Sebastian Bach & Friends
Click here to access part II of Ralph's interview
“People are free to make their own choice with their dollars and no one owes it to anyone else to give them a career”
What more can be said about guitar extraordinaire, Ralph Santolla? His résumé is quite notable contributing to renowned bands such as Death, Control Denied, and Iced Earth as his metal alma mater, this guitar virtuoso has forged his path in metal history for sure. Currently, he is the lead guitarist in Sebastian Bach & Friends. Well loved and respected amongst his peers, the unfortunate news surrounding his health makes it harder to stomach. The prognosis is great yet costly considering he, amongst a host of others, are typically not medically insured. The solution is a benefit concert, in the works, organized by friends in the Industry, in hopes to raise enough money to pay for surgical procedures. The community is finally starting to pull together as well, recently former Cannibal Corpse guitarist, Jack Owen announced to Blabbermouth that he was auctioning off two guitars and other memorabilia for Ralph's mounting medical costs.
In this interview, this busy musician covers a lot of ground. Mr. Santolla was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to phone in to share a plethora of opinions in which he needed to get off his chest so without further adieux, I present Ralph Santolla…
Karma: First, I would like to thank you for doing the interview Ralph.
Ralph: No problem.
Karma: What is the secret of your success for staying in the Industry for as long as you have?
Ralph: I think its because I do more than one thing; I play guitar, I can always get a gig playing guitar, but I also write songs so I can always… I produce, in other words…except for singing, I can make a record going from absolutely nothing to a finished record almost by myself. I'm fairly self sufficient and dependent on very few other people to do work.
Ralph: And plus I for the most part, for a few glaring exceptions, get along really well with everybody. Like I said, with a few big exceptions, they are obvious, I don't tend to burn bridges or anything like that. I'm friends with almost everyone I have ever worked with and I've been doing music since I was about 7 or 8 years old.
Karma: Wow! That is pretty awesome. Speaking of you being a musician for sometime, yourrésumé is rather extensive as well as impressive!
Ralph: Oh, my mom thinks so too!! [We both laugh]
Karma: I can understand why! Who are some of your biggest influences now?
Ralph: Right now? Like what am I into right now?
Ralph: In what's shaping how I'm thinking about doing music now or my influences that shaped me early on?
Karma: Let's go with both, what shaped you, and what are you into right now.
Ralph: Okay, my biggest influences guitar wise are Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker [Scorpions fame], my hero! He is the reason I am playing now. It was the first time I heard him with UFO, it was like one of those epiphanies where as soon as I heard it play, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I became obsessed with it. I was really influenced by Yngwie when the first Alcatraz album came out. He showed me how far it was possible to go on guitar. Gary Moore, Allan Holdsworth, and Uli Jon Roth.
As far as bands and music, Kiss, they have always been a huge influence on me, Judas Priest. Probably the biggest one was the Ozzy band that had Ozzy, Randy Rhoads, Don Airey, Lee Kerslake, and Bob Daisley, the band that did Blizzard of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman; those are probably still my favorite two albums in any style of all time. As far as songwriting, guitar playing and everything about those albums had a huge impact on me. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.Lately over the past few years, I've been listening to stuff like Arch Enemy, Soilwork…is definitely one of my favorite bands over the last 10 years. I have yet to hear a Soilwork's song I don't like. I like everything about what they do: the sound, the riffs, the guitar playing, and EVERYTHING! I love Soilwork!
Karma: I hear you!
Ralph: I like them a lot, I like Evergrey as well. I got into Children of Bodom when I was in Iced Earth and we toured with them. Alexi Laiho is one of the best guitarist if not the best I have ever seen in the last 15 years. Between him and Roope [Latvala], have inspired me into getting back into playing guitar. [Speaking of this particular tour, Ralph was inducted into Children of Bodom's Hatecrew. He and Lamb of God's vocalist, Randy Blythe are the only two non-Scandinavian members outside of Finland that have been included in the Finnish Omerta, where one must perform crazed antics to gain membership into the ever-exclusive club. This sheds a new light on "Omerta" off LoG's new album Ashes In The Wake doesn't it!]
Karma: That's a great!
Ralph: Yeah, I'm trying to progress a lot more because after you've played for a long time, you tend to rest on what you have already accomplished. I don't mean as far as career wise, I just mean on your instrument. Once you get to a certain level it's easy to play and you can always do it. The desire to push further and get out of your comfort zone becomes less and less but after hanging out every day with Alexi and Roope, watching them play all the time and listening to them play, it completely inspired me and fired me up…
Karma: That's one hell of a story!
