Monte Pittman is from Longview Texas and he is a guitar player. I am sure there are a bunch o’ fantastic guitar players in Texas and maybe even a few from Longview Texas, but there aren’t any like Monte. Even with some success regionally, he picked up and moved to LA to give guitar lessons and to sell guitars at Guitar Center – and then the real story begins – a fantastic story for a talented, deserving, generous,and endlessly hardworking Artist.
Here is Songwriters Marketplace’s interview with Monte Pittman
You have worked hard and long in the last ten years to be where you are, but your bio reads like a Cinderella story. For the folks who know you and your future fans who will know you – you certainly deserve your success. Before we get into your current professional life. Tell us about living in Texas and who influenced you growing up.
My cousins played music a lot and my sister was always listening to cool music like Kiss or Ozzy. My mom would play some old gypsy jazz sounding records and groups like America. That’s what got my interest started. I grew up in the “Bible Belt” so MTV wasn’t allowed in the city. It was kind of like the movie Footloose. I was fascinated by music though. I leaned towards the harder and heavier stuff. Bands like Metallica, Motley Crue, Megadeth, or Slayer were all a new thing. Things like that all hit together at the right time for me as far as influence is concerned. I started taking guitar lessons from Robert Browning, a local guitar instructor. When I was 14, I started my first band called Insanity and played my first gig. Insanity wound up becoming Myra Mains which is who I played with before moving to Los Angeles.
Monte your story moved me in that it is still possible in this now difficult and changing music world for a hardworking, talented and committed person to achieve a wide audience, be rightly recognized, and appreciated as an artist. Is this the life you expected when you first came to LA?
When I first came to LA, I wanted to work as a musician. That was the main goal. I was determined to join a band, start a band, or pave the way for Myra Mains to come out there. I got a job at the Guitar Center in Hollywood to work with musicians and meet other musicians. I started playing guitar with Prong soon after that. Music goes in cycles or waves. It always has and it always will. I went in wanting other things than what I have now but I wouldn’t want it any other way than the way it is now.
Your Bio is terrific – great story. You came to LA and worked in a Guitar Center, taught guitar, and then… would you be kind enough to give us a bit more color to the story?
I lived in Redondo Beach, would drive to Hollywood to work, then drive to Burbank for Prong rehearsals. This was almost daily. I moved up to Hollywood and I wound up quitting Guitar Center to start teaching because there weren’t too many guitar teachers names going around. I wasn’t that good with pushing guitars on people either. I also needed to be my own boss. That seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life. If it all failed, I was going to move back to Texas and say at least I tried. Every day I would get calls from more and more students though. I was teaching as a full time job all week. I had to put all of that on hold to go on my first tour with Madonna.
When you came to LA you played in the hard rocking band Prong co-writing and co-producing on four albums. Tell us about playing with Prong.
It was a dream come true. Prong were and still are one of my favorite bands of all time. I learned a lot from playing with Tommy Victor. He’s still one of my guitar heroes. He taught me a lot about guitar sounds and technique. The first tour I did with them was in a van across the states. We played our last night of the tour at the Troubadour and Glenn Danzig was at the show. A couple of days later we were out on tour opening for him doing the states again. Later on we did a bunch of festivals. Played with Type O Negative on those some. Toured with Anthrax. It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had.
Your bio tells of you being Madonna’s guitar teacher and then being the lead guitarist for Madonna’s tours, and that you co-wrote three songs with her. You also are the lead guitarist and music director for Adam Lambert’s live band. Whew! Seems such a different approach and style in each, from metal band to dance/show, to Glam Rock band – seems a bit schizophrenic, give us an idea of the differences and how you approach each as an artist.
I just look at it like it’s all music. The same notes and chords but in different styles. I try and bring everything I can to the table with everyone I work with. Madonna has a variety of style in her music already and some of her song structures are pure genius. So that goes from the dancey funky guitar sounds to atmospheric guitar sounds to heavy distorted guitars occasionally to acoustic guitars. With Prong, I started out doubling Tommy’s guitar precisely live so it sounded more like the album like you hear on “100% Live”. Later on I played bass with them. With Adam, I wanted to add a rawness into the music that you usually wouldn’t get from someone coming from American Idol or a lot of new bands in general these days. I helped make it something that would sound and feel good live in the venues we were playing. There was a lot of spontaneity in that band which was fun and interesting then. We had a chemistry together where it was almost like we knew what each other were going to do before we did it. On his acoustic EP, you can hear how we play off of each others dynamics.
The Citizen Vein’s (I am unclear about where Citizen Vein fits in) ‘The Circle’ has a terrific driving bass and dirty guitar for the purists – a nicely picked guitar riff and fine lyrics made this one very satisfying for me. Give us a little workshop on how this piece came to be.
The Citizen Vein was the name Adam & I used as our live band before he went on Idol. I booked us some shows at The Cat Club on Sunset to get started and we needed a name to put in the LA Weekly. We worked together as writers also but it wasn’t necessarily The Citizen Vein for that. The Citizen Vein had Tommy Victor playing bass and Steve Sidelnyk on drums. I wrote “The Circle” after watching the Super Bowl where Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction while waiting for my girlfriend to get home from work. It was one of the first songs that I had pretty much written everything for. Tommy added the instrumental melody part before the breakdown and I liked how Adam modified some of the vocal melody as only he does best. The song is on my first album “The Deepest Dark” acoustically and the rock version is on the album “Beg For Mercy”. The “Beg For Mercy” album has Brian Frasier Moore on drums. It also has Rickey Pageot and Eric Mayron on keyboards. All are unbeatable lineups of excellent musicians.
In 2009 you released you first solo album ‘The Deepest Dark’ which was the a best seller on CD Baby for autumn. Eleven terrific acoustic tracks – why go from a rocker guitarist to an acoustic artist? Musically where does your heart lie?
I see it as all the same. To me it’s just music. I made “The Deepest Dark” the way it is so I could go play those songs and not have to worry if other musicians were free to do a gig. With The Citizen Vein, Steve & I had Madonna going on. With Tommy, we both had Prong going on. Tommy was also playing guitar for Danzig and Ministry. Adam was in the musical “Wicked”. It was hard getting us all together. Luckily with everyone being so good at what they did we could just show up to the gig and knock out a set. We wound up only playing around 5 shows but it was fun. We made enough money at the door to cover rehearsals and I would shove a few bucks in their pockets while we were all at the bar afterwards. We had some great times.
Your second solo album released in 2011 ‘Pain Love & Destiny’ was a rock/pop project. You raised an incredible 65,000 from Kickstarter.com for the project – your fans were with you and the finished album hitting No.1 on the rock and pop charts shows you have tapped something in the musical culture
I had the songs ready to go and I strongly believed in them. I inquired about how to get a producer to do the album. Everyone I spoke with gave me great advice whether they were interested in doing it or not. I was advised to use social media. A friend who used to do my website told me about Kickstarter but I kind of blew it off because I didn’t want to ask fans for money. Later my manager suggested it to me. Then I had some friends who were successful with it. I learned that it’s not fans giving you money. It’s all based on incentives. No different if I were just giving guitar lessons and using the money to fund my album. Things like Kickstarter are the way of the future. I’m sure more websites like this will be appearing and changing the way a lot of things are done.
Tell us about your Kickstarter experience.
I wanted to make the goal a low amount so I could at least do that. If anything, I could take my demos, mix them and I would still be putting it out myself. Where people make a big mistake is making their goal to high. If you don’t achieve your goal, you don’t get any of the money. Even if it’s five dollars short. There are things I would definitely do again and there are things I would never do again. I was amazed at how many people got behind this project and I will always be thankful to each and every one. I taught a bunch of guitar lessons, did meet & greets online, and sent out CDs to those who got that incentive. Getting CDs out was one of the hardest things. The post office would only let me send 10 at a time and after the cost of sending CDs literally all over the planet, it eats up all of the money that that incentive brought in. I made several attempts at writing out the lyrics to the album on the art work and just when I would get to the end, there wouldn’t be enough room! I had a lot of fun playing house parties and getting to hang out with everyone. That’s something I would do again.
I hate this question, but with you, as a musical jack of all trades, I really am interested. What do you think it is that has all the musical things you do work and be received so well?
Variety is the spice of life. When I play music, it comes from me. It’s honest. I’m more revealing in what I play than anything I would ever tell you with words. As a musician or as a teacher you want to transmit a feeling, or information, to your audience.
The production on ‘Pain Love and Destiny’ has a 70’s/80’s feel with control and a real sense of discipline. I was taken by the arrangements, deft guitar work and what a wonderful rock voice you have, you make it sound effortless. I have to give you a nod in that you didn’t fall into loading up the tracks with meaningless guitar solos just great songcraft. What makes it work for you?
It all starts with great songs. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t have great songs. I think the reason you get that feel is because it’s a very organic album but with an electronic touch. Noah Shain produced the album so when I went into the studio, it left my hands and went to his. A great producer saves the artist from themselves. I didn’t really want it to be a rock album, but Noah brought all of these things out in me that I forgot were there.
Tell me about your fans. I can’t see a fan listening to ‘Can’t stop Bleeding’ then listening to ‘The Last Wave’. Are you seeking a different fan base for each project?
That’s an interesting question. I have something there for you at every part of your day! There are some fans who have found me from other groups I’ve played with but lately it’s been a new group of people that have never heard of me before. It keeps slowly growing and growing. If you come to one of my shows, everyone is welcome and are there to have a great time together. There are no age, race, or gender limitations. If your gay or straight it doesn’t matter. Just come out and we’ll have the best time together.
