"Sha-Ni" is quintessential guitar. And when Megadeth's Dave Ellefson calls and asks you to play on his new album, it's a no-brainer.
By Kreig Marks, December 2020
TRR: Hi Shani. Welcome to Tru Rock Revival Magazine. Are you ready to get this show started?
SK: Yess! Absolutely! LOL
TRR: Alright then. Let's get running. Is it true that you come from a musical background, your father was a jazz musician and taught you to play the saxophone at the age of 7, but you didn’t start to play the guitar until the age of 15. Did it come easy for you once you made the guitar your choice?
SK: Actually, it did. Once I made the choice to play guitar, that's all I ever wanted to do. I would practice for hours every day, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. I just fell in love with the instrument. I remember hearing these crazy guitar solos by Megadeth and that's what I wanted to do. I started out on a classical guitar with nylon strings, but once I got the electric, that was it.
TRR: Do you think the finger work on the sax helped with your transition to the guitar?
SK: Um, no, not really. Maybe just the dexterity and flexibility but for the fretwork, no.
TRR: You’re obviously quite an incredible guitarist. I’ve seen a lot of your videos, you can play different styles of music, and you have a huge following on YouTube. Do you keep track of all the views you’ve had so far?
SK: LOL. Yes, I do!
TRR: Why the laugh? There are a lot of views on there. You should be proud. Which one has the most views?
SK: Race"r X," the first one. Technical difficulties, close to 500k views. LOL
TRR: I'd say most of those views are from recommendations to guitar enthusiasts. Imagine if you had a PR team promoting it?
TRR: Going back about 30 years, there weren’t a lot of well-known female guitarists. There were a few; Carrie Brownstein of Sleater/Kinney, Kim Gordon was on bass with Sonic Youth, Nancy Wilson of Heart and of course, Lita Ford. If you go way back to the late 40’s and 50’s, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She’s probably the first well-known female guitarist. She's recognized as the first woman shredder and the first to use distortion.
SK: She was great.
TRR: Today, probably the most recognized female shredders would be Orianthi and Nita Strauss. Your name will be synonymous with theirs soon. So, let's get your name added to the list.
SK: That would be pretty cool. I still think I have a lot of work to do to get to their level, but thank you for the vote of confidence.
TRR: Looking back when you first picked up a guitar and started to really “get it,” I know you were a huge fan of Megadeth and Tool.
SK: Oh yeah. They were and still are a huge influence on me.
TRR: How so?
SK: Just their sound, the guitar work, the originality behind both of them.
TRR: You’re originally from Israel. When you moved to the US, to Boston to attend Berklee, was this difficult on your family, moving to the states on your own?
SK: Not at all. They were so excited for me. They wanted to get rid of me! The further the better! LOL
TRR: Change the locks on all the doors!
SK: You're probably right! Actually, I wanted to move to the states but didn't really know how to go about doing it as a young person. I wanted a visa, not a tourist visa but a work visa. I spoke to my dad and asked him if he had any ideas. He then told me that Berklee was going to be in Israel to offer some scholarships, and I should audition. If I got a scholarship I could go to Berklee and be in the United States. I was already living on my own at that time but didn't have a lot of money, and to move to the United States would costa a lot of money and financially, it wasn't possible for me. So, Berklee came to town and that was my way to get to the States. I auditioned and got a full scholarship.
TRR: Tell me about your experience at Berklee. You were obviously quite a skilled player before being accepted there; getting a full scholarship. Technically, was there a lot for you to learn on the guitar or was your focus more on production?
SK: I was there for a short time, only 2 years. And, it was so cold there, I took as many of the courses I could at one time so I could finish and get out of there! LOL
TRR: Did you focus on guitar or production?
SK: I didn't really do guitar there, just a few courses. I wanted to learn something new, so I focused my studies mostly on production and engineering; which I suck at. It's good that I stuck with guitar as my profession! It was a real challenge for me, trying to learn how to use those huge consoles and signal flow, it was tough. Seeing the other students who had a real passion for that, that was cool for them and the board became their instrument. You really have to love that and be interested in it, and for me, that wasn't the case. I thought to myself, "Why didn't I just focus on guitar performance there, it would have been so much easier?" It would have been such an easier time there for me.
TRR: So production was not your thing.
SK: Not at all. It was definitely not my thing and it's still not, but I learned a lot of real valuable things there that I didn't know before, and it's really helped when I record some of my videos that you see on YouTube. And, being able to use all the incredible equipment in the studios there was amazing.
TRR: Tell me about the first Racer X video you recorded. How long did that take to complete?
SK: Oh man. Forever! Wow.
