Marco Minnemann on Drums in my Upcoming Record

Yes indeed! Marco Minnemann has been most very kind to play drums on my upcoming record. I’m super thankful for Bryan Beller helping me get in touch with him. I couldn’t emphasize how excellent Marco’s playing has been, how tasteful and instinctual he was, how kind he has been, how great he engineered the tracks, how efficient he was and how easy he was to work with. I’m such a big fan of The Aristocrats, the records he has been part of for other artists and songs that he has written, so I was initially in absolute shock with disbelieve for a while after he agreed. It took me a full week to calm myself down. I’m not exaggerating.

OK, at this point, I’ve now received all drum tracks back for all the tunes. Prep work for mixing has started and actual mixing should probably begin some time next week/weekend.

Musically, the record is again an instrumental record with elements of Avant-garde, hard rock/metal with elements of experimental Jazz/ modern classical thrown in. I’m very, very excited about this record and the release should probably be some time in Fall 2017. An overly great deal of love and work has been put into this album and I’m really looking forward to sharing this with all of you out there.

 

Album status update 05/06/2017

Still tracking guitars. Rhythm guitars. I’d say probably 1/3rd of my way through them.

Parts have been tricky while I struggled with getting the right tone but now I’ve figured out partly how to address some of the issues (amp settings, pickup choice, pedal use). Part of it has also been arrangement-related, which I sort of have to go back and re-learn/re-visit some techniques that I’ve somehow forgotten.

Some things to try and play with: Mostly note to self:

  • Stabbing 8ths
  • Harder picking
  • Arpeggiated sections – clean or with some dirt
  • Trying out different chord inversions between left and right parts
  • Playing chord inversion at a higher register
  • Adding rotary or modulating effect to these extra parts
  • Using different pick on different part
  • Using different guitar on different part
  • Acoustic guitar to add articulation
  • Varying strumming pattern between phrases or sections of phrases

Keys and synth parts are done. Piano parts will happen later, depending on when I’ll have access to one.

More to come.

Album status update 04/16/2017

Finally finished tracking bass. Some of these parts have really been quite challenging to play right (and sound right).
For those who have been following my updates, my approach of this record has been thoroughly composed and orchestrated, in a way. Most of the parts were written without ever playing the parts over on their respective instruments beforehand. One of the strategies I’ve been using on this record was realizing that one of my favorite bands, don’t rely on the heaviest-sounding guitar and bass, but their overall music is probably most heavy (in my mind) due to the way their songs are written and arranged – the harmonic choices, and instruments that don’t get in each other’s way. My approach is that if I can get things sounding heavy and *somewhat* presentable with virtual instruments, when they’re translated into real instruments, I would get a multiplier effect. I’d also be able to tweak the compositions, rhythmically and harmonically. I had never written out complete scores of my music before, but doing it this time, I get to visually identify places where I should have played a an F instead of a B, for example. I’d also get to tweak a melody to my liking and not think too much about how it would be played on the guitar and other instruments and be constrained tendencies of repeating myself due to physical memory tendencies.

I always feel a major limitation in my abilities to play my instruments. Neither bass or guitar were my first instruments and I don’t get to practice or play as much. Approaching the compositions this way, I get to decouple my limited abilities on these instruments and have a more direct line between what I’m hearing in my head and what I’d want in the song.

My approach this time resulted in written parts that wouldn’t have been natural to play. Having said that, I don’t intentionally try to make the parts difficult to execute, but the parts do require learning and are not as obvious as some of the straight-ahead “rock” songs that I have done in the past. This is because the harmonization is dense and if you look at the bass parts independently, there are times when the notes being played are not repeated by the other instruments. The lines by themselves do not make any sense why they would work in the song, or any song, but in context, everything would sound right (to my ears). It was really fun writing these parts and seeing when things come together.

In one of the songs, I was trying to experiment with different tunings on the bass to see if it would make things easier to play. After many attempts in finally recording the part, I realized that a 5-string (which I do not own) in standard tuning would have made things straightforward. Oh well…

But this makes the experience fun, until getting frustrated with the overall progress, because of the urge to release the project as soon as possible.

In a really odd way, I feel that I’m hiring myself as multiple studio musicians, learning and playing all the material. Once in a while, I would imagine the scenario having real studio musicians, if this wasn’t a self-funded independent record, and would realize that this record would have been really expensive to make if that were the case.

…But I do enjoy pretending to be a real bass player (and a guitar player) at the privacy of my studio!

Looking at the guitar parts now and I have some more learning and exploration to do.

Bass recording tips

Just realized today I have roughly 1 more song to write for my record.
So I was doing a bit of homework on tracking bass, which I’ll probably start doing in a couple of week’s time.

I came across this one by Stu Hamm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJaCuQHkYGs (Part 1).

