Powerful Playful Performers
Rock fusion supergroup The Aristocrats mix humor with high shredability
When it comes to instrumental dexterity, few musicians can hold a candle to The Aristocrats. A far-flung, transatlantic supergroup of sorts, the trio is made up of Englishman Guthrie Govan, widely acknowledged as a "guitar virtuoso's virtuoso" and the "scariest guitar player alive"; American bassist Bryan Beller, who's played with guitar gods Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Dream Theater; and German-born drummer Marco Minneman, who's played everything from jazz to death metal to prog rock and has cultivated a lucrative career as an instructional guru.
You might expect these three highly proficient shredders to come together and make pompous, overly serious music — but that's exactly the opposite of what The Aristocrats have accomplished. There's that band name, which references the filthily endemic comedy-circuit staple; hilarious double-entendré song titles like "Boing!… I'm in the Back" and "Sweaty Knockers"; and the cover art on new album, "Culture Clash" — cartoon versions of Govan, Beller and Minnemann fighting off pigs, chickens and astronauts. Folio Weekly chatted with Beller about the band's sense of humor, coming from a rock 'n' roll foundation and visiting Florida for the first time.
Folio Weekly: The Aristocrats' second album, "Culture Clash," came out recently. How does it differ from 2011's self-titled debut?
Bryan Beller: Well, we formed almost by accident after playing our first gig at a NAAM Show [music product convention] in Anaheim. The response was so overwhelming that we said, "OK — let's just make a record." But we didn't know each other that well, so "The Aristocrats" happened very suddenly. Then, we went out on tour and learned a lot about each other's playing and personalities, which informed the songwriting for the new record. We took more chances and trusted each other more, now that we know each other's strong suits.
F.W.: Tell us about the cartoonish cover art for "Culture Clash."
B.B.: Humor's always been an obvious thing for us. We're all Frank Zappa fans — so does humor belong in music? Of course it does. We play music that's difficult, and if you treat it in a shoegazing, "Oh my God, we have to be absolutely perfect, let's not laugh at ourselves" way … well, that's a recipe for no fun. So we're happy to take the piss out of ourselves and our music and have a good time. When you play difficult stuff, humor helps it come across as impressive without being pompous.
F.W.: Other than Zappa, what common denominators do you, Marco and Guthrie share?
B.B.: We're all rock-based musicians who want to play more, as opposed to jazz-based musicians who have an improvisational facility learned from studying jazz masters and being able to play all different styles of music. Our touchstones are Led Zeppelin, Queen and Van Halen; Marco and I are more into metal than Guthrie is. We're a rock-fusion outfit, not a jazz-fusion outfit.
F.W.: All your releases are bundled with extensive behind-the-scenes extras. Any particular reason?
B.B.: First of all, you have to be commercial about it — adding value to your physical product is necessary these days. With the Internet, you can really find people who are super-interested in what you do. And I feel like we should provide them with every opportunity possible to enjoy what we're up to. With music, there's this insatiable desire for insider knowledge. But all those extras also show people that we're just regular dudes making music.
F.W.: You're all highly accomplished musicians, though. Do you ever put your instruments down?
B.B.: After a show, we put the instruments aside. Ninety to 100 minutes of Aristocrats music is enough for one night. [Laughs.]
F.W.: You, Marco and Guthrie all devote lots of time to holding instruction clinics. How important is that?
B.B.: I really dig doing clinics. Guthrie and Marco have done more than me, so they're easing off a little. But I think it's the highest honor to have other people actually care about what you do — especially with a band like The Aristocrats, where there's so much playing going on. So I love sharing that information. I did a clinic at George's Music in Jacksonville Beach last year, and everyone was super-nice.
F.W.: Was that the first time you've visited Northeast Florida?
B.B.: It was. We've all played in Florida with our side acts, but The Aristocrats have never played there. Florida is one of those states that many bands just don't tour to. Business-wise, it's expensive to get into and back out of Florida. But we're a modest outfit, and all of us are so busy, so with this record, we were determined to get to places like Florida and Texas that we hadn't been before. We have three dates in Florida on this tour, and we can't wait.