Fountainhead is the alter-ego of guitar player / composer / producer Tom Geldschläger.Currently operating from his studio in berlin, germany, Tom has appeared on countless records as a guitar player, arranger, producer, mixing-engineer and sometimes keyboard player. He´s recorded and toured with artists like Ray Riendeau, Marco Minnemann, Jimmy Pitts, Xell, Hannes Grossmann, The Living (etc.), has been featured in various music-magazines around the globe and is currently the lead-guitarist for internationally-acclaimed band Obscura.
He´s currently endorsed by Steinberg Software, Loxx Products, Soultool Guitars and GoodTone Pickups, from which “Fountainhead signature” guitar models and pick-ups are available. His solo EP “Fear Is The Enemy” and accompanying music-video received rave reviews in 2013 and marked the start of a whole series of new releases by Fountainhead – Part 2, “Reverse Engineering” has been announced. He is also the current guitarist for the technical death metal band Obscura who are now working on a much anticipated record. Metal Wani’s writer Mayur Jalan interviewed Tom where he discusses about his upcoming music, Obscura, filling in for Nader Sadek, his gear and music in general.
Hello Tom, how are you? How is the Nader Sadek tour coming along?
Hey Mayur, I´m doing OK, sitting on a plane from Tillburg to Cairo, feeling very tired but excited to be playing in Egypt for the first time. We had our first show at the Neurotic Death Fest yesterday evening, which went pretty good considering how last-minute everything came together and how much time we actually had to prepare and rehearse. And tomorrow Attila from Mayhem will join us on stage, which is I´m something I´m really looking forward to, since I´m a bit of a fanboy. So yeah, it´s a lot of fun – and even though it was very stressful squeezing this tour into my schedule at the very last moment I´m very glad for this amazing opportunity and the chance to play with this fantastic group of people!
You are a prodigious musician yourself and you are definitely one of the most eligible for the guitarist spot in Obscura. Even though the new Obscura record is being mostly written by Steffen and Linus, is there any sort of difference in writingdirection that your presence will initiate? You did mention some dark progressive influence on there. Most of your fans are curious to see where Obscura heads with your inputs given the versatile musician you are.
Well, thank you! That´s a difficult question to answer because I haven´t been in the band for very long and the record still has to be recorded at this point in time. Statistically, yes, the majority of the material has been written by Steffen and Linus. But the one song I´ve contributed is 15 minutes long, so there´s definitely a lot of “me” on there. And also, I did have some influence on the arrangements and guitar parts of the other tunes and contributed parts and riffs on those wherever possible. In any case, what I can tell you is that the material is very diverse – there´s stuff you´ll instantly recognize and then there´s stuff the band has never done before. Actually, I was playing the preproduction demo for my 15-minute track to Hannes Grossmann the other night and he said that it´s a far cry from his writing style but still recognizable as something where this band is able to go and that he thinks the fans will love it.
I always compose with a very specific goal in mind, and this tune I wanted to be dark, epic and very very technical, all qualities I associated with the band´s “Omnivium” album. As for the general direction the band will take: I don´t know. This album obviously is being done in a very difficult transitional time for Obscura and despite the long gap between albums, everything has been written under severe time-constraints and pressure. I certainly have some ideas for what we could do in the future, but you never know what´s going to happen….
Please throw some light on Fountainhead’s history, why the name and how did you come about to pick up the guitar and decide music was what you wanted to do. Also how did you get into fretless guitar?
I´ve been using the name Fountainhead basically since I was 18 years old and did my very first record, “Nostalgia”, in my parent´s living room. Even then I just couldn´t imagine putting “Tom Geldschläger” on the cover – too awkward sounding, too “German”, too “hey, this is a guitar player´s solo record”, you know? And at that time I was starting to get into guys like Bumblefoot, so I looked for a similarly catchy name to use. Spiral Architect had a song called “Fountainhead” and I had read the word in several other places – also being 18 yours old and terribly arrogant about doing something I thought nobody else was doing, I thought it fitted quite well. A couple of years later, somebody gave me a copy of the book “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. I did enjoy it as a work of fiction and at that time even some of the ideas in it resonated with me. But honestly, the older I get and the more I evolve as a human being, the less I can identify with her philosophy and views.
