Marc Rizzo talks solo career, playing gigs during a pandemic, new projects + more (interview)

We recently sat down with guitarist Marc Rizzo, best known for his work with Ill Niño, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy, to talk about his solo career, life on the road, and newer projects like Revenge Beast and Acoustic Vendetta. Christine Samaroo reports for NextMosh, see the full interview below.


NextMosh: What’s up everyone, Christine here with NextMosh Magazine, today I’ll be catching up with Marc Rizzo of Soulfly, former Ill Niño. So Marc for those who may not know you introduce yourself.

Marc: Yo, what’s up? My name is Marc Rizzo guitar player, plays in lot of different bands, but mostly my solo project the Marc Rizzo Experience, Acoustic Vendetta, Revenge Beast, but most of my time is spent doing my Solo Project, especially now during the zombie apocalypse, COVID-19 pandemic. Doing a lot of my solo gigs, you know, because not a lot of people come to my shows, which is a good thing, because it’s COVID and also because I don’t want nobody stealing my licks.

NM: Ha! So the Marc Rizzo Solo Project, tell me about it?

Marc: It’s a project that is in tune with stuff like Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Vai, so that’s why it’s my name because it’s instrumental guitar music and it’s right up in that style of music with other instrumental players.

NM: How did it come about?

Marc: Um, I started recording more acoustic flamenco-influenced instrumental music while I was in Ill Niño back in like 2002. I was just making fun little acoustic flamenco jams back then, I had a lawyer friend of mine shopping it for me because I wanted to put out an old acoustic flamenco record and it got in the hands of the legendary Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records, which I’m a huge fan of, and he heard my flamenco stuff and I guess, you know, looked up Ill Niño and my history and he offered me a record deal. So in 2005, I released my first solo instrumental record, which was the flamenco-influenced acoustic stuff, but Mike Varney also asked me to do some more heavy shred style stuff. So that was my first record ‘Colossal Myopia,’ my first solo record.

NM: How was the writing process?

Marc: A lot of fun, you know that making instrumental stuff is something that comes very natural to me, so I just basically went into the studio with a bunch of riffs and ideas, worked out the parts with my drummers, different guys that I played with over the years and just banging out the songs and then do the solos on top. A lot of my solo work is just a lot of improvisation in the studio, in the moment.

NM: Tell me about Acoustic Vendetta?

Marc: So Acoustic Vendetta is a fun acoustic project, obviously, that I do with my good friend, Damian Daniello, who sings and plays acoustic and my drummer Anthony DeVizio, who plays Jim Bay, which is percussion in the project and I switch between acoustic guitar and electric. It’s just a fun jammie acoustic, fun bar kind of jam vibe. I basically started the project specifically for playing around where I live in New Jersey, the tri-state area just because we really can’t travel that far, and I noticed in this area, especially in Northern New Jersey, Sussex County area people really enjoy just classic rock acoustic. There’s a lot of cool breweries and bars, restaurants that love to hear acoustic style music, classic rock. I live up in that area, Sussex County. I started this project and we’re gigged you know, we’re booked a lot in that area. On the weekends, sometimes just playing fun classic rock and then I mix it with my own style of stuff. It’s just a lot of fun. Something that we do for fun and enjoy a lot.

NM: So you’ve been out and about, how is that experience going for you knowing that we’re still in the peak of a pandemic?

Marc: Yeah, basically February of 2021 my booking agent, Nick Bell with God Size Records and booking, offered to get me back out on the road along with my good friend Opus from Dead by Wednesday. My booking agent along with Dead By Wednesday have been doing a great job getting me booked, but Soulfly was no help during this time with doing any sort of shows or doing anything this year during the pandemic. So I’m very grateful to Nick and Opus for getting me back out on the road again, doing my solo project where I go out and I just play my backing track and shred out. I play a lot of covers from bands that I have been in and also other covers, and then my own instrumental solo stuff. It’s been great, you know, I know, I’m one of the few guys that has been on the road during the pandemic and I think that’s because I’m able to just go out by myself. I was being very safe, wearing a mask in the beginning, going on planes by myself, staying at hotels by myself, so it was probably the safest way to travel, I had a great time and I’m still doing it. I just got back from Texas, did some touring down there and I’m getting ready to do another Midwestern coming up.

NM: Do you prefer touring alone or with a group?

Marc: Um, I love touring, but at this point in my life I do enjoy doing my solo project and being alone, it’s my age and all the touring that I’ve done all these years. I like being on my own schedule. I like doing my own thing. You know, my days are very based on practicing guitar and working out. I have a whole regimen that I do before I get on stage and I like being on my own schedule. I like being able to plan my day out to go to the gym or go to a park to work out, you know, sit in a hotel room and practice, prepare for the show, but I want to play, it’s real important for me. I think at this point to be on my own schedule, practicing my music, you know that this instrumental stuff I play is not very simplistic to play. So there’s a lot of preparation before every show, before I go on stage.

NM: I hear you! Being out for so many years back-to-back, I’m sure can take a toll on you, body, mind and soul. Tell me about Revenge Beast?

Marc: Absolutely! So Revenge Beast is a death metal project that I started during quarantine, with some friends of mine, my buddies down from Baltimore with a band called Purgatory Earth, who I produced their new CD about two years ago. So I asked them to start this project with me because they’re cool dudes. They’re all great players, and so we’ve been releasing songs here and there and we’re trying to find a deal. We’ll probably release a record, full record this year sometime, and maybe even do some gigs, maybe some touring, you know, we just got to see what happens. It’s probably one of the heaviest projects I’ve ever done, we’re just trying to be straight up brutal technical death metal but groovy, we’ve got a lot of groove in the band and it’s great. Like I said, it’s probably one of the heaviest projects I’ve ever done.

NM: Why did you choose to go the heavy route.

Marc: Because I love a lot of old school death metal, like Suffocation, Obituary, DSI, and Cannibal Corpse, I love that style and I always wanted to just start a straight-up Moodle project, nothing experimental, just straight up heavy, get out there and just play those type of shows and put out records like that. I love that style of music you know, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve done over the years here and there. A couple different projects, but, you know obviously, during the quarantine, we all had a lot of time to do a lot of recording. So I just started writing a lot of music during that time and Revenge Beast came out of that, Acoustic Vendetta came out of that, and my new solo record came out of that. So I’ve been just doing a lot of writing.

NM: You sound like you’re a man on a heavy metal mission, love it! Okay, let’s talk about your solo record. Give me the deets.

Marc: Haha, yeah, so I have a half, probably more than half of my solo record done and it’s great. It’s right in tune with a lot of the other stuff I’ve done. A lot of it I recorded at home during the quarantine and when I’m finally done with it, it’ll definitely be one of my best records I’ve ever done. So I’m really excited to get it out there.

NM: Nice. What’s the name?

Marc: I’m not sure yet. You know, maybe ‘Rotation Two, the Saga Continues.’

NM: What are some upcoming solo gigs you have coming?

Marc: So I’ve been doing a lot of shows with my buddies in a project called Whiskey Dick. We’re out of Texas, and they’re just a fun acoustic rock, bluesy kind of country, you know acoustic band that goes out to play, it’s a duo and they’re awesome. They’re amazing. They’re probably one of my favorite groups out there. I love how unique and different they are, how they just sit down, two acoustic guitars, and one singer Fritz, and Johnson and they shred, they play some great stuff, it’s very unique and different. I like the simplicity of it, you know, it’s kind of similar to what I’m trying to do with Acoustic Vendetta, but also similar how I do my solo shows where I just go up by myself and play to a backing track and it makes it easy for travel and getting around, those guys could relate to that too. We just did two weeks in Texas and had a great tour together, and we jam together, it’s guitar music. I love all types of guitar music, no matter what style it is, as long as someone picks up the guitar, and they’re playing it, like really playing their instrument, you know, and giving their all to the instrument and respecting the instrument, then I love your music. That’s what I love guitar music, and Whiskey Dick is all about that.

NM: Okay, well there you go, you heard it from him yourself. I feel like you’re one of the few musicians that played with a backing track. Everyone’s used to seeing like, a full setup. How do you cope?

