Interview:Chris Poland- Life After 'Deth
by Lisa Sharken
Chris Poland gained recognition in the mid to late '80s as the original lead guitarist with Megadeth, adding his tasty legato riffs to the group's first two records - Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! [Combat, 1985] and Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? [Capitol, 1986]. After leaving Megadeth in 1987, Poland did a brief stint playing bass with the Circle Jerks, then began his solo career.
In 1990, together with his brother Mark on drums, Poland released an instrumental rock disc called Return To Metalopolis [Enigma] which received critical acclaim, with Poland noted for his outstanding chops. Shortly after, the Poland brothers formed a progressive rock outfit called Damn The Machine. The group's self-titled debut was released in 1993 [A & M]. Due to poor support from the label, the group disbanded. However, in 1994, Poland and several other members of Damn The Machine returned with an altered lineup, calling themselves Mumbo's Brain.
Poland continued playing with experimental groups for the next few years and working on the music that he most loved. In addition, Poland also recorded two independent discs, Chasing The Sun and Rare Trax, both of which he released in 2000. Poland's experimental projects eventually led to the formation of his current group, Ohm, in 1997. A three-piece act, the lineup includes bassist and longtime musical collaborator Robertino Pagliari, who had been playing with Poland in fusion groups since 1977, and drummer Kofi Baker (son of legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker), who recently joined the band [drummer David Eagle appears on the recording]. Ohm has released its self-titled debut disc [Lion Music] earlier this year - an instrumental outing that's reflective of the group's strong musical influences.
Guitar.com sat down with Poland as he was preparing for the Guitarevolution tour with Marty Friedman and Alex Skolnick. Poland told us about his development as a player and the never ending and sometimes frustrating process of sampling new gear in search of the ultimate guitar tone. He also shared his expectations for the tour and his goals for the future with Ohm.
Guitar.com: What inspired you to become a guitarist? Which players were most influential to you early on?
Chris Poland: My cousin Eddie Bores is a really serious blues player. He's one of those guys who has just lived and studied blues. Now I hear him play and I can't play blues when I hear that! But when I was growing up, he was playing "Paint It Black" and all these old Rolling Stones songs, but he was always into blues, too. I'd look at his guitar and watch him play and think that it was really cool. So that was kind of my first experience where I said that guitar is cool. Then I heard Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix, and that was it. I just went from there. Then I heard Mountain, Robin Trower, and this album, Guitars That Destroyed The World [compilation released in 1972] and "Dance Of Maya" from Inner Mounting Flame [John McLaughlin & Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1971] was on that record. When I first heard it, I totally hated it. I thought it was bull****. I was listening to the Jeff Beck records and I thought that was the ****. Well, I kept going back to listening to "Dance Of Maya," where it was kind of like a train wreck and I wanted to see it happen again. Then all of a sudden, one day, I loved it! Then I started listening to McLaughlin and for years, all I listened to was fusion. Now I'm just trying to find my own style and keep my own thing going.
Guitar.com: When did you start listening to fusion?
Poland: It was probably in seventh or eighth grade.
Guitar.com: Who inspired you most in developing your style and tone?
Poland: Probably Jeff Beck. He was a really big influence. I was really into the Truth album, the Jeff Beck Group album with Bob Tench, Blow By Blow, and Wired. I'm a huge Jan Hammer fan, too. The speed playing that I do is just me trying to mimic Birds Of Fire [Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1972] and Jan Hammer solos. I was really into McLaughlin, but I was more into his writing than his tone. My guitar sound came from Led Zeppelin I and II, Beck's Truth album, Hendrix, Leslie West, and Clapton with Cream - that big, fat, nice sustaining sound. But the writing aspect that I liked was the Blow By Blow, Wired, and Mahavishnu Orchestra and stuff.
Guitar.com: What was your first guitar?
Poland: My first guitar was a Supro, which actually wasn't a bad guitar. My second was a Lord Les Paul.
Guitar.com: What type of amp did you have back then?
Poland: I had a Gibson 2x12 amp, but I have no idea what model it was. Well, that's what I was told it was anyway. But now that I think about it, it was probably some kind of wanna-be Gibson amp. But it was a tube amp though, which was great. I think it had 6V6s in it. I used to put it in the basement and run an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 [Linear Power Booster] through it. I would just beat the piss out of it. I'd cover it with a blanket because it would be so loud that way my parents wouldn't freak out. It actually sounded good.
