In Conversation with Minneapolis Shredder Amber DeBellis on Influences, Guitars, Teaching, Alien Book Club, and More

Photo by Ro Lorenzen
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 19 – Spring 2022

Throughout the pandemic, people around the globe have had to find inspiration in any way that they can. Many of us, especially musicians, looked to social media. That’s how Jackson’s Artist Relations manager discovered Minneapolis shredder Amber DeBellis after stumbling upon her cover of Guthrie Govan’s “Best of Times,” which she posted to Govan’s Facebook fan page. After realizing the musical prowess of this self-taught virtuoso, Jackson reached out to Amber to onboard her to the artist family. In addition to posting fiery covers online, Amber also plays in the tasty and versatile group Alien Book Club and teaches guitar to a wide range of students. We chatted with Amber to learn more about her blossoming musical career. 

What inspired you to start playing guitar?

When I was younger, I really liked the Guitar Hero series, and I was playing that a lot. One of the last ones that came out, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, had this whole Megadeth-themed ending to the game, and it was like the coolest thing that I’d ever heard. I thought, “This is so awesome! I wish I could do that.” A little bit later, the game Rocksmith came out, which teaches you how to play guitar, and I thought, “I’ll do this.” I had a friend who was doing it with me, too, so that was cool. I did that a lot for the first couple of years. I didn’t start playing until I was in college. I was already 18, and they always say that if you start learning something as an adult, like a musical instrument or a language, too bad; it’s just not going to go well for you – but I thought, “I don’t care for that nonsense. I’ll do it anyways.” It took a long time, but I feel like I’m kind of getting there at this point.

Who are your biggest influences?

I would say definitely Marty Friedman from Megadeth. I think his guitar playing is beautiful, very romantic, and just so unique. His vibrato is amazing. I also really like Guthrie Govan; he’s able to do so many different things, and that’s similar to what I have to do in the band that I’m in right now — sometimes it’ll be funk, sometimes it’ll be metal, sometimes it could be country slide. That’s kind of the vibe I’m going for, kind of like a Swiss army knife. I like Midwest emo stuff. I like Yvette Young; I’m not that good at that stuff, but it’s really cool, and I’m trying to put more time into it. The most recent person that I’ve gotten into is Jess Lewis. She hasn’t really been super active recently, but I found her older JTC videos and have been trying to like learn her touch a little bit.

You are self-taught — what tools helped you achieve your skills?

As a beginner, all I really needed was something that was kind of holding my hand along the way, and that’s what Rocksmith was — something that gets you practicing in a way that makes it feel like you’re playing music. It also can teach you some bad habits; everything kind of does if you don’t have a teacher. Once I started to get a little past what that game could really do in terms of teaching me, I found a lot of great YouTube videos out there. I could list off a crazy amount of creators, like Ross Campbell, Paul Davids, and Rick Beato. Other resources were just the musicians around me. That’s what really pumped up my playing ability. I think like over the last two or three years, that’s led to the most development I’ve ever had. You can learn so much technique and all that cool stuff, but it’s really seeing the different places that other people can come from with music. As a bedroom guitarist, we’re often coming from similar places, so you need to meet those musicians like jazz pianists who are going to shape the way you play in a very different way.

What made you want to play Jackson guitars?

Before Jackson came to me, I was really into Charvel, which was owned by Jackson, because Guthrie Govan is one of my biggest he heroes. Jackson also had artists like Marty Friedman and Chris Broderick of Megadeth, as well as Corey Beaulieu of Trivium, which was another huge band for me when I was younger. I thought that was awesome. I never would have expected them to approach me; until that happened, I was just some person playing guitar in my bedroom. Now I’m doing lots of cool stuff, like interviews. Right now, I’m playing the Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK Modern Ash HT6 in baked white. I love that one so much! I genuinely feel serendipitous that I got that particular guitar because I got to pick out a couple of different ones, and that’s the one that they happened to send me. It’s got Fishman Fluence pickups in there, and it’s got three different modes; there’s the Telecaster mode, and then there’s regular humbuckers and single coils. As someone in a band where I have to wear many hats, it’s a guitar that lets me wear many hats. 

Speaking of your band, how did your band Alien Book Club come together?

A few years ago, I was working at a record store called Discland, and I met the composer/bandleader Anita there. She was super into Frank Zappa, and I’ve always thought I needed to listen to Frank Zappa more, so I thought, “I’ll give that a try.” I got super into it, and we started hanging out. She was in a band called Alien Book Club. They only had four members at the time, now it’s like a seven-piece, and it just keeps growing bigger — kind of like the Zappa vibe. That’s how it kind of came together. We just jammed with cool people and kept adding more people to the group as time went on. It’s really a band of friends vibe, which I like a lot. That’s my preferred thing. That’s always what I wanted out of the band.

You also teach — what do you enjoy most about teaching?

I’ll say two things. One, I love jamming with students — it’s super fun, and it’s really cool once they open up and no longer feel embarrassed. Two, I like having friendships with my students — asking what they are into, what kind of TV shows they watch, etc. I like being myself around my students and having them be themselves around me. The end result is a really chill, friendly space. I enjoy it.

Since you are self-taught, what is your approach to teaching?

My approach to teaching is to try to get my students interested in music itself. I watched one of Guthrie Govan’s videos a long time ago where he said, “I’ve never really thought about it as practice. I would just go home and think, well boy, I get to play guitar!” That’s how I feel about it now, and that’s how I want other people to feel about it too. I definitely have a few students who are like that, and it’s so cool when it’s like that. They’re off, they’re doing their own thing, and they’re having their journey. Sometimes it takes a bit more nudging. Some people need more of a hands-on approach, and that’s been helping me learn how to really cement what I know myself. 

What is your approach to writing solos?

I suppose I have a rather eclectic approach. It’s not always the same. For some songs, I’ll write out the solo. In other songs, I’ll improvise. For example, on the upcoming Alien Book Club album, I wrote my own song, and I think my only written out solo in the entire album is on that song. For that one, I was thinking of it as being an homage to Megadeth. I have my one big solo, and I’m thinking, “What would Marty Friedman do here?” Whereas for other stuff, I just take a go at it and see where it goes. That’s also fun. I love that for solos. Soloing is definitely why I got into playing guitar. I’ve gotten past my guitar solo addiction that many people suffer from early on, but I still love solos so much.

What are your goals for 2022 and beyond?

Tentatively, if it is safe and reasonable to do so, we’ll go on tour. We’ll also be releasing the new album in a couple of months, and I’m really excited about that. I’m excited to see what people think about it. Anita is also doing a solo project and releasing a hyper pop-country album, and I play some slide guitar on there. I learned some like country guitar, and I tried to learn as many Johnny Highland tricks as I could; I feel like he’s very underrated, and he’s an amazing country guitarist. I just want to do as much as I can with what’s going on in my life right now to get my music out there, to get myself out there, to help the people that I work with to get out there, and that’s really what I’m trying my best to do right now.

What advice do you have for other artists like yourself?

Try and learn from whatever artists speak to you the most. For me, I’ve seen so many different Guthrie Govan lesson videos. He has little nuggets of wisdom that I always think about. It’s the same with Marty Friedman. I’m talking about the same guys over and over, but that’s because those videos are my little milestones that tell me, “I know where this is.” It’s not going to be the same people for everyone, probably, but find those people and get into it, be inspired, look at what they’re doing and try to learn from them. Try to do something like that to the best of your ability. Find the stuff that makes you want to stick with it. There’s something like that out there for everyone. I one hundred percent believe that.

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