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Talented American studio guitar player, performer, songwriter, producer, engineer, recording artist and gear demonstrator, Keith Merrow is coming to Australia to perform a series of clinics for Schecter guitars, including two at the Melbourne Guitar Show. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Keith prior to the tour.

Like most guitarists, Keith Merrow started out playing guitar in his bedroom. Also like many modern day guitar players, Keith began filming himself playing his music and uploading clips to YouTube. Fast forward to 2019 and Keith Merrow is now an established recording artist, including one release with his childhood guitar hero Jeff Loomis in a project called Conquering Dystopia. Schecter guitars has released several versions of Keith’s own signature guitar with more on the way, and his YouTube channel currently has over 18 million views. I wondered at what point did Keith first get blown away by how his YouTube clips were being received?
“That actually happened really early on,” he tells me. “I initially wasn’t even intending on being a YouTube guy or do anything on YouTube at all. I think the first time I was blown away by it was the first person who asked if they could buy or download my music. That totally floored me. It was one of those things where I didn’t expect any kind of reaction out of it. From very early on I was blown away and the bigger it got, it just felt surreal and I didn’t even know that it is now over 18 million and that blows me away right now.”

Rock ’n’ roll history is strewn with stories of decadence, such as wild parties in hotel pools or hot tubs ala David Lee Roth or Motley Crue. Keith Merrow has many pool and hot tub stories of his own but his are more of the maintenance kind, pertaining mainly to ohms and motor failures. You see just prior to creating music for a living, Keith was working with his pool contractor father in a pool supplies business. So does he know more about hot tubs or guitars?
“That’s a great question (laughs). These days I’d say definitely guitars. The hot tub thing, that’s a long story. My father was a pool contractor and I grew up working with him and worked in the pool supply industry to some extent and that what I was doing when I guess I was discovered. It’s been a decade and a half now since I messed with things like that so definitely guitars! You had to dig deep to find that one!”

Keith is now an internationally recognised recording artist, having released music with bands such as Conquering Dystopia and Alluvial, as well as acclaimed recordings under his own name, his most recent being Reading The Bones. It didn’t take long for the folks at Schecter to realise that Keith was becoming quite a presence in the progressive metal genre and they set out to work with him on his first signature guitar, the 7 string KM-7. Featuring an ebony fretboard, maple neck, glow in the dark side dot markers, Ultra Thin ‘C’ neck shape, arched top, swamp ash body and flamed maple top, with Seymour Duncan Nazgul and Sentient pickups, the KM-7 went on to become a popular selling guitar for Schecter. Keith’s current model is the KM-7 Mark III. Keith’s fascination with 7 string guitars first began almost two decades ago.
“I would say I first got into 7 strings probably around 2001 maybe 2000,” he recollects. “A lot of it just came from the fact that I was down-tuning six string guitars and I was sort of struggling with it. Trying to get down into the B, A range on a six string is sometimes a little bit tricky, although it’s a lot easier these days because the string options are better. I wanted a full range, standard E to E guitar but I also really liked the low B, low A range, so the answer to that was to just get both in a 7 string guitar. Initially it was that but what inspired me to tune that low and try and go with 7 string guitars were bands like Morbid Angel, Jeff Loomis with Nevermore, bands like that really pushed me in the direction of 7 string guitar.”

It’s always interesting to dissect the components of an artist’s signature guitar. Some are built from scratch, others are merely tweaks to an already established model in a range. I asked Keith what the starting point was for his signature guitar and what were the most important elements that they had to get right for him to be happy to put his name on it.
“They have actually got it right for many years for me but initially the goal with the KM7, the original version was to have custom shop specs on an import guitar at a price range that almost anybody could afford,” he states. “So as long as they got those things right I was happy. And they did, they definitely did. That first Mark1 guitar sold thousands of units and proved a point that it is possible to get custom shop style specs that people are really looking for in a guitar like that but at a price that people could handle. I think they nailed it for me right out of the gate and we’ve fine tuned it over the years to arrive at what it is now. In my opinion it is now a true signature guitar and it is everything that I have wanted in a guitar. Right off the bat when I first met the guys at Schecter, my main guy is Ryan Martin who is travelling with me to Australia, we just hit it off. We became friends really quickly and now he is one of my best buds. They are so easy to work with and have been so good to me over the years and it feels more like friends and family than they do a company I work with. We all work together and have common goals, common interests, we laugh and joke all the time and it is just a really good home for me when it comes to guitars. They have always encouraged me and motivated me to push myself and pushed me out there quite a bit.”