Guitar.com: Was the LPB-1 your first effects box?
Poland: Yes. It was the one that plugged right into the guitar. After that, my first really cool box was the Bosstone. I got one because my cousin Eddie had one. His had the gray knobs and mine had the black knobs, and I swear, I could hear the difference. It was a small black box that was made by Jordan and it sounded really cool. If I could find one now, I'd buy it. It was basically an instant fuzzbox distortion that had a thick, sustaining overdrive. The only odd thing was that you had to reach down and turn it on. They should have put it in a box, but it came out back when stuff like the Orange Squeezer was big. So I guess they just thought that everybody wants it on their guitar.
Guitar.com: Which players shaped your choices in gear?
Poland: Well actually, I had tried to use Marshalls, but I never got the tone that I wanted. I never figured out that I wanted a Plexi Marshall until way too late. By then, I was already using rack gear. I never really knew what anybody was using when I was growing up. As a matter of fact, I never even cared until after I left Megadeth and got sober. That's when I was on my search to find tone.
I kind of knew that Beck was playing into some kind of Fender amp and I knew that McLaughlin was using a Marshall or possibly a Mesa Boogie. But every time I would try one, they would sound like crap to me and I would wonder how they got that sound. So I was kind of on my own until I met Bob Bradshaw, and then basically I was on my own again because it took me about ten years to make that stuff sound the way I wanted it to sound. With Bob, you bring your stuff and then he makes it into a system, but he doesn't make it sound the way that you want it to sound. So just by trial and error, and buying stuff to see how it sounded, and then selling it, I must have spent at least $200,000. One time I bought a late '60s small-box 50-watt Plexi just to see how it sounded. Then I bought two "70s big-box 50-watt heads because everyone said those sounded great, too. So I bought three Marshalls and then listened to them. I thought they sounded good. I was still using a rack system at the time and I was trying to get the Marshalls in there, so I was using a Juice Extractor on one and it sounded amazing, but I would have needed four guys to set up my rig. So I just put the Marshalls away, as an investment. I wanted everything to be stereo and I knew that if I used the real stuff, then it would cost me a lot of money and I would need a truck to get it anywhere. I would need two clean amps and two dirty amps. Then what if I wanted a third sound? I finally realized that rack gear was the way I had to go because it was just more practical.
Guitar.com: Was this in your post-Megadeth days?
Poland: Yes. Once I got sober I wanted to get a better guitar sound than I had. When we went into the studio to do Metalopolis, I had just gotten the rack two weeks before we made the record. I really had no clue what it was doing and I was just trying to get it to sound good going to tape.
Guitar.com: Which guitars did you favor while in Megadeth?
Poland: I had B.C. Rich guitars and a lot of times I would use Neal Moser's preamp that was in that guitar. It was built in. I was always using a Rockman into Marshalls for my effects. I had the little portable Rockman headphone amp and I would run a cable out of the headphone jack and into the front of the Marshall. It would really hit the front end of the Marshall, so I was getting like double the gain there, and then I was also getting additional gain from the preamp off the B.C. Rich guitar. So it was a searing tone. The sound was almost synthesizer-like and it had so much sustain. Later I started using the rackmount version of the Rockman and I stopped using the onboard preamp. It seemed like I was getting more guitar response and more touch response from my picking hand because there wasn't so much gain.
Guitar.com: In what ways has your playing evolved since Megadeth?
Poland: I've tried to stop emulating people. When I start doing stuff that I think sounds like this or that, then I try not to do it. It's hard because you have all these influences and it's hard to get rid of them. Mostly it's all about tone for me now.
Guitar.com: How would you describe your guitar tone now?
Poland: I'm getting a little of that Band Of Gypsys thing. When I go to my bridge pickup, I'm getting that British-style Cream sort of sound. What really made a difference is that I stopped using power amps and Marshall cabinets. Now I'm using a pair of Yamaha's new DG100-212 100-watt 2x12 combos. They're the digital modeling series. I saw Holdsworth using one and I thought it sounded great. Yamaha gave me one to try and I really enjoyed it. One day I got this bright idea to plug one side of my rack into the return on the effects loop, and it sounded great. I got another amp and hooked up the left and right signals to each of the amps, and that's when everything changed for me. I should have been using open-backed style guitar amps all along because that's where my style is. I always had to fight a Marshall cabinet. There's something about the closed-back and it's not as "bouncy." To me, the open-back cabinet is way more vocal than the Marshall cabinets.