Some tips:
– Varying pickups
– Pick vs no pick
– Funny: “If you’re a guitar and/or a mediocre bass player, [thinking] that you’d put in a plugin for Ampeg SVT and you’re going to sound like Billy Sheehan, it’s not (**shakes head**) going to happen.”
– Do not play the strings too hard. Play it with a light touch and even, with a nice controlled attack, so it doesn’t sound too “clacky”. Bass wouldn’t sound bigger or thicker the louder a player plays. He has the bass volume overly loud in the mix, to keep himself in check, making sure he does not overpower the playing to maintain the fat even sound.
– Tuning the bass just a hair flat to sit better with the guitars and make the overall song sound less edgy.

Part 2 is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYCjZfqFX1A, where he talks about arrangement/parts for a tune.

– Recording two takes from start to finish
– For example, one would be with a pick, another would be with fingers.
– Another example, one take would be driving 8s and another would be syncopated.
– Keep on playing even if there are mistakes

New record update: March 2017

Howdy. Long overdue relevant post, I suppose. Just thought I’d post a quick update on the status of a new record that I’ve been working on since November.

I took some time off here and there in November and December where I started most of my writing. Currently, I have roughly 7-8 demos done (rough demos) but I’m still in my writing phase. I truly, truly feel that this is going to be my strongest record yet. For the most part, it’s going to be more experimental in terms of harmony (- something which I had always dreamt of doing growing up, if I ever decided to do a record). For many reasons and other distractions over the years, I haven’t been able explore into that realm, but I’ve learnt a few tricks lately and realized some of things I’ve neglected in the past. Those together helped me navigate through much of the writing process and explore in things that I’ve never tried doing before.

The tunes are thoroughly composed, with a bit less of the “just wing it” mentality, although I’m strategically leaving spaces for those sections when it’s time to track. I say “thoroughly composed”, because I had to write down and transcribe much of the harmony – something I very rarely had to do previously, as I mostly relied everything by ear.

After all the writing’s done, I’ll need to remind myself how to play the guitar again. It’s been a while…

It’ll be a dark record and will have a common theme to it, likely some sort of a concept record.

Not sure who the drummer will be this time. Couple of months ago I was constantly worried about it. I was also a bit bummed out when I found out that Ronan would be moving his studio outside of Los Angeles, even though mastering could be done remotely, I suppose. But all the focus had since been shifted into the writing and the worrying became not knowing when the writing will ever be done. I always get that whenever working on a record. However, I’ll continue to try not to rush it as I truly feel that there’s something special about this one. (Well, special to me).

Like everyone who does this, there could be several days in a roll where no new ideas strike, due to lack of sleep, work life and other real-life events, so it’s going to be a process before all the tunes will be done. Some of the music’s getting a bit complex… but it’s always the greatest feeling whenever I find a solution to what I’ve been searching for.

Brick by brick. Note by note…

Getting into the mechanics of playing again and tracking, finding a drummer, mixing, mastering…
Still quite some ways to go, but I hope all the effort that have been placed into the songs will show in the final results.

Stick Men 2017 – The Coach House

Check out the full gallery here:
http://www.lucasleemusic.com/fanboy_stickmen_2017.php

So many fanboy moments. I got a chance to shake Tony Levin’s hand after the show. TONY LEVIN! I think gained some sort of superhuman power just by shaking his hand.

Markus Reuter was awesome as always. Level-5 was badass.
…and of course, my favorite drummer in the whole wide world Pat Mastelotto. (Yes, there was a part of me that was giddy, although not as far as a little girl would be at a Justin Bieber concert). It’s been 2 years since I saw Pat last. So tasteful in his drumming and the way he grooves. Of course he could play complex odd time signatures, but he could also be playing a tune in 4/4 and make it sound the most interesting thing in the world, keeping the listener’s attention (and sometimes on his/her toes). Just amazing.

Pat was also graciously enough to introduce me to Markus and Tony after the show. Hopefully next time I see him, it’ll be less than 2 years from now.

NAMM 2017

This was my first NAMM show visit. Ever.

You hear about the madness by everyone, but as Morpheus would say, no one could be told what it is – you have to see it for yourself.

The crazy crowd, the number of vendors (6000 of them, according to the NAMM website) were outstanding.

Show floor

Folks such as RME, who only had rented a small booth at the AES Show in the fall, without any gear set up to promote seemingly a little disinterested, was the complete opposite at the NAMM show – huge rented booth area setup like a lounge with computers set up with the interfaces and headphones to demo. They even had a fake bar setup in the middle.

Walking around the show floor, you’d see random famous musicians/celebrities, long lineups of people waiting to getting an autograph and their picture taken with their heroes. Fans of all genres of music were there. While the large crowds of people remind me of being in the public in cities like Hong Kong, Seoul or New York, everyone one at the NAMM show was there for music. Being immersed in the positive energy was witnessing an active celebration of life.

One would walk through the show floor, through a hall of guitar vendors, thinking you have seen most of what’s available. Continuing the trek, you would find another full hall of guitar-related vendors – adjacent hall, upstairs, downstairs. Pure madness.

