Interview with guitarist Tim Koukos
By Greg Prato
In addition to being one half of the guitar tandem in Red Right Hand, Tim Koukos is also the head of Screaming Ferret Wreckords and the owner of Screaming Ferret Recording Studios. In other words, Tim is one busy man. But he has also found the time to issue his own solo album, 'And the Snow is Too Dumb to Melt,' a quirky set of guitar-heavy tunes that pays tribute to his sleepy hometown of Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Or, as the man himself describes the album, “An instrumental depiction of day-to-day life in small town New Hampshire USA, by one not so sound individual.” Mr. Koukos recently took the time to explain his solo album, as well as his other projects.
Let's start with your solo album, and how it differs from your work with Red Right Hand?
'And the Snow is Too Dumb to Melt: A Tribute To Hillsbonia' - that's the title of the album. It's basically me sarcastically poking fun of Hillsboro NH, a town were I've spent the past 11 years of my life. It's in the middle of nowhere and there's no good way to get there.
Most of the songs on the album are inspired/named after events and things that influenced me from there, one way or another. Some songs on the album aren't but most of them are. Really it's not a bad place to live, especially if you want to raise a family. I feel I've learned a lot from my experiences there, good and bad. Very different from living in a city, let me tell you, and honestly, I choose the city.
I guess the album is some kind of alter ego album. I'm a metalhead at heart but I love so many other music styles as well. I'd like to think that this album reflects some of those other music styles. It was also a therapy album for me. A lock yourself in the studio for a few hours and forget about the rest of the world kind of therapy thing. No pressures of any kind. Making music for fun. Music for the sake of music. That was a different experience for me. And I think both the good and bad points of that type of logic appear in this record, but that's part of its magic and charm. The good and bad points, polished and unpolished. One doesn't weigh out the other; it's a balance of both.
Some people might call it a 'shred' album. I don't. I've never considered myself a shredder. Pete DeMaggio [RRH's other guitar player] once called it a 'guitar' album. That makes sense to me. I guess that's one of the differences between my work with RRH and this solo album. It's a guitar album. As odd as that may sound.
Do you play everything on the album?
Every note and instrument, played, programmed or sequenced, polished or unpolished - just me. I also wrote every song - except for the Neil Young cover. Recorded, produced, mixed and mastered the record. I compiled and did the art work for it myself, as well.
The collage in the middle fold out of the booklet is old school but means a lot to me. It's full of people and things that have touched my life one why or another. People and things that mean something to me. It also has pictures of some of my pets; both present and some that have passed on. My pets - and animals in general - have always been a major part of my life. I wish I could have made the collage bigger because there's more people I would have liked to add to it.
Who are your main guitar influences, and which are your favorite tracks one album?
I guess I'll kind of incorporate these two questions together. I have so many influences that there's just no way to list them all, but here's some. If I never heard David Gilmour of Pink Floyd play guitar, I probably would have never picked up the guitar. I had guitars growing up but was never a serious player until the first time I heard Gilmour's solo at the end of “Pigs: Three Different Ones,” off the album 'Animals.' I was hooked after that. I just had to learn to play this instrument.
People have told me that the lead I did in the “Plotting Your Death” demo is very Gilmour-ish. Pete DeMaggio once called “PYD” “The song that's been in my head for years but could never get it to come out.” I'm actually very proud of that song. Gilmour is one of those guitar players that 'has the tone.' The light shines on him. The tone is in his hands, which brings me to a recent influence.
In the past few years I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe and Near Life Experience. We were talking gear and tones one night and he said, “People don't understand that 50% or even more, of your tone is here” - and he held out his hands - “in your hands.” It hit me, he was right! All these years playing, searching for 'the tone,' and I was oblivious to it. It's in your hands, Steve is so right! He has the tone. I highly recommend to everyone that they should see Lillian Axe play at least once in their lifetime. Simply amazing, the whole band is incredible.
My good friend Eric Paone from Candy Striper Death Orgy [CSDO], he's got the tone. He's one of the fastest and most consistent thrash metal rhythm guitarists I know. Can't touch him! He can play any guitar and rig and it sounds like Eric Paone.
I remember once he picked up a guitar at a show that was 'tone-wise' sounding like crap. He threw it over his shoulder and started jamming without touching a knob or setting on the amp, it sounded great! It sounded like Eric! Glenn Evans from Nuclear Assault was there and he looked over at Eric and said, “How did you get that piece of crap guitar to sound like that?!” Eric kind of just looked at him and shrugged his shoulders. He's got the tone, it's in his hands.
Another special person that I hang with and play in bands with is Pete DeMaggio. He's got the tone. Freakin' kid can play anything. I watched him pick up a violin once and start wailing on it. I said, “I didn't know you could play violin?” He looked at me and said, “I didn't know either.” Amazing.
I think we both indirectly push each other to be better musicians - and better human beings - and we don't even realize it. He's a song-writing machine! He just shits the damn things out on a daily basis, it's crazy! We're roommates these days. He and I both take care of my 78-year-old mother who has advanced Alzheimer's - a full time job of it's own. He's better at it than I am. He's got way more patience. I get home and I have to watch were I sit, I might sit on one of Pete's songs that he wrote that day! You have to brush the seat off first! It's crazy, he just shits the damn things out like one would go up to a McDonalds drive thru and buy burgers! You have to experience it to believe it.
He said to me once, “You wrote a guitar album, I'm going to write a songwriter's album”. And he did, and he does, over and over again. Pete and I are the guitar players in RRH, but besides that I also play bass in the Pete DeMaggio Band [who has just issued a new release, 'To Wherever You Are']. I feel that out of the four musicians in that band that I'm the least talented. It's an honor and a pleasure to be surrounded and play with so many talented musicians both in RRH, Pete DeMaggio Band, and in Force Driven as well.
Back on track here, other influences. Jeff Beck. I'm very much into the last three Jeff Beck albums. They're pretty much techno beats with his guitar tracks layered of them. Very cool stuff. “44 Miles One Way” from the CD was inspired by the last three Jeff Beck albums. I grew up listening to classic Jeff Beck albums like 'Blow By Blow' and 'Wired.' I've always loved his version of “'Cause We've Ended as Lovers” off of 'Blow by Blow.' I wanted to write a song similar to that. The result was “Donuts, Guns, Day” school off the CD. I actually wanted my wife Debbie to sing on that track. We record together here and there for fun. She has a beautiful voice. She thought it sounded too much like a dirge and that it was too minor sounding for her to sing on it. I re-recorded a few tracks and re-mixed a few things but she still didn't think it was her. The result is what you hear on the CD. I really like the Neil Young cover on the CD. That's something I've wanted to do for years.
Really into Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. “Why Isn't There a Stamp Machine at the Post Office?” and “Walking with Steve” from the CD reflect that, in my opinion. Love Devin Townsend. A major inspiration to me. “Drowning In The Contoocook River with Devin” from the CD is inspired by the sounds and writings of Devin Townsend. Other influences include King's X and Galactic Cowboys. Both major influences. Can't touch the first five King's X albums or the first two Galactic Cowboys albums. Shadows Fall, 'The War Within.' Can't touch that album. The guitar work and drumming on that album is amazing. Machine Head, 'The Blackening.' Not only do I feel that this was the best metal album of 2007, I also feel that this could possibly be the best metal album of all time. I can't get enough of it. Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel's guitar work, Dave McClain's drumming, the songwriting, all the vocals - simply incredible. A year later and I still can't get enough of it. So many more influences to mention past and present, it's ridiculous. I'll stop here.
Will you be playing shows in support of the album?
No plans to as 'Tim Koukos: solo artist,' but as RRH, and possibly Pete DeMaggio Band and Force Driven. “PYD” has already become a Red Right Hand song. In fact, it's the title track from the new RRH CD. In fact, I feel it's interesting to hear my original demo from my CD and then listen to the RRH version and see how the five members of RRH finalized the song. Pretty cool. I've presented the tracks to the Pete DeMaggio Band and there's talk of picking up some of the songs. Also presented the tracks to Force Driven and there's possibilities there as well.
Force Driven is a three-piece band that I was in, back in 1996-1997, before RRH. We have recently gotten back together to finish some projects that were never completed and also see what happens along the way. That's the beauty of music, it just happens. Force Driven consists of myself and Bob Bourque from New England Rock.com fame [www.newenglandrock.com
And lastly...how do you find the time to run Screaming Ferret Wreckords, and also balance your own music career?