Marc: Yeah, it’s not easy. You definitely got to be confident when you get up there. It’s basically something I’ve been doing for a long time. My solo project originally started with me on my first record, which was on Shrapnel back in ’05 and I never had any ideas of touring for my solo project. I was just starting to do a lot of clinics for PV and like the Namm show, I did a performance, and I would do like in-stores and then I just got the idea that I’m not the only one, there’s other guys that do this. But I was influenced by guys like Michelangelo, Buckethead, even Malmsteen. He’s done shows where he goes out and plays to a backing track, so in the instrumental Guitar World, it is very common for guys to just go out and play to a backing track. So I just basically took that idea and ran with it and said, hey, man, I’ve already done clinics in-stores, the Namm show, you know, performances, I said, I’m going to take it on the road. So, officially in 2014 I did a full U.S. tour of just playing my backing track and it just makes things very simple. Being that I don’t really have a lot of support for the project. You know, there’s no tour support, it’s very difficult to tour nowadays as it is. So, to go out just by myself with my backing track on an iPod, it makes things affordable for the promoters and also for me to make this possible. I know you know, a lot of times it sounds like he’s just playing by himself with a backing track, that doesn’t sound exciting, but I tried to put on the show and I know that when my show’s over, a lot of the fans come up to me and say, dude, that was freakin awesome. You know, you gave 100%, you went out there and people dig it, and I dig it. So I’m very fortunate and very lucky that I’m able to go out and play with backing tracks. That’s the way I look at it.

NM: That’s so freaking awesome. Good for you, man! You play a lot of different styles, can you tell us about that?

Marc: I’m all about just great guitar playing. I love virtuoso guitar playing and that doesn’t just mean shredding, like that could be blues, that could be jazz, flamenco even punk rock. I got some favorite punk rock, hardcore guitar players that I love and I consider them virtuosos at what they do. So, I mean, basically, I just love all types of guitar music, all types and I like to play all types of music on the guitar that’s kind of what my solo records demonstrate, just that it’s all my favorite styles of music, from jazz, metal, flamenco, all types of stuff. I like to mix together on one record, and it is geared towards guitar players obviously.

NM: Nice, what guitar are you currently using?

Marc: Right now I’m kind of in-between, I have a signature Washburn seven string, which I love. It’s a beautiful guitar. I kind of lost contact with people over there. I’m not really sure what’s going on. I’ve reached out and haven’t really heard back since one of my reps left. Still love the guitar. I still play, obviously, but I also had been talking to Diamond and they’ve been sending me stuff and had offered to make me something too. So you know, I’m kind of right now not sure where I’m going, what I’m going to do. But I really like these Diamonds I’ve been playing a lot. But I like playing all types of guitars, I really have a hard time making up my mind. But just because I love the guitar, and I love all different styles of guitar, like I just picked up a beautiful Fender Strat recently that I’m like obsessed with and I’ve been playing that non-stop. So you know, I think when you’re a guitar fanatic, like I am obsessed with guitars, it’s kind of hard to just stick to one guitar because you just love all different styles and tones. And, you know, we’ll see what the future holds for me. But I just, I’m just excited to play any guitar. Honestly.

NM: That was such a humbled answer, haha, so what advice would you give to an up-and-coming guitarist?

Marc: Well, a lot of practice, you know, be serious about music, practice a lot. Try to learn, really concentrate on being the best you could be for the music you play, also learn a lot of covers, don’t be the kind of guy that’s like, Oh, I just write my own stuff, like he can learn covers, you learn by learning other people’s music and then incorporating that into your playing. There’s a lot of hard work and hours that go into it that, it’s very difficult to make a living off doing this definitely, got to have something to fall back on. You know, you want to be someone that can do other things. So that you’re not just putting yourself out there even taking advantage of, you really want to have other avenues to make a living so that you can really concentrate on your guitar playing and perfecting your craft of what you do.

NM: Brilliant advice, Marc. So lets get a bit personal. If you didn’t choose that path of being a guitarist, what would you be doing instead?

Marc: Wooo, that’s a good question. Well, I was boxing a lot. I did Golden Gloves, New Jersey, Golden Gloves tournament. That was something that I picked up from a young age from an uncle of mine, who I was very close with, who trained me, who was a professional boxer. And it always stuck with me, the workouts, discipline, eating healthy, the training, you know, so I probably would have continued doing that. Like, I still do, I still train every day. And I probably wouldn’t became a trainer, maybe a fitness trainer in the boxing field or something else. And it’s something that I’m still very passionate about. And maybe I still will do if people ever asked me about working out, I love to talk about it, you know? So, yeah, that’s probably what I would have been doing if it would have just continued down that path, but I’m obviously a better guitar player. I hope!

