Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: August 20th, 2005
Funny story... I interviewed Jeff Loomis of Nevermore and asked him who is the best new guitarist on the rise. His answer was a Texas gun slinger named Rusty Cooley. So I e-mailed Mr. Cooley. That night I was out at dinner and my cell rang, the voice on the other end said “Hey man this is Rusty.” What a surprise, we set up the interview for the next day and I must say Rusty will make you feel like he is your best friend. He is down to earth and one of the first guitarist with NO attitude or ego. Once the new Outworld CD is released, Rusty will reach superstar status and we at Rock Eyez will have the pleasure of having seen a star in the making.
You received your first guitar at age fifteen. Do you remember the name of the guitar?
Yeah man, it was a PVP27 and it had a natural wood finish. Something like a country guitarist would play. It wasn’t very metal looking as far as I was concerned. But hey I was fifteen and it was a guitar.
Who did you hear that made you decide on guitar?
It’s kind of funny how it happened. Some of my buddies and I were jamming with some records together with tennis rackets for a few months of just goofing off, something stupid when you’re a kid. After a couple months we had this brilliant idea let’s get real guitars and so it really wasn’t one person that made me want to play guitar. Soon as I started playing I knew this was it. My all time favorite band when I was a kid was Iron Maiden. My first guitar hero was Randy Rhoads. For the first three years of playing, everything was Randy Rhoads. Then I heard Yngwie and he was my second major influence.
Randy was my favorite too. I bought the numbered statue of Randy. It’s not a cheap piece of plastic, it’s a nice piece.
I would like to get one of those. Did you have to order that online? That would look great on my desk, ha-ha.
What kind of kid were you growing up in Texas?
I came from a motor cross racing family. I have two older brothers and when I was born they were already racing. Soon as I was old enough they had me on a dirt bike. I was racing motor cross when I was five or so until I started playing guitar, that consumed most of my time and racing BMX. Going into the guitar thing was kind of a rebellious thing. When I started getting older my father was getting tired of it because he raised my two brothers on motor cross. I sold my last motorcycle as a rebellious thing and bought a new guitar. My dad swore to me he would never buy me a new bike. But later on he saw my dedication to the guitar and grew to appreciate it and respected that.
Do any other family members play instruments?
No, it’s kind of weird it came out of nowhere.
Did you have a dream of who you wanted to be?
I was pretty much gun ho on it from day one. I got it, put it in my hand and I knew that was it. I was fifteen. I already had plans to have a record out by the time I was seventeen. Big dreams but things never work out as you hope. I immersed myself in it, started practicing hours a day. I was like a popular kid in school but then went to having one friend who happened to be another guitar player. I became reclusive and my family freaked out at how antisocial I became. I was so consumed on playing guitar to become a good guitar player. I practiced as many hours as I could. I was ridged on it. I had a piano book where I had to log in and practice three or four hours a day after I got home from school. At the end of the week I would add up the time to make sure I met my quota. If I didn’t I would be hard on myself all weekend. When I got out of high school I started practicing even more. I would practice all day and in the evening I would go to work where I would teach guitar and after teaching I would go rehearse with my band OUTWORLD. I had the guitar in my hand all day long.
When you decide to get a new guitar what kind of decisions do you make?
Nowadays I am pretty lucky, I get custom guitars because I have an endorsement with Ibanez guitar. The things I look for in a guitar are I’m a seven-string player. For me I have to have the EMG pickup. I tried all the different companies’ pick-ups and the only one that delivers for me and my tones are EMG707. I like tall frets so I have to have the tallest fret possible. It gives you a scalloped fret without being a scalloped fret board. I believe it is Dunlop sixty-one hundred; they have to have 24 frets and have to have a really good cut away access to the high fret. It has to have a wide cut away and deep as well so my hand can get up to the highest fret without being restricted by that bottom horn there. Those are really important things. Less important is color. It has to play man.
Would you consider doing an acoustic CD?
Yeah man. I actually would. I have a lot of acoustic material. Oddly enough, my acoustic work I do for my own enjoyment. I hate to classify my band and solo stuff as work that I do as my career. My acoustic work is a bit more personal. When I sit down and play acoustic I am not worrying about recording and things like that. I do it as enjoyment. Some day it would be great to put out an acoustic album. Going back to Randy Rhoads, one of the things I love about acoustic is that he would layer it. He would layer nylon strings with steel strings. I will probably do some of that on the next Outworld album.
To this date what was the biggest impact on your life in music?
My guitar influences. I was huge into Randy Rhoads. One of the biggest impacts has to be hearing Yngwie Malmsteen. To me it was Randy Rhoads was the best player ever on this earth. Then you friggin’ hear Yngwie on Steeler and Rising Force. Not to take anything away from Randy or anything. His level of technique was so above everyone else it just floored me; oh my god let me run back in the woodshed to practice more.
What was your feeling when Randy Rhoads lost his life?
I was not playing guitar yet. I started playing guitar to the exact date a year later. March 18 th or 19 th in 1983. I really didn’t know. I heard about Ozzy’s guitar player but didn’t know much about it. But later it was devastating because this guy, so young and a brilliant musician had his life cut short.
Do you feel that your band Outworld is just an extension of your solo career?
