VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1
It’s a different experience when you open a Guitar World issue from September 1989 and re-read it in 2013.
It’s a who’s who of where are they now. Marty Friedman and Jason Becker are hot off the press with their Cacophony releases and are endorsing ADA Amps, Jeff LeBar from Cinderella is endorsing Ernie Ball Strings, Richie Kotzen is endorsing Ibanez, Kip Winger is endorsing Peavey and Brian Forsythe is promoting Kix’s fourth album Blow My Fuse, before it exploded with the song Don’t Close Your Eyes. Johnny Diesel is well known in Australian circles and he is in there promoting Johnny Diesel and the Injectors that went on to make a big splash on the Australian scene during this period. To a kid starting out playing guitar it just looked like one big hard rock, metal party was going on in the U.S. I wanted to be part of it.
Marty Friedman went on to join Megadeth and found success. Then he left to follow his muse writing Japanese pop music.
Jason Becker’s story is a sad one. He went on to replace Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band only to be struck down with a rare disease at the age of 20 called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. From recording the A Little Ain’t Enough album in 1989 to being given three to five years to live. He is still alive now and communicates via eye movements.
Richie Kotzen has had a varied career. Apart from being a solo artist, he went on to replace CC Deville in Poison. The album Native Tongue was a brilliant album funk, blues rock album and it is a shame it didn’t get the recognition it did. He also replaced Paul Gilbert in Mr Big between 1998 and 2004.
However, the reason for this story is Vito Bratta. He is on the cover. The hot shot guitarist and songwriter from White Lion, promoting their latest release. Big Game was the follow up album to the mega successful breakthrough album Pride that spawned the hits Wait and When the Children Cry.
Since then White Lion went on to release Mane Attraction in May 1991 and by September that same year they called it a day. Vito Bratta hasn’t released anything musical since Mane Attraction in 1991. Brad Tolinski interviewed Vito.
“Guitarist Vito Bratta’s work is immediately distinctive for its strong sense of melody, thoughtful use of dynamics and pick attack, as well as a graceful near-metronomic sense of time that sounds neither forced nor rigid. Although he’s definitely not from the Malmsteen School of high baroque, Bratta’s liquid phrasing is in spirit reminiscent of certain passages from Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. The elegant trills over the A chord in the ninth measure of the solo in “Wait” and the call and response of the alternating legato/dettache phrasing in “Don’t Give Up” suggest a player who understands music in a classic, rather than classical sense.”
To add to that, Vito’s grasp of melody and modes to me was at a very high level. Songs written by Vito cover a lot of different musical styles. His choice of notes, different chord voices and harmonies was a pleasure on the ear palette.
“I’ve been developing a more personalized approach to chord voicings and inversions. The problem is these voicings don’t always sound good through a distorted amp. So instead of using more conventional inversions, I’ll arpeggiate the chord. This allows me to mute certain notes within the chord, eliminating some of the ugly overtones you get when you play close harmonies with distortion. Al DiMeola once said his muting technique was a result of not wanting to wake anyone when he was practicing late at night! Sometimes good things come out of compromise and determination.”
Apart from being a guitarist in a successful rock band, he was also an artist. To Vito it was all about the music.
The mention of Al DiMeola and how he came to have an unbelievable muting technique shows that he knows his stuff, he has listened widely, he has studied what others have offered before him and incorporated it all into what he does.
Vito also talks about the limitations of playing through a distorted amp and how he circumvented those limitations, by changing the way he plays. Instead of standard power chords, he is arpeggiating inversions of that chord and muting the strings at the same time.
GW Brad Tolinski: Another unusual aspect of your rhythm technique is the extensive use of fingerpicking, particularly on the new record. How did that evolve?
Bratta: That was another outgrowth of my song writing. I usually write songs by myself, then play then for Mike so that he can write lyrics. Because I want to give Mike the most accurate picture, I’m forced into creating a fairly complete sketch with my guitar alone. I know an easier way would be to use multi-track tape machines, but I’m not into that. So when I start thinking of the basic feel, I’ll come up with a bass part and play it on the low strings with my thumb. Next, I’ll try and create a chord progression and try to coordinate the chordal movement so that I can play the bass line simultaneously. Finally I’ll add a suggested melody line on the top. The only way to have all three things happening at once is through some form of fingerpicking.
Since this approach really excites me, I didn’t want to drop it when we went into the studio. That’s why my rhythm guitar parts have a lot of movement. If I was going to use the typical heavy metal approach on something like Little Fighter, I would just chunk away on the low E and A strings.
These days, artists would multi track everything in the demo stages. Hell, I do, it’s easy. Vito developed a fingerpicking style that combined what classical, blues, country and bluegrass players do however he applied it in a pop sense. Imagine being the singer and you get given a demo that has the bass parts, the chords and the melody lines all on one track as an acoustic guitar piece. To me this is what made Vito different to the other players. He was a guitar nerd and I mean that in a good way. He knew his shit, but he wasn’t textbook. I know that the 90’s served up the argument against players with technical ability not playing with feel. Bullshit I say. Just because a technical player can step on the gas when they want to and drive at 200km per hour, it doesn’t mean they have no feel. I was doing something similar like Vito, however as soon as I got my multi track recorder, I stopped doing it and took up the technological alternative. Looking back, I do regret it, as it is a skill now that has been relegated to beginner’s level again, instead of remaining at an advanced level. Technology has made us lazy, and it has made us cover up how bad we really are. If we can’t sing, we auto tune, if we make mistakes, we fix up the note/s.
GW Brad Tolinski: Many of these concepts were evident on Pride, but the execution was more rigid.
Bratta: The reason for that is kind of complicated. I wrote the whole Pride record on acoustic guitar. Then I went into the studio and started playing all these wonderful chord inversions through a Marshall, and it came out sounding like shit. So instead of rewriting the whole album I kept the voicings, but did a whole lot of muting. Big Game on the other hand was written on my Steinberger in dressing rooms across the U.S., so I had a chance to audition all my ideas on an amp way ahead of time. As a result, I was able to create sympathetic voicings so I didn’t have to mute the strings as much. The overall sound is more legato and less staccato, and the pre-production made me more at ease in general.
I can totally relate to that. I write every song on acoustic guitar and when it comes time to electrify it, I end up changing it a lot of it and it loses its soul. Just by replacing an arpeggiated part with a power chord, it is enough to lose the feel you are trying to convey. I then try and fix this problem by adding multi guitar lines which could either muddle the song even more or bring clarity. It’s a hit and miss game, and previously when I have been in studios where time is money, it’s being more miss than hit.
One thing that Vito shows is that he is a persistent artist. He is prepared to persevere for his art. Not many artists these days, have those attributes. To use an analogy, a lot of artists will dig away in the mines for years on end, only to stop a few centimetres dirt short from the gold or diamonds waiting on the other side. And then you have one artist that just keeps on digging and they reach it. Never give up on your dreams and walk away. If there is a lesson to be learned here, persevere and keep on getting better.
GW Brad Tolinski: Your latest work doesn’t sound as heavy as it did in the past, yet it does sound more aggressive.
Bratta: After touring with AC/DC and Aerosmith for a year, I felt a little more aggressive. Some nights I would come up with something pretty, but after seeing Angus bash it out, I would say “Fuck pretty”.
Again the fan in Vito comes to the fore. He is letting the bands that White Lion is playing shows with influence him. He is watching what they do, he is seeing what songs and riffs work in a concert atmosphere, because in the end, bands sink or swim based on the live show they deliver. He is letting their sound, their aggression influence him. Song writing isn’t just about musical notes and words. It is about attitude and feeling. What sound is needed to convey love or hate? Minor key songs are sadder, major key songs are happier. Crazy Train from Randy Rhoads is a perfect example, where major and minor combine in a glorious display. The intro is F#m, the verses are A major and trippy, the chorus is back to F#m as the root. The song is both pretty and aggressive. Vito was a master of both. Like Randy Rhoad’s he was bigger than the band he was in.
Part 2 will be a review of Big Game, plus more from the interview where Vito also talks about Big Game.