Emil Werstler – Chimaira

MAtW – Hello Emil, welcome to Metal Around The World! What are you currently up to?

I’m currently in Cleveland, Ohio wrapping up media and rehearsals for our new record and tour cycle. Chimaira’s “Crown of Phantoms” will be out July 30th. Other than that, I’m constantly teaching or practicing.

MAtW – You presently have two full bands on your hands. Just how hectic is your schedule now?

Extremely. It does not have much to do with the band or bands though.I’m always up to something, and if things are not hectic, I’m doing something wrong. I’m in this because I enjoy it, but it is also a career that provides for me based on performance and demand.

MAtW – You will be touring throughout April and May with Chimaira, a new album is scheduled for release this summer.

This is true. The record turned out great and we are going to hit the road well before it comes out, which is integral when it comes to showing the world you mean business.  A lot of bands can barely get involved with a heavy touring schedule after their album comes out, so this is a great position to be in.

MAtW – Can you share some more details on the new album – progress, technical details  (not more 🙂 )

At this point, it is done. We just got the final master tweaks last night and everyone is very happy with it. As far as the specifics are concerned, i always enjoy working with new people. I thought Ben Shigel did a great job and it was refreshing to work with a producer that’s primary instrument is the drums. I’m a minimalist with gear and I don’t really cloud my mind with what brand of 9 volt batteries I’m using or whatever. As a matter of fact, I try to move closer to the source with every record I do. Guitars,and a large amount of ambition.

MAtW – Any update on a future Daath album?

Not at the moment, no.  

MAtW – How did the collaboration with Chimaira – as a bass player – come about?

I’ve been a fill in musician for a number of years. It always puts a band in a very delicate situation when you lose a member temporarily due to real life circumstances.  I came into the fold when Daath was opening for Chimaira.  Matt Devries was in a position to where he was in Europe and he was having a child back home.  I stepped in for double duty to help the band out.  Mentally, if I’m going to leave my comfort zone and hang out in airports, customs, being away from loved ones, I have to capitalize or I have no business being out on the road.  I’m not one to sit around and “see what happens.”  When the original bassist left, I stepped in. Opportunity  presents itself in interesting and often times unpredictable ways.  

MAtW – How is camp Chimaira like? What’s the difference from Daath as far as rehearsal / recording / atmosphere / vibe?

Well, the musical differences are an opinion I’ll leave to the listener.  As far as protocol goes, a band is a band for the most part.  Any smart person that is in this business will apply what they’ve learned from every situation they have been in.  Trying to apply your strengths as well as knowing your weakness is a must.  As far as the vibe goes, it’s great.  The atmosphere inside the band is great as is the vibe.  I’m at a point in my life where I  refuse to work in shit situations.  This is music.  It is hard work, but you do it because you need it to feel alive.  

MAtW – Would you tip the scales in favor of: harmony or virtuosity?

Great question.  I firmly believe that is has to be a balance of both.  There is virtuosity in harmony.  There should be harmony in virtuosity.  Most  “virtuosos” wind up being the more flashy players – a player that sticks out due to technique and physical ability.  I think that most of these types of players are a little disconnected with something that really matters – a strong song.  It takes a lot of motor skills to be virtuosic, and a lot of times that can cloud the big picture.  It’s kind of like focusing on the icing and the cherry while disregarding the cake.  So, to answer your question, I prefer a balance of both.  That is the ultimate.  Very few players have this in metal especially.  I think the balance creates diversity, which is also something I feel the genre lacks.  

MAtW – Musical side projects are not top priority, but as a musician I’m pretty sure that they do rank high. Any new eventual such collabs?

Musical side projects are my life, actually.  If I’m not commissioned to create a record or contributing to a band or project, I’m not a happy person.  My goal in life is create art until the day that I die.  I have a lot to say as a player.  I have quite a list of goals and things I want to do before I’m not able to do them anymore.  I want it all, and I’m not afraid to say it.  I have a solo record in the works.  There are no details yet, but I will have a few of my favorite players on it.  To be honest, there are no metal players at all involved, and that is something that is completely intended.  I’m more interested in fusing new things, then refining things that have been done over and over again.  Doing something original makes me feel alive..  A lot of players create 4 records over a decade and consider that a body of work.  I think that is a joke when you look at people like John Zorn, Frank Zappa, or any composer from the old days. MAtW – Tell us more about Jamplay. How it happened, what it implied, what it helped you and others with?

