Archive for January, 2013

Naysayers Be Gone! We Want To Hear The Clatter of Molds Being Broken!

Posted in Bands, Bass players, Interviews with tags , , on January 27, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

“You can’t play rock without guitar!” The members of Clatter have heard that probably more times than they care to count. It’s unfortunate that in the world of music there appears to be so much resistance to new ideas sometimes.
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Clatter is a duo from Lone Elm, Missouri comprised of bassist and singer Amy Humphrey, and her drumming husband Joe Hayes.  But, that wasn’t always the case. They started out as a band called Clatter Bean in the mid 1990’s, which was a quartet. The singer left, and they started performing as a trio, shortening the band’s name to Clatter.  And then, the guitarist split. The idea of forging ahead as a bass/drums duo then entered the picture.  With  encouragement from Joe, a somewhat hesitant Amy finally agreed to be the sole melodic/harmonic element in the band. And so began the quest to make the bass stand on its own in a rock context.
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They have encountered many naysayers (not surprisingly, many of them guitarists) which have told them that you just can’t do rock music without guitar, or at least a keyboard. One would think that, since music is an art form, musicians would be more open to experimentation, to breaking those overused pre-determined molds. After all, if you take even a casual look at the major developments in the history of music, you will find that most are the result of composers and musicians challenging the so-called “rules.”
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Their latest album, Garden of Whatever,  consolidates the path laid out by their previous two releases.  Full-bodied and hard rocking bass grooves, Amy’s sweet-toned voice delivering empowering lyrics, and Joe’s dexterous and seemingly inexhaustibly creative drumming make for quite a unique listening experience. If you go through the whole album and your only thought is  “it needs guitar,” then you’re quite simply missing the point, and missing out on the Clatter experience.
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The band’s a duo, and they’re a married couple. So, even though I’ve had some brilliant ideas in my lifetime, deciding to interview both Amy and Joe is not one of them.  It was simply an obvious choice.
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Joe and Amy from Clatter

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What did the name ‘Clatter Bean’ mean, and why did you drop the second half of the name?

AMY: When we lived in Seattle, I played bass in an all-female band. We were in that phase of band evolution where we had to decide what to call ourselves. One day, Joe and I were driving somewhere and the name “Clatter” just fell out of the sky into my brain (incidentally, this is how a lot of my lyric writing happens). As a linguist, I loved the way the word felt when it was spoken, and that it conjured up a great sonic image. My bandmates, however, thought the name needed a little something extra, so they chose to add the “Bean” part. I can’t really recall the reasoning behind it; I suppose it added a certain quirkiness that reflected the personality of the band. Eventually Joe became the drummer, and when we parted ways with the other two band members, we decided to lose the “Bean” as well.

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What gave you the idea of playing as a duo? And once that idea entered your mind, was it ever scary for you guys to contemplate that uniquely different path that lay before you?

AMY: It was terrifying. For me, anyway. Once we moved to rural Missouri from Seattle, we found a fabulous local guitar player and continued on as Clatter. Eventually he moved on and we were left with just the two of us. Miles from anywhere. Joe proposed that we give it a go as a two-piece; he had tried for ages to get me to play through a guitar rig just to hear what it sounded like. It took a lot of encouragement and arm-twisting by Joe to convince me that I could shoulder the melodic portion of the band single-handedly. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the bass could stand alone as the only melodic instrument in a band, it was that I didn’t have faith enough in my own playing and songwriting that I thought I could pull it off. Once we finally took that leap, though, I realized how fun and freeing it was to be able to play anything I wanted – and as much as I wanted – without stepping on anyone else’s toes. And Joe is such an amazing drummer and has such a melodic approach to the drums that it’s like having another stringed instrument in the band. We decided to record an album (Blinded by Vision) just for our own gratification; we were shocked when so many people embraced it, especially bass players! That gave us the courage to continue.

JOE: When we played with guitar players, often times they would want to double Amy’s parts, because they were so cool. So I thought “Hey, if we just run the bass through a guitar cab we’ll sound like a three piece.”

I never found the path to two piecedom to be very scary, I thought it was exciting. After parting ways with our last bandmate, we felt it was time to forge ahead with just the two of us. It can be really difficult to find musicians who have the same vision as you do. Amy and I are in sync, and maybe even more so than other bandmates we’ve ever had because we’re married. We complement each other on so many levels, and that naturally flows into the interaction of the bass and drums. We are a unified section. So I figured that we should just forge ahead as a two piece, and that would create more harmony in the band.  Of course, it seems that everyone we told about the project said you can’t have a band with just bass and drums, you need guitar or keyboard. This happened repeatedly until we started to believe what we were being told. So we spent a lot of time working with a keyboard and sequencing layered melody lines, which ultimately relegated us to the role of being the “rhythm section,” much more so than any band we’d been in, which was the antithesis of what we had intended. I think that experience was necessary to help us forge ahead to create the sound we had in our collective heads, and not listen to what anyone else thought. And that’s why the first album is called “Blinded By Vision.” We stopped listening to what other people thought and pursued our idea relentlessly – including walking out of two studios and firing a grammy-winning producer, who wanted to layer in a bunch of sequencer stuff because we didn’t have a guitarist. Hell yeah, we were driven by pure idealism, and Amy almost clocked a guy…that was a sight I shan’t forget. Driving away from that experience we realized that we were blinded by our own vision, and others were blinded from seeing it. It also meant that people couldn’t grasp the concept of what we had in mind. It was all we could see, and they couldn’t see it at all.

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Amy

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Amy, here’s a quote by you: “Because that’s what it’s all about–trying to show that the bass can stand on its own as an instrument.” How strongly does that ‘mission statement’ of sorts figure in your musical endeavors?

AMY: As I mentioned before, I never doubted that the bass could stand alone as the primary focus in a rock band. Having grown up listening to a lot of bands with busy bass lines, especially in the New Wave era, I have always felt that the bass guitar is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments. I thought it would be so cool to really let that beauty shine in a setting where it is usually relegated to the background: hard rock. Once I finally committed to the two-piece band idea, I knew I had a big responsibility to demonstrate that the bass guitar can stand on its own. I tried to think of ways to showcase the unique and powerful sound of the bass, to magnify and diversify its tonal qualities and blend these together for a full, cohesive sound. Multiple amps, effects units, playing styles…all these combined to help establish the bass as a melodic instrument in its own right and to try to fill in the space normally occupied by other band members. Of course, what I do is just a tiny example of what is possible, and my “mission statement” would probably include not only my efforts to show the versatility of the bass, but even more, to encourage and inspire other bassists to explore all the possibilities of our amazing instrument and to have the intrepidity to try something completely new and different. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a supportive, encouraging bandmate!

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Can you tell us about the worst naysayer you ever had insisting that you couldn’t play rock without guitar? How did you handle it?

JOE: There have been comments from guitarists and drummers who think in terms of traditional roles for instruments: bass and drums are rhythm instruments to be in the background. We seem to appeal to more adventurous souls. We know it’s not for everyone, and really don’t get bothered by that attitude. Heck, we made the first album just to do it. We didn’t have any idea if people would like it.

AMY: I never really know quite how to respond to people when they say things like that. There doesn’t seem much point in trying to convince someone to “get” what you’re doing; either it will resonate with them or it won’t. Most of the time I think I just smile politely and back away.

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Joe, do you ever hum out or actually play bass riffs as suggestions for Amy to use in the songs?

JOE: I used to do that in the long, long ago, in the before times when the world was a dark place full of guitars and crazy bandmates. But after the purgatory of the sequencer years, when Amy plugged into a mighty distorted cabinet and found her new voice as THE stringed instrument in the band, I’ve had one “bass line” idea, and that’s the synth stuff I play on the song Powerful, which I never intended to be a part for Amy to play. Anytime Amy noodles on her bass I think it’s a new song idea. She comes up with the coolest stuff.

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Amy, do you ever alter a bass part or a vocal melody in order to be able to perform them both simultaneously?

AMY: I haven’t done so knowingly. I usually don’t have much trouble singing and playing at the same time. If there is a phrase I have trouble with, I will just practice it until I can play and sing both parts properly. I’ve never actually tried to simultaneously sing and play “Trance” from the new album; I think that one could be pretty tricky!

