Exclusive interview with Bobby Koelble of Death/Death To All Tour
Bobby Koelble is extremely talented but at the same time an extremely underrated guitarist. He is best known for his collaboration with Chuck Schuldiner of Death on The Symbolic album. And believe me, when speaking of his guitar mastery, Bobby has a bag of tricks that everyone dreams of!
Agoraphobic News: When did you start playing the guitar?
Bobby Koelble: I started to play when I was 13. My first instrument was the organ, and I switched when I started getting more heavily into rock and metal.
Agoraphobic News: Who are your favorite metal and non metal artists?
Bobby Koelble :To name a very few, I really like Opeth, Meshuggah and Gojira, Voivod, Puya. We could talk all day about non-metal artists because there are so many haha. I listen to a lot of jazz, so I would have to say Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, John Coltrane and Sam Rivers are high on my list of favorites.
Agoraphobic News: Can you tell me something about your musical education??? It's really cool to see that you are a professor of both Jazz and Contemporary guitar...
Bobby Koelble: I graduated from Berklee College of Music with a Performance degree. I teach at University of Central Florida and Rollins College here in Central Florida. I never set out to be a professor, it just kind of happened haha.
Agoraphobic News: Florida was the epicenter of Death metal back in the day. Living and playing there was definitely a unique expirience. Do you miss good old days ?
Bobby Koelble: Sure, sometimes. I'm not a very sentimental person, though. I try as much as possible to keep moving and looking forward. I still connect with some of those guys occasionally. I used to be in a band with Ken Andrews from Obituary back in the day, so it's always great to see him.
Agoraphobic News: Atheist was probably the first death metal band that experimented with jazz, latino beats etc. Did you find that really innovative back in the day?
Bobby Koelble: They definitely own a cool and unique sound. That's another band that Chuck had a lot of respect for.
Agoraphobic News: How did you get involved in Chuck Schuldiner's band?
Bobby Koelble: We met many years ago when we were both in high school. When he needed a guitarist for the Symbolic recording and tours, we re-connected through a mutual friend we had at a local music store.
Agoraphobic News: Did you see Death as the greatest metal act coming from Florida?
Bobby Koelble: When I heard Human for the first time, it blew my frigging mind. I liked the old stuff, too, but that album made a really unique statement. That put them near the top of the heap for just about any kind of heavy music coming from anywhere for me.
Agoraphobic News: What is your favorite solo/song taken off Symbolic?
Bobby Koelble: That whole album obviously means a lot to me, but to narrow it down, my favorite song would be Symbolic and my favorite solo Perennial Quest.
Agoraphobic News: Is Symbolic your favorite Death album?
Bobby Koelble: I think I would be crazy if it wasn't haha. For purely selfish reasons, yes it is. That album got me in the band playing with Chuck and Gene, and basically put me on the map in the metal world. And it was great to be observant as the whole thing came together. But of the remaining albums, I would say Human is still my favorite.
Agoraphobic News: Was it easy working with Chuck?
Bobby Koelble: Yes. We got along great. I always did my best to have my shit together haha. I also understood the situation pretty well. I knew it was his band and he was calling the shots, and I was fine with that. He gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to in the solos, which I really appreciated.
Agoraphobic News: DId you learn from him?
Bobby Koelble: The main thing I learned from him, which I've also learned from many other musicians, is that as useful as a knowledge of music theory is, the ear is the most important tool that you have. Chuck had a very "if it sounds right, it is rig" attitude towards his music. He also developed a sound and a style in his writing and soloing that was very unique to him, which teaches you how important it is to develop your own musical voice.
Agoraphobic News: When compared with rest of his catalogue, Symbolic is the most melodic and "pop" oriented album. What was Chuck's idea behind it?
Bobby Koelble: I don't know. We never really talked about it, but I doubt it came out sounding like that by accident. Chuck was always moving forward, of course. Each album went somewhere different from the last one. A similar band in that respect would be Voivod. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that Chuck had his biggest recording budget for that album, which definitely shows in the production quality. I'm sure that's partly responsible for people having that perception of it.
Agoraphobic News: Is it true that Chuck wanted to disband Death after the Symbolic tour in 1996, but he was pushed by the record label to make a new record, The Sound of Perseverance?? Chuck was probably pissed off because of that...
Bobby Koelble : Death was disbanded after the Symbolic tours. Chuck decided to concentrate on Control Denied, which he asked me to be a part of, but which I could not commit to at the time. That's when Shannon Hamm came on board. From my conversations with Shannon, it's my understanding that Chuck was asked for another Death album by the label releasing the Control Denied album, presumably Nuclear Blast. That may not be 100% accurate, though.
Agoraphobic News: Do you think that Chuck would approve of the Death to All Tour concept? I
Bobby Koelble: I don't know. It's obviously impossible to speak for him. I think if he understood that we are basically a tribute band and that we aren't trying to be "Death" without him, then he would appreciate that we are helping to prolong his legacy and give the people that never got to see Death a little glimpse of what it was like. I definitely think he would approve of this lineup if it had to be done at all.
Agoraphobic News: Do you get money from Symbolic sales?
Bobby Koelble: No. I was paid to record and tour, that's it. Which makes perfect sense, because I don't own any of the music.
Agoraphobic News: What was the last time you met Chuck?
Bobby Koelble: I'm guessing it was about 8-10 months before he died, when he was in remission. I ran into him at a local club. It was his first time going out since his diagnosis and treatment. it was pretty amazing to see him. We got pretty drunk and actually fell down together in the parking lot haha. His recovery seemed pretty optimistic then, which is partly why it was so devastating when he relapsed.
Agoraphobic News: How does it feel to play on stage with Gene Hoglan,Steve DiGiorgio and Max Phelphs, making an homage to Chuck?
Bobby Koelble: It feels great. We just try to do it justice every night to the people who want to hear it. It's all al tribute to Chuck, and we play the music with passion every time. Steve and Gene are two of my favorite people as well as musicians. And Max is a very talented guy who's also very funny and humble and nice to be around.
Agoraphobic News: How the fuck did you get in touch with Srdjan Brankovic of Alogia?
Bobby Koelble: He contacted me through Facebook. It was great to collaborate with him. He's a fantastic musician. We might do it again sometime, I hope.
Agoraphobic News: Did you enjoy working with Nader Sadek?
Bobby Koelble: Yes, I did. Those guys were all great. Lots of talent there as well. Travis is a cool dude that I try to stay in touch with.
Agoraphobic News: Is it more challenging to play in a metal band or in an orchestra or maybe in some jazz trio?
Bobby Koelble: Haha they each present their own difficulties and peculiarities. Since jazz is improvised, I'd say it's probably the most difficult to play on the highest level, somewhere I certainly don't consider myself to be yet.
Agoraphobic News: Can you share some information about your ongoing project(s) ?
Bobby Koelble: I'm slowly but surely working on a project with my friend Antoine Baril on a metal project (unnamed as of now) that will be out next year. It's taking longer than we wanted because we both are busy and have families. I also play with the bassist Dave LaRue, who has played with Steve Morse/Dixie Dregs, John Petrucci, Joe Satriani and many other great guitarists. My own fusion group is called the Absinthe Trio, and I play in Orlando with the New Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra. I'm also doing some various session work. I played on Abysmal Dawn's new album, which was killer, as well as a Finnish band called Hateform.
Agoraphobic News: And the last one... are you sometimes having a hard time with your students?
Bobby Koelble: Occasionally. The best ones always motivate themselves, but sometimes you have to lean on them a little haha. Cheers.