Jamplay is a fantastic company that I am very fortunate to be involved with.  As a musician, I identify that I am more of a “cult success” and less of a house hold name.  When very large companies like Jamplay and PRS show their interest in my playing and personality as an instructor or player, it is very encouraging. It gives me an outlet to build things.  I’m a builder.  I have been teaching since I was 16, and I do it because I do enjoy it.  It is a challenge to understand that you can have a profound effect on someone’s playing as well as their demeanor as a human being that wants to improve at something.  This ground is sacred.  Jamplay is a great platform and community.  It helps me reach past the metal genre.  It exposes a lot of people to my playing outside of the metal genre. 

MAtW – You have always ‘favored’ PRS and Paul Reed Smith guitars. What are some feats that appealed to you?

When I was younger I thought the idea of a brand name was lame.  I did not understand corporate sponsorship and how it worked.  I was more  attracted to the idea of making the instrument you play have style, versus having a brand assist in describing the kind of player you intend to be.  Needless to say, I got tired of floyd roses and wizards with warriors paint jobs.  – this was never me.  I like the idea of a snake in the grass style player because people listen harder when they have less preconceived notions.  To take this mentality further, I fell in love with the sound of the PRS style hollowbody.  I was a little nieve and never thought “A lot of guys don’t play with these”.  I played the frets off of the main guitar that I had before my endorsement which was a standard 22.  It was unplayable.  A tech walked by and said “Of course you are having problems..  you have no frets.. play that hollow body you love so much.  It’s cool”  – I did that.  At first I tried to tape my F holes like George Benson does at larger halls..   then I realized I was being a pussy, needed to pull my panties up, and be ok with doing my own thing.  Passive pickups, less gain – I needed to embrace these things and stop second guessing myself because of the genre I was in.  Playing it on ozzfest stirred the right people up at the company.  I’ve been exclusive for 5 or so years.  Ask yourself  “If I was a guitar, which kind would I be?” – the answer to the question may be the guitar you should be playing.  

MAtW – Is there any favorite gear piece / setup?  

Right now, I’m fascinated with my JA-15.  It’s a larger size hollow body with a non-locking tremolo.  The fretboard is made of Pernambuco, which is the most vibrant wood out there.  They make violin bows out of it.  The sound is so dense, yet brilliant that it is makes me pay attention to other sides of my playing.  

MAtW – You have been into teaching for a very long time. What keeps it interesting? What do you love the most about it?

It increases my reach as a musician and consultant.  Improving at a rapid pace can really effect your life.  I feel like I’ve been there and seen it.  I’ve forced all of my eggs into this basket, and it can make you live a different life.  You rarely meet someone in this business.  You can’t just call your peers and ask for advice, and a lot of times not only are people full of it, they also truly do believe in their own bullshit.  So, it’s hard to take a lot of people in this business at face value. What I provide for my students is encouragement and the truth.  I’m there to tell them that improving sucks and that I go through the same things daily.  

MAtW – What’s your teaching method and philosophy?

My philosophy is the same as life.  Don’t lie to yourself and most importantly – know what you want.  Accept change and be able to adapt when it is forced onto you or when you force it onto yourself.  I’m confident that I don’t even need to have a guitar in my hands to give a great lesson.  Most of my agenda has to do with breaking down dilusion and accepting the facts which is that a lot of times, human beings want to be handed things or find the magical improvement switch without major commitment.  The difference between someone great and someone that does not get it is just that.  Major Commitment.  

MAtW – Any students you are particularly proud of? New future top musicians being honed down? 

I’ve taught a few guys in bigger bands.  I love teaching Chris Storey (ex-All Shall Perish).  I’ve also had a few sessions with Nick Hipa who is an amazing guitarist.  It’s always great to trade licks with Dennis Chang, who is an amazing guitarist as well.   

