PHOENIX VAN DER WEYDEN
With her debut album `Defying Destiny’ the young guitar goddess exposed herself as one of the shred heads from a past generation. The tone of her guitar is rooted in the 80’s when Shrapnel Records sprouted careers of young guitar gods by the dozen. Following the path of predecessors like Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Greg Howe, Marty Friedman and Jason Becker [to name just a few] is daring, especially when you’re a young woman in South America. With a surname van der Weiden [Weyden] however, Phoenix reveals European, likely Dutch or Belgian, roots as well, unlike one might take for granted judging her looks. Phoenix is as Brazilian as one can look, but when she swings her axe, you better take cover! When the axe starts to fire notes, she is as temperamental as the entire Godly canaries, but she is sharper than the edge of a blade.
You already build quite a career as a guitar instructor with tutorials on the web as well as musicians being able to contact you for lessons through the www. Please let us know how this build your personal style and sound?
,,Well, thanks a lot for saying that. I’ve been a guitar teacher since I was 15 years old [!!] and there´s no better school than teaching others. You learn about the value of having different influences and how to apply them in your own style. It gives a sense of being organized while playing. Also an extreme responsibility comes with it; you have to create something special for every student and this reflects on your song writing.’’
The most striking thing about `Defying Destiny’ is not only the title of the record, but above all the wide palette of influences you bring to the plate. You literally draw from every player in the field and manage to combine the influences in one sizzling cocktail of music. Can you shine your light on your biggest influencers and the wide array of styles you mastered?
,,I am one of those fans who love everything 80s, from 1980 to 1991 basically. I know 1991 is past 80s but the scene remained up until that year. I listen to every classic metal genre, from Thrash to Black metal, and also every 80s Glam/Hard Rock /AOR. Add that to the almighty 80s shredders, which I listen daily. I love them all and collect their records because I believe they all created real treasures. I wanted to write songs that had a mix of 80s Neoclassical Guitar, Thrash, Hard Rock, Black Metal. It was a mix of everything I love.’’
I clearly hear classic Shrapnel musicians like Vinnie Moore and Tony MacAlpine influencing your playing, but there’s so much more. Who impacted your style most? Who set you on the course to release this Phoenix debut?
,,Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Savatage’s Criss Oliva , Reb Beach [Winger, Whitesnake], Eddie van Halen, Jason Becker, Randy Rhoads and also composers like Haydn and Wagner. They all influenced my playing and how I would construct the songs for my debut album. I´ve been a fan of Jason´s debut solo album `Perpetual Burn’ for years now, and I love how he flirts with different atmospheres on the same song. I kept this idea in mind while writing my own songs.
In my review I mention even classic guitar layers such as Brad Gillis and his counterpart of Night Ranger, Mr. Jeff Watson sounding widely reminiscent. Specific toning and string stretching…. What else have you got up your sleeve?
,,I´m a huge fan of Night Ranger, both Brad and Jeff are influences of mine. Jeff for his tapping, and Brad for his whammy bar melodies. Their style differs from each other but when they mix it; it´s like creating something truly unique. It also helped me a lot to build my song writing. I love to mix fast playing with melody; it actually came from years of listening to Night Ranger.’’
Ever heard of Rhandy Rhoads, cuz some of your riffs fall close to his typical sound palette?
,,Oh yes! Randy is actually one of my biggest influences and his work with Ozzy Osbourne was not only my introduction to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, but it was also one of the factors that made me love those styles so much. I remember I used to listen to `Blizzard of Ozz’ and `Diary of a Madman’ daily when I was 13 or so. I felt so drawn to the whole magic of those two albums; they made me want to sit and practice every time I finished listening to them.’’
Can you walk us through the songs personally?
What made you compose, why the song title, which guitar you used and which technique to bring across the feeling you wanted to define [influences, etc.]:
,,I recorded that song with my Kramer 85 Baretta. I wrote that song based on `The Way of The Samurai’ by Inazo Nitobe, it´s a book about the code of conduct and honour of the Samurai, which can also be applied to our western life. Bushido means “The way of the warrior”. I read that book many times and I felt that I should write about a subject that I loved so much. My musical influences for writing that song were Jason Becker, Marty Friedman and Joey Tafolla.’’
02. Crimson Skylines
,,It was recorded with my Kramer 85 and also with a TTM guitar. I wrote that song based on 80s movies like Top Gun and Iron Eagle. There was a time when Hollywood focused on Aeronautics and all their movies had this gorgeous crimson skyline. It´s also a duality of inner peace while you´re cruising the skies with absolute freedom and also the war side of the whole thing. That´s why it changes the atmosphere by the end of the song, it represents war. Musically I draw influences from Tony MacAlpine and Criss Oliva.’’
