Shredding may not be trendy for arena rock bands these days, but there’s still an enthusiastic audience for it, as proven by the Guitar Collective Tour, which comes to Santa Cruz this week. Three prog-metal acts with shredding galore will take the stage: openers Andy James and Andy Vivaldi are both technically proficient metal players, while headliners Scale the Summit aren’t quite as brutal—more of a prog-rock band.
Scale the Summit guitarist and leader Chris Letchford does his best to allow any element into the music that works.
“I have never pushed in a certain direction on purpose. Whatever is written and recorded is what we sound like at the time,” says Letchford. “I hear others call us a metal band. To me, a metal band would have a screamer as a front man. I think our music is just jazz with distortion.”
As the headliners for the Guitar Showcase Tour, many Scale the Summit fans assumed that they were the ones to come up with the idea. But this tour was the brainchild of Vivaldi for a one-off event at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show last year.
The accompanying master classes at each show on this tour—there are 15 slots per event, allowing fans to take a lesson from the GCT guitarists—was also an intuitive decision, as Vivaldi already teaches and mentors young musicians.
“It just made sense to give people the chance to have all three of us in the room at the same time,” he says.
Scale the Summit’s style brings to mind the theatrics of older progressive bands like Dream Theater, with a modern twist. There’s also a deeply emotional component to the music that doesn’t get lost in the hardcore riffing and impressive showmanship.
The group is also instrumental. And rather than be a nonstop show of Letchford’s lightning fast shredding, he shows that he can use his guitar to sing and express himself.
“Instrumental music defies genres, and can reach a broader audience, opening more opportunities for us to play all around the world with all sorts of different bands,” Letchford says. “We have played shows with death metal bands, indie rock, pop, rap, soul and R&B. We were told early on that we would be limited, and it was semi-true at the start, but instrumental is becoming more of a trend now.”
Last year, Letchford parted ways with the rest of the band’s former members, and this year’s release In a World of Fear is Scale the Summit’s first album since the lineup shakeup. Not only is it a little looser, but for the first time, he’s brought on a bunch of guest players to contribute to the music. Unlike previous records, where everything was perfectly rehearsed and done in a professional studio, he took a different approach and recorded it himself, which allowed for a more relaxed process.
“It was the most fun record I have ever done,” Letchford says. “Being in control of tracking the guitars myself at my home in the mountains, there was no pressure, no rushing, and I got to do unlimited revisions of the songs—trying new things, experimenting with tones. It was awesome.”
This attitude has spilled over into the Scale the Summit live experience too, which he is undertaking with what he calls “the sickest players I have ever played with.” Previously, the group was known for replicating their albums note for note, flawlessly. Now there’s an element of improv to the music.
“It helps to keep things fresh for us, and fresh for the audience. We still play everything you hear on the record, but add in new stuff that you only hear that night. It’s a lot of fun,” Letchford says.
The Guitar Collective Tour performs at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27, at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $17/adv, $20/door. 429-4135.