Playing professionally since the late ‘80s, Jeff Loomis has climbed the ladder from being a promising young guitarist to establishing himself as one of metal’s ultimate shredders. Shortly before joining Sanctuary in 1990—a group that would disband only a few months later—Loomis auditioned for the mighty Megadeth, receiving praise from frontman Dave Mustaine but not getting the job due to his age (he was only 16 at the time).
After Sanctuary broke up, vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard teamed up to start Nevermore, a progressive thrash metal outfit. Loomis would join Nevermore shortly after its formation, bringing many different styles to an up-and-coming act that would eventually release seven albums. They expanded their dynamic guitar playing over the years by working with other virtuosos such as Steve Smyth and Chris Broderick, who formed an elite tandem with Loomis. Due to musical differences and members taking part in other bands, however, Nevermore would go on an indefinite hiatus in 2011.
A few years prior to Nevermore’s breakup, Loomis released his debut solo effort, Zero Order Phase, a stellar instrumental album that made a splash with tracks like “Miles Of Machines” and “Azure Haze.” Loomis would go on to issue his second full-length, Plains Of Oblivion, in April 2012, which featured the likes of Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth), Ihsahn (Emperor) and Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork). An expanded tour edition of the CD featuring three brand new songs came out last month through Century Media.
Loomis is currently on tour as a direct support for Swedish metallers Soilwork. I talked with the guitar god while he was getting ready for a show in Utah to discuss the tour, Plains Of Oblivion, and a cover he made of Jason Becker’s “Perpetual Burn.” [Becker was a fast-rising guitarist playing in David Lee Roth’s band before being diagnosed with ALS in the early ‘90s. Though he has lost the ability to move or speak, Becker continues to make music with the use of a computer.] The transcription is below:
How’s the tour been going so far?
Excellent, excellent. We’re about halfway through. 57 shows in total with only two days off so it’s very hectic and, you know, very busy, but it’s making the tour go by very, very quickly. But I go way back with the Soilwork guys so we’re kind of a tightly close-knit family here on this tour and having a great time. Great time so far so yeah, so far so good.
Has anything surprised you while on the road, such as a certain venue or crowd?
Yeah, you know, it’s hit and miss—with each show you never know what’s going to happen. One night you’re having this absolutely amazing gig and the next night there might not be a lot of people that know you or recognize you as far as an artist, so I mean, it’s just one of those things you have to deal with. It happens, you know? (Laughs) I would say that all the shows in general, though, have been really, really good.
I’ve been touring like, a lot on this album, and I wasn’t really planning on doing that from the get-go. I just did two instrumental albums just for my sheer pleasure and all of a sudden it blossomed into this. So if I’m able to tour and [make] instrumental albums like [Plains Of Oblivion] and make a good living at it, I’m having a great time, so I’m definitely excited to be out here again.
Does it feel any different performing as the main attraction on stage as opposed to how you’ve played live over the years?
Not really, man. I mean, as far as like, me being in Nevermore and us playing a lot of headline sets, touring as a main act and stuff like that, I think it’s just really the same because believe it or not, the time that I’m playing right now on this tour—which is third, which is direct support for Soilwork—we have the best time slot, I think. That’s when everybody is there, you know what I’m saying? So I’m having a great time playing where I’m at right now. I’m very, very happy.
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Plains Of Oblivion’s release. How’s the reception been to it over this time?
Oh yeah, wow! (Laughs) [The reception has been] pretty damn awesome, man, really cool. I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from it. There’s a lot of killer guests on the record: Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Chris Poland. These are all artists that I grew up listening to that have been a very inspirational part of my upbringing as far as guitar, so that was really cool to have all those guys on the record.
Of course, Christine Rhoades [vocalist], working with her again after I worked with her on the Dreaming Neon Black album from Nevermore was really cool to have her be a part of this, and Ihsahn. So all in all it’s a very diverse record, there’s a lot going on within it. It kind of takes a few listens to really get into it to be honest, but there’s a lot going on as far as musical styles and stuff like that, too. Elements of thrash, elements of neo-classical guitar and you know, just all-around cool songs, I think. So yeah, the response has been awesome so far and just being able to tour on a record like this is kind of a godsend to me, so I’m very happy.
Was it more challenging than your debut album, Zero Order Phase, to put this disc together? Or was it easier since you already went through the process before of releasing a solo album?