Ralph: …I feel like within the last 6-8 months I have gotten 30% better on guitar than I was just a year ago just because I dug really deeply into it. The big thing that I've been into probably for the last year and a half is late 19th Century music like Claude Debussy, Franz Liszt, Chopin and things like that. Its got this really dense harmony and I used to not like it at all but now I think it's the most beautiful thing I have ever heard!
Ralph: I'm obsessed with it!
Karma: Going back to your projects, for Shaolin Monks…
Ralph: Uh huh.
Karma: What was the motivating factor behind it and what is the title about?
Ralph: The motivating factor to do it was I really desperately needed some money! [Laughs] I'm not really big into guitar instrumentals, shredding type stuff just for the sake of showing off. Although I am getting ready to do another instrumental album.
Ralph: Yeah, I had a lot of music that vocals didn't fit with, so I decided to record it. The title, I recorded it in Florida and in Toronto. The guy that mixed it is in Toronto, his name is Murray Daigle. He has a band called Emerald Rain. He's a big time producer in Canada now and he's done Cauterize and a bunch of those bands.
Karma: Oh, okay.
Ralph: And I've been friends with him for years. We were mixing the album and it had a different title, and I think it was called "Sartori" or something serious like that and there was one part…I forget what Murray was doing but he was doing something when he was mixing it. He kept having to playback this one passage over and over and it was this really insane guitar thing. He played it back once and said, "Dude, you're like a monk of guitar!" Then he plays it back a couple more times, he stops it again and says, "You're like a Shaolin monk!" [We both laugh] I said, "No of metal". Couple of times later he goes, "Dude you're a Shaolin monk of metal!" I said, "We absolutely have to call this record Shaolin Monks In the Temple Of Metal" just because it made us laugh! That's the only reason it was called that, there is no deeper meaning to it. The name of the next one will probably have some sort of thematic tie in to that. I'm not very serious most of the time. I love to make jokes, irony, and things like that. I don't take myself or anyone else too seriously.
Karma: Do you have a tentative time for release?
Ralph: Oh, I have no idea. I hope by the end of this year but I mean it's very, very early on in its process. It's something that's not going to be one of my main priorities; I have other things that are more important right now.
Karma: I grasp… So, what would you say would be the most valuable lesson you have learned in the Industry?
Ralph: [Pauses] Uhm…wow! That's a hard question. There are several, get a lawyer, don't burn bridges if you can at all avoid it, keep your word. When you're gonna do something or you're gonna be able to accomplish something, and people are depending on you to do it, then you come through! And always, always, always do the best work you possibly can and don't do things just for money. Because once you give your credibility away, you can never get it back. I really don't have anything financially or material wise but…I do have musical and artistic integrity, for lack of a better term. Once you've lost that, nothing can buy it back.
Karma: This is so true, very good lessons indeed. What do you think needs to change in the Industry?
Ralph: It would be better if Clear Channel didn't have a monopoly on every aspect of the music business and all over the world! That's a big one but I doubt that that's going to happen. You know, people always say that the music business is too corporate and this and that…and it is but on the other hand, as soon as you sign with a label you are corporate. It's a bit hypocritical to complain about it but then to be a part of it at the same time. Like I've seen these bands like System of A Down and before them Rage Against the Machine; I think they are INCREDIBLE hypocrites because they make this big show about how they are anti-Capitalist and all that other shit and anti-corporation and they are signed to major labels and raking in the dough! There's nothing wrong with that but act like you have more integrity than any other band that's doing the same exact thing! There are a lot of things that should change, the business should be more talent based!
Ralph: But I believe in Capitalism strongly! If a person or a corporation can make millions of dollars doing whatever it is they do, I have no problem with that whatsoever; it's a cultural thing. If people wanted actual art, that is what they'd get and they obviously don't want that! So you get what you pay for, if people want Ashlee Simpson I don't have a problem with that. I'm not gonna sit around and bitch and say, "I've got so much more talent", this kind of thing makes me sick when people do this! But this other person who has no talent and is making millions of dollars, blah, blah, blah… You know we live in a free market oriented society and I mean a free/market and not a free market. People are free to make their own choice with their dollars and no one owes it to anyone else to give them a career.
Karma: [AMEN] This is very true!
Ralph: If freedom implies freedom to fail as well as succeed…
Karma: Very good philosophy! What fuels your passions asides from the aforementioned? What pisses you off/heats you up other wise, what makes you blissful?
Ralph: Well [clears throat] I'm not the kind of person that's motivated by anger or frustration or anything like that. I'm just one of these creative types that have always been... [pauses] like I love art and music and I play guitar, it's just that what I do. I don't need to wake up every day and be fueled by anger at the system and this and that. Like I don't place any value on teen angst for instance which a lot of these bands are trying to mirror back at the record buying public, it's a pretty shallow emotion. Everybody is upset about something when they are fairly young, it's not a particularly deep emotion or life experience.