I picked up the classical guitar at age 7 or 8, I think. It felt like a natural thing to do, because my dad used to be a musician back in the day and because music was present pretty much constantly in our household when I was growing up. After getting bored with classical guitar after a couple of years I picked up the electric guitar in my teens, at 14 or 15, I think. I´m not sure I ever “decided” that I was gonna do music, somehow I just knew from the start that this was what I was going to do in my life, I could never picture myself doing something else, really.
I first became aware of fretless guitars though Bumblefoot, who I´m a huge fan off and discovered in the late 90s. When I was gigging with my very first band, at one point the floyd-rose of the Ibanez JEM I was using literally exploded on stage and ended the gig for me. It broke and came off the guitar in the middle of the third song or so…. so I thought: this guitar is fucked anyway, if I spend money on fixing it up, why not do something interesting to it? At first I wanted to put a midi-pickup on it but when that proved to be too expensive, I had a friend de-fret it and give it a fixed bridge, all for less than 50 bucks. When I first brought it to rehearsal, my bandmates laughed at me and called me “the worst violinist in the world”, but eventually it became an essential part of what I do.
Tell us about the gearsoftware you use. You have a fretless signature guitar coming up as well, right? Also, I wanted to know more about the Goodtone signature Tom pickups you use, how are they different?
These days I´m very fortunate to be endorsed by Steinberg, so I´m of course using “Cubase Pro”, version 7 and 8, for all of my mixing and production work. Soultool Customized Guitars from Switzerland had already build me a fretted signature 7string guitar for which GoodTone supplied a set of signature pickups. That´s what I´ve been mostly using on recordings and gigs. A very talented guitar maker called Michi Hartmann in berlin also build me a fretless telecaster with a metal fretboard, which is what I have been using for the past couple of months. But now I´m literally bursting with excitement for this new fretless Soultool, which should arrive any day now. First of all, my other fretless guitars are hardly road-ready and I couldn´t see myself bringing them on tour for the upcoming Obscura-shows, where we´ll definitely be playing new stuff including one or two fretless songs.
Also, playing fretless guitar, you always have huge problems with getting sustain. So in recent years, 75% of the fretless playing I did has been done with an ebow, to counter-act that. But that way, you can only play one string and you can´t use the right hand when you use it. Hopefully this doesn´t come off as arrogant, but I think that out of necessity, I developed the whole e-bow thing to a point where, after the new Fountainhead record “Reverse Engineering” and “Pitts/Minnemann Project 2”, it´s almost impossible to take this concept any further technically and musically. But with the new Soultool fretless, I´ll have a sustainer pickup which will enable me to ditch the e-bow and move freely all across the neck and across all strings without loosing sustain, which will hopefully open up a whole new world of possibilities for me.
The GoodTone Fountainhead signature series is pretty much designed in the same way that my first Soultool guitar was, to make the most versatile 7string we can. I can have nice vintage-y single coil sounds, aggressive metal humbucker sounds, sweet mid-rangy leads from the neck pickup and everything in between. It´s literally made to be as versatile as possible. The new fretless signature 7 will have the GoodTone in the bridge and the sustainer pickup in the neck position. Amp-wise I´m using the Kemper profiling amplifier at home and whatever people are nice enough to let me use on stage. I´ll also be working with Engl Amplification for the upcoming Obscura-shows.
You’ve involved yourself in tons of diverse projects ranging from Technical Brutal death Metal to instrumental Fusion and what not. Your writing ranges from complex top notch music to ballads with great sense of melody. What do you look to achieve when you’re writing? Do you like to know where you’re driving and arrive with phrases from a concept or do you even sometimes jamplay and see what comes out of it? A few words on your writing process and vision should help. Also, what sort of practice routing did you followstill follow?
