Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sci-Fi Superhero

I sometimes struggle with how to categorize artists. For example, while Kirby Krackle is straight-ahead nerd rock and Dethlehem plays fantasy metal, John Anealio is more a… guitar geek troubadour?

The words, sometimes they fail me.

John and I recently made some time to talk about his unique style and his own circuitous musical evolution. Further, amid all this, he also hit me with his official bio. It reads thusly:

John Anealio performs geeky anthems for writers, librarians, lovers of Sci-Fi, Best Buy customers & robots. His music sounds like John Mayer, Weezer & James Taylor playing Dungeons & Dragons together on their iPhones. Check out his music at
I reckon that about sums him up. Read on to discover the hidden mysteries of hair metal and John's own secret identity!


John, despite the acoustic singer-songwriter slant of much of your contemporary output, you actually come from a metal background. Was that the style of music that originally inspired you to create, or was it something you discovered after picking up the guitar?

Definitely. Being exposed to the playing of (hair) metal guitarists like Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Vito Bratta (White Lion) and Reb Beach (Winger) inspired me to play. I was determined to compose and perform those types of fleet fingered solos. Looking back, it's pretty easy to see the connection between metal guitar and geek culture. Thumb through an old guitar magazine from the '80s/early '90s and check out those photos. Those guitarists look like Sci-Fi Superheroes! Long hair, spandex and bright, multi-colored guitars that looked like laser rifles. Musically, the distorted, finger tapped solos sounded like the soundtrack from an '80s video game.

Stylistically, you seem to be drawing from a number of places, so what about lingering influences? Are you still steeped in hair metal? What about lighter fare?

I've always had a voracious musical appetite and I've always been curious about music history. I always wanted to find out who influenced the musicians that I admired. My favorite metal guitarists would usually cite Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin's Jimmy Page would talk about his love of the blues, folk and world music. If you have an inquisitive mind, it's pretty easy to get lost in all of these different styles of music and over the course of my musical life, I have.

Eventually, my love of metal led to instrumental guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, which led to prog rock. As I became more interested in singing and songwriting, I got into The Beatles and Crowded House. When I started playing the coffee shops, I started to explore folk and acoustic blues. All of these influences impact my creative process in some way. It often depends on my mood or what seems appropriate for a particular song or piece of music.

Your latest release, Laser Zombie Robot Love, has an fascinating title with an even more interesting story behind it. How did you arrive at this unique name?

I co-host The Functional Nerds Podcast. Each week we interview a different sci-fi or fantasy author. Through the podcast, my music and my attendance at conventions, I've gotten to be pretty good friends with quite a few of these folks. I didn't have a set title for the album yet, so I thought it would be fun if some of my author friends submitted title suggestions by looking at the artwork and the track list. I my Twitter/Facebook friends and people on my mailing list to vote for their favorite. Chris F. Holm, Mur Lafferty, Paul S. Kemp, Robert Jackson Bennett, Myke Cole, Matt Forbeck and Karin Lowachee came up with excellent titles, but Chuck Wendig's Laser Zombie Robot Love pulled out the victory.

Speaking of, what's coming down the pike for The Functional Nerds?

More of the same. The strength of what Patrick and I do is consistency. We put out a show every single week. Each week we interview a Sci-Fi or Fantasy author and chat about geeky topics and make music, tech and book picks of the week.

I know from Functional Nerds that you're also a voracious reader; what books or authors are you currently digging?

Well, I'm an enthusiastic reader, but I'm terribly slow, so I don't know if I can describe myself as voracious. Here's a list of my favorite books from the past year:

1. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
2. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
3. Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm
4. Control Point by Myke Cole
5. The Hammer & The Blade by Paul S. Kemp
6. Empire State by Adam Christopher
7. Awakenings by Edward Lazellari

Okay, back to the new release front. LZRL boasts 11 of what I like to think of as "John Anealio classics" as well as 9 bonus remixes and alternate takes. Do you do all your own remixing, and what inspires your continued experimentation with the sounds of electronica?

I did all of the remixes for LZRL. I know a lot of traditional musicians look down on electronic music because it isn't "real" and you're not really playing. I love the "sound" of electronic music. I love how insanely creative some electronic musicians are with the development of their sounds. I also dig that a lot of this type of music can't be played on a traditional instrument. Those flurries of arpeggios and off-kilter rhythms just sound so cool and I like seeing how those sounds can combine with my traditional songwriting.

What's your recording setup like? How do you go about producing, mixing and mastering?

Here's my gear list:

1. Rode NT-3 and NT-1 Condenser Mics
2. M-Audio Firewire 410 Audio Interface
3. MacBook (5 years old)
4. Logic Pro 8 Software

I use the mics to record my voice and acoustic instruments. My electric guitars go directly into the audio interface and are then processed by Logic's amp modeling software and effects.

All of the piano, organ, synth and drum sounds are produced in Logic. I arrange, mix and master everything in Logic too.

In your day job you're a music educator; do your students know about your secret life as a geek rock super hero?

They don't! Anealio is actually my middle name, spelled phonetically. Years ago, I released music under my real name, and I started to get uncomfortable when students or parents would show up at gigs or tell me that they saw my website. When I started doing geeky and sci-fi inspired music, I decided to perform under a pen/stage name. It was a good decision. It really liberated me to write about whatever I felt like.

You recently mentioned to me that you're on the Ladies of Ragnarok bill with Molly Lewis and The Doubleclicks when they pass through New Jersey. What's the skinny on that show?

I'm really excited about this. I've had the pleasure of opening for Paul & Storm in Salt Lake City in Nerdtacular as well as Marian Call in NJ a while back. I've been online friends with The Doubleclicks for a few years now, so it just made sense for me to open for them when they come through New Jersey. This is a house concert show, with limited seating, so reserve your space now! Here's the info.

Any other gigs lined up for those who'd like to experience your live performance?

I just performed as the musical guest of honor at Fencon in Dallas, Texas, which was great fun. In addition to the Ladies of Ragnarok show in New Jersey, I'll be performing another house concert in Maryland on Saturday, October 20th. Looking to book some more concerts/cons for 2012.

So what's the rest of 2012 look like for you? Any new projects planned or holiday releases in the works?

I've got a pile of unrecorded songs that I need to get to this year. Even though my songs are fully arranged with electric guitar, bass, drums, synths etc. on record, live I perform them all with just one acoustic guitar. To sound fuller, I finger pick and use various alternate tunings. Quite a few people have been pointing out how they want to hear more of this on my albums. A friend at my recent show in Dallas went as far as to say that my live guitar playing is what makes me sound like "me." He suggested making the acoustic guitar the focus and using subtle electronics and samples to support the guitar playing. I'm really inspired by this idea and I think that is the approach that I'll be taking with my next batch of songs.

And finally, John, what single track from this new release (or any of your previous efforts) best represents what you're about musically? What's the one song that potential fans should check out to get a proper feel for who you are and what you do?

It has to be "George R.R. Martin Is Not Your Bitch." It's poppy and funny and gives a good feel for my melodic and harmonic sense. Has a prog-ish guitar solo and outro and bits of electronica.

Yeah, that's all you, man. That's definitely you.