with Chris Arvan
The last time anyone in the Racer X world saw Chris Arvan, he was playing his Yellow guitar in Bruce's instructional video. In 1988, Chris had briefly taken Paul Gilbert's spot in Racer X and played a few shows that only the most diehard Racer X fan can remember.
Through the years, every so often I'm asked..."What ever happened to Chris Arvan?" Essentially, to every Racer X fan, the shredding guitar player that took over for one of the best guitar players in the world, simply vanished. No bands....No Guitar Player magazine write-ups...no nothing. Poof, Gone. The Howard Hughes of shred was never seen from again.
Well, we've tracked down the ghost of shredding past, Chris Arvan himself. Chris was nice enough to answer my questions, as well as some of the Racer X fans on the board who posted their questions. Chris was very forthright and insightful to his past and his present. Clearly...he didn't vanish.
We just didn't know where to look.
First of all…thanks for coming out of the shrouds. You are the #1 question that most Racer X fans have…Ie: who are you…where you’d come from…questions we’ll get to later. What are you up to these days both personally and musically?
Chris Arvan: I live in Los Angeles. I've been back here for about 7 years. I'm mainly producing, engineering, and mixing, but I still write and play guitar.
Then I listened to the Clash and The Ramones. I got into Nine Inch Nails when The Downward Spiral came out. I became more interested in production when I was about 24. I eventually came back to rediscovering The Beatles and The Stones. A couple years ago I finally discovered Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. I bought all of Shania Twain's albums last year to check out Mutt Lange's production on them. Last week I bought Avenged Sevenfold, The Strokes new album, and Kelly Clarkson's album at Amoeba...I've been all over the map. Racer X was a brief excursion along the road if you look at it in context.
I can relate. Back in 1978, I was totally into KISS and Cheap Trick, but my bass player, Chris Martin turned me on to The Clash and The Ramones. Radio was pretty lame at the time with disco and such, and to me it was very raw.
CA: That is very interesting...I put together the whole Kiss mural from their solo albums and had it on my wall. My mom helped me put it together. I think the Chris Martin you are talking about may actually be a second cousin of mine. I have some vague memory of this. Maybe it was someone else though, I'm not sure.
I loved Cheap Trick. I was trying to learn Cheap Trick songs on the
acoustic. It's funny with the solos disappearing, because when too many
people start doing something, like fast solos, or just about anything
really, I think the over saturation eventually destroys it. The quality
starts going down and then everything starts to sound the same. It gets
homogenized. I felt like even if I came out with a great record of my
own at the time, people were hearing so much of that stuff that it would
be hard for it to shine through. I'm glad Nirvana came along actually.
The same thing happened eventually with all the bands that were
influenced by the grunge thing. By about 1995 that was in the same state...
Chris Martin lived in Hillsborough. His Mom is Kathleen Martin, she owned the Travel Bag on Bayswater (across from St.Catherines)
Chris Martin is my second cousin, Kathleen Martin was my aunts sister.
What a small damn world. Any other bands? What type of music?
CA: I've been in some other bands, but everything ended up falling apart. I'm glad most of it never came out. I'm probably too much of a perfectionist. I was writing songs and playing everything myself in 1992, but at some point I just decided it was all crap. I didn't listen to it for a long time. I listened back to it a couple years ago and it sounded as good to me now as any of the bands that came out around that time. Oh well.
I've concentrated more on production since I was about 24, but to say that I had a bit of a self-destructive streak for while would be an understatement. I lost just about everything I owned when I was 29. I managed to keep my guitars though.
This is probably more personal…but it will relate. As you know, I grew up in Burlingame with you….but I never heard of you, and I knew most musicians in Burlingame…Rob Hart, Neil Bettencourt, Bob Simcox, Spider from Robbin Banx, Bill McKean…Where were you hiding out?? Shredding endlessly in your room??
CA: I was probably 15. I just played garages, and went to school. I never heard of any of those guys. I was only into trying to play fast guitar for about one summer actually. I rode my dirt bike around about as much as I played to be honest.
Where did you learn guitar? My Mom made me take classes at the Burlingame Rec Center with this flower power woman. I had to get through both I and II using her Silverton Sears acoustic. She finally bought my first electric guitar at Wolmers on Burlingame Ave (they later moved to San Mateo) and took lessons from Ed. Where you did get started?
CA: I got my first guitar when I was five. It was a small acoustic and I still have it. I remember trying to play solos on it when I was 8 and I couldn't figure out why it was so difficult. I didn't know about distortion. Nobody told me. One day I rode my bike to San Mateo and found a music store that had an MXR distortion+ pedal in the case and I asked if I could try it. They gave me a Memphis strat and an amp. When I turned on the pedal I knew immediately I had found what I had been looking for. Distortion. It was a cool moment…I actually discovered distortion.