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Amy and Joe live

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On the band bio it says that you worked a lot on your singing. Could you elaborate on that?

AMY: I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer; I’ve always been a bassist first and a singer by default. What’s funny about that is I’ve had a lot of vocal training and zero bass training. My vocal background, though, is more choral and technical, and I have come to realize that that has hindered me as a pop/rock singer. Until recently, I always focused on the technical aspects as I was singing: pitch, vibrato, tone, breath support, etc. I knew I was singing “correctly,” and yet I was constantly criticized for the way I sing, and I found it very frustrating.

I have a fantastic vocal coach out of Boston who explained that when it comes time to record or perform, all those technical nuances need to happen automatically, without thought; the focus needs to be on the meaning of the words, the intention of the song; little mistakes or imperfections are important clues to the listener that the singing is genuine and heart-felt. As self-evident as that may seem, it was a big revelation to me. So when I say I worked on my singing, in some ways, I worked at not working on my singing. As I was recording the vocals for Garden of Whatever I tried to let go of years of constant scrutinizing and analyzing and just put everything into the emotion of the lyric. Listening back, I’m really happy with my progress and am looking forward to continuing to improve that aspect of my musicality.

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On your website, you only list two influences: Rush and Duran Duran. I have a hard time believing there’s only two! Care to share a few more of your influences?

JOE: I have a background of listening to some proggy stuff, metal and some punk. Amy listened to lots of heavy rhythmic pop, alternative / underground and punk. The first summer we were dating, Amy took me to see DOA and I took her to see Iron Maiden. We had a blast at both shows, and became mutual fans immediately. We still rip into “Killers” by Iron Maiden once in a while in the studio. Our latest mutual influence would definitely be Mastodon, with their amazing combination of heavy and melodic. Their new album The Hunter has great harmonies and the coolest grooves. When we put those influences together we get Clatter.

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On your latest album, I’ve noticed more vocal and bass overdubs, and perhaps for the first time some additional sounds beyond those made by bass, drums, or voice. The songs “Strawberry Park,” “At the Gates of…” and “Trance” come to mind, among others. How did these come about, and how do you plan on recreating that live?

AMY: As far as vocal harmonies go, I probably did as much on this album as on the other two; I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to layering harmonies! The extra vocal parts are the one thing that we fly in for our live performances, since Joe doesn’t sing and probably wouldn’t want to tackle something in my range anyway. Since we play to a click track live, we’re able to trigger anything we want, but most of the time it’s just background vocals.

There are only three songs that had bass overdubs: the little ska-like bit at the beginning and middle of “Tree of Secrets”; the outro in “Glowing”; and the middle and end of “Downstream”.  If we were to play “Tree of Secrets” or “Glowing” live, I’d just not worry about recreating those additional parts. The extra parts on “Downstream” were actually written with the looper in mind so that I could play one phrase, loop it, then play the other phrases over the top. The rest of the bass on the album was recorded as one take. If given half a chance, I would go crazy in the recording process layering all manner of bass parts on the songs, but my goal has always been to only record what I could recreate live.

JOE: The songsStrawberry Park,” Powerful” andTrance” all feature melodic parts played on my Roland SPD 20 Electronic Percussion Pad. I’d been messing around attempting to play melody lines on the percussion pad while also playing a drum beat on the acoustic set, and these song ideas just started popping out. I wrote the gist of those parts spontaneously as I was banging around on my drums. I run the signal through a Boss Distortion pedal to give the parts some bite. Sonically it reminds me of what Keane do with their electric piano.

I recorded the electronic parts for “Powerful” and “Trance” live with the drum set. For “Strawberry Park,”  I recorded the drum set first, then layered the electronics as an overdub. Ironically, Strawberry Park”  is the only one of those song we’ve played live so far. It’s actually very natural to play, with the exception of the first half of the bridge, which took me weeks to get together. It was a fun challenge! Plus, it’s cool to play the bass part on parts of Powerful,”  while Amy plays chords on one of her Waterstone twelve-string basses.

“At The Gates Of…” features one of our mixers, Rich Veltrop, playing a Roland SH-101. I thought it would be fun to have some kind of vintage synth sounds on that song, kind of an homage to 70’s prog music, and Rich went nuts with it. I sent him a breakdown of the song sections, as I see them, and he did a fantastic job of interpretation. I think it came out perfectly.

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Amy2

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The song “At the Gates of…” is an instrumental. Would you ever do an entirely instrumental album?

JOE: I could see us doing another instrumental song just for fun, but not a whole album. I really enjoy writing lyrics, and am always eager to hear what Amy will come up with next for her lyrics. She has such a great style of writing- it’s so picturesque. Even if we ran out of lyrics, I’d still want to hear Amy “Ooh” and “Ahh” over the music.

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Joe, I noticed that on the new album you’re credited with electronic percussion for the first time. Could you elaborate?

JOE: Well, that’s a good question. I’ve played electronic and acoustic percussion on all three albums and the live DVD, Blinded in Boonville, but I don’t know why I decided to list it differently this time. The other albums say just “percussion,” so I figured that was all-encompassing.

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Do you ever jam with other people just for fun, such as going to open blues jams or the like?

AMY: I’m just not a jamming type of player, unfortunately. I don’t have the versatility or training on bass to improvise or wing it when playing with other people spontaneously, and I never really learned more than a couple really obscure cover songs. I have a good ear so can pick things up pretty quickly if need be, but I don’t think I would have much to add to an open jam.

JOE: I used to love jamming, and would get together with anyone I could. I also spent hours jamming with different guitarists from bands I was in over the years. Just two guys playing non stop, one idea melding into the next. Looking back, I think that was due to a mutual need to break out of the confines of our defined roles in those bands. As for blues jams, I’ve only played at one. I got on stage with a bass player friend, and we sat in with a keyboardist, a vocalist, and five or six guitar players: yes, they all did solos. I never went back…

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Joe and Amy

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Do you see yourselves ever participating in other projects, perhaps with more conventional instrumentation, whether together or separately?

AMY: I enjoy working with other musicians from time to time and have contributed bass tracks to friends’ projects, which was fun. I recorded a vocal album of traditional Christmas carols with my mom and sister several years ago and would enjoy doing something similar with them again. I even performed in a locally written and produced musical, including out-of-town shows. Even though the internet facilitates musical collaborations to some extent, the fact that we live so far from anywhere makes it difficult for us to explore other musical projects. The advantage to that, of course, is that it forces us to be more creative and try new things with just the two of us.

JOE: At the moment that is an area I’m considering with a very long pole. The idea of playing with other people isn’t really all that appealing, as I get to express myself without restraint in Clatter. There are no rules and anything goes. That being said, if a situation presented itself that would be a fun challenge (and offer another revenue stream) I would consider it.

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My most important question of all is this: Vinyl, CDs, or downloads?

AMY: Definitely downloads. I always enjoyed the photos and artwork on vinyl albums in my youth, but now I appreciate the portability and accessibility of a digital music library. Any lack of fidelity in the digital realm is lost on me anyway because I tend to listen to music in noisy environments, especially the car. And physical copies just occupy so much space and require storage!

JOE: Definitely downloads. I’d just as soon download music – with proper compensation to the artist – than have to mess with a disc. We sold our entire collection of CDs a few year ago, because once we loaded the music into our computer library we just didn’t use the discs. Well, I couldn’t part with my Judas Priest Painkiller CD, but that’s a completely different deal.

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P.S.  I want to thank Amy and Joe for inspiring me in pursuing a similar path.  When I started writing songs in 2009, the idea of a guitar-less line-up crossed my mind, but I was a bit hesitant.  After all, my songs are more in the heavy metal realm, which is even more guitar-driven.  But when I heard Clatter, the sky opened up. Their bravery and originality emboldened me, and I haven’t looked back.

Clatter Garden of Whatever

Clatter on the web:

Band website:  Clatter.com

Facebook:  CLICK HERE

Twitter: CLICK HERE

Bandcamp: CLICK HERE

Forget Not The Bass: Cygnus Establishes a Strong Presence in Ne Obliviscaris

Posted in Bass players, International, Interviews with tags , , on January 20, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Every so often (but less and less frequently as time goes by), I come across music that is truly Earth-shattering. Music  so unique, so powerful, so brilliant that as I listen, I feel like time has stopped, and I have entered another dimension. This happened recently when I discovered a band from Australia called Ne Obliviscaris.

Formed in 2003, Ne Obliviscaris (Latin for “lest we forget” or “forget not”)  incorporates influences as varied as death and black metal, flamenco, and jazz.  Their line-up includes the dual guitars of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret,  the harsh vocals of Xenoyr, and the dynamic drumming of Dan Presland – all elements which are the bread and butter of extreme metal. But it also includes the clean vocals and violin playing of Tim Charles, and the endlessly creative bass lines of  Cygnus, Brendan Brown.

It would be easy for the average bassist to become a mere footnote in a band like this. The sheer intensity and complexity of the music, and the strong musical personalities involved  turn the idea of  fulfilling the bass role convincingly into an overwhelming proposition.  To say that Cygnus more than holds his own in such a challenging setting would be a huge understatement. Instead of laying back and playing basic root notes to anchor the swirling kaleidoscopes of sound, he jumps right in, delivering nuanced, elaborate  lines that are so well-crafted that they could almost stand as musical works of their own.

I haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing Ne Obliviscaris live, as they haven’t toured in the United States yet.   Perhaps if more people over here become fans and supporters, we’ll be fortunate enough to receive a visit from them. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the interview, and more importantly,  their music.

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Cygnus 4

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 It’s no secret that your real name is Brendan Brown. Where did the moniker of Cygnus come from and why?

When Ne Obliviscaris were flourishing, we were young and adventurous and there was a point in time we decided we should have stage names such as bands we aspired to like Dimmu Borgir (Shagrath, Vortex etc.)  I chose the name Cygnus from an Alarum song (amazing jazz-metal band from Australia).  A dear friend of mine who is the ex-guitarist in the band wrote a song on their Eventuality record called Cygnus X-1. The name seemed fitting for two reasons:  my love for astronomy and cosmology and that it is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  NeO dropped the use of using stage names shortly thereafter, but I kept mine as a musical alias, as I wish to release my own bass solo music and simply label it Cygnus.

 Guitarist Matt Klavins said this about you in an interview: “Brendan had once told me that he used to play simple bass lines and then one day everything just clicked and he understood the bass.” Can you elaborate on that? 

Well, music is all patterns. I don’t know a great deal of theory, just some basic principles:  Minor and major arpeggios and scales. The compositions in NeO are very chordal based.  So if the guitarist is playing an E minor chord (which we often do) I realized that I can play the entire E minor scale over that chord and anything I construct will work musically. It’s when I came to that simple realization that a fundamental group of notes can be used to create a pleasant melody over the most basic of chords. Music then became so much easier to express. So a lot of my bass lines incorporate scale runs, high melodies (above the 12th fret) and lots of octave funk/groove work. I always wanted to be a drummer but my mum wouldn’t allow that because of the noise, so she bought me my first bass when I was 14. The rest is history and finger callouses.

The music of Ne Obliviscaris seems to be orchestrated to the last note. Am I correct, or is there any wiggle room on live shows for any of you to alter your parts at least slightly?

The only people in Neo that improvise ever so slightly would be myself and Dan our drummer. Obviously it’s impossible to hit every single cymbal the same way it was hit on the recording (there were more cymbals and extra toms on the album as Dan put everything he had to make up a mammoth kit in the studio.) I would not improvise a whole new bass line, but maybe add certain accents or certain styles of playing. For example if I am feeling aggressive on stage I might slap/pop some of the notes to accentuate them where as I did not do that exact technique on the album. I think little tiny things like that work well live. When you are a vocalist you can’t just change lyrics or vocal patterns because everyone will notice! I minimally change specific parts to enhance the music to cut through or just reflect the way I am feeling on stage, most people would not notice. I think it was only once my bass student said after a show “you did some cool runs on the end of that riff.”

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NeO Band

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 The band’s bio says you incorporate influences “from progressive to black, thrash, death and melodic metal, and even western art music, jazz and flamenco.”  Can you name any specific artists that stand out for you and your bandmates as important influences?

