Italian virtuoso talks career, equipment and what led up to the gigs with James LaBrie and PFM
April 12, 2016
Marco Sfogli is an Italian guitarist, composer, arranger and educator. An in-demand session player, Marco can be heard on recordings by Simon Phillips, Jordan Rudess, Alberto Rigoni, Gregg Bissonette, Adam Nitti, Randy Coven, Matt Bissonette, Virgil Donati, Ray Riendeau and many others. He is also well known for his long-running association with Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie. Since 2015, Marco has been performing with Italian progressive rock band PFM.
FGPO: Growing up the son of two musicians, you must have been exposed to all kinds of music from the very beginning. How would you describe your musical upbringing?
MS: Well, first of all thanks for this interview! Being raised in a family of musicians was a treat, you know. There were a lot of instruments around to play, so it was kinda natural for me to pick up a guitar and strum (it) to see what happens. That led me to getting interested in music at an early age. Plus my parents used to collect a lot of vinyl records, which ranged from rock to pop and blues, and that definitely helped to build my background. Unfortunately, I destroyed most of those records!
FGPO: How did you settle on the guitar? Didn’t you go back and forth between guitar and drums?
MS: Drums came later, actually. I started with guitar when I was 8 because my father was a classical guitarist and it was the easiest route. I studied classical guitar for a few years and then I somewhat lost interest very soon and got attracted to the drums, which I played for a couple of years. Unfortunately, I ran into a couple of issues with drums. First, I didn’t have an acoustic treated room, so I wasn’t that welcome amongst the neighbors while practicing. Second, I didn’t have a car nor a driver’s license, so bringing the drums back and forth from the garage to the rehearsal space on a scooter wasn’t really an option. I got back to the guitar and never looked back.
FGPO: Tell me about your technique. You’ve got great fingers!
MS: Thank you! Technique is something that I worked out by listening to my heroes playing on records. At the time there were no free tabs or YouTube videos. All we got were instructional VHS (tapes), which were very expensive and in English, which I didn’t understand as a kid, and eventually transcriptions in magazines. I approached technique like gym, basically. It takes time to develop and build and perseverance to keep the chops together.
FGPO: How did your career get started? What kind of gigs were you doing initially?
MS: Like most of the guys from my area, I started playing in cover bands and it was a lot of fun. We didn’t have a clue about putting a set list up and since each member of the band had different musical roots, it ended up being one of those bands with no identity, with tunes ranging from Dire Straits to Dream Theater to Savatage. Amazingly messed, I’d say, but we were young and inexperienced. We played clubs, local festivals, parties, the usual things for a cover band. Then later on I got called to do some session gigs and started getting a name in the area as “the guy who can play impossible leads,” which I found really funny and interesting. Contributing to someone else’s song is something that I really liked doing and I still love, though.
FGPO: How did the James LaBrie gig come about?
MS: I was put in touch with Matt Guillory by a mutual friend. Matt is an amazing composer and keyboard player and he is also the main songwriter in James’ project. We became “net friends” and when they were looking for a guitar player for their new record, Elements of Persuasion, he gave James some of my demos and I got an audition, which ended up well. We did three records and a world tour. It was an amazing experience.
FGPO: Tell me about your equipment.
MS: I use mainly Ibanez guitars, both electrics and acoustics. I’ve always been an Ibanez fan since the early days because all my favorite guitar players were using them. As for amps, I use a number of different things depending on the song, especially in the studio.
FGPO: I know you’re a big fan of DV Mark amps. What do you like about them?
MS: I mainly use their Multiamp for live use these days. I like it because it’s easy to get a good sound out of it, it’s reliable and, since it’s digital and MIDI equipped, I don’t have to jump on different pedals to change sounds, which on big production stages, like with PFM, is necessary.
FGPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
MS: I’m putting together the new PFM album with the guys, as well as playing a lot of live gigs, both with the band and as a solo act, doing clinics, masterclasses, etc. Also there’s a new band in the making with Virgil Donati on drums and Alex Argento on keyboards. We’re writing a lot of material, which is coming out amazingly great and hope to have something for you to listen by the end of this year.
FGPO: How about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
MS: I’m working to be a better songwriter and that comes before anything else. The playing aspect has always been secondary to me. You can always say something with a few notes and some basic chords, but if the song doesn’t help or is badly arranged, the whole building comes down, you know!
FGPO: What would you be if you weren’t a guitar player?
MS: I’d probably be fixing computers for a living, that’s the only thing that I know how to do because it’s been a passion of mine since the old C64 days.