Well, of course each project is different. When I write for Fountainhead (and even with what I´ve written for Obscura so far) I always have a full concept. I need to have an idea of what I want to do and express and then usually I can hear the whole tune in my head. Then I “just” need to come up with the right notes and sounds for it. Sometimes I dream songs as well. I´m not a fan of “let´s write a couple of riffs and see where we´ll end up”, even though that can sometimes get the job done, of course. The way it works for me is that I need something to express and to communicate through music (and sometimes lyrics) and then the music will come as a natural result off that. I see no point in writing music when you have nothing to express. If that is the case then just shut up and get some living done until you have, you know? But obviously I also enjoy being inspired by getting together with musicians of different backgrounds and personalities or going places I´ve never been before, like right now on the Nader Sadek shows.
That´s also why I don´t have any practice routine and why I, quite frankly, haven´t practiced (at least in the usual sense) in almost 10 years. Music is not a sport, music is about expressing something within you. If you don´t have anything to express, all the practice routines in the world won´t help you, because you´ll have to find something unique and honest to say first. But if you do have that, you just need to find a way to say it through your music that works for you. Sometimes that requires you to sit down with a metronome and bring something up to the speed you want, sometimes it requires meditation on a phrase or idea until you get it right…. and other times you have to just wait it out and let the answer come to you naturally. Basically, I spent a lot of time working on whatever project I´m involved in at the moment, but I never sit down and practice to “get better” at something unless the music I´m working on requires it. That being said, there actually was a time in my life when I was practicing a lot, sometimes 10 hours a day. But that didn´t make me a happier person, and in hindsight I´d say that it also didn´t make me a better musician, only a better “technician”, so to speak, which in itself is completely meaningless.
I’ve seen a lot of extremely talented musicians quit, given the fact that survival is harsh in terms of finances in this field. Now you live on musicengineering, you do loads of guest sessions, you have a family to support, your own album destined to release etc. You do devote almost all your time to this. And you’re hanging in there, I’m sure people could use a few words of encouragement from you on this topic. Also what is your genuine daily schedule like now?
Haha, what makes you think that I´m not the one who could use a couple of words of encouragement? People are having this misconception that because somebody´s name comes up online more often or because somebody´s playing with people who´ve supposedly “made it”, there´re automatically making money and are successful in a financial way. However, that is totally not the case. Without teaching, I couldn´t survive. Even on a good month I make barely enough for me, not to mention my family – and a “good” month means that I spend 8-10 hours every day in the studio working for somebody else. I´ve spent years of my life eating instant noodles and drinking tap-water in order to save up for every little piece of equipment I ever used. From “Fear Is The Enemy”, the money I made is only about 15% of what it cost to make and I wasn´t even able to do a physical release. Sorry, but even if it may sound harsh, I´m not the one able to encourage people to make a career in music, because you´d have to be a bit of a masochist to do that to yourself. So please don´t be like me, always have a plan B besides music!
My daily schedule on most days wouldn´t be that different from any other guy, to be honest. Get up around 6 or 7, bring the kids to kindergarten, go to the studio, get as much work done as I can, go home, sleep, repeat. Obviously when there´s a tour or gigs happening, it´s a very different thing. But even on a tour I´m usually working on something, like editing a new guitar video, writing lyrics and so on…
Your album “Reverse Engineering” is set for release soon. Tell us something about it. What can we expect from the album? Also does the name of the album have anything to do with your outlookwriting on your songs?
Actually it´s been finished for a long time now (the songs had already been written by the time “Fear Is The Enemy” was released), I just couldn´t find the time (and money) to finish the mix, get it to mastering and actually release it, because during the last couple of months my life has been a total rollercoaster. I had to finish a ton of work for other people, had some severe family and health disasters, joined Obscura….all while trying to pay the bills and have a life.
