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Multi-instrumentalist, teacher, producer and performer James Norbert Ivanyi plays an epic brand pf progressive rock, blending classic 60s and 70s rock sounds with modern day tech-metal and many genres in between. James Norbert Ivanyi … even his name is steeped in grandeur! James has released four acclaimed recordings including Denalavis, his most recent and much praised EP. He is considered by his fans, peers and industry to be one of the most original, commanding and versatile young guitarists on the scene today.

James took a break from working on his next recording to chat with Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips about his upcoming appearance at the Melbourne Guitar Show.

When did you first take notice of the guitar as opposed to just songs or bands that you liked?
I grew up in a pretty creative household. My father was a drummer and I actually started playing the drums. It was my first instrument and I was pretty serious up until I was about 17 when I first discovered the guitar. One of my friend’s sister had an electric guitar that was discarded in a corner of the room at their place. I just picked it up and started playing around with it and also around that time I was getting into classic rock music, Sabbath and Zeppelin. I realised that it was the guitar which made those bands sound so fantastic. I bought my first electric guitar from a hock store for $40 and it lasted me a good while and I wish I still had it.

Jimmy Page was a big hero of yours growing up. What appealed to you about Jimmy and his playing?
It was the mixture of the free rock attitude but backed up with all of his knowledge, being such a phenomenal session player and really diverse with his mandolin chops, his acoustic writing and really progressive electric guitar stuff. I was just really captivated by that blend of finesse and free experimentation, playing with a violin bow and the effects. I found it captivating and still do to this day.

Do you think the drums have had an effect on the way you play guitar?
Definitely. I mean I still feel like a drummer at heart and a pretend guitarist at heart. That’s the real truth. I’ve always liked the drums, it’s just that growing up in apartments it was never really practical to have a drum kit set up. I think that was the reason I started playing more guitar … because it was possible to do in apartments growing up. A lot of the musical ideas that I come up with usually start from a rhythm standpoint, so yes the drums are a big influence on my guitar playing.

Who or what inspired you to go down the prog metal path?
I don’t know that there was any single point where that happened. As I started to progress up the steps from classic rock to traditional metal to more modern metal and then progressive metal, I started to notice the chops involved, particularly from the guitarists. The bar was raised really high when you got into the progressive music like Dream Theater and those kind of groups. There was a level of virtuosity that exists in that genre that you don’t see in any of the other ones. So just in my quest to be always challenged and seek technically demanding music, I just ended up in the progressive metal garden. I have quite an eclectic taste in music and playing as it is. The progressive metal genre is exciting because you can almost express all of the other genres within in it and it still stays under that metal umbrella which I find really cool. You can’t just play virtuosic progressive metal in a blues band and and still have it remain a blues band, if you get my drift.

What are a couple of prog metal albums that you never tire of hearing and look to for inspiration?
One would be Scenes From A Memory by Dream Theater, that was probably the first large prog concept album that I really got into in a heavy way and I never tire of hearing that. Amazing songwriting and amazing individual performances from all the members. Another one would be Ghost Reveries by Opeth. I consider that to be a classic, progressive metal record because I hadn’t really been exposed to such extreme light and shade on an album before. Just really beautiful acoustic compositions all the way through to the heavier darkest death metal stuff. So those two are both closest to my heart even til today.

A lot of guitar players I talk to say they find influences in players of other instruments like sax or trumpet or piano. Do you find that as well?
Yep, definitely I grew up listening to all kinds of stuff and I get my phrasing from jazz stuff. My old man always had Bitches Brew, the Miles Davis record on repeat in the house growing up. There are a lot of free, eclectic lines in there that I guess crafted my ideas about melodies. I love keys players. I listen to a lot of funk. I love the phrasing of the moog players and the Hammond organ … that I try to bring into the guitar as well. I don’t think about guitar things when I am crafting, I’m more trying to express the ideas of those other instruments.

Tell me about the main guitars that you use.
I have been using Suhr guitars for the last 8 years officially. I recently got a new one, which in my opinion is the perfect blend between my two other main guitars, my Black Modern .. which I have taken out on the road for the last 7 years and people associate me with that guitar. It’s a wonderful guitar and I love it and will always use it but there were things I learned about it over the 7 years that I thought if I did another custom made guitar, I would address a couple of things, which I did with the new one. My other main one is John’s (John Suhr) take on the Stratocaster design, called a Classic S and I use that to record I would say 80 to 90 percent of the stuff on my albums. I rarely take it out it is my pride and joy. So those three would be my main ones, my old tobacco Sunburst classic and the two Moderns, the black one and the new one which is what is called an antique yellow, kind of a stressed white colour.

If someone is making a guitar for you, what is the most important element that they have to get right for you to be happy?
I couldn’t say that it any one thing like the neck or body, it is really the coming together of all of it to help shape the overall sound in the guitar. What I feel that I really nailed in the new one was the very classic looking guitar that plays like a modern machine. I have a very strange tonal demand on my guitars and I talk about this with the guys at Suhr quite a bit. I play and I write modern, heavy tones in music but I’m trying to do it with as classic a tone I can get away with. I go for a really thick neck profile and I love bent saddles. I love the sound of bent saddles, which is one of the things we did with the new guitar. It gives it that nasty, metallic kind of sound … and very low gain output pickups. It’s all the different things coming together, I couldn’t say that it is one part of the guitar that I look for. That’s the joy of being able to design guitars and have the knowledge base of a big company who knows your music and what you like and you can lock heads and build the perfect guitar, which I think I have done this time.

You haven’t been been to the Melbourne Guitar Show before but what have you heard about it?
I have heard that it is a really good time and a great hang. I always love a good hang, an excuse to get together, talk shop and nerd out. I have heard that it’s like a mini Australian NAMM Show, which is great. I have been to NAMM 7 or 8 times and I always have a good time there. I have had a few friends play there, Ro Stevenson from I Built The Sky and another Stephen Taranto, who had a really good time. I’m really looking forward to coming down and just hanging out. I like coming to Melbourne to hang with friends so it is a bit of a bonus that I can come and play and do some other things at the guitar show too.

What do you have in store for us with your performance?
We are going to be playing stuff from the very first album that I put out under my own name all the way through to the last album. We’ll be playing stuff from all 4 records, including stuff we haven’t played for 3 or 4 years, so we are feverishly relearning some old stuff at the moment. It’s the trio, Liam Horgan, myself and Liam Weedall. It will be good fun.

You’re also doing a session for Boss on how to get a great prog metal tone. How complex does your rig get?
My rig is actually quite simple. I don’t tend to get very complex but there are a few tricks that I will employ that tie in with having a full and present, large guitar sound, while shooting for a more authentic and vintage tone. That’s the kind of thing I will be spending most of the time on … how to dial in those textures from a rhythm setting through to a lead setting … designing tones for recording bursts … playing live, which is something that seems to be a bit of a mystery for a lot of people.

What’s happening in regard to your next recording?
I’m about to get back to it right after this interview. I’ve been working on a new record for coming up on two years and I’m now on the home stretch. That was a catalyst for doing the Melbourne Guitar Show, it will be a nice break from recording and placing some attention on the band and firing up the live machine again. It will be a nice final bit of inspiration to get this album done. I’ve been taking my time and trying out lots of different new sounds and song arrangements. I am hoping to have it done by the end of the year, handing it over to get drums done and that sort of stuff. Fingers crossed, early next year there will be a new record.

Any other plans heading into 2020?
I think NAMM is on the cards for January, so I plan on being there. The plan is to do a very heavy load of touring on the back of this record which is one of the reasons I haven’t gone out at all this year. There have been some good offers but I decided to wait and do it in a really heavy way next year, a Europe run, Australia again, US run… waiting for the new album to be out before firing up the machine.

Catch James Norbert Ivanyi and band performing at the Melbourne Guitar Show on Saturday August 3 at 2.15pm on the Marsh Whammy Bar Stage.
James will also appear in a Meet The Players session, hosted by Peter Hodgson at 11.30am on Saturday August 3 at Cafe Corner.
James will back on Sunday August 4 at 11.30am presenting a sesssIon for Boss: ’Tone design for prog metal guitar’ in the Winners Circle Workshop Room

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