TRR: After college, is that when you joined the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson ONE show?
SK: No. That came about last August.
TRR: How did that come about?
SK: I auditioned for a different show, and I didn't get that one, but they liked me and told me they would keep my information. Then, they kept offering me auditions for other shows and, of course, I would say "Yes!" always interested in anything related to Cirque. Around April of May of 2019, they offered me the Michael Jackson show. I auditioned for that and they brought me to Vegas to do a front audition, and I got the gig. I packed up and moved to Vegas.
TRR: And the rest is history. How much training did you go through after you got the gig?
SK: It was about 2 months of training. We got to do about 4 months of shows, 2 a night until the pandemic hit in March. I can't wait to get back to that, it's so much fun. I really miss going to see live shows. I can't wait for this whole thing to end. And, it will.
TRR: Yeah, this pandemic seems to just go on and on. What have you been doing during this time since the Vegas show is on hold? How are you supporting yourself right now?
SK: Yeah, the show is still on hold. Hopefully we'll be back in the next few months. In the meantime, I was teaching guitar lessons on line, but now I'm spending a lot of time writing and learning more songs.
TRR: You’ve written and recorded some instrumentals: "Beta Particles," "Space Cats", and "Psylence." Psylence has a very zen feel to it. All very cool. Are you writing any more music at the moment?
SK: Thank you. I've been writing and I want to put out a full-length album in that style. I'm slow at it though, the writing. LOL. But, eventually it will be finished. I tell myself that this week, I'm going to sit down and finish this track or that track. It'll happen.
TRR: Do you currently have any endorsements?
SK: Sadly, no!
TRR: You don't?
SK: No! I don't. LOL. I need to actually pick up the phone or send them some video footage. I've been procrastinating. It's like the guy in this joke, I'll probably screw it up because I'm translating it in my mind right now from Hebrew. Anyway, it goes something like this; This man, every day, prays to God that he will win the lottery. He says, "God, please help me win the lottery." And, some time passes and he calls out to God again and says, "God, why won't I win the lottery? I didn't win the lottery again." And, God finally answers him and says, "Will you just go fill out that fucking lottery card already!?"
TRR: LOL! Procrastination. Contact Ibanez!
SK: I know. I really have to get off my ass and do it. I tried for a while, but haven't in quite some time.
TRR: Do you only play Ibanez guitars?
SK: Yes, my whole life was just Ibanez. The one I’m playing on in the Racer X video is actually one of Paul’s (Paul Gilbert of Racer X) first prototypes (belongs to another Ex bf). I’ve had my Jem since I’m 18 and my RG 5 years ago. I do have a couple pics on IG with a Gibson Les Paul but it was borrowed and I returned it to it’s owners.
TRR: Great guitars. Well, let's see what we can do to help out with some of our contacts. Ibanez is missing out.
SK: LOL. That would be so cool.
TRR: I’ve read that you briefly met Nuno Bettencourt at NAMM a few years ago, and you had that fangirl moment and couldn’t find your words to speak to him. Regrets?
SK: Yeah, I saw him at NAMM and I just froze up. LOL. I couldn't get any words out, so I just took a photo of him and my friend was there with him. I was just quiet. I can't even say I met him, because I didn't say a word and only took a picture of him with my friend. So, I guess I can say that I saw him and took a picture of him with my friend! LOL.
TRR: If he were in the room with you right now and you could ask him one question about anything, what would that question be?
SK: Oh man, that's a hard question! Oh man. I'd probably just be quiet like the last time. I'd probably ask him how he got that groove, that tight pocket he's able to play in.
TRR: Good question. You’ve been on stage performing in front of a lot of people. I understand you used to get stage fright and didn’t have a lot of confidence in your musical ability. What changed that, besides the obvious, becoming an incredible player?
SK: I guess just being out there. The Cirque show really helped me feel comfortable being out there since we do 2 shows every night. I was a bit nervous at first but eventually, I got used to it and I love it, being on stage, playing the guitar for so many people. Also, it's easier when you're playing the same songs night after night, so you know what you're doing from start to finish each night, so there's that comfort, even if I miss a note. I'll be thinking about that note all night afterward but in most cases, no one watching knows I missed a note. But I do! But, the fear is gone. Now it's just adrenaline and so much fun. When I lived in Israel, I didn't have a lot of experience being on stage. I played a lot, hours and hours every day, but mostly by myself. I played for 6 months with a famous Israeli rock star, in front of about 12,000 people, so that was a bit of a shock. But, once I played with Cirque, it became easy, the way you think about being on stage. I loosened up. Even if I fuck up big time, I know I'll have the chance to do it again, either in the 2nd show or again tomorrow. Even though most people there would never know I missed a note, I know it and I'll dwell on it until the next show where I'll nail it. I'm very critical of myself.
TRR: In the Cirque show, how do you play while standing on that little platform with that big wig? Have you had any moments when you almost fell off that platform?
SK: Well, the wig never fell off but there were a few times where it felt like it was about to fall off. Fortunately it didn't and fortunately, I haven't fallen off the platform.
TRR: That's always a good thing. That thing is pretty high up there. What is your vision for the future for yourself in music? Do you want to have your own rock band?
SK: I don't know. Maybe. I just love to play, whether it's in my own band one day, or if I'm the guitarist in an established band.
TRR: Do you sing?
SK: I don’t sing. I'm too shy for that.
TRR: But, not too shy to play in front of thousands.
SK: Because that, I can do! Lol. Not sing though.
TRR: You got to play with Dave Ellefson on his album, "No Cover" and also Bumblefoot, and Andy Martongelli. How did that come about?
SK: Basically David texted me saying, “Hi, did Andy talk to you about playing on "No Cover?” So I was reading that and thinking Whaaaattt TF!”
TRR: That's a great honor and very cool. We’re you nervous when you learned you would be recording with them?
SK: Not nervous, but extremely excited!
TRR: Ok. Let’s hear the band you put together. It’s gonna be 4 members, including you. All the other players have to be living because we’re gonna make this happen. Give me the players. We’ll start with drums.
SK: David Abruzzese, definitely. And Benny Goodman on keys (not the jazz head, Lol)
TRR: So, now you've got a bit of Pearl Jam in the mix. Ok, now bass.
SK: Dave Ellefson or Billy Sheehan. Or, both! David would be my first choice but with that group, I can’t say Billy wouldn’t fit perfectly!
TRR: Rhythm guitarist.
SK: Paul Gilbert
SK: Eric Martin! So basically, if I had an imaginary band, it would definitely be Eric Martin. So, with Eric and Paul, I now have half of the band Mr. Big!
TRR: That's a pretty kick ass band! Do you still practice every single day?
SK: Oh yeah, for hours. But, I play every day and practice a lot of solos. I've actually been working a lot on picking, and my right hand technique.
TRR: Since you started playing, what’s the longest stretch you’ve ever gone without playing? Do you ever take a break?
SK: Hmm. I don't know, maybe one day? Not really. It's part of me.
TRR: For the young players out there just starting to play the guitar. What advice would you give them if they want to become a very good player?
SK: Practice. Especially for the young players because the young kids don't really like to practice. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. You're a new player, you're going to make mistakes. Even if you're an expert, you're going to make mistakes. But, practice, and practice a lot. When I was little and playing sax, I didn't want to practice so I can relate to that. But, practice! And, play with other people, other musicians. Surround yourselves with a lot of musicians. When you play with other musicians you get so much better a lot quicker. When I was younger, I used to play alone, but once I started playing with other musicians, my playing really improved. So, practice and play with lots of musicians and with musicians who are better than you. Then, you'll really start to grow and advance.
TRR: Are you in a relationship?
SK: Nope. Not currently in a relationship.
TRR: Alright guys. You just heard that right from Shani.
SK: Oh man. I should have just been quiet. Lol.
TRR: What’s the plan for you if this pandemic continues into 2021?
SK: Just to continue to write and practice and record.
TRR: Anyone you’d like to thank or give a shout out to?
SK: I want to thank everyone at Cirque du Soleil and The Michael Jackson One Show, Ibanez guitars! I love you Ibanez, endorse me! I've always played Ibanez, my favorite guitars and favorite guitar company. I had a huge honor to do a solo on Dave Ellefson's new release, "No Cover" that's coming out tomorrow, so I want to thank Dave and everyone who took part in the album and the recording of it. LOL. I'm really bad with names sometimes. But, just everyone involved with that project. David has been a true inspiration since the whole pandemic started. That was the highlight of my year, playing on Dave's song. And, I want to thank all the fans who come out to the Cirque show, and who follow me on all my social media, especially YouTube.
TRR: Shani, thank you for the time. This has been a lot of fun. Keep us updated when you finish your originals. You've got major talent and I'm sure you'll be mentioned in the same sentence with Orianthi and Nita Strauss soon.
SK: Thank you, Kreig. I really appreciate this. It has been so much fun talking to you.
Kreig Marks, Founder/Publisher of TRR
Kreig Marks is the Founder/Publisher of Tru Rock Revival Magazine.
Rock music has always been his passion, and to promote musicians. In his spare time he is a top neuro-fitness trainer, kinesiologist.