MAtW – Is there a pattern to be noticed? (students prone to shredding, speed oriented?)

I’m fortunate that the main pattern I notice is that people are reaching to get out of a typical sound.  Most people contact me to find out how to sound different than the status quo.  I think that is awesome.  It makes me want to maintain and push this identity for years to come. Nowadays, a vast majority of guitarists just do not distinguish themselves from others. You have your own ‘formula’ and set of artistic principles. And then there’s also your music as evidence to back your originality up. Was your musical need and flexibility intrinsic? I think you have to get past the point of proficiency to develop style.  I knew what I wanted at a very early age and what I DID NOT want which was to sound like everyone else.  To this day, I go the exact opposite as hard as I can.  Most people hear something like Meshuggah and it works for Meshuggah.  So, they think it can work for them.  What you get is an entire genre of second rate Meshuggahs. Influence is an amazing thing, but it can also hurt people that have not developed their own voice yet.  

MAtW – When you hear a new guitar player for the first time what are some of the things that you look at / for? Some example of musical “turn-ons” and “turn-off”?

Most likely, I’ll be looking for originality.  I’ll be looking for an expression or a voice, not executing notes in an inhuman way.  I prefer proficient  guitarists the same way I prefer proficient mechanics or doctors.  A turn on for me is a person that has the guts to do something new and different.  It is harder to do this in most genres.  It has always been easier for an artist or musician to jump on a bandwagon of what is accepted vs. carving a new path.  It’s easier to walk a path that is already carved right?  This happens in every way.  You can teach a monkey how to execute a note.  You can program a computer to do the same.  I’m looking for a human voice or expression.  You can’t program what a guy like Derek Trucks does.  This makes him unique.  

MAtW – Relate “self-taught” and “degree of music” to “learning the guitar” vs. “knowing the guitar”.

It all depends, of course.  Self-taught means nothing.  I know amazing self-taught musicians, as well as horrible ones.  A degree means nothing.  I know people that have crazy degrees in music, but they have no musical identity or idea of how to express themselves.  Knowing the guitar is a great start.  Knowing what you want is the ultimate not only with the instrument but in life.  Most artists with an identity simply know what they want more than most.  I’ve seen all the above work for a lot of other people.  I’ve seen it not work.  It is what it is.  

MAtW –  You’ve been playing and writing music for a great deal of time. Since it is a tool, how has the guitar changed over time? (as far as genres, technical abilities, strong musical skills, image versus talent, trend).

The guitar is an interesting device.  In my opinion, It has covered a lot of ground culturally in a shorter amount of time than something like a piano.  For better or worse, it has provided people with a musical sketch pad that encourages more creativity, while not totally committing to mastery.  I’ll also add that the technology is always pushing forward, and the art of being a real musician with abilities is sort of blurred.  A lot of people bitch and moan about what digital recording has done to the music world. People would rather get involved in production because there is less risk.  I too have been there.  After soul searching, I realized people flocking to what is easy gives others abilities to stand out.  In other words- if you have sub-par skills as a player, and you are only able to produce sounds with out intent on the instrument, the ability of digital recording can only take you so far if you are looking to be a performer.  A person like Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Jimmy Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Dimebag Darrel, a large amount of others, could never be replicated by a machine.  It’s the nuances that remain.  That’s why a lot of people will die chasing instead of just doing.  All of the image vs. talent propaganda will always be there.  Just like a taller person having more of an advantage in basketball.  There will always be a player that defies the odds.  Weather it will be easier to notice them this day in age – that is a whole other topic of discussion.  I think today you have to truly be what you claim.  

MAtW – Brain fodder to chew on: “There’s more to learning the guitar than some failed musician’s ego”. 

That sounds familiar.. did I say that?  

MAtW – Last question. The random question: Any hidden talents?

Not really.  I have abilities that people probably aren’t aware of – but I would not say it is something to write home about.  More or less other interests.  I love boxing.  I relate it a lot to the business side of music.  I make a mean espresso drink as well as great bloody mary.  Does that count?

MAtW – Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Don’t be surprised if I’ll be back for more. 

Excellent!  Any time.  

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