An Interview with Ziv Shalev of Spread Eagle

Feature image credit: Pete Key/Courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Image credit: My Big Day Event Photography/Courtesy of Ziv Shalev

In an age where guitar heroes are forsaken, modern-day guitar virtuoso, Ziv Shalev is bucking that trend, and kicking down doors with great ferocity in the process.

From humble origins in Isreal, Shalev developed a deep love for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal through CDs brought back from the United States by his older brother. What started as an interest in music through albums such as Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction, steadily developed into a deep, burning passion, which eventually led Shalev to a career as a sought after session man.

Upon coming to the United States, Shalev eventually settled in NYC, and cut his teeth gigging with various local bands, one of which was Five Point. While Five Point didn’t last, his relationship with the band’s drummer Rik DeLuca did, and years later, when Spread Eagle needed a guitarist, it was DeLuca (now drumming for Spread Eagle) who came calling.

While Spread Eagle’s early days paint a picture of a literal street gang passionately creating Hard Rock music, in reality, the band’s songsmith, chemistry, and musicianship were nearly unmatched, and so, when Shalev was asked to fill the role once held by original guitarist, Paul DiBartolo, you could say that he was nervous, as some of the cult band’s diehard fans were skeptical.

Twelve years on, and one monster of an album (Subway To The Stars) later, two things are clear; the newly reinvigorated Spread Eagle’s chemistry is as fluid as ever, and Ziv Shalev has the chops to fill anyone’s shoes, and then some.

In this interview, Ziv and I, among other things, dig into the guitarist’s origins in Isreal, his early love for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, meeting Rik DeLuca, joining the mighty Spread Eagle, the band’s current songwriting process, his technique, gear, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Ziv Shalev, you can head over to his webpage, and dive in. If you would like to check in on the latest comings, and going of Spread Eagle, you can head over to the band’s website, or their official Facebook page, and keep tabs.

Andrew:
As a young musician, what gravitated you toward the guitar?

Ziv:
My older brother started a band, he was the drummer, and the guitar player came over for a rehearsal one day with a black Ibanez EX. I asked him if I could hold it. It was right then, at ten years old, I knew what I wanted to do — play the guitar.

Andrew:
Who were some of your earliest influences which shaped your style?

Ziv:
I was infatuated with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses throughout my childhood. I Played the records back to front, over and over. I believe I learned the entire Kill ‘Em All album. I think that to this day, Kirk Hammett’s licks are embedded in my playing.

Andrew:
Before joining Spread Eagle, what were some of your early gigs where you cut your teeth, so to speak?

Ziv:
I was playing in two main bands; The Vinyl Stash, a Rock band, and The Danny Mclaughlin Band, a Celtic band. We toured the country, and I learned a lot from being a band member in these groups.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle was one of the fiercest and most underrated bands of its era. This said, were they on your musical radar as a kid?

Ziv:
I didn’t know them when I was a kid. Back then, I’m sure that the record stores in Israel, where I grew up, had the first two albums, but I never discovered the band. I really wonder if I would have been into Spread Eagle as a kid. I think I would.

Andrew:
You mentioned growing up in Israel. Paint a picture of the music scene there, and how you came to love Rock and Metal. Take me through your indoctrination into a reformed Spread Eagle.

Ziv:
I owe it to my older brother. He went to the states when he was a teenager, and he brought a bunch of CDs and bands merch. That got me really into Heavy Metal. I think that the more I got into the guitar, the more I discover the Metal genre as I wanted to learn riffs and solos.

Israel is a very different environment than the states, the small exposure we had back then to the western music world was always fascinating to me, so I explored it more and more, and that’s why I ended up here. After graduating from high school, I joined the Israeli army, and when I finished my service, I didn’t waste time. I came straight to NYC. I studied music at CCNY while auditioning for bands. One thing led to another until I met Rik DeLuca. We played together in a band called Five Points. That was short-lived. But Rik remembered me, and five years later, he asked me if I would like to audition for Spread Eagle. The rest is history.

Image courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Andrew:
Spread Eagle’s original guitarist, Paul DiBartolo, left some pretty big shoes to fill. What’s it been like taking that mantle, and handling the riffs, and solos he wrote all those years ago?

Ziv:
That’s obviously the biggest challenge. I am doing my best to execute the riffs and solos the way they were originally written. It’s hard to believe that Paul wrote them when he was so young. With that said, I love the challenge. Every musical challenge is progress, and now it’s all about writing solos in the same style. I was a bit nervous when Subway To The Stars was released. How would fans and new listeners react? The feedback was mixed, but for the most part, positive, and I was very happy about that.

Andrew:
Like Paul, you’ve got a diverse musical background which includes a focus on Jazz. How has that helped you adapt your style to that of Spread Eagle, and put your stamp on the classic songs, while still maintaining the legacy of the tracks?

Ziv:
I feel that exploring different genres can always be beneficial to any Rock and Metal musician if they use the experience wisely. Paul did it brilliantly. And I am hoping that choosing melodic lines and unorthodox chords in songS from time to time is more like an interesting spice than overkill. Regardless, if it is overkill, the guys in the band would probably point that out and the idea would be scratched. Like a cat! [Laughs].

