An Interview with Jaron Gulino of Tantric & Heavens Edge

All images courtesy of Jaron Gulino/Header image credit: RiverKinn


By Andrew DiCecco
adicecco@vinylwriter.com

Despite maintaining a rigorous touring schedule with his flagship band, Tantric, Jaron Gulino simultaneously balances duties with Philadelphia’s own Heavens Edge and the occasional moonlight performance with George Lynch and the Electric Freedom.

In 2017, the wiry bassist joined the Kentucky-based rock group Tantric, performing on the band’s two most recent offerings, Mercury Retrograde (2018) and The Sum of All Things (2021).

As a budding musician, Gulino immersed himself in the vast world of ’80s hard rock. In an ironic twist of fate, he was presented with a unique opportunity years later when Heavens Edge frontman Mark Evans reached out to him over Messenger to gauge Gulino’s interest in joining the band to take the place of their fallen brother, bassist George ‘G.G.’ Guidotti.

Gulino graciously accepted, and while Guidotti is truly one-of-a-kind and can never be replaced, Gulino’s distinct showmanship, varied playing, and youthful exuberance wonderfully complement the cohesive dynamic. On the heels of announcing a three-album deal with Frontiers at the M3 Rock Festival in May – and a forthcoming album by the end of the year – Heavens Edge is positioned to finally enjoy their moment in the sun they were unfairly denied 32 years ago.

I caught up with Gulino recently to discuss, among other topics, his inclusion into the Heavens Edge family, affinity for ’80s hard rock, musical upbringing, and Tantric’s future plans.

Andrew:
So, at the M3 Rock Festival, Mark [Evans] announced that Heavens Edge had signed a three-album deal with Frontiers, and a new album is on the way. Would you be able to provide any updates?

Jaron:
I went in with Dave [Rath] and Reggie [Wu], and we knocked out drums and bass for 11 songs; I think it’s 10 for the album and one bonus track for the import releases. The material is excellent. I would say it’s a wide span of everything Heavens Edge fans have heard before, with a little touch of some modern stuff in there as well, in terms of, well, maybe a little bit more aggressive on some things. But Reggie and the guys, they’ve really cooked up some great stuff, and I think the fans are gonna just love it.

Andrew:
I had a chance to take in the Heavens Edge set at M3 and was blown away. From your perspective, how did the long-anticipated performance go for you and the band?

Jaron:
The response was great. For anybody that was there, you know, obviously, it was a weird M3 with the weather; nice and cold, and I think it hurt attendance a little bit. Regardless of that aspect of it, I think for the guys to return to the stage, post-G.G., and show everybody that they’re not going anywhere, and the band is alive and well, I think that was a big win for them. For me personally, I’ve been going to M3 since the very first year. I’ve only missed a handful of years, being on tour and scheduling conflicts, but I try to go every year. So, to actually play it was next-level for me; definitely a form of a bucket list item type of deal. It was great, man. I can’t say enough great things about the whole organization and the way that they set it all up. It’s a dream come true for any band at that type of event, but especially for these bands in our genre. A lot of these bands don’t really get to showcase at that level – it’s a lot of clubs, a lot of smaller stuff for a lot of these guys – but to do it on a big stage like that, I think that’s what keeps everybody going and everybody really excited.

Andrew:
You mention that you’ve attended M3 since its inception, and I understand you have an affinity for ’80s hard rock, so what initially kindled your passion for the genre?

Jaron:
I think it all started, honestly, I would say, with my love for the guitar style; George Lynch was the guy that sparked my whole ’80s thing. I was into a lot of heavy stuff, a lot of thrash, and a lot of metal when I was a younger kid in middle school. Then in eighth grade, my history teacher gave me a copy of Back for the Attack, and he was like, “You know, if you like all these heavy bands, you should check out this guy.” George Lynch is definitely a fierce guy and had that heavy style. And from there, man, I just started to branch out to Ratt, Skid Row, and all these other bands. Again, I listened for the music aspect of it; when you listen to the musicianship, I think that is undeniable, and that’s kind of what grabbed me and sucked me in. All these years later, here I am with Reggie Wu – one of the best – and man, it’s a great feeling to be on stage experiencing that when we’re playing through these tunes and watching [Reggie] shred.

Andrew:
When we spoke, Reggie mentioned that you were a fan of the band and familiar with the catalog. Did you grow up listening to Heavens Edge?

Jaron:
Yeah, man. You know, I was a little late to the party on Heavens Edge. I was not familiar, and I went and saw L.A. Guns and maybe Faster Pussycat was on the bill, and I think Mark [Evans] played an acoustic set; he did a couple of Heavens Edge tunes, and I’m thinking, “These songs are badass. Where is this guy from?” I did a little bit of homework, but the dots didn’t connect, and it wasn’t until I met my buddy Damian and he gave me a copy of the Heavens Edge album, and then I started to piece it all together.

We saw a reunion show at World Café Live around ten years back. Then, oddly enough, I bought a bass cabinet on Craigslist, and I show up at the guy’s house to buy it, and it’s Mark! So, that’s kind of how we kicked off our relationship of knowing each other, and I just continuously saw the band at M3 and anywhere that I could. So, as a fan, I was following them for the last ten years, and to get that message from Mark asking if I would be interested in doing it, it was a no-brainer for me to say, “Absolutely.” With a band like that, with the legacy and all that history, there’s no better feeling than being able to help them out. And it’s a lot of fun, too; I get to play that style of music, which I don’t technically get to do too often with my regular gig.

All images courtesy of Jaron Gulino

Andrew:
To expand upon that a bit, how did your affiliation with Heavens Edge first come about?

Jaron:
Yeah. Funny enough, man, I’m on tour in London, and I got a message on Messenger from Mark. I’m sitting in this cruddy bathroom before the show, and I had no service all day, and for some reason, this bathroom – this cellar, almost – my service kicked in, and I got all these messages. I got the message from Mark, and he’s not a guy I message with very often, so when I saw it and started to read it, I was like, “Holy crap.” I had a lot going on at the time, but it was a no-brainer. I actually knew the material well enough just from listening to it that when it came time to learn the songs, it made it that much easier for me. We went in right at the end of 2019 for a little jam just to see if everybody would get along and if it was a right fit, and the guys were blown away. And the rest is history.

Andrew:
Heavens Edge’s stage presence is primarily characterized by its unique choreography, including guitar spinning, which was essentially pioneered by an influential Philadelphia rock act called The Dead End Kids. As I understand it, it was Jeff LaBar who taught you your bass spinning technique, right?

Jaron:
Yeah, man. It was actually really cool because that lesson with Jeff was maybe eightish months before all the Heavens Edge stuff came about. I forget how it even started, but we were standing outside of this arena in Evansville, Indiana, with the guys from Saliva and the guys from Trapt, and somehow the guitar spin came up. So, Jeff’s standing there – Sebastian’s got his little guitar – so, Jeff pulls out one of his old guitars and starts spinnin’ it, and then Sebastian’s takin’ it for a spin. A guitar is a lot different than a bass, especially for me; I wear the bass really low, and it’s a little heavier. But to have those first interactions on a guitar and Jeff kind of teach me the way he did it definitely helped. I can say I can’t spin it the way that they do, man – they do it with a straight back and stand really firm and tall – and for me, I gotta kind of crouch over a little bit. You know, I’m 6-foot-4, and I’ve got this monster strap. It’s a little harder with the bass, but it comes around almost every time, so I’m grateful for that. Like you said, man, you gotta have that choreography with a band like that.

Andrew:
Going back a bit now, Jaron, what was your earliest introduction to music, and what ultimately drew you to the bass guitar?

