The Shred Master General

I Skype with Blaine “The Shred Master General” Kaltman: Stone Mob’s guitar player and the writer and director of the ultra-violent “Murder Town” and “Requiem” videos. He looks relaxed in a T-shirt and sweat pants. He’s holding a bottle of red wine that appears to be about half empty. He’s drinking straight from the bottle. After the typical greet I launch into the questions. Some of his answers may surprise you.
Who are your influences?
God- so many. I mean I have my guitar heroes- Van Halen, Steve Vai. I love AC/DC, Suicidal Tendencies, Iron Maiden, Rossini…
When you think about it it’s not all that different than Van Halen –it’s just played on different instruments. But in the end it’s all just super catchy heavy music. I mean, tell me that Figaro Aria from the Barber of Seville doesn’t pump you up?
OK. The guitar player singer dynamic has an almost mythical importance in rock and roll. Keith and Mick, Plant and Page, Roth and Van Halen. What is your relationship with Doug Masterson like?
It’s awesome. Doug is an incredible singer. I mean, he’s the Earthdog. He hits notes that are so low and growly you can feel it in your chest. Then two seconds later he’ll hit some crazy high notes but with power and still in key. It’s really amazing. And we push each other. He’s always trying to get me to play faster or crazier. I’m always trying to write licks that will be hard to sing- write shit that’s off timing, words that are difficult to enunciate. And of course just notes that require sheer power to hit and hold. The amazing thing is Doug always rises to it. And then he’ll rise past it. Like on Murder Town when he started that “You wanna rumble, we’re here to tumble” part…I was sitting with the engineer Sean Russell- who, by the way, is seriously one of the classiest most knowledgeable guys you’ll ever meet- anyway I turned to him and said “He started way too high, no way he’s going to make it.” But then Doug just kept screaming louder and higher…and fuck me if he didn’t pull it off. It made me realize there is probably no note that Doug can’t hit. But, you know (Blaine smiles mischievously)…I’ll keep trying to find one. In fact I once read somewhere there’s a reason you hardly ever see a Bach opera performed. Apparently Bach couldn’t stand the fact that singers had to breath. He wanted to treat the voice like any other instrument. He didn’t like being restricted by lack of breath control when writing music. So his operas are supposedly ridiculously hard to sing. I think about that when I’m writing songs. I don’t want other people to be able to play or sing them easily. I mean, look, the song has to first and foremost be catchy. No one wants to listen to something that isn’t fun to hum along to even if technically it’s flawless. But after that I feel like we’re professional musicians. There should be a difference between us and the amateurs. We should be really fucking good at our craft. I mean, that’s our job. And both me and Doug- and everyone in our band- we all work really hard to that end. I mean our drummer Andy Hamburger- good fucking luck playing like that guy. If he’s playing something you can play- it’s only because it works within the context of the song. Otherwise every Stone Mob beat would sound like a fucking motorcycle engine on crystal meth. The guy can play so fast and hard it is mind boggling.
So you and Doug Masterson have a positive working relationship?
Well…I could say that. But I’d sound like a dick. (Blaine laughs). Sorry. That came out wrong. Look me and Doug are bros. I mean yeah, when it’s business time we are both totally focused. In fact the only person on the planet who cares more about Stone Mob than me is him. And vice versa. But all of that aside, it’s still rock and roll. And we’re still great friends. You know, we’re always pranking each other- making fun. Doug’s hilarious and a total pleasure to hang out with. And honestly he keeps me calm too. You know being in the studio is pretty intense. You got a lot on the line- you’re working really hard. I mean, this is your life. This is your baby. And when shit fucks up it’s like watching your baby squirming on the floor dying. (Blaine pauses a moment. Maybe he’s surprised by my shocked expression). Yeah, that is exactly how it feels. You would do anything to save that song. But sometimes no matter how hard you try that’s not going to happen. So it’s easy to get frustrated. But Doug always keeps his cool. He always stays positive. He always reminds me that whatever is happening is part of the flow. Sometimes you’re being swept through rough waters and you need to swim hard against it. But sometimes that water is so rough that if you swim too hard you’ll get tired and drown. You have no choice but to aim your feet downstream and ride it out.
How did you get the name “Shred Master General?”
Wilfred David is a good friend of mine and a member of the Stone Mob. He was the director of photography on Murder Town, he sings backup vocals on our tracks, and now he’s playing bass for us. He’s also an honorary producer. He’s full of good ideas- the guy has an amazing ear- an amazing eye- an amazing knack for all things artistic- and if Wil says “that’s a heavy track”…we know it’s a keeper. On the other hand if he’s shaking his head like “I don’t know guys”…just like Sean, we differ. Because these guys know the shit out of music. They literally see with their ears and in the end writers make lousy editors- so we’re just lucky to have such talented people who have the balls to speak up when we’re not being all we can be. So anyway what were we talking about? Right- Wil’s been there from the beginning, helping us with our projects, supporting us and being generally hilarious. He’s a really creative guy- a really funny guy- like I remember once finishing a solo in the studio and he was like “Houston we have shredded.” (Blaine laughs). He started calling me “Shred Master General” and it just sort of stuck. Now Doug will text me “Yo SMG, you set for the studio this weekend?” Even my dad sometimes refers to himself as “Shred Master General’s Father.” It’s a bit embarrassing but I can’t complain. It’s obviously a very arrogant nickname but it’s also motivational. When you have a name like that people expect you to play something impressive- so it makes me work even harder to live up to it.
Well it’s an appropriate nickname. Your solos are, in a word, amazing. The sheer speed at which you play is mind blowing and you come up with some really innovative nice sounding licks as well. Which makes me wonder, why do you keep your solos so short?
