Guns n’ Roses

An interview with guitarist Richard Fortus
by Tina Hall
December 2011

Guitarist Richard Fortus

Guitarist Richard Fortus

Richard Fortus has graced the stage with artists like Rihanna,The Psychedelic Furs, Nena, Love Spit Love, Honky Toast, The Compulsions, Thin Lizzy, and most recently Guns N’ Roses, with a stage presence that is nothing short of amazing. His work with the music production company Compound has seen his work featured in various tv, film, advertising and videogame projects. Fans of the former television show Charmed have enjoyed his work on the theme song as well. His work ethic and drive led to his being one of the most sought after first call sessions artists in NYC.

Maximum Ink: Who were some of your earliest influences?
Richard Fortus: The Beach Boys, Beatles, Stones, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, T Rex, Neil Young.

MI: As someone who has studied music professionally do you recommend formal training to others? What advice would you offer the musicians of tomorrow?
RF: It really depends on what you want to do. It’s definitely not necessary, but I always wanted to gain all the skills possible to be as good of a musician as possible. I always wanted to learn everything I could about music. You never stop learning.

MI: You started playing the violin and drums as a child. What made you want to become a guitarist?
RF: There were always guitars around the house when I was growing up. I was always pretty intimidated by them because they had 6 strings and I had my hands full with 4! I always loved guitar though. Guitars are just so sexy! 

When I was about 12, I used to jam with other kids and they started showing me stuff. I became fairly adept very quickly. I always hung around older kids that were much more advanced. They hung out with me because at a very young age, I was a pretty solid drummer and they all played guitar.

MI:Who do you consider to be some of the best living musicians of our time?
RF: Wow, there are so many amazing musicians that I admire. As far as guitar, nobody touches Jeff Beck in my book. There are a few artists that I will buy everything they come out with. PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Jack White, Sufjan Stevens, Dandy Warhols, Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and Flaming Lips.

MI: You have played in your share of symphonies, what first led you to try your hand at rock n roll? What other genres do you enjoy?
RF: I was always pretty obsessed with rock n’ roll. I studied classically and I enjoy orchestral music, but the freedom and energy of rock, blues and jazz is what I was more drawn to. Improvisation, it’s spontaneous composition. It’s so much more expressive and immediate and emotional. As a classical musician, you are only interpreting the music and there is very little creativity involved. The expression is very limited, you are simply a tool for the composer. There isn’t any genre that I don’t like. Good music is good music.

MI: How did it feel to be one of the most sought after sessions artists in NY?
RF: It’s funny how small that whole scene is. It’s almost dead now in NYC, but it used to be very busy. I moved to NYC as a part of the Psychedelic Furs/Love Spit Love, so I was instantly accepted in to a circle of musicians and producers. Once you are in, you are in, and as long as you keep doing good stuff, you keep working.

MI: What was it like to join Guns n Roses in 2001?
RF: I was not really a fan of the band when I was growing up. I always lumped them in with the hair metal bands of the time. That wasn’t my scene at all. I was more of a punk rock kid. When I got the call to audition, Tommy Stinson was already one of my best friends. I was a huge Replacements fan growing up and I think Tommy is an amazing songwriter and musician.

Also, I was a big fan of Robin Finck’s and the stuff he did in NIN. So it was very intriguing to me.  By that time, I’d also figured out that Guns was much more than just one of the LA metal bands. They were influenced by all the bands that I’d been influenced by. Bands like the Stooges, the Stones, The Dolls, Nazareth, Pistols, etc.

MI: What have you learned from your time there?
RF: Trying to make 3 guitars work together is something that I’d never had to deal with before. It’s quite a challenge to keep out of each others way and orchestrate things to make it sound bigger and still be dynamic. That’s probably been the biggest learning experience.

MI: Having worked with countless other great musicians which of them did you enjoy working with most?
RF: I enjoy playing music and I always learn from everyone that I work with. Some gigs are more inspiring than others. Playing with Thin Lizzy was simply amazing and stands out as a definite highlight. They were all just so great to be around and the time I spent with them on stage was absolute bliss and at times, was the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had on a stage.

MI: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
RF: Always do everything to the best of your ability and always treat everyone with the same amount of respect. I also always like something that Joseph Campbell said: “always follow your bliss”.
MI: Are there any little known things about you that people might be surprised to learn?
RF: All of my tattoos are fake. I draw them on every morning with colored sharpies.

MI: Did you ever imagine your love of music would have taken you as far as it has?
RF: Yes, I imagined it my entire life. I’m surprised that it happened though!

MI: What do you think you’d be doing right now if not for music?
RF: I probably would have continued with my career as a drug dealer.

MI: What projects are you currently working on?
RF: I’m going to start scoring another Surf Movie for Michael Halsband when I get home at the beginning of the year.  Also, we are going to be finishing up the next Gn’R record. 

MI:How would you like to be remembered when your time comes? If you could pick your famous last words what would they be?
RF: I never really had any aspirations to be remembered. I hope that my last words will be telling my two daughters and my wife that I love them.

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