Seattleites love to say that their city is the hometown of Jimi Hendrix. They usually neglect to mention that nearly all of the guitarslinger’s musical development took place outside the Northwest. Hendrix left Seattle as a young man to join the military and drew musical inspiration from Southeast’s chitlin circuit (where he toured and honed his craft), in New York (where he discovered LSD) and in London (where he formed The Experience).
After living in Seattle for a year I had already tired of Seattle’s overzealous efforts to lay claim to the rock god. I couldn’t believe that that any part of the spirit of Jimi Hendrix would choose to reside here. Seeing Thundercat at Barboza in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood made me realize I was wrong.
Just a few blocks away from the Hendrix statue on Broadway, a diverse group of young fans packed the subterranean club, their bodies dampening (somewhat) the thump of the overpowered subwoofers. Barboza is one of the many smaller venues around the nation that Thundercat will play on this tour, supported only by bass and keys. It’s not easy to get a Sunday night club show to sell out in advance, but Thundercat did, signaling that this tour could be the last of its kind for an artist whose been collecting endorsements from musicians and tastemakers for some time now.
From the minute he stepped on stage, there was no doubt that Thundercat was channeling Hendrix. Wielding a semi-hollow, 6-string Ibanez that looks like a gigantic Les Paul, the bass wizard led the crowd on a seductive, psychedelic journey that would have impressed Jimi himself. His virtuosic solos, innovative bass techniques, and visceral compositions are a potent combination. This is rock and roll for the ecstasy generation.
Thundercat, like Hendrix, has paid his dues and developed his unique style through years of work as a sideman. His career has seen him work with a diverse group of artists from Suicidal Tendencies to Erykah Badu. It was Badu who christened then Stephen Bruner with his stage name, and Thundercat’s penchant for bold costumes bears a clear resemblance to the neo-soul queen’s on-stage style.
Also like Jimi, Thundercat makes no bones about his sources of inspiration. If “Purple Haze” was a celebration of marijuana, Thundercat’s “DMT,” (Off Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes) is a reverent ode to the hallucinogen. But why stop there? Thundercat has adventurous tastes. The single off his latest release “Oh Sheit It’s X,” is also an account of a great experience with an illicit substance with a syncopated groove so infectious it might even give abstinent listeners a taste of what they’re missing. When he performed these songs at Barboza, while the audience sung along, it was clear they were fan favorites.
On stage, Thundercat fills the roles of lead bass, lead guitar, and lead singer. He was also well supported, flanked by his two brothers on drums and keys. The trio grooved naturally like family should and it was charming to see Thundercat give extra attention to his younger brother, who channeled admirably the spirit of deceased Thundercat collaborator Austin Peralta.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but themes do emerge. Cutting edge six-string technique and mind expansion are a potent pair both for the artists and audiences, whether you’re in the 1960s or the new millennium. But the best way to learn about history is to watch it being made. If Thundercat hasn’t already hit your city on this tour, be sure to go down to your local club. The next time you get a chance to see him, it might have to be from a balcony seat.
Pedal tuners are nothing new, but TC’s PolyTune was a game changer, and their PolyTune 2 goes to the next level.
The polytune functions enables the player to strum a chord, and the tuner displays what strings are out of tune. The idea is that even after tuning each individual string at perfect pitch, when played together they are not quite in tune with one another. This concept may be alien to guitarists, but after using it in this mode, hearing is believing. It can also be used as a standard tuner, with the LEDs acting like a strobe display, with super accurate tuning like the old school strobe tuners. There are two new modes: Drop D and Capo, enabling accurate tuning when using a capo, performing in Drop D, or any other alternate tuning. The true bypass switch enables silent tuning, and no tone loss.
The display has been turbocharged, as well, with a super bright readout. This makes the pedal easily readable in bright situations, like an outdoor daytime gig, and senses when it gets dark, providing a clearly visible display, regardless of the ambient light.
It can also power a series of other effects, with a 9v out option. A USB output is also there for any firmware updates that may become available, but it’s hard to think of what TC could do to make this better. With all these features, it’s pretty much a no-brainer: a hyper-accurate tuner with plenty of options and simple usability.
PROS: Flexible tuning modes, easy to use, super bright display. CONS: None. PRICE: $99
“The cool part was turning the challenges into awesome bits – we worked a lot faster than any of us had in the past.”
What was your pre-production like on this project?
Leesa: We wanted to bring the raw energy of the project into the studio, so once we had the basic structure down we were ready to roll. Not a ton of Pre-Pro with this one; plus we are a new band so there was a sense of urgency to get music out to the masses.
How did you choose the studio?
Leesa: Will, our drummer, had a great experience with Pete Weiss in the past…
Will: I met Pete Weiss because Kingsley Flood recorded their first record with him. [editor’s note - Will is a former member of Kinglsey Flood]. I’ve since had him on several bills at Sally’s with The Weisstronauts. I dug his vibe and thought of him when we were looking for someone to record with. Pete suggested Armory Sound, since he’d just started working out of there.
Pete Z: When Will presented the opportunity to work with Pete at Armory Sound, the history of the studio and the reputation of Hi-n-Dry were very appealing. The live room environment and history of the place just put it over the top.
What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?
Leesa: We were looking for something raw with good energy. Our song “Piece” is almost ’70s guitar rock inspired, like Sabbath-ish, but the rest of the stuff is very pop orientated; so we needed to marry the two sounds. Pete Weiss did a great job of having everything work together from track to track, in fact so well that we had time to start tracking an extra song.
Pete Z: From a guitar standpoint, we had this very simple but hard-hitting riff that keeps the song moving forward – I wanted to accent that with some bluesy guitar work, and went for a muted tone to keep it dark.
Even though you’re a relatively new band, do you have previous recording sessions to compare this one to?
Pete Z: It differs from previous sessions in so far as us doing all of the main tracking live. A very refreshing change of pace, really.
Leesa: This was my first time tracking live. I was intimidated at first but it ended up going really well (not horrifying) so I was happy with [the end result]. Tracking live gives off a rawer vibe and you get to play off the energy in the room. Plus it saves time which equals saving money – and everyone loves to save money.
What was your philosophy on live, full-band takes versus individual tracking?
Pete Z: When I was younger playing in hardcore bands in the Albany area, tracking core tracks live was pretty much the way we did things – mainly for money reasons. There is an energy there that you just cannot get when everyone is isolated and recording separately.
Leesa: I still think some of the more quite and/or intricate songs might lend themselves to more of the individual tracking method. You get some bleed from mic to mic so it is harder to tweak in post, but overall if you want to bring out the energy and the rock, live recording fits that vibe better
Any special guests on these sessions?
Leesa: YES!! Pete Weiss himself on COWBELL!!
What did you try to accomplish in the studio that you’re not able to do live?
Leesa: Get the sound we want.Since we are still rocking smaller clubs you can very rarely get great live sound. Recording most of our tracks live allowed us to keep the energy and ditch the bad house mix. Plus we did a bunch of overdubs on vocals; I am a mastermind at singing the same thing over myself so that was fun, plus Will and Lisa threw down a ton of backing vocals to fill it out.
Pete Z: I approached the guitar overdubs with a sense of, “How am I going to do this live?” As a result, there are very few layered tracks and primarily just the lead line on top of the riffs, which were all done live. I did put another guitar layer on the choruses, but compared to other projects, this really is nearly live instrumentally.
What were the toughest challenges you faced?
Leesa: Time and budget are the biggest challenges. In a perfect world I would love to have a string arrangement and pedal steel on half the stuff I do, but more times than not you are crunched to fit everything into a few days and have to keep it simple.
Pete Z: The cool part was turning the challenges into awesome bits – we worked a lot faster than any of us had in the past, but the playing was dead on and the live environment came together to give this song the feel that it has. Win!
Any funny stories from the session that you’ll be telling for a while?
Leesa: Lots of candy. Lots of wolf-candy. [editor’s note #2 – dare I ask what wolf-candy is?] Also lots of drinking beer near a trailer out back…oh and we almost crashed a wedding.
How did you handle final mixing and mastering?
Leesa: Pete Weiss did the final mix up at his place in Vermont. Mastering is still underway; we’re working with Patch Hill Mastering for the first time on a recommendation from Pete Weiss.
What are your release plans?
Leesa: We are new so we want to get some tunes in folks hands ASAP. All of this is working its way into being included on a full-length release on vinyl. It would be great if it could be on colored vinyl, because that’s what all the kids want right now.
Pete Z: In fact, this whole band is only here to put out a record on vinyl. That was why we did this in the first place [laughs].
Any special packaging?
Leesa: The most amazing limited edition colored vinyl ever, with maybe a booklet [included] like the new Queens of the Stone Age record, but not until we have enough tracks recorded with Pete Weiss to make a full-length, because that shit ain’t cheap!So yeah you should start donating to us now, because we are going to need a ton of everyone’s money to make out limited edition vinyl. You can per-order it; we are accepting cash, credit and checks. You can also send in a suggestion for what color our vinyl should be with your donation.
Recorded at Armory Sound, Somerville, MA (formerly Hi-N-Dry Studio)
Engineered by Pete Weiss
Assisted by Jeff Gallagher
Mixed by Pete Weiss at Verdant Studio, Athens, VT
Mastered by Peter Linnane at Patch Hill Mastering
ADDITIONAL RECORDING NOTES
-Recorded to Pro Tools through outboard mic preamps including Summit, Sytek, Symmetrix, ART, and True
-Microphones included Shure SM7B on guitar, Sennheiser 421 on bass cabinet, AKG C12-VR on vocals. Drums were mic’d with Shure KSM-32s using a modified “Glyn Johns” technique over the drum kit, and a Shure SM57 and Beta 52 on snare and kick drum, respectively. A dbx RTA-M omni-directional measurement mic was used in front of the drum kit for overall “glue.”
-Mixing was done via Pro Tools HD with Aurora Lynx converters through a 1970s-era Neve 53-series console. Outboard gear used included an Ecoplate plate reverb (mostly on vocals), Multivox tape echo, Urei and Neve compressors, and a Spectra Sonics 610 “complimiter.” Mixed directly back into Pro Tools.
-Fender American Standard Telecaster with DiMarzio Fast Track and Cruiser pickups
Insane melodies played just fast enough to comprehend combine with extreme examples of proficient instrumentation. These musical masters deliver patterns that even without vocals project words, as if the men planned to allow the listeners to write that last piece into the orchestra.
If the name of the band doesn’t spell it out for you, Levin Minnemann Rudess comprises some of the most talented players in progressive rock: Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani) & Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater).
Musicians should instantly recognize these names and immediately wonder how they each manufacture more time, because Rudess just released an album with Dream Theater for which he is now touring and Rudess manages app development; finding spare time in his schedule would seem impossible! Minnemann has recently appeared with The Aristocrats, doing interviews as well as playing gigs.
Levin took the time to answer a few questions for Performer Magazine readers and musicians:
Do you hear lyrics in your head while playing? If not necessarily words, how do you feel the theme of a song?
I don’t really hear lyrics while playing. It’s hard to describe the process in your head while playing—especially after years of playing, when most of it becomes unconscious. I guess I’d say there’s a lot of awareness of the structure of the music, and then the options of what to play arise out of that.
Did you play the Chapman Stick throughout the whole album? Are there any regular bass guitar tracks?
I played a lot of my basses on this album, often two or three on a single track. There’s the Chapman Stick, to be sure, and I use that not just as a bass, but the ‘guitar side’ of it is very helpful with writing, and I can play a lead line on it, or double the bass line for a heavy sound. I also played the NS Electric Upright Bass on some tracks, and even the matching NS Electric Cello (which sounds pretty much like a fretless bass on those tracks.) And my usual Music Man basses – both fretted and fretless, usually for low-end power, but on some songs the bass takes the lead from time to time.
What is the Chapman Stick, in your words?
Good question. It’s an instrument designed to be played by ‘hammer-on’ technique, or a ‘touch guitar’ – you don’t need to fret it with one hand and pluck with the other; you just tap on the fret part, and that’s how the sound comes out. So you can tap more notes with the other hand – like piano playing, but directly on the strings. Mine has 12 strings: six are bass strings, six are guitar strings, and with a stereo output so they go to separate amps.
I’ve used the Chapman Stick a lot though the years, recording and live, and often as a bass, where I find the distinctive sound, and percussive nature, are helpful in giving me a bass approach that I couldn’t get on other instruments. But, I use the top-end too, playing guitar lines, both for my writing, and it’s been pretty featured in the Stick Men band, and some of my solo albums.
What was your first instrument? Tell me about the evolutionary process that led you to the Chapman Stick.
I played piano as a kid, then chose the bass (the acoustic ‘upright’ kind) as the instrument I liked the best. Played classical and jazz on that for years before switching to electric bass. Somewhere along the line I became interested in alternative basses, having been the first to play Ned Steinberger’s unique bass, and when I heard about Emmett Chapman’s instrument, still more unusual and challenging, I got one right away. Brought it, brand new, to the record session of Peter Gabriel’s first solo album, in 1976. I didn’t end up playing it on that album, but when we toured with that music, I began to bring it into the arsenal, and have found it very useful ever since.
Do you have influences that also played the Chapman Stick?
