Monte Pittman & Richard Christy (Interview)
Invisible Oranges readers are probably most familiar with guitarist and singer Monte Pittman for his work in Prong. Pittman joined that band following their reunion in 2000. He’s also known for, um, teaching Madonna how to play Pantera’s “A New Level”. An accomplished solo artist, Pittman’s played Live 8 and recently released his fourth record, Inverted Grasp of Balance with drum contributions by Richard Christy.
Christy may be more familiar to readers than Pittman. An accomplished drummer, Christy plays in Iced Earth and Charred Walls of the Damned, who just released a new album, Creatures Watching over the Dead. Perhaps most notably, he played on the final album by Death, The Sound of Perseverance. Also a comedian and radio personality on Howard Stern’s show, Christy agreed to interview Pittman for Invisible Oranges.
Christy: Monte, what is the album that, when you heard it, changed your life and made you want to play music?
Pittman: That would be one of my sister’s Kiss records. Anything from Alive to Dynasty. She had all of those and I would listen to them all back to back over and over again. I was one of those kids standing on the bed at 3 years old pretending I was on stage. I had a little toy guitar that looked like a yellow Les Paul. I used rubber bands for strings. That’s kind of how I started playing guitar. When I actually got my first guitar at 13, I understood what to do.
Christy: Who is your single biggest influence as a guitar player?
Pittman: I would say Steve Vai. He’s played in bands and he’s having an amazing solo career. He’s an awesome person too. His playing and the way he approaches his performance is out of this world. He’s a great songwriter and I love his voice too. He has a unique singing voice.
Christy: What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been before going on stage?
Pittman: Before we played Live 8, someone asked if I got nervous on stage. I never do and told them that. They said “surely you get nervous if it means something to you?” I thought about that and freaked myself out. I’m never doing that again. There were thousands upon thousands of people there in Hyde Park. They told us afterwards that the broadcast went out to 80% of the planet Earth. So, it was one of those moments where everyone you’ve ever met in your life or anyone you will meet may be seeing that performance.
Christy: How do you write music, does it usually start with a guitar riff?
Pittman: I start playing my guitar and it just comes to me. I started recording myself every time I play in case something happens. I used to make voice memos but now I record video so I can see where I played something. I’ll usually just play the riff I like once and everything after that is a variation of that. Doing it this way, I can got back and see that one time I played it a certain way.
Christy: What is the riff that you’ve written that you’re most proud of?
Pittman: That’s hard for me to pick just one. I was always find of my song “(I Am) The Black Rabbit”. Now I would say the end riff to “New Blood Keeps Us Alive”. There was something magical and special when I came up with that one.
Christy: Who’s your favorite underground band that a lot of people might not know about?
Pittman: That’s a tough one. I’ll go with Crobot or Holy Grail. Both are close friends of mine. I know a lot of people do know about them but there could be some that don’t. I would love for us three to tour together.
Christy: Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Pittman: Weird astrology and coincidence type of things. I like to take one idea and reimagine it where it could mean something else. I tell people that on “Guilty Pleasure”, you don’t know if the lyrics are coming from the antagonist or the victim. It could also be a reference to a relationship and how we hurt the ones we love the most.
Christy: Any metal riffs or metal bands in addition to Pantera that you’ve introduced Madonna to?
Pittman: I showed her part of “Creeping Death” just to work on some right hand, down picking technique. There’s a little intricacy in “Whole Lotta Love” I showed her. Also at that time, someone made a cool mashup of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Justify My Love”. I was hoping we could do something like that live! I showed her the beginning of “South Of Heaven” to practice some harmony guitar parts. We always do a little bit of everything. I’m always showing her something new. We’ll play something like that and then play something from Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, or Nina Simone. But what about you. When did you first start playing drums? Was it just a hobby or did you know you wanted to play professionally?
Christy: I grew up on a farm so I was pretty lucky as a kid that I had plenty of cow feed buckets that I could bang on with dowel rods. I remember setting up about 5 buckets and playing along to Quiet Riot “Cum on Feel The Noize” when I bought the cassette in 1983. The following year I graduated to real drums in the school band when I was 10 years old and I knew that one day I wanted to be a professional drummer once I heard Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”.
Pittman: How did you start your career in comedy?
Christy: I basically kind of fell into it thanks to my boss Howard Stern. I really have no business being in comedy haha cause I was just an electrician who happened to be a huge fan of Howard’s show and he ended up hiring me in 2004 after years of sending in bits and songs as a fan and he made my dreams come true!