I gotta say my minds a little twisted up (In a good way) – going from you as a rocker and you as the singer/songwriter. ‘Shredding and face melting’ Both work! – ‘Colours Wash Away’ (I won’t forget your name) is clean, has great song craft and is delightful. ‘After The Last Wave’ is sweet, simple love song with wonderful acoustic work – love the held piano note on the end. The female vocal makes it a perfect couple song. Will you do more acoustic albums?
Some of the influence on me from that comes from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, or Alice In Chains. They all had rock songs and they had acoustic songs. My next album is going to elaborate on all of this but take it up a notch. The new songs I have written are like classic Metallica and Pantera but with something stripped down like Ray LaMontagne mixed with old blues like Muddy Waters and Freddie King. I just call it “Texas Music”. That’s my wife, Lisa, singing on “After The Last Wave”. She has a beautiful voice and also is a backing vocalist on “Predetermined Destiny” on my new album. I noticed I didn’t have any love songs written so I wrote one for her.
As a songwriter is there a different way for you to come to songs that will be simple clean acoustic pieces and rock songs that have more complicated arrangements and production?
Not really. Some songs started out as acoustic songs with a lot of aggression but when you play them on electric guitar they become something else.
Do you know a song will end up acoustic or electric rock when you sit down to write? What process do you go through to make that decision.
I’ve always tried to make songs that could go either way. If I have some songs that sound similar then I’ll look at adding or subtracting from one to make it different from the rest.
Do you have any rituals for when you sit down to write – before you record before you go on stage?
Just warming up and making sure you don’t get dehydrated on stage.
The current music business almost demands that artists stick with a specific genre just to be seen and heard in the Cloud – you have successfully and adroitly bridged genres. Acoustic, Pop, Rock. Listing you own albums (not counting your work with Madonna and Adam Lambert) – the difference is striking. Myra Mains two CD’s and a Texas following, With the Prongs four CDs, Citizen Vein and two solo albums the acoustic The ‘Deepest Dark’, and the rock/pop ‘Pain Love and Destiny’. A prodigious and musically eclectic output. There is no doubting your talent and skill across the music landscape, will you continue to be eclectic? Do you see it as a risk or a benefit?
I see it as a benefit because it means I’m not doing something someone else is doing. I like a lot of different music. Actually when you look back in music history, the bands that made a difference were the bands that put things together that you wouldn’t think would fit.
These may seem obvious questions, but ones I always ask. How to you see yourself as an artist?
I see myself growing and getting better. I’m just now getting the hang of it and it’s taken a lot of work to get where I am. I see what kind of songs I need to write and what I need to add to my live show and I’ve never had that before.
How do you think your fans see you?
That’s a question for them. I hope to have something for everybody. I really like all the people who come out to my shows. These are very supportive people who want to come out and have a good time. It’s a group of people where no drama is involved. I don’t see myself better than anyone else in the venue. When Pantera started out, they would always be in the bar with everyone pouring shots down peoples throats. That’s the real stuff that lasts and matters.
For the guitar freaks out there – what are you playing these days? What effects?
My Jarrell MPS guitar with Seymour Duncan pickups which is the signature guitar Jarrell has made for me. It’s the most versatile and one of the best sounding and best looking guitars I’ve ever come across. I use Orange Rockerverb amplifiers. I just got a Fractal Axe Fx 2 for effects. All of this together is the best guitar sound I’ve ever heard.
Where is Monte Pittman going from here?
I tell people “Monte Pittman can’t break up”. I’m going to keep playing and hopefully things will keep progressing like they have. I’m hoping to have my third album out by mid summer 2013 but for now I’m telling everyone I can about “Pain, Love, & Destiny”.
Tell me how you got the handle ‘Montster’.
That’s a nick-name I’ve had even from my friends Keri and Chris when we were kids. Like “Bob-ster” or “Steve-ster”
You performed at the 2012 Artists In Music Awards on Feb. 10 – and have been nominated for awards in five categories, including Best Blues Artist, Best Rock Artist, Best Solo Artist, Artist of Year and Album of the Year; you have been nominated for Best Modern Rock album and Best Independent Album by Melodic.net. Is there anything I missed?
The LA Music Awards have just nominated me “Best Male Singer/Songwriter” (which will take place November 15, 2012)
** Won “Best Solo Artist” at Artists In Music Awards.
Congratulations and well deserved. Is there anything you want your fans and new fans to know?
I appreciate everyones support and I’m happy that the music does something for people. Quite a few people have said that some of my songs helped them through tough times and was also the soundtrack for some very good times. That means the world to me. I can relate because I have that feeling about certain songs and albums too.
With you Monte we better buckle up and enjoy the ride. We will look forward to seeing and hearing more from you.
The best is still yet to come. I’m just figuring all of this out and this is one of the most interesting times in history where you can get your music out there.
It has been a privilege. Thank you Monte.
Thank you for having me!
“Pain Love & Destiny”
“The Deepest Dark”
16 Total Tracks on this top selling CD
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