Looking back the history of Michael Schenker Group, who do you think has been with MSG for the longest time among the past and present bandmates? Gary Barden or Robin McAuley? No I don't think so. That must be Wayne Findlay, the current guitar/keyboard player of MSG. A keyboard player who can also play backing guitar has long been an indispensable element for UFO/MSG, especially for their live performances. However, Wayne has played a greater role. He plays some guitar solos both on stage and CDs and his contribution has grown in many ways. He just came back to San Diego from MSG's Euro tour. I got a chance to talk with him about MSG, his band, etc.
RBA: I remember I met you for the first time in May 2000 when you toured in Japan. Could you tell us about when and how you joined MSG. I think you have the longest tenure in MSG than any other past and present MSG members except Michael Schenker himself.
WF: I think I've been with MSG longer than anyone...since the beginning of 1999. I got a call from a close friend, Kelly Keeling, asking if I want to try out for guitar/keyboards for the Michael Schenker Group...Of course, I said YES!!! Kelly had just finished the "Unforgiven" album, and the management had asked him if he knew anyone who played guitar/keys. He said, "Wayne Findlay is the guy you need to talk to"...I got a call a few days later from Peter Knorn, (MSG management at the time) regarding an audition time. A week later Peter called back and wanted to know if I'd be interested in playing with Vinnie Moore too!! Of course, I said YES!!! After I got off the phone, I realized, Wow...I'm gonna audition for Michael Schenker and Vinnie Moore in the same day!!! Two of my favorite guitar heroes...
I was given about 30 songs for MSG and 12 songs for Vinnie Moore. Which meant I had to learn and memorize all the guitars, all keys and all backing vocals for over 40 songs, in 1 month!!! I had no idea which parts Michael or Vinnie would want me to play, so I just learned every single guitar and key riff. That way, whatever they asked, I'd have it down. This was a huge amount of complex material to try to tackle in such a short time...
I went to "Third Encore" in Los Angeles where the rehearsals were taking place, for my 2 auditions. I think I auditioned for Vinnie Moore first and everything went great. Then for the next audition, Michael comes in says hello and says to me,"You've got the toughest job of everybody!!" I said,"I know!!" We all laughed. Then Michael says,"Alright, just go ahead and play through the set while I play unplugged". I thought to myself," Wait a minute, I didn't know this was gonna happen!". Not to mention he hands a recorder to my wife Deana to record the entire audition!! So I decided to just go for it... We played the entire set and I guess you'd say, the rest is history... So I ended up playing an hour opener, with the Vinnie Moore Band, and then 2 hours with MSG every night for the entire U.S. Tour!! It was great and is something I'll never forget.
RBA: When you were given over 40 songs for the auditions, did they give you chord progressions or something for those materials or did they just give you the tapes or CDs?
WF: Vinnie Moore sent me a few CD's that was it. No music, chord progressions, tapes or CD's of MSG. So I went out and bought whatever music I needed. Then I transcribed all the guitars, keys and backing vocals for all the material...MSG and Vinnie Moore. That was a lot of work!!! ... But, transcribing it was essential for me to learn all the material so quickly and accurately...
RBA: That must be a daunting work. If you still keep those transcriptions, you should give them to me for my personal learning!! O.K. Then, tell us a little bit about your bio and your career before you joined MSG?
WF: I started keyboards at 5, guitar at 11, and have played in my own rock bands ever since. I studied classical guitar with world renowned teachers here in San Diego and recieved a scholarship to San Diego State University. There I majored in performance and composition. For five and a half years I studied the masters, orchestration, conducting, wrote symphonies, and studied jazz. While in college I began to teach piano, guitar, bass, composition and gigged with my rock band Valiant Alliance. I wrote a shred guitar instrumental for a surf film called "Around the World in 80 waves", that was distributed world-wide in 1988. Scored a independent film entitled,"Ghost Writer" and was music director for a play called "Trespasses". My next band Castle, won the Reader's poll for the best upcoming heavy metal band in San Diego in 90'. I continued teaching and gigging aroung town and then moved to Maui in 95'. There I started the band Electric Eel and taught for a year. While I was living there I really began to focus on my dreams and what I needed to do to achieve them. For me this was a turning point...
