Do you like this story?
From teaching Madonna to play the guitar to appearing with controversial American Idol singer Adam Lambert during ‘that’ night at the American Music Awards, you can certainly say that Monte Pittman has been there, seen it and done that in music. Here he tells us what it’s like to play with the biggest stars and also the best gear as he reveals how his TC-Helicon VoiceLive 2 has revolutionized his live playing…
Monte Pittman’s story is the stuff of films. He moved to LA from Texas to form a rock band and ended up teaching guitar. Word obviously got out that he was pretty good at doing just that because one of his first pupils was Guy Ritchie whose then girlfriend Madonna had bought him a guitar. Monte ended up teaching both Ritchie and, when he returned the favour, Madonna herself! So how does it feel to have taught the first lady of pop the guitar?
“It’s definitely something you take great pride in and we became friends so I didn’t have to audition for her!” Monte laughs referencing the fact that he has now played with Madonna, both in the studio and on tour for the best part of a decade.
“With Madonna we just got off of a long tour,” he continues, “possibly the longest tour she’s ever done, certainly the longest I’ve done with her and I’ve been with her for close to ten years.”
Being so close to Madonna has clearly influenced how Monte leads his own life as he explains…
“One of the things I’ve learned from Madonna is variety. You go to a Madonna gig and you get everything and if there’s one thing I could have about me it would be variety. So I could be playing with [Monte’s industrial rock band] Prong, with Madonna, with Adam Lambert and doing my own acoustic stuff. I just like to keep it varied.”
Ah yes, Adam Lambert. As runner up on American Idol he’d already courted some controversy with many people thinking he should have won the show but a performance at The American Music Awards caused all sorts of outrage Stateside and Monte was there to witness it first hand as he is now playing alongside Lambert as he promotes his new album.
“I’ve know Adam since 2004 since we met on a show called the Zodiac Show,” says Monte. “I’ve studied music history and I don’t remember it being as safe as it is now. I think the American Music Awards and American Idol are just too safe and what Adam did was just get in there and shake it up a bit! Now he’s coming out with his album and we’re doing promos for that. We’ve just done Lettermen and The Early Show and many others.”
After having completed such a long tour with Madonna and with Adam’s album promotion going strong it’s incredible that Monte has had time to produce an album of delicate acoustic solo material called The Deepest Dark. For this he used a very stripped down and traditional recording process and he gets help reproducing this live from TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive2.
“It was recommended to me because I needed to get some kind of processing and I know that TC-Helicon make the best,” says Monte. “It just so happened that they were coming out with the VoiceLive 2. It was recommended to me as a good vocal processor and it has completely changed my live performances.”
“One of the things I love about the VoiceLive 2,” he continues, “is that you can plug your guitar into the pedal and that does any kind of pitch correction or determines your harmonies. I also love how you can just turn the effects on and off. Every once in a while I’ll use the harmonies out of the VoiceLive 2 like in a chorus and I can simply turn it on and off with the footswitch.”
Monte went to some extraordinary lengths to record his album traditionally and with as much atmosphere as he could muster and, as he reveals, VoiceLive 2 allows him to take some of that atmosphere out live…
“We recorded it at Paramount Studios in Hollywood and there’s this room where albums have been made for decades,” he says. “They have records there made by everyone from Hendrix to Led Zeppelin and I wanted to record my album to tape like they did. To me there’s a quality in that music that you don’t always have today. So I did this as ‘right’ as I could do it and I got John Dent who worked on some Nick Drake remasters to master the album.”
“We used really subtle tape echo and we also had access to some amazing mics that we set up around this big room in a golden spiral. We set them up to get an interesting atmosphere in the background and subtly mixed what they were picking up with the direct instrument sound to get this incredible atmosphere. But the thing with the VoiceLive 2 is that I can simulate the sound of the album when playing it live by having delays and things like that and just switch it on and off.”
He sums up his feelings for the pedal in three ways…
“Number one with TC-Helicon is that you have the best quality voice processors. Number two is that you can plug your guitar in and if I’m strumming a G-chord and I’m singing something in G then it will take the harmony from the guitar, the inversion of the chord. And the third thing is that you can turn all of your effects off and on right there. You can turn your harmony off right there, your reverb, your chorus, and the doubling effect… And if you turn on the harmony it really sounds like there is another person singing with you. I’ve been experimenting when recording and writing just to use a different harmony to come up with something completely different for the way you are singing your song.”
So what has Monte got lined up for the future? As you might expect, it’s as much and varied as ever…
“I’m going to be playing with Adam and doing my solo stuff in between and I’m working on ideas for my next album,” he says. “It will have more strings and percussion, building on the first album. I’ll also always be involved with Prong too, with Tommy Victor the singer and guitar player, and we were talking the other night about doing more. I don’t like labels where you do this one thing and that’s what you are. Like I said earlier, I have to keep it varied.”
Check out Monte’s album at iTunes.