Inside The Shredder’s Studio #9: Kevin Hufnagel of Gorguts, Dysrhythmia and Vaura

Kevin Hufnagel is traveling around the country right now blowing minds with Gorguts on the Decibel tour. We thought it was a perfect time to pull him aside and learn about the riffs that shaped his shredding style. Please welcome Kevin Hufnagel to the Inside The Shredder’s Studio.

Here it is: a list of my biggest influences, in mostly chronological order. When I was asked to do this I thought “This will be easy, it’s really only a handful of players.” Once I began reflecting on my beginnings as a player, recalling discovery after discovery, it hit me that the list of guitarists was way more extensive and far-reaching then I initially thought. I could’ve added more to this list, but I believe I will stop at what you see below. Enjoy.

Dokken “Mr. Scary”

As a youngster in the 80’s getting into metal, there was no guitarist who made a bigger first impression than George Lynch. It happened after tuning into MTV one day after school as the video for Dokken’s “In My Dreams” came on. By the time the solo finished, I knew I wanted nothing more than to play guitar. Prior to this, all I cared about was fishing and collecting insects. What always appealed to me about Lynch’s playing was that, unlike many other shredders of the time, his style was neither redundantly neoclassical, or overly bluesy; it was “outside the box” and had a dark melodic sensibility which has remained ingrained within me to this day. This video I dug up is a recent one of him performing a slightly more updated version of his classic Dokken instrumental “Mr. Scary,” showing that the man’s still got it.

Marty Friedman “Dragon Mistress”

I was heavily caught up in the Shrapnel Records/shred guitar thing during the first few years of playing. Eventually, my interest began to wane, as most of it was all starting to sound the same. Marty Friedman always stuck out to me from the hordes of others, thanks in part to his expressive playing, and unique harmonic sense. This kept me tuned in, when others became 128th note wallpaper. His uncanny ability to make even a pentatonic scale sound exotic is a testament to that. Friedman’s one of those guitarists where the moment he bends a note, you know it’s him. I’ve always found that inspiring, and a key to creating your own identity as a guitarist.

Julian Bream “Nocturnal: Passacaglia”

Thank you to my late grandmother for exposing me to the gorgeous playing of Julian Bream; first by giving me his “Guitarra!” VHS collection, then by purchasing me a ticket to see him live in NYC. I’ve returned to his albums a lot in recent years, and the nuance, passion, and dynamics in his performances have made me take a closer look at my own playing … particularly when composing my recent baritone ukulele pieces. I believe one thing that sets him apart from most other classical guitarists is his varied musical background; he played early jazz, as well as Indian music, not to mention lute. His performance of Albeniz’s “Asturias (Leyenda)” was what initially drew me in, but I couldn’t find a performance of that on YouTube. Instead, I’ve chosen his performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Nocturnal: Passacaglia.” To paraphrase composer Richard Rodney Bennett: “Julian’s playing has a sort of poetry, mystery, and darkness that no one else has.”

Fates Warning “Static Acts”

The 80’s-era of Fates Warning is particularly important to me, and albums like ‘Awaken the Guardian’ and ‘Perfect Symmetry’ have never lost their charm. Guitarists Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti are one of the most overlooked guitar teams in metal; I can say both influenced me during my formative years. Aresti’s creative use of intervals, octaves, and expressive bending is something I still draw upon, and Matheos’ mixture of progressive riffing, and chiming, melancholy clean guitar work is, I feel, still an obvious influence on my playing. Much like Rush, they never let their technical skills get in the way of a good song. This song “Static Acts” has one of my favorite Aresti solos, and is a lesson in how to use a wah wah pedal in a tasteful way. Another note; Matheos’ solo album ‘First Impressions’ was the impetus for me to start my early project Grey Division Blue, who only managed to make one demo, back in 1994.

Christopher Ladd “Un Sueno en la Floresta”

I met Chris in ninth grade and we formed a band. He was a few years older than me, and basically the guitar hero of my high school. I was honored he wanted to start a band with me. My technical skills as a guitarist excelled during those years we played together; his playing always pushing mine to the next level. I picked up many tips from him that became a big part of the way I play. These days he is a professional concert classical guitarist and instructor.

Voivod “Pre-Igition”

Denis “Piggy” D’Amour had the most profound impact on me as a player. I remember the first time I heard Voivod; I simply wasn’t ready for it. My ear wasn’t quite attuned to that kind of dissonance. A few years later, teen angst was setting in and Piggy’s dense, clustered, beautifully-gross playing made a lot more sense, and mirrored how I felt inside at that time. My desire to play power chords went out the window.

Morbid Angel “Rapture”

Trey’s eccentric, off-the-rails soloing and odd phrasing was a big influence on the way I approached my solos on ‘Colored Sands.’ Not to mention the dripping evil of those RIFFS.

Michael Hedges “Ariel Boundaries”

Another crucial player for me, obviously influential on my acoustic works, but on my electric playing as well. Hedges was the one who made me decide I should begin creating my own tunings. This is what Dysrhythmia was, and still is, based around for me as a player. His use of ringing, natural harmonics also became a large part of my vocabulary. I was so saddened the day I heard he was killed in a car accident.

