Exemplary musicianship, powerhouse vocals and great songs:  MARAGOLD is the name of US-American guitarist Greg Howe’s new band project. Greg is one of the world’s most outstanding guitarists. Records such as “Hyperacuity” or his 2008 release “Sound Proof” have forever changed the way we think instrumental fusion and rock music. For MARAGOLD’s debut, Howe has teamed up with his long-time mates Kevin Vecchione and drummer Gianluca Palmieri to release an album that has the potential to top this year’s "Best Rock Album of the Year" polls. GuitarMania interviewed Greg and wanted to learn more about the band name, how long it took to write the songs, and his new signature amp.

On 23 April, MARAGOLD released their self-titled debut “Maragold” - an amazing rock album featuring ten tracks featuring outstanding singer Meghan Krauss on vocals. The album represents a daring new direction for Greg Howe, who is renowned for his solo work and his work as a sideman for stars such as MICHAEL JACKSON, CHRISTINA AGUILERA, RIHANNA or ENRIQUE IGLESIAS.

Greg, we have really been looking forward to conducting this interview with you. We are delighted to hear that you are now playing in a new band. Please tell us about MARAGOLD.

Well, for years I wanted to do a vocal project. My heart is rooted in vocal music. That is what I started with when I went to high school. The instrumental career that embodied most of my career has really been the result of not finding the right vocal situation. So doing instrumental music was not something that I had kind of chosen, but rather something that I ended up with. This situation with MARAGOLD seems to be the ideal situation that I have been looking for all the time. I have been waiting for the right vocal situation to come along. So all the pieces fall together. This really is me getting back, I guess, to really where my heart belongs.

Let me just see whether I understood this correctly. Are you saying that all this fantastic instrumental music you wrote is just because you never found the right situation for a vocal music project?

I would not say that this was the only reason, but I would say that it is a big part of it, yes. Because had there been a vocal project that worked for me, you know, back in the time, there is a good chance that I would not have felt any real motivation to do an instrumental album in the first place. So, part of it was that. Anything happens for a reason, as far as I am concerned. I mean the instrumental career has been great for me. I have been learning and expanding musically, expanding guitar wise, and some of if fed back into this more mainstream project, but I would not change anything. It is just that sometimes the perception that people have of me is that I step forth as being the instrumental guitarist, but that really was not the case.

Can you please talk about why you choose the name MARAGOLD for the band?

We were looking for a word that was not a word but sounded like a word (laughs). We had a word called "Cynamine", but everybody just read it as Cinnamon every time. So we realized that that is not gonna work, so … we were writing the lyrics to one of the songs, actually the Song "Evergreen is Golder", there is a lyric in it that actually has the word Maragold in it so Kevin and I were looking at each other and we thought "Maragold", that is kind of a cool name.

We understand you and Kevin Vecchione (Bass Player) and Gianluca Palmieri (Drums) played already together for some of your instrumental projects?

That is exactly right. Kevin was the bass player back in 1996 on my album "Five". And Gianluca played on my "Sound Proof" album in 2008. So the three of us together seemed like an ideal scenario. Originally we had another lead singer in mind. A male vocalist who ended up getting another gig, so we had to look elsewhere for another singer. Kevin had discovered Megan because he sort of lives in her area and she was playing in cover bands, and we became aware of her. We saw a picture of her and thought she looks great, ahem, and I was almost hoping that she could not sing because I did never even considered a female lead singer, but when I heard her I just thought, wow, she really has the whole pack.

We agree. She has a fantastic voice.

I am glad you feel that way.

Have you already played concerts in this formation?

We actually haven't. We got together in the studio and we have done some rehearsing but we really have to officially get together now and prepare for a live situation.

Being located in Central Europe, we would of course be interested to hear whether you plan to come to Europe?

There are some plans to Europe. As a matter of fact, there are some talks with booking agencies now, but the problem is that we are simultaneously talking to some bigger management companies and some labels. And so depending of what becomes of those meetings will have an effect on the nature of our touring plans. So it is a bit of an interim phase and we have to wait and see what is going on. Regardless of what happens, whether we do it with a big label, or whether we do it on our own or on a smaller label - whatever it is, we will be touring.


Please tell us about the songwriting for MARAGOLD's debut album.

It was a work in progress. Kevin and I, and Gianluca got together years ago in Rochester in New York, where the singer we were originally going to use lives. We got together at his friends studio and played around with some ideas. All of those ended up being pretty rough ideas, basic foundational ideas, you know, nothing fully developed. And then, unfortunately I have been so busy in touring and working on other projects that we really did not continue. So finally, when I had an opening, I had Kevin coming down to Las Vegas, and we sat down for about a month and just honed in on it and got this stuff together. The most difficult part was when we found out that the singer we had originally intended to use was not going to be in the band anymore. We then had not only to find a singer, but had to direct our songwriting at the nature of the new singer. It actually was a fun challenge, but it did change the course of our direction a little bit.

Was Megan involved in the songwriting process?

No she really was not. Not this time around. She has got great lyrical ideas, but in this instance, no. Kevin and I, for the most part, did most of the writing.

How long did it take you guys to record the album?