NM: Haha, you are a fantastic guitar player, no doubt about that. Let’s talk workout, I know you are a work fanatic.

Marc: Fitness is something very, very important to me. I train everyday, because I grew up boxing when I was younger and that really stuck with me, that lifestyle of jogging every day, training, working out. So it’s very dear to me. I think it really influenced me with my discipline, even with like my practicing on the guitar, I mean, I look at practicing guitar like I do when I’m training, the same discipline, the same hours put in and hard work. I’m not young, I’m 43. I’m not in the best shape of my life, I mean, the beers start adding up, the pizza starts adding up, so I try to do workouts that are going to burn off the diet that maybe is not super healthy when you’re on the road, because it is very difficult when you’re on the road to not have a couple beers with your friends, not have that pizza at two in the morning. So a lot of the workouts that I do, and I like to tell a lot of my friends, it’s like I love kettlebell. I’m a huge kettlebell fan, still do my boxing, Muay Thai love Jiu Jitsu, I trained a little bit and burpees you know, I love burpees, I do a lot of burpees and I think that really is very good to burn a lot of calories. So when you’re on the road, and you’re not eating, so, so good and you might be indulging in all that free beer that’s given to you at the end of the night, you want to hang with the fans, which is something that I’d love to do and enjoy a couple beers at the end of the night, you know, you want to burn it off, you want to go on stage and look the best you could look and also be up there energetic, you know people bought the ticket. That ticket wasn’t free, especially at these festivals where it’s at $150 a ticket. So I like to put on a show, I like intensity, I like to jump around and headbang and put on a very energetic show to the best of my ability. And I really relate down to my workouts and showing up being prepared to rock out.

NM: Marc, this is a burning question, I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times. What’s in the bagpack?

Marc: Haha! Oh boy! I knew that was coming. Nothing! Actually now at this point in time, I think it’s become a metaphor to how ridiculous sometimes the music business is, how people like to take something and just run with it, and the backpack was never a big deal to me. That was kind of something that other people were doing in the scene that I grew up in around New York, New Jersey, it wasn’t people in the crowd, in the mosh pit, you know. I stopped wearing it literally back in 2004. So it blows my mind away when people still talk about the book bag. Since I haven’t been.

NM: I hear you! So obviously you are a very established guitarist, do you still find it sometimes hard learning new things?

Marc: Absolutely. You know, there’s a lot of incredible new players out there and I’m influenced by them. I really love all the new shredders, I try to be influenced, I try to learn from new people. If I hear a new sound or a new riff or a new arpeggio or a new scale, I want to learn it, and I want to incorporate it into what I’m doing. So yeah, I mean, I don’t ever want to become like one of those old guys that doesn’t really accept the new style of music today, as much as I love the stuff I grew up on, like classic metal and classic rock. Like, there’s still a lot of really great new stuff that’s coming out that blows my mind away.

NM: How long does one of your sets usually last?

Marc: I usually play for about an hour, usually an hour, hour and a half. But then when I play with my project, Acoustic Vendetta, we were asked to do three hours sets because it’s like we’re playing in front of a bar crowd and we’re doing a lot more covers. So that’s like a three-hour show. So it just depends on the audience.

NM: What does one of you live sets consist of?

Marc: So basically, when people come to my live show, solo wise, I like to mix it up, I do a lot of stuff for my solo records. Lately, I’ve been doing just more of a heavy set. It’s kinda depending on what’s going on, it’s something that I decide right before I go on stage, I have like different setlist on my iPod. If I notice there’s more of an older audience then I’ll do more bluesy jazzy flamenco-ey acoustic stuff. But if I see more metalheads, then I’ll play a lot of metal stuff. And I put a lot of covers in, I mean, I do a lot of my instrumental heavy stuff and then I’ll mix it. I’ll put in some Soulfly songs and I sing and play the stuff. Some old Sepultura, Pantera, Slayer, Metallica, you know classics, I really like to cater to whoever I’m playing for. Because again, I love all types of music, and when it’s time to go out and do my gigs, I show up prepared ready to rock. No matter what the crowd is like. Like the store that I just did with Whiskey Dick around Texas, they’re pretty well known around Texas and they have their own following. And they bring in a lot of older people that are into country music. So when I would see the crowd was like more of an older country crowd, I pulled out the acoustic guitar and I did more of a flamenco bluesy set and it went over great. So I like mixing it up. You know, depending on the crowd.

