The Aristocrats: Irreverence spells success

For the News-DemocratAugust 16, 2013 

The word "supergroup" is overused. But it definitely applies to The Aristocrats -- guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann -- who defiantly and joyously thrill audiences and fans around the world with a band chemistry that has come across since their first performance together in January of 2011.

The group will play 2720 Cherokee in St. Louis on Monday.

The band members come from three different genres and extensive backgrounds to make their own sound ... well, sort of.

"We're not really trying for anything in particular," said Beller. "When you listen to our record, and come to our shows, you are going to see a little bit of each of our personalities. We cross the spectrum when it comes to genres. You are going to find anything form old R&B Motown to speed metal."

Govan is one of the hottest guitarists on the international music scene, and his 2006 solo album "Erotic Cakes" was an instant hit. His top-level touring experience (Asia, GPS, Steven Wilson) complements his busy schedule as one the most in-demand guitar clinician/educators in the world, and he was featured on the cover of Guitar Player Magazine in July 2011.

Beller's numerous credits include guitarists Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa), and the hugely popular metal "band" Dethklok, borne of the Adult Swim (U.S.) animated TV show Metalocalypse. His solo artist catalog includes three CDs, two DVDs, and an instructional DVD for Alfred Publishing, He was featured on the cover of Bass Player Magazine in October of 2012.

Minnemann is widely seen by fans and peers as one of the most gifted, innovative, cutting-edge drummers in the world. He has graced the covers of several drum magazines, including Modern Drummer, and enjoys an ultra-versatile sideman career (Adrian Belew, UKZ, Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani, Necrophagist). Perhaps less known: He's a multi-instrumentalist and compulsively productive composer with nearly twenty CD & DVD solo releases to date.

Despite their individual followings, The Aristocrats' formation was a matter of happenstance on a barely-paying gig. Beller and Minnemann had a trio slot scheduled at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif., in January 2011, when their guitarist was a late dropout. Govan was a last-minute replacement they met for the first time in rehearsal the night before the show. The electricity was immediately obvious, with their unbeknownst-to-them shared influences sparking a high-energy instrumental fusion with an aggressive, playful, even cheeky edge. The audience response was overwhelming, and the band formed practically by demand on the spot.

"We played the NAMM show that night in California, and I was called in, and we went through rehearsals," Beller said. "During the rehearsals, I could see something was happening, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. However, during the show, it started to grow and become this 'thing' that not only was I a witness to, but I was a part of it. When we were done with the show, we all decided that we need to get together and record material. It's kind of took off after that."

Three months later, the band convened in person to track the album. Consisting of nine tracks (three contributions from each member), the material was a melting pot of their respective influences, ranging from the seminal '70s jazz-rock fusion of Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra, to the progressive rock of King Crimson and UK, to guitar heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, to the absurdly complex and satirical music of Frank Zappa and Mike Keneally, and even to '90s groove metal like Rage Against The Machine.

"With both of our albums, we each put three songs on the record," Beller said. "There isn't a specific sound, as I said before, and each member gets to bring their own unique perspective and talent to the album. It worked really well the first time around, and we are hoping for the same results with this album. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' is what they say."

Beller says of the tunes, "We ended up using our different influences to write for each other. I wrote "Sweaty Knockers" specifically for Guthrie to have fun with, while Guthrie wrote "I Want A Parrot" with bass leads in mind. As for Marco's material, we're just lucky to be able to keep up with it."

The ever-mischievous Minnemann's song titles prompted Govan to wonder if the band shouldn't be named The Aristocrats, after the infamous dirty joke and movie of the same name. It stuck, and The Aristocrats were born.

Tracked in just eight days, the group's first album "Boing, 2011' was hailed as a classic in leading music publications worldwide, appearing on many of that year's top 10 lists. Govan suddenly found himself on guitar magazine covers across the globe. Music schools in particular felt the impact, as a wave of students took to covering Aristocrats tunes much in the same way Steve Vai's Passion And Warfare inspired players a generation ago. In less than a year, The Aristocrats went from doing a single pickup gig to becoming one of the most sought-after live instrumental rock/fusion acts in the world, touring for the next 18 months.

Earlier this year, the band reconvened to track their long-awaited sophomore album, "Culture Clash." The title alludes to the multinational makeup of the band (Govan is British; Beller is American; Minnemann is German), as well as a sly reference to a scene from the Coen-brothers film "A Serious Man." They used the same formula -- three songs from each band member -- but weaponized it with the collective experience of 18 months of touring as a unit.

"Culture Clash was released in July and debuted at No. 8 on the jazz charts.

"The jazz charts of all things," said Beller. "Never would I thought that would have happened earlier in my career. It's a cool thing, though, because that's what this band is all about ... experimenting and seeing what the results are. We are truly a democracy."

Beller is looking forward to playing 2720.

"People are going to get a lot out of our show there," he said. "We are going to go all across the board musically, just like both our albums. We'll be in a small setting, a more intimate venue, but don't let that fool you. We are definitely out to have a good time, and make sure our audience does too."

Who: The Aristocrats

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Where: 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center, St. Louis


Tickets: $18

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