every song that you learn. For example, don’t be afraid to learn the vocal part of a song. What if you are performing and your singer is sick? If you play the vocal line on guitar, the audience will love it! Ultimately, the key to learning guitar and any instrument for that matter is using your ears.
- What is the greatest guitar song ever recorded?
There are so many great instrumentals that I don’t think it would be fair to name one the greatest. Edward Van Halen’s “Eruption”, of course, is the most iconic instrumental that I can think of because, prior to 1978, not many rock guitarists were putting improvised solos on their records, which makes “Eruption” quite revolutionary. Additionally, Eddie’s melodic sense on “Eruption is outstanding and it always amazes me at how he was able to make his solo the perfect blend of impressive and entertaining for listeners. Some other favorite instrumentals of mine are Yngwie’s songs “Far Beyond The Sun” and the baroque inspired “Evil Eye” as well as Andy Timmon’s songs “Deliver Us” and “Carpe Diem”. All of these songs exemplify the immense melodic senses of these artists.
- What are your interests aside from guitar?
When I am not playing guitar, I enjoy researching and learning about synthesizers and how they function in order to create their unique sounds. I am also a fan of traveling and I am a fan and fanatic of Disney Theme Parks.
- If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? Why?
As a superhero, I would want to have the power to time travel. If I had the power to time travel, I would use my power to travel back to different eras of music such as the 1960s, 70s and 80s so that I could experience the formations and rise to popularity of my favorite bands. It would also be great too meet many of my idols too who are died such as Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaugahan.
- What’s the most non-rock/guitar music you listen to? Is it important for guitarists to listen to music of another genre?
I listen to Jazz occasionally and my favorite Jazz artist is George Benson. I believe that listening to other genres besides Rock gives me fresh stuff to learn on the guitar that I don’t have an idea how to do yet. Jazz is currently a very foreign style to me. Other genres that you listen to can also help to develop your own individual style. For example, Yngwie was really interested in Rock music as well as Classical music. Because these two genres were alien to each other, it was really groundbreaking when Yngwie merged these two genres into the shred music that we know today. Lastly, sometimes it is good to have a break from listening to the same music in order to keep your own compositions fresh and not sounding too much like a certain artist.