Christian Muenzner was born on 21 August 1981, picking up his first guitar in 1993 at the age of 11. Christian was inspired by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Megadeth. In 1994 he started taking private lessons and was introduced to players Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert.
Christian attended a Paul Gilbert clinic in 1995 which inspired him to practice for 6-8 hours a day. During this heavy wood shedding session Christian studied the Shrapnel players Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Richie Kotzen, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins, Joey Tafolla, Derek Taylor, Michael Romeo ( a Mike Varney Spotlight) and also studied rock and fusion players, Joe Satriani, Brett Garsed, T.J. Helmerich, Shawn Lane, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Reb Beach, Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Nuno Bettencourt.
Then in 1997 Christian took lessons with Vinnie Moore, as part of a 4 days in a masterclass. All the time Christian was progressing, and all the hard work payed off when Christian got a place at the Munich Guitar Institute (MGI) in 2001. He studied with great teachers like Wolfgang Zenk (Sieges Even, 7for4) and Uli Wiedenhorn.
After playing in several bands before Christian joined the death metal band Necrophagist recording 50% of the solos for the album Epitaph in 2004, playing with the band until mid 2006. Christian Muenzner later became a session member for the band Majesty (later Metalforce). The band supported Manowar on the Magic Circle Festival 2007 and 2008 playing in front of 22.000 people.
In January 2008 Chris joined the Progressive Death Metal Band Obscura, with whom he recorded the albums Cosmogenesis in 2009 and Omnivium in 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 Obscura played around 180 shows all over Europe, North America, Canada and Japan, supporting bands like Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Nile.
I became aware of Christian’s work after watching Jace Parales’ videos playing cover versions of Christian’s solos. I started checking out Christian’s videos as part of the band Obscura and I was really impressed. So it was a great pleasure to catch up with Christian on the release of his first instrumental solo album Timewarp which includes musicians like Steve DiGiorgio, Hannes Grossmann, Bob Katsionis, Derek Taylor, Ryan Knight and Per Nilsson.
I’ve spent a good few days absorbing this record which like Jeff Loomis’s recent release is packed full of state of the art licks and high energy soloing. You also feel that the over all weight and density of the album is far more accessible than the Obscura releases. There is a great deal of melody in the soloing cascades of euphonious molten metal, this isn’t just high speed, pattern based, soloing. Even better the album comes with an 8 page booklet with liner notes to every song. Add Bob Katsionis, Derek Taylor, Ryan Knight and Per Nilsson to the mix and you get that same pleasing smile on your face, you know that smile, like the one you got when you first heard Andy James’s Wake Of Chaos or Jeff Loomis’s Zero Order Phase.
Latest tracks by Christian Muenzner
So we know a little about how Christian Muenzner got to where he is today, now it’s time to find out more about Christian, find out what makes him tick, which music motivates him and what he plans to do next.
[Laurie Monk] Now you have a lot of influences, according to your bio and certainly some of these shine through strongly on your new CD. I’m thinking Vinnie Moore in particular. So how do players influence you, would you that they give you new avenues to explore new ideas to assimilate, styles that you can rework into something new?
[Christian Muenzner] As you mentioned, I listen to a lot of different players, and most of them influence me for different reasons. It's basically like you said, whenever I discover a new player whom I really like, he usually does something that sounds fresh and new to me, something that catches my attention, which makes me wanna know why it sounds so cool, so that I would for example sit down and transcribe some licks, solos or songs so that I understand what they are doing, how they create the sounds that I like, or I would see an instructional video or DVD where someone does something that really flashes me and I would think, wow, this is cool, I need to learn that etc.
I then don't force that newly absorbed information into my playing though, it's rather something that happens on a subconscious level over a long time period and which needs to happen by itself. Stylistically my influences are all over the place and very diverse, and in my music and playing it probably all comes together without me thinking about that too much. I do wear my influences on my sleeve and I don't see anything wrong with that as long as you still are yourself and don't try to copy a certain player, which does not happen if you try to learn from as many different styles and musicians as you can. I think really no-one who plays music is free of influences, no matter how original and unlike anyone else someone sounds, there is always a trigger who makes someone want to pick up a guitar and play, something that inspires you to make music.
[Laurie Monk] I certainly agree with your sentiment, It’s like the old saying “standing on the shoulders of giants”, you learn and develop your own theories but these are built on those who have gone before you, the notable thinkers of the past. As classical composers developed themes based on the original compositions of other composers.
[Christian Muenzner] What was always very important to me though was that I would understand where a certain player is coming from, instead of only being able to copy some one's licks or solos 100%, as that's not really that important, it's way more important to understand the concepts behind the ideas so that you can apply similar concepts to your own ideas and music. For example if you listen to guys like Vinnie Moore, Greg Howe or Brett Garsed and you study them, you will then find out that they all have been influenced by Larry Carlton in the way they superimpose and combine arpeggios over chords in their lines, or by Allan Holdsworth in terms of their use of legato etc., if you study Friedman and Becker or even Ron Jarzombek, you will discover Uli Jon Roth and Brian May and then understand how they developed their phrasing, their way of harmonizing etc., still they all sound very original and totally like themselves. So if you like some one's style and you wanna learn from them, dig deeper, find out their influences and see how all those certain elements can be used to create something new.
[Laurie Monk] Certainly I’m not a guitar player, but I do concur with your conclusions, its well worth investigating your favourite players influences in order to understand how they arrived at the technique they currently have. The inflections, the style, the energy that a player has.
I know time changes your view point and can change the guys who influence you currently, so from your perspective who is your biggest influence at the moment and what have they brought to your playing.
[Christian Muenzner] I think that in the last couple of years I've reached a point where everything that inspired me over my years of playing comes together automatically, as I said, so I don't think I could name a certain player anymore and say that's my biggest influence. However, in the last few years I've been studying the legato approach of Derek Taylor and Derryl Gabel a lot with some of their instructional materials, and that helped me a lot, it made me discover new ways to create sounds I couldn't have dreamed of a couple of years ago by using the legato technique not only to play linear diatonic scale sequences, but also for arpeggios, lines, wide intervallic ideas, pentatonic etc. I use that approach a lot now, especially the Spock technique (extending legato lines by using the 2nd and 3rd finger of the right hand, sometimes I also use the 2nd and 4th for wider intervals).
Greg Howe, Tony MacAlpine and Michal Romeo were important influences in developing my use of tapping arpeggios, especially Greg's “hammer-ons from nowhere” technique. I've transcribed a lot of Greg Howe, Brett Garsed and Larry Carlton solos. This helped me a lot in my use of superimposed arpeggios, adding chromatics and soloing through key changes. T.J. Helmerich was an influence the past 2 years as I got more into 8 finger tapping, which has now become a natural element of my style. The last player I discovered who amazes me a lot is Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry. Of course he has all the chops, but that's a given, it's mainly his note choices, his phrasing and his harmonic ideas which caught my attention, so I tabbed out some of his stuff, but he was also so nice to explain some of his concepts to me via e-mail, I learned a lot about shifting tonic systems, the use of melodic minor, harmonic major and diminished scales in metal etc.
And of course Ron Jarzombek was a big influence recently, as I talked music and guitar with him a lot and I made the song, Terrestrial Exiled with Ron. It was a huge learning experience for me, as I learned how to use the circle of 12 Tones to actually create melodic, musical riff progressions, how riffs can make chord functions etc.
[Laurie Monk] Ron Jarzombek is just an amazing player, I just can’t mentally figure out how he write this music, does he improvise of plan it out, or does he hear it in his head and just play it? He’s also doing this live with in a band scenario, like you’ve been doing with your bands. One thing I tend to recommend guys who are playing only in their bedrooms is to get out and play in the live arena. You have got a lot of experience of this aspect having toured all over the world with your bands, would you agree with that conclusion? What did you get from that experience that you don’t get from wood shedding at home?
Christian Muenzner Solos at The Inferno Festival, Oslo 2010
[Christian Muenzner] Yes, I agree with that conclusion 500%. From the beginning on I've always been playing with other musicians and in bands, I've never been just a wood-shedder for myself. I play live shows regularly since I was 12 years old. Of course band activities take away some of your individual practice time and you can not only work on individual goals you set for yourself so it might take a bit longer until you can play that Paul Gilbert alternate picking exercise full speed, but in return you get schooled in so many other aspects of playing music which most of the time are far more important and which you can't learn on your own.
You learn very soon then that it's far more important to be able to play and musically communicate with other musicians who play other instruments, to keep time with other musicians (most important!), to be on time with appointments ha ha! To be able to set up your gear etc.
[Laurie Monk] I heard that! Yes Greg Howe was saying pretty much the same thing in a recent clinic I attended... make sure you know the parts, make sure your on time and make sure you are on the tour bus when it leaves town.
[Christian Muenzner] You learn how to deal with the human factor, how to control your ego in order to work as a team player. There is absolutely no point in being able to pick 18 notes a second or play 7 string arpeggios up and down the neck at lightning speed for hours if you can't keep a steady rhythm, if you don't know chords, if you can't set up your gear in short time, if you can only read tab and not explain what you are playing to someone who plays another instrument because you don't know the name of the chords, if you can't play a melodic solo on the spot because you can't improvise etc.
Being in a band, usually 90% of the time you play rhythm, and people don't care to only see your finger exercises for 2 hours in a row, people care about music. So if you want to have a career in music, learn to play with other human beings as soon and as much as you can. You also learn to deal with stressful situations which you will never experience when playing guitar in your bedroom only. Playing your chops in front of 500 people with a super bad stage sound, after you've been on the plane for 18 hours, haven't eaten enough and had to deal with broken gear 2 minutes before the show starts and still trying to be spot on while delivering a show which fires people up is something totally different than performing only for yourself in front of a webcam and you do 300 takes until you can put the best one on YouTube. Another plus is that you can learn so much from the other musicians you play with, I always tried to play and surround myself with musicians who are at least in certain areas better than me so I can learn from them too.
Christian Muenzner: Obscura interview series
[Laurie Monk] Touring has it’s ups and downs, did anything crazy happen to you or your band on tour?
[Christian Muenzner] Well, crazy things, of course, do happen, particularly when you travel a lot. Travelling with many different people, but usually not to me as I'm not into drinking or doing drugs at all, no one in our band is heavily into that sort of thing, so we're a quite mellow band (I don't want to say boring ha ha!). For the most part, that sex, drugs and rock'n'roll thing is a myth, most of the time you just sit around and wait the whole day until you play your show, and then you move on.
People would tell you the craziest stories they say they experience all the time on tour, but for some reason, it didn't happen to them in those 60 days when I travelled with them ha ha! Mainly being on tour you are caught between two extremes, the one is being bored and not having anything to do for hours on end, or just sitting on the bus or in the car and waiting until you're at the show. The other one is being super stressed as you have to get a shitload of work done within a VERY short time, which sometimes even seems impossible. That's what costs a lot of energy in the end. Highlights of touring are always when you play in front of a great crowd anywhere on the planet, if people freak out completely when you play in Tokyo, Paris or New York and tell you how much your music inspires them and how important it is for them, that really makes you feel good and gives a lot of sense to what you're doing. Let downs are if you are super sick in fever and still have to play a good show or when promoters try to rip you off. Being away from home for many weeks and to live in a bus you share with 20 other people is also something that can be hard at times.
[Laurie Monk] You started guitar playing relatively early, was it a passion for you right away, or was it something that grew over time, for example when did think, that you would make a career out of becoming a musician?
