Interview By Ville Krannila & Jari Asell / April 2009
For the Steel Mill’s second year anniversary, we have a very special guest as Roy Z – the producer and artist extraordinaire and the man behind some of metal’s most classic works, gave us a lengthy interview on the many twists and turns of his career. Ville and Jari talked with Roy about many aspects of his remarkable career.
Hello Roy! First off, where did the name Roy Z originate from?
My given name is Roy Ramirez… When I was coming up the ranks in my early teens the last name Ramirez was unpopular here in L.A. because we had the serial killer Richard Ramirez – “The Night Stalker.” People would ask if I was related all of the time and I grew really tired of it. Feeling that it was negative, I then flipped my last name backwards to Zerimar. When I went to an audition for R.J. Dio, the blackboard had me down as Roy Z. My friend who helped me with my gear etc. liked it and from then on called me as “Roy Z” and the name stuck.
As a guitar player and musician, who and what bands were your biggest influences?
There are so many influences that have come and gone but the top-5 that come to mind are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix “A Band Of Gypsies”, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Judas Priest.
During the 1980’s you played with a lot of bands, how do you remember that decade and how hard was it for a musician starting out to break through the scene?
The 80’s was a difficult time for me to break through for numerous reasons. “The Scene” was very image conscious in those days. Looks meant more than music especially in L.A. I also believe that my ethnicity was something that people focused on in a negative way for the style of music. I have to say that I believe Ozzy was instrumental in changing that by having Sarzo, Castillo, Inez and Trujillo in his bands. There was plenty of shapes and hairdos but there was also some great music that came out in the 80’s.
Probably your most well known band is Tribe Of Gypsies, the debut album was released in 1996 but only in Japan, am I right?
That is right…. We originally recorded the first CD in 1992 but we soon fell into litigation with our label for about 18 months. After a series of lengthy legal battles we put it out in 1995/96 on our own label. At the time no one really was thinking that way. Once the smoke cleared, we put it out in Japan in hopes to spur on a global effort. That didn’t happen as the labels back then couldn’t find a “pigeon hole” for us in the market. After that we went underground.
Which of the Tribe-albums is your personal favorite and why?
My fave has to be “Revolucion 13.” The concept and production to me is still very fresh and viable. The self-titled is still personal and sometimes painful to listen to but I would say it is a close second.
Bruce Dickinson started his solo career after leaving Iron Maiden with “Balls To Picasso” album, which saw you co-writing and playing guitar. How did you end up working with Bruce in 1994?
Working with Bruce came about as pure chance. I was working with engineer Shay Baby mixing the first Tribe Of Gypsies CD. The studio was a place called “Good Night L.A.” that was owned by Keith Olsen. We worked all the off hours, mostly at night to catch a break on the price of the studio time.
One day Shay said “come in a bit earlier because Bruce has the day off.” As I walked that day I saw some dude with really long hair head banging to my stuff. At first I was really ticked off because I had asked for no one to attend my session let alone hear the unfinished record. To my surprise that dude was Bruce Dickinson and he was really into what he had heard. The rest is the body of work that is there.
Later with his “Accident Of Birth” and “The Chemical Wedding” albums Bruce returned to metal and both were very well received by fans and metal press. Few years later you were involved with similar process on Rob Halford’s “Resurrection” and “Crucible” albums. Did Rob become aware of you through Bruce’s work and sort of wanted to make a similar return to metal?
Definitely. I first auditioned for Rob as a guitarist. I think I stood out because I argued with his producer at the time about the style Rob was doing and how it wasn’t what fans wanted to hear. I told him “if you look up the definition of heavy Metal, you will see Rob on his Harley.” As you would imagine, I didn’t get the gig but later I was asked to produce because my vision was so clear.
One of my personal favorite guitar solos is the one on “Tears Of The Dragon.” Can you remember the specifics of recording that particular solo and what did you want say with it?
When I recorded that solo I really wanted to play something timeless. I listened to “Hotel California” and “Stairway to Heaven” as my bench marks and I set out to make my own solo that might stand that test of time. I believe that it has.
I remember reading that the writing process for Bruce’s latest solo album “Tyranny Of Souls” was slightly different, can you tell us more about that?
We had no time to make the record. I wrote 20 tunes. Bruce picked the first 8 in the same running order that they now appear and added 2 more that we had in the can. Bruce blew me away sing the entire album in just 3 days that he had while gigging with Maiden in L.A. The thing that made it legend was that he had bruised ribs after falling on stage the night before. The man willed his way through 3 days of agony to deliver a classic. I don’t think anyone else could have done that but Bruce.
More recently you produced Sebastian Bach’s “Angel Down,” where Axl Rose sang on few tracks. How did Axl end up making a guest appearance on the record? Of course we have heard the stories of his sometimes erratic behavior. From your point of view was he hard or easy to get along with?
Sebastian is the one that set that all up, the recordings with Axl on “Angel Down” were magic. He was nothing but a gentleman and a pro. Axl has such a unique and versatile voice. I hope to work with him again some day.
What kind of gear do you currently used guitar wise? Is Flying V still the best axe around?
I am using loads of different gear these days. I really like my custom KUON V’s. They are so balanced weight and sound wise. I started using V’s in the 80’s, once I saw Albert King live and I was hooked.
In my heart of hearts I am a Les Paul man. I find that no matter what, Les Pauls are essential to my sound and performance. The majesty they project is unsurpassed.
You are one of the few rare musicians who both play well, produce and co-write with several different artists. What do you think is the secret behind being able to combine all these elements, is it just down to hard work?
I think my appreciation and desire to be a part of music and it’s history is what guides me through what I try to do. In the end, it’s all heart and soul that goes into everything I do. I hope that most of the time it is heard.
You produced Judas Priest’s reunion album “Angel Of Retribution.” What approach did you take with that album since it was extremely important one for the band, and what was the main difference in working with Priest compared to Halford solo?
My approach was simple for “Angel Of Retribution:”
1. Make the artist’s vision happen.
How would you describe the difference between K.K. and Glenn’s guitar style? What kind of approach did you take when producing the guitar sound on AOR?
Glenn is a wizard who I think approaches guitar the way he hears it in his head and heart versus notes and scales. I believe he composes most of his solos without being concerned with theory and all that.
K. K. is a “gunslinger” who shoots from the hip but also knows all the theory, technique and he is a “Son Of Hendrix.” No holds barred Rock and Roller!!!
Your take on Priest’s twin guitar attack, in your opinion how did these two guitarists set the principles of playing with two strong solo guitars in one band?
I think that Priest’s twin guitar attack is one of compliment and colors. Each guy plays to his strengths, the dynamics and arrangement aspects is what sets them apart from all other guitar duos’.
You also co-wrote the song “Deal With The Devil” – can you tell the story behind that song?
The story behind “Deal With The Devil” from my side is that I had it “in the can” for a few months. Initially, I wasn’t going to present any material to Priest. Glenn kept asking me if I had anything….. Finally I gave it up and to my surprise they all liked it for the most part. Priest put the extra special on it and the tune really became its own entity.
Speaking of Priest albums in general, as they varied a lot in style and content over the years, from a production standpoint which Priest record is your favorite and why?
Sorry mate, I can’t just pick one. From 76′ to 83′ Priest innovated metal. Also, “Painkiller” is now a sonic classic.
You recently worked with Swedish group Wolf on their latest release “Ravenous,” any comments on your contribution?
Working with Wolf was a lot of fun. The dudes are all cool and they are top notch musicians. I think ” Ravenous ” is a instant classic. I can’t wait to see it live.
Helloween’s “The Dark Ride” (2000) was IMO their finest and heaviest hour. It displayed significantly darker sound and approach which eventually resulted in two members leaving the band. Was it a conscious effort in making them sound more serious and dark and do you remember there being any disagreements about the album within the band?
“The Dark Ride” was a trip to work on. I enjoyed my time with the guys and I felt they were ready for changes. I didn’t set any limits or boundaries… The only rule in my mind was it has to be heavy and rock! The band was in turmoil almost everyday of the production and that carried over to the music….. Personal feelings started getting in the way of things and in the end that lead to two members leaving the band. I think “The Dark Ride” will stand the test of time.
Some might not be aware of the four albums you have produced and co-written with Rob Rock, yet they are great examples of melodic metal. Especially the first one “Rage Of Creation” is a masterpiece. What kind of creative relationship do you guys have and will you continue working with him also in the future?
Rob and I are doing the Driver thing right now.. we will be at the “Bang Your Head” festival this year.
Any chance of there being a Roy Z solo album in the future?
I think you will see a solo album and a new Tribe of Gypsies album in the near future.
Finally, Any last words for the viewers of K.K. Downing’s Steel Mill?
I would say to everyone that comes here that K.K. is “the real deal” and cheers for keeping metal alive.
Thanks a lot for your time!