Wes Geer started out his career as one of the founders of the band (hed) PE in 1994. PE had a style that was unique and combined pieces from a few different genres to create their sound. They had a DJ in the band and that had not been in mainstream rock before. The band went on to get signed by Jive Records and had a huge success touring with bands like Korn, Deftones, System of a Down, just to name a few. After the release of the album Broke, Geer left the band.
A couple years ago Geer was contacted by the guys in Korn offering him to be their touring guitarist. Since in the band, he has toured over 40 countries, played numerous festivals abroad and also been able to start developing his own way to give back to the community. Read on to see his incredible journey on Jive Records, through some soul searching after PE and now as the talented touring guitarist for the legendary band Korn.
Rob Marcacci: How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
Wes Geer: I started playing when I was 15. I moved around a lot when I was a kid and the guitar became my best friend when I was 15. High school was all about playing guitar 24/7.
RM: Where did you grow up?
WG: Well… at what age? (laughs) I moved around a lot for sure. I was all over Orange County for the most part. When I started playing guitar I lived right across from the high school so I would even go home at lunch and play. I’d wake up and play, go home after school and play and play all night.
RM: That’s awesome. Who was the first person to get you interested in the guitar?
WG: I started dabbling at 14 and listening to Eddie Van Halen. When I first heard hammer ons I was thinking “what the…” When he first started doing that it didn’t sound like anyone else out there. I wanted to know how he made that sound. I loved all the sound effects he created. Scraping his hand with the phaser and it sound like a train and was great.
RM: Did you take lessons?
WG: Well it’s funny. I bought a guitar and took lessons from a guy named Mark Norton, who later played for Kiss as Mark St. John. I would go in and sit down. I didn’t know how to tune the guitar and he wouldn’t pay attention. He would give me all these scales and modes and I would try to hack through them and it would take 10 minutes to go up Mixolydian mode. I retained nothing and didn’t understand anything from him. He would say, “uh huh, yeah, uh huh, no. No, yeah, uh huh. Ok see ya later kid.” It was completely worthless. I left there not even knowing how to play the guitar. I would walk in and say, “hey man can you teach me how to play this song? “ My guitar would be tuned so wrong that I would be playing power chords one fret apart and he wouldn’t even pick up on it.
So the answer is yes I did take lessons but then I would read magazines about how Steve Vai uses a certain mode or scale over a chord or how Eddie Van Halen uses this mode over this chord. I would truly listen to what they were saying and their choices. I would use that for ear training. I was using ear training to figure out what tone I was going for.
RM: Were you completely self-taught after the lackluster lessons?
WG: Yeah pretty much. Picking up bits and pieces from here and there and learning from books and magazines.
RM: Were you in band in high school?
WG: Actually I did a guitar class but it was really boring. They wanted to teach you how to play country music and styles I was not interested in. I wanted to play leads over what they were playing and the teacher would get mad. I actually got kicked out of high school because I ditched too much but then when the guitar teacher went on maternity leave and they asked me to come in and teach the class. That was kind of cool that the school that kicked me out called me back to come in and teach guitar class. I was 19 years old at that time and I wheeled my Marshall half stack in with my bass player, Brian Nussle. We showed them some rock, blues, and different scales.
RM: Could you talk about the formation of (hed) PE with Jared?
WG: I had a band that played in LA and we would fill a couple hundred people in the clubs. Jared had a band that played LA and also worth a couple hundred. I could tell my band was capped out and his band was trying to get signed. Neither of us were going to get a deal. I really liked Jared and I started going to his shows and hanging out with him. My singer quit the band and it shortly fell apart after that. Then Jared and I started writing songs together. We both pulled in members from our previous bands. The other guitar player Chad was from Lit, Mawk was from Jared’s old band, and BC was from my old band, and I found DJ Product at a club in HB. I showed DJ a flyer that said G-Punk on it. “G-Punk” was a term a made up to help describe and market our sound which at the time was influenced by west coast gangsta rap, P-funk, and punk. DJ said, “That’s what I call my shit too!” So we hit it off right away. I was always the leader of our sound but at first we started out sounding Chili Peppers-ish. Then Jared and I went to a concert and saw Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine and it clicked with all of us that we wanted to take all those elements and put it in one band.
After that we saw Korn play in local clubs in Huntington Beach and then really liked that. If you were able to see vintage Korn there was absolutely nothing like it. We knew with all those pieces where we wanted to go. Then if we were going to stay true to hip-hop I wanted a DJ in the band. At that time there was no such thing as Limp Bizkit, no Linkin Park, Deftones were not playing with a DJ. That was how we could stay legit and we wanted true hip-hop influences in our songs. A lot of my song writing was between the DJ and me. If I had a cool beat to write over it then we would brainstorm the idea. Then we started writing heavy metal/punk guitar parts.
RM: How did you guys go about getting signed with Jive Records?
WG: After we formed (hed) PE we decided to stay in Orange County and not play LA. At that time I was getting connected with Korn. We started selling out shows down here. There was a small circuit of venues that bands like us could play. One venue called 369 and the roster was (hed) PE, Deftones and Korn. The venue was called 369 because that was the capacity. When we would sell out that club on our own it was our job to find bands that were good enough to draw people in.
A good friend of mine from high school his father, Ray Anderson, had a lot of success in the music business and he was the vice president at CBS Records I believe. He managed Tommy Page who had a huge single. He helped us sign that deal with Jive. He financed the recording of our independent record and that helped us get the deal. The record was getting a lot of attention. Back in the day when people bought records there were local places like Bionic that would have the local charts. Ours was staying number 1 on the local sales.
RM: What was your experience like on Jive?
WG: Well, it’s funny because I know that Jared now likes to say things to the contrary but Jive took pretty good care of us. They weren’t a rock label and that’s were we had a problem. They feel that our second album, Broke (2000), should have gone multi-platinum and I feel it was a great album. I don’t think we had a really great radio song on there. We had one but I don’t think we were the best radio band because of how far out of the box we were. But Jive had our back. We went way over budget for tour support and kept us on the road for a year. They put up a million dollars of sheer promotion money to promote the second album with the help of our manager at the time, Rick Sales. They did their best. In hindsight, maybe they weren’t the best label for us but at the same time (hed) PE went out and toured with System of a Down, Slipknot, Korn. Jive got us on MTV because of Mystikal. They said, “OK, if you are going to play Mystikal then play (hed) PE.” We had twelve spins a week on MTV and that was because of the label. When you play in front of 80.000 and making records with people like Steve Thompson, Gene “Machine” Freeman, Ben Grosse, & Ted Jensen, you can’t really complain.
RM: What were some of your favorite experiences when you were on those huge tours?
WG: I think when we went on the Korn tour. That was when they released Follow The Leader (1998) and when the lights would go down on stage your eyes would distort. To this day those were my favorite shows. We were playing arenas and it was incredible.
I also loved all the festivals we would play with Radiohead, Tool. Black Sabbath and other legends. That blew my mind.
RM: What was the biggest obstacle when you started (hed) PE?
WG: The biggest obstacle was getting everybody to believe and buying in to the band when even you aren’t sure what is going on. Jared and I really didn’t know what steps to take but we kept playing and the music would get better and better. It was progressive. It was tough to get everyone in the band to be on the same page and buy into the sound of the band. We were experimenting a lot with the sound. The hardest part of any band is getting a bunch of people together and let it happen whatever way it is supposed to happen. Maybe one guy will bring in an idea for a song and you have to trust it and give it a chance. It is definitely tough.
RM: Did it take awhile for you guys to develop your sound?
WG: For sure it did. The first set of songs that we played in the clubs that we came out with we rehearsed forever. By the time we got to the point where we were going to make a record none of the first set of songs made it on the record. They all got rotated out and a whole bunch of new songs came to be. A couple years went by before we fully got our sound. When we were mixing our first recordings, that’s when it was still being tuned.
RM: After you left (hed) PE what was your next move?
WG: My next unintentional move was crawling in the gutter. I got really bad into substance abuse of all sorts. I went into a depression after leaving. I tried to walk away from music. I was working with my brother in the family business and then thru his intervention, and outside help, I ended up getting myself right again. It saved my life. Then I found my way back to music. I had to get myself pure again. I was really messed up.