[Christian Muenzner] It is something that grew over time. In the beginning, I just wanted to rock out for myself, I didn't really have high ambitions. When I heard more advanced players later on and then finally saw Paul Gilbert in a guitar clinic, I knew, that's what I want to do with my life. I thought to myself, if I'll be good enough one day and really want it, I will make it. Which was harder than I thought though, as of course your life can get in the way, it's not the easiest path to choose and the business side of things is something totally different.
At a certain point I even got frustrated and abandoned the idea of being a professional musician, which is why I went to university to study something non music related, because I simply didn't make it within a certain time, so playing became more of a hobby again, and there were even times when I didn't touch the guitar a lot at all anymore. But it is like it is, if the passion is really there, nothing and no-one can take it away, and even if there's difficult and frustrating times, it will come back. I figured that music is way too important to me to become just a light hobby, and I started playing more again towards the end of my studies and set the plan that I definitely want to be a musician once I'm done with university, so I started teaching guitar, and then right by the end of my studies, I joined Obscura and we got signed by Relapse, and since then I can manage to make a decent living off the combination of teaching and touring. If you want to make it, you need to believe in what you are doing and mustn't be distracted by any sort of doubt. I needed to be a little more mature to see and fully understand that.
[Laurie Monk] I certainly agree with the self belief angle if you want to succeed. When I am asked advice I often say to players that they must be self confident in their own abilities, no one else can be self confident for you.
You have undertaken a Musical education and additional guitar studies, I guess at the start, you were self taught, so what did the lessons bring to your overall capability in terms of guitar playing, theory knowledge and ear training?
[Christian Muenzner] You're right, in the beginning I was completely self taught for the first year or so, I taught myself the first power chords from a book, and then I had tab books of AC/DC's Highway To Hell and Metallica's Kill Em All albums, and I just learned to play by trying to play their songs. Then I wanted to move on to play solos, but I had no idea how to do so, so I started taking guitar lessons, that was around 94. So I learned the first soloing techniques like string bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs, pentatonic and blues scales from my first guitar teacher, learning how to improvise, how to jam on a 12 bar blues. He taught me theory, like scale chord relations and where the notes are on the guitar. He then introduced me to more technical players like Yngwie, Vai, Gilbert and Petrucci and showed me the fundamentals of alternate picking, legato playing, tapping and sweep picking.
From there I progressed on my own for a while learning with all those old REH tapes from Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, Richie Kotzen, George Lynch, Steve Lynch and Greg Howe, mainly studying technique.
[Laurie Monk] Hey I have all those tapes but they didn’t help me, ha ha!! May be I’m going wrong somewhere. You took those self taught experiences and went on to music college, tell us a little more about that aspect.
[Christian Muenzner] When I enrolled at the MGI, I already had a very solid technique, so I didn't learn much about technique anymore when I was there, it was more about ear training, sight reading, harmony and theory and improvising. That time was very important for me, it's 10 years ago now and I still benefit from what I've learned there. I didn't really sound different after that one year, my technique had gotten a bit worse as I focused more on other aspects of playing, but it all started to sink in the following years. I learned many improvisational concepts of jazz and fusion music and got my ear developed a lot so I could finally hear and think in intervals, being able to tell the sound of certain modes, chords and note clusters, thinking more about what I play instead of how I play it. I started listening to more fusion players and could finally understand what they are doing and how I could apply that to my music. That was a way longer process than that one year I spent there though. It made me look behind technique and think more musically, which is very important.
[Laurie Monk] I was looking at your YouTube channel
and I came across a cover of Greg Howe’s Bad Racket. Do see your self drifting more towards the rock fusion style of Greg’s playing style, or do just absorb the musical ideas and reflect these in your own playing style?
Bad Racket Greg Howe Cover
[Christian Muenzner] That Bad Racket cover was something I just did for fun, because I wanted to challenge myself. However, Greg Howe has been one of my biggest influences ever over the last 10 years, and I think that his influence is already very obvious in some of my solos. When I was at the MGI, I transcribed most of his solos from the Parallax and High Definition (Vitalij Kuprij) albums, as his playing on those 2 totally blew me away, so his note choice, technique and approach to key changes had a huge impact on me. I think you can especially tell that in the solos of Soulmates, Maybe Tomorrow, Endless Caravan, Confusion, some of the solos in Wastelands, and even some Obscura solos like the one in Desolate Spheres. The song Rocket Shop also has a bit of an early Greg Howe vibe to it I think. Still, my music is very different from his because I will always be a metal player at heart, I consider myself a metal guitarists with a bit of a fusion influence here and there in some songs. Greg surely grew up listening to totally different bands than I did, so I don't think my music as a whole will ever drift in the same direction. So it's rather that I absorb the musical ideas and reflect them in my own music. As I said before, it's OK to wear your influences on your sleeve, but don't try to be your influences, be yourself.
[Laurie Monk] I’ve likened your album to the album released by Jeff Loomis, Zero Order Phase. It really stands out from your band playing. The album is packed full of state of the art licks and great modern sound progressive structures. Listening to these two releases leads me to conclude that we are in the third golden age of guitar. With Jeff Loomis his songs have a Sci Fi feel to them, do you see Jeff Loomis as a role model in this regard and how did you come up with the concept for your album?
[Christian Muenzner] Thank you very much! I have Jeff Loomis' album too and have already been a fan of his Nevermore stuff. I'm not sure though how much he was a role model for me personally. We have probably some similar roots, although he's I think 10 or 11 years older than me. I see similarities between our music in that way that he also combines 80's Shrapnel influences (Friedman, Becker, MacAlpine, Moore, Gilbert) with elements of modern metal, which is what I do as well. So his album, although I think it's really great, did not really influence mine. What it did though, I think, is that it opened up new doors for players like me and many others, as it brought an interest back to instrumental guitar music, which keeps the trademarks of the early heroes but still has a modern edge to it. The Sci-Fi concept of my album has nothing to do with Jeff's, I've always been a huge Science Fiction fan, I love Star Trek, Alien, or writers like Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells and many others, so it was certain that whenever I do my own thing, that will be the concept. That time travelling thing which is reflected in the artwork is something I considered very fitting because the music itself is also like a journey through time for me, as some of the ideas go back until 1996, so in my mind I was travelling back and forth between certain phases of my life. As you can read in the booklet, some of the songs are inspired by themes of certain stories or books. I always think a good instrumental song shall have a certain mood to it and tell a story even without vocals being there, music reflects moods and feelings.
[Laurie Monk] Yes I really like the attention to detail on the CD, the details in the booklet are really what interests me, I like to understand how the pieces were written and your booklet does this extremely well.
I mentioned the third golden age and it’s really great to see players like the super talented Derek Taylor soling on your CD... I see Derek coming from the second golden age of guitar playing. So how did you get players like Derek Taylor, Per Nilsson, Bob Katsionis on board for your album and how did your organise the recordings?
[Christian Muenzner] Yeah, it's crazy and I'm super honoured to have those amazing musicians play on my CD! If someone had told me a year ago, next year you will have a solo album out with Derek Taylor playing on it, I would have said no way! I can’t believe it ha ha! It was actually very easy, I had already some pre-production of some songs done, and I thought since this is my album, I wanna have some of my favorite players guest on them. So I just sent an e-mail to Per, whom I had known quite some time before, along with the demo of Wastelands, and he liked it a lot and agreed to do a solo for it. It was a very challenging solo section with really weird chord changes over a 13/4 meter, I guess I could have no way done it myself ha ha! Per then even added some more synth pads to it which gave it an even more fusion like vibe then. I knew Bob through my friend Gus G, so it was easy too. I just sent him an e-mail with the demos of the songs, and he was in. Derek I mailed through Facebook, and I would never have thought that he would actually reply, but he did, so I sent him a song. Then I didn't hear from him in a while and thought OK, maybe he didn't like it, and then one day I had his amazing solo in my mailbox, crazy! It was very easy to organize actually, I pre-produced everything with programmed drums first, I had click tracks and rough mixes for all the songs which I sent to the guest soloists, who recorded their solos at home each and then sent them back to me. They are all super professional, so it wasn't difficult at all. The same goes for Ryan Knight and Alex Guth, both of whom are amazing players and good friends of mine, so the contact was easy.
[Laurie Monk] I talk with players all the time about the progress of their CD’s. I know as a fan this can often times feel very frustrating as you sit and wait for an album to be released. I know I have waited many years, some times never to see the much anticipated album to get released. I can recall one guy lost all his tapes because the recording studio burned down! So how did you go about recording your album and did you encounter any time pressure issues? Just how long does it take to write an instrumental album and what amount of effort do you have to put in and was that harder or easier than recording with a band?
[Christian Muenzner] In fact everything went pretty smooth with that album. Of course it was the most time consuming album out of all the albums I did so far, because this time I was responsible for everything myself, while in Obscura I only have to worry about my guitar parts and do not really write and organize that much of it. I only do my solos, contribute a few riffs to some songs and sometimes write a complete song like Universe Momentum for example, as mainly Obscura is Steffen's and Hannes' brainchild as they are responsible for the majority of the music. So once I record my guitar parts and my solos for an Obscura album, I'm done. On Timewarp I wrote absolutely everything myself (except for the title track, which was co-written by Daniel) and had to co-ordinate all the recordings and scheduling with every other musician involved.
So all in all the album, from the point that I had the idea to do an instrumental guitar album to the point where I finally had the finished CD in my hands, did not take longer than 6 months. It took me 3 months to write it and 3 more to organize and finish all the recording activities, organizing the artwork and the printing of the CD. I did not really encounter time pressure issues a lot as I did the album without a label and no one would have cared if it comes out later. I set a deadline for myself though as I know that when you spend too much time on one thing, you loose the passion for it and some projects never get finished because of that.
I also knew that I'm gonna have a very busy touring schedule for this year, so if I wouldn't have managed to finish the album by mid April, it would be delayed many many months as I will be frequently on tour for the next few months. I was surprised myself that I managed to write 12 complete songs within 4 months, but for some reason, I felt really inspired, I had never been that inspired in my whole life, so everything really went by itself. I had a ton of ideas ready from many former years though, ideas that I have always liked but never could use in any of my bands, as for some reason I've mainly been in death metal bands since 1999.
So once I had the first song finished, I think it was Soulmates, I knew I can do it and then the rest came very easily. I was usually working on several songs simultaneously, as I said, many basic ideas were there already as I had stored them for some time and I just needed to work them into real songs. Some ideas I reworked so much though that really none of the original ideas were left in a song and everything was new, but the original ideas were the trigger to start working on it. I then did demos for each song with programmed drums, bass and keys, on which I just recorded my guitars, to present the songs to the other musicians. Sometimes I even kept the demo tracks of the lead guitars on the final album when I considered them good enough, others I re-played completely. So I recorded all my lead guitars at home, the drums and the rhythm guitars were recorded in the studio with producer V. Santura. Daniel recorded all his keyboard tracks at his own studio as well, so did Steve DiGirogio and Jacob Schmidt with their bass tracks.
Then we did the mix and the master at Victor's studio. So it was a lot of hard work, but it still felt very easy all in all. But I was also paranoid that something would happen that fucks up the recordings, like a computer crash or burglars stealing my PC ha-ha!, so I always in regular intervals stored everything on separate CD-R's and DVDs twice, of which I would leave on version at home, the other one I would take with me where ever I went so really nothing would endanger the finishing of the album ;)
[Laurie Monk] How do you go about writing and recording these often times quite complex tunes, are they fully written out or do you leave room for improvisation or are the solo sequences predefined, written out or a mix of the two?
[Christian Muenzner] The songs themselves, all the themes, melodies and arrangements are fully written out. I leave a lot of room for improvisation in the solo sections though. There were a few solos on Timewarp which were written out before, most of the time I didn't have anything planned for the solo sections until I actually recorded them though. I wouldn't really call that improvisation as it's not like I played over the solo parts once and came up with everything on the spot, I still took a lot of time finding the best ideas, but as I said, for most solos, that happened during the recording process and wasn't planned beforehand.