The other thing is that I think power amps don't sound or feel like amps. They never have and they never will. An amplifier has its own feel. The thing that I like about racks is that I can make a lot of crazy sounds and I can get a lot of stereo imaging, but I don't like the way they feel. When I got these amps from Yamaha, all of a sudden, I was playing through an amp again. That happened about two or three months ago and that's when I started to have fun again.
Guitar.com: Which amps and effects are you currently using in your live rig?
Poland: I use two 100-watt Yamaha DG 2x12 combos and I use a Bogner Fish preamp as my sound. For effects, I use an old Roland SRV2000 and three Yamaha D1500 delays. I have ADA stereo tap delays as my main chorus, and a TC Electronic G-Force effects processor, which sounds really good, too. Then I have a Lexicon MPX1 effects processor, which I use for specialty pad sounds when I have a volume swell with all kinds of delays happening.
Guitar.com: What type of mic do you prefer on the cabinets?
Poland: When we were making the record I was using 414s because I was still getting that "rack thing" going on and the AKG 414s would take some of that away. If I put a Shure SM57 on it, there was so much top end happening and I couldn't get rid of it. I'm totally under the impression that if you can put a 57 on your amp and it sounds good when you listen to it in the control room, then you have a good guitar sound. So I was kind of feeling like I wasn't getting my **** together when I had to use a 414 and if I put a 57 on it, it was more like an ice pick than a good sound. But I think that had more to do with the power amps. But we used a lot of mics. We used a Sennheiser 421 for some stuff and I used a Palmer speaker simulator called The Junction, which goes between the power amp and the cabinet. I would just go right into that and run it into the board. Sometimes I got a better sound out of that than anything. A lot of the clean sounds are basically the Palmer going left and right out between the power amp and the speaker.
Guitar.com: Which guitars did you use on the record?
Poland: Mostly I used a Yamaha SBG Santana-style guitar with a Floyd tremolo on it. At the time, I had EMGs in it and they sounded great. I had my system set up for those pickups. But now I'm just using Yamaha pickups, which are basically just PAF copies that sound great. I had tried a Duncan '59, but it just didn't work for me. Now I've found a pickup that I really like. On the record I used an EMG-60 in the bridge and an SAB single-coil in the neck. It sounded really good, but I had to manipulate that a lot. On most of the record, there's a Fulltone 69 fuzz in the front of any dirty guitar solo. It took that EMG edge away and kind of rounded everything out. We also used Tascam DA38s to record with and it seemed like if I didn't put a fuzz box in front of everything, the guitar was digital sounding. So that worked out in kind of making it sound like there was tape involved. I think the fuzz kind of gave me that sound.
Guitar.com: Other than the Yamaha SBG, which other guitars were used on the record? What was used for the acoustic parts?
Poland: There wasn't any acoustic, just clean guitar. On "Mountain," everyone thinks it's acoustic, but it's the Yamaha direct into the board. The other guitar I used was a Fernandes with a Sustainer pickup which is on either "Sister Cheryl" or "Love Song."
Guitar.com: How are your guitars set up?
Poland: I use Ernie Ball .010-.046 strings. I like the action set pretty high, otherwise it kind of "flinks" a little bit. I like the pickups set real low. The further I can get them away from the strings, the better off I am.
Guitar.com: What type of picks do you prefer?
Poland: I use 1 mm Clayton picks. They have just a little bit of bend to them and they sound great.
Guitar.com: How many guitars do you usually take out for a live gig?
Poland: Sometimes I'll just take one because I very rarely break strings. For the tour, I'll take my black SBG and I have a Yamaha Image, too, which is like a small solidbody 335 with two humbuckers. It's a really nice guitar.
Guitar.com: When you're playing live, where are the controls on your amp set?
Poland: What I try to do is to turn the amp up really loud and put a little top end on that so if I play a fast passage, you'll hear the attack. If I turn the bass up too loud, I think the speaker that can't keep up. I think the Celestion Vintage 30s I'm using add a lot of low end in themselves, so I don't need to add any more.
For years, I never turned up loud. Now the master volume on my combo amp is on 8-1/2 or 9, and everything else is at about 12 o'clock or adjusted from there based on the sound of the room. For clean parts, I'll add a bit of bass, a little bit of midrange, and a lot of treble. The Bogner Fish preamp has a Shark channel with just bass and treble controls, and I just adjust them until it sounds the way I like it. But every amp is different, so it's hard to say exactly where the amp settings are.
Guitar.com: Do you ever use the tone controls on your guitar?
Poland: I normally didn't. I hadn't used them in a long time, but now I always do. I have them set so that the bridge pickup's tone knob is about halfway back and the neck pickup's tone knob is about a quarter of the way back.
Guitar.com: How does that affect your over all sound and the attack of the notes?
Poland: It rolls off all that high end from the amp that makes you squint. Then you just have that same type of pick attack like on Led Zeppelin II, but without all the rest of the treble. I had tried to do with the EMGs, but I think EMGs sound best when you have the tone controls flat out and full up. It just doesn't work the same way as with passive pickups. I always knew this, but it's hard once you get locked into a pickup. I had tried to switch over to passive pickups so many times, but then when I bought the Yamaha Image, which I got on eBay, it had the passive Yamaha pickups in it and I couldn't believe how good it sounded. I just turned the tone knob back a little bit and I was on my way. That's when I approached Yamaha about playing their guitars.
Guitar.com: What kinds of things do you do to warm up for a gig?
Poland: I really don't warm up. That's why our first song is not too intense.
Guitar.com: Do you do much practicing on your own, working on scales and technique?
Poland: Not really. I'm usually just working on tone.
Guitar.com: What advice would you offer to other guitarists on improving their chops?
Poland: You've got to start somewhere. The thing that worked for me was playing along with records. I used to have all of these records by Mountain, Jeff Beck, Cream and Hendrix. When I first started playing, I would listen to those records and just jam with them, and they would become my band. I would put my stereo on, jam to "Red House," and just try to play along. I would try to learn all the stuff on the record, and what I couldn't play, I would fake. That kind of made it easier for when I would join a band because I would kind of know what it was like to jam with a drummer. It was great because I would always have someone to jam with and I learned how to play to a beat. Playing to a click track is so boring. It's a long road. You just have to keep at it and you'll see results. I only just started to become satisfied in the last six months with the way things are going with my playing.
Guitar.com: Do you feel that you're always learning something new?
Poland: Always. I may not be learning technique, but I'm learning about the song and how to make it happen. There's also just so much to learn about tone and recording.
Guitar.com: What do you listen to for enjoyment and inspiration?
Poland: I've been listening to this Jack Bruce record that was my favorite from 25 years ago. It's called Out Of The Storm. It just got re-released and Rob got it for me. He is a huge Jack Bruce fan, too. Just hearing that record was so great because I hadn't heard it in so long. Sure, there are telling things about the songwriting where, yes, it sounds dated, but there are other parts that are timeless. That was just such a great thing to hear. I do enjoy a lot of new stuff, too. But mostly, I like to listen to Pat Martino, and then again, I like to listen to Band Of Gypsys. It's whatever I feel like at the moment.
Guitar.com: What are your expectations for the Guitarevolution tour?
Poland: It's going to be great! Alex Skolnick is doing a Joe Pass kind of jazz group with upright bass. I thought it was so cool. Everybody should grab that record or come and see that band. Ohm is going to do our fusion thing, and Marty Friedman is going to do an instrumental rock set. Music For Speeding is the name of Marty's record. What's going to be so great is that our sets are going to be so different from the music that everybody is normally known for doing. It's all different styles, too, and we're all very different players. It should be an entertaining night. Everybody is getting 45 minutes to play, so everyone will get their fair share of the time. Al is going to open the show, we're in the middle slot, and then Marty is going to close the show. It's going to be fun for anybody that's a guitar fan.
Guitar.com: What will Ohm be doing after this tour?
Poland: We definitely want to make a record with Kofi. We're going to do a lot of new material live and then I want to record it as soon as possible. With Kofi playing, it's so much more fun and it's got so much energy. I just can't wait!
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