About a month ago, I received an email from a huge Madonna-loving metalhead I know up in Massachusetts, urging me to chat with guitarist Monte Pittman.
I had never heard of Pittman before, but was told he’s been Madonna’s guitarist for a dozen years now — which, admittedly, isn’t the most metal thing one could do.
Turns out Pittman’s a metal kid at heart, playing on the biggest pop tour with the world’s most famous pop icon. He’s even buds with Testament’s Alex Skolnick and claims to worship the ground Decapitated’s Vogg tramples upon.
But wait — Pittman, who also happens to be Madonna’s guitar teacher, has had something of a rather dichotomous career. Before playing for Madonna on five world tours, Pittman was the guitarist for Prong for several years.
“It always seems odd to people for me to go from Prong to Madonna,” Pittman tells Gun Shy Assassin. “I look at Prong as not just another heavy metal band. They’re almost heavy dance music. But then again, I don’t look at Madonna as just another female pop star. When she plays guitar, you can hear all the things that were going on when she first moved to New York. You can hear that she used to go to CBGB and hear Patti Smith and the Ramones.”
“What’s kind of funny, which is something I have never thought about before just now, is that there is one common denominator: CBGB,” he says. “She played her first gig there, and then that’s where Prong started. Tommy Victor was the sound guy there, and the rest of the guys worked there. It’s where both of them began.”
Pittman — who grew up in Texas listening to Metallica, Slayer, Morbid Angel, and Pantera — isn’t just a hired gun guitarist, but a solo artist in his own right. In fact, once Madonna’s current world tour wraps up, he’s off to Copenhagen to finish up his forthcoming third album with producer Flemming Rassmussen.
Yes, that Flemming Rassmussen.
“I’m just so excited,” says Pittman. “He’s my favorite producer ever. Ride The Lighting, Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All? That stuff changed my life.”
Pittman’s career started in Los Angeles, where he moved to from the Lone Star State after dissolving his band Myra Mains.
“I started playing with Prong within the first month of moving there,” Pittman recalls. “I had met Ivan de Prume from White Zombie who was jamming with Tommy at the time, and he hooked us up. I got to be there to kind of help get Prong going again.”
At that same time, he started teaching guitar lessons to make ends meet.
“I started teaching Madonna, and thought she’d take some lessons and that would be it. It had been seven years since her last tour. I was blown away by how cool she was, and was going over to her house three times a week. A month after her first lesson, she asked me to play David Letterman with her. That was life-changing.”
That led to invites from Madonna to be her guitarist on her upcoming world tour. He’s now on his fifth trek of the globe with the Material Girl.
“Usually, she tours a year, takes two to three years off, writes another album, and we do it all over again,” says Monte. “So I would go from Madonna to Prong and just back and forth. Then i wanted to start a band. I didn’t go out to L.A. to be a side-man, although it’s not a bad job at all.”
Pittman says he started a band with Tommy Victor of Prong and Adam Lambert; the group later disbanded when Lambert competed in a season of “American Idol.”
“We were very supported of Adam, and I played for him for a little while after the show,” says Pittman. But the desire in him to strike out as his own artist was ever nagging.
Two albums later, he’s planning to release his third LP in three parts over the next year. Once all three parts — an acoustic, a brutal metal, and a blues part — are released digitally, the three will be combined and issued as one physical release.
“The majority of he record is heavy; old school thrash, a la Testament and Anthrax,” says Pittman, adding there may be guests on the record.
“Some friends of mine have said, ‘Hit me up, I’d like to do something on the album,’” Pittman says. “The last song on the album is ten minutes, and I want to bring in various friends” for one big mega-collaborative track.
One of those friends might be Skolnick.
“He is definitely invited,” Pittman joked.
Skolnick recently jammed with Monte during his recent New York City acoustic show. Video of that performance can be found at the end of this interview.
The video also boast Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative on percussion, Kane Ritchotte of Portugal The Man on drums and Max Whipple on bass.
Pittman is planning more shows for next year, and thinks he may be heading out for a headliner in February. But he says playing with Madonna is the ultimate gig for him.
“She is…I used to think that the dream gig would be playing guitar for Ozzy or being Metallica’s third guitarist, but this is the dream gig,” he says. “She’s just so cool to everybody and so good to me…I would never leave her for anybody.
As for his love of metal, Pittman says he’s a big fan of Fear Factory, Six Feet Under, and thinks the new Meshuggah record was the proverbial shit.
“But look, as amazing as Vogg from Decapitated is, I also love Ray LaMontagne,” he says. “I like all of that music equally, and its all guitar music, really. To me, though, the new Testament album is the album of the year. Although, Koloss — how do you top that?”
When asked what folks could expect from the heavier side of his upcoming album, Pittman had trouble describing it.
“All I will say is one song sounds like a cross between Steve Vai, Mastodon, Baroness, and Gojira,” he says. “I didn’t purposely try to write a song like that, it just came out.”