Monte Pittman is an acclaimed rock musician, guitarist and songwriter, who just released his second album, “Pain, Love & Destiny”. Monte has also been the live guitarist and a co-writer of Madonna’s since 2001, the live guitarist and music director for Adam Lambert, and former member of Prong . He is also the #1 top-funded rock musician in the history of Kickstarter, having raised a staggering $65,500 from fans to finance the new album.
You started out teaching guitar to Guy Ritchie and consequently Madonna as well. Soon after, you appeared with her on Letterman and joined her band. This was only about 10 years ago and things have been flying for you since then. Have you taken the opportunity to reflect on the wild twists and turns in your journey to this point, or are you a ‘head down and keep pushing forward’ kind of person?
I just keep looking forward. The 11 year mark of the Letterman performance just passed and its hard to believe how fast the time has gone by.
You have been Madonna’s live guitarist and a co-writer since 2001. Please elaborate on your experience touring and writing with a breakthrough artist like Madonna.
It’s the best job in the world. There can be as many as 200 people on tour with you. You usually don’t get to meet them all. We all become a close family on the road and have a great time in each others company. You can see that in the performances. Read more…..
What’s involved with Madonna’s live performance?
A lot of rehearsing. A lot of hard work. A lot of dedication. Pushing yourself way past what you think are your limits. Madonna, the band, the dancers, the crew all become one and we reflect that energy back and forth from the audience. It’s very exciting.
You also toured with Adam Lambert and Prong. How does your performance have to change to fit such different styles of music?
I look at it like you only have so many notes. You have so many chords and so many scales. It’s the effect that you play them with or in that gives it the different style of music.
Prong has always been a 3 piece band for the most part. When I first started playing with them, they then had 2 guitars. I pretty much doubled Tommy Victor so it was like the album. A massive doubled guitar super tight with each other. Later on, I played bass. I had just started The Citizen Vein with Adam. Tommy was the bass player and he said “I’ll play bass in your band if you play bass in my band”. It was a great and fun balance. When playing in Adams band, we had a lot of spontaneity. We made the songs on his album more of a live rock band vibe.
In fact, you formed a band with Adam Lambert before his audition on American Idol. How did that come about?
I had an awesome band I played in when I lived in Texas called Myra Mains. I played in that band since I started learning how to play guitar. When I moved to LA, I wanted to start a band. Of course, touring with Madonna or Prong took up a lot of time. I used to play with Club Makeup which went on every month in LA. There were different themes each month and had some of the best singers I’ve ever heard. I asked one of them if he had any recommendations for a great singer and he suggested Adam. We later met while performing for a show called The Zodiac Show which started kind of when Makeup stopped.
Many American Idol contestants and winners are labeled as glorified karaoke singers. How would you describe Adam Lambert?
Well, let’s face it. That’s kind of what those shows are. I think he’s way different though. I think he’s one of the most gifted singers I’ve ever heard in my life and I’m very proud to have played with him for so long. He recently played with Queen and I thought it was brilliant. It’s a phenomenal experience seeing a friend achieve so much so quickly. He’s really defined in what he wants and can be a perfectionist about it. You can hear for yourself when you hear him sing. I think he’s out of everyone’s league on that show.
Do you find any particular style more difficult than another? Why?
Only if it’s a style of music I don’t listen to a lot of. I never got into country but some of those country guitar players are some of the best!
You are now a full-fledged solo artist with your second release, “Pain, Love and Destiny.” Would you say your music is a complete break from anything you’ve done with these major artists? Or do you find yourself being inspired by these collaborations?
I’ve always injected my style into who I play with but you do leave with things from those groups that always stay a part of you.
You’re in high demand these days. Do you find it difficult to make time for your solo music?
That’s just what I do in between playing for others. It’s something I can always do until I’m an old man! I’ll always be Monte Pittman.
You are officially considered a guitar virtuoso, you have a slew of major credits to your name both songwriting and performing, but it still feels like you’re really just getting started. What do you still have left to do? More solo albums? Create a new band? Tour with more artists? All of the above?
All of the above. I do feel like I’m just getting started. Kind of like a late bloomer. I have been thinking it would be cool to play with another group or artist that’s even different from who I’ve already played with. I came close to some other gigs in the past. In 2002, I did the Limp Bizkit audition. I didn’t tell anyone anything from my past with Madonna & Prong at the time. I stood in line like everyone else. I was never really into them personally but a lot of my friends were. So I viewed it like a good challenge. I really loved jamming with Sam and John. They are amazing players. I wanted to make them more like U2 meets Meshuggah. After a couple of months off and on, Tommy Victor was going to take Prong back on the road and invited me to join. I went with them. It wasn’t going to be too long of a tour but Glen Danzig came to our last show at the Troubadour. The next morning, Prongs manager called and said “don’t unpack your bags yet. We’re leaving tomorrow to go on tour with Danzig”.
I auditioned for Chris Cornell. I maybe had the gig for a day or something? I got to jam “Spoonman” with him. That was a surreal moment for me.
I played a gig with Seal once too. All were great experiences and great people.
Looking back, I’m glad those things didn’t work out because I would have missed some other events in my life that are more important to me. The people I’ve played with have been friends before I joined their band. It would be fun to not no someone and play with them in that aspect.
You have decided to release your music independently rather than sign with a major label. What contributed to that decision and is there a scenario where you would consider a recording deal with a major?
I like having full control over my music. It always balances out but which side do you want to be on? There are only a handful of labels left. It’s a dying breed. My solo career is almost like my own side project but I can always come back to it when I want. I’ve played out acoustically since I first moved to la. When I would leave to go on tour with someone, that would put everything else on hold. Sometimes for a year or more. If a label were interested in doing something with me and I could still play for other people, that would be great. I’ve never really submitted much to too many labels before though.
Do you make albums so you can perform live, or do you perform live so you can make more albums?
To me, of you can’t do it live, what’s the point? I want to be able to play any of my songs live. I love performing for people. My first album “The Deepest Dark” only has acoustic guitar and vocals. That way I could recreate it anywhere. It can be difficult getting a bands schedule together to do a string of gigs.
What advice would you give to the aspiring musician today?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something because they don’t think you’re good enough or your size, color, age, looks, beliefs, or what kind of music you are playing. Do it to make you happy. Don’t lose focus on what you want to do but be free to experiment. The more popular you get, the more negativity you’ll see. That’s all part of the job.