Nick's solo career takes flight

The Epiphone Interview: Nick Catanese

Pittsburgh native Nick Catanese is one of today's most talented and striking electric guitarists, one of the too-few success stories of a young kid who fell in love with rock and roll, practiced hard, and made it into the business. Whether you call his music shredding, metal, or hard rock, he's clearly beyond category when it comes to turning on fans to the power of great music. For nearly two decades, Nick was Zakk Wylde's "Evil Twin" in Black Label Society ("If I'm Keith Richards, he's Mick Taylor," said Zakk).

"I got the gig with Zakk in 1996 through an email," recalled Catanese. "We did an acoustic tour that led to me joining Black Label Society in 1998." Now Nick has retired from BLS and is on his own--writing, jamming, putting a band together, and enjoying his new world view. We caught up with Nick during a recent stop over in Nashville taking a short break from his stint with the School of Rock ("those kids knock me out") and talked about his future plans for 2015.

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Great to see you Nick. So let's get right to it! Is there a story behind you retiring from Black Label Society?

I just wanted to do my own thing. That was Zach's baby--Black Label Society--he did all the writing, the recording. I was the live guy, so I got to tour, I got to see the world, I got to meet everybody and it put me where I am now. So there is no "bad" about it. Now, I can write my own stuff. I can play for me.

The Epiphone Interview: Nick CataneseI know some people don't get it. But I was there for 17 years. You put 17 years into anything and then come and talk to me (laughs). I mean it's a long time to be in any band and I had a great time. But I was ready for a change.

As a musician, the older you get, you realize it's not about being in a band anymore. It's about: are you happy with where you are as a player? Can you create? Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say I'm being creative to my full level and be happy with it. So, that was the toughest thing I ever did was go on my own. It's scary. But you know, you gotta jump. I love the guy, but I had to go for me and see what happens. I'm home with my family now. I can do what I want. There is no deadline for a cd.

A lot of your fans want to know if you're recording a new album.

No kidding. People are like: "Where's your cd?" I'm writing, I'm having fun! For the first time I can just get out and play and record when I want, with who I want, and see what happens. There is no deadline. But there are things going on and it's moving in a great direction. And now I'm with Epiphone! So c'mon! That's fantastic.

You recently picked up the Epiphone Swingster and Firebird. How are they being incorporated into your writing?

I'm using them both like crazy. I love them. They sound great unplugged. I've always loved Firebirds because I'm a big KISS fan. I love the Pelham Blue, the vintage look. I can't get any better than that. And I got a Swingster. It's like a rockabilly Johnny Cash/Elvis sound. Just a different style with that guitar. It's got the Bigsby and the hollow body.

If you only play rock guitars, it's hard to not write just rock songs. But if you play hollowbody guitars and try to venture out a bit, it helps you write in different ways. Getting these two guitars is perfect. I'm happy--so proud to be part of the family.

Many artists find that when they leave a band, they suddenly find themselves writing a lot. Is that where you are now?

Yes, I've been writing so much different stuff. I have probably 25 songs that are just vomit (laughs) from all the years of oppressed songwriting. It's cool to listen to them all but then I'm listening to it going: 'What am I going to do now?' I couldn't put this song and that song on a cd because it's too out there. So I'm talkin' to a bunch of people but it's hard to get people together. At least with Pro Tools and the internet you can write, email--you can put something together. But then it takes away from the intimate setting of four or five guys jamming. That's where the magic is. That's where Van Halen and KISS and the Stones got that blend. They played together. They weren't sitting emailing riffs back and forth. It's a good way to do it, it's convenient but not the most creative.

I can tell you I've been jamming with Vinny Appice. He and I played at the Rock and Roll Fantasy camp together and got to be good friends. He said, "why don't we do something?" and I said... "Yeah! Are you kidding? You're Vinny Appice!" So we've been bouncing things off of each other so I'm excited. There's a lot of good stuff.

Now that you're focusing on your own sound, who are you listening to?

I always go back to KISS, Ted Nugent, even some of the 80s stuff like John Sykes and Blue Murder. I love hearing songs with great groove riffs, vocal melodies, and lyrics that mean something--like a story. "Hotel California" came on the radio the other day. I can picture that. I love songs that tell a story. But I'm fishing. I'm trying to get the best things of what I like. If I put a band together, it's not going to just be me--it's going to be a band. I saw this film of the Foo Fighters and they were at Dave's house, at the pool, swimming with their kids and their families. I thought: that's what I want. I want people to want to be there. I think you get really good creative stuff that way. If you're happy and you want to be there--it's positive and it shows in your music.

The Epiphone Interview: Nick Catanese

The first albums I got were given to me by my Aunt--KISS Alive, Ted Nugent's Weekend Warriors and Queen's Day at the Races. But KISS is the one that blew me out of the water. Then I heard Van Halen and got possessed by guitar. And seeing the cover with the striped guitar and David Lee Roth... that was it. Then of course, every guitar I got had to be covered in duct tape. Stripes all the way! I used to slow down the record and try to get it as good as I could. My mom has videos of us playing at 15 (shakes his head)--we didn't get it right but I was trying. Then it was the 80s. I loved Mick Mars--he doesn't get enough credit. He sounds like 8 guitars on stage. It's insane. He has the biggest guitar tone I've ever heard. That's the thing. You gotta be a fan. Learn from people, learn different styles, put it in the pot and see what comes out. Nothing sucks. It might not be your style and you might not like it but it doesn't suck.

You mentioned that working for the 'School of Rock' helped you transition from BLS back into your own sound.

It's true. I love the kids there. They got spark, they got spirit. They actually gave me my spark back, seeing these kids who love the same music I do. This one kid who's 11 came in with a big guitar case with a KISS Army sticker on it. I was shocked. And then his friend came in who plays drums and said his influence was John Bonham. These kids-- they have a whole worldview of music. They're fun--and hysterical. Just seeing these kids play "Godzilla." There was one class what was playing Deep Purple's "Burn." They're 12 year olds! That's so cool to me. They brought a lot out of me. How can you not be inspired by that?