It was easier in a couple of different regards because I wasn’t in Nevermore like I was for my first album, so I didn’t have very much time to do the first one. For Plains Of Oblivion, I had all the time in the world. Plus, I recorded the album at my home too, which freed up a lot of studio time and cost and stuff like that, so literally I would just wake up with a cup of coffee with my producer [Aaron Smith] and get to work, and we would just start recording.
So realistically, I think I just had a lot more time to put into the second album and I think you can tell by listening to it that more time was focused on the actual material and the songwriting, and I think it’s much stronger than the first one. So in a nutshell, I think the second one is just a tighter, better album.
The expanded edition of Plains Of Oblivion will be released next week. Were these three additional tracks left primarily with the idea of expanding upon the album or did these songs come into play after the original album was released?
Yeah, they came into play after the matter because we didn’t want to perform… Well, we knew that we were going to be touring a lot of this record and we wanted more vocal songs, so the singer that was in the band at the time, Joe Nurre, me and him had suggested to maybe write three more vocal songs, and they somehow just ended up on the bonus tracks. So they weren’t an original part of the recording from the get-go, these were way after the matter. So Century Media thought it was a good idea to add those as a special bonus thing for the special edition release. So that’s how that kind of came into play.
I read that Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren will be filling in on drums for the last dozen or so shows on this tour. How’d that come about?
Basically what happened is my original drummer, Anup Sastry, has another tour that was scheduled way before he heard of this one because he plays in another band called Intervals, and he basically couldn’t bow out of that tour so he had to do it. So, for the last 11 shows of this tour, Dirk Verbeuren said that he would do the shows with me, which I think is just so cool because he played them on Plains Of Oblivion. I think it’s cool that he’s going to be doing the last  shows. He’s doing a favor for me, basically (laughs), but at the same time he really loves to do it as well too, so it’s really cool. And he’s a good friend of mine.
Do you think he’s going to be able to pull double duty with Soilwork?
Yeah, he’s going to have to (laughs). Yeah, he’s an amazing drummer, man. He has so much energy and my set is only 45 minutes long so it’s going to be kind of a warm-up for him before the Soilwork shows because he’s playing an hour and a half with Soilwork every night, so it’s taking a lot of his energy. He’s an amazing drummer though, so he’ll be able to pull it off just fine.
Did you plan on joining a band after Nevermore or did you set out with the intention of performing as a solo act?
You know, after the whole Nevermore thing broke up, that was like 18 years of my life, you know, almost half of my life. I really wasn’t ready to literally join another vocal band again or form another band for that matter, so I just kind of thought to myself, “Why don’t I just take my solo act out and see how that goes and just kind of take baby steps to see where that would lead me?”
And that’s kind of what happened, I mean, it just kind of blossomed into me being on the road with my solo band and, of course, I do plan on doing a band with vocals on a permanent basis, but that’s just kind of in the future for now. Just kind of focusing on the Jeff Loomis solo band until something else comes up, so that’s kind of the plan at the moment.
You recently covered Jason Becker’s “Perpetual Burn,” and it may be one of the greatest guitar covers I’ve ever heard. Were you working on this for a long time?
Thanks man, wow. Well, I always wanted to learn one of his whole pieces and I didn’t know which one I wanted to do, and I noticed online that a lot of people hadn’t really tried to do that song except for maybe a few guitar players, and I just thought to myself, you know, “I want to make this a challenge to see if I can do it,” and it took me about two months to learn the piece correctly and I literally had to play every day. What I would do is learn one part and then get that down, and then I would take another section of it and get that down, so it was like these endless hurdles until you could get the whole piece down.
So two months later I had it down and I was getting ready to go on this tour and I literally sat down and played it in basically one take and somehow managed to do it and got it on film and literally put it on YouTube the day before I left for this tour. It’s already up to 106,000 hits, or views, so it’s going very, very well.
And I got a lot of great comments from a lot of people on it, especially Jason Becker, who said that he really loved it and he happens to be a friend of mine, so to hear that from him just kind of made my day. His mother wrote to me as well and said how much she appreciated it and the reason I did it is just 1) For it being so challenging and it just made me a better guitar player too, and 2) Just to kind of let people know that guitar instrumental music is still alive and it’s a fun thing to play and to watch, and I think people really enjoyed it. It’s really a self-satisfaction kind of thing.
Jeff Loomis will play at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ, on May 1. His latest album, Plains Of Oblivion, is available through Century Media. For more information, go to jeffloomis.com.