[Laurie Monk] What is your writing process, do you approach the task in artistic way or are you more methodical? To explain by methodical, you have a pattern of song writing an approach that you know, that you can reuse the steps or may be it is more organic than that, it just happens spontaneously?
[Christian Muenzner] I do not really have a method that I stick to all the time, most things happen spontaneously. It is very important for me that a song has a very natural flow, I do not force parts to fit together, if sections don't fit naturally, I don't make them fit. Usually I have one very cool idea first around which I wanna base a song, and then I go with the flow. Sometimes that would be a melody, sometimes a riff, sometimes a theme. It is also very important to me in my own music that the structure of a song is not too complex and easy to catch.
Many of the songs are built up like vocal songs, with very basic structures, they have verse, bridge and chorus themes and a middle/solo section, after which the main themes repeat. I would sometimes write like I would write a vocal song, writing all the riffs, chord progressions and rhythms first, and in which I would leave room for a singer, but instead I would then try to come up with lyrical melodies on the guitar, thinking like a singer would, that's how I wrote Maybe Tomorrow, The Tell-Tale Heart, Soulmates, Over The Mountains, The Gunslinger and Endless Caravan.
Writing a good melody is like writing a poem, you need phrases which build up on each other and build up dynamics, like telling a story. In some songs it works the other way around, I would have the themes first and then build the rhythms, riffs and middle/solo sections around it, that happened for Victory, Rocket Shop and Dawn Of The Shred. Confusion and Wastelands are a little bit different, as they don't fit into that typical vocal/rock song scheme, as the focus in those is mainly on riff progressions, interesting rhythmic ideas and progressive harmonic concepts. The title track Timewarp was mainly built around the long tapping arpeggio section in the middle, Daniel composed the chord progressions and piano melodies around it, over which I then did some guitar improvising. So you see, the songs came together quite differently.
[Laurie Monk] I know I was talking to another guitar player just the other day about his own creative writing process. He replied to me that he was pretty much all the time thinking up new ideas... every day he thought of something new... he even tapped out a new part as we spoke... but then he also said the secret for him was not letting the ideas escape, but recording them and later refining them. Would you agree with that, is that something that happens to you?
[Christian Muenzner] I am not constantly thinking up new ideas as I simply don't have the time for that. In a time like now where I'm constantly touring and only a couple of weeks at home between different tours in which I'm also teaching, it's almost impossible for me to have a free mind to constantly come up with ideas. I need to be in writing mode, that's how I wrote the Timewarp album, there were no tours or activities planned for more than half a year, the only thing I did besides was to teach for 2 days a week, so I had a lot of energy I could invest into the creative process.
I do come up with an idea now and then though even in those busy times like now, but not as frequently. I agree on not letting any idea escape though, whenever I have an idea, I either write it down in guitar pro or record it right away in Cubase and put it in my library, so that a good idea can't get lost, and maybe I can use them and refine them when working on a new project later on. It can take between a few minutes only and years until I come up with ideas that fit and fall into place naturally.
[Laurie Monk] OK so you have the album all recorded and it’s sounding great how did you go about organising a label and when did you decide that was not going to work for you as you gone on to release it on your own?
[Christian Muenzner] It was actually my plan right from the beginning to release the album completely on my own, I did not contact a single label, so I don't even know if anyone would have released it or not. The record industry is dying, no one really sells CD's anymore, and instrumental guitar music is a very small genre that only attracts a small group of people, so no label in the world would have paid me the advance I would have needed to make a good album, so I financed everything myself from my savings. That way I at least have the chance to get back what I invested one day, even if it may take a couple of years. Being on a small underground label, I would have only gotten very little advance and then as good as nothing for any sold CD, and it still wouldn't be in the shops or in most mail orders. That's the advantage of the Internet, nowadays you don't really need a label anymore if you make music which is quite underground, as you can do a lot of marketing yourself through social networks and reach most people which could potentially interested in your music.
[Laurie Monk] Now on to my pet hate subject... illegal downloading. I was talking to Milan Polak the other day and he was telling just how bad it has got... one guy said to Milan "Hi, Milan Polak, can You give me some link of torrent where can I download You music? tnx" I think Milan’s reply summed it up for me. Milan said “What's next? Asking me where I leave my car keys, so you can steal my car or where I keep my guitars to steal them because a guitar is too expensive for you...?!? Are you actually aware of the fact that making a CD costs MONEY? It's because of shit people like you that the music industry is dying because you want the music but you don't want to pay for it. Are you going to a restaurant to eat and drink and then don't pay because it is "too hi price"? Are you using Internet or your telephone but don't pay because it is "too hi price"?" I’m 100% behind this view, but is that something you agree with?
[Christian Muenzner] Yes, I completely agree with that view, illegal downloading gets worse and worse every day and is completely killing the music industry, and that way, real music. I just don't think you can always blame the fans for it, as many people simply do not understand how things work. People are not really aware of the fact how much money a well produced album actually costs. I had so many arguments on that subject and heard people say "You shouldn't play heavy metal to make money anyway". Of course not. It is not about making big money or becoming a rock star, because if we intended that, we would be stupid anyway trying to achieve that with the type of music we play. But if you invest a lot of money, for which you have worked very hard for a long time, to produce a good album that everyone steals from you in the end, you simply can't do that anymore if you loose thousands of euros or dollars whenever you do an album and never have a chance to get any of it back.
I actually don't even mind it if people who want to buy it but really can't because they have no money because they live in poor countries with shitty conditions can still listen to my music if it makes them happy, that's actually one positive aspect of the whole thing. I got a mail recently from someone from Iran who wanted to buy my album, but there was simply no way, as it does not work there with credit cards or sending cash. People like him should still have the right to listen to my music. But it's that general attitude which I hate, if people who could afford it with no problem consider it their right to just download and steal the music. People spend like 25€ on a fucking ringtone or app, hundreds of € on a fucking IPad so they can play the toy piano in there, 1000€ on a TV, but they won't spend 15€ on a CD!
