Live Louder recently got the opportunity for an exclusive in-depth interview with Keith Merrow, instrumentalist extraordinaire. Keith is one of the modern breed of musicians who have made a name for themselves without record label support – with three solo albums, the Conquering Dystopia collaboration with guitar god Jeff Loomis, a range of signature Schecter guitars and a career in support and R&D with Seymour Duncan, he’s a man with his fingers in all aspects of the creative process, from gear design to production, playing and promotion. We caught up with him just before he released the debut album from his latest collaboration, Alluvial.
Hi Keith, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for Live Louder.
You always seem to have an interesting new project bubbling under. When are you at your most creative? Are you one of these people where the riffs just pour out every time you pick up a guitar, or do you set project time aside to create?
Most of the time, I hear riffs in my head and that’s what makes me pick up a guitar. But there are definitely times where I will pick up my guitar to experiment and let the guitar inspire new ideas. It just depends on the mood! I don’t have a set time that I play or write. Whenever I’m feeling inspired, which is usually every day if I’m lucky, I’ll try to work out some ideas. I used to favor waking up early in the morning before the sun comes up to write my music. I still do that, but I’m finding myself writing late at night recently. In either case, I have to make sure that “business” is handled first and I have a clear head with no distractions. If I’m bogged down with work, like a video demo or something, it’s harder for me to focus and feel as creative as I’d like to be.
You’ve worked closely with both Schecter and Seymour Duncan to produce some excellent signature guitars and new pickup designs. How did you first get interested in equipment design?
It was fairly organic. As my career started to progress, opportunities came way way to collaborate on gear design. I’ve been really fortunate to have helped design some great stuff for guitarists. I’ve always been obsessed with guitars and guitar tone, so I’m having a blast working with the companies that have asked for my ideas for new gear.
There are a few variations of your Schecter KM-6 & KM-7 signature guitar models out, using different pickups, string configurations and body shapes. Are you striving for perfection here, or is variety the spice of life? Are there core features across the range that make them distinctly ‘Merrow’?
Schecter Artist Spotlight- Keith Merrow KM-7 Signature Guitar
Initially, it was kind of hard to settle on one design for my end-all guitar. I narrowed down the specs that I favor but, I like a lot of different things. Once the original KM guitar started doing well in the market for Schecter, they allowed me to expand the line and offer some different variations of it. I do feel variety is a good thing. As far as features go, the swamp ash body is a staple in the line. I love the resonance and feel of it. I tend to prefer lighter weight guitars because they really seem to vibrate in your hands, sound really aggressive, and feel “alive” more so than a dense wood to me. The guitar I came up with feels and sounds perfect for the way that I play. The Duncan pickups are another core feature. The models used in the KM guitars were ones that I helped to design. Having worked so closely with them over the years, I was able to really narrow down the right pickups for the KM guitars. The Sustainiac version of the guitar is one that I’ve been using a lot, too. On the album I just finished tracking, it was used on quite a few songs. The Schecter KM FRS variation is quickly becoming a huge part of my sound, at least on the music I’m currently working with. That thing is too fun!
It’s been 7 years since you started building your YouTube channel. Over the years we’ve seen musicians make their name through record label support, then Myspace, and then YouTube. For musicians starting now, what do you see as their best avenues to cultivate an audience?
I always tell everyone who asks me this to just be fearless and never be afraid to post your music on the internet, or YouTube, specifically. You never know what might happen! That’s ultimately all I did. I posted videos, they got noticed and spread around (more than I ever imagined they would). Every opportunity or success I’ve had is a direct result of being found on YouTube. Fact!
Awaken the Stone King, your last full-length instrumental album under the Merrow monicker, had very evocative moods to each song, and you achieved this with a focus on riffs and interludes instead of solos – whereas your work on Conquering Dystopia has its fair share of Jeff Loomis’ mindbending soloing. Do you approach the the writing process differently for each project?
For sure, they’re very different things to me. My personal music is more of an exploration, and being mostly a rhythm guitarist and songwriter, that’s the primary focus with my solo albums. With Conquering Dystopia, we knew what we wanted to do from the start. We actually planned out the pace and vibe of that album before we even wrote a single note. We wanted it to play out with a cinematic type of vibe from start to finish. When we sat down to compose, we were basically fulfilling a vision that we had predetermined. It was really fun, and a great change of pace for me.
What can you tell us about upcoming projects? I hear you’re contemplating a new solo album, as well as a collaboration with Wes Hauch?
The project with Wes is called Alluvial, and we’ve just put the finishing touches on the album, which is titled “The Deep Longing for Annihilation”. The album will be available in early January 2017. Its some of the darkest, most emotionally-driven music I’ve ever been a part of, and I can’t wait to get it out there. Once that album drops, I’ll be diving back into another solo record, which I haven’t done in a few years. I’m really excited to get started!
Alluvial features a guest solo from Marty Friedman, one of metal and now J-Pop’s shining stars. Who is left on your wishlist of collaborations?
Alluvial Demo featuring Marty Friedman
I could go on all day about people I’d love to work with. I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with guys like Marty and Jeff, as they are heros of mine. I think it would be really fun to write some music with Vogg from Decapitated. I’ve always loved his sound and style and it would be pretty sick to write something with him. But, at the moment, I’m going to take a little break from collaborations while I try to work on another solo record. Who knows what the future holds!
Well, Live Louder found out what the immediate future holds: Alluvial – The Deep Longing for Annihilation was released this week. You can stream or buy it from Keith’s site now.
Interviewed by Dan Hepner, Live Louder.
How do you treat your guitars? Do you prefer a battered workhorse or an unblemished work of art, as fresh as the day it was made?
Keeping a guitar in pristine condition has its advantages if you’re planning on selling it one day, as you’ll get a higher return. Regular maintenance also means it will stay in good working order. You don’t want to be letting your hardware rust, your neck warp or your electrics get all crackly from dust and grime.
But assuming you look after the basics, here’s three good reasons you shouldn’t worry about a few paint cracks, bumps or scratches.