It´s a more melodic album than “Fear Is The Enemy”. You´ll hopefully be able to recognise the style of writing, the orchestration, guitar style and so on, even though the songs themselves explore other themes and emotions than on the last release. Every song has an instrumental version and a vocal version, because these songs were originally written to be vocal songs. But it´s not like I only swap out the vocals for lead guitars – the instrumental version has additional parts and transitional pieces between the bigger songs and is a bit more diverse, while the vocal version is more song-oriented and has an extra track.
I think the songwriting is a lot more focussed and tight this time. Something I kept from “Fear Is The Enemy” is the concept of having mostly songs which focus on the flow and natural progression of the music and which build and build and build, without ever loosing sight of the basic themes and motifs, and then have ONE song that is just wild and technical and spastic. So you could say that the title track is kind of a sequel to “Fear Is The Enemy”. And of course, there´re the usual things like the recording and mixing-quality having improved since the first record, the fact that unlike “Fear Is The Enemy”, I was able to record on my own equipment and so on and so forth…
You also appear on The Fractured Dimension’s upcoming album “Galaxy Mechanics” featuring 16 musicians from various planets in the galaxy with alien techniques and freakish skills. Must be an incredible experience working with all these guys. Are you doing just guitars on this album? What is the end product going to be like?
Well, not really since I didn´t “work” with any of them haha, at least not in the conventional face-to-face way. I added guitars to 4 songs a looooong time ago, and when I did, these songs only had keys and completely different drum-lines by another drummer. Jimmy already had guest solos by a couple of people in there, so I had to work “around” those, which was fun. Everything else came way later….Having not yet heard the final result, I´m as excited as the next guy to how it will sound in the end. Originally the plan was for me to do guitars on all the songs except for the guest-solos, but that didn´t happen for various reasons, so Jimmy approached several other people to step in and got some fantastic musicians on board. To be perfectly honest, I was getting a bit impatient for Jimmy to finish this album because we also have Pitts/Minnemann 2 waiting in line to be finished and mixed right after this, so I´d really like “Galaxy Mechanics” to come out and close another important chapter for everyone involved with another (hopefully) interesting and rewarding record.
Your fretless playing involves a lot of ghostly squeals and slides, can you tell me a bit about your technique on the fretless? There are quite a number of people looking to take the fretless approach. Also does your slide draw some Indian influence? I’ve felt a lot of Indian vibe on quite a few of your songs.
Not really, since it´s not based on technique, but on the way I think and feel music and melody. I´ve never consciously worked on it, I just tried to reproduce the sounds I heard in my head, which definitely draw from an Indian influence. I love listening to Indian classical music, especially sitar and flute players and if that shines through, it´s fully intentional. I hope I can explore that even more in the future….
This is something I ask almost every guitarist, the quest to become faster might have killed a guitarist’s power of expression in songs to some extent. Honestly, where do you think music is heading these days, how do you see it in the future? With all the advanced technicality, theory, gadgets, layering, more people getting into micro-tonal stuff, is it getting more difficult for a new age musician to come up with something fresh? A musician now will definitely have to up his game for sure.
I really don´t know and I really don´t care. The older I get, the more I try to focus on the here and now and try not to get caught up trends, scenes and the insecurities they bring. I´m just trying to be the best human being I can be, in music and apart from it, and that´s all I think about at this point.
Any words of wisdom to guitarists out there and all your fans?
Stay open to anything, don´t be judgmental of other people´s opinions and don´t put so much emphasis on this whole guitar thing. The guitar is a beautiful instrument, but its only a means to express something, and having that something is so much more important than any theory, technique, promotion or whatever you may constantly obsess about when being a guitar player. It may sound hippy-ish, but being at peace with yourself is literally the most important thing and if you achieve that, your work in music will gain a whole new quality. To anybody who´s supported me over the years in any kind of way, I just wanna say a big “Thank you!”. I still feel like I´ve only just begun exploring the possibilities of music, so you´ll certainly get more of everything in the future. 🙂
Thank you for doing this interview with me, Tom!
No, thank you for the opportunity and the continuing support!