I am motivated by just the fact that this is what I do. I like to write songs, I like to play guitar, I like to be creative. I like to do the stuff that goes along with that too like traveling and touring and meeting other musicians…it's just fun! So I guess the thing itself motivates me. It's like a self perpetuating sort of machine.
Karma: Who was the first musician you met?
Ralph: The first musician that I ever met, that was in a famous band or what?
Ralph: First musician that I ever met would have been my guitar teacher when I was 7 years old and to be honest with you, I can't remember her name. [We both laugh] But, I'm trying to think of the first well known person I ever met. To be honest with you nobody really comes to mind. I basically grew up from the time I was 11 in Morrisound Recording in Tampa which is one of the most famous metal and death metal studios of all time. So I've met, just from being there before I ever even went on a tour or did anything, I met millions of people because I was always in the studio.
Karma: You've played with some incredible people.
Ralph: Yes I have, I've been very fortunate in that sense.
Karma: Like legendary greats as Death, Control Denied, Eyewitness, and Millennium as well Iced Earth. Whom would you like to work with in the future?
Ralph: Well, I've got a project called, ex Cathedra that is in the beginning of the writing stages. It's me, Mike Amott from Arch Enemy, Steve DiGiorgio from Death and Testament, and Gene Hoglan from Death/Testament/Strapping Young Lad and a singer that I can't talk about right this minute but it's somebody that most people know who he is. [The identity of the singer has not been revealed as of print time] That is something that I'm really, really looking forward to! It's my main creative focus right now like the thing I am most excited about.
Karma: I can see why!
Ralph: [Laughs] I mean obviously I worked with Steve and Gene in Death.
Ralph: But I was very young then and those guys have just gotten better, as have I… [We both chuckle] since then…just amazing! I worship Mike Amott. He's a great guy, I've been friends with him since back then too because Death toured with Carcass and I just love the stuff he writes and his guitar playing. So I am really, really looking forward to that! These are all people that I would like to do something with in the future that I just have to wait and see what happens. I would like to work with Ronnie James Dio though.
Karma: Now that would be interesting.
Ralph: That would be killer! Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell is in my Top 5 albums of all time and it's something that I still listen to constantly. I was listening to it this morning when I was cleaning up around the house and had it blasting.
Karma: Well how are things going with Sebastian?
Ralph: It's complicated I'd say! Doing that gig has aspects to it that are really fun but it has a lot of things that are not very much fun either. They don't…I mean… they are not put together or run ultra efficiently or professionally, I'd have to say. Things are done in sort of a haphazard manner. That gig to be honest with you is just something I look at as a 5-man gig and I'll play his gigs with him and things like that, there are friends of mine in the band, and that's fine.
When we went on tour in Europe in December, it was one of the most unorganized things I've ever been involved with. But at the same time, it was also one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. Me and Steve DiGiorgio laughed every day so much that we had face cramps all the time. We just realized from the first day that things were going to be a bit sketchy as far as how well the thing was put together. Instead of fighting it, we decided to have fun and we had the best time ever!
Karma: Well that's awesome that you were able to get around all of that. Speaking of…
Ralph: ...oh I forgot to say one thing...
Ralph: He broke my finger and it was only the second gig! It was the index finger on my right hand, which of course is pretty important to play.
Karma: Sebastian broke your finger?
Ralph: Steve did! [We both laugh hysterically] We were drinking; we drank WAY too much on that tour. We had this thing where were punching each other's fists everyday. One night at the hotel somewhere in England, I think it was Scotland, we did it. His hands are a lot bigger than mine, he's huge guy! We did it really hard and I was really drunk and my finger was black and stiff…
Karma: Oh my god!
Ralph: …for at least 8 or 9 days after that, this made it kinda hard to play!
Karma: [Laughs] Wow!!
Ralph: Boys will be boys!
Karma: I guess so! You can just add this with the rest of your tour tales!
Ralph: Oh, I have tons!! I'm really looking forward to the Bloodstock Festival in England, Children of Bodom and Masterplan are playing there. I used to be in a band with the lead singer Jørn Lande…
Karma: Right, Millennium.
Ralph: …He's one of my best friends and I can't wait to see him. We were talking on the phone the other day and we're like, "Dude! England! It's gonna be awesome!" And Children of Bodom are playing, those guys are some of my closest friends in the world since that tour ended. I've actually seen them 3 or 4 times since I went on tour with them. They called me when they came back [to the States] for the Lamb of God Tour. As soon as they got out of customs in NY, they called. They were like, "Dude, we just got on the bus, and there's something wrong with our back lounge…" I was like, "What" and its like 10 O'clock at night and I'm sitting there reading and they were like, "…You're not in it!"