There is no fuckin' balance in my life! Everything in excess, and all or nothing - just like any good junkie. Every waking moment in a day is filled. Never enough time to do everything that really needs to get done. One thing flows right into the next. It's fuckin' insane. Things fall through the cracks. Sometimes people are there to pick them back up but more than often there's no one there except yourself. And through all this you hope you don't piss too many people off and if you do you hope you can mend the ties. No time to eat, not time to sleep, no time to have relationships, no time to live. It is what it is, a driving force within.
I started recording my solo CD in 2005. It's 2008! Three years, nine songs. We started recording the RRH 'Plotting Your Death' CD in 2002! It's 2008! Six years, twelve songs. Balance? What balance? For 8 years I kicked RRH to the curb so others could move forward. The reasons don't matter now, the fact that I did that still remains.
The four other guys in RRH, my best friends. Brothers that would give you the shirt of their backs and drop whatever they were doing to help if you needed help, I kicked to the curb for 8 years! We've been playing together for 10 years and this is only our 2nd CD. Balance? What Balance? I kicked my best friends in the world to the curb for 8 years and I regret that more than anything in the world right now.
My wife Debbie? I have a wife, whenever I see her. We have like two separate lives. We hardly do anything together because I'm never around. I have no clue why she stays married to me. I love this girl to pieces and all's I do is treat her like dog shit and hurt her. I am the shittiest husband in the world. I don't want to be, but I am. I'm never there for her. She knows me as a voice on the phone half the time. It's the world I've created and another major regret.
Eric from CSDO. I kicked him to the curb for 8 years now, too! I'm recording his first CD right now. He's been part of SFW since it's beginning in 2000, and he doesn't even have a single CD out! I regret that just as much. He started recording his first CD back in 2001 - 2002, I think. Balance? What Balance? Sometimes I think, “Man, if I'd have only spent all the money I've invested in SFW on RRH I'd still be in the same boat I'm in right now but boy we sure would have had a good time doing it and wouldn't be in the shit I'm in right now.” We'd still be a bunch of musicians from a small town in NH but we sure would have made a lot of noise. I don't regret that as much as I regret kicking my brothers to the side. Nor do I regret anything I've done with SFW. It's been a wild ride and experience.
All's I'm saying at this point is that maybe it's our turn now. Now that the music industry and scene as we know - or known it - is gone, and probably will be forever, maybe it's our turn now. Balance? What balance? Running SFW, playing music? You just do it. The best you can.
Red Right Hand Gear List:- 1998 Gibson Les Paul Studio w/ Dimarzio Tone Zone in bridge position & shaved neck (All mods by Pat DeBurro of DeBurro Guitars, Exeter NH)
- 2002 Gibson SG Deluxe w/Lindy Fralin Humbucker in Bridge position, Washburn Wonder Bar, Shaler Locking Tuners and shaved neck (All mods done by Pat DeBurro of Deburro Guitars, Exeter NH)
- Fernades RR flying "V" w/Floyd Rose (Early 90's) w/ Dimarzio Tone Zone in bridge position
- Fernandes Ravelle w/EMG active pickups, EMG-81 & EMG-85, "Zakk Wylde set")
- 1994 Gibson Studio Lite w/Lindy Fralin Humbuckers in both Bridge and Neck positions
- 1979 Fender Stratocaster, stock USA model (restored by Pat DeBurro of DeBurro Guitars, Exeter NH)
- 1990 Fender Strat Plus w/ Dimarzio Tone Zone Humbucker in Bridge & Tone Zone-S pickups in middle and neck positions.
- 1997 Fender Strat Plus w/Lindy Fralin Humbucker in bridge & Lindy Fralin single coils in middle and neck positions.
- 1980 Vantage Flying "V" w/Dimarzio Tone Zone in bridge & Dimarzio Super Distortion in Neck positions (I know, weird pick-up configuration)
- Ibanez Ergodyne 4str Bass
- 75' Marshall JMP 100w Superlead
- 76' Marshall JMP 100w Superlead
- 75' Marshall JMP 50w MKII
- Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 50w head
- Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 401 Combo amp
- Marshall JMP-1 Preamps
- Marshall JCM800 4 x 12 straight w/Celestion G12-65's
- Marshall JCM900 4 x 12 straight w/Celestion G12-25's (Re-issue Green backs)
- Line 6 Spyder 112combo 50w
- Dunlop picks (Nylon .73mm)
- D'addario strings (.010 tom .046)
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