By Caroline Paone
Who could forget Jennifer Batten’s entrance into the worldwide music scene – on a mere billion or so television sets? Alongside the King of Pop, she rose like a vision – her lofty blonde hair commanding the stage as she shred out the hottest licks heard and seen by a woman probably ever. And her landmark instrumental albums are a must for guitar lovers. (If you haven’t already, check out her “Flight of the Bumblebee” rendition on Above, Below and Beyond.)
She’s still the queen of guitar and especially at GGM we’re always keeping tabs on her career; such as her Neck Illusions designs that we covered a few months ago. As of late, Batten recorded a new CD BattleZone in collaboration with vocalist Marc Scherer and produced by Jim Peterik.
Get the scoop on Jennifer Batten’s guitar-driven life:
How was recording BattleZone different from working on your classic instrumental albums? This project seemed to blossom from a session gig that grew…
Recording this album was a piece of cake when compared to me producing and recording my own solo CDs. I take forever to make decisions, especially with my last CD/DVD Whatever. Aside from a couple of special guests, I did everything; played all the instruments and spent a ridiculous amount of hours programming.
Most of Whatever was written while I was with Jeff Beck and written for him in mind. He’s always looking for new material. The BattleZone CD started with one very prolific session where I was flown to Chicago and recorded four songs and wrote a song with Jim Peterik [Survivor/Ides of March] before breakfast the second day.
A few months later, they brought me back in for four or so more songs. I did some touch-ups in my own studio after the fact and voilà, there was a finished CD. Granted I was brought in just the last few months, so the tracks were pretty much done when I began. It was a very different genre for me. My last three CDs although they are all extremely different from each other, basically they were guitar instrumental records.
Sounds like a bit of a different take for you?
It’s kind of a nice change to have a different “job description” as a support instrument: I would play fills between vocal lines as well as the main guitar solo and tag out instead of doing everything including all melodies. A couple months after I finished the second session, the vocalist Marc Scherer called me up and asked me to be a bigger part of the record as a partner.
The album’s got a pop-rock, but heavier vibe. I feel it’s pretty commercial in a good way…BattleZone is a great title…
The track “BattleZone” was the song that Jim and I started that second morning of the first session in Chicago. As it turns out, it’s not a bad title as most of the songs deal with love and relationships, which always have their ups and downs. There’s always going to be some sort of power struggle however subtle that may be. Yes, it’s a very commercial record and the first I have been a part of anything that has any hope of radio because of the vocals.
Maybe it can help some people discover what good music is again with true musicianship…
Thanks for that. Yeah, a lot of modern music does not leave much to hang your hat on over time. I think these songs have very memorable hooks and of course, being in the melodic rock genre, they all have great melodies as opposed to some more modern songs where although I might like the song, there’s not much of a melody. Maybe they have great sounds, great production, and a great groove, but a great melody is something I would be happy to play as an instrumental guitarist.
I still do a lot of instrumental shows and, of course, people generally are hoping that I will play at least one or two Michael Jackson songs. Because he has such a vast catalog of songs, there’s a lot to choose from, but for instance a song like “Jam” or “Smooth Criminal” although they’re cool songs, there’s not much to the melodies. The focus on those songs is more on lyrics and rhythm.
Speaking of playing, what guitars did you use on this recording? Do you still use your classic Washburn?
I used two different guitars on those sessions. I started with a guitar that I have since retired, which was my own model of a Washburn called the JB100. I used that on Michael Jackson’s History tour, through the Jeff Beck tours, and in my own shows for 20 years. That guitar has been beaten up, broken multiple times (thanks to the airlines), and even stolen and retrieved once. Now it just hangs on the wall with all of its battle scars and mojo.
What are your more current guitars? Do they have any special modifications or pickups?
A couple of years ago, Washburn designed a new series of electric guitars called the Parallax. I am using a modified version of their PXM10. The modifications are; a short scale neck, since that is what I have been used to playing for many years, the original Floyd Rose, and a few other modifications. I actually have three of the same model with different experiments in each one. The lightest one is what I have been taking on the road and also what I used in my home studio for all of the recording touchups for BattleZone. I loaded that one up with Fishman Fluence pickups. I use their double wide “Modern” in the bridge and two singles.
Did you use any pedals or effects on the album?
I didn’t use much in the way of effects on the CD aside from my trusty Whammy pedal, which I set to bend notes down a whole step. I played all tracks through the BluGuitar Amp1. It’s a revolutionary design. It’s a 100-watt amp head, but it’s so small it fits in your carry-on or gig bag. It weighs less than 3 lbs. and is tube-driven and has 4 channels. I use it exclusively now. I also used a wah-wah pedal on a couple things.
As far as other projects, do you still do instructional clinics?
Yes, I still do clinics and I do a wide variety of them. All of them now are multimedia since I make films. I do a solo show in sync with the films that I make, so when I do clinics I use the films as well, just to add another dimension of entertainment. I do guitar clinics and often in colleges will do clinics for all musicians. I also came up with what I call a four-hour seminar, but I have never gotten through the whole thing in four hours. It’s called “Self-Empowerment for the Modern Musician.” I kind of designed it to be like TED talks where you spend a good solid 20 minutes on any given subject and then move on. It’s full of loads of things I have learned from the school of hard knocks, being a professional musician for almost 40 years. I get into some modern neuroscience that I have studied on the most effective way to learn music I want to eventually make it a downloadable class, but I am a way off from that.
Curious, do you keep in touch with Jeff Beck?
Yes, I keep in touch with Jeff. I was just at his house last fall because I had a show in the next village from where he lives. It’s always cool and inspiring to see him, and his wife is wonderful and creative as well. He dialed some things up on YouTube and turned me onto an amazing nine-year-old harpist that was phenomenal named Alice Sadikova. He also played Mahavishnu footage from 1972. I wasn’t aware that stuff was available online. A month later I saw John McLaughlin’s final tour in Portland. Tickets were certainly not cheap but it’s one of those things where I would not forgive myself if I missed it! Jimmy Herring opened and then John played a set, and then the two of them played a set of Mahavishnu tunes. Both bands, of course, we’re loaded with phenomenal musicians, so it was quite an inspiring evening.
One last comment; the beginning of the song “BattleZone” is especially great! To me, it has that “Jennifer Batten” sound. I think you do have a signature sound in general.
Thanks for that! I think it is either a blatant or subtle goal of every musician to eventually hone an identifiable sound. That’s where the real satisfaction comes in; when you spend a lifetime of absorbing different music and then are able to output with your own voice.
Jennifer has also been working on film clips to go along with the songs on the BattleZone CD. Please visit her Scherer-Batten YouTube playlist for these wonderfully creative films. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL64O2U8OiRjwQD91BHgKSHK2uL9gEMPzr
Check out our other interviews with Jennifer Batten: