Frank Zappa lives in the middle of the Aristocrats’ Venn diagram

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By Steve Newton

Guthrie Govan is the type of generous guitar wizard who’s more than happy to reveal his tricks to budding pickers. That’s why, 24 hours before talking to me, he was at California’s Cambria Pines Lodge, taking part in the G4 Experience, a guitar retreat that also featured Joe Satriani, Animals as Leaders, Mike Keneally, and Guthrie’s bandmates in the Aristocrats, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann.

Some of the students at this particular music camp didn’t need no education, though.

“You’ll always get a few ridiculously overqualified players,” explains the British axeman, on the line from a Sacramento hotel before the start of a North American tour that hits Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre on Sunday (July 12). “My favourite thing is seeing like 12-year-old kids turning up with better chops than the grownups. It’s heartening because it means our instrument is not going to go extinct.”

Guthrie has been doing his part to make sure guitar manufacturers like Fender, Gibson, and the one that builds his signature model, Charvel, don’t go tits-up anytime soon.

You can hear it in the Aristocrats’ new album, Tres Caballeros, which sees each member contribute three fusion-based instrumental tracks. Govan’s are the slyly cinematic “Jack’s Back”; the jazzy, Blow by Blow–ish “Pig’s Day Off” (“I have no idea what it means or where it came from”); and the manic, cowboys-on-crack “The Kentucky Meat Shower”.

“For pure silliness I’m most happy with ‘Kentucky Meat Shower’,” Govan reports. “I’ve always been a fan of the hot-country style of guitar, and I’ve pastiched it before, but I never felt that I’d done it authentically enough, so on this one I was really trying to make it sound like the real deal—and then destroy it in the middle section, which is heavy metal.”

It’s evident throughout Tres Caballeros that the three primo players are having huge fun making music, and the vibe is totally infectious. Govan’s lovin’ every minute of it.

“I think we got really lucky to find each other,” he reflects. “Like, the very first time the three of us played together, it was meant to be a one-off—we were just kind of hired to play for half an hour, and then dissipate and carry on with our separate lives. But we just recognized that there was some connection there, and it felt like we were all playing for the same reason.”

All three Aristocrats are essentially the same age. As 43-year-old Govan points out, their musical influences share similarities as well.

“There’s a lot of overlap,” he says. “I like to think of a Venn diagram. You know, there’s some overlapping circles, and there’s certain stuff I share with Bryan, like a Beatles obsession. There’s some stuff I share with Marco, with all the electronic side of things—love Aphex Twin and Björk. And then Marco and Bryan have this Slayer fixation—which I don’t entirely share.

“But in the middle of the Venn diagram all three circles definitely overlap. Frank Zappa lives there.”

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