I actually did go to Burlingame Rec for a couple of group lessons. The teacher's name was Lynn I think. All the kids would sit in a circle and all strum the rythms to the songs together...even then I was trying to play solos over the top and annoying everyone...haha.
Lynn!!! That's her. After you successfully learned "Tom Dooley" from Lynn..lol...who were your influences back then?
CA: My uncle's guitar playing. He played in a band and lived with my family for a while. We all came out to California together from Detroit. There were a lot of hot girls around and I thought it would be cool to play guitar because it seemed like chicks came with it. The first song I learned was the theme to Batman. I was raised listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie. When it came to songwriting I always related more to them, but I liked the fast guitar thing when I was in my teens. Definitely the early Van Halen albums influenced me. That is what got me started. I also liked Jimi Hendrix. Then I heard Yngwie and wanted to figure out what he was doing. That lasted for about a summer. I liked Metallica when they first came out. I have to say though that Kirk Hammet has to be the luckiest guy who ever tried to play guitar in history.
I agree with that. Ironically, my favorite Metallica solo is Nothing Else Matters, which is James. Who are your influences now??
CA: I like bands and artists in every genre of music. I also don't like bands and artists in every genre of music. If I think its good, it influences me. If I think its crap, it influences me too because I listen and take note of what I thought sucked and try not to do that myself. It all influences me. I started to look at other forms of art and the way different artists approached their work. I would tune strings differently until I found something cool and then come up with things. Sometimes I would tune strings out of tune and then bend them back in while playing for a certain effect. I tried putting the strings on in the wrong order. Standard tuning kind of bores me, unless I want to play old school rock E or A chords…for that you can't beat it. I do the same thing with recording techniques and recording gear. I take everything apart and mess around with the electronics. I don't like it when people say its all been done and there is nothing new under the sun. I think there is still a lot of areas still to explore. Maybe I'll get back to that when I have a moment to be indulgent. Actually what I just said is all bullshit...I'm just interested in hits now.
It’s a totally self-indulgent question…In 1985, my band Headway played at Mills…were you still there?
CA: Sorry man, I don't remember seeing you play.
Ok...so we weren't memorable. But I did hear that your first concert you ever saw…was Racer X. Where was it? And what did you think?
CA: No, that's not true at all. I was not even born yet at my first concert. My parents went to see Led Zeppelin when my mom was 8 1/2 months pregnant with me and she stood right in front of the speakers. That was when Led Zeppelin kicked ass. It was their first tour in the states. I saw Racer X at The Stone in San Francisco when I was 16, I think. I was blown away. It was also really loud. I could always get in that club for some reason.
Did you know much about them?
CA: No. I think there was a little 45 that you could tear out of guitar player magazine and play on your turntable that had Scarified on it before Second Heat came out. After I heard that I became interested, so I went to see them.
How did you get from Burlingame to Los Angeles?
CA: I left to go to college in Los Angeles. I remember listening to Second Heat on the drive down. I had it on cassette.
It’s my understanding, that Jeff left Racer X first and Paul left shortly thereafter for Mr. Big. How did you end up in Racer X?
CA: I was talking with Mike Varney about doing my own albums, but I was not into his deal and I felt the label was over saturated. It all started to sound the same to me. I also didn't like Shapnel's album artwork. I thought Second Heat was the best album cover Varney had on his label and he hated it. I thought Racer X was unique. They were a band. John Alderete called me one day and I came over and jammed with them. It went pretty well.
Any other guitarists try out?
CA: I'm not sure. I don't think I ever asked.
Did it feel strange at all replacing someone like Paul Gilbert, to even this day causes jaws to drop?
CA: It felt like a bit of a challenge. I don't ever remember thinking it was strange. My life has been strange, so it felt pretty normal.
Paul even briefly practices the intro to Motorman in 2001 and praises Bruce for writing it….Did you have any difficulty in playing any of the tunes?
CA: I don't think I ever really could play Motorman to be honest.
How many gigs did you play in Racer X?
CA: I really can't remember. Not very many. We were mainly trying to figure out what the hell we were doing.
How was the crowd reaction to the changes?
CA: From what I remember it was mostly positive. I don't remember any boos or you suck...well not that many at least.
Was Oni Logan the vocalist for all the shows?? I’m sorry…but I can’t visualize Oni singing Motorman….LOL
CA: I don't think Oni was ever really in the band. I found him through a friend in Florida and we flew him out from there. Giamenez was his real last name. I don't know where he got Logan from…maybe the movie Logan's Run...The singer of Wow!Cougar's last name really was Logan though. I don't think Oni ever sang Motorman.
What did you use for gear/rig and do you still have any of it?