Andrew:
Spread Eagle is far from a legacy act having a new album out called Subway To The Stars, and is said to be in the studio once again for a follow-up. How has your specific brand of guitar work helped push Spread Eagle forward?

Ziv:
It all goes back to staying true to that Spread Eagle sound. As long as I can maintain that sound, and intensity of playing, I should be able to provide solid guitar work for the next album.

Andrew:
If you can, paint a picture of the Spread Eagle’s recording, and songwriting process. In the past, Paul wrote much of the guitar parts, while Ray and Rob handled the melodies and lyrics. Is that dynamic still the same with you in the band, or is it a more collaborative effort?

Ziv:
The current situation is different than in the past. The way it works now is that we all write and bring to the table complete song ideas. We sort through a lot and decide which will make it to the record. We go back and forth this way until we hit the pre-production stage. Watching our music come to life is very exciting. It’s fairly simple. What takes a long time and is tedious is getting the right tones. The playing is the fun part. 

The guys in the band always say, “The most important thing is to be true to the Spread Eagle sound.” It is, in some cases tedious. For example, we are working on a new album right now. We sorted through twenty-four guitars until we decided which guitars are going to be a good fit for Spread Eagle. While I bring my own style and writing into the band, I do my best to keep the sound in keeping with “NYC Street Metal,” as we call it. The inspiration is the previous albums and of course, Paul DiBartolo, who I admire. He’s also a really nice guy.

Image courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Andrew:
How do you approach songwriting as an artist? What is your process like? How about solos? Are they off the cuff, or do you have a stockpile waiting for the right song to accompany them?

Ziv:
For me, writing songs always begins from a single seed. That seed in most cases is a guitar riff. These riffs usually pop in my head, or if I practice, or record something, I may have an idea, and if I like it, and it’s not used anywhere, I’ll keep it in an archive, and come back to it at a later point. At this point, I try to develop the seed into a full intro, verse, etc. It’s a fun process. A lot of these never see the light of day, but when they do it’s great fun. Regarding the solos, it’s pretty much the same process. I work bit by bit building a cohesive solo, and when it’s done, I learn how to play it in one shot. 

Andrew:
What does the current lineup of Spread Eagle, which also includes Rik DeLuca on drums, bring to the table that perhaps past lineups didn’t?

Ziv:
Every lineup has its magic. I hear a lot of stories from back in the early days, which are fascinating. However, it’s been ten years since I joined the band, and we have our own story and magic. The musical and mental chemistry in the band is one of a kind. I love everyone in the band. Rik is a monster musician, drummer, and a very good friend. He has exactly what the Eagle needs, and I love him. Oh, and he doesn’t snore which is a big plus! [Laughs].

Andrew:
Ultimately, how do you feel Spread Eagles’ newest music plays against the band’s first two albums, which are cult favorites, and retrospective genre staples?

Ziv:
I feel good about it. Ray’s voice is like fine wine. I believe it would be really cool to introduce the band to someone who never heard them before, and let them hear the difference between, let’s say Open To The Public and Subway To The Stars. With that said, people can’t expect things to sound exactly the same. It’s new material, different musicians, and of course many years in between. We hope people connect, and it makes them feel good when they listen to us.

Image credit: SD Photography/Courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Andrew:
In the live setting, what are your favorite songs to run through? Were there any songs in particular that you found most difficult to learn from the Spread Eagle’s back catalog?

Ziv:
My top three songs to play live are “Switchblade Serenade,” “Revolution Maker,” and “Suzy Suicide,” which were also the hardest to learn.

Andrew:
What sort of gear do you use in the studio vs. the live setting?

Ziv:
For recording, I use a variety of my own guitars. Moving forward, we’re going with a more classic sound that utilizes an 80s Explorer, an 80s Flying V, and some other powerful instruments. In the live setting, I use the same guitar I use in the recordings to execute the solos. I call it the “Stunt Guitar.” It’s the Music Man JP 6. Obviously, I have to use it live for the solos. The amps are the same. My main amp is the Victory Kraken. Cabs vary depending on the song.

Andrew:
What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

Ziv:
Ugh. That would be tough ’cause there are so so many, but to name a few:

Kill ‘Em All. It changed my life. Classic. Raw. Metallica in their purest form. 
Led Zepplin IV. Incredible. 
–The first Van Halen record, Van Halen. Timeless.
Appetite For Destruction. I can’t get enough of it.

Image credit: Pete Key/Courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inspire and affect your music, if at all?

Ziv:
I love fitness and nutrition, I’m into DIY home stuff, and stocks. I’m not sure if these affect my music, but I love being a dad. My daughter inspires me every day.

Andrew:
What’s next for you in all lanes, Ziv? Can you give us any information on the next Spread Eagle album, or if the band is planning to tour in 2022?

Ziv:
I am looking forward to the process of the new record. It’s in the very beginning stages, so that’s all I can say about that. A tour would definitely start cooking when the album is completed. And other than that, just lots of recordings for clients. I work with people from all over the world. It’s really awesome making new connections and providing people and bands guitar tracks for their projects.

Image credit: Andy Bradley/Black Diamond Photography/Courtesy of Ziv Shalev

Interested in diving into Spread Eagles’ new record, Subway To The Stars? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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