Nuno Bettencourt discusses Generation Axe

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Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai and Tosin Abasi in rehearsal. (Photo courtesy of Nuno Bettencourt)

By Carol Anne Szel

Generation Axe is made up of guitar virtuosos Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Tosin Abasi, and they have embarked on a cross-country tour of North America called “Generation Axe – A Night of Guitars.”

Generation Axe goes way beyond simply gathering five guitar greats on one stage to jam. Each tour stop includes collaborations by the five players, including everyone performing together as one cohesive band with a rhythm section including Pete Griffin (Dweezil Zappa, Stanley Clarke, Edgar Winter) on Bass and Nick Marinovich (Yngwie Malmsteen) on Keys. Vai, Wylde, Malmsteen, Bettencourt and Abasi perform songs from their various bands and join forces on some well-known tunes!

Goldmine had the chance to catch up with Nuno Bettencourt of the Grammy-nominated band Extreme which sold over 10 million records, and who has also written for, produced, played with Rihanna, Steven Tyler, Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson and many others.

GOLDMINE: Tell us about Generation Axe. How did you guys all come together?
NUNO BETTENCOURT: I remember Steve reaching out to me a couple of times, but for me, I’ve never done instrumental records, I was always part of a band and there were songs, you know? Played guitar, done some riffs, but there’s a certain type of person who can do (instrumentals). But this time he reached out to me and said “Listen, I want to do something different. I don’t want it to be just what I’ve been doing,” and all this stuff. And it was something that I had done recently with a group of guys called Kings of Chaos. The idea was that we’d go out and play each other’s stuff. We’d go out, do a couple of songs, they’d sit in with us. We’d leave they’d stay, you know. And Steve wanted to do the same thing with Generation Axe. And I thought that was really brilliant. I thought, look everybody knows at this point what all these guitar players have done. We’ve been around long enough that everybody knows what we’ve done individually. And I thought what would be really cool is that if the fans say “What are they going to do together?”

To see two of these guys together, three, but FIVE! You know, can they play in that sandbox together, what are they going to come up with? We’re basically doing our individual stuff but there are times that I’ll come up and play with Tosin and then he’ll hand it off to me, then Zakk will come up and play with me. Zakk will play with me, then we’ll all come up. We all open the show together which is amazing! And we do songs that nobody expects. Meaning we do some stuff where we take some classic stuff and re-vamp it and do it with the guitars in five-part harmony. It’s some cool stuff.

I never toured with any of these guys before, we knew each other as acquaintances to say hello at a festival or here and there. The cool thing for me is I have so much respect for all these guys, and they’re all an influence in some way or another. I’m just like a kid, this is so amazing!

We’re all mature enough at this point, I don’t know if we could have done this years ago. If somebody shows up, whether it’s Zakk or Yngwie or myself, show up one day and we’re not in the greatest mood or we’re trying to work out some stuff. I think we all know each other enough to just say, “That’s just Zakk being Zakk or Yngwie being Yngwie,” or myself being myself. We laugh it off. I don’t know if years ago we’d even survive a rehearsal! The real thing is, cameras should be on the bus! It would be like Big Brother of guitarists! An experiment!

GM: You’ve worked with everybody, produced and played with so many people. Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson… So you must be the kind of musician who can get along with people because you’ve worked with some of the best.
Nuno: Like I’ve said, I have learned that. When you come to L.A. at 18 or 19, you want to take on the world, you have blinders on and you just go. Someone will say, “Hey, I met you in 1989” or something and I’ll say “Jeez, I hope I was a nice guy! Did I say anything wrong?” You’re so full of everything and energy at that age, and you just want to make a statement. There’s a fine line between passion and aggression!

GM: Are you still doing anything with Extreme?
Nuno: Of course, yes, we’re actually about three songs into doing a new Extreme album.   We’ve always been touring, so… We’ve written about 14 or 15 songs together and we’re recording slowly, and hopefully we’ll get it done by the end of the year and release it.

GM: Who were some of your influences when you were like 16?
Nuno: It’s always been (guitarists), I’ve always loved guitarists who were in bands. I always thought that was special, I always thought it was a lot more difficult to write a song with guitar when you’ve got your 20 seconds, 30 seconds, to tell a short story in a solo. It’s got to serve the song, harmony and so on. The guys I love are like Brian May of Queen, obviously Eddie in Van Halen, obviously Aerosmith, Jimmy Page in Zeppelin. The top four guys are definitely Jimmy Page, Hendrix, probably Eddie and Brian.

GM: Did you always know you wanted to be a guitarist? Did you pick up the guitar young?
Nuno: I’m the youngest of 10 kids and everybody played. My Dad played, he played eight to 10 instruments. So everybody played whatever instruments were in the house. I first played drums for years, then the bass, keys. Because I played drums for a while, I’ve always approached the guitar percussively and rhythmically. I grew up in a big musical family. There were musical instruments everywhere, it was the Brady Bunch on steroids!

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For more information on “Generation Axe – A Night of Guitars” click here.

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