I then moved to Hollywood for about 6 months where I wrote constantly. Shortly after, I was visiting in San Diego and met Kelly Keeling. We hit it off and I began to transcribe all of his crazy tunings for his Guitar Zeus records. I guitar teched for the 2nd Guitar Zeus recordings and the 96' NAMM show. This included guitar teching for Kelly Keeling, Jennifer Batten, John Norum, Doug Pinnick, Ty Tabor and Doug Aldridge. Kelly and I started the band Kattywompuss here in San Diego and did a couple of shows around town. Not long after I joined MSG and the Vinnie Moore Band...:)
RBA: Wow! What an impressive musical background you have! Are you still in touch with Kelly? I know he is a very busy man.
WF: Yes, I still stay in contact with him.
RBA: You just said Michael was one of your guitar heroes. Were there any particular songs or albums of him you especially liked? I mean, before you became an MSG member.
WF: The first MSG album really made an impact on me. I had a real crappy cassette tape that someone copied for me, that I cherished! "Armed and Ready", "Victim of Illusion", Looking out from Nowhere" and especially, the first time I heard "Feels Like a Good Thing". The drum intro just blew me away leading into that killer guitar riff!! What a KILLER song!! and album!! I never get tired of listening to it...Now that I've been in MSG for so long, it's given me a chance to really get deep inside all the MSG and UFO music. I'm just as inspired now as I was then...
The first 2 MSG albums are definitely my favorites...or should I say classics...and my favorite song is definitely "Feels Like a Good Thing".
RBA: You finished the first part of MSG world tour late last month. How was the tour? I received lots of reviews from fans. They all said the show was great! Also, do you have any interesting stories to share with us about the tour?
WF: The last 2 months have seemed kinda like a blur with all the traveling. There have been many highlights along the way though...but interesting stories?? Hmmm...Let me see... There are many... but here's one. We arrived for sound check in Kavarna Bulgaria for this festival for something like 7,000 people. We show up and they have 1 Korg keyboard that has keys that stick and play 3 keys for every 1 touched!! Plus all the program keys are sticking.The other keyboard plays almost only Techno drum beats! That was interesting. I think Rev's amp blew up also..? Anyway, I told the stage manager that they need to fix it or find something else. Being that we're in the middle of nowhere, I doubt anything can be done. So I'm thinking,"Great, I'll have to make it with 1 keyboard and try not to hit the stuck keys!!". As I'm leaving, I see 5 or 6 guys opening up the keyboard right there, with parts! and screws all over!! A scary sight to me!! Are all these guys certified to work on Korg keyboards?? The band heads off to a press conference and then dinner. The dinner was cool by the way. Great food. Right on the beach on the Black Sea. The whole time I'm wondering what will happen when I get on stage. We go back, get ready and hit the stage. The first song is "Assault Attack" with organ in the first chorus. I go for the first note and everything is fine. Whew, sigh of relief. The rest of the show was great. Then, right as we go into "Rock Bottom", fireworks start going off behind the crowd, too close to the people!! The pyrotechnician must have left the scene!! The fireworks are shooting off right over the stage and crowd!! At times, I couldn't even hear the music or what I was playing it was so loud! There are so many fireworks that the cinders are raining down, burning us and the crowd!! Too Hot to Handle!!! That's what I'm thinking!! Thank God, nothing caught on fire and nobody got hurt!! Overall, a crazy and over the top finale to a MSG show that night!! One that won't be forgotten...:)
RBA: The standard set list of the latest MSG tour included only three songs from the Tales of Rock'n'Roll album. I wish you could do more from TORR partly because Jari was there and this world tour should be a good opportunity to promote the album. Anyway, you played an important role on this album. Could you restate here how you contributed to it.
