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Backstage Pass: George Lynch — reconvening Lynch Mob

Able to make guitar necks burn with his fast and furious fingers, George Lynch shreds like a demon. And for that he is worshipped as a god. One of the architects of the melodic hard-rock sound that made Dokken a premiere mid-’80s heavy-metal act, Lynch’s searing guitar work often overshadowed the band’s strong hooks and the dramatic vocals of its namesake, Don Dokken.

George Lynch rose to fame with the melodic ’80s heavy-metal outfit Dokken. His six-string exploits have gained him respect from guitar aficionados everywhere. (Frontiers Records/Mazur PR)

Able to make guitar necks burn with his fast and furious fingers, George Lynch shreds like a demon. And for that he is worshipped as a god.

One of the architects of the melodic hard-rock sound that made Dokken a premiere mid-’80s heavy-metal act, Lynch’s searing guitar work often overshadowed the band’s strong hooks and the dramatic vocals of its namesake, Don Dokken.

1982’s Breaking The Chains was Dokken’s major-label coming-out party, but the band really hit its stride with ’84’s Tooth And Nail and ’85’s Under Lock And Key. But it was the frenzied orgy of guitar sounds on the instrumental “Mr. Scary,” off 1987’s Back For The Attack, that would make Lynch a giant among guitarists.

Tensions between Lynch and Dokken, always simmering within the group, would cause Dokken to splinter. But Lynch, known almost as much for his elaborate guitar designs as he is for his inventive playing, wouldn’t disappear from the scene. He formed Lynch Mob in 1989 with Dokken drummer Mick Brown. 1990’s Wicked Sensation blew away everybody’s expectations, but 1992’s self-titled effort, which didn’t include singer Oni Logan, fell short of the mark.

Solo work would follow, and Lynch Mob returned in 1999 with Smoke This. In addition to various other projects, Lynch is also performing in the Souls Of We. Now, however, with Logan back in the fold, Lynch Mob is back with Smoke And Mirrors, released this summer on the Frontiers Records label.

You’ve said this is the record you should have made as the followup to Wicked Sensation. Why do you think that?

George Lynch: Well, in the clarity of hindsight it is, but when we were in the middle of the maelstrom, at the time, when we were making these records in the early ’90s, it wasn’t so clear to us that that was the direction we should be taking. In fact, I know my, and our, thought processes at the time were more along the lines of we really need to step up from Wicked Sensation and become more ubiquitous and appeal to a wider audience.

And so we went with a very well-known producer who was somewhat generic and really played it safe to the point of really watering down the thrust of our music and our message. And that was absolutely the wrong thing to do, especially at that time. I mean, I think we were trying to recreate the success we had in 1987 and not realizing it was 1992. Nirvana was right around the corner and everything else.

You listen to Wicked Sensation and it doesn’t seem as distant from that time, the grunge period, as maybe some of the later albums. It seems to kind of almost fit within that.

GL: It was a good transitional record, because it was very raw and kind of tough, and I think really the bottom line is I made a dramatic error in excluding Oni from the second record. I mean, that was really the brain trust, and it had a beautiful chemistry that allowed that record to happen, the first record.

So as good as some of the musicians were who were involved in later records, you just can’t replace technique ... or musicianship is not a replacement for having a unique voice and a unique chemistry in the writing process. So I’ve come to appreciate that over the years. And I always have appreciated it actually, but I have a newfound appreciation for it in doing this, the new record, Smoke And Mirrors.

How did you and Oni reconnect and want to start working together again?

GL: We did a short EP called SyZyGy, and it was three songs, and it was very good actually, but there was never a point to it. I mean, we sort of did the songs and then we never followed up with a record or anything like that. And that was the original band. It was Mick Brown, Anthony Esposito, Oni and myself. And that was somewhere in the mid-’90s I believe. And then Oni and I got back together and did a tour in, I believe, the later ’90s, which was kind of a club tour.

You know, it was no big deal, but I think the effect it had on us, it was such a hard tour, so grueling that it really kind of ... you know, it sort of tamped down our enthusiasm for doing anything else. We sort of got beat up on that. And I think Oni just felt like it was the right thing for him personally, and I’ve always been kind of available. I’ve always made it known to him that he’s my hero (laughs) and the best writing partner I’ve ever had.

I mean, I’ve had great writing relationships with other people, Jeff Pilson from Dokken and London (Legrand) from Souls Of We. Oni and I, I think, are a wonderful fit, and we’re very comfortable with each other. It just works like a machine. We don’t even have to try. I mean, we have to try, but you know what I mean. It’s not an uphill battle; it sort of has a life of its own. I do my thing, he does his thing, and it works. And so the short story is that he had just come into a place in his life where, having moved to Switzerland with his family and [he] had gotten out of the music business for many, many years, in that respect, we felt that we did a really great piece of work back in the day and we should test the waters again. And he committed himself wholeheartedly to this process, and that was wonderful. We became a team again. We have respect for each other, and worked really hard at it, and we hope that we can continue on.

Why is it that you two work so well together? Is it that you see eye to eye or do you each bring a different perspective to everything that helps you guys mesh?

GL: Well, I’m the kind of player that’s sort of jelly-like in that I can morph into different characters depending on who I surround myself with or what I’ve been exposed to or what I happen to be listening to at the time. And I guess that can be a good or bad thing, but what Oni does for me is he sort of focuses my writing style, my playing style and my sound to accommodate him.

So I react to what I know he expects and what he does, and he’s very blues-based, as I am — obviously, wrapped around a hard-rock package, and with a little bit of mystique involved, and we both sort of subliminally know that. So everything we do takes that into account unconsciously, and so I think, basically, we’re just on the same page. It’s very complementary in that I don’t sing, so I’m really beholden to my writing partner, no matter what band it’s in, whether it’s Dokken or Souls Of We or Lynch Mob or whatever. That’s really my counterpart I depend on. Oni’s just the voice I wish I had.

Talking about the blues element, listening to some of the new record, you can really feel that coming to the fore in the song “Smoke And Mirrors.” Talk about how that song came about.

GL: Um, that song was written in our very first writing phase. Basically, Oni had just gotten off the plane [and he] came to my studio. We were sort of re-acclimating ourselves to the situation and getting to know each other then; we took it kind of slow.

The first batch of songs we wrote were all very organic, very bluesy, a lot of acoustic stuff, hand drums and very, very organic. And it sounded almost Southern in a way, like a Raging Slab kind of influence, which was wonderful. And this was the record we thought we were going to make. We had meetings with a couple guys on a Japanese label, and then we really felt that, you know, people are going to expect the first record out of us again. And so the second writing episode, we toughened it up.

And I’m not saying we did that as a reaction to feedback, partly, but more that just we were more comfortable as a band. We had been touring. We were sort of coming into our own, so the second phase of writing got a little tougher ... the only song that’s left over from that first writing session I believe is “Smoke And Mirrors.” Everything else fell off, and the second writing session has that middle-of-the-road, hard-rock kind of vibe to it, very reminiscent of the Wicked Sensation record. And then, near the whole end of the process, we had a third writing session — when I say “session,” I mean a matter of a week or two we got together and played — and I brought a few riffs to the table and started assembling songs.

I became a little more adventurous, so we had some of the ... like the last tune we wrote was “Let The Music Be Your Master.” So it got a little stranger and a little heavier still. Then my only reservation about the record is it has this sort of non-continuity to it, because of the way we wrote it. So there’s not this kind of linear, one message ... it’s not all over the map, but it’s not just one flavor, either. That can be a little disconcerting to the listener. But that was just the process of it we had to go through to get the record written. I mean, in an ideal world, we would have sat in a room together for months and really developed the songs in a more clearly defined way, but we didn’t have that luxury.

You listen to a song like “21st Century Man,” and that’s a real crunchy rocker, a very contemporary kind of sound. Maybe that’s a little different from the Southern rock of the next song, “Smoke and Mirrors.”

GL: Yeah, and that’s what I’m wondering about, you know, how a listener would be [affected] — like, OK, now what are they going to hit us with? What are Lynch and Logan doing here? And we have a certain kind of sound that jumps right to this Southern rock kind of vibe and “Let the Music Be Your Master” and it’s something completely different. So that bothers me a little bit, but I come from the old school where records were kind of done like that. A lot of them. Because I’m a big Queen fan, and I love that about Queen records. Roger Taylor would sing some songs and obviously, the other writers in the band, and they wrote completely differently from one another. So I thought that was very interesting. I mean, it was really art, you know. It wasn’t just a product you were putting out.