Cocteau Twins “Crushed”

By mid-high school I was becoming a bit bored with the shred/guitar-hero scene, as it seemed all those players suddenly decided they had to either start singing, get “bluesy” or go grunge. Grunge never appealed to me, so instead I became way more interested in bands like the Cocteau Twins, who approached guitar in a way that was still orchestral and detailed, but in a mostly textural way. After hearing Robin Guthrie’s masterful use of delays, reverb, chorus, etc., I suddenly realized, “Hey, I guess there is more to guitar tone than just adding distortion.”

Fred Frith “solo concert at MÓZG”

One evening I was in my basement when I randomly came across a strange program on TV called “Step Across the Border”. This ended up being the abstract documentary about avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith, and his circle of musician friends. I saw this when I was definitely ready for something weirder, guitar-wise, than what I had already been exposed to, and Fred Frith was the next level. His fearless exploration, use of prepared guitar techniques, and tendency to let the most alien of sounds breathe, left a monumental impression.

John Mc Laughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia “Aspan”

Yes, I get to fit three awesome players into one pick with this one. Their ‘Passion, Grace, Fire’ album was on constant rotation when I had a weekly gig playing classical guitar at a French cafe in high school. It used to get me all fired up to perform. My song “Hunter/Hunted” from my ‘Songs for the Disappeared’ release was inspired by this album (along with the Frith influence of prepared guitar).

My Bloody Valentine “To Here Knows When”

After getting heavily into Cocteau Twins, and the whole atmospheric way of playing, I decided to see what this My Bloody Valentine band was all about, and picked up ‘Loveless’ used at a local pawn shop. When this particular track hit, I nearly shit myself. How could guitar sound this warped and fucked up!? Still an inspiration.

Ralph Towner “Spirit Lake”

I first heard Towner’s music my freshman year at college. It was his ‘Solo Concert’ record (still my favorite of all his albums), and I was immediately drawn in by the majestic sound of what this man could do with a 12-string acoustic guitar. I’ve been incorporating more and more 12-string guitar into my releases (both solo, and with my various bands) as the years go on, to the point where I am now writing the entire next Dysrhythmia record on a 12-string electric. We can thank Ralph for that.

Gorguts “Obscura”

The fact that I actually get to play this song live regularly and am a member of the band still hasn’t completely settled in. I remember reading a review of ‘Obscura’ in a copy of a free metal zine I had picked up off the street. Everything it said it hated about the record sounded like something I would love. Still nothing could prepare me for what I heard when I first pressed play. This record was so overwhelming to me, I used to have to listen to it in halves, in separate sessions. In summary; an enormous inspiration to push my playing, and riffing, into stranger territories. R.I.P. Big Steeve.

Sonny Sharrock “Who Does She Hope to Be”

I went to school for jazz guitar, the irony in that being it made me realize I didn’t care for many (traditional) jazz guitarists. Sonny was anything but traditional though. One of the most emotional players in the world of jazz; his raw, biting, soaring tone and knack for moving melodic themes, completely drew me in. ‘Ask the Ages’ still stands as one of my all-time favorite albums of any genre.

Fennesz “Rivers of Sand”

I remember Dysrhythmia was getting set up to play an in-store at 33 Degrees Records in Austin, TX sometime in 2004 I think, when Fennesz’s ‘Venice’ record started playing over the speakers. I had no idea it was a guitar making those sounds at first, but I liked it. When I found out guitar was the main sound source, I became even more enamored. This album became one of main inspirations to give home recording my own experimental/ambient guitar music a shot, those being the ‘Transparencies’ album, and later the ‘Polar Night’ digital EP.

Ocrilim “Annwyn Part 10”

I’ve always thought of Mick Barr’s extremely vivid guitar playing as a form of alien language, or music being channeled from a distant planet, or perhaps from the year 3000. His idiosyncratic approach to composition and trademark techniques make him instantly recognizable within seconds. I’ve known Mick for years now and it’s been a constant inspiration to observe his restless, creative drive and prolific nature (I could say the same for my bandmate Colin Marston). Mick’s work under the Ocrilim moniker might be my personal favorite, in particular his “Annwyn” series.

Blut Aus Nord “MoRT Chapter II”

Vindsval of BAN has become a more recent favorite. In particular, his expertise at balancing consonance and dissonance. However, it was his extremely dissonant work on their ‘MoRT’, and ‘The Work Which Transforms God’ albums that impacted me the most when I first heard them; taking that delirious My Bloody Valentine-esque tremolo bar chord/note bending style to its darkest and most nauseating extreme. I believe he might be using a fretless guitar on these records as well? Nonetheless, this inspired me to use some fretless (subtly) on Dysrhythmia’s ‘Test of Submission’ record, as well as during the verses of “Le Toit du Monde” from the latest Gorguts album.

The Chameleons “Intrigue in Tangiers”

Here’s a band that should’ve been massive, but weren’t. Guitarists Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding sculpted gorgeous, shimmering (often independent) melody lines and textures, which weaved in and out of each other in perfect harmony, atop some of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard. For period of about 2 years, there was nothing else I listened to but The Chameleons. Reg and Dave’s playing, and way of orchestrating parts, is a big influence on the way I write for my band Vaura.

Read previous installments of Inside The Shredder’s Studio:

#1: Elizabeth Schall of Dreaming Dead
#2: Mike Hill of Tombs
#3: Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy
#4: Alex Bouks of Incantation

#5: Kurt Ballou of Converge
#6: Mark Thomas Baker of Orchid
#7: Andre Foisy of Locrian
#8: Eric Daniels of GSBC and Asphyx