Ah, it did not take long. There were a lot of different parts. Some of them recorded in Rochester. Sometimes I would put a guitar down thinking it is going to be a temporary guitar, but sometimes it captured a magic that I could not get back while doing the 'real' version. So I ended up using the original track. So it’s hard to say how long it took, because we were doing some recording and then some months would go by and then we would get together and do a bit more. Collectively it probably was not that much, because once we get together, things go very quickly. So, maybe a month or two? Maybe a month and a half.


Did you tour during this whole time, knowing that you played with a whole bunch of people in the past, such as Enrique Iglesias, Michael Jackson, N-Sync, etc. ? Did you do any side-jobs while recording?

Only regarding my own thing. I pretty much stepped off of the sideman gig thing. I mean I have been offered to do quite a few things, but reluctantly I turned them down, because the problem with those gigs is that they are really easy to become addicted to. They pay a lot of money. They do not require a high level of technical proficiency. So they are very tempting and they are really fun, but they don't do much for your artistic development, or your artistic career. So I made a conscious effort to only do things that involve my songs and my albums and my career.

You also have a new signature amp called "Maragold". Can you please tell us more about it?

Yeah, this is great. I am working with the company DV Mark, which is obviously a direct affiliate of “Markbass”. They had a tremendous amount of success with their bass stuff. I think they are the number one selling bass amp company in the world. But the guitar thing is a bit newer to them.
They have some amps out that are pretty cool. But they did not have anything in stock that was working for me. But they are great people and so we ended up working together putting together an amp that would fit what I do a little bit more comfortably and we are honing in on it.

I was in Italy actually two and half weeks ago for four days honing on it more, made some fundamental changes to the amps. So we have got a much quicker responding amp with more British characteristic to it, as opposed to a more modern high-gain characteristic. It is only going to be a two channel thing (please note: in the video below, the prototype is still a three channel version). In the output we decided that we would go with 6L6 tubes. They were originally using 8088, and I tend to be a EL34 freak, but I go back and forth because EL34 in certain amps compress a little bit more for me and then 6L6 tubes will provide a little more clarity. They do not compress quite as much.

Sometimes I like the compression. It really depends on the amp. In this case, and the way the amp is being designed, we are pushing the output stage really hard, so the output is going to play a big role in the amp, unlike other high gain amps where the output stage ends up being really not much more than just the master volume. In this case, the output stage plays a big role. So we spent a lot of time to do some technic tunings, and in the end I felt that the 6L6 tubes worked best for what I tend to do on the guitar.

When will it be released?

I am hoping to have it released in September 2013. I am going back to Italy in June and I am working on the prototype right now. I am taking notes, I am playing with it, and we are just honing in on it, working all the final bugs out, but the goal is September.

Where is the company actually situated?

It is in a town called Pescara on the Adriatic Sea (approx a two to three hour drive from Rome). And that is where the factory and headquarters of Markbass/DV Mark is located.

Please let us briefly turn to you as a musician. What do you practice at the moment, and do you practice at all?

(Laughs). That is a really good question. You know, honestly, I don't really practice much and to some extent I have never really been someone who practiced (note: that was when the editor burst into tears). When I was younger I would play a lot, but my playing usually consisted of just improvising, or learning some licks off of albums, or figuring out a keyboard part on the guitar. I never had a regiment where I would go like an hour of alternate picking, an hour of left hand work out, or sweep picking. I was never that kind of player. I usually play motivated by inspiration. So if I am in the mood to get some bluesy things going on, I will listen to some blues guys and work on some things that deliver that. But I have never been a guy that practiced a lot. However, I did use to play a lot more. It is tougher now because of my schedule. I try to slip it in whenever I can. I also do webcam lessons whenever I can, which is helping, because it is forcing me to have a guitar in my hand.


You appear to be equally at home in rock, but also in jazz, and everything in between.

I appreciate you acknowledging these influences. It is hard to say. I think the difference between me and some other guys is that a lot of guys will have a lot of influences and somehow they are able to compartmentalize these influences and keep them sort of separate from each other. To some degree I admire that. I have never been able to do that. What happens to me is that I listen to this and in my mind I am thinking "I love the energy of this rock thing", or, "I love the sophistication of this jazz thing, and the heart and soul of this blues thing". I wish that could all be melted together into one sound, as opposed to compartmentalize. And I think to some degree my playing sounds like that. You know, it is hard to call me a jazz player, and it is hard to call me a straight up rock player …

Not sure whether you would agree, but you have developed your own style combining all these influences …

I really appreciate hearing that. Thank you so much. And it is the goal that I always had. My favorite guitarist, musicians and singers, always and from the time when I was younger, were people who, if they played three notes, you knew exactly who it was. You knew exactly that is Eddie Van Halen, or that is Robben Ford, Hendrix, Pat Metheney, or Janis Choplin. You do not have to hear much more than a couple of minutes. That has always been a goal of mine. Much more important than trying to be the greatest. I am trying to have a voice that is recognisable. If what you are saying is that is the case, then that makes me very happy.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you all the best. Hope to seeing you soon in Europe on tour.

I appreciate that. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.


All photographs © Maragold and Greg Howe.