03. Future Vision
,,I recorded this song with a Jackson Kelly. It was based on the movie `They Live’ and its message. That movie is prophetic, it´s like John Carpenter had a Future Vision. The influences for this one were Marty Friedman and Paul Gilbert.’’
04. Strange Ways
,,I recorded this song with my Kramer 84 and actually based it on how certain events of life happen; sometimes we feel there´s some mysterious way being put in practice to work on our victories but also in our losses. We don´t see it, it´s faceless but we feel it happening around us. My influences were Joe Satriani and Reb Beach.’’
05. System Failures
,,I recorded this song with my Kramer 85 and it was based on the modern obsession with technology and how it can work against our human evolution. The machine triumphs but we walk backwards. My main influence for this song was Steve Vai.’’
06. The Raven and the Gate
It was recorded with my Kramer 85 and I based this song on the poem `The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe and also on the movie “The Crow”, it´s about death and its rites of passage.
For this song Tony MacAlpine mainly influenced me, and the final tapping section was a mix of Satriani and Reb Beach [!!!].’’
07. The Voyager
,,I recorded it with my Kramer 84 and a TTM Guitar. It´s about the Project Mercury and space voyage, and how it must have been great to be alive during that era in the 60s. It was a time for hope and people wanted to be the best they could be.
Tony Macalpine, Jason Becker and Vinnie Moore influenced me musically for ,,The Voyager’’.’’
08. Wicked City
,,It was all recorded with my Kramer 85 and it´s based on the suffocating modern-day big city. I feel we´re very close to that 1920´s movie `Metropolis’. That´s why I used some scenes of it on the YT video. The ending represents the individual that misses a ‘real life’ but is still surviving in the big city. That´s why I used the quote “…And Not Yet Dead“, because he´s still alive in an extremely grey environment. I was influenced by Reb Beach, Joey Tafolla and Tony MacAlpine.’’
With Phoenix being not only talented, but well educated and artistic defined, she shows a wide variety of interest. The guitarist brings a cohesive story about her interests keenly laced within her songs. Various movie themes and literature served the well-read youngster, who clearly stands out on more levels than as a musician only. Her poetic approach and view on the world and history is impressive, and the way she builds all these influences into her spectacular songs is astounding. But not only that, she also speaks very open and honest about her influences per track. With the songs radiating a certain honesty and thrive, they are clearly rooted in specific player’s channels. Phoenix doesn’t just copy these styles, but melts all into a unique and wild style combining her many influences. But where do you start when fusing such wide variety of styles and techniques…
`Defying Destiny’ is an impressive debut packed with high-end guitar caprioles. How did the songs evolve?
,,When I was at process of writing the songs for my debut album, I sat down and wrote all the ideas I had to influence each song. Poems, movies and books I admire inspired all the songs for the album. So I created all the songs being influenced by this idea…I wanted them to be like a soundtrack for the theme I chose for each one of them. I studied the style of some movie soundtrack composers like Hans Zimmer and Vangelis, so I could learn how to make a song to sound like a story or a character.’’
I’m once again amazed about the thorough study Phoenix put in to align ideas and craft them into such intense songs. With the investments of time and effort she created something very special, but still remains that superpower string bender. You fire about as many notes upon the listener as, say… Impellitteri. Do you ever keep track of the arpeggios and notes you deliver per minute? Ever counted them?
[Phoenix burst into laughter] ,,I actually track them all down hahaha! For my arpeggios I actually mix them in groups of 4, 5 and 6 notes per beat. I learned that by listening to Jason Becker. It gives a very unique approach to your arpeggios. For my tappings I double the notes. Instead of playing 4 notes per beat, I play 8 notes per beat. You can sound pretty fast at slower tempos doing that. I learned that trick from Reb Beach.’’
One thing that makes you different from the above mentioned [Impellitteri] is the fact that you lean on strong melodies and the song is carefully crafted vs. a melody line and riff. Instead of blasting away the notes, certain serenity is to be felt within your compositions. How do you imply those gorgeous melody-lines?
,,I actually love Impellitteri; his songs have a lot to offer. I just work in a different way. I like to hum some melodies while I’m writing songs and I add then to the final mix. Sometimes I improvise those melodies after the fast parts of my work. It all comes down to feeling and the inspiration I’m having that moment.’’
How do you start off writing at all?
,,Sometimes I sit down and build a song, and other times I work with an inspiration I had. Like when we hear that little tune in our heads and it eventually turns into a song.’’