CA: I had an Ampeg V4 and the ADA preamp. I had a Marshall when I joined and the guitar I built when I was 15, but they were not into my amp's sound. When Bruce showed me what they had been using, I thought I should probably use that if I wanted to be in the band. I also had a guitar made from Ibanez with a Seymour Duncan Mini-Humbucker in the neck position. It was yellow. It was more the Racer X sound. I have since built my own guitar amps, but I still use the usual suspects, as well as Vox, Fender, Marshall. The V4 has a unique sound and they weigh a ton. I haven't used one in a long time. I still have the guitar I made when I was 15, but I never played that guitar with Racer X. I only have one of the speaker cabinets from those days and a Racer X pick.
Jeff Martin, Russ Parrish and John Bedinghaus (GIT) were in a band called Bad Dog…did you ever see any of their shows?? Jeff played a few Racer X tunes…for obvious reasons.
CA: Never knew about it.
Was the Scarified video on the site from Bruce’s instructional video filmed during the Racer X time…or was it after?
CA: It was actually filmed closer to the beginning I think. I look like an ass in it. Please take that down!...haha
Did you guys write any songs during this time?? Any in the “vault”?
CA: There were songs. A couple of the songs were rearranged and ended up on The Scream album. I preferred Jamie Brown singing on those songs to John Corabi though.
When and how did the 2 nd incarnation of Racer X fall apart?
CA: I can tell you exactly what happened from my perspective. Keep in mind the time was towards the end of the Guns N' Roses Appetite run and two years before Nirvana's Nevermind, before Alice and Chains, and before the Metallica black album. The major labels didn't know what to do with Racer X. I think Jeff having short hair further confused them. A few years later Helmet came along and then all of a sudden that was cool. I saw Racer X as having the potential to occupy a similar space to the one Metallica had. There was a hole there for it. The band had a similar kind of fan base that was very loyal. I think Racer X was ahead of its time.
In 2005 Avenged Sevenfold come along and they are on TRL. I thought the decision to go in the direction of what later became The Scream was not true to what the band was about. I thought it was a bad idea. I told them and they didn't agree. I lost my enthusiasm and they really didn't need another guitar player to do what they were going to do. I think in retrospect if they wanted to jump on a bandwagon, it would have been a better move to check out what was going on in Seattle at the time...Instead, they were chasing a sound I thought was on its way out.
Did you keep in touch with any of them?
CA: I kept in touch with John for a while. I don't think I talked with Bruce for a long time. I lost touch with all of them probably about 12 years ago.
Did you know where everyone went? Scott with Judas Priest, Jeff with Badlands, John Alderete with Mars Volta…Bruce with Epidemic…Paul being obvious.
CA: I knew about Scott and Judas Priest, but that was it. It's funny because Mars Volta have been at this studio in Los Angeles where I have been working out of a lot. I just found out that John was in the band. I've literally been in the other room every time they have been there over the last year and I never ran into him.
Have you listened to any of the new Racer X stuff? Technical Difficulties, Superheroes, Snowball Of Doom, Getting Heavier….
CA: This is probably going to sound terrible, but I haven't.
Don’t take this the wrong way…but after Racer X…you seemingly drop off the map. Your name isn’t mentioned in any of the guitar magazines as far as we can see. Was this intentional? Your name is like the Howard Hughes of Shred!
CA: I switched maps. Then I fell off that map...but that is a whole other story. I'm too much of a perfectionist I think. Was it intentional?...no. I've been around. You might still hear some noise from me yet. Maybe I'll eventually do something of my own I'd like to play for people...I might have a walker by then though.
Did you attend GIT when you got to LA?
CA: No. I taught there briefly during the Racer X days though. School and rock never mixed that well for me. I'm the same way with recording and producing. To me, figuring it out for myself is part of the fun. I got to discover distortion when I was a kid. That was a gift to me. I've approached recording the same way.
Who helped you hone your skills? (example: Joey Tafolla took lessons from Paul)
CA: I didn't like taking direction from anyone when it came to guitar playing. I started when I was about 5 and was mostly self-taught. John worked with me on my conviction and timing. That really stuck with me. In Racer X everyone had it. They all were the real shit when it came to that. Playing with them really developed that sense in me. I still haven't heard another heavy band that comes close in that department.
Have you taught lessons? And any students “make it”?
CA: I gave some lessons to a guy named Jeff when I was in high school. To my knowledge, he didn't make it as a rock guitarist. I actually sold my custom made Ibanez to him when I was 22. I have been told there are some tapes of my lessons I gave at GIT in their archives. Some kids have been checking it out apparently.
I saw you did some producing while doing web searches…Bruce recently split a Grammy for producing Motorhead…do you get the same satisfaction producing as you did playing??
CA: I get more satisfaction and I still play. What could be better?
That’s it! I really appreciate you responding to my year long search to find you. All the Racer X fans will be very excited to hear about you.
CA: You are very welcome. Thank you for looking for me. Lets stay in touch.