New Artist Spotlight: Tramaine Watkins

We first learned of Welsh guitarist, Tramaine Watkins, through his record producer, the incredibly talented Alex Argento. And sure enough, Tramaine was worth listening to. And then again. And again…

His debut instrumental album, Heavy Balance (reviewed here), delivers a fresh and exciting collection of songs that harnesses some ‘80s long-haired influences, but delivers them in a modern instrumental metal style, and never without losing sight of catchy hooks, grooves, and melodic, shredtastic, lead work. It’s accessible in a way that non-guitarist, guitar aficionados can also completely enjoy.

If you find yourself as captivated by Tramaine’s playing as we are, he loves to share, and you can actually go online and purchase (for a nominal fee) transcriptions of all of his parts, backing tracks to play along with, and the profiles that he used in his Kemper Profiler to record the entire record! This is 21st century stuff from a player who is sure to delight us well into this century.

How would you describe your sound?

I think the best way I can describe my sound, is by describing the efforts I put into each track. I always try to achieve a “fresh” sound. By that I mean, creating music that can absorb the listener right into it, almost transporting them to a different place completely. I also try to incorporate all of my inspirations across all genres, which I think for each individual artist, is a must to truly develop something original. In a nutshell I would say it was fresh, majestic, heavy and balanced.

Tell us briefly about the band and how it came together?

I have always wanted to have a musical career. Even more so, to have that career writing music and performing it to others. I have been writing my own music for as long as I can remember, some of the tracks on the album Heavy Balance were what I wrote as young as 15. I decided to put myself out as an artist and begin the production around August 2016. I had so much confidence about the tracks I had at the time, to fully dedicate myself into writing a solo album, for everyone to hear.

What do you think is the first thing a new listener will notice about your music?

I think most listeners, particularly those my age and older, will notice my tracks feel almost nostalgic. Some tracks are reminiscent of the ‘80s, yet have a modern interpretation of how modern guitar players think, in terms of composition.

What was the inspiration behind your latest album? Who are some of your biggest influences?

The inspiration for the album, was literally to try and create something different, that contrasts what anyone would expect from an instrumental guitar album. With the added attempt at trying to create “something for everyone,” meaning no matter what one’s favorite genre might be, Heavy Balance will have something to deliver to everyone.

I have many people who have inspired/influenced me over the years. But some of the people I consider “game changers” in my life are Slash, Joe Satriani, Michael Angelo Batio, Gus G, and particularly, Marco Sfogli.

Snippet from the song, “Blue Dawn” from the album, Heavy Balance.

What is your songwriting process like?

I like to have things come to me, rather than force them. So sometimes it can be very easy and quick, and other times almost impossible. I always try to have some imagery to go with a track in the making, to help with all aspects, from the melodies to the overall production. Other times, me and my friend (Julian Hobbs) who has helped me write a lot of the tracks at least somewhere along the line, we make up stories that are going on within that song, to help with the overall structure, and in my opinion definitely helps the writing process, even with instrumental music. I think that very process has also defined what I would consider “my sound” in many ways.

What has been the most exciting thing to happen to your band so far?

It’s hard to say, because I’ve found every process during making the album, and everything after, has been pretty much equally exciting. From writing new music to seeing how well people have responded to it so far. If I had to choose one thing though… I would say the most exciting thing was to have Marco Sfogli play on the track I knew he would be perfect for. Writing the track with no leads was exciting by itself. Myself and Julian, upon finishing that track, both agreed that, if we could somehow get Marco to play on this track, it would perfect the entire song. So of course when Marco agreed to play on it, it was very exciting to see what he would come up with, and he certainly delivered, as you would expect from him.

What has been the biggest lesson your band has learned so far?

I think the biggest lesson I have had which, I also mentioned before: not trying to force music. When one has a block of creativity, rather than forcing it and coming up with something that does a great track no justice and ruining it, you are better off being patient and letting it come to you in its own time. That is the best lesson I have had as an artist.

What’s an interesting talent you have or fact about yourself (or one of your band members) that people would be surprised to know?

Many people are surprised to discover that I wanted to become the best pianist I could be, rather than the best guitarist I could be. I began playing piano and keyboard as early as 5, but I was overwhelmed by my father’s guitar playing, and what the guitar could do in general. I found it far more versatile, and felt that my voice was there, and not the piano. So I made the transition over to the guitar at 11 years old, and I have not looked back since.

What can we expect from your band over the next 12-24 months?

A lot of live shows covering as much ground as I can! Since the release of the album, I have been very eager to play it to people in a live environment. The album was created to perform live, kind of its main purpose, so my next mission is to fulfil the destiny of the album. I will also be in the process of writing a lot of new music, and planning what’s next in terms of the production on the next album.

What are your band members’ favorite/most used pieces of music gear?

My overall favorite piece of gear is my Ibanez RG1027PBF. I have been playing Ibanez guitars since I was 15 years old, and I’ve never even considered switching over to anything else. But this particular model (for me) has really opened up my playing. I just feel the possibilities are endless with it, and it’s opened many doors for me. Upon trying to criticize it, I’ve never been able to. Only that I’d love to have an eight-string version of it, also!

Another piece of gear which I use just as often, is my Kemper Profiling Amp. Again, the possibilities are endless with it. I have used many real amps and amp simulators/modelers, but nothing has compared to the Kemper in my opinion. I obsessed over it for years before finally being able to get one, and it’s definitely something that, like my Ibanez guitars, I am glad I have obtained. [Editor’s Note: Tramaine tracked his entire album through the Kemper.]

Playing through “Star Scream” from the album, Heavy Balance.