RM: Why did you leave the band?
WG: We got into a spot where even though we were using the typical counselors for long term bands, it was not working. It wasn’t fun for me anymore in the band. I stuck it out for a year of not being fun. The creative process between Jared and I became work and it just wasn’t there anymore. I would do my part, pass it off to him and then the record suffered. That was the album Blackout (2003). Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good tracks on there I just didn’t think it had the magic like the other two albums. It was just no fun anymore. My life wasn’t getting any better and it was the right move for me.
RM: After you got clean, what brought you back to music?
WG: To be honest, I started to get into prayer and meditation. One day I meditated and I thought, “hey maybe I could have my music career back.” I kid you not; it was a couple weeks later I got a text, “hey do you want to come play with us?” It was the Korn camp hitting me up. Very bizarre how that happened.
RM: What has been your involvement with Korn?
WG: I’ve been with them well into my second year. I am their touring guitar player. Every time they play I am with them. That is my role. We’ve done a lot of gigs. All the festivals in Europe last year and up and down the U.S. We did the George Lopez show and just did Jimmy Kimmel a couple weeks ago. We have been to 42 countries in the last year or so.
RM: Wow. When you were a kid did you know you wanted to be a touring musician?
WG: I don’t think I would have known what that was at the time. It is funny because my parents were like, “why don’t you go play with Elvis Presley? Why don’t you be his guitar player?” I couldn’t do that. I just knew I had to be a guitar player. People will always say, “you don’t think you can make, do you?” I would turn on the radio and say that I could do that. It wasn’t a choice for me. I was just going to do it and it seemed to work out.
RM: That must be an incredible feeling to hear your own song on the radio.
WG: It is an incredible feeling and even more incredible to write a song and know the journey that song took from your brain to an idea; then to see thousands of people moving along to your song in a crowd.
RM: That is insane.
WG: It is insane. And I don’t mean insane in an egotistical way. It is insane like when you give your mom a Christmas present and you get excited because you know she likes it. You are writing songs because you want people to like them and you want to enjoy them. You want to make them feel good or whatever the emotion is that you want to give them. When it resonates with the audience it is a beautiful feeling.
RM: Do you still talk to members of (hed) PE?
WG: Yeah I was actually just talking to B.C. a minute ago. He and I are going to do career day at his son’s school. I was talking to DJ Product earlier in the week and he was really excited about Korn’s new album and how it has dubstep DJs on there. I still talk to everyone in the band.
RM: What does a daily schedule look like for you on tour?
WG: Well, I get to bed late as you might expect. I have to sleep because believe it or not it is physically taxing. I usually get up and try to get some exercise and go through emails. I have other business ventures I am doing. We go over any changes that we might be bringing to the set and get ready to play. It is basically rinse and repeat.
RM: Could you ever see yourself doing anything else for a living?
WG: Well that is tough. I have a dream of having a business that could help the world. I am interested in helping children. I thought about it now that I am a little older. When I was younger maybe all I cared about was being known as a guitar player but now not so much. I want to be referred to as, “oh hey he plays guitar but he also gives back.” I think at some point we realize it is not just about ourselves but we are supposed to be about other people someway, somehow. We are supposed to give back.
RM: Do you know exactly what you would want to do? I know you mentioned helping children.
WG: I want to help with kids that aren’t able to eat right. That really motivates me. I would also like to help kids with music because music has magical powers. And finally education. I have a couple things I have been working on.
RM: Do you have any additional advice you would like to give kids starting out in a music career?
WG: I have analyzed the careers of a lot of successful people. They all have the same ingredients. One is that people work 12-16 hour days. Maybe it is playing guitar. Maybe it is shooting a basketball. Whatever it is you have to be working harder than the next guy. You have to stick with it and not give up. Do not worry about failure just do it because you love it. Then next thing is to seize that moment of opportunity when it comes your way. That might be a little bit of luck and it will happen for everyone. You have to capitalize on that. Go the extra mile and realize that this is your moment and blow it up. When you get in there with that opportunity then you need to work to get to the next level. I’ve watched my brother do his business and it is always the same formula. Believe in yourself, but stay humble!