I like those albums that give you some surprises, that take you in other directions. Have you ever done this kind of album before where it does that?

GL: Absolutely I’ve done records like that. More often so than not, especially in recent decades. Most notably the Souls Of We record. It’s very similar to that, in that it was written over a very long time — five years — and it was very disconnected, so there’s lots of different flavors and degrees of heaviness and different elements that I pulled in.

And the thing that really bound it together and created the glue that gave it some continuity is London came in and put himself all over the record and just kind of tied it all up and ... pulled all the loose ends together. I’m a little haphazard in my writing, so I could be writing a blues song one day and a country song the next day and a metal song, you know ... I get into these different phases and modes and ... that’s where a producer comes in, ideally, I would think, in those situations. It’s got to be somebody who can channel and focus those efforts and energies into a meaningful kind of end result that makes sense from beginning to end. It’s hard for me to do.

In a sense, when you first started Lynch Mob, did you envision that it might be that kind of band where you could explore different styles, as opposed to maybe that melodic metal vein with Dokken?

GL: Well, not just Lynch Mob. I mean my whole musical life I would ... that was sort of an unstated understanding I thought that musicians are artists. They grow and change, evolve ... and maybe not (laughs). I mean, there are artists that kind of stick to one thing, and I respect that — AC/DC or whatever, you know, Dokken. But I’m just not built that way.

I mean, I probably could force myself, shoehorn myself into that category if I (wanted). And the other thing, too, is that you know if you have a band that’s very successful and it’s known for one thing, it’s much easier to do that one thing. But when you’re doing a record every year and a half, with different situations and different players, it’s really hard to stay consistent, because I really bounce off the people I’m playing with.

For instance, I did a record called Smoke This, and it was incorrectly called Lynch Mob. It was due to pressure from the label so they could sell more records, but it shouldn’t have been called Lynch Mob, because it had nothing to do with Lynch Mob other than the fact that I was in it. I always joke that I should have named the band Lynch Bizkit, ’cause it was kind of a rap-metal thing. But there in that situation, I was playing with younger guys, and sort of hip-hop metal guys, and [I] kind of just injected myself into their world. And the end result was something very, very different from what I’d done in the past. So, if I’d had tremendous success, like Metallica or an AC/DC or Van Halen, I probably would have been pressured and probably okay with staying the course with a certain sound and a certain formula. But I haven’t, so I haven’t.

Has your guitar playing changed in any way over the years?

GL: It’s strange. It’s like my guitar playing is on two different tracks at all times: I have this sort of adventurous side where I’m really like learning everything I know and just re-creating myself, and then the other side [where] I can never get away from myself. No matter what I do, I’m still the same player (laughs), so it’s kind of this bipolar, two-faced approach that’s an unconscious thing that I’m constantly compelled to stretch out [but] at the same time, I never seem to be able to get away from who I am.

The instrumental “Mr. Scary” was such a great guitar track. Can you talk about how that one evolved with Dokken?

GL: Um, well, yes. When I say we, I mean Jeff and I, and Mick, to a lesser extent, were writing for the Back For The Attack record, and we intended for that to be a harder band song with vocals on it. But it never really adapted itself to vocal applications, so there was nothing Don could really do with it, or the rest of us vocally. So we just got to the point one night where we thought, “Well, we’re either going to drop it from the record, or you got a day to come up with something to salvage it.” So we spent all night, and we just got everything laid out and we had tympanis in there and 30 guitar amps and all kinds of strange effects, and I just went to town on it. By the time the sun came up, we salvaged it.

Is that a piece that you’re the most proud of, or is there something else that you think tops it?

GL: Um, well, yeah. It was a milestone for me, but it was also sort of a happy accident. I mean, it’s not something you can really re-create.

But that leads me to just mention that, you know, I’ve really had a lot of interest in me doing an instrumental record, which I’ve never done. And so I plan on doing that early next year, if everything lines up. And I’ve already written some songs for it. And one of the songs I wrote is called “Son of Scary,” which is really loosely based on “Mr. Scary.” So having said I couldn’t re-create that song is probably a lie. I kinda did.

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