Guitar talk, Classical music, Cookie Monster, and an Oscar snub.
Columbus, Ohio isn’t generally the first place that comes to mind when you think of guitar virtuosity. After hearing Project Alcazar, you just may think differently. The long-standing brainchild of guitarist Chris Steberl, this band has delivered years of phenomenal instrumental Rock and Metal. If you dig Kotzen, Gilbert, and maybe a hint of Malmsteen, you need to check out this band. Their new album, Lost In Centralia was recently released on Guitar One Records and delivers on all levels. We had the opportunity to talk with Chris recently about the new album, guitars, and Bugs Bunny. MHF wishes you all the success in the world.
1. Greetings from Metalheads Forever and from Colorado! How are things in your world?
Little cold outside today but the sun is out which is a lot better than the last few days of dreary gray skies here in Columbus Ohio.
2.So, first thing’s first. Your music is new to me and as a longtime fan of guitar-centric instrumental music, I must say I wish I had discovered you earlier. Truly extraordinary playing. Please tell us about the new album.
Well thank you for the kind words about my playing and music – it’s very motivating to keep releasing new music and videos when you know there are people truly enjoying what you are doing.
The new album Lost in Centralia was just released on September 30th, 2020 through Guitar One Records here in the States. We brought in one of the best progressive rock/metal drummers in the business in Mark Zonder who did an amazing job with all the ideas and songs we sent him.
I hooked up with an amazing keyboard player by the name of Caleb Hutslar and we hit it off from the beginning. We collaborated on almost all of the songs on the album and our playing styles mesh very well. He definitely is a very talented individual and his playing helped push me to the next level.
3. You have obvious leanings toward classical music. Handel, Beethoven, and Mozart have gotten the Steberl treatment. Is there is a composer that’s especially difficult to tackle?
No particular one stands out to be honest. I have so much respect for all of them and the way they arrange and put their pieces together. I am sure there are some composers that have styles that would be harder to duplicate on guitar out there but so far and I have stuck with ones that most people are familiar with. It’s surprising how we all have exposure to so many classical themes when we are younger – I have noticed especially from the Bugs Bunny cartoons!
4. Your version of “Ode to Joy” appeared on the Beethoven tribute album “Ode To Perfection” with a host of other players. The whole album is astounding. Are there any songs on the album (or not on the album) you wish you had covered? What would you have done differently? By the way, your acting for the song’s video was pretty awful. ???? ???? …I loved it.
Hahahaha Yeah, I was very upset the Academy snubbed my emotional performance! Maybe next year but…………….no, I actually was surprised someone else hadn’t already picked it. I kinda got involved late in the project but that piece was still available. It’s very popular and I had so many people reference it being in the DieHard movie as well. It ended up being a perfect choice and it was a lot of fun doing the video – I am surprised you caught that video.
5. At 0:52, “Occam’s Razor,” from “Lost In Centralia” features a brief nod to the TV show Mission Impossible. (before your time, kids ???? .) What is the story behind this and the song as a whole?
If I recall Caleb was just noodling with some solo ideas and those 3 notes just stuck out to me and I said “We have to put that in there! It will be so cool and everyone will recognize it! So yeah most of the reviews of the album always reference that part. No real story behind the song – I know Caleb had sent me the intro idea a LONG time ago when we first met and it took us a while before we actually finished the song. Most of the intricate parts where we double each other were all his ideas and then the melodic outro and solo was my idea. By the time this interview is out the new video for the song will be released. It comes out on January 1st, 2021.
6. The Fender Cookie Monster guitar. My neighbor’s kid is obsessed with Cookie Monster, of all things. Is there a story behind this guitar’s artwork? Any cool story I can share with my neighbor’s kid?
My son was a Cookie Monster fan when he was very young and I myself have always been a fan of the Big Blue Guy as well. I get sent Cookie Monster stuff all of the time from friends and fans so it’s kind of become a thing with me. Now my son is 20 and doesn’t think it’s all that cool now haha.