Jaron:
Good question. Well, my dad is a fellow music freak, just like me; he likes the heavy stuff and all different genres. The earliest memories I have are listening to Deep Purple, then later, getting into [Iron] Maiden and Slayer and Yngwie. Just more off-the-beaten-path choices. You know, a lot of kids grow up hearing Zeppelin or Sabbath; Sabbath is a big one for me now, but back then, it was more about the bands that weren’t the most popular. As I got older, I was a big skateboarder when I was a kid, and a lot of the skate videos I would watch had killer soundtracks. So, I learned a lot about a lot of heavy stuff through that.

When I got to my mid-teens, I would say 14 or 15; I played guitar and played music and the local School of Rock. I went over one day just to hang out and see what it was all about, and I see my friends up there playing through Slayer songs, Septulra, King Diamond, all these crazy bands. I’m like, “Dude, I go to concerts religiously. There’s no reason I should just be sitting around watching. I could probably do this, too.” I think that’s where the desire to really start doing it came from. I realized it was within reach. Back in the ’70s, my dad played bass, so he had one in the house and got me set up. I took it home and sort of started doing the School of Rock thing, and once I could physically actually play it, I just taught myself from there.

A lot of those early days are all metal, all thrash. I just wanted to play fast; no theory, no knowledge of scales. You know, over the years, I try to freshen up and learn new things because I don’t have a big musical education. But those early days are kind of what led me to be what I am today. And by that, I just mean my approach and all-around musical tastes.

Andrew:
Now, given your fondness of thrash, I would have to assume Cliff Burton and David Ellefson were significant influences as you honed your skills.

Jaron:
I honestly never listen to the bass; even as a bass player, many years in, I always listen to the guitar. I’m just a guitar freak. Never wanted to be a guitar player, but that’s just what catches my ear. Being into thrash and all that stuff early on, the guy that stuck out to me was D.D. Verni from Overkill. That was really my guy. And Nuclear Assault was a big one for me with Danny Lilker. But I didn’t get into Cliff Burton, Dave Ellefson, or any of those guys – I mean, they’re all great, don’t get me wrong – but that’s just not my style. I don’t think I really got into bass until I was a lot older, like, after I’d already been playing for almost a decade.

These days, when people ask who my main influences are, I would say Geezer Butler, obviously, and then there are the odd guys; Richie Kotzen and, believe it or not, Yngwie [Malmsteen]. I like busier bass, that’s just me, but I find that Geezer and guys like that add a lot of grunt or any sort of counter-melody to the guitar. With music like that, it really makes a difference. I try to always keep that in mind when I’m writing and try not to be too busy, but I’m attracted to that stuff. I kind of learned backward; I listened to the guitar and then realized that bass should be simpler and not a lead instrument.

But, you know, I still have fun with it. I think that gives a fresh approach now, having the knowledge of what should or shouldn’t technically be in most people’s eyes in terms of bass performance. Because I come from that outside-the-box thinking, I tend to feel as if I come up with stuff that most people either wouldn’t or most people wouldn’t at least approach in that direction.

All images courtesy of Jaron Gulino

Andrew:
What sequence of events led you to join your flagship band, Tantric, back in 2017?

Jaron:
So, the Tantric gig came about kind of strangely. I was doing a fill-in gig with this band called Dellacoma out of Australia, they were doing a U.S. tour, and the band fell apart. The guy called me, and he’s like, “Hey, could you sit in on bass?” I said, “Yeah, sure. Who else do you have comin’ in?” And next thing I know, it’s Chris Green from Tyketto on guitar, and Troy Patrick Farrell from Bulletboys and White Lion, on drums. I’m like, “Ooh, this guy’s got pretty much like an ’80s band for his rock band.”

So, we flew out for those dates, and I came home and went back to my desk job. A couple of days later, I got a message from Troy, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m sitting in with this band Tantric, and again, they have no lineup. Would you be interested in doing it if you have the opportunity?” I had pretty much 48 hours to say yes, learn all the music, and leave for the first day of a six-week tour. I just said, “Yeah,” ook it, and the rest is kind of history with that. But the crazy thing is that I left behind literally everything you worked for until you’re twenty-something years old: full-time job, time at home, a place. I just kind of ditched it all and took the chance of going on tour, and I’ve kind of been on tour ever since.

