For more about Allen Van Wert, visit allenvanwert.net or his YouTube channel, youtube.com/musichopper.
What do Billy Idol, Atreyu, Trapt, Black Label Society, Forbidden, Nevermore, Dragonlord, Testament, Vicious Rumors, Megadeth, and Korn all have in common? This may come as a surprise, but they all contain members who have had backing track and production work by a local musician. Allen Van Wert, a.k.a. “ROBOT,” has been an NEPA guitar hero for some time now. He has been ranked as the overall best guitarist in the world on guitarwar.com and has done video game soundtrack work with the famed Jesper Kyd, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award-winning composer for film, television, and video games, including “Assassin's Creed” and “Hitman.” In the 2011 feature-length film “Shredder,” Van Wert composed and played the guitar parts for the main character. His recent work includes guitar on tribute albums for Mötley Crüe (“Down at the Whiskey: A Millennium Tribute to Mötley Crüe's Greatest Hits”) and Whitesnake (“Still of the Night: A Millennium Tribute to Whitesnake”) under the moniker “Wicked Sins,” with members of both bands appearing on the albums. He also collaborated on a song with Justin Lassen, who has worked with Madonna, Garbage, The Killers, Lady Gaga, Lenny Kravitz, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park, Evanescence, and recently The Pattern Interrupt and Attila. Van Wert composed and performed lead guitar on the track, which was used for an Intel convention; world-famous Brazilian guitarist Tiago Della Vega played rhythm on the song. Van Wert has composed a catchy pop song, appropriately titled “Hit Song,” that is set to go viral online with its message about pop stars being auto-tuned, having songwriting teams, and being overly produced to mask their lack of talent. Made in the style of Maroon 5 and Lady Gaga, the video can be seen on his YouTube channel, youtube.com/musichopper. The Weekender talked to Van Wert about his past and present music, teaching with JamPlay, and his recent foray into pop. THE WEEKENDER: What has been keeping you busy lately? ALLEN VAN WERT: Since the break with Hostile Authority, I have been filtering job offers with local bands and sorting out what I would be willing to jump into. I have been teaching guitar online to about 20-30 students three times a week in group lessons that last two hours each session. That is through jamplay.com. W: How did you get connected with JamPlay? AVW: They called me one day telling me they watched my YouTube videos and loved my down-to-earth manner along with my skills on the guitar. I have been putting up free lesson videos for years now and never thought much of it besides helping guitarists. I checked out their website and noticed the really talented musicians on there, like Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders, and Emil Werstler of Chimaira. I had to say yes to the opportunity. I went out my first time nervous about all of the cameras and knowing how many thousands see the videos. I played and taught my shred version of “Turkish March” and some cover songs they asked for. They were treating me like some rock star and putting my guitar on me, then getting me drinks and stuff. It is not my style, so I made sure to put a stop to that by letting them know how human I am with embarrassing stories about myself during downtime in between filming. W: What is the toughest part about the job? AVW: I had to perform and teach “Hangar 18” by Megadeth and the Dream Theater songs “Pull Me Under” and “Endless Sacrifice.” It is a lot to remember and tough to play John Petrucci flawlessly. I somehow managed to one-take “Hangar 18” and its many guitar solos. They recently had flown me out to Colorado for another week-long video shoot, and the trouble with that one was almost missing a gate change in an airport on the way home. That, along with the gridlocked traffic in Colorado, was very stressful for me. W: What made you decide to suddenly release a pop song when you are known as a shred guitarist? AVW: I became fed up with how fake the music industry is and how they promote people based on looks alone when many do not even compose, play any instrument, or sing well. I thought it would not only be ironic and humorous to make a song in the very genre I was targeting, but I also thought that people might like the catchy song and share it. I actually like some pop and hip-hop music also, so it was fun. W: What has the reaction been like? AVW: I have been really taken aback and humbled by the support of local musicians and friends. They are actually helping to share the message and not asking for anything in return. It is giving me hope in the local community. Non-local musicians have been helpful as well. Ron Thal of Guns N' Roses told me he loves it, as well as the guitarist currently working with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, Davy Brown. Then a guitarist named Todd Andrew of Teamheadkick and Machinima added me on Facebook after watching the video and gave me some tips on helping it go viral, like his video about “the hardest thing you can do on guitar,” where the punchline is making money. W: How did you get involved with Billy Idol, Megadeth, and other big names doing backing production? AVW: That was actually through JamPlay. I let them know that I can make backings, so they had me do some for Travis Miguel of Atreyu first. That worried me because I thought they meant backing work for non-famous musicians or generic tracks. This had to be the exact parts of every song they needed, so I basically have to recreate the song without the guitar parts so the artist can come in and play over the backings and never miss a beat. This means I spend hours to tempo map the song so it is identical to the subtle rhythmic shifts of their drummer and bass player on the album. I also did up the keyboard parts for Steve Stevens of Billy Idol. He sent me a signed poster with a message on it thanking me for the work. I still have to hang it up on my wall. The artists liked my work and attention to every detail, so I have been getting more work from it. The downside is that it takes away from my guitar playing, but I have to pay bills. W: What's up next for you? AVW: I have another song I am working on for my YouTube channel, and then I will be getting back to work on my second instrumental guitar album. Fans have been upset with it taking so long, and I can understand that. I just don't want to release anything that didn't happen in a musical way. I tend to get too cerebral at times, and that is when I take a step back and let it happen naturally. I felt that my first album was rushed, and I don't want that to occur again. W: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Do you have any advice for fledgling guitar players? AVW: I want to thank people again for all of the support and for the hard-working people behind the scenes. I also thank The Weekender for getting the word out to the local community. For guitar players, practice slow and perfectly and gradually speed things up. There is no magic secret to it. I spent years, some of them where I practiced 14 to 16 hours every day like a machine to get to the level I am at now. Anyone can do it with dedication.