WF: Michael called and asked if I'd play 7 string guitars and keys on the TORR CD. He didn't send me any music because he wanted it to be spontaneous. So I drove to Phoenix without knowing what to expect. Basically, I had to figure out all of Michael's riffs on the spot, in front of him, and 2 - 3 other people. Then I would add whatever I felt the song needed. I would say, "I hear something like this", and write something right there. I'd bounce all my ideas only off of Michael. He let me do pretty much whatever I wanted. I'd write 7 string guitar, then add cellos, violins, choir or whatever. Sometimes he would say, "Hey, what was that?? do more of that!! Or "Yeah, but try it like this!". We seem to work really good together. We've had such a strong connection playing and personally for so many years, that we feel real comfortable around each other. That makes for excellent conditions for writing or being creative. I wrote all of the 7! string guitars and multiple keyboard parts for 19 songs in 4 days!! Also McAuley flew in while I was there, and recorded his song...He's a true pro!
RBA: I am ignorant about the gear. But, does your 7-string guitar have an additional bass string (lower than bass E)?
WF: Yes, the 7th string is a low B.
RBA: I noticed you used the 7-string guitar on the tour. Do you use this additional string on other materials than the TORR songs? I mean old MSG and UFO songs.
WF: I've been using it on the entire MSG set for the past few years now. Though, I'm very careful "where" I use it. I wouldn't want to change the sound of the original songs. When I do use it, I use it to thicken the rhythms and to add fullness or heaviness in spots.
RBA: Many people including me wondered which part of the trade-off solos you actually played since everything sounds like Michael's. And, Michael himself mentioned in an interview that, because your playing was very much Schenkerish, he had to play differently. What do you think about those opinions?
WF: I never tried to play like Michael, or Schenkerish or whatever. I just played what I would normally play. I wanted to do something that was tasty and cool. Not copy the style of MS. I made a point not to do that anywhere on this album. Out of respect and honor to Michael, I would never do that. I just wanted to write something that would complement or go with Michael's playing. I would like to think that's what I accomplished. There was entire solos that I had written for Big Deal and Life Vacation. Michael decided whatever parts he wanted to keep. That was fine with me. I was stoked to be able to trade-off solos with the maestro himself!! Not very many people can say that. A lot of stuff that was cut from the solos had a very different or maybe a more identifiable WF approach you could say. I had no idea what was going to be used or not used.
RBA: Arachnophobiac is a great album but to be honest I don't listen to it very much because Jeff Watson plays some solos on that. Although I admit he is a very good guitar player, I regret to say I don't feel comfortable about him playing on that album. On the contrary, your playing on TORR fits very naturally into the songs regardless of whether you sound like Michael or not. I guess that such natural fitting leads to those opinions of the fans.
WF: Wow! Thanks so much!!
RBA: Can you briefly describe your guitar playing style/approach?
WF: This can be a bit difficult to explain...It is what it is. I just play what I feel and hear inside...
RBA: Is your style based more on feeling or theory and techniques, etc?
WF: Yes, both. There needs to be a connection between the two. I feel there's great importance to theory that's mostly over-looked these days...Theory is not always necessary, but can bring a musician to places never imagined without it... Techniques can only widen a musicians vocabulary... On the other hand, without feeling nothing else matters...That's the bottom line.
RBA: Do you think you have been influenced by Michael about the guitar playing style?
WF: I am definitely inspired and influenced by MS!! I still am blown away every night on stage by his playing... His mastery of tone, vibrato, phrasing and melody is untouchable!! and unmistakable!! Something all musicians should aspire to reach...
RBA: Michael also said in a different interview that your keyboard techniques have been very improved since you joined the band. Do you practice a lot while you are on the road and at home?