First of all thanks so much for that. That’s… super flattering. (Blaine toasts me with his bottle of wine and looks visibly appreciative). You know, no one goes home from a show whistling the guitar solo. You can be the best player in the world but if your songs aren’t catchy no one’s going to give a fuck. So to me the emphasis is on the song- the lick that drives the verse- something different to make the chorus really pop…I only worry about the solo once the entire song’s written because in some ways it matters the least. You know I want to get in- drop a bomb- and get out. Leave them wanting more if I can pull it off. But anything more than that is masturbation. (Blaine drinks his wine and looks a little irritated). I mean look, there’s nothing interesting about watching some extended solo where the guy’s stretching a bunch of notes while making douchebag expressions like “look everyone, I’m really feeling the fuck out of this music.” Guess what? I’m really feeling like throwing a rock at your fucking head because you don’t work hard enough at your craft. All you’re doing is wasting my time and yours stretching high E notes and playing simple blues runs that haves been done a thousand times since the 1960’s. And come to think of it the best guitarist of the 60’s kept his solos short. In the studio Jimi Hendrix played a few bars, that’s it. I mean, Ok, live he might’ve gone on a bit much but everyone in the audience was tripping on LSD so- given the context-and given the guitar player- I think that acceptable.
But what made Jimi’s music so great was his songs were killer- even if you weren’t into guitar. Van Halen too- another perfect example. Awesome songs and like Jimi his solos weren’t endless masturbation where he shows off every little trick- they were short sweet addendums. (Blaine grins like a child). I just used the word “addendum.” Anyway all that being said of course I want the solo to be interesting to listen to- especially for my fellow guitar players. I want them to hear something and question “How did he do that?” Or think “That was tasty. Niiice.” So I spend a lot of time writing the solo. In fact writing solos is the number one way I get better as a guitarist. Because usually I can hear the solo in my head but it’s above my level. I deliberately write shit I’m just not fast or accurate enough to play. But I’ll work it all out at about half speed. And then I’ll practice. My friend Richard Berman- one of the best bass players on the planet- taught me this. He said go slow to get fast. So I go slow. I mean, like obsessively. I will spend hours trying to hit that solo slowly, day after day, over and over and over again. And then in between practices- like I’m on my way to the fridge- I’ll stop at my guitar and run the solo as well. And then I start to go faster. I just keep at it. Like I lie awake at night visualizing the solo. If I wake up to go the bathroom I’ll run downstairs and practice it. I practice the fuck out of it. And then one day you make that break through- you hit it. Not perfectly but pretty close. And you realize someday I will be able to play this. I am becoming the dragon. (Blaine laughs and drinks his wine). But seriously, it’s an awesome feeling when you first break through that dauntingly impossible wall. It’s like that first time dad let’s go of the back of your seat and you make that wobbly bike ride a few feet on your own…Yeah, you still crash and burn. But you know someday you will ride like the wind. (Blaine pauses a moment). I talk a lot, huh? Feel free to edit the shit out of this. I’m kinda drunk.
No problem. So what about the little licks you throw in between phrases? Are those also written in advance?
No- never. That’s pure feeling. I don’t even think about it. I mean, I want to play within the songs key so there are note combinations I go for knowing they’ll work out. But really I’m just kind of exploding and letting my hand spaz all over the fretboard. Sometimes I’ll listen to something in retrospect and think “Shit, that was pretty tasty. I wonder what I did there?” Then I’ll spend hours trying to figure out what the fuck I played so I can recreate it.
What’s your advice to aspiring young guitarists?
Take up trumpet. (Blaine laughs). Start acoustic. In fact start on a classical. That’s what I did. Not by choice, by the way. I bought my first guitar with money I got from my bar mitzvah when I was 14 years old. I was into AC/DC and Iron Maiden so I naturally wanted an electric. But my parents wouldn’t allow it. So I was forced to learn on a classical. The necks are bigger, the fret spacing huge- these are the hardest guitars in the world to play on. So you develop great finger strength and dexterity. I mean I even learned to tap on the classical. I had to strike the strings super hard- and I still do because that’s how I learned. I didn’t have distortion or effects to mask my mistakes or compensate for my inadequacies. Every little fuck up I made was audible. And those fuck ups would piss me off…I mean, to the point of almost smashing my guitar on a daily basis because I would get so frustrated. (Blaine sits back and laughs) I still go through that almost every day- maybe I should practice on cheaper guitars so I don’t have to control myself so much (He laughs some more and takes a long pull off his wine bottle). Simply put you cannot fake it unplugged. Anyway after two years of playing classical my parents finally reversed their moratorium and I got my first electric. And man, that thing was like a toy to me. The neck seemed so small and easy to control- notes suddenly had sustain and I could reach stretches on the fretboard I’d never dreamed of hitting. So- you know, even though it pissed me off at the time- my parents did me a huge favor by forcing me to learn on the classical. I truly believe it’s the main reason I can play pretty well.
Pretty well?
Ha ha. It’s easy to be modest when you’re walking in the footsteps of giants. And honestly I have the utmost respect for every guitarist that’s made it. (Blaine thinks a moment). Except for John Mayer. That guy’s a fucking douchebag.
What is the goal of Stone Mob?
Play the most kick ass rock and roll possible. Take over the world. Have fun doing it.
By this time Blaine’s bottle of wine is empty and he looks antsy so we end the interview. I have the feeling I know what he will be doing next: picking up his guitar and practicing to live up to his “Shred Master General” moniker.
Check out Stone Mob’s most recent video “Requiem” and visit for more songs and information about this up and coming band.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *