Category: General updates

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.

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.

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!

Reflection: Admiration for my teachers – Ronan and Pat and fond memories attached to “Normalcy Bias”

My teacher, mentor, mastering engineer and friend…

  • I became aware (and now a fan) of Mike Keneally and his work because of Ronan
  • I got into King Crimson because of Ronan, and eventually got me into Stick Men and Adrian Belew
  • Ronan introduced me to Voivod’s music
  • Ronan introduced me to Bozzio Levin Stevens’ music
  • I became aware of Benny Greb because of Ronan
  • Ronan taught me the all fundamentals I need to know in the world of recording from his recording classes and production seminars
  • Ronan mastered all my records, even on earlier songs where I was still trying to find myself as a writer
  • Ronan inspired me to become a better arranger and performer
  • Ronan was always there to help answer questions whenever I got stuck in my work and even offered me a place to stay during my move, in case I ran into trouble with logistics.
  • For the first several years that I had known Ronan, I would learn something new from him every time I met him in person. I might have been casual conversations, but there would always be something to pick up on.

…like a big brother showing me, helping me and teaching me all these things.

When Pat initially agreed to play drums on my record, it was a really emotional moment for me, but things also felt right, once the excitement started to become relatively more…. stable. Pat had known Ronan for years, as they worked together on so many King Crimson ProjeKCt records (i.e., Crimson under a different name, as he calls it). Pat also worked with Ronan on sessions for other artists, and he played drums on Ronan’s solo record too (, which he had been working on for quite some time now). But when I reached out to Pat, it wasn’t based on Ronan’s suggestion (- it was after listening to a Progtopia podcast where Pat said that he’s available for sessions for unknown artists) and I didn’t mention to Pat about “my affiliation” with Ronan initially, since I didn’t want Pat to feel like he was doing it as a favor. I was a bit shy of mentioning it too. But from the moment he agreed, to even now, things still feel right. There’s some sort of comfort – like a family, in a way, because of how everybody was somewhat connected.

Sure, looking back, there are certain things I wish I could have done better on the record, such as the way I mixed the drums sonically and perhaps giving a bit more room for the drum parts to shine. But I had no idea anyone would even be willing to play drums on my tunes, so it wasn’t something I accounted for when I originally wrote the pieces. What I did learn was that it didn’t really matter, because Pat’s background has been in different genres, and progressive rock is one piece (although a large piece) of who he is as a musician. He could make anything sound interesting while serving the song, while being able to experiment with his “traps-and-buttons” (electronic trigger samples and sound effects). Plus, he just genuinely loves music and loves to play – pretty much anything. One occasion I remembered him pointing out, “you’re rushing” – which I did tend to do. It’s something I have learned from, worked on and have gotten a little better at ever since.

I met him twice when I was in Austin for work, just several months after the project. It was around Christmas time and he was gracious enough to take time out of his day to meet me. First meeting was at a local Italian coffee/espresso place. We exchanged hugs and agreed that we had finally met. First comment he made was playing with Crimson in the past at the local church venue across the street, like the Good vs Evil – very amusing. Second thing he said, “So how did you know Ronan Chris Murphy?” (I had told him that Ronan was mastering the record via email several months ago).

The second meeting was at his house, where he was working on several records. He played me parts of the ToPaRaMa record, pointing out parts he and Tobias were playing. There were sections where they were each playing in different time signatures on top of each other… stuff that’s WAY over my head. He then played parts of the Face record, which he had been working with Markus on for several years. (I’ve just learned recently from the MakeWeirdMusic interview that the record’s has been placed on hold and not to be released for now, which is unfortunate…). But most of the time he was comping drums on his Protools setup in his studio for the record he was working on for the solo artist. He’s quite a ninja on it with his speed. “This works” or “This doesn’t work” was what he was explaining. I know it might be obvious to you reading this, but my thoughts were, “He does the same things that mere mortals like me do – experimenting and just trying out different things to see what works!”. He was listening back to the rough demoed programmed drums part sent to him, analyzing what was being played. It was just really fun and very inspiring watching him work.

Of course we geeked out on his monitors, microphones, preamps, and all the recording-related stuff too.

Later on, he showed me his artwork, how he needed to jump through hoops to get things just right. What really got me to realize is that this man really, really cared about his art. It wasn’t just the music. It was the presentation, the mixes. It was about just getting things done the way he wanted it to be done. So much love and details that go into everything – from the smallest unknowns in the world like myself to drumming legends like himself, when it came to art, it was about dedication, loving it and just getting it done.

Pat introduced me to his wonderful beautiful family as well. His sister was talking to him about things she was doing earlier in the day and his daughter was discussing with him about her plans on an event she had going on with her friends, on whether they were going to rent a limo. She saw my vehicle parked outside their home. “Nice ride,” she said. I said thanks, noting that it wasn’t my vehicle, but a rental my employer provided during my stay in Austin. Not long after, Pat needed to head out to pick up his wife and I was actually running late towards my flight too. He suggested me following his car towards a specific intersection so I wouldn’t get lost on my way, and called me when we got there, making sure I knew where to go.

Only a month later, Pat was in Whittier, CA on a double bill with The Aristocrats at the Calprog show. Of course I drove up from San Diego to catch it! The Aristocrats were playing first and he was sitting on the side of the stage, enjoying the show. Yes, like the rest of us. (Pat’s also a friend of Marco Minnemann, and I remember seeing a copy of the Levin Minnemann Rudess debut record at his home studio). When Stick Men came on, watching him groove and “dance” (move) to his playing was such a treat. His joy and smiles while playing were contagious too, because I couldn’t stop smiling myself either. After the show, Pat, along with members of Stick Men, met and greeted the fans in the foyer. Pat saw me and actually recognized me. I couldn’t believe it. Just before that time, my first ever review (on SomethingElse! Reviews) had been released out, which I was ecstatic about. Pat knew of it because I emailed him, super excited, thanking him for helping me out. After the Calprog show, Pat introduced me to his friends and fans that he was talking to, bringing up the record he did with me, mentioning the review. I was moved (and felt a shy about it). Pat didn’t have to do that, but he was so gracious to mention that. As someone who’s never really been comfortable talking about one’s own work in front of other people, this really meant a lot to me.

While primarily working alone (playing all instruments, writing, mixing), outside of drums and mastering, I would imagine it being quite a different experience than working with band members of your own band. I think these are the reasons that all the types of little moments I described above become even more extra special memories, as they really attach to the records I make.

 

Transcription for MakeWeirdMusic.com

Screen capture of video by Anthony Garone (MakeWeirdMusic.com), interviewing Teddy Kumpel.

History and Background

I became a fan of MakeWeirdMusic.com ever since I first watched the site’s video interviews with Mike Keneally and Steve Vai. The interviews revolve around the musician’s upbringing, their philosophies in their work – be it compositions or performance, and various interesting things they have done in their careers, (that you may or may not know about,) to get to where they are. If you ever watched the video interviews, you can really tell the amount of dedication and effort that go into each one of them. The interviews are always conducted in a way that the guest is always relaxed and feels comfortable sharing what “makes them tick” in the most honest and detailed manner. The video, lighting, multiple-camera editing/ captures, transcriptions, preparations, logistics and website management that all go into each interview really show the love that site-owner Anthony Garone puts in. (Anthony also interned at Steve Vai’s studio growing up and is quite an awesome composer in his own right.)

From Anthony’s website:

What is “Weird Music?”

“Weird music” doesn’t have to be unenjoyable, but it should be interesting! Radiohead is very popular and very weird. Dirty Loops does virtuosic covers of Justin Bieber and Britney Spears music. Avishai Cohen makes music that even my wife can enjoy. Being “weird” should indicate an effort to go against the grain a little bit and express your individuality.

How I got involved

I reached out to Anthony couple of weeks ago asking if there’s anything I could do to help out. I got to help transcribe the Teddy Kumpel interview, which you can check out here. If you prefer to watch the video, you can find that here too. It was a really fun interview to listen to and there were some really cool quotes. Teddy’s response to the final question where Anthony asks about being “weird” and finding one’s own voice was fantastic.

Hopefully I’ll get to continue to help the site in the future. Anthony’s always looking for more help (be it labor, finance, sponsor support, publicity, or anything else you can think of). So if you enjoy the content as much as I do, reach out to him. But most importantly, please help spread the word about the website!!