Remember when people liked either guitar music or dance music? When you wouldn't find a rock fan going out clubbing and you wouldn't find a dance fan at a metal gig. When things were either black or white. Well recent years have seen a breaking down of these old barriers. It's now not uncommon to find dance acts sampling heavy guitar or even [shock, horror!] using a live guitarist and metal guitar fans buying the resulting records. Not surprising really, mixing a high energy drum loop with slamming guitar makes for a heady concoction in anybody's book.
One of the more successful exponents of this movement are The Prodigy. Guitarist for The Prodigy, Gizz Butt, recently came to the Marshall factory to check out some gear. He was so impressed that he left armed with a JMP-1, a JFX-1 and a 9200 power amp. The Prodigy have tortured P.A. systems at almost every high profile festival in Europe and elsewhere in the world during 1996. Armed with their latest rack, courtesy of Marshall, from now on it'll be a sweet torture at least. During his visit we found time to talk . . .
"I started messing around with guitar about 17 years ago when I was 10, on my brothers acoustic. The first tune I ever played was the intro to I'm a Believer and I got my first electric for my 11th birthday which was a Kay, a sort of a Woolworths guitar."
They were the ones to have, Kay's and Satellites.
"Yeah, dreadful. I had a little 5 watt amp, well of course I had that turned up full so it distorted nicely. I love distortion."
Who were your heroes back then?
"The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and Jimi Hendrix because of my brother. I learned a lot from him, he's about 10 years older than me and had gone through The Stones and Jimi Hendrix thing. He played guitar too, we used to jam together."
So what have you been doing since then?
"I formed my first band which was from school and they were called the Exits. It was a punk sort of thing and we did a bunch of school gigs. "Then I had a band called The System which I actually took out of school at the age of 14 and started gigging around the local town and the local pubs, because we all looked a little bit older, we could get away with it.
"I was approached by a band that was actually respected as being the biggest punk band in the area, they were called The Destructors. So at 14 they asked me to join and we released our first single about 2/3 months after that. I was over the moon, straight away a dream fulfiled, vinyl release!"
Your mum bought all the copies?
[Laughing] "Yeah and the school. We went round the school getting everyone to buy it. Went on my first tour when I was 15 and did 4 albums, loads of singles all that stuff and toured non-stop for 2 years. I still managed to take my 'O' levels and went to college and took a course there, even whilst I was in this band.
"At 17 that finished, I went through years of trying to get back on that level, we had a single just under the charts, 16 year old local hero and all that. The problem is that when you lose that you find yourself taking ages trying to get back to it. What you don't realise is that you should have taken a bit more notice whilst it was going on in the first place, instead of just getting drunk and taking it for granted.
"Then I was in local bands such as War Dance. They were thrash metal and Monkey Jungle which were more of a rock band. They were quite big around this area. The English Dogs were the main band that I had. With that band I toured all over Europe, released records and CD's.
"About 4 years ago, I decided to re-form the band The English Dogs and it was through the work I did with them that eventually led me to being introduced to the Prodigy. It was them that were recommending me you see."
So you didn't go hunting them down?
"I didn't reply to an advert, a journalist recommended me to them."
What happened there then?
"Well there's a guy who writes for the heavy metal magazine Kerrang, called Morat, he's one of my best friends. He knew that I was into the Prodigy. The 'phone went and it was Morat saying " I've just passed your phone number on to a really big band is that alright ", I said " yeah, yeah of course it's OK ", I've got plenty of time at the moment. Two days later I got the phone call from Keith, the lead singer of Prodigy, a week later an audition and a week later, I was in and doing the T in the Park festival in front of 50,000 people."
What was the biggest audience you had played to before that?
"4000 and that 4000 was not every night, they were the peaks, the special ones."
Saved by the Prodigy
Were you a fan of the Prodigy before you joined up with them?
"Yeah, there is a story connected with that. The English Dogs were, a transit van band and we were touring all over Britain and Europe and now and again it got good and we were on proper tours in front of say 2000 people going on a proper tour bus. Most of the time though we were in the f*@*@*g transit van.
There was one such tour when we were in Czechoslovakia. We were going out of our minds in the van and the singer had two tapes of the Prodigy, the first two albums, The Jilted Generation and the first album which is called The Experience. We just played these two tapes over and over and over again. They were the only things that we could listen to all the time that could keep our spirits up. Everything else would just create conflicts within the band, " I don't want to hear that or I don't want to hear your stuff ". They were the only things that stopped us from fighting each other." And here you are playing guitar for them. What do you see your role as being in the Prodigy? "I'm their guitarist, whatever they want to suggest to me to do, I'll do. I will try and adapt things they have already done to the guitar and then suggest it to them. The four of them have been going quite happily for six years without guitars and now there is a guitar there. I am trying to work it so that it works right for them too. "My role is really to just be a f**@*!*g great guitarist and a good band member to work with."
Broadening the Horizons
Do you find it restrictive playing with samplers and sequencers and the like? Would you prefer to play with a more traditional line-up, like bass and drums?
"I'm more from the school of the bass and drums. I love playing with live musicians but when you play with samplers, the way it's done with us, it's not how you would expect. Liam does a lot of improvised playing over the samples as well live. You have to realise that it's not just playing along with a sound or tape. You have a stage of people dancing and performing, of which I have to be part of as well.
I know a lot of people can't connect with the idea of playing along to a DJ but you have got to realise that world is there, it exists, it is a very big world. The rock world tries to pretend it's not there but it has always been there and it will always be there.
"People in the rock world always say you don't want to play along to DJ's, you don't want to play along to samples. You shouldn't say that. It's like someone turning to me and saying you shouldn't be listening to hip-hop.
"I'll turn to them and say well why don't you try being a little bit more broad minded? If you want to do the same thing, day-in day-out all your life then that's OK, but I'm not doing that. Take it from me, it is good to broaden. I'm in a band, that for the last two weeks have been at number 1 in the charts, that answers it for itself."
You're in the middle of checking gear out at the moment. What have you been using recently?
"A Marshall 30th anniversary head, a JMP-1 and the 9200 power amp. I use some Boss effects, I've got a Boss ME-5 that I've used for years."
You told me the sort of stuff you listened to when you first picked up the guitar. What sort of bands and guitarists do you listen to at the moment or don't you really get much of a chance to sit about listening to stuff?
"No, I listen to music all of the time, I have to, its part of the job, you have got to do it. There are guitarists that I have always rated. I don't give a toss what anyone says, I think Joe Satriani is the b@*@*@*s, Jake. E. Lee is a really good player too and so was Randy Rhoads. Of course, Hendrix, but I feel I don't even need to mention his name as he is so much part of me and my growing up, along with John Lennon and George Harrison as well, they are basic players but really cool.
"I don't just listen to virtuoso guitar sort of stuff, though I really like it. I like the guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, Tom Morrello. Siouxie and the Banshees had loads of different guitarists throughout their entire career. Each guitarist had their own real strong style. The first one was almost a cross between metal and punk, a great sound, crushing riffs and had these weird half turn riffs all the time, almost chromatic like an A to an A flat to a D sharp or just using the weirdest scales and just doing chords with the scales. I also liked Public Image Limited.
Experimentation is the key
"The punk band Crass had a real mad kind of idea with the guitar, because they had one guitar almost like a percussion instrument. It had a distorted sound but he would mute all the strings and just chugg away creating just a percussive sound and that was his main thing. It sounds crazy, but it really f@*@*@g worked. The punk thing was good because it was experimental and that is what a lot of people don't realise, very experimental.
People were trying new ideas instead of just playing a dorian mode up and down the neck. They instead would try experimenting with a pick-up selector, creating sort of odd SOS signals sort of sounds, which Tom Morello did 20 years later. I'm not trying to be funny or anything, but we were doing it right back then.
"I have always liked Thin Lizzy, I still do now. Every line-up of them, every single guitarist they ever had was great."
Would you like to get your own band together on the side?
"I've got one."
What sort of stuff are you doing with them?
"It's more punky in a Clashy but slightly heavier way and because you have the real instruments there is a bit more of a different feel. Some of the stuff sounds like Slayer, really fast alternate picking but then some of it is more sort of English punky sounding stuff. Anything that I can sing basically while I'm playing."
So what is next for Gizz and the Prodigy?
"The immediate future consists of touring in Scandinavia and Europe. I'm doing a lot of writing at the moment with the hope that some of it will be used on the Prodigy album. We are also touring Australia, a tour called The Big Day Out Tour and that's in January, we're playing with Soundgarden and Sepultura. Two cracking bands. Soundgarden with their trippy alternative sort of metal and then Sepultura who are f@*@*@g blinding, making Metallica look extremely sad. I don't want to dis Metallica because I used to really like them but I'm really looking forward to doing that. I'll nick all the wacky EQ settings off Sepultura and I'll write down the zappy alternative tunes from Soundgarden and I intend to enjoy that. I'm really looking forward to it."
Well good luck Gizz. I'm sure you'll knock 'em dead.