When I say “been on tour,” the longest I think we had off, besides a couple of months during COVID, was maybe like a month, man. We hammer it pretty hard. So, it’s very much a full-time thing; I do enjoy it. I took it as an opportunity to climb the ladder and get somewhere that I couldn’t go with the bands I was already in. But, at the same time, knowing nothing about the band, even right down to the main song. I heard it, and I was like, “This sounds familiar,” but I still didn’t really know because I came from ’80s metal. So, as much as it was on the radio, I never listened to the radio, so I wasn’t that familiar with it. But I’ve grown to love a lot of the songs, and it’s just become a crazy journey.

Andrew:
You played on Tantric’s most recent efforts, Mercury Retrograde (2018) and The Sum of All Things (2021). How does each album compare from your perspective?

Jaron:
They pretty much go hand-in-hand in the sense that the production is the same – we did it with Chuck Alkazian at Pearl Sound Studios in Michigan – and having him there, I would say you probably put those on shuffle, and they sound like they’re kind of coming from the same record. The difference would be Hugo had the majority of Mercury Retrograde done by the time we went in to record it, so we kind of went iN, and I re-tracked all the bass except for a couple of songs, and Sebastian [LaBar] added a lot of leads. We did record about half of that one as the band at that time with Troy, and then going into The Sum of All things, I would say half of it is Frank and the band writing, and then the other half are songs that Hugo had demoed out in the past that we kind of dug up and did our own thing on. They sound about the same; I think fans that like one definitely like the other. But I’m curious to see what the next step is, and we’re getting to that time to do another record, so we’ll see where that takes us.

Andrew:
What was your experience like working with Chuck?

Jaron:
I do like working with Chuck. He’s a lot of fun, and his studio is fantastic. I kind of come from more of an old-school approach; I like to go into a room and everybody tracks and pretty much start organically with nothing and see what we come up with. But in this day and age, with the budgets and stuff, it’s really hard to do that. The overall experience with Chuck was great, and he does good work. The album came out sounding big and massive, and that’s the sound that Hugo was looking for, so I think, all-in-all, in the end, everyone kind of won on that one.

Andrew:
The Sum of All Things has a noticeably heavier edge to it by comparison. What was the blueprint for that one?

Jaron:
I think a lot of it had to do with the guys in the band; obviously, it was me and Sebastian, and we had Jason Hartless from Ted Nugent’s Band doing the session drums. He’s a monster. So, to take some of Sebastian’s riffs, and even the ones that Hugo had already written out or demoed out, to put Sebastian’s guitar on those, I think, kind of beefed it up. And I was really adamant about micing up bass cabs to get a huge bass sound. Sadly, it didn’t really show throughout the album; I don’t know what happened there. But we had that in mind; we wanted to sound big and mean, kind of like our live show. We use real amps, and we wanted that to kind of translate into the recordings. Honestly, I would kind of say it got that appeal a little bit. But on the next album, for sure, there are things that we definitely want to do differently. Every album is a learning experience, you know?

Andrew:
Are there any imminent plans for a new album?

Jaron:
Yeah, man. We did The Sum of All Things during COVID, so 2020, and here we are in 2022 going into ’23. We’re due, technically, based on the timeframes that we’ve gone by in the past, but because we’re so heavily on the road, it’s now a matter of finding that window of time and figuring out how we wanna do it and the approach this time around. Everybody’s got material, but again, I think this time around, we wanna do it organically. So, I think, maybe at the end of the year going into the new year, hopefully, we’ll figure out a timeframe and kind of just get in there and start hammering at it.

All images courtesy of Jaron Gulino

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at adicecco@vinylwriter.com

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: