Xander Demos didn’t pick up a guitar until the age of 13, but in the years since, he has grown into one of the most talented and versatile guitarists in the world, a virtuoso whose playing style ranges from the beautifully melodic to the jaw-droppingly insane.
Since early 2011, Xander has been performing with The Xander Demos band, a collection of four exceptional musicians backing up Xander’s guitar pyrotechnics. The group has toured with the likes of Neil Zaza, Buckethead, Kip Winger and UFO and released a critically acclaimed album, Guitarcadia, in 2012.
In addition, Xander recently joined forces with acclaimed thrash-metal vocalist James Rivera on a new East Coast chapter of his Sabbath Judas Sabbath tribute band, which has chapters around the world. The East Coast chapter has Xander sharing lead guitar duties with fellow Pittsburgh natives Bill Staley (formerly of Creature of Habit), Greg Bittner (also formerly of Creature of Habit) on bass and fellow XDB bandmate Jeff Anzelone on drums.
In 2013 and 2014, Xander was the recipient of the Best Guitarist award at the Iron City Rocks Pittsburgh Music Awards, and in October of 2015, his “White Knuckle Driving” was named the Best Metal/Hardcore Song at the Akademia Music Awards. He will also appear in the film Hair I Go Again, a documentary about the determinations, triumphs and failures of a former hair band, featuring members of Motley Crue, RATT, Quiet Riot, Anthrax, Warrant, Stryper and many others.
What was your childhood like? How did it shape who you are today?
My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds — pretty standard really.
Oh wait… that’s from Austin Powers. My bad. Sorry, I couldn’t resist…
Anyway, all kidding and movie quotes aside — I had a pretty nice childhood. My parents were supportive of the music stuff at best, yet at times, they questioned it. My mother was a bit more “into it” I think. As far as my childhood shaping me, having the love and support of two parents was a big deal and it did make me a rather well-rounded individual — both musically and professionally.
How did you initially become interested in playing music? And what made you gravitate towards the guitar?
I started to get interested in music by the time I was about 10 years old and then MTV hit in 1981 and it was all over then… I was hooked! I did start out on drums. I wasn’t terribly good at them but I was eager to learn. But, watching MTV spotlighted the guitar in a different light and I think that was the thing that moved me. Seeing bands like Night Ranger, Vandenberg and even Michael Bolton (when he was rock/metal) playing guitar had a lot to do with it. The Pretenders’ video “Talk of the Town” is what cemented my want to be a musician.
What was the recording process like for Guitarcadia?
It was a struggle at times but for the most part the process was great because all of it was done in my home studio and then mixed and mastered at CJ Snare’s studio. There were some people (that shall remain nameless) that wanted me to spend money at a “professional” studio to record certain parts and there was no way in hell that was going to happen. Other than that, it was smooth.
How did you initially become acquainted with James Rivera, and what do you enjoy most about playing with Sabbath Judas Sabbath?
My good friend (and brother from another mother) Bill Staley knew him back in Texas and James approached Bill about doing a band. When that came up, Bill approached me as the second guitar player and from there our relationship grew. James is a great guy and I always enjoy performing with him.
Are there any aspects of playing the guitar that you still struggle with? Or are there areas in which you still aspire to improve?
Sure! I would always aspire to improve my improvisation! I think most players want to be able to hit that “correct” note every time but at the same time I think that most players would just like to feel confident in their playing. I feel pretty confident when on stage but I do tend drive myself a little crazy in the studio. I would also like to feel better on camera when doing YouTube videos as well.
What does a typical day for you look like?
I am a software solutions architect by trade so my days are working from home (mostly) and dealing with corporate people then changing gears and putting on my musical hat afterwards. I take care of my dogs and do typical “around the house” stuff. I wish I could say it was all just crazy parties and rock-stardom, but I am pretty boring I guess!
From your perspective, what are some of the biggest differences between the Pittsburgh of today and the Pittsburgh of your youth?
Well, I grew up in the Tampa Bay area but visited Pittsburgh quite a bit as a kid. Pittsburgh is a more tech-savvy city and is a relatively nice place to live. The music scene could use an improvement but I think that’s the deal everywhere these days. It’s definitely not a “dirty, steel city” like the old stereotype.
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?
Gordon Ramsay’s Steak in the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. I spent four days in Vegas before this year’s NAMM convention. It was an incredible meal. Definitely going to hit that again!
What are you working on next?
I am working on my second full-length album called Gods of Jupiter. That is first and foremost. After that, I want to do the live band thing again so I am hoping this is going to be a good year for that!