Ralph: So I went out on the road with them for 8 days that time, came home for a week and then went out with them for another 8 days…they saved a bunk for me on their bus. It was just like the most fun ever! Then I went and stayed with Alexi in LA a couple of weeks ago for the NAMM show [National Association of Music Merchants] We were there a few days before and a few days after so for about another 8 days. Man, we had SO much fun! I partied so much, he did the same thing, and we were talking about it after. When we both got home, we looked at ourselves and we didn't feel very good about how we behaved or anything like that. I don't know what he did… But since I got back about 5 or 6 weeks ago I've been playing racquetball 4 times a week for 2 hours and I've lost tons of weight!
Karma: That's great to hear!!
Ralph: Yeah, I feel incredible I'm getting in good shape, hardly partying at all. Of course that will change as soon as I get around people and we start doing something again. I'm not on an anti-drinking crusade or anything like that but I've taken a nice long break and I'm really getting a lot healthier, so that's good!
Karma: That is, and speaking of your health, how is that going?
Ralph: [Pauses] Well you know I have a problem with my jaw, it's like a degenerative thing where my jawbone is slowly eroding away.
Karma: Oh wow, sorry to hear that.
Ralph: Yeah, it's bad! I don't know what I'm going to do right now because I don't have insurance and I just don't know. I have to have all these surgeries and I have no idea what's gonna happen, so I really can't say. But, that's also another reason why I slowed down on the partying and started exercising a lot is because that thing is affecting my health over all. It's affecting my heart, my kidneys, everything. Since I can't do anything about the specific problem right now, at least my overall health is improving because I'm exercising.
Karma: No time better than the present. Was the condition worsened from years of partying?
Ralph: No, no, no, part of it is from smoking cigarettes and the other part is just bad luck. I've got this thing, I'm not going to die from it, you know but I am going to have to do something about it eventually. It's on the left side of my face, it's like an 1/8 of an inch from eating into my sinus cavity. Now that is when it starts to get dangerous as far as your overall well-being and stuff. You just have to figure something out.
Karma: When did this start? How did you notice it?
Ralph: I got a toothache when I was at Sebastian's house one time and I'd only ever had one other toothache in my life, I got beat up by bouncers one time at a bar and they broke one of my teeth in half in Norway.
Karma: Oh no!
Ralph: The dude running the tech room from TNT had a studio and all of a sudden I got this toothache and…since I'm not used to it, I went to a dentist and they did these x-rays and stuff and they said it's not your teeth. You have a serious problem and you need to go to somebody in Florida where you live so I did… [Voice trails off] That was that!
Karma: Sorry to hear that, but I am happy to hear that you are opening the pathway of better health, etc.
Ralph: You figure something out. I mean I guess, I don't know what the hell I'm going to do.
Karma: Speaking of which, there were talks of a Benefit show for you, what happened? Are there any more talks, plans?
Ralph: The problem with that, Sebastian's tour manager said that he would set it up, just give him the phone numbers to people involved, this, and that… He never does it. I don't know how to set something up like that and to be honest with you I'm not really comfortable asking people for help or anything. All I know is that the guy hasn't done what he said he was going to do. I also don't feel, not out of any sort of spite or anything, but I don't feel like I could definitely have something like that and set it up with Sebastian to play at it and for him to actually do it. Not because his attitude would be, [voice drops] "Fuck you! I'm not doing it!" It's just that the way everything is with him, nothing is dependable, everything changes constantly. One thing is planned and confirmed then things just don't happen the way they are suppose to, not really dependable I guess.
I am going to be talking to somebody else from a really big band today, that I don't want to say yet. He's one of my buddies and he called me right before this interview with you. He asked me about it; now if they wanted to play, they by far would be a big enough draw by themselves. So I don't know what's going to happen, we'll just have to wait and see.
Karma: Okay, well keep me posted.
Karma: Going back a bit, we were talking about Soilwork earlier. We will be interviewing them next month. Do you have any questions for them?
Ralph: Oh man! Yeah but there like technical ones. Like how do they set…what are the settings on their amps when they record? I love their guitar sound. And do they improvise or do they work out their guitar solos in advance?
Karma: Now those are awesome questions, I will definitely pass those along.
Karma: Are there any parting words?
Ralph: Just for everybody to look for ex Cathedra later this year, it's going to be a really cool metal album! Tell people to look out for that and hope to see them in whatever town they're in soon!
Karma: Thank you very much Ralph and the best of luck to you! I really appreciate it.
Ralph: No problem. Thank you!
I'd like to thanks Ralph for interviewing with FourteenG, the best of luck to him as we wish him a speedy recovery. To make a contribution, visit Ralph's official website.
Click here for part II of Ralph's interview
here for live photos of Ralph with Deicide