I approached it, at first, as a bass, so I wasn’t influenced by the players at that time, who were playing the full range of the instrument. Their technique was far beyond mine, and I did practice a lot (and still do) to get more fluent, but with my focus on relatively easy bass parts, I was sort of on my own with my playing of it, in the Discipline era of King Crimson and on the early Peter Gabriel albums. Since those early days, a lot of great Stick players have come along and done amazing things on the instrument. I try to keep up with those, and though I can’t match all the technique, I find it great to learn what new things can be done on the Stick.
How did the Levin Minnemann Rudess project come about? Had you considered a 3rd Liquid Tension Experiment album?
Scott Schorr, who had produced my Stick Man album and the Levin Torn White collaboration, suggested we do another progressive trio. We first brought drummer Marco Minnemann into it, and the process sped along quite quickly. We had to wait for Jordan Rudess to finish with his Dream Theater recording before he could get his parts done—and because of that, Marco and I had all the pieces underway by the time Jordan was ready. So the process went pretty quickly and easily compared to how it sometimes goes. A lot of intense work, and then we had this wonderful album ready.
Regarding LTE, there’s always the possibility, of course, but there are no plans or even discussions about it currently. Like all the fans, I’d be very happy if it happens some day.
Tell me about the Funk Fingers. Were these used on the latest Levin Minnemann Rudess album?
I did use them on some of the album – for even more percussive sound than the Stick (basically they are drum sticks attached to my right hand fingers, to drum onto the strings.) I first came up with the idea after recording Peter Gabriel’s song “Big Time,” where I had the drummer drum on the bass strings while I fingered them. Trying to do that in the live show was pretty tricky, so, on Peter’s suggestion, I tried attaching drumsticks to my fingers. Took a lot of adjustment, but eventually they were right (and are currently offered for sale on the web).
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
I love music, listening and playing… but playing is even better than listening. Having the opportunity to share that music with others is really special, and I consider myself very lucky to have had a career doing that.
What is the most difficult part of being a musician?
I think, for a lot of players, when the potential is there to make great music, it gets frustrating when things stand in your way. And there are many things: monitor sound, the sound in clubs or theaters; the travel side to things: to try to get you to your show; the business side, which can be distracting. When I used to play jazz in Chuck Mangione’s band, he would say there is an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall never really groove,” referring to the many things that, in the jazz world, can get in the way of just letting that great music happen.
I must temper that answer to point out that for me, nowadays, things are pretty easy on that front, especially out here on the road with Peter Gabriel, where there’s a big crew to deal with all the sound issues for us every day!
If you had to choose one genre of music as a career (like session player, touring musician or instructor) what would you concentrate your efforts on (assuming this one choice would pay enough for you to do it full-time).
It’s live playing that I love. Nice to mix in some recording from time to time, but I would greatly miss playing live if I couldn’t do it –and that’s what has brought me the deepest satisfaction in my years in music. There’s something magical that happens at a great show, and it’s not just the audience who appreciate and remember that, it’s us on stage too.
Levin Minnemann Rudess Self-titled
(Lazy Bones Recordings)
The Standard CD or the Deluxe Edition CD & DVD available at: evinminnemannrudess.com
In part one (read it here), we examined how artists can spend their time in the studio unwisely, and how session days/hours can be broken down into parts (arranging, tracking, mixing, overdubbing, etc). The point was to illustrate how much less focused a group is on tracking multiple songs in a limited studio timeframe.
FOCUS ON JUST ONE TRACK
What if they had started by just focusing on one song? They would have picked their best song. They would have rehearsed just this one song until it shined. They would have come into the studio with just this one song on their mind and with a little luck, they would have tracked it beautifully. All the attention would be on this one song. Ideas, discussions, things to try in the mix would have all been focused on this one song. When it was finished and released, people would want to hear it again – and that’s what you want, to leave them wanting more. Have them begging for more. Have your fans focused on this one song, sharing this one song with friends. Have the venue bookers humming this one song as they book you at the club.
Okay, did it work? Did our attempt at written subliminal suggestion work? Are you thinking about going into the studio and focusing on just one song now? Something magical can happen when a group of musicians, engineers and producers focus all of their efforts on bringing one song to life. Ideas to try a subtle shaker percussion track or perhaps a third vocal harmony on just one line in the chorus, now can be tried without worrying about whether there will be time to mix half a dozen more songs today. It’s this intense focus and ability to experiment that is the strength of studio recording. The studio is THE place to try out ideas that are impossible while playing live. It is a magical canvas with an erase function.
TIPS TO REDUCE WASTED STUDIO TIME
And this is the realization that many artists come to after too many “squeezed” recording sessions. It is what you experience along the journey, not the miles traveled that counts here. So maybe by now you believe us that it’s better to focus on one song the next time you head to the studio. “But we can’t afford to spend 8 to 16 hours on one song,” we hear you say. Well here are two tricks that can help reduce your time in the studio:
Prepare, prepare and prepare some more. Focus on and rehearse that one song till it shines, till everyone knows it backwards and forwards. Record the rehearsals and make sure everyone is happy with the arrangement. Can you get to the first chorus faster? Is the first verse too long? Then type up a lead sheet for the song and bring plenty of copies to the studio. Nothing fancy, just chords and lyrics laid out by section. This allows the engineer to quickly get around the song instead of spending time hunting for where the line “she’s not coming back” is in the song. When doing overdubs, for instance, now both the talent and the engineer are on the same page when the singer says, “I’d like to fix the second line of verse two.”
Break it up. Fight the urge to stuff the whole session into one long day. Instead book (for example) a four-hour session to record the rhythm tracks and overdubs and go home with a rough mix. Then have everyone in the band take copious notes over the period of at least a week. Then meet before the next mixing session to discuss these notes with everyone. Make a Master List of what you like and don’t like about the rough mix. Be precise about what needs to be fixed: “bass flub at 1:24,” “flat note on the vocal at 2:31,” etc. For your second mixing session, don’t expect to get it 100% perfect and try not to spend too long mixing; after about four hours of hearing the same song over and over, you lose perspective. Go home with your near-perfect mix and repeat the last step of taking notes and making another Master List. Only when your head is clear can you hear the mix properly to make decisions about its quality and effectiveness.
If you still aren’t convinced that quality is more important than quantity, we challenge you to take your favorite artists’ best studio album and research how long they spent in the studio working on it before they were finished. Then go onto ReverbNation and find an artist with a six song EP that’s just so-so and send them an email asking how long they spent in the studio.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Zac Cataldo is a musician and owner/producer at Night Train Studios, a recording studio in Westford, MA. He is also co-owner of Black Cloud Productions, a music publishing company. Reach him at zac at nighttrainstudios.com.
Brent Godin is a bassist/guitarist and engineer/producer at Night Train Studios. He is also a talent scout at Black Cloud Productions. Reach him at brent atblackcloudproductions.com.
Yep, you read that right. Steely Dan. And no, this is not the posting of some ironic hipster. Steely Dan kicks ass, and the bass groove from “Black Cow” has been lifted and twisted so many times by the hip-hop community that it may in fact be the most sampled loop of all time. In any event, that bass line alone puts it in the pantheon of funk greats, as do the killer, smooth horns that elevate the track.
Enjoy it, and pick up Aja on vinyl when you get a chance…
Attention artists! Do you have a cool instrument that you’d like to show off to our readers? Let us know about it!
We love vintage stuff, but new is cool, too. We usually focus on guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, etc – but if you have something really unique, that’s even better. Heck, it could even be that pair of bongos you got at a garage sale when you were 12. Anything that means something special to you as a musician is fair game.
2. In the body of your email, please provide BRIEF answers to the following:
Brief Bio/Background (40 words MAX):
Full Make and Model (ex. Gibson Les Paul Special):
Year of Instrument (if known):
What it means to you:
What it sounds like:
Any Modifications/Customizations You’ve Made:
Can be heard on (include any songs/albums it’s prominently featured on):
3. Attach a hi-res photo of yourself with the instrument, as well as the name of the photographer who took it. We prefer photos with some space around the main image so we can place text or a text box. Submissions without photo credits will be discarded. Submissions with low-res photos or incomplete questions will also be discarded.
Bass guitar phenom Victor Wooten relates to students in one simple way – by making sure he always remains one of them. And Wooten’s on the move again. On this day it’s literal; we chat on the phone only minutes after he touches down in today’s tour stop of Las Vegas – but motion remains the most apt metaphor for bass playing’s most hyper-creative mind.
There’s an awful lot on Wooten’s plate these days: he’s still fresh off a double album release in 2012 (Words & Tones and its instrumental counterpart Sword & Stone), he teaches year-round camps and clinics and, of course, still hits the road with his project du jour. Wooten began his true ascent to bass stardom in the late 1980s as a member of Bela Fleck’s heavily Grammy-decorated Flecktones, and while he’s remained a constant rock in the band, it’s been through a laundry list of various collaborations and an even-increasing teaching schedule that he’s chased something he still reaches for today: the pursuit of what’s next. Continue reading →