Tosin Abasi never wanted to be a next level guitar hero when he started his childhood. “I was in Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden,” says the octopus-fingered guitar virtuoso of Animals As Leaders. “I was seeing Guns N’ Roses or Van Halen, but I was just trying to play my favorite Nirvana songs.”
That changed when he started to dabble in six-string gifts like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, which eventually led him into a whole other world of guitar genius. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s this whole other category of guitar players that you don’t hear on the radio. I became obsessed with learning these advanced guitar techniques.
His obsession paid off. Today, Tosin pushes the boundaries of prog-metal with Animals As Leaders, whose new album Parrhesia is out now. We took his nine-string guitar out of his hands long enough for him to tell us about the 11 non-metal guitarists who will melt the minds of all metal fans.
“Allan Holdsworth was a fusion guitarist and as far as this school is concerned he is one of the critical players credited with defining the sound in many ways. He basically used legato exclusively and was known for his phrasing which sounded more like a horn player than what you would usually get from a guitar.
He was notoriously jealous of horn players, so his style isn’t always guitar-like, but the result is always something truly unique and beautiful. It had some crazy awesome chops.
“Jonathan Kriesburg is a jazz guitarist who I’m sure has traces of his past – he just evolved into an outright jazz player. He’s cool because he’s got all the chops guys love, but his use of harmony and phrasing, his polyphonic work, and his ability to put together some interesting tunes are amazing. He even put out a solo release that’s literally just guitar, which is one of the hardest things to do.
“Yamandu Costa is a Brazilian nylon-string guitarist who plays seven-string classical guitar. It has chops that rival [virtuoso flamenco guitarist] Paco De Lucía regarding the speed and clarity of the picking. It’s just amazing.
In metal, shredding is all about guitar solos or guitar-focused moments, but with guys like Yamandu Costa, it’s basically creating a mini guitar symphony. He’s responsible for playing the chords as well as the basslines and there’s those bursts of speed, it’s all done on one instrument without the help of a band. It brings us back to the classical era of playing an instrument in a virtuoso way.
“Andre Nieri is maybe a bit closer to metal than a lot of the other people on this list. He’s a rocker and he’s amazing. I’ve seen him play some solos and just sat there thinking “this is perfect guitar playing”.
The amount of passion, the use of vibrato and bends – everything about him strikes me as he is one of the most developed electric guitarists. He’s got a wealth of experience – he can play Bossa nova and has that chord harmony stuff that’s part of his repertoire, but on electric guitar you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more impressive.
“Ben Eunson is another fusion player who sounds like he’s transcribed a ton of John Coltrane and Michael Brecker because his lines don’t sound like your traditional guitar note picking – he kind of escaped a lot of that. He blew her wide open.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed more guitarists via Instagram, like Ben Eunson. He has already released two albums and is very active on social networks. The social media platform allows a window into a player that can last a minute, but exposes you to millions of people. If you are very technically gifted, this value is perfect for bite-sized pieces.
“What Antoine Boyer can do solo on the guitar is really fantastic. His two-voice counterpoint is really difficult and he really excels at it.
“I’m a huge Kurt Rosenwinkel fan. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s the master of jazz fusion, but with jazz because it’s such a strong tradition, there’s a degree of emulation because it’s part of the language. If you want to play jazz, you won’t have your wah and distortion pedals, you’re not going to do a bunch of two-finger tapping.
Instead, you’ll learn bebop, you’ll learn Charlie Parker, and you’ll learn bebop vocabulary. This creates a generation of players who honor tradition. Then you get players who somehow oppose that and have a more individual sound – that of Kurt Rosenwinkel The next step is one of them. I love the harmonies, the compositions and he has a very distinct musical voice.
“Gilad Hekselman plays with a maturity and type of consideration that is so hard to achieve. It’s so mature and he can play these tricky compositions, but he’s also really good at counterpoint, using two voices at once. He can even improvise like this.
It’s not the kind of game where you’re like ‘shit that was so fast’, but the thing is it can do it if he wanted to. The value is that it is very thoughtful and delicate, making good use of harmony and multiple voices.
“AJ Ghent is a slide player. He started playing in church, playing gospel. Her use of slide is heavily influenced by R&B singers like Mariah Carey. He can actually mimic a lot of that vocal inflection with the slide. The moment he starts playing, you stop.
“Lionel Loueke is a Beninese guitarist, he is a West African guitarist. He plays with Herbie Hancock but has his own releases. This guy is one of the most unique guitarists around; he imitates talking drums using a whammy pedal. He does beatbox, but not like a hip-hop beat. He’s doing this metrical modulation where he’ll beatbox at a tempo and then he’ll fluctuate his guitar playing in this springy way that feels like he’s speeding up and slowing down.
He also does these things where he will string his guitar, treat it like a treated guitar, like a pianist would on a treated piano with strings or felt against the keys. He puts paper under the strings at the bridge to modify the sound and is able to get some really cool sounds out of it without a guitar. Also, he’s in Herbie Hancock’s band, so he’s able to immediately play bebop beautifully, but he’s got that whole cultural level on top of his playing.”
“Adam Rogers is a jazz guitarist who also has a classical guitar background. I think he actually studied classical guitar in college, but he writes modern jazz. His use of harmony and symmetrical scales had a huge, huge influence on me.
It’s a very colorful use of harmony – a lot of it has to do with tension. He is very masterful and has a distinct and individual voice and is one of my favorites.
Parrhesia, the new Animals As Leaders album, is out