One would also find a small number of exotic/ rare/ experimental/ instruments as well. Those, I find, are a lot more interesting to see, because, really, how many guitar delay pedals does a person need?!

Of course seeing Ronan, Diego and Peter is always fun. Talking to Greg and chatting about geeky-recording-stuff was fascinating. He just has a unique perspective and interesting way with words on describing anything that goes into recording/production.

What’s amusing were the number of Chinese knock-off companies. These vendors sell microphone copies that reuse the exact same model names as the original counterparts from the original companies. There’s even a company that’s called “Mickie” – an obvious attempt to immitate “Mackie”. Even the font used in Mickie’s logo is the same as Mackie’s. I’m surprised how these companies aren’t getting sued.

Pianos

Go upstairs and you’d find more guitars by PRS, Gibson and Fender empires, but you’d also find rooms and rooms of grand pianos. It felt like I was in heaven. From personal experience, being in a retail piano showroom has never been pleasant. In some ways, they are even worse than many guitar retailers. Piano salesmen are always unreasonably pushy, looking for a sale before you even get to try out any instruments. Well, they very much dislike like it when you try out their pianos. For the amount of money spent, a customer can’t even try out the touch or get a sense of the tone of the instruments – not the greatest people on earth.

Side story – One example was the Fazioli company in Vancouver Canada, who decided on their location to be in a retail mall. It was an expensive location and one would assume that their choice of location was to bring brand awareness to the folks that have never heard of them before. However, the store was always empty whenever I passed by. I was in the market of a piano at the time and was doing personal research, walked into the shop at this particular location. The sales person/ store manager was reluctant to allow me to try out their floor model and hardly even half welcoming. Within 2-3 minutes of playing, I noticed through the store window that I was drawing a decent crowd. The store manager, still visibly uncomfortable of the piano being played, ordered me to stop. That’s how they treat a prospective customer, trying out the instruments, giving a free performance and drawing a crowd the store.

Things were very different at NAMM. Fazioli, amongst all other vendors, such as Kawai/Steinway, Young Chang, Schimmel, didn’t care one bit about their grands being played. They were there to be played, as long as you want. No sales person to constantly haggle you. Plus even seeing the abundance of grand pianos just makes things seem like heaven.

X-JAMM

Every year during NAMM, artists would perform here in town during the evenings. Saturday night was the X-JAMM event at M3 Live, a venue not far away from the convention center.

This was the lineup:

Andy Timmons
Mike Keneally
Tony MacAlpine
Andy West
Cameron Allen
Teddy Kumpel
Travis Larson Band
Mark Lettieri

I finally got a chance to meet my friend Anthony from Make Weird Music in person. Make Weird Music was one of the sponsors at the event, and Anthony was graciously kind to invite me to the VIP section, which granted me close access to the stage.

Players with ridiculous talent filled the stage.
Andy Timmons’ playing was emotional, had such great tone with ridiculous passages (as always). Mike Keneally and his band was powerful. Bryan Beller was playing new basses after his were stolen recently and Bryan still sounded like bad-ass awesome Bryan. Andy West from Dixie Dregs on stage trading solos with Andy Timmons (who was also in Dixie Dregs before), Mike Keneally, Travis Larson on stage was fun to see. Cameron Allen had some very interesting composition and ridiculous crazy chops. Teddy Kumpel, improvising with his band on stage with fun sounds were extremely fun to see. Looking over my shoulder, I could see Mike Keneally cracking up at the fun quirky parts Teddy was coming up with. The entire crowd seemed to agree as well. Travis Larson Band was great, as I remember them when they opened for The Aristocrats a year or so ago. Jennifer Young from the band’s such an amazing bass player. Mark Lettieri was great and the band’s rhythm section was extremely tight. If I remember correctly, I think Tony MacAlpine played his entire set without stopping at all between songs and managed to end the show before the Anaheim curfew at midnight.

The energy was very positive in the room amongst the audience and the performers. Everyone was having a great time. It’s nice to have like-minded fans of this type of music all in the same place.

New record update: Nov 2016

Slowly getting back into “writing-shape”, so to speak.
Things can get tricky doing quality control, figuring out what’s working during the writing/arrangement phase, since listening to things too many times can often rob one’s creativity.
…and creativity’s important when you’re experimenting.

Like any other record, this one’s going to be a process.
But I can say this for now: The current plan is to make a concept record, and it’s going to be dark.
(Last record had a common theme and concept, but it wasn’t much of a concept record compared to the one before that.)

It’s also going to be dense harmonically.

Physical Copies of “Normalcy Bias” sold out on CDBaby. Restock on its way.

Hi All, it just came to my attention that CDBaby has sold out the physical copies of my “Normalcy Bias” record ( – it’s the one with Pat Mastelotto on drums). They have asked me to send in for restock. I’ve got a couple of things going on right now, but should probably have them available on the site sometime in November. Please feel free to message me if the timing doesn’t work out for you, and I’ll figure something out. My apologies as I just got the notification today (…not exactly the best timing, unfortunately). Thanks a ton for your patience!