No man, Outworld is totally different. My approach to playing in Outworld is much different. During my solo album people make a mistake on what I am trying to do. I got labeled as just a shredder or some guy who just plays fast. My whole goal was to record the most intense instrumental album ever. That was my goal. They expect that is all I have to offer is playing fast. That’s totally not the truth if you understand and think that was my intention. Outworld is totally different. It’s not me trying to cram notes in every space. It’s about writing great songs leaving room for the singer to get the message across. When the Outworld album comes out, I think it will change a lot of people’s opinion on my guitar playing. We are a little behind on the release date. It was supposed to be October but we are still not done. We had to let a drummer go and it set us back but we are almost finished. The singer has one and a half tracks of vocals left and the mixing. I really would like it out this year. Japan always wants to have it out a month before the other countries. If it is released in Japan in November that means it will not be released here until January. Japan also wants all these bonus songs but they will be lucky to get one. We got ten songs on this album and if they take one that means everyone else gets nine and that’s lame. I hope it comes out this year. It will stink to have to sit on it.
In our interview with Jeff Loomis of Nevermore he mentioned you are one of his new favorite guitarists. Do you feel as an artist that Outworld and your solo stuff will appeal to all genres of music?
I actually think it will appeal to all genres of music fans. We have a little bit of everything in Outworld. We have the guitar influences like the shred and neo classical that’s real light on this stuff. Not strong like on my instrumental stuff. Then you have the prog influence and it has a modern feeling. The bands I drew inspiration from when writing this album are bands like Nevermore, Soilwork, Meshuggah, Unearth, Killswitch, Engage, those are the bands that influenced my writing. That is what I am into, Arch Enemy. Yeah that’s the stuff, our music is heavy and aggressive. Yeah it still has the prog and metal and on top of that it has real vocals. Not the cookie monster death metal thing. We really have a unique package that no one has. We have all these elements that are going to shine through and will even shine through more when we do our second album. The next album will be more focused and polished.
What do you listen to?
I listen to all the bands I mentioned plus I listen to success CD’s, books on power thinking. Being successful in your career and making all the right moves. The only time I have to listen to music is in my car. When I am home I’m working or watching the kids.
Do you remember the first record you bought and the first concert you attended?
It has to be Ozzy, Priest or Sabbath. I had Kiss 8-tracks in the seventies then I went to cassette and actually bought albums later. I know I had some of the Shrapnel artists like Racer X, Steeler, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. First concert my big brother took me to was Iron Maiden “Piece of Mind” tour they had Fastway and Saxon opening up for them. It was great. If I am listening to radio in my car I never listen to FM. Most of the time it’s AM talk radio.
Do you really feel an instrumental will ever get commercial success?
In the US I doubt it. I think when Joe Satriani had the success on the radio it was the right time. But I don’t think that will ever happen again. American radio is so programmed and pigeon holed where it doesn’t leave any room for expression.
How do you go about writing your music?
Just by practicing I will stumble across a riff. From that I will develop the riff into first chorus pre-chorus. A lot of times I will come up with stuff when I am teaching. I will be there teaching a student and I have to come up with an example for a certain technique. I start noodling around and say hey that’s cool. Some of my best stuff comes when I am teaching.
Did you ever sing lead vocals?
No, Ha-ha… I did some backup vocals when I was in a band in the early nineties called revolution. I was so into guitar I never really needed it and there was always someone in the band that could sing. I wouldn’t mind trying to work backup in the future. My stuff is so technical I could never even think of trying to do something like that.
What would you like to do that you have not done yet?
I would say put more albums out and tour. I want to be on the bus. I am tired of all my friends out on tour and being on the tour buses.
Will Outworld tour?
Absolutely! We had to give up on a couple of things not being done with the album and limitations. We were supposed to open up for Angra and also Symphony X that we missed.
What is a typical day for Rusty Cooley?
I get up early and get my oldest son off to school on the bus. Then I come back to the house and make breakfast for me and my daughter, she’s five. Answer some e-mails and try to workout. Then I start to get my daughter ready for PM kindergarten. About 11:45 I get her on the bus and I come home and get some lunch and then practice until about 2:45 and then I go teach guitar lessons. I teach from 3 to 8 Monday thru Friday.
You write a column in ‘Guitar Player’ magazine, how did that come about?
‘Metal Guru.’ It was a gradual process. I put out some CD ROMs and after that about 2002 I started sending stuff out to the guitar magazines. ‘Guitar Player’ really dug it and gave me a half page review. So I made some contacts then and released my instrumental in 2003 and sent it to them. They did a nice write up on it. October 2003 they called me up and asked would I be interested in doing a thing called guest guru. It was a nice three page write up on me. About two months later they called me and asked did I want to write a column. I said I guess that guest guru did pretty well. Going back to Randy Rhoads I knew Randy taught and I wanted to. I love to teach.
What new guitar player do you recommend to hear?
I listen to a lot of bands but not too many solo artists. But I would have to say Jeff Loomis. I love Loomis and I love Dream Theatre. There is a guy in Florida by the name of Shane Gibson. He is a young guy in his early twenties. He went to Berkley, he’s got some sick chops and he can write too. Check him out. He doesn’t have a full-length CD out yet but he does have a demo. It’s very diverse from wacky instrumental stuff to band stuff with an oriental chick singing.
Are you working a new solo CD?
No. Outworld consumes all my time. My schedule is so tight. I know Lars at Lion Music has some stuff for me lined up. But I am not sure what time I have.
So what is the next step for Rusty Cooley?
Man just to get this album out. We started recording it in February. Three weeks into it we fired the drummer and had to find somebody new. I just want to get this album out and expose everyone to Outworld. That’s the big thing.
Rusty would you like to say anything in conclusion to our interview?
Thanks for the opportunity for the interview for your website. Check out Outworld. Later bro.