I found a guy at a bike shop called Skunkworks in Columbus, Ohio who did airbrush work on motorcycle gas tanks and he did an amazing job for me. He was very cheap like $4-500 I think? I bought the guitar off a singer I was in a band with for $300. Replaced the tuners with locking tuners. Had the neck scalloped on only the treble string side from the 9th fret up as I didn’t like playing scalloped necks down in the lower register during rhythm parts. Dropped a Humbucker in it and ditched the single coils. It’s become my main guitar and my baby.
7. Your musical influences are well documented. Tell us some of your influences that might surprise us. How do they factor into your sound?
I have always been a fan of 70s disco music just because the bass lines are just so cool. I used to listen to some pop stuff just because of the production being so incredible. Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson is a great album. I believe Nuno Bettencourt did the solo on “Black Cat”
I played drums in high school in the marching band so I think that helped me rhythmically to be a more solid player and approach writing riffs differently. I know on the Chasin’ Voodoo there was a riff that was based on a snare drum rudiment called a “paradiddle” where the sticking is LRLL RLRR so I would use that as a picking pattern between 2-3 strings.
8. Mark Zonder is a pretty heavy hitter (pun intended) in the music world. How did you get together with him for your latest album? Also, please introduce us to the rest of the band.
Once Caleb and idea started to really develop these songs, I knew we were going to need a really great drummer or the songs just weren’t going to be what they could be. I think Mark posted on FB he was doing session work and I hit him up. I sent him the first idea and with a few hours, he sent just a small recording back to me which both Caleb and I were thrilled with. The first track was Lost In Centralia and I think he finished the song in the first couple of days. Most of the songs fell together pretty quickly. He was very open to suggestions and changes and if he felt strongly about a part he played then he would let me know that and we went with it.
Caleb Hutslar I believe has been playing in more jazz/fusion oriented bands around the Columbus Ohio area for years. We actually couldn’t believe we hadn’t crossed paths sooner because he had always wanted to do something in the neoclassical style of Yngwie Malmsteen when he was growing up. He teaches in town and usually stays pretty busy as a hired gun for live acts, etc. He is pretty much like me when it comes to music – we both are constantly involved in doing something musically.
9. You’ve dabbled in session work and have remarked that (paraphrasing here) musicians basically play what the recording artist wants to hear. If you were given unlimited freedom, who would you like to play with and what would you do?
I have always wanted to score a movie or be involved in putting together a soundtrack. It would be cool to do some stuff with Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Steve Smith, – I am a huge fan of great drummers so there is a long list of drummers I would love to do something with if I could.
10. By nature, instrumental music can be quite complex. The same is true with Classical and Progressive. Have you ever considered venturing into Jazz? Maybe a heavier beefed-up version?
I have tried to get into jazz but I just am not a fan of the way out there sounding stuff. I am more smooth jazz – something that has a melody to follow. I am a huge Steely Dan fan and they are pretty complex but they have the hook or the melody. I am sure if I was more knowledgeable in jazz theory etc. it would probably appeal to me more. Those musicians are extremely talented players. I have dabbled in the fusion side of things but again I am limited on what I can do compared to the players who are very well trained that play the stuff. I wish I could improvise better and it’s something I do work on constantly.
11. Standard Craig question: If I were to visit Columbus, Ohio, what is the one thing I simply must see?
I would say definitely try to take in a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game if you are ever in town
and then go eat at “Thurman’s” – they are known for their giant specialty burgers and have been on numerous food channels including Man VS Food.
12. We thank you for your time. Any parting words for our readers?
Thanks to everyone who has followed my music for the last couple of decades. I come across fans all the time who have been buying my music going back over 20 years ago from all over the globe and it’s very flattering. I wanna thank you for taking the time as well to talk to me and check out my music. It’s obvious you did some research before the interview so thank you!