strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Music

WBU is finished, on to the next song...

I posted a lyric video of my recently a̶b̶a̶n̶d̶o̶n̶e̶d̶  completed song, Widow Black Unweeping. I decided to leave it as is, and although the mixing/mastering could probably use another set of ears I'm leaving it for now so I can focus on new music. I'm wondering if I'll eventually revisit some of these tunes in the future and re-record them from scratch. Possible, but not sure I want to go to that much additional work. I need to just keeping churning out new songs because I'm learning the process for all steps, not just the core of songwriting. Considering the end result, this song took entirely too long. I've heard Steven Wilson remark that if he can't finish a song in one day, he loses interest. That's an oversimplification since he's not talking about a completed song ready for release, but I imagine his demos still sound pretty amazing.

I'm going to strive to streamline my process. I decided during the last song that I want to try the writing/recording on Studio One and then send it to Pro Tools for mixing and mastering. Part of this was frustration with the Pro Tools interface and monitor management. Ironically, I've settled into a decent workaround for those issues that doesn't take too much effort so it may not be as critical. I'm still going to give it a go for the next tune and weigh the pros and cons after. I'm a fan of Studio Ones monitor management and that it can be altered for each song. There are still so many DAWs out there I haven't tried. I've wondered if Ableton Live, Cubase and a few of the other major players would offer me something I'm missing. My feeling is no, but the grass is greener, yada, yada, yada. I tried Reaper and it just wasn't working for me. Granted, I didn't put much effort into learning it. I really did like Logic and Final Cut on the mac, and if Apple releases a compelling desktop next year, I'll definitely consider using them again. Luckily PT and Studio One are cross platform so I could continue using those. 

Crimson musings

I finally got to see the legendary King Crimson led by the steady hand of the venerable Robert Fripp in Dallas this past Saturday. I waxed a bit poetic on el facebook:

A theater unto itself, a King Crimson concert is a humbling display of power, precision, and passion. At times subtle and delicate, but unfailingly relentless and implacable all the while. I sat in bewilderment, my attention passing quickly from musician to instrument and back again, barely able to keep up with their performances.

Moving from joy to sadness, from confusion to clarity, from gobsmacked to gleeful, I was blown away by this night. These world class musicians were a sight to behold and brought a wondrous spiritual rhapsody, of a kind I've never quite witnessed before. Thank you, gentlemen, thank you indeed.

Set 1:
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Cirkus
Neurotica
Fallen Angel
Epitaph
Discipline
Red
Islands
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

Set 2:
Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising
Easy Money
Indiscipline
The ConstruKction of Light (Part I)
Lizard
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Meltdown
Radical Action II
Level Five
Starless

Encore:
21st Century Schizoid Man

It was truly one of the most powerful shows I've ever attended, and judging from the audience response (a standing ovation after nearly every song) they felt the same way. I managed to sneak my way into Tony Levin's blog post about the show as seen in these photos. 

 

 

Revisions and Additions

I've had a few days away from "Widow Black Unweeping" (the song formerly known as Languid Licking Lollipop) and I've decided to revamp the vocals and some of the rhythmic elements. I'd say the proposed changes dials it back to about 80% complete because I'm not planning any other big changes. There are parts where the vocals and the rhythm seem to work against each other and some of that is predicated by how wordy the song is. I'll try and simplify some of the rhythms in the more wordy sections and see if that helps. If not I may trim down the lyrics as well. 

The vocal melodies in both the verses and choruses are just not powerful enough (from an emotional standpoint, but that could probably also be said about the delivery). I need to work on some sort of slamming chorus that really notches up the energy level and it's probably going to overshadow what was the original riff idea. That riff is okay on its own, but it doesn't seem to work as the main energy of the chorus. The verse melodies might not need as much of an overhaul, but they need some work because I don't sound comfortable singing them and they need a little more emotional energy. 

As I've stated in the past, I really learn the best lessons by first doing things wrong or at least inefficiently. Before I invested any time into production and mixing, I should have really focused on core song structure and made sure that it was connecting emotionally. I'll have to develop a workflow for more efficiently demoing tracks before I invest too much time in recording and producing them. It seemed to work out okay with Rascal's Refrain, but maybe it was just a better song and maybe I just got lucky. 

I've also begun work on another tune that had been lying dormant for several years. It was also born of a riff, and I had previously put together an entire song structure minus lyrics/vocals. I'm still thinking I want it to have vocals, but I'm not sure what they're going to be about. Instead of working exclusively on one track,  I want to mix it up a bit so things seem more fresh when I come back to them. I'll still likely finish WBU first, but I want to give myself breaks from the monotony of one song. 

A new domain, a new semester and Father John Misty

Sauntering into October, and fall can't be more welcome. The news cycle is a continuous barrage of gloom, doom and cheeto in chief's continuous upstaging of the last unbelievably stupid and callous comment or decision he made. It's impossible to process in real time, so I disconnect. Luckily I've had some great music by which to achieve this, including one of the better shows in a long time, Father John Misty at The Bomb Factory. I went with a group of friends including the brothers Garrett who originally turned me on to him. He's an old soul, wrapped in beautiful nihilism laden with gallows humor in a sumptuous sonic feast. Some of the best new music I've heard in years. No rest for the weary music fan as I begin pre-loading for prog titans King Crimson in a few weeks. 

I'm hoping for an email from a domain registrar to offer my long sought after domain for pyramidgrid.com. I've been trying for a few years since the name occurred to me and it's about to come available. I'm not sure how the current registrar got my information, but I received an email indicating it would be up for sale soon, so I'm trying to complete the purchase. This will be my ostensibly prog group name/page, not sure exactly how I'm going divide up my songs as an artist at present since I don't have enough of a catalog of songs to really worry about it yet. A concern for another day. 

I just started the fall semester at Berklee last week and it's already proving fruitful. I'm taking a harmony class as well as acoustic guitar techniques. We jumped right into alternate tunings the first week and it's proven inspirational for composition. Our first assignment was to post an original song using the tunings and I had already jotted down a basic idea while noodling. It's a short song in open D tuning that I plan on developing further in the future. A good week. 

Nut Cutter

Nut Cutter

 

Chorus
When you pull up on those jeans and they're bulging at the seams
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you’re cruising at the mall and your jeans are way too small
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Verse
When your Wranglers are too tight
And your crotch a bulbous fright
Why you need a belt god only knows

Peacocks spread their feathers wide
Up that crack the jeans will ride
Feathered hair, concert tees and camel toes

Chorus
When you're walking through your school and exposing all your tools
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you're sitting there in class with a bulging pelvic mass
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Bridge
Alex Lifeson wrapped in silk
Ivory slacks flowed like milk
His samite streams forked below the belt

Derek Small in more than name
Form fitting jeans revealed his shame
Until a cucumber would save the day

Chorus

When your kibbles and bits are giving people fits
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When your one eyed trouser snake triggers the shakes
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When you go to the show with a raging camel toe
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
It's really not that nice to wear a denim vice
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When your splitting at the seams and the girls start to scream
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you show your wedding tackle and the ladies start to cackle
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Not quite the end of summer

August is winding down, but we're still stuck in the middle of the sweltering season. Here in the south that typically runs year round with a few months break that we affectionately refer to as "Winter" but can include temps in the 70s and even 80s. At some point in my lifetime, this is probably going to just change to Summer Light as we will have done away with any temperatures remotely resembling winter. 

I got the 65 Amps cabinet and installed it in my now nominal amp iso room (closet). I don't have the setup totally settled just yet. I'm putting an iso pad like I have for my subwoofer in the home theater to minimize the low end. I'm debating whether to place a few of my bass traps in there as well.  I need to engage in some cable management for that room as well as where I have the amp head in my control room. I gave the setup a few run throughs and my basic impression is that it sounds wonderful. I just very basically placed the two microphones and haven't taken the time to adjust their positions to find the best sound. I'm getting a Dynamount system to make this process much easier. 

The Dynamount is a "robot" controlled mounting system for microphones that allows you to move the microphone through 2 or 3 axes depending on the model. You can mount it horizontally or vertically and this gives the choice of horizontal, vertical or proximity as well as rotation. I'm probably going to go with the proximity option (you have to choose between having the robot system flat or vertical and this determines if you'll get the vertical or proximity option).  My 65 Amps cabinet is a 1x12 so I'm pretty sure I'll get more tonal variety out of proximity than vertical. Right now I've just gotten the one system and I plan to use it for the Royer 122. I'll likely add a second system in the future.  

https://dynamount.com/ 

 

Checking In...

No huge developments since the last post. I'm at the end of my week off, and we're going to see Australian Pink Floyd tonight. I willingly skipped Fleet Foxes last night. A combination of feeling a bit worn out and being ambivalent on the band, especially considering the likely indie crowd at the Bomb Factory. The last show with a similar demographic I saw there (Sigur Ros) was about 30% people who apparently just wanted an air conditioned spot off the street to get drunk and run their mouths. Not a great combination for concert enjoyment. 

I've made a bit more progress on Languid Licking Lollipop. I'm trying to deliberately set aside time at the beginning of my practice day to work on the song. I've had a recurring issue lately with fatigue and headaches which although not severe, has been just enough to suck away my creative will and shorten my practice days. I'm trying to prioritize those days so I can at least get some work done before calling it quits. I know myself well enough that if I'm not feeling well, I'm not likely to have a productive practice or writing session. 

I'm still figuring out workflow both from a physical/studio space standpoint as well as how I approach song construction. I've made some changes to the vocal booth to facilitate using the computer while I'm tracking vocals. I put my little M Audio midi controller (25 key) in there so I can sketch out melodies as I work on a song. I'm not that competent of a vocalist and writer of vocal melodies that I can just go in an wing a vocal and have it sound good. I usually hear the basic outline of the melody in my head, but it takes a few iterations of trying to sing it and then figuring out the actual melody on the keyboard so I can record a basic midi version as a pitch reference. I've also taken to using Melodyne for the same reason. I laid down some scratch vocals and then pitch corrected them to use as a training tool. It also allows me to experiment with moving the melody around to get an idea of how it will sound. 

I used Melodyne on Rascal's Refrain to figure out harmonies and I think I will continue to do that. I also had a small eureka moment (I'm setting the bar very low here) when I remembered I still have the TC Helicon vocal processor which will automatically create harmonies and other cool vocal effects. I'm not sure whether it will be good enough to use for final takes, but this will allow to quickly record harmonies and other effects to a separate track which will give me more options during mixing. I needed some more TRS cables to run from the Helicon to the UAD Apollo, so I'm waiting on those. 

Speaking of waiting, my 65 Amps cabinet was finally delivered to Sweetwater and was supposed to come this Monday. As luck would have it, it's showing as out for delivery by FedEx today, so I'm now waiting for the truck to show up since it requires a signature. The last time we had a signature delivery was also a concert night and I think we missed the driver by less than thirty minutes. There's a good chance this will happen again if he comes after 6pm. Once I do get the cabinet, it's going in my amp ISO closet where I've already run the cables for the Royer 122 and SM 57. I had bought a bookshelf several weeks ago and that's where I'll put the Hughes & Kettner amp head. This will give me another tonal option as well as hopefully providing a bit of a buffer for the loud electric guitar noise. 

Making Time for Writing

Time management is a challenge for us all I suppose. Even with a significantly reduced work schedule, it's not uncommon that I feel the weight of competing demands on my available time. I've had a long history (going back 13+ years since I resumed guitar) of practicing most days (typically a minimum of six days a week, with a rare break usually because of some other significant commitments).  For the longest time I was content with this schedule as I was just trying to get better at my instrument. 

As the years have passed I've added instruments (piano, bass, drums, vocals) and so practice time has gotten increasingly precious. Since starting at Berklee I also have the competing needs of schoolwork. This can occasionally be all encompassing when it's a big project. I've usually reconciled with lost practice time in this case because I'm still learning something of value towards my ultimate goal of becoming a better musician, songwriter, producer, etc. 

I've now had the taste of "finishing" a complete song. This is ultimately what it's all about for me, the ability to create something that only I can create. I've always been a creative person and it's in these moments of creativity that I get truly lost and can't measure the passage of time. However, the work of songwriting through to the finished song can also involve much of the technical and this can become tedious at times. 

On to the point. I've given myself a goal of trying to "finish" a song a week. Considering my total output up to this point, that's very lofty I know. I don't mean ready for public consumption, necessarily, but at least to rough demo form where the song structure has been finished and I've recorded working versions of the various parts. Experience is the best teacher I've found, and if I want to get better at songwriting I need to keep doing it as a regular part of my schedule. 

My desire is just keeping cracking at it and I'm confident with time that I'll be able to streamline more of the technical and focus more on the creative. I often refer back to a quote I heard from Brad Paisley that he attributed to a Nashville songwriter (can't remember the name but he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame), and that is "the first two hundred don't count."  While that may seem extreme, it's an absolute truth that if you write two hundred songs, number two hundred and one will likely be significantly better than your first. 

My plan going forward is to start treating songwriting like I treat my practice or even a job. I can spontaneously come up with ideas on a regular basis, but to finish a song requires some elbow grease. I'm hoping that by making it a required part of my daily schedule that I can start moving that song count towards the goal of two hundred and more. 

Learning NEW MATERIAL

A repeating theme I've learned over the years of practicing is that learning new material is one of the most rewarding aspects to musicianship. This is especially true if it's something I'm learning by ear. One of the biggest challenges has been to sound out harmonically complex piano music. I'm guilty of always looking for a sheet music version of something but there are still several tunes or at least versions of tunes I love that have never been offered as sheet music. This is especially true on live arrangements by artists like Rick Wakeman and other improvisers. 

I'm trying to make it a regular part of my practice to incorporate learning new material by ear, at least on piano and guitar. These skills only improve through repetition, and although it's very incremental and almost impossible to discern at times, I do notice a gradual improvement. I suppose this would be ostensibly for the ultimate goal of becoming a better and more rounded musician, but I've also always felt immediate satisfaction for even the smallest bits of a new song I'm learning. Learning a new song for me feels like tapping into the mystical, almost. It's the muggle equivalent of learning a new spell. 

Learning from Mistakes

It's really the most effective way, in my experience. The errors of the past are the things that stick in your memory and typically bring about the most change. This particular episode was my very simple and ostensibly easy Guitar Scales assignment 3 this week. I thought I'd be clever and convert the sheet music over to Sibelius and then import that into Guitar Pro so I could practice along with it before recording myself playing the assignment. 

The problem was that I didn't proofread it, probably because I was in a hurry and it's a pretty simple piece of music that I honestly didn't think Sibelius (via Photoscore) would screw up. Well, I was wrong. Got a B- on the assignment because I played it wrong - the imported version got several note values and positions wrong. I'm not sure what the instructor really thought, as he just commented that I had played the wrong note values. It almost sounded like he thought I had just performed them out of time. Regardless, the grade was fair because I failed to play what was on the sheet. I can just imagine the tone of a professor in a more rigid program a la Julliard or the resident Berklee classes. 

I frankly think he was diplomatic about the whole thing. I'm going to re-record it and submit, although I'm not sure he'll change my grade. I'll explain that it was my error for not proofreading and see how far that gets me. Lesson learned - never assume these technical tools can't make mistakes. Which, I normally don't, but when you're in a hurry it's easy to make stupid errors like this. 

Hans Zimmer

 

We had a great time and really enjoyed Hans Zimmer last night at Verizon. We managed to get front row seats through the regular ticket sales (without any VIP upgrade nonsense) and it was nice to have an unobstructed view of the entire show. I'm not sure of the exact number, but there were probably about fifty musicians and choir on stage. The primary players included Guthrie Govan on lead guitar right in front of us, so that was quite cool. He had several solos. There were about fifteen "lead" players who were featured at various points and they were all amazing. The Gladiator medley was a highlight, but really the entire show was phenomenal. So cool to see film soundtrack music live, a pretty unique experience for us. Aeyong really enjoyed the show as well, which is always a bonus considering how many shows we see that are more my taste than hers. In the past few years, I've deliberately only bought her a ticket if I think she will enjoy the show. There are several shows that I know will probably be a negative experience for her (gen adm standing, really heavy music a la Opeth, etc.). It's great when I feel like we both equally enjoyed a show, and this was one of those. The set list is an approximation I think. It's taken from a recent show, and I'm not well versed in Han's music to the point I'm fully confident in its accuracy. It's pretty close to what they played though. 

 

 

Driving

Discombobulate

Rescue Me / Zoosters Breakout

Roll Tide

160 BPM

The Wheat

The Battle

Now We Are Free

Chevaliers de Sangreal

Circle of Life Intro

King of Pride Rock

This Land

Circle of Life Reprise

Jack Sparrow

Marry Me

He's a Pirate

Intermission

You're So Cool

Rain Man Theme

Thunderbird

What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?

Is She With You?

The Electro Suite

Journey to the Line

Why So Serious / Like a Dog Chasing Cars / Why Do We Fall?

Fear Will Find You / The Fire Rises / Gotham's Reckoning

Aurora

Day One

No Time for Caution

Stay

Encore - Inception Medley

Half Remembered Dream

Dream Is Collapsing

Mombasa

Time

Languid Licking Lollipop

A work in progress. Again born of a riff that I think heard while running one day years ago. This will sort of fall somewhere between EDM/metal unless the song leads elsewhere, as it sometimes does.

The lyrics are deliberately alliterative and chosen as much for prosody as relevance. The genesis was finding phrases to fit the rhythm, nothing more grandiose than that. The grandiosity always comes later. As JRR said, the tale grew in the telling. A bit pretentious (understatement of the week) in its execution, but I don't care because I'm in this for my own entertainment. Not to be taken too seriously is all I'm saying.

Here's what I have so far, edits are likely. I don't have a name for the tune yet, although I may go with the title of this post. This will make slightly more sense when put to music, and the structure of the song is mostly complete, although that will likely also undergo further development as I record it. 

__________________________

Languid Licking Lollipop💃

Him

Intro

surreptitious schemer
chuckle chortle chatter
lambskin latent lupine
tickle tailored tatter

Verse 1

slipping slinking foot pads
drowned out by the noise
bacchanalia ballyhoo
garish girls brainless boys

stare slowly sweeping
focus coalesce
sneaking snicker sweetlings
aggress and possess

Chorus 1

languid licking lollipop
brashly braying bebop
furtive glance commence dance
sugar sweet soda pop

Her

Pre Verse (intro 2)

maiden meekly modest
demur delicate
duplicitous drapery
simulated celibate

Verse 2

dark path descending
concealed crimson cape
purity pretending
trace hint of lace

stare slowly sweeping
chance opportunity
cocksure closer creeping
ensare with impunity

Chorus 2

red riding randy
deadly deeds dandy
silken thighs conceal surprise
covet carnal candy

Verse 3

raven black hair
world weary eyes
aristocratic air
admirable prize

cocksure closer creeping
comely coquette
paradoxical prey
concealed crimson corset

Chorus 3

beastly bilking milkshake
craving carnal cupcake
bombshell sweetmeat sells
no foot on the heartbrake

Verse 4

too late the tell
madness in her eyes
wariness awoken
wolf in sheep's disguise

cocksure captured sleeping
now fully ensnared
widow black unweeping
victory declared

Bridge

tickle tailgate truncate
primitive the primate
monopolize the mandate
prognosticate prevaricate
consecrate and consummate
intoxicate then copulate
obfuscate and confiscate
propagate then dominate

Verse 5

dark fate befallen
sadness in her eyes
another foe defeated
sixpence none the wise

sowing precedes reaping
longer grows a list
widow black unweeping
silhouette fades to mist

Chorus 4

languid licking lollipop
lupine transform lambchop
game of chance blame romance
sugar sweet soda pop

languid licking lollipop
rock until the ball drops
hidden strings deadly sting
sugar sweet soda pop

__________________________________________

The rest of these are leftovers that I liked but couldn't find a specific use. They work with the music but otherwise don't make particular sense in the narrative. Not that the previous lyrics made a lot of sense either.

mango bongo dingo
the postman’s name was Ringo
he leashed a pink flamingo
mango bongo dingo

freaking leaking tweaking
flying through a window
sneaking creaking squeaking
cagey clever widow

Mabel was quite able
to clean up her table
her mink coat was sable
her thoughts unstable

powdered feathered scattered
thoughts are all akimbo
glassy trinkets shattered
slipping tripping limbo

speculations fabrications
plots run amok
machinations conflagrations
design or dumb luck

brazen battered hardcore
choking cloaking bedsore
thunder crashes nevermore
brazen battered hardcore

kilgore bangalore manticore
he knocked upon the wrong door
they nailed his head into the floor
kilgore bangalore manticore

Rascal's Refrain Reprise

So, I "finished" this version of the tune. I started to work on a video with After Effects but quickly became mired since I don't know the program yet. I decided to throw together a basic lyric video and post that to Youtube and share on Facebook. I'll start watching some AE tutorials here shortly once I finish this semester's homework and finally get around to filing my taxes. I plan on revisiting the tune in the future. There are definitely things I want to add as well as things I'll likely re-do, mainly the guitar solo. I'll probably let it gel for now and start working on another tune. I think some time away will give me a better perspective on the tune. I plan on restructuring the ramped up intro and adding some small electric guitar accents to the later verses. I also still wanted to double track with my Les Paul or something different from my strat just to add some more color. 

 

Rascal's Refrain

I'm taking a class called Recording and Producing in the Home Studio this semester. The course centers around developing a song from scratch until it's ostensibly ready for commercial release. I chose a song that had come from a guitar riff and chord progression several years ago. I had come up with it while noodling (as you do) and fairly quickly had an idea of what the song might be about. I never got around to developing it because I didn't think I was ready and then when I eventually learned about this course I decided to save it for that. In the past several weeks I've created a rough draft of the tune and it's gone through a series of re-writes based on the instructor's feedback. So far the response has been pretty positive and he's made some good suggestions.

I had penned scratch lyrics to this a few years ago and then once or twice I had re-visited them for a bit. I've come up with nearly the finalized version, although changes to the song arrangement are still possible and that might necessitate more editing to the lyrics. I posted the lyrics to Facebook and got some positive comments from a few friends. This was nice as they are part of what the song is about. It's a nostalgic nod to the high school and pre-Army years in which I spent all of my free time listening to music, partying, and trying to attend as many live shows as possible. Not much has changed. Here's the current version of the lyrics as of today:

 

Rascal's Refrain

Smoke filled Pontiac traveling east
Fleeing the suburbs, evading police
Another world in that little car
No haze could obscure a sky full of stars

David’s hunky dory when London calls
We’re Miles ahead when Wichita Falls
Kate’s running uphill hounds in tow
After work we'll catch a show

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
then fall to the ground

Clearview, Arcadia, Bronco Bowl
Seeing every band, our only goal
Smoky clubs and raucous crowds
Take heed now, it might get loud

Pat & Ornette on New Year’s Eve
A Caravan of Dreams departs the scene
Stumbled down an alley, fell in a hole
Late for work with blood on my clothes

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
Then fall to the ground

Skippy’s was just one mistake
Out of many they made

Vagabonds and wastrels
Derelicts distasteful

Blackout driving
Devils walking with a grin
Their feats will astound, no one in this town

Raise your glass
To yesteryear's past, dead and gone

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

Back to music centric posting...

I finally posted my Life On Mars cover video (version 3.5) to youtube and shared it on facebook. I decided to just post it as is in the weekend before I resumed my studies at Berklee. I knew I wouldn't have the luxury of time once classes got rolling. At the time I had a few run throughs of the mix, but planned on re-visiting the audio mix at the end of the semester. That's still the plan as of now. I've already learned a lot in the past few weeks so I'm confident I can obtain a much better result at that point. 

I'm not happy with the musical performances, but they do represent what I was able to create given a short window of time. I performed most of the parts on individual days (I think I performed both the drums and bass on the same day?) and then worked on the audio mix and video edits on subsequent days. My approach for videos has been to keep performing entire takes until I get one that is acceptable and stopping there. I'll have to figure out tactics for punch in type approaches for video. Recording myself performing the music on video/audio is a complicated process and that's when I'm capturing complete live takes. If I were to attempt to capture punch ins like I can do with audio, that would add just another layer of complexity that I'm not really ready to take on for a cover video. I might consider this for my own music in the future, but then I would likely not try to present the performance as a continuous unedited take. 

The response was generally positive from some close friends. I think the ones who actually took the time to comment were doing out of friendship as much as their actual enjoyment of the performance. I still appreciated it though, my overall ego is fairly bullet proof but my artist ego is a delicate flower at times. The musicians and musicophiles from whom I was hoping for feedback gave it the standard facebook "like" but didn't comment. I'm assuming that's their diplomatic way of telling me I need to keep working on my craft. And I appreciate that. My ears are good enough to know my version isn't going to make it on any top 100 Bowie Covers lists, for that matter it wouldn't make it on a top 100 Life On Mars covers list. But it's a work in progress and this represents a moment in time. A few short years ago I wouldn't have been capable of putting together, and I would have been lacking in the confidence to share it with anyone. 

Midsummer(ish) Update

Work continues on the Life On Mars cover video. I actually had a "complete" version of all the music, and was relatively happy with it. But, in one of many learning points during this project, I gave a listen to the original (which I should have been doing more often) and realized my intro was just too fast of a tempo. I had tried various ways to approach the order in which I laid down tracks. I think drums first is still probably the best way, although in this tune they don't come in for the first minute. After learning that I really couldn't keep track of the drums while trying to play with the original, I tried using a midi version of the song with which I could include a click track and that seems the best approach. 

There are multiple ways to approach this sort of incremental song construction. Due to problems with latency, it was important for me to keep the recording setup between the drums and my DAW as simple and uncluttered as possible. Latency is a killer with drums and percussion if you're trying to record in time. I managed to get a version down that was close enough for my satisfaction. I did end up making some minor timing corrections, mainly for the occasional rushed kick drum on the "and" of 4.  

Probably the single biggest challenge of this project is that I'm recording to video.  Making corrections to timing mistakes and the occasional clam note is easy in a DAW, but trying to get that synced up to video becomes exponentially harder. There are ways around this with creative video editing, but it was important to me that the foundation of the video was going to be good performances on all the parts as the baseline. Although I'm mainly doing this for my own entertainment (and internet points, because, internet points), I have felt this might serve as a sort of audition tape that I could use as needed for bands, further academic endeavors, etc. 

My approach has been to keep attempting complete takes until I get one that's close to "perfect" (my version, not Rick Wakeman's). I then stop recording and know that I will use the last takes. In some cases this might be the 10th+ take overall. 

Once I looked at the rough draft of the video performances and had worked on the mix (I was on version 14 or so), I realized I just wasn't going to be satisfied with my version if it didn't have the same vibe as the original. I never desired or expected to make a perfect note for note rendition that would sound exactly like the original, but I felt like my version was too rushed and too produced sounding. It was lacking the dynamics and character of the original, and that's kind of the whole point. 

I resigned myself to have another go at the intro, as that was the biggest problem and I managed to have a "decent" go at the piano part yesterday. Although it was useable, I was suffering my version of a hangover after drinking four beers the previous day, and I wasn't giving myself the best opportunity for a good take. I also realized that my approach to the green screen needed some work. I've learned a small amount about videography, and one thing I've gathered is that your green screen needs to be as flat and "invisible" as possible and it needs to be lit appropriately. 

Looking at my various takes, there was a variety of lighting and screen real estate occupied by my green screen backdrops. I think for my project, the best approach will be one where the green screen completely occupies the background. There may be future projects where I have the green screen as a sort of object in the background that doesn't necessarily fill up the screen. 

All that being said, I need to re-shoot the entire thing so that I can have a consistent lighting and size for my green screen. I am learning to never see an individual performance as too precious. This is a growing process as I learn to accept not every take will be perfect, but become willing to keep trying until I get as close as I'm capable. I know when I've done my best, and that's usually when I'm just practicing or playing without the "red light".  The good thing is that I've learned to get over red light syndrome because you can always make another attempt. Part of the comfort level comes from really knowing the part well and having confidence that you can play it right. 

Tying in to that was finally settling on an arrangement from which I would build the song and giving myself time to practice it. I think I've decided on just playing the intro piano part independently without a rigid timekeeper and then locking in with the drums at the first chorus when they initially come in. I may tweak this as I discovered that the intro was fairly close to 113.5 beats per minute, but then it increases to 128 at the first chorus. It sort of slows down again at the end of the guitar interlude, but returns to that during the rest of the song. My dissatisfaction with the piano performance largely stemmed from timing and feel issues related to trying to play to a metronome/backing track when I had been accustomed to playing it more freely. 

Dealing with this tempo change has been instructive and it gives me some experience for the future as this issue will come up again. I'm definitely convinced that you need to ensure you practice the piece exactly the way you intend to record it. This seems obvious, but in this case I had been playing the piano part for so long that I didn't think this would be much different. And it wasn't really, but it was different enough that my playing become too mechanical and lost the vibe.

As mentioned, I'm also planning on tweaking the camera setup. My plan now is to use my GoPro and iPhone cameras so I have at least two angles of each performance. This just adds another layer of complexity, but I always enjoy performance videos with multiple angles (if done well) more than just the simple straight ahead shots. The GoPro is ideally suited for "neck cam" on the guitar and bass, and I'll also be able to get some alternate overhead shots as well as a shot of kick drum performance (this will be used sparingly, but I like this angle on drum vids).  

The ostensibly biggest obstacle in this project (famous last words) is getting the piano and drum performances down solid. These are the two that I tend to make the most mistakes (albeit few/small) compared to the vocals, guitar and bass. I find repeating takes of those performances is less arduous and time consuming than piano and drums. My plan is to approach it in this order - drums, piano, bass, vocals and guitar. My main reason to redo the bass & guitar is because I want the additional camera angles and I need to fix the way I use the green screen. I also need to help Aeyong install a window blind for our little half moon accent window which is still letting too much natural light in which can illuminate behind the screen and that's a problem.

Another impetus to repeating the entire process is that I've purchased my next equipment upgrade, which is the Slate Virtual Microphone System. This is comprised of a large diaphragm condenser microphone, preamp and a software based modeling system that models microphone, preamp, and compressor (as desired).  This system was announced a few years ago, but it's just now hitting the market. I've heard all positive reviews so far, but I don't know that it's hit enough of a market saturation to be certain.

Based on the microphone alone and considering its price point ($1K), it's a good upgrade from  Blue Baby Bottle (which is still a great mic) and should fill a niche for several years. Philosophically this system is the microphone equivalent of the AxeFx. As the technology has progressed over the years, modeling has narrowed the gap with analog gear, and most listeners don't know the difference. I've always embraced technology and I while I love analog gear, I also love the digital stuff for the flexibility, variety and power it provides. The three microphones it models (at onset, more will be added later) would be way beyond the wallets of all but the most successful (rich) producers. It models the Telefunken 251, Neumann U47 and Sony C800G microphones. Bought on the market (especially for classic versions), this three mic locker would likely run upwards of $50K.  Of the reviews I've seen so far, people are having a difficult time telling the difference between the original and modeled versions. I'm not sure how much I buy that, but for the price and what's a decent sounding (extremely flat) microphone it's more than worth it. It will be interesting to try this new mic out on the vocals for this project. 

There are more aspects to the video project to come, to include filming our dogs in various costumes against the green screen and the subsequent film editing and use of effects. These are all essentially new skill sets I will develop as part of this project. I'm always going to focus on music first, but an occasional video project is fun and a way to keep it interesting for the short modern attention spans (including mine). 

Sniffwhistles and snarkbottoms...

Don't ask, it just seemed appropriate. We're in the latter half of May, so just checking in. Not a lot new to report. I've taken this semester and intend to take next semester off from Berklee. A combination of feeling like I was falling behind on some areas I wanted to explore (in musicianship and writing in general), combined with a feeling that one of the courses I was taking still needed some work (Music Compo & Theory) sparked the decision. I've got enough eligibility remaining in my GI Bill (9 years) that I can afford to slow the pace a bit. I've grown a lot by taking up drums, bass, and vocals but I've made a decision to at least try and dive deeper into guitar and keys, which I consider my most important instruments. I'm trying to work more on fundamentals, theory, and improvisation, especially on the guitar. 

I've also started separating practice and composition, so that I try to focus on each on alternating days. I've also accepted that some days I just don't have the mental and/or physical energy to make any progress. I just give it a pass when those days happen.  I've made some decent progress with this new approach (considering I hadn't really written anything since the compo class). I've got one song that's almost fully written, and several that I've made progress on.  I've been trying to compose structures and rough arrangements when I have time at work, as I can essentially accomplish this on my laptop alone. I'm also slowly learning how to incorporate some of my theoretical knowledge in helping me structure these songs. I tend to get inspiration in a random fashion, sometimes as a melody, sometimes as a rhythm. It doesn't tend to come theoretically intact (although rules are totally made to be broken, they can help), unless it's a really simple tune in C. I'm trying to hone those skills so I can naturally fit something in a major or minor key without having to look it up. I'll learn more about this is future compo classes, but thus far we were writing to film cues and not necessarily in the way I would write a song for myself. 

I also started recording my cover of "Life On Mars" by David Bowie. I've been working on the piano part for years now. Rick Wakeman's playing is often deceptively simple sounding but ends up being a technical challenge when you try to reproduce it close to his version. It reminds me of Tommy Emmanuel's guitar parts in a sense. They both play songs & parts that are ostensibly fairly easy sounding as a listener, but they both have such manual dexterity and facility on their respective instruments so that "easy" sounding chords and fingerings are anything but. The biggest challenge for me was that I had been playing "Life On Mars" as just a solo piano piece without any reference point, and this meant I was playing it too fast for vocals to keep up. I had to start playing it with the song so that I would pause long enough for the vocals to fit. 

And when I say cover, I'm making a video of myself covering all the parts. The most important lesson I've learned in recording a video, is that you really need to ensure you can play the part without significant (noticeable) mistakes, because it's a huge pain in the ass to try and fix mistakes after the fact. This is true for audio, but exponentially worse with video. I performed a couple takes and got one that I was okay with, if not over the moon. I think I'll probably re-record the piano once I've recorded all the other parts. My biggest complaint with my performance is that I was following/reacting to the recording and this makes it sound a bit robotic and flat. "Life On Mars" is a good object lesson in recording a full band cover version because it has a variety of tempos and the various parts don't all come in at once. 

The drum track is pretty simple, especially for any capable recording or touring drummer. That being said, my recently intermittent practice schedule combined with my intermittent within intermittent practicing of the drum part meant my first attempt was pretty awful. It was mainly the kick drum parts, as there is this repeating lead in beat that's on the and of 4 (I think) and it's offset from an open hi-hat to the extent that I feel like I have to rock back and forth. I think I need to get a drum stool that raises higher because there are times when I think my knee angle is a bit too acute (I think it's typically around 100 degrees flexion, and 80-90 would probably be a bit more mechanically advantageous). I have started practicing drums daily since then with an emphasis on that song and it's improved quite a bit. I feel like I might give it another go this weekend. After all that, I think the bass, guitar, and maybe the vocals won't be too difficult. There are a couple of high parts "Sailors, fighting in the dance hall" for one, that I'll probably need to make several passes at. My normal approach would be to record multiple passes of each line, but I'm not sure how well that will work with recording a video. I'm more likely to try singing it straight through several times and picking the best single take.  I'll likely gain some more knowledge on the recording of vocals since this will be one of my first times trying to layer vocals as well as adding harmonies. The other nice aspect is that this will also be an object lesson both in song recording, but especially in combining multiple recordings into one music video. 

On the homefront the biggest events have been a hailstorm in March that will result in us replacing a big portion of the roof and several windows. With a 2% deductible, that means we're going to be out about $10K of our own cash. We were lucky that we inherited that amount from my mother's 401K when she passed. And when it rains it pours (no pun intended), because our previously reliable (not counting bulbs) front projector seems to be dying on us. The picture dimmed considerably and when I replaced the bulb it didn't make any difference. We made the choice just to replace it, and ended up choosing a JVC that can display 4K, although it's not a native 4K to the unit. It basically upscales/doubles the image faster than the eye can see, so it will accept 4K signals and it will make 1080p signals appear to be 4K. True 4K projectors are still prohibitively expensive, so we're hoping to get at least five years out of this one (the previous one almost made it that long), and by then 4K prices should have dropped to more reasonable levels. 

At the end of March we traveled to Toronto to see David Gilmour at Air Canada Center and then to Chicago a few days later where I flew solo for his show at the United Center. He exceeded all my expectations. My only complaint is that the time flew by so fast and the next thing I knew the show was over. I really hope he films a show or two from this tour, perhaps the planned shows from Pompeii this summer. His most recent album is probably his best, and his set list was probably more than half Pink Floyd tunes. He played Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Time, arguably my top two choices to see live so everything else was icing on the cake. 

Joe Jackson Live, Dallas 2015

It was great to see Joe Jackson live again, for the first time in nearly 30 years. It was even more enjoyable to see a show with my old friend, Matt Garrett with whom I've seen some legendary concerts. Joe and his touring band: Graham Maby (bass), Teddy Kumpel (guitar), and Doug Yowell (drums) were fantastic and capable of covering a broad range of Joe's catalog and covers (Scary Monsters!) with their freakish musicianship and solid vocal skills as well. 

Joe (and his fans) aren't getting any younger, but for most of the gig you could close your eyes and it would be 1986 all over again. His piano playing has always been stellar and that combined with his beautiful grand piano and the always great sound at The Majestic Theatre made it sublime. We suffered a slight embarrassment of riches in that we were so close to the stage and had a bit of a proximity imbalance with the mix. Doug Yowell's deceptively diminutive frame belied a powerhouse player who literally beat the skins off his kit. That's not to say he wasn't subtle and nuanced when needed. Doug and the band join a long roster of amazing musicians that Joe seems to attract magnetically. 

Graham Maby doesn't need my description or endorsement. He's a legend in the Joe canon, and deservedly so. Teddy Kumpel was a previously unknown player to me but he adeptly covered a broad range of not only guitar tones but several other instruments during the performance (often covering brass, string and even vocal parts). Joe's set progressed in an additive fashion, with just Joe on piano and vocals for the first few songs and Graham joining for "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" followed by Doug Yowell, and finally Teddy Kumpel. They ended the set the same way, which is such a Joe thing to do. He's always had the aesthetic symmetry to his art, demonstrated in the global resonance of Big World, recently mirrored in the four "City" EPs that make the new album. The devil is always in the details and Joe's music has always had multiple layers to discover over progressive listenings. Supposedly some private New York gigs were recorded for television, hopefully these will surface at some point. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Maby
http://www.teddyjam.com
http://www.guitarmoderne.com/artists/spotlight-teddy-kumpel#more-2828
http://fret-king.com/black-label/elise.html#.VhpfYBNVhHx
https://dougyowell.wordpress.com/

 

  1. It's Different for Girls 

  2. Home Town 

  3. Be My Number Two 

  4. Girl  (The Beatles cover)

  5. Fast Forward 

  6. Is She Really Going Out With Him? 

  7. Real Men 

  8. You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want) 

  9. A Little Smile 

  10. Kings of the City 

  11. Poor Thing 

  12. Love at First Light 

  13. Another World 

  14. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)  (David Bowie cover)

  15. Sunday Papers 

  16. Keep on Dreaming 

  17. Ode to Joy 

  18. Steppin' Out 

  19. Encore:
  20. See No Evil 

  21. One More Time 

  22. A Slow Song 

Interview with Mark Day of Fractal Audio

Mark Day gets around. Currently the Artist in Residence for Fractal Audio Systems, Mark brings decades of experience and a keen appreciation for the great tones of classic and hard rock. Mark’s guitar skills have landed him gigs with none other than the legendary Dave Friedman, with whom he worked alongside during a stint in LA that saw him also working for Tone Merchants and fielding offers from the likes of Suhr Guitars. Mark has worked directly with the likes of Eddie Van Halen and the band, Steve Stevens, George Lynch, Jerry Cantrell and many other legends of the six string. 

Mark Day has long been known for his presence on the internet where he has recorded dozens of gear demos and song covers. Mark combines great chops and musicianship with a tongue in cheek approach that makes his videos both entertaining and educational. He’s known for his silly faces and self deprecating style, both elements which are often lacking among “serious” musicians. 

Mark has been cited as a primary reason for many gear purchases, not insignificantly for Fractal Audio Axe Fx units both past and present. Yours truly owes a debt of gratitude to Mark for my original AxeFx Ultra and later AxeFx II purchases. (not to mention a Suhr Modern). 

Mark’s videos have converted countless analog non believers to the superiority of the AxeFx by the simple approach of playing songs. With Mark’s great understanding of tone and musicianship, you can see what’s truly possible with this amazing digital modeler, which in many ways has surpassed its analog predecessors. 

Darren:  Can you just tell us your name and your occupation or job title?

Mark: I work for Fractal Audio and I’m their Artist in Residence.

 

Darren:  So tell me what's on the what's on the front burner at Fractal, are there any high-priority projects?

Mark:  I’m not actually working on the firmware, that’s actually the geniuses here at Fractal, like Cliff. I get to reap the benefits of their brilliance. I just get to do little demos here and there. It’s fun for me to see these products and enhancements before the general public, I feel really lucky to do that because there are so many more deserving players out there, that’s for sure.  I'm just, I would say, the average player with better than average luck. 

Darren: I think there are a lot of people that would dispute that. We know you’re Canadian and you’re humble.  (we went off the record here for a short bit, there are non disclosure agreements in place for Mark’s job at FAS so we were just establishing some limits) 

Darren: What are your earliest musical memories, as a child?    

Mark: I’m a late bloomer, I didn’t actually pick up the guitar until I was about seventeen. As a kid at age thirteen-fourteen, I was always looking at the Sears catalog and you would see electric guitars and it always piqued my interest and I would ask my parents, can I get an electric guitar?  They were not into that kind of thing. I guess I was attracted to it and I always liked listening to music and I think the thing that really did it for me like so many guys my age, baby boomers, seeing Kiss, you know, Kiss Alive, that first live record that they did. That just made me want to play music and to be like Kiss. I remember listening to that first live record and hearing the way the guitar sounded, I couldn’t believe how powerful six strings could sound. That was my first kind of eye-opening experience to music and guitar and it wasn’t long after I got a summer job and saved up all my money and went down to the local music store and bought a guitar and it stayed in my hands like six, seven, eight hours a day every day for a long long time.

Darren: So you were totally into from the get go. 

Mark:  Totally. It was like a drug. 

Darren:  Do you remember your first guitar? Do you still have it?  

Mark: I don’t have it. It was a Hofner Les Paul copy. 

Darren: Oh yeah, I know the Hofners. 

Mark: Yeah (laughs) it was a real piece of junk, the neck was twisted on it, but it was the first guitar that I bought. I bought it with my own money and I think I paid, $200 with a case, so it was nothing special for sure, but I couldn’t put it down. I played it all day and all night. I would fall asleep with it in my hands, and I didn’t go outside, I just stayed in and played my guitar.

Darren: Were you self taught? Did you take lessons? 

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. You guys in this day & age have the internet, tablature, and millions of people that play guitar, they’re all over YouTube. If you want to learn how to play a song and you’re not into theory or tab, you can just google search and someone will be doing a lesson on it. Whereas, when I was young we had LPs, you know, records, and I would sit there in front of the record player, and you would have to tune your guitar to the record and you couldn’t slow it down, so you had to pick up the needle and play a little section of the song and try and pick it out, play along with it, then go on to the next section. It’s not like it is today where someone has taken the time to write the tablature out, and done a lesson on it, so on and so forth. It was a lot more difficult to learn but it was fun, it kept me busy.

Darren: It trained you to use your ear, and I think that’s probably the most critical component. 

Mark: Yeah, definitely. To be able to pick up parts in songs. There are some people I know that can listen toa song and twenty minutes later they’ve got every single note. I was never one those guys, but I had a decent ear. It served me well and it helped me to learn songs, it got me into bands, so it was a lot of fun.

Darren: Just to give you some context, you mentioned Kiss. My actual first album was “Dressed to Kill”, the LP. I’m not a youngster by any means, I’m 47, so I have a fairly similar frame of reference to you. 

Mark : Okay, then you know exactly where I’m coming from.

Darren: Yeah, I played guitar a little bit in my teens and I was in the Army for a long time, I put the guitar down, which was probably the stupidest thing I ever did, but I picked it back up about ten years ago, so I know where you’re coming from. Especially if it’s Van Halen I, you probably wore out several copies of it trying to figure out Eruption and everything else. 

Mark: Actually back then when I heard Eruption it was almost deflating. I heard it and it was like “Oh My God!”. You know, here I was struggling to play simple things like “The Boys are Back in Town”, you know some Thin Lizzy stuff or some Kiss stuff and then when I heard Eddie play Eruption it was like “Oh My God!” 

Darren: I don’t know about your experience, but I didn’t conceive that it actually was live guitar. It was actually a year or two before someone keyed me in and said, “No, that’s actually live, that’s one dude playing a guitar”. It was like “How?”.  I couldn’t conceive of the sounds I was hearing when I first listened to VH1. 

Mark: It was pretty mind blowing. I never thought I was good enough to even play that stuff. I didn’t learn Eruption, until probably, maybe ten years ago?  I just felt that it was always just over my head. Especially the feel, he’s got such a slithery way of getting into notes, he’s got such a groove, it’s really hard to copy. When you hear him play that kind of stuff, if you want to cover it, you try to do it as close as you possibly can, but his style is really hard to emulate.

Darren: I agree, that’s what everybody misses, myself included is the groove. You can get the notes and get them all in the right sequence and maybe play it at speed, but if you don’t have the groove it just doesn’t work at all. That’s what makes all those guys great, Stevie Ray, Eddie, all those guys. You mentioned your parents, was there anyone musical in your family? Anyone that was a singer or played instruments?

Mark: Well, my brother played drums for awhile and he could sing but he only did it for a couple of years and he played in a band. I would say his drum career lasted about three years and that was it. He went on to other things. I was the only one in the family that ever played anything. Now, these days as I’m older I’ve got a bunch of second cousins, my cousin’s children, they all grew up to be very musical, they all play instruments and play in bands. When I was younger I was the only one. 

Darren: You mentioned that you’re a product of your times because if you had the inclination back then it was a lot harder to break through and get an instrument and to see other people, and now everything is a couple of keystrokes away at least as far as exposure and lessons. 

Mark: It’s almost like if you can’t play Eruption in three or four lessons you just give it up.

Darren: Exactly, because there’s four hundred other people on YouTube that can play it (laughs) so I know. 

Mark: There are so many wildly amazing players out there, that I’ve just given up the competition when I was younger and now it’s not a competition. There are so many excellent players out there that I’m not in that class. I just kind of do it because I love it. I do what I like to do, and have fun at it. As long as I’m having fun at it then it’s a good thing. 

Darren: To put a microscope on it a little bit, what parts are the fun parts to you? That’s kind of a vague question, I realize. 

Mark: Yeah, the fun parts. I was never a writer. I’m a sideman, that’s for sure. I like playing other people’s stuff and that’s just what I like to do. I wrote when I was a little bit younger and wasn’t very good atit, and I didn’t really enjoy the writing process much. Whereas I really enjoy listening to players that really say something in their playing.  Guys like Steve Stevens, George Lynch, or Steve Lukather, Gary Moore. Those kinds of players. I really enjoy listening to stuff that they put out that gives me the chill factor, makes my hair stand on end. Sitting down and learning those parts and kind of putting my own feel to it, that’s what’s fun to me. Just learning new things, even if it’s old songs and stuff, its new stuff to me, and accomplishing stuff that I didn’t think I could possibly play in a million years and being able to pull it off, that’s what’s fun to me. 