WF: Yeah, practice is an extremely important time for me to come up with new ideas and techniques. I'm always trying to improve and work on my chops, whether at home or on the road. Lately I've been doing a lot of recording for my band SLAVIOR on the road. It's tough to be in 2 bands, so writing / practicing on the road keeps the creativity moving forward...
RBA: Which do you practice, guitars or keyboards, or vocals?
WF: I trade between all 3.
RBA: You just made mention of your band Slavior. I would like to move on to the topic about it. How was it formed? Your roles on it? Any plan of gigs or CD releases, etc?
WF: Mark Zonder, the insane drummer from Fates Warning, called and asked if I'd be interested in writing together. We had a good conversation and I found out that a mutual friend of ours, Chris Leibundgut, had told Mark that I lived close to him and that he should give me a call. He sent me a CD of some drum ideas, and I wrote some music to them. He liked what I did, so we started to talk about doing an album and starting a band. We were very serious about NOT making this just a project, but a REAL band. A band where all of us would be a team, not one guy doing everything. So, Mark and I started to write and after a few songs were demoed, we started to send them to a few singers. With another recommendation from Chris Leibundgut, we sent a demo to Gregg Analla the singer from Seventhsign / Tribe of Gypsies. After we heard Gregg Analla's voice and his modern approach to our music, we knew he was the right singer for us. Mark would write the drums and I would write the guitar, bass, and keys. Together him and I would arrange the song, then send it off to Gregg in New Mexico. Then he would send it back with vocals. We did this for the entire album. We did have a record deal with Black Lotus Records, but they recently went under. Luckily, we hadn't given them the album or artwork, so we were still in a good position. We are currently in negotiations with another bigger label and I will announce it as soon as things are secured. The CD could be released as early as Sept. 2006, I hope!!!...but we'll have to wait and see...
For live application we will get a killer bass player and either a keyboardist or guitar/ keyboardist....So essentially we will be a 5 piece band. We will start to gig as soon as the SLAVIOR CD is released!!! I can't wait!!! It's gonna be KILLER!!!
RBA: You recently changed its name from Templewithin to Slavior. Slavior is a title of the debut album. Is it a coined word, a combination of Savior and Slave? You said you changed the name because the new name better represents the style and
image of the band. Can you characterize the band?
WF: Yeah, it's a made up word that Gregg came up with...slave and savior combined...SLAVIOR. The name TEMPLEWITHIN came to me in a dream, so I / we still plan to use it in the future. We decided that SLAVIOR seemed to fit the style and imagery we were shooting for. I would say we're hard to characterize because the music is pretty diverse. But if I had to, I would say we are a heavy/ modern/ prog/ metal band.
RBA: How do you intend to balance between your activities in MSG and Slavior?
WF: SLAVIOR is my #1 priority because it's my/our band. Right now we are waiting for the release of the 1st SLAVIOR album, so this has given us a little breather, allowing me some time to tour with MSG...We have already started writing for the 2nd SLAVIOR album. But I do intend to try to balance between the 2 bands if possible.
RBA: Besides guitar and keyboard playing, I know you are a good singer. Have you ever played in a band as a lead singer or do you have in mind about the project where you will be a front man?
WF: Thanx!! I did sing in some of my bands in the past. I also wrote a lot of vocal harmonies on the new SLAVIOR album. Who knows?...maybe some day...but right now, I'm just happy with the guitar, keys and bass!!! I do feel it's very important for musicians to try to sing as much as they can. Singing is something you can do anytime or anywhere...your built in instrument. I know it's something I always try to work on...
RBA: You finally will come to Japan in November to do some shows. I believe tickets have been already sold out and we, Japanese fans are all excited about the upcoming tour.
WF: Sold out?!! Cool!! I didn't know that.The whole band is very excited to come to Japan too.
RBA: How many times have you been to Japan? Do you have any memories or impression about Japan?
WF: I've been there once and I loved it!! I have only great memories of Japan...The people, their appreciation and love for music, the great food and cool gadgets!! One of my personal favorite places to play!!!