It is clearly an exciting time for guitarist Jeff Duncan. The axe-wielding musician has steadily produced quality rock and metal for decades and 2018 is no exception. As an integral member and guitarist with heavy metal music heroes Armored Saint, Duncan toured internationally supporting the band’s seminal album, Symbol of Salvation, which was played in its entirety to the praise of fans and critics.
Meanwhile, September marked the release of Atomic Highway, the newest album from DC4, a quartet which Jeff Duncan fronts and also plays lead guitar. The 10-song album will undoubtedly satisfy hard rock and metal fans. Read our review here.
With regular activity between the two bands and even a few others, as well as a solo instrumental album in the works, 2019 is looking to be even busier for the six-string virtuoso. Musicinterviewmagazine.com spoke with Jeff Duncan about the making of Atomic Highway, some Armored Saint updates and a lesson in musicianship.
An Interview with Jeff Duncan
Atomic Highway is a fantastic hard rock and metal album. You refer to the sound as “Megarock.” Would you say the album is the heaviest of the band’s output?
Jeff Duncan: I think it may be. Electric Ministry may have been a darker album but Atomic Highway is a little more to-the-point and maybe doesn’t have as many left turns as Electric Ministry did. That’s just the way it went and how all our albums have gone. It’s never been planned a certain way. It’s more of an upbeat sort of record where the energy is a little higher and a bit more consistent than Electric Ministry.
I’m a huge Eddie Van Halen fan so the influence is bound to come through. There’s no shame in that comparison. That’s one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
“One And Only” is a standout track about a relationship on the outs. It starts off mellow and kind of dreary but launches into something fierce at the one-minute mark that caught me off-guard the first time I heard the song. Was “One And Only” always constructed that way or did the song take a different shape while recording?
The songs were written and all demoed at home and that intro happened after the fact. I came up with the main riff and what I wanted to do using the lead vocal, so I was thinking how are we going to start the song? I began mellower and lower and then kicked in on the bridge, that’s when the band kicks in, on the ‘B’ section. The intro is something that happened after the fact. I’m a Beatles freak. I take a lot of cues from them in terms of arrangement and try to learn from the best.
He’s [John Bush] one of my favorite singers of all time, whether I’m in a band with him, or not. I thought it would be fun to share lead vocals with him. When it comes to singing there’s no competition, I just want to listen and become a student. I look up to him [John Bush] as a singer and think a little bit of him rubbed off on me.
John [Bush] takes care of his voice on the road. You can make your voice sound a certain way that’s very aggressive, using a proper technique to create that sound. It’s not just screaming your head off, but you can be powerful. I learned some of that as far as creating variations within your own voice. And that’s what singing is, using your voice as an instrument. I never really fancied myself a lead singer and wouldn’t sing for any band except for DC4.
Is it tough to juggle multiple responsibilities and projects?
When you have an album come out like Atomic Highway, you want to get out there and promote and play it and play the new songs. There are restrictions but I’m not complaining. It’s just about managing your time effectively. I just need to keep myself healthy so that I can keep working.
It’s something that had come up in the past because of the album’s critical acclaim. We felt at the time that it came out, as good a record that it was, it wasn’t the best time for an album like that. John shortly thereafter departed and joined Anthrax. We then toured a little bit. It was hard on the road at the time and felt we never gave it its due. We owed it to the fans and to ourselves.
We thought we’d play the album in its entirety and celebrate Symbol of Salvation and plant the flag on the soil of things. I’m glad we did it. That was the motivation behind the tour and staying on the road. We revisited some of those songs that we hadn’t ever played live, like “Hanging Judge” and “Burning Question.” It was cool because when I picked up the guitar I remembered everything. I think it’s because at the time we made it, the album was such an important record for the band. It was sort of the band redeeming itself after all that had happened, including the loss of guitarist and songwriter Dave Pritchard, who died of leukemia during pre-production. Yet how to play those songs was burned into my subconscious. There was a lot of heart and soul put into that record and we have the fans to thank for that one.
Armored Saint’s latest studio album, Win Hands Down, is a highlight of the band’s catalogue. The title track is becoming a mainstay in live sets and for good reason; the song captures all the energy the band is known for and gives you and guitarist Phil Sandoval space for dynamic solos that catapult the song back into the chorus. What can you tell us about the composition?
Bassist Joey Vera came up with the initial line for the melody. He had that in there as a key part of the solo and we kind of worked around it. I think the harmony, Phil and me, just sort of threw in our ideas on it and go back and forth on our solos to complement the melody lines that Joey came up with. We have some trade-offs. Everyone pitched in and I’m really happy it. It’s a song within the song and that’s what any solo should be. We definitely accomplished it on that song. It comes out of that mellower section, which was a part that Joey came up with, showing his prog influence. It was a cool little thing to go into but at first I thought it was a little weird. Then when I understood, it made perfect sense. We could have just gone through it and be cool but that makes it unique. It’s a left turn and that’s musically interesting. That’s what makes it Armored Saint. We don’t want to repeat March of the Saint or Symbol of Salvation. I think it’s great that we evolve and everyone in the band evolves on that same track.
From start to finish, Win Hands Down is another great album. Any plans to tour on Win Hands Down in its entirety?
Hopefully we won’t have to wait 30 years for that. We’d be in our 80s if that happened. I don’t think we’d be up for it at that point.
What’s the status of the album’s follow-up?
It’ll probably be later in 2019. I just got a demo sent from Joey of a song that he and John wrote that’s really good. That’s definitely going to happen and in the works as far as writing it goes. The good news is that it’s taking shorter periods of time for us to come out with a new album.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’ve got an instrumental electric guitar album coming out. That’ll be a solo project. Hopefully DC4 goes on tour in the U.S., too.
Editor’s note: Shortly after this interview, Armored Saint was announced as one of the bands to play the MegaCruise in 2019 alongside Megadeth, Anthrax, Metal Church and Testament while Justin Smulison’s head almost exploded.
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