Pittman: What’s the real story of how you joined Death? I’ve heard several versions of the story.
Christy: I actually met Chuck Schuldiner for the first time at a Waldenbooks in the Altamonte Mall in Altamonte Springs, Florida, in spring 1996. He was reading a magazine about recording studios cause I think he was building a home studio at the time. He talked to me and my friend Steve for a long time and was super nice. About a year later when I heard Chuck was looking for a drummer my friends Rick Renstrom and BC Richards from the Orlando band Wicked Ways put me in touch with Chuck because they were good friends with him. I auditioned a few days later and since I’d been practicing along to Death albums for many years before that the audition went great and I got to join my favorite band!
Pittman: What is your favorite track you’ve ever played on?
Christy: That’s a tough one because I’m proud of everything I’ve played on but if I had to choose it would be the Death song “Scavenger of Human Sorrow” because it was so amazing that Chuck let me do a crazy drum solo to start off the album The Sound Of Perseverance and it’s such a fun drum beat to play and it’s a really brutal way to start off an album. I’m so proud of my drumming on that song and thankful that Chuck let me go nuts with my drumming on that whole album! And of course you let me go nuts on Inverted Grasp Of Balance as well so that’s why I said this is a tough question, because I’m super proud of my drumming on your album too!
Pittman: Speaking of “Inverted Grasp Of Balance”, what is your favorite guilty pleasure song?
Christy: “All of Me” by Stryper. That’s the REAL “All of Me” that people should be playing at weddings, not the inferior John Legend song!
Pittman: What’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?
Christy: A keg party at Elm Creek Lake near Hiattville, Kansas. My drums fell off the stage (I use that term loosely, it was several tables put next to each other) into the crowd while my band Syzygy played Metallica’s “Unforgiven”. A few friendly drunks helped put my kick drum and two toms that were attached to the kick drum back on the stage while I played the snare drum and hi hat. It actually turned out to not be a bad gig though cause there were ten kegs of Milwaukee’s Best there!
Pittman: What was your experience like when you first got hired on the Howard Stern show?
Christy: Very surreal. Growing up in Kansas then moving to New York City to work at my dream job was something that it took me a very long time to even realize was actually happening. I actually still don’t think it has sunk in about how lucky I am to be working there!
Pittman: What is your favorite prank call you’ve done? Mine is the porno loan. When I first heard that, I drove off the road because I was laughing so hard. How do you do those with a straight face?
Christy: That’s another one where I can’t choose a favorite, I like the porno loan one a lot too because the guy’s voice is so funny who I called, plus it was a lot of fun listing off names of ridiculous non existent porn movies and porn stars.
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Pittman: Would you ever run for mayor of Kansas City?
Christy: Kansas City is way too big, I’d consider somewhere like Uniontown, Kansas, because my grandfather was mayor there and he used to drive the firetruck up to the top of a hill when it was cold and create an ice path for me and my friends to sled down, so being mayor of a small town has some pretty neat perks!
Pittman: Would you ever do another stand up comedy tour? Dino Cazares was telling me he saw you do stand up. He actually asked me to ask this question.
Christy: Hey Dino! My wife and I hung out with Dino and his wife in Hawaii on our honeymoon in 2011 and we had a blast! We even jumped off of a cliff into the ocean together! I did stand up for quite a while but it’s just hard to find the time to do it nowadays. Stand up comedy requires tons of writing and tons of rehearsing material at clubs in NYC and I unfortunately just don’t have the time for it nowadays. Plus it’s scary as hell to get up in front of a crowd with just a microphone, I prefer hiding behind the drums haha.
Pittman: What’s the longest period of time you’ve worn a diaper at a show and what is your favorite brand of diaper?
Christy: Depends of course! The longest period of diaper wearing for me was when Coheed and Cambria did four nights of shows, playing each of their first four albums in their entirety in New York City. I love every song on those albums so of course I had to wear a diaper, there was no point in the show where I could go to the bathroom or I would miss one of my favorite songs! I pretty much used up a whole box of Depends in those four nights.
Pittman: What would people say if the funniest thing you did on the road before the days of you going on Howard?
Christy: I once took a dump in a Folgers can and cooked it at 450 degrees in an oven backstage at a gig in Joplin, Missouri. My band mates in the band Public Assassin dared me to do it and I took them up on the challenge. When the club started to fill up with smoke it was the crappiest smelling smoke ever, literally!