Vol.37 Sam Coulson / August 2014

Sam Coulson

©Isao Nakamura

Sam Coulson succeeded in filling in the shoes of progressive rock guitar maestro Steve Howe, as the new guitar player for ASIA. On their latest album “Gravitas” Sam delivers skillful guitar performances, bringing the songs to another level. Sam took some time to talk to MUSE ON MUSE about his musical background, as well as about his guitar playing on the new ASIA album.

Interview / Text  Mamoru Moriyama

Translation         Louis Sesto (EAGLETAIL MUSIC)


Muse On Muse : At what age did you start to take an interest towards music? Tell us how it all started.
Sam Coulson : I was 15 when I started listening to Rock music, at the same time a friend of mine got a guitar for Christmas. I started playing shortly after that. In fact, the following Christmas my folks bought me my first guitar. Once I got that guitar I became completely obsessed with it and practiced religiously.

MM : Who were your influences back then? Please also explain why you were attracted to these artists/musicians.
SC : I’m really into a lot of virtuoso guitar players and also a lot of blues rock players. I love the early innovators of the 60s like Hendrix, Clapton, Beck etc. What I love about those guys is the raw bluesy appeal as well as all the brand new sounds they were coming up with using all the new gizmos of the age.  I’m also a big fan of players like Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson and Yngwie Malmsteen. Its incredible to watch players with technical prowess like they have, but also each of them retains great feel. You can sure hear the influence of the big players of the 60s in their playing. I love that!

MM : What artists and songs did you try playing on the guitar when you started out? Tell us about some of your memories when you started playing guitar.
SC : All sorts of things really, I remember very well learning Michael Schenker’s instrumental, Into The Arena. I was very proud when I could play that all the way through! One of my favourite albums is Walter Trout’s Relentless, I learned a huge amount jamming along to that.

MM : What did you learn from the music/songs that you listened to and copied back then?
SC : All sorts of things, but perhaps the most important thing is the importance of tone, feel and good vibrato.

MM : Many musicians start out by copying their favorite players, practicing and improving their techniques, before developing their originality and playing style. How was it for you? Tell us how you developed your current playing style.
SC : I suppose with music you are what you eat with music. I’ve always tried to take parts of my favourite players and incorporate them into mine but at the same time trying to find my own voice.

MM : You have released instructional material on JAM TRACK CENTRAL such as “Modern Rock Soloing” and “Custom Rock Blues”. Tell us about your musical activities prior to joining ASIA.
SC : I’ve played in bands around The Midlands of England since I was 16 years old. At the same time I was doing a music technology college course in Kidderminster. In 2006 I started posting YouTube videos, that’s something I still do even now! The first very serious band I joined was a Scottish rock band called Ninetysix4. That was an exciting time for me, I moved away from home up to Glasgow. We recorded an EP, did a good amount of touring including some big shows in Shanghai China. We also got to open for UFO in Glasgow. After a while I ended up leaving the band and became a full time guitar instructor for a couple years. In 2012 I had the great privilege to play and teach along side my heroes Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan and Tony MacAlpine at the 2012 Great Guitar Escape. I’ve been releasing packages with JamTrackCentral for many years and I’m really proud to a part of the team!

MM : Tell us how you joined ASIA.
SC : I got the ASIA position after Paul Gilbert put my name forward as a recommendation.

MM : How was the audition for ASIA conducted? Were you told what songs to have prepared prior to playing with the band? Tell us how the audition went and how you prepared for the audition.
SC : After Paul contacted me I went to work learning all the songs. There actually wasn’t a formal audition. The other members had listened to a lot of the things I have released on YouTube and were already pleased with my playing. We sat around the table at the studio we record at and had a chat for an hour or so. After that the manager called me later that week telling me the gig was mine.

MM : After joining ASIA, the band toured Europe including a show with an orchestra. How was the tour?
SC : We toured Europe as a straight ahead rock band in 2013, we actually only played one show in Bulgaria with an Orchestra. Playing with an Orchestra is something that I had never done before. I enjoyed it very much indeed. The tour through Europe was great fun also!