The original Schecter KM-7 model featured Seymour Duncan pickups, however recently Keith has been drawn to pickups made by Fishman.
“After working with other pickup companies over the years and helping to develop other pickups, I was introduced to Fishman. I tried their pickups and right off the bat I wasn’t actually sold on them,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was able to see their process for voicing pickups and then having the opportunity to voice my own pickups with them, when I was really sold. It totally blew my mind. The procedure for creating a guitar pickup and voicing it to the exact sound that you hear in your head is completely different to any other company out there and I was able to get that sound in my head very quickly and easily. They are so consistent that I can trust that it is going to be something that can be replicated over and over. Mainly it is the quality and the amount of focus that the company has and the amount of technology that they put into their products, that is really what sucked me in.”

And is he working with Schecter on anything new at the moment that he can tell us about?
“I am actually and I am not sure how much I can push out there because we have the 2020 guitar, which is currently in the prototype stage and it is a little bit different than the current model. It is still a Mark-III, it’s just tuned a little bit differently in terms of specs. I guess what I can say is that there is a new Mark-III coming and it is going to be a slightly lower price point than the current model.”

As mentioned earlier, Keith has collaborated with many other musicians on band recordings but it’s his solo projects that he’s really proud of. On his latest solo album Reading The Bones, Merrow manages to seamlessly blend ethereal ambience with hard edged, heavy metal power chords and sweet melodic note choices. I asked Keith where much of the inspiration for that music came from.
“That album took a while to make. My previous solo album was back in 2012. The songs on Reading The Bones are a culmination of the inspirations I have had over the last 4 or 5 years. A lot of the songs were written in different places, some as far away as Jordan in the Middle East, songs in Hawaii, all over the world. When it came time to compose and arrange everything and get the consistent vibe I wanted out of it, I went up into the forest and stayed in log cabin for a few weeks and polished it and got it the way I wanted it. So it was basically a lot of passion and a lot of travel that made those songs happen.”

Something that is always intriguing to me with artists who create instrumental music is to discover how they approach naming their tunes. It seems that Keith is quite methodical in regard to that task.
“Well the titles of the songs basically come about a couple of different ways,” he explains. “One way is that I think of some sort of scene or theme, I paint a picture in my head and then the song is like the score to that image or that theme. The music reflects the vibe that you are trying to portray in that scene. To a lot of people it won’t really have a whole lot of relevance but to me it is one of those things where I get creative in my own mind, paint a picture and then score music to that. A lot of the inspiration comes from different pieces of artwork or reading different books. There was a book I was reading during the creation of Reading The Bones, HP Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness and I got a lot of inspiration from that book in terms of imagery and titles and things like that. It is part of the creative process that isn’t super relevant to a lot of people but its hugely important to me in order to make those songs what they are.”

Keith first came to a lot of people’s attention when he recorded with Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis in Conquering Dystopia. The band hasn’t toured since 2014 and I wondered if that project could ever reappear in the future?
“It’s really hard to say whether Conquering Dystopia will tour in the future but I have a lot of confidence in making more music with them,” Keith tells us. “We have actually written more music since that last record. The issue with Conquering Dystopia is that everyone in the band is in another band and working a lot and traveling. To get all of us together at the same time to work on new material is like trying to align the stars manually. I don’t know about touring but I am pretty confident that there will be more music, whether that be an EP or full length I don’t know.”

Keith Merrow will be at the Melbourne Guitar Show on both Saturday August 3 and Sunday August 4, appearing in clinic for Schecter Guitars. It will be Keith’s first trip to Australia and he’s looking forward to catching up with old friends and making some new ones.
“I haven’t been before, it’s going to be my first time and it has been at the top of my list of places to visit for a really long time, so I am really excited about going out there. I have a friend named Peter Hodgson (who will be hosting the Meet The Players sessions at Cafe Corner) and he has told me a bit about it. When he heard I was coming he got really excited, so I am excited to be coming out and see some friendly faces. Really with this kind of thing, I just go with the flow and if people want to hear music, they’ll hear music. If they want to talk about guitar or career or life, I’m into that too. I’ll be playing some older songs that people seem to enjoy hearing and some new songs off Reading The Bones. It will be a bit of a mixture. I have a song from another project, Alluvial which I am no longer a part of but there’s a song that I really enjoy playing that I will bring out. Possibly also a Conquering Dystopia song if I can get it together in time.”

Keith’s Australian clinic dates for Schecter
AUG 3 – Melbourne Guitar Show (VIC)
AUG 4 – Melbourne Guitar Show (VIC)
AUG 6 – Cranbourne Music Lynbrook (VIC)
AUG 8 – Guitar Factory Parramatta (NSW)

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