Striking is also the way most songs kick off. They are lead in by a scenic storyteller or short sci-fi intro. Prior to their end frequently the storyteller return for a one-liner after which the song bends into another direction…
,,I actually got that inspiration from classical composers and the work of Jason Becker. They flirt with different atmospheres inside the same song.’’
You used an overall sci-fi theme [voice and character announcements] throughout the album. Where does this come in in your mind? During your song writing, or in the eventual production process?
,,I like to add those short sci-fi intros and voiceovers because I´ve always wanted my songs to sound like a full fetched story. I wanted them to be like a little movie-soundtrack turned into a compact song. I think these aspects add to the storyline and message of the song. The ideas actually come up during my song writing.’’
How did you land the deal for your debut album?
,,I became friends with Shredguy´s CEO Michael McDowell on social media. He´s an 80s shred guitar fan and a veteran on this scene. He told me he watched my YT videos and he was very interested in releasing my album through his label. It was actually an opportunity of a lifetime for me and I also made a great friend.’’
Tell us more about the writing process and composing of the songs, eventually recording?
,,I actually recorded all the guitar parts and created some backing tracks for it with many layers. I then recorded all the main melodies, rhythms and solos. You can see those recordings on my YT videos. I posted the videos of me recording the main parts of the songs live in the videos. I did all the mixing myself, as well. I wanted this to be my own project.’’
My only dislike with the album is the clinical drums, which do no justice to the deep and layered sound of your playing. Ever considered to record with a drummer? [I’m suggesting the album was recorded without drummer and only computer drums, correct?]
,,Yes and I agree! I didn´t have a human drummer for these recording sessions. Today you have to DIY. It´s a double-edged sword, because on the one hand you have freedom for your ideas, but on the other it has that generic sound you mention. But I totally agree; the album would have benefited if I had a real drummer to work with. Maybe in the future I´ll assemble a band. Of course, nothing beats the human feeling and I do really hope to work with a full band in the future.’’
Now, like I said in the introduction, `Defying Destiny’ is a somewhat daring title. Is this you defying the musical boundaries or the boundaries so often set for female player in the denim and leather metal genre rules by [mainly] male musicians?
,,`Defying Destiny’ was actually inspired by all my struggles to become a guitar player, and also on every plan I have for the future. In the end we´re all defying our own destinies. We have our doubts, but we still go for it and fight for a better future.’’
Ever encountered people frowning upon a female guitar player or being prejudice regarding the topic?
Does gender or beauty ever stand in your way or do you benefit from it as a player?
,,I never had any troubles with being a female guitar player. When I started studying as a teenager I wanted to be as cool as EVH and saw everyone as an individual. I was always treated as such. When I started posting cover videos on YT, I had nothing but a lot of support from musicians and music fans from all around the world. I still get that, and I´m grateful for it. I just turned on the camera and started playing. I was never really thinking about the male and female topic. I never looked at myself as being beautiful or anything other than a musician. I´m just a girl with teased 80s hair and hard rock clothes playing the guitar. For me, Vito Bratta and Jeniffer Batten worked just as hard to become musicians. It´s not a matter of gender, it´s a matter of being obsessed and giving all you have for your music.’’
With you covering so much technical ground from such a wide varied line up of guitar players, where does it and for you?
,,I hope to sound my own way, like all my influences. They all shared the same techniques but they sounded unique. At the end of the day I want to be a good musician, inspired by other hard working musicians.’’
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
,,Being a better musician, still producing albums. I want to become an improved version of what I am today.’’
What are your career goals?
,,I will always work with music, so I have plans to tour in different countries. I also want to grow my career as a teacher and have my own music school in the future.’’
If a band rings you up to join, what kind of music do they have to play for you to make you take the bait?
,,I would definitely adore being part of a Heavy Metal, Hard Rock or AOR band, since these are my favourite modern styles. But I’m interested in any projects that involve heart and passion in their music. I actually did some synth wave recordings and there was a lot of passion and responsibility involved in it. It makes me happy to work with people who want to create real music.’’
Concluding we can only applaud the young guitarist. She has a genuine interest in music and lives for it. With a genuine drive and honest appeal, Phoenix manages to touch your heart, not only as a spokeswoman for her songs, but also as a guitar player displaying the same emotion and heartfelt honesty. She is more than likely the Phoenix that rises from the ashes of the genre to revive shred metal and inject the genre with newfound passion. Het target is set and with the passion and thrive she showcases, she will be one of the frontrunners for the future.
Follow Phoenix on Facebook here