NM: Lets talk about ‘Rotation.’

Marc: It’s one of the first record, solo records that I recorded with my good friend, Zeus, who’s one of my favorite producers, who is a very well known famous producer, has done some of my favorite metal records, he actually made my favorite Soulfly record, which is ‘Enslaved,’ which is when I really first met Zeus, I knew who he was, obviously, we had a lot of mutual friends in the business, but ‘Enslaved’ with Soulfly back in 2011, or 2012. That was the first time I got to work with Zeus. And he really was one of the first producers I ever worked with that would tell you in the studio ‘no’ you could do better, he pushed me, he pushed all of us. And that’s why I believe that’s the best Soulfly record ever made, because the way that Zeus really, really pushed us in the studio. And I love that he was a no bullshit kind of guy. He didn’t put up with no bullshit. And he really pushed everybody in the studio. And that record shows it. I mean, that record is freaking incredible. And so when it was time to make my record, while we were making ‘Enslaved,’ we talked about doing my new solo record. But you know, obviously, to get Zeus to do what I didn’t think, you know, because my instrumental stuff is on such a small level, but it just showcases what a real dude he is. And we made it work. And he came down to Jersey, and we recorded it at my buddy’s studio, Derek Clyde, who passed away, he was my bass player. And he did some guest solos on it, Eric, and we got Zeus in the studio. And we made it happen. And for me that record ‘Rotation’ is a very special record. I think people really should check it out. You know, I specifically made it for metal heads. It’s got a lot of heavy riffs on it. And even though it’s instrumental, people will definitely dig it that are not into instrumental music, because I specifically tried to make a record that had a lot of catchy riffs and grooves and melodies. I can’t wait for my newest one to come out too.

NM: So where can we find ‘Rotation,’ up on iTunes?

Marc: I think Spotify, all that stuff, Combat Records had put the record out. But now I think it’s going to be re-released again. So we’ll see what’s up, you know, and then also, I’m probably putting out a ‘best of’ record real soon to where I’m going to do all my heavy stuff and unreleased stuff. And I’m hoping to get that out soon too. So just look out for it. You know, it’s not easy making my solo records again, I really don’t get a lot of support and help. So it’s all DIY and just hustling to get stuff out there.

NM: You recently released “Destiny of Time,” can you tell me about that?

Marc: Yeah, that’s a b-side single from my third record ‘Legionnaire.’ My third solo record that I released myself, and it was just a leftover track. When I went into making ‘Legionnaire’ originally, I was going to just make an old acoustic record. Because for me, it’s real, it’s difficult, you know, there’s the fans that love my acoustic stuff, and then there’s the fans that love my heavy stuff. So it’s kind of hard to make everyone happy on my records, including myself. So originally, ‘Legionnaire’ was going to be all acoustic, with a little bit electric. And then what happened was that I decided last minute to do more heavy stuff on the record and combine it with the acoustic, like I usually do. And so I had a couple of leftover songs like “Destiny of Time,” and there was another one called “Prague.” So those two singles I had put up on iTunes, and they’re just leftover tracks from ‘Legionnaire’ that I’m super proud of. And actually, they’ll definitely be added to my ‘best of’ record when that comes out soon.

NM: Very cool, wow we’ve chatted up a storm, any upcoming shows?

Marc: We definitely have! Yes! Playing 3 shows in Montana 7/8, 7/9 and 7/10. Also have some Acoustic Vendetta shows coming up as well in July and August.

NM: Awesome well I wish you all the best Marc in all your endeavors.

Marc: Thank you so much, thank you for having me, this was fun.


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Featured photo by Christine (CSNYPRO / The Cyclorama)
Christine’s other titles include:
Co-Host/Production Manager at The Eddie Leeway Podcast
In-House/Creative Director at The Cyclorama
Writer/Creator at Darkthorn by CSNY
Publicist/Creative Director for Marc Rizzo
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