MM : On stage you have to play the parts that Steve Howe played. Tell us how you tackled the challenges of playing the classic ASIA tunes.
SC : The first time I met John Wetton he told me that He didn’t want a Steve Howe clone and he has always encouraged me to play things in my own way. Of course there are so many things Steve Howe did that are very important to the ASIA sound. I try my best to keep the signature Steve Howe lines but during solos I tend to stretch out with my own thing. My tone is very different to Steve’s I think that gives the over all feel of the band a heavier edge.

 ©Isao Nakamura

MM : The credits on “Gravitas” show that John Wetton and Geoff Downes wrote all the songs. During the production of the album, did John and/or Geoff request you to play in any certain way or sound?
SC : When I was recording my parts for Gravitas I was sat in the studio with John and Geoff and they would tell me precisely what they wanted. However for solos there was a lot more scope for me to do what I felt necessary. That’s always the most enjoyable part for me!

MM : The keyboard parts are featured greatly on ASIA’s music, in comparison to a typical guitar, bass, drum lineup band. How did you approach the rhythm guitar parts in a situation as such?
SC : That’s right, the keys are a huge part of the signature ASIA sound. A lot of the rhythm guitar parts are locked in tight with the bass line giving a distinct hard hitting sound. On songs like Valkyrie there are also layers of big chords over the top. As you would expect we double tracked everything.

MM : The guitar solos on each song seem to follow the vocal melodies, but you also manage to incorporate some technical and flashy guitar licks. I find the solos to be very well organized and impressive.
SC : I don’t think I really followed any vocal melodies to be honest. However I think that having a memorable melody in a solo is hugely important. I am a big fan of Brian May, with his solos you can hum along with them. At the same time I like to add a pinch of flash, I think it gives things a certain modern flare.

MM : The solos in the beginning of “Valkyrie” and “Gravitas” sound very melodic and impressive. Did John and/or Geoff have an input to these melodies?
SC : Not really, when it came to all the solo sections it was like a blank canvas where I could do my own thing.

MM : What kind of approach do you take when assembling and creating your guitar solos? 
SC : I start by improvising along to the chord progression, after doing that a few times I start to pick out what I like and after a while a structure forms. There aren’t really any rules as such. I just play until I’ve got something I’m happy with.

MM : Is there anything you keep in mind in regards to creating your guitar sound when playing for ASIA?
SC : I tend to EQ a bit more top end into my sound. Previously I’ve played in more power trio type bands where you need your sound to be as big as possible. However in the ASIA situation I need a bit more treble to cut through effectively.

MM : Please tell us about your gear. What guitars, guitar amps, effectors, foot pedals did you use for this recording? What kind of picks and guitar strings do you use?
SC : I am a big fan of Charvel guitars and that’s what I use with ASIA. They are all equipped with Floyd Rose trems. I tend to prefer a HSH pickup configuration. I string them with rotosound 10s because we tune down a semi tone. Amp wise I’m using a couple of ENGL powerball IIs. This amp is utterly incredible. It has 4 channels offering you any tone you might possibly need and it is trusty and reliable. Also it is incredibly loud! I’ve used it to do some very large shows over the last couple years and I haven’t got the master volume above 2, no joke! I use a couple stomp boxes on the floor, a delay, chorus, tuner, wah and an extra overdrive. As far as picks are concerned I can’t live with out dunlop jazz III picks. I like that they are sharper at the end and smaller. Wonderful stuff!

MM : John and Geoff wrote all the songs for “Gravitas”, but I’m sure there are a lot of fans that look forward to having you take part in the writing process, giving new life to the ASIA’s long-established music.
SC : I’m always up for doing some writing but the partnership between Geoff and John is very strong. It is the most important part of the ASIA sound in my opinion. The songs they write start off as just piano and vocals, the beauty of this is the songs are already great before any other instruments are written around that. I think that is what makes them so timeless.

MM : What do you have coming up next? Tell us about your upcoming schedule. Any plans for a solo album?
SC : We have 30 dates across the USA next, after that we have 5 more in the UK. As far as a solo album, I’ve always wanted to do one but haven’t got around to it just yet. Watch this space!

MM : Please give a message to the Japanese fans.
SC : It was an absolute honor coming and playing for you this year. It’s been an ambition of mine to tour Japan and it lived up to its expectations. I have been overwhelmed by your hospitality and culture. I can’t wait to come back sometime soon!

ASIA official site : http://originalasia.com/
Sam Coulson official site : http://www.samcoulson.com/

WARD RECORDS VQCD-10364 ¥3,024