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Quick–when you think of a shredding guitarist, what comes to mind? A skinny dude with long hair, who’s been playing the instrument since he was just a toddler, perhaps? Think again. With a stocky build and short, spiky hair, Xander Demos looks more like a football linebacker than someone who has been featured on Steve Vai’s “GuitarTV.com.” Even more impressive after you listen to him play is the fact that he didn’t pick up a guitar until age 13, which is relatively late as far as guitar heroes go. And–talk about really breaking the mold–he’s considering donating a portion from the sales of his upcoming album to his favorite animal charities.

When you listen to the songs that many shredmeisters play, they seem little more than technical exercises in “how many notes can I fit into the allotted time?” Demos’ work is different. “I’m a firm believer in the melody comes first–there should be a song there,” he says. “You can shred your ass off and it works, as long as it’s a song.”

Demos started out playing drums at age 12, but  couple of years later switched to guitar after discovering MTV in the early 80′s. “Brad Gillis was one of my first influences, because he was in Night Ranger and Ozzy Osbourne’s band, and I was just being bombarded by this liquid, creamy guitar tone that he had. I went to my parents and they said ‘Are you crazy, we just bought you drums!’ And I told them ‘Yeah, well you can sell them, because now I want a guitar.’” Asked if he was one of those naturals who amazed people with his playing right from the start, Demos laughs. “Oh nnnnooooo….I sucked in the beginning. I kind of hung around with players that were far better than me. It was kind of a motivator, and I learned from them. A friend of a friend hooked me up with a guy that gave me lessons, and he was close friends with guys who would eventually become very well-known players. One of those was Dallas Perkins, and another was Ralph Santolla.”

Another way Demos veers off the well-worn shredder path is that he also plays in a cover band (yes, you read that correctly). The name of the band is Into The Arena, and they are widely known in the Pittsburgh area. “Next year, we won’t be playing as much as we used to, because all of us [the members of the band] are trying to do things on a national level. But it’s still fun, and the money’s good.” Of course, with Demos, there’s always a twist: “We don’t play any songs the way you hear it on the record. It’s just not in our genetic code. We definitely play everything a little bit edgier, a little heavier. We even do a couple of Lady Gaga songs. We want to get people in the party mood.”

Demos is currently working on his latest record, titled Guitarcadia. “All the recording is pretty much done now, it’s just up to CJ [CJ Snare of Firehouse] to mix it, master it, we’ll package it and be ready to go.” Asked what his aspirations for the album is, Demos pauses and says “Wow…that’s a loaded question. If the album brings me the opportunity to tour with a well-known name, a musician I respect, that would be great. One of the ultimate satisfactions would be to be on the G3 tour. That would be huge. That would be the ultimate. And of course, that’s reserved for what we call guitar royalty. If I get there, that’s awesome. If not, I had a great time trying. It’s not where you’ve been or where you’re going, it’s about the ride.”

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