I know people who don't have even one original CD at home and download everything for free, and they are even proud of it, they don't even know it's stealing. I hear arguments like 90 cents is too much money for one song, so I can conclude that a song in which you put so much hard work and dedication has not even the value of a can of coke to those people, and that's very sad. People don't pay for music so we can make a wealthy living out of it and buy a fast car and shit, they should pay so that it's actually possible at all to produce music, but no one seems to understand that.
I hear arguments like "that's a positive development, that means that musicians have to play more live shows again to survive, let's fight the music industry". Well, touring costs a lot of money too. If you don't sell any records, you can't go on tour as you get no label support. Touring is super expensive, and musicians also have the right to eat and to sleep in a bed. Why should you still play live if that means loosing even more money and living like a dog on the street? I know many really good musicians who will never ever have the chance to produce albums or go on tour, as they simply can't afford it and there is no industry anymore to make it possible, especially when the music is quite underground and not mainstream shit.
So that's what really happens, downloading does not only kill the music industry, it kills music too, we will never hear those bands and players. The day that my album was released, I found it already on so many torrent sites, like almost a hundred. On one of them it showed how often it was downloaded, and it was 5 times the amount that I sold so far. I even found sites which sell the music they stole from me without any money, for a much lower price than on Amazon mp3 or Itunes, that is a completely new level of piracy, and there seems to be nothing one can do against it.
What's even worse is that the music is then represented in a really shitty quality as the formats are so compressed. So many frequencies are cut out it doesn't sound half as good as on CD. People go "where's the cymbals on your album?" while listening to a low.kb rip. I know people who download stuff off youtube and they burn it on CD, people come to my lessons with that stuff, and I go: "That's how you listen to music?", and they go "Yes, why?". It sounds worse than the 10th copy of a tape back in the early 90's, but people don't seem to care or hear that anymore.
[Laurie Monk] That’s a new one on me... I know people post whole albums on YouTube, but I never figured people would rip them as CD’s. I do know some guitar players who give lessons that say they won’t give the lesson unless the pupil buys the CD of the player that they are trying to learn. I know my attachment to the music is strong because I know I worked hard to get each CD I own.
Moving on to your gear can you tell us a bit about your Guitars and Amps, what you like about them, what you use for live and what you use for studio.
[Christian Muenzner] As for my guitars, I've been playing Ibanez since 1996. I'm just so used to them, I like their playability, sound and look. My main guitar for recording is my Ibanez JEM77BFP. I recorded most of the themes, solos and rhythms on Timewarp with that one, and I've also used it for all the solos on Obscura's Cosmogenesis and Omnivium album. I really like the pick ups it came with originally, especially the PAF pro neck pick up gives some awesome attack for alternate picked runs and sounds great for wide intervallic stuff. For the 7 string songs on Timewarp I used my Ibanez RGD Prestige, which I also used for all the rhythms on Omnivium and which I currently play on tour with Obscura. Some licks and I think the rhythm guitars for the song Victory I played on my Ibanez RG6EXFX. I have a couple more Ibanez guitars, but those 3 are the main ones for me right now.
My live rig consists of an ENGL 530 Preamp and an ENGL 840/50 Poweramp through an ENGL 4x12 cabinet. In the effects loop I currently use the TC G Major 2, to add some reverb and delay to my lead sound, and also to reproduce the harmonies I do on the albums live, as this unit has an intelligent harmonizer which you can program with all the keys and scales.
In the studio I used that same rig without the TC for the rhythm guitars on Omnivium, but with an Ibanez Tube Screamer in front to make the sound a bit more saturated. For the rhythm guitars on Timewarp I used a Peavey 6560 though, also with the Tube Screamer in front, again through the ENGL cabinet. All lead guitars on Cosmogenesis, Omnivium and Timewarp were recorded with a POD Line 6 XT, as I record my leads at home. I know the POD is prejudiced to sound a bit muddy and undefined, what I did on all those 3 albums was to double every solo, melody, lead theme etc. so every solo is in stereo, like Randy Rhoads or Dimebag Darrell did. I actually record everything twice and put it left right which is a lot of work, sometimes it can be really tough to record every nuance of every lick exactly the same. You can actually hear that in the solos that when there are harmonies, it is not like an extra guitar comes to it, as the signal is always left right, you will hear one voice left, one right, and when it's not harmonized, you hear the same thing played on both sides. It sounds like one guitar, but it's actually 2. Later on then the sound is EQ-ed a lot in the studio to make it more creamy.
[Laurie Monk] In terms of your pick ups and pedals, what do you favour there?
[Christian Muenzner] For picks I like the Dunlop Jazz 3's, the small red ones. Live I don't use any extra pedals, only the TC G Major 2 and a midi controller. In the studio the only pedal I use is the Ibanez TS3 Tubescreamer.
[Laurie Monk] Are you the sort of guy who just sticks to one amp, one pedal and stick with that or are you like many I know suffering from the dreaded GAS... also known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome?
[Christian Muenzner] I actually like to stick with something when it works for me. GAS can't happen to me as I simply don't get excited by gear at all. It's rather a necessary evil for me. Of course I want a good sound that works perfectly for me live and in the studio, but I hate going to music stores, to read about gear and technical details, to always check out new stuff. So yeah, I'm not really into the gear side of things, so no GAS for me ha-ha! So as for now I only get new gear when either something breaks or I find an easier, less complex solution which is easier to handle.
[Laurie Monk] I listen to a lot of CD’s and I have a boat load of favourites, I might recommend different albums to different people depending on their current musical view point. From your point of view what do you think are your key albums, albums you would recommend people to listen to, albums that made a difference to you and could probably make a difference to them.
[Christian Muenzner] This is really a tough question as I like so much different music, but I will try to sum up a few which could be considered most important for my musical development:
Vinnie Moore - Mind's Eye & The Maze, Tony MacAlpine - Maximum Security & Evolution, Marty Friedman - Dragon's Kiss, Jason Becker - Perpetual Burn, Steve Vai - Passion And Warfare & Alien Love Secrets, Dream Theater - Images And Words & Awake, Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force & Marching Out, Megadeth - Rust In Peace & Countdown To Extinction, Judas Priest - Painkiller, Annihilator - Never Neverland & King Of The Kill, Richie Kotzen - Fever Dream & Electric Joy, Michael Lee Firkins - S/T, Allan Holdsworth - Metal Fatigue & Hard Hat Area, Greg Howe - Introspection & Parallax, MVP - Centrifugal Funk, Brett Garsed/T.J. Helmerich - Quid Pro Quo & Exempt, Symphony X - The Divine Wings Of Tragedy & Twilight In Olympus, Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy, Stevie Ray Vaughan - Couldn't Stand The Weather, Scar Symmetry - Holographic Universe, Iron Maiden - everything up to and including Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Jens Johansson - Heavy Machinery (w/Allan Holdsworth), Vitalij Kuprij - High Definition (w/Greg Howe), Joey Tafolla - Out Of The Sun & Infra Blue, Shawn Lane - Powers Of Ten, Racer X – Street Lethal & Second Heat, Haji's Kitchen - S/T, Death - Individual Thought Patterns, David Lee Roth - Eat Em And Smile
[Laurie Monk] Ha-Ha... that’s a pretty comprehensive list! A lot of options for people to listen too and more importantly only one or two more album for me to buy as I have most of these.
As well as the solo project and band are there any other project that you are currently working on?
[Christian Muenzner] Yeah. I recently wrote and recorded a song with Ron Jarzombek, Pete Perez and Hannes Grossmann. The project is called Terrestrial Exiled, and the song is called Duodecimal Levorotation, Right now I'm recording for the upcoming album of Spawn Of Possession. I also have another exciting project planned right now with some other dudes which is gonna be dark, neoclassical, epic, progressive power metal with a clean singer, for which the writing process is scheduled to start later this year, as well as maybe another project I can't tell anything about so far. So as you see, I like to keep myself busy, I would go crazy if I could play only one style of music. Obscura always priority over everything else though of course, as this is my main thing at the moment.
[Laurie Monk] At this point I introduce fellow guitar player Jace Parales, who introduced me to your playing and was keen to find some more details about your playing, take it away Jace.
[Jace Parales] You have a wide array of musical interests with backgrounds in heavy metal, rock, death metal, progressive metal, instrumentals, solo guitar, jazz fusion, classical, and beyond. For certain you have a great idea of what you love to listen to, in addition to the original melodies that form in your head. Laurie asked a similar question, but to go a little beyond that, where does one draw the line between capturing the essence from your vast influences, and the original touch from within? What is your perspective on finding your own sound while still holding tribute to the ones before you who so greatly pushed you in this direction?
[Christian Muenzner] I don't force anything into my playing and writing, I let everything happen by itself. I listened to a lot of music and studied many different players over the years, and I actually never had the intention that everything I play and write has to be the newest development since the wheel. I only wanna play and write music that I can enjoy and that makes me happy. I do not consciously use trademarks of any of my favourite players in my playing, it's always something that became part of my vocabulary by itself, and all those different elements from all those different genres formed into my current style over the years. If you listen to Dream Theater, you can hear so many bands they've been influenced by, like Maiden, Rush, Metallica, Dixie Dregs, Pink Floyd, Meshuggah, still they always sound like Dream Theater as they fuse it into something new.
I recently talked about that with a jazz player, and he said he calls that the post-modern approach and he sees no point in doing that, everything has to come out of oneself and must not have been done before. But then when I hear that music, it mostly sounds unlistenable to me and comes off as being weird just to be different. If you do what you like, follow your heart and keep going no matter what others say, you will find your voice, as that is what I actually consider the original voice, doing what you really want to do and not caring what anybody expects you to do.
[Jace Parales] Yes, for sure! Nobody should ever just be their influence. Now, over the years it seems there has been an evolution in what is technically expected of guitar players. Now it seems almost any player can shred and demonstrate extreme picking speeds, mind-melting tapping licks, and an infinite vortex of sweeps. But in the end, the point is not with showing off, but it is with actually creating a meaningful mood and song that the listeners can relate to and remember later. While exceptional technique is without a doubt valuable, it seems like many players are not efficient at applying the concepts or creating a strong sense of melody. At the same time, one should dare to be interesting and original. How do you think one can discover a good balance between technique and melody? Between solid supportive licks and still evoking feeling and emotion? Balancing music theory with musical application?
[Christian Muenzner] I think putting yourself in the listeners perspective is the key to find a good balance between the two.Technique and knowledge, as important as I consider both, are nothing but tools to create good music, and this is what both should be used for only. I never try to be complex or technical for the sake of it, I just play what I can play in my music, my technique and knowledge are the tools which I can use naturally, which I developed over a long time period. If I had less or more technique and knowledge, I would still be writing similar music I guess.
Even when writing instrumental guitar music, the song should be there first and still work if you put the flashy guitar work on mute. I admit that for example a song like Dawn Of The Shred is pretty much completely based around flashy guitar themes and is of course mainly a technique showcase, but even then it is very important to me that the notes create an atmosphere and a feeling, that the song has a flair and can also be enjoyed by people who don't play guitar themselves, as fast and flashy as it is, those are still melodies, really fast melodies though ;) 90% of the time I go for the melodies and the riffs first and then use my technique only to support the music. So even though my album is filled to the rim with shred, I think it's still a song album instead of just a collection of technique showcases, at least that was my intention and it does come off to me like that. And although I know a lot of theory and sometimes like to use really odd harmonies and out there concepts, I'm not afraid to use simple, common chord progressions too. So of course you have sections where there's a key change on each chord and melodies and riffs that are built of unusual scales, but there are also many diatonic chord progressions in a 4/4 meter with quite simple melodies on top of them, lots of basic E C D progressions too.
What I do when writing a song is that I try to put myself in the listeners perspective as I said, thinking like a listener. Do I actually feel something when I listen to this, or is it only a technical study? If it doesn't move me emotionally, I won't use it. You don't shout the chord changes, meters or techniques you use to the people, you just try to create something that sounds good, also to the people who do not know what's going on.
[Jace Parales] So what are your views on song structure as a whole? What is the typical song structure process for you? Do you usually begin with a chord progression? Melody? Rhythm track? How different was it for you to compose songs for Obscura versus writing the songs for your solo album? What are your views on trying to deviate from well-known chord progressions and repetitive song structures, but at the same time ensuring there is flow and continuity throughout?
[Christian Muenzner] As I said, I like song structures which are easy to catch and don't confuse the listener too much. I try not to put too many parts in one song and to keep it compact, all the ideas should build up on each other in a natural flow. So this is very different, sometimes a song would start out and be based on a riff or collection of riffs that I come up with, sometimes I would have a melody first, sometimes a chord progression. In Over The Mountains, Endless Caravan or Soulmates for example I had the complete rhythm tracks finished and recorded as a demo, in exactly the same structure as they have on the album, and then I tried to find good melodies over it, like if those rhythm tracks were given to a singer.
Victory and Rocket Shop started out with the main themes, Wastelands or Confusion started out with a couple of cool riffs I had which fit together in terms of tonality, tempo and mood. The song writing for my own album was very different than writing for Obscura. It was actually a lot easier for me as this album is closer to my original musical background. Obscura's music is a lot more complex as a whole. The only song I ever completely wrote on my own for Obscura was Universe Momentum, which I wrote in 2005.
OBSCURA - "Septuagint"
On Omnivium a only contributed riffs to certain songs. I wrote most of Vortex Omnivium and A Transcendental Serenade and about a third of Septuagint, as well as the chord progression of the solo in Euclidian Elements, but it was actually only a collection of riffs that I had which Hannes put in order then, as he understands the structures of extreme metal songs a lot better as he's way more of a death metal guy than me. Obscura is mainly Hannes' and Steffens' brainchild who always write most of the music, as they have similar views and visions on music, and I try to contribute to that as good as I can, I'm not responsible for as much of the music as many people think. The cool thing is though that I have all the freedom I want in my solos for example and can express myself freely there as well, which is very important to me and which is why I can be happy in that band and take my ego back a little bit.
In my music I'm not really trying to deviate from typical structures and progressions, as I like stuff that is easy to catch. I sometimes use odd harmonies and rhythms and unusal structures, but only if they create something that sounds cool. As I said before, I don't like being weird just to be different. I like to surprise people though. For example Maybe Tomorrow is like a speedy power metal song, which includes a very fusion-y chord progression in the middle section during the guitar solo, which is definitely something no one would expect, I only do those things though if they flow naturally into the song and don't sound forced. Or as in Soulmates which has an easy pop song structure, but has a long solo section in the middle over very complex chord changes. For me it's rather about doing something fresh and unexpected while still keeping accessible structures and making the music enjoyable.
[Jace Parales] Your solo album includes so many elements of diverse backgrounds. You are excellent at incorporating so many different styles. What is the next thing you would like to accomplish compositionally that you have not yet tried?
[Christian Muenzner] Thank you very much! Recently I've started playing more acoustic guitar, so I would definitely like to include that a bit more if I do another instrumental album. And of course I would further like to experiment with new tonalities and chord progressions more. I actually also wanna write good vocal songs with a really good singer, a neoclassical, progressive power metal band is something I've always wanted to do, and as I said before, there is a project like that planned right now.
[Jace Parales] Looking forward to hearing your future projects! Besides your work with Obscura and your solo album, you are also a private guitar instructor. Teaching is a great thing in that a lot of times, through explaining a concept to another person, you simultaneously make that idea more clear to yourself. It is also quite rewarding to network with other musicians who have similar goals. How has teaching helped you evolve as a guitar player? Some choose to get formal music teachers, others are self-taught, almost all learn by just jamming with other musicians. What are your thoughts on the matter? How much importance do you place in learning from other people?
[Christian Muenzner] I place a lot of importance in learning from other people, it's ultimately necessary for any musician. It does not necessarily have to be in the format of traditional guitar lessons, it can also be good to jam with other musicians who are as good or better than you, to network with other musicians and exchange views, knowledge and experiences. In many cases teaching has also helped me to become a better player myself and to re-think my view on certain things. For example I had a student to whom I was explaining my concepts on using modes and playing on chord changes, and he absorbed all that knowledge quickly and applied it to his own music. He showed me a recording and I was like, wow, this sounds awesome, what did you do there? And he said I took what you showed me and created that.
Another example is you, who learned a lot of my solos, but you couldn't do the wide stretches for the diminished legato lick in the Epitaph solo, so you started using multiple finger tapping to play it, and it worked perfectly, which was actually the trigger for me to get started with 8 finger tapping myself, as I saw how it worked and can be easily applied to stuff one couldn't play otherwise. So if I have a really good student, I usually get inspired and learn something new from them myself.
[Jace Parales] Wow, cool! I’m glad we could both help each other out! Thanks for the enlightening guitar tips :)
[Laurie Monk] Well thanks Jace for your additional in depth technique questions and thanks to you both for this in depth interview.Christian I wish you all the best with the new album and I hope to catch you playing live some time soon. Thanks so much to both you and Jace for participating in this interview.
[Christian Muenzner] Thank you for giving me the opportunity to advertise my album, thanks for your support! It was my pleasure!
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