Darren:  I think a lot of people have that. Especially like you said, if it’s something that’s really taken you a long time because that delayed gratification when you finally get it and you realize how hard it was. Eruption, or whatever it is. You’ve got that whole nostalgia factor, you know, the longer you have to wait for something. 

Mark: Yeah, exactly. I thank technology for coming up with some of the tools we have today. I think of certain software packages like Transcribe that you know, slow things down and you can tune the song and loop the song, and things like that which really aid in learning stuff properly. That’s a real godsend. I wish I had that stuff when I was younger.  Also, just the sounds that you can get now. I remember in the 80s and 90s, building these huge racks of gear to get the sound that I wanted and now it comes in a black box like the AxeFx which is just amazing. An amazing, amazing tool that can get these great guitar sounds that you never thought possible and it’s right there. It’s easy to dial in and it makes you sound like a rock star through your Mac.

Darren: All the previously perceived evils of digitization and digital technology have now been overcome and not just for the convenience factor but just the quality is that it's at the point where human capacity is now the important difference. (the limitation isn’t the gear anymore, it’s truly in the hands of the player) Everybody's got their analog gear they love, and if it sounds good why change it? So, I don't argue with those guys necessarily, but it’s like you say that everything you can do inside a modeler like the AxeFx is crazy.

Mark: I hear things that people post, you know on Facebook or YouTube, just young people and the sounds they’re getting are like “Wow, how did they get it to sound like that?”. (in the past) To get sounds like that you’d have to sit in a million dollar studio for weeks on end with a world famous engineer to get those kind of sounds before and now anyone can go buy this box and put something out that sounds as good or better than a lot of the classic records.

Darren: So contrast the ease of access we have now, to how you had to learn, sometimes by brute force, so to speak, using your ear, how is it a negative to have all that stuff right there in front of you?

Mark: I don’t think it’s a negative at all. I wish I would have had it. I guess the benefit of going the long haul is I had to use my ear and I learned what I like and I can pretty much dial in a sound within a matter of seconds that I like. If someone puts an AxeFx in front of me and says “Here’s a blank preset, now find something”. A minute later I’m going to have something I can use. Which is really cool. 

Darren: So, let’s explore that a little bit, because this is actually tied in to some questions I had already planned. Describe how you would build a preset, but in the context of what your years of analog experience bring to the table. What is that you know from those years, that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you had just been handed an AxeFx from the beginning.

Mark: Well, signal path for starters. I hope I understand signal path. I know what should go in front of an amp and what should go in the effects loop of an amp, post amp, post cabinet. So I know that, I know what I like to hear. When I look at the AxeFx, I always think about when I had a big rack, you know, a twenty space Bradshaw rig, where I had a few pedals in front of my preamp, and then ran all my post effects in the effects loop or after the preamp. I hated noise so I always had noise gates in my old rigs so I had absolutely no noise whatsoever on stage. I always used line mixers and stuff like that so that my guitar sound was always intact and I could blend in effects, kind of like a live mixing console. I used to do my own sound, I had my own PA system and I did sound for our band and I used to rent out PAs and I learned to never give the singer a microphone into a delay unit and then plug that into the mixer that’s not how it works. You plug the microphone into a channel on the mixer and then a send from that to a delay unit and then take the output from the delay unit into another channel where you can EQ that if you need to and you run it all in parallel so that you don’t get phase issues. I always look at setting up my guitar sound sort of like that.  So, when I’m building a preset I’m always thinking about my big rig. Although you don’t really have to with the AxeFx. Sometimes people will ask why I’m running my delays in parallel, and I’ll say “You don’t have to.”, but I just do it out of habit. 

 

Darren: Clearly for you, sitting in front of the AxeFx and seeing the grid layout, it’s not daunting for you like it might be for someone who doesn’t know what the components are, and you already know how they work. The AxeFx is thankfully intuitive if you have a basic understanding like you discussed. 

Mark: I remember when I was younger and I couldn’t figure what In and Out meant. You know, “I’ve got two pedals, now what do I do? I’m going out of my guitar so it must go to the out plug.” You do stupid things like that. And there’s no sound until you finally understand signal path. You know that in goes to out and vice versa. You don’t have to worry about that with AxeFx because it’s all laid out for you.  Sometimes old analog users are frightened by the grid, but it all makes sense once you look at it for a few minutes. It’s all very logically laid out and easy to use. It’s really easy to get a bad sound if you want to as well.

Darren: (laughs)

Mark: Tweaking things that you don’t know about, but if you just use the basic functions, like, the first thing to do is, I just tell people, bring up an amp, stick it in the middle of the grid and then put a cabinet block right after it. Then put shunts from the beginning to the end and pretend that amp block is just like the real amp. You’re going to go to the input gain, turn that up a bit, go to your tone-stack, forget about all the advanced parameters and just get a good basic sound into a cabinet block that you like. If you like Marshall 4x12s, there’s a million Marshall 4x12s there. Pick one, then try a bunch until you find the sound you like, then once you have the core sound then start adding delays, phasers, flangers, pitch blocks, stuff like that. Start with the basics and it’s really easy to get a good sound. A lot of people see all these advanced parameters and they start messing around and it can sound really bad really quickly and then they get frustrated with the technology. Just treat it like a normal amp and you’ll get a good sound. 

 

Darren: I’ve noticed a couple of your posts with the new firmware (FW18 at the time of the interview), and I’m not asking for firmware details, but you always joke about using too much distortion in your videos, which I find hilarious because I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but you never use too much distortion that we can’t hear the notes, you can still hear the nuance. Most of my favorite players use all the parameters available to include their fingers, pick attack, tone/volume controls. Guys like Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton, and Joe Bonamassa are always riding their tone and volume controls. Their tone isn’t such that when you get the volume past two or three, you’re already in face melt territory. So I noticed you had mentioned playing a little less gain on the new firmware, so I thought that was kind of cool. (laughs)

Mark: Yeah, I’m just funning around with this stuff. I typically like a very high gain sound. I’ve played live in so many bands for so many years, but now I watch people in that scene on YouTube and it’s not as dynamic. When I played live I was always riding the volume, all the time. I mean, that’s my main instrument is my volume control. I always had volume pedals, and I was always using the volume pot on the guitar to get different nuances of gain or sound. From turning it way down to get a cleanish kind of sound to in the middle for crunch and all the way up for a solo. Back it off to about 8 for regular rhythms that are high gain but you don’t want squeals. 

Darren: It just seemed interesting to me that you were talking about messing around with the new Plexi models and just using less gain than you typically would. 

Mark: I tend to just go for my tastes. I realize it’s not everybody’s taste, but I try to remind people of that. People say “You use too much gain!” in all this 80s stuff, you know, “Why don’t you show some other things?”. (laughs). My comment to that is I do what I do, what I think I can handle. I can’t play Stevie Ray Vaughan, so I’m not going to attempt it. You may want to hear a demo with a Stevie Ray tone, but it’s not going to be from me. If you want to hear Steve Lukather, Van Halen, Ratt, or Lynch, that’s what I like to do. That’s where I fit comfortably. I try not to go out of my comfort zone. 

 

Darren: I find it exasperating, or really I just laugh now because people have this sense of entitlement and it’s your job to give them exactly what they want. You posted a video and now you’ve got this implicit contract with the world at large, it’s amusing to me. 

Mark: Thankfully a lot of the people that watch dig what I’m doing which is really good for me. I’m very fortunate. If I had to be diversified, it wouldn’t happen. I’m not that player. 

Darren: I think people would know it too. If you don’t like the music and you’re just going through the motions, people are going to know it. 

Mark: I’ve gotten on that path every once in awhile where somebody is really bugging me and I’ll do it and then regret that I did it, and I don’t look happy in the video. 

Darren: Life’s too short to learn songs you don’t really like (sorry to all pro musicians everywhere, obviously you have to pay the bills so this statement is a bit pie in the sky)  Your Steve Ray comment reminds me of a joke. How many guitarists does it take to play a Stevie Ray Vaughan song?

Mark: I don’t know

Darren: Apparently all of them.

Mark: (laughs), exactly. 

Darren: How long does it take to tune a 12 string? (I only have two jokes, promise)

Mark: I don’t know. 

Darren: No one knows (we’re still waiting).

Mark: (laughs)

Darren: this is one of those more esoteric class questions. Do you consider yourself and artist? You have the title, your job says you are (laughing). 

Mark:  No, I don’t. 

Darren: Why not?

Mark: Every day I wake up and go to work, and this started a few years back when I got asked to go and work for Tone Merchants and Friedman Amplification,  before that I was asked to go work at Suhr Guitars because of my videos. To be honest, I never got it. It was like “Really??” (laughs) “You guys want me?” “Really, why?” So, I have to pinch myself, “am I really doing this?” I don’t think of myself as an artist so much as a lucky bugger, you know?  

Darren: for whatever the validation is worth, I think people are afraid of the word art, or artist. In this class I’m in, it’s all we ever talk about. It’s used very broadly, but there’s something you bring that is you, that is based on your background, that is uniquely you. I understand what you’re saying about the context, and getting requests from companies, and I’m trying to imagine what it would be like in that situation, wondering “What I’m going to bring to the table?”.  By any definition, you are an artist. It’s not required that you release albums or write songs or compose works to be an artist. Because you definitely have a thing. You definitely have fans. 

Mark: and I appreciate that. There’s things that I hear in my playing that I know it’s me, so I guess that’s cool. I worked on my vibrato like crazy. It’s all I ever thought about and it’s all I ever did. There was actually a video that changed my life, back in 1981, and I was playing in this band and we were pretty hot stuff locally and I remember I worked for a school board and we had video cameras and they were the first video cameras you could actually carry around and they were still huge, you had to have a separate VCR to go with the cameras and they were ridiculous. 

Darren: I remember those. 

Mark: We decided to videotape this show that we did. I remember playing it back and listening and looking at the way my fingers did vibrato and I was like “Oh my god! I suck so bad, it’s awful!” It was like a revelation. I either had to quit or fix it. I remember it was just the dawn of VHS tapes, and there were movie rental places and I went to this one and there were a couple of concert videos and I remember thinking I was going to find a concert video of a guitarist that sounds good and I’ll see how he’s doing vibrato and see if I can pick it up by watching the guy. I couldn’t find anything that I liked and I ended up getting this REO Speedwagon concert and the guitar player Gary Richrath had this really nice, wide, melodic vibrato that was not what I would call a nervous vibrato like that Cher kind of vocal pattern. 

Darren: or like the bumblebee vibrato.

Mark: That was like a revelation to me because I would watch this tape and see how he was moving his fingers and I would sit there and practice in front of a mirror until I was able to cop the look and at the same time the sound and feel. I worked on vibrato forever and ever. Hours and hours for years. It was my main focus, vibrato and bending. And then there was this time in the last ten years where I would hear myself playing and I would think “I hate that, I know it’s me!”. Every time I would hear my vibrato I would know it was me and then I realized that it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing because people would say kind things about my vibrato and bending and I realized it would be really stupid if I changed it because I actually have three or four people that like it. That’s a good thing. 

Darren: we’re always our own worst critics. We can hear everything and we can see behind the screen. 

Mark: Oh man, I’m a huge critic of myself. 

Darren: You’ve got the typical Canadian modesty. I’m American, but I’m a big Rush fan and I’m familiar with the typical Canadian self deprecation and humility. 

Mark: laughs.

Darren: So you described that and I thought it was a cool that it was a big event for you. Have you had other sort of career or path shaping events like that?

Mark:  Yeah, there’s guys out there that like the tone I’m getting and there’s guys out there that hate the tone, think I’m using way to much gain, etc. So I’m focusing on the guys who like my tone. Probably the biggest revelation with my tone was that I wanted a lot of sustain and power. For the longest time I never used a distortion pedal. I had old Marshall Mark IIs that had a preamp. They were a master volume model amplifier, 100 watts, and I used those for years and years and I never used a distortion pedal in front of it. It was really difficult to get the amount of gain that I wanted having the amp and pickups squealing and howling. There were a lot of things I had to develop to get that high gain and volume without making all the noise. A big part of playing rock guitar is being able to keep it quiet between passages and not having the squealing and howling. So I developed a lot of things that helped me fight that feedback battle. There were things like using the volume control on the guitar, that was a big thing, volume pedals, noise gates. I would do little tricks with my guitars. For instance, on Les Pauls there’s the pickup rings and I would take hobbyist glue and I would glue the pickup edges to the rings so they wouldn’t move. To prove this theory, just get a guitar where the pickup is free floating, and it’s just got the two adjustment screws and turn your amp up really loud. Just mute all the strings except the lowest one and just let it start to do its business. You’ll notice that if you hold the pickup firmly in place, it’s not going to squeal and howl. 

Darren: Is it because of the actual pickup movement within the magnetic field that it’s feeding back?

Mark: Yeah, exactly. The pickup is vibrating, and at a certain volume it starts to pickup additional noise and vibrations and it will actually start to move around and get this real low end howling noise and if you put your finger on the pickup it will stop that feedback. When I was younger I used to put cotton balls in my pickup cavity or pieces of foam to keep the pickup in place. The easiest thing for me is just to take some hobbyist glue and put a couple of beads so that they pickup can’t move. If it’s adjusted and you’ve got the right height, tone, just use the glue to fix the edge to the pickup ring and a lot of your feedback problems will go away. Of course there are noise gates. It’s funny, because I’ll get whatever rig I’m using and I’ve been at shows where we’re playing and my rig is at volume and really cooking and someone will come up and ask to sit in and I give the guy my guitar and they’re a decent player but they can’t control my rig at all and will ask “How can you use this much gain and control it?” I’ll get on and it’s totally quiet. There’s no feedback going on, unless it’s controlled where I want it. Taming the feedback monster was a big revelation for me too. That was really cool. 

Darren: I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t appreciate with guys like Eric Johnson or EVH that it’s not just the notes they’re playing, it’s the notes they’re not playing. The notes they’re muting, whether they’re using their right or left hand, and how delicate a balance that is and if you don’t have it, it’s going to be really obvious. 

Mark: Oh yeah. I’ve heard inexperienced guitar players go on stage and not with a lot of gain but they’re still having big feedback issues, there’s all kind of 60 cycle hum. I always made a big effort to make sure that my gear was always top notch running wise, quiet as a mouse, no ground loops and hums, crackles, or bad cables. I always wanted to show up to the gig where you didn’t know my amp was on. When I hit that first chord, you were going to fly back in your seat because you weren’t expecting that kind of power. Darren: It’s interesting that probably the most popular question I saw on the Fractal site was specifically that (Mark’s quiet rig). I think many people have this idea that a lot of it is in the AxeFx. What I assumed and you’ve now confirmed that a lot of it is happening outside the AxeFx. 

Mark: Yeah. Part of it’s controlling your guitar, standing in the right spot. Your pickups, your hand muting, both left and right hand muting. When I play solos I’m using both hands for muting. If you watch some of the videos I’m doing with high gain, I’ll have my right hand fingers on strings that I’m not using just to keep them quiet. It’s a whole skill set to be able to keep your guitar quiet when it’s supposed to be quiet and noisy when it’s supposed to be noisy. That’s a big part of guitar playing. Another thing is intonation. Just because you play a G chord doesn’t mean it’s in tune, even if the guitar is in tune.

Darren: Especially down at the low end (of the fingerboard). 

Mark: I never realized, especially when I was playing Floyd Rose equipped guitars, how much I was bending the strings in chord patterns to keep the guitar in tune. You hand your guitar to somebody to start playing and it sounds whacked out of tune, and then you pick it up and it’s totally in tune. I discovered that when I was playing I was actually compensating the intonation with the way I bend my fingers during chord shapes and solos and how I placed my fingers on the frets, how I’m moving the strings, how I’m using vibrato in chords just to keep everything intonated. Intonation is so, so important. It’s not just plugging your guitar into a tuner and saying, “Okay, we’re good.” It’s so much more than that. That was a very important revelation to me. 

Darren: Yeah, it’s so critical with intonation and with bending it’s very obvious if you don’t know where you’re at. Let me ask you some more artsy questions. Have you had any other kind of big, significant emotional events (like the vibrato revelation)?

Mark:  Probably so many. Well, singing. Same thing with singing. Intonation while you’re singing is so important. There are too many guitar players out there, so you have to sing some stuff, you have to sing background or sing lead vocals. You have to do more than just play guitar. There are so many good guitar players, you’re not going to get a job. If you’re playing in a band, singing is a musical instrument just like playing guitar. I still remember back in the first band I was playing in one of my best friends Roy Nichol, who is the drummer for April Wine, I don’t know if you know them. (http://www.aprilwine.ca/news/second-news-item/)

Darren: Oh yeah, “Just Between You and Me”

Mark: Yeah. I played with Roy for thirty years. 

Darren: That’s awesome. They’re an awesome band. 

Mark:  I still remember when I was a kid and he asked me to play in his band and I didn’t sing and he just basically said, he stuck a microphone in my face and said “You’re going to learn to sing. Because we need to do harmonies, we need to make this band something different, so you need to sing. And if you don’t sing, I’m going to punch you in the head.”

Darren: (laughs) That’s good motivation. 

Mark: (laughing), and it was good motivation. I don’t think he’d ever punch me in the head, but he was pretty intimidating, and he was a very talented guy, a great singer, great drummer and a great guitar player too. Imagine me as the guitar player, I join this band and he plays half the night on drums and half the night on guitar and he shows me all the guitar solos.

Darren: That’s amazing.

Mark: The drummer showing the guitar player how to play the guitar solos. If you’ve ever seen any of my Journey cover videos, he’s playing the drums, keyboards, and he’s doing all the vocals too. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyOD4LCpbkw&list=RDuyOD4LCpbkw#t=7)

Darren: I love those. I think you’ve done some Rush that way too.

Mark: Yes, he sings the Rush stuff too. That’s Roy. 

Darren: He’s a triple threat at least, maybe he’s a quadruple or quintuple threat.

Mark: And he’s an amazing studio engineer (laughing).

Darren: I already hate him (laughing)

Mark: He’s got more talent in his fingernail than I have in my whole body. If I could offer any guitar player advice it’s to find somebody that’s way better than you. Because you’re going to learn so much. Always hang out with people that are way better than you, and you’ll always advance. If you’re the best in your band or crew, get away from it.  Go someplace else where you find better musicians or more eclectic musicians. Just to develop your own goods through them. 

Darren: To expand on that, do you like to put yourself in uncomfortable situations whether it’s musically or creatively to kind of spark that? 

Mark: No, I’m slow to the game so I’m a chronic choker. 

Darren: (laughs)

Mark: I like to do things on my own time. I have been put into situations where it was a good thing and I’ve been put into situations where it wasn’t so good. Moving out to Los Angeles was a big deal. I had a really good job in Canada, had a house, and a music school and I was giving lessons, had a band. I just decided I needed to be away from there for more reasons that just music. It was like being dropped onto another planet.

Darren: I can imagine.

Mark: I was taken out of my comfort zone. I basically moved to LA with a little bit of music gear and a couple pairs of jeans in a suitcase and started from scratch. It was very interesting, and pretty scary. There were a few times where I thought “What am I doing? I should just go back to Canada.” But I persevered and met a lot of interesting people and I got to work with people like Dave Friedman, and I got to do things that guitar players my age would just die to do. Things like doing work for Van Halen, Steve Stevens, George Lynch. I remember sitting in George Lynch’s house and programming his AxeFx, and thinking “Wow!”

Darren: Am I here? Pinch yourself.

Mark: Yeah, this is crazy, so many things. 

Darren: I saw the video with you and Steve Stevens, and I was thinking I wouldn’t be able talk coherently.  

Mark: Yeah, Steve is such a great guy. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met out there for sure. He’s very kind and he’s one of the first real rock stars that I met, and he was so nice to me. He actually came up to me, he approached me and gave me a hug and said “Mark, I love your videos!”.

Darren: Wow.

Mark: I said, “Are you kidding me?” He goes, “No, I’m a big fan, and I really like your stuff.”

Darren: There you go. You’re an artist, Mark, face it. (laughs). 

Mark: He was just a super sweetheart and so many really cool things. Getting to work on Van Halen’s rig and watch them in a little room rehearse for their latest tour they went on and to get to sit there and watch and get to listen to Eddie do the whole Van Halen I, right in front of me, twenty feet away.
Darren: That’s crazy. 

Mark: You know, I didn’t sleep that night. I was like “Oh my god, did that just happen?”

Darren: And did this come about because you went to California and you were working for Dave Friedman and Tone Merchants? Is that how these opportunities came about? 

Mark: Yeah, Dave worked with all these artists so I got to hang out and collaborate and help him out get to see all these concerts and rehearsals. We were always in people’s rehearsals like Alice in Chains, Billy Idol, The Offspring, I did a lot of stuff with building and programming pedal boards for George Lynch, god, so many artists, Lukather, Joe Bonamassa, Jerry Cantrell, just so many things that were so cool that I never dreamed of doing, and it just fell in my lap. There were times I would be driving on the 101 to work and just going “Wow! How is this happening?” (laughs). It’s so bizarre that it’s happening to me. There’s so many people out there that are more deserving, but it just kind of happens so I’m going to soak up as much as I possibly can, because it’s really really cool. I can’t even remember half the things, and it’s funny when I was out there because I didn’t post half the stuff on Facebook because nobody would believe it. “Okay, Mark, you gotta stop this because people are beginning to think you’re full of crap.”  Very lucky, fortunate person for sure. 

Darren: To get paid to do what you love, what could be better?

Mark: Yeah, yeah. And while that’s going on I get to meet the love of my life, Roxanne, so life is pretty cool. 

Darren: I did see you had posted that part of the incentive to working for Fractal was that you would be closer I guess?

Mark:  Yes, that’s right. Closer to Roxy, closer to my family. The weather sucks here, but other than that I just love being closer to her and she’s with me a lot more and I’m going to see her a lot more and it’s really nice. She’s sitting right beside me right now. She’s an awesome girl and it’s really nice to have someone in your life that supports what you’re doing and she really lifts me up, that’s for sure. 

Darren: Mike Myers had made a comment about how when he was at Second City that he would have these great weeks but the payoff was when he would come home and talk to his family and his Dad and all his accomplishments during the week didn’t mean much until he had someone to share them with and that’s what makes it all worth it. That’s awesome. 

Mark: Oh yeah. When I was out in LA and I’d do fun or cool things I couldn’t wait to call Roxy and let her know what happened, it made it that much better. 

Darren: I got one last question and I’m going to let you go because we’re already over an hour. House is on fire, what piece of gear, or instrument (not counting Roxy, cats or whatever loved ones you would rescue first), what musical instrument or equivalent do you save?

Mark: It would definitely be my Lifeson Les Paul. 

Darren: Oh yeah, you have the Axcess?

Mark: Yes, I have the Lifeson Axcess. 

Darren: Awesome. 

Mark: It’s a newer guitar for me. I’ve got another Les Paul that’s really special too, but I’ve had this Lifeson for a couple of months now and I just really, really fallen for it. It’s one of those instruments that comes around not very often. I’ve had a few really good guitars in my life, but this was one is really special. I’ve always been a Les Paul guy, I love the tone of a Les Paul, the weight of it. I’m a little guy but, people always pick up my Les Paul and say “Wow, it’s so heavy man, how can you play with this?” I pick up other guitars and they feel like toys. I like to feel ten or twelve pounds in my hands, it’s just really cool. But this one here (Lifeson LP), with the Floyd, I always liked Floyd Roses, not just for whammy bar stuff, to be honest I rely on my finger vibrato way more than using the bar. I like what a Floyd Rose does to the strings, I like the way it resonates, I like the way it warbles if I hit a string really hard, I get that sort of Brad Gillis thing. 

Darren: Yeah. How many springs?

Mark: I’ve got two. Maybe three. I might have gone back to three, normally two or three.

Darren: Is it floating, flush?

Mark: No, it’s floating. Yeah, anything I ever had a Floyd Rose on was all full floating. I mentioned before about intonation, and I got so used to playing with a Floyd back in the 90’s that the way I bend the strings when playing chords to keep it in tune has just become part of me, so when I found a Les Paul that had a Floyd on it, I was in heaven. It was perfect. 

Darren: So are you riding the Floyd with your right hand, or do you have one of those compensators. I forget what it’s called, but I have this shock absorber thing that always brings it back to zero. 

Mark: No, I basically burn the coating off the Floyd with my acidic hands. 

Darren: So you keep your hand on it to keep everything else in tune when you bend?

Mark: Yeah, I don’t really pay attention to what I’m doing, but the palm of my hand is always on the bridge. 

Darren: I’m assuming all that stuff is just subconscious now, keeping the intonation when you play a chord, all those kind of controls and the muting that you do, it just becomes natural so you’re not thinking about it. 

Mark: Yeah, I’ve sat there for students when I was giving a guitar lesson and they’d ask me questions like “How do you keep the bends in tune?”. I would sit there and go, “Well, let’s look at what I’m doing.”  When I realized what I was doing it was like “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff going on here that I didn’t even realize.” It’s weird what you pick up over the years. 

Darren: Well, and they say the best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Like, “Whoa, let me actually analyze this and see what’s going on.” Hey Mark, I really, really appreciate all the time. You’ve gone well over the projected, reasonable amount of time.

Mark: Thanks, we talked about a lot of things and we hit on a lot of things that I didn’t even think about for a long time. 

 

Much appreciation and respect for Mark and all he’s done through the years. He was very generous with his time and answers, but being that he’s a Canadian homeboy and Rush fan, it’s not all that surprising. In the time since this interview was recorded, Mark has continued to work at FAS and they’ve recently released a paradigm changing update to the firmware, which has been renamed to Quantum. In my little time using it, I’ve had that typical FAS experience of quickly just falling into playing and forgetting about fiddling with knobs. Guitarists and gearheads will never stop tweaking knobs, but at the end of the day all we want to do is play. Mark Day gets to do that for a living and he’s inspired countless admirers to follow in his footsteps. For this we’re eternally grateful. 

Mark Knopfler - Dallas 2015

Still a bit gobsmacked with how good Mark Knopfler and band were last night. It’s all a product of Mark’s brilliant songwriting, arrangement, playing, production, and most of all his imagination. Mark is a storyteller in the truest sense and he inhabits his characters to a depth not unlike Kate Bush or Tom Waits. I often feel like he understands American and World culture and history better than most of the natives.

His band are monsters on their respective instruments, and in most cases that’s three or more instruments each. The tour lineup includes Mark Knopfler (guitar, vocals), Guy Fletcher (keyboards), Richard Bennett (guitar), Glenn Worf (bass), Jim Cox (piano, organ, accordion), Ian Thomas (drums), John McCusker (violin, cittern), Michael McGoldrick (whistles, uilleann pipes), and Nigel Hitchcock (saxophone).

This band can cover any genre and create any dynamic. Majestic is a great old venue (I’m deliberately not talking about the seats), and the sound was excellent. High marks for the Dallas audience as they all seemed to be real Knopfler fans and not just the socialites that sometimes inundate these shows (not looking at you, ATT PAC). Another really cool feature of this and the last few tours is that Mark offers the board recordings on little guitar shaped USB sticks a few months after the show. As this was a great performance (even according to Richard Bennett on his blog), this live recording should be a keeper.

For the gear heads: Mark played a variety of strats, I think the classic old Les Paul from the BIA era, the resonator made famous from the album cover, his old Pensa Suhr (on the second half of Telegraph Road, and shit yes, he played Telegraph Road), a steel string acoustic, and the Danelectro pictured here. Great feature on Mark’s most important guitars on SkyArts from a few years ago:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=9&v=27OT_FSWrIE

  1. Broken Bones 

  2. Corned Beef City 

  3. Privateering 

  4. Father and Son 

  5. Hill Farmer's Blues 

  6. Skydiver 

  7. She's Gone (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  8. Your Latest Trick  (Dire Straits song) (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  9. Romeo and Juliet  (Dire Straits song) (with Nigel Hitchcock)

  10. Sultans of Swing 

    (Dire Straits song)

  11. Mighty Man 

  12. Postcards from Paraguay 

  13. Marbletown 

  14. Speedway at Nazareth 

  15. Telegraph Road  (Dire Straits song)

  16. Encore:
  17. So Far Away  (Dire Straits song)

  18. Going Home: Theme from Local Hero  (with Nigel Hitchcock)