We all have very different musical backgrounds, but we all clearly share a love for extreme Metal! There is no argument there. Tim [violin/clean vocals]  has a strict classical upbringing,  but he listens to absolutely everything. He is probably the most open-minded out of all of us. He even appreciates some pop, which is something the other guys don’t feel so strongly about! Xenoyr [harsh vocals]  listens to predominately black metal and I grew up with a brutal death metal background. My heart lies with death metal, I listen to it every day. I love all styles of music; as long as it conveys emotion I will like it.
I can tell in 30 seconds if I like a band or not. I love nonmetal bands such as Sigur Ros, Lamb, Bjork, Aesop Rock, The Gregorian Brothers and Portishead. The list is endless. I know Benji [guitar] has a strong love for flamenco and traditional Gypsy music and bands such as Death and Psycroptic. All these elements and influences are absorbed into the entity that is Ne Obliviscaris. Bands that have influenced us would be Opeth, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon, and Disillusion to name a few, but our music collections are quite extensive.

Clearly, the band’s music transcends the standard structures of verse/chorus/bridge. Where did the impulse to write such expansive musical pieces come from, and what is the songwriting process like?

It can be challenging at times. We don’t intend to write such lengthy songs,  but once we all have our input the musical journey always seems to be around 10 minutes in length. Often a member will come up with some riffs or bulk of a song in their own time and bring it into the rehearsal room and we all jam it out and discuss repetitions, solos, who takes turns,  whether the vibe feels like harsh vocals or clean vocals or even both! It’s a long process most of the time because there are six entities that all have different opinions and may not all agree on the same thing. There have been times where five members loved a part but one did not, we don’t take majority vote, so the part was changed until all six members are happy. It always works out for the best in the end. We transcribe our songs in Guitar Pro so they are easy for each member to learn and add their parts. I find it a useful tool to create interesting bass lines because I have a terrible memory and I need to write down everything. If something isn’t working I can simply delete and start again. Most of my bass lines come from spontaneity and just playing in the moment. There are infinite possibilities. You have to tap into the right one. Let your heart guide you, and write it down as you’re going.

 On a band with two guitars, two voices, a violin, and a drummer playing such complex compositions, most would expect the bassist to play very simple parts, yet that’s not the case in Ne Obliviscaris.   On the quieter passages, you’re playing a very contrapuntal role, but even on most of the heavier passages, you often do not mimic the guitars, but rather remain in that contrapuntal mindset. In my opinion, the fact that you don’t “dumb it down” when the music gets really heavy gives the somewhat abrupt changes continuity. What are your thoughts on this, and how did that approach come about?

I guess it’s just my style.  I may have a bad memory but I have a chaotic mind! I like busy complex things. My mind is always racing and everything I do in life has some form of complexity about it. When I first picked up the bass all I did was play as fast as I could. It was sloppy, it was chromatic, I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to make fast, aggressive music. So I did that for years. Over time,  I became more mature and my active mind started slowing down and I began to understand melody and holding back on the bass. I am self-taught and I learned some basic theory, minor and major scales and arpeggios. It opened up a massive doorway. I have always played in death bands where I just follow the guitars note for note. NeO allows me to explore the bass and I love it. Playing with NeO is the best feeling on Earth, and I love how challenging each song can be.

 The band goes from the quietest whispers to aggressive blast beats, which are used rather often in your songs.  Who in the band is the most into extreme metal, or do you all have relatively similar influences?

We all listen to similar bands and are very open minded individuals but we all have genres which we learn towards more. I for one have a huge passion for brutal death metal, where as our vocalist Xen leans towards raw black metal. But we all listen to similar bands such as Cynic, Emperor, Katatonia, and Opeth – the list goes on. We regularly show each other bands we have discovered. A band some of the guys are into lately is called Thank You Scientist. They are far from metal. They can be described as technical groovy funk. They also have a violinist and are phenomenal players. I can’t get enough!

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Cygnus 2

  Describe your gear, and please elaborate on your preference for headless bass guitars.

At the moment I use the Eden Navigator WP100 World Tour Class Bass Preamp, Matrix 800 Power amp, Fractal Axe FX Ultra guitar Preamp, Furman PL-8CE Power Conditioner all inside one rack (so I don’t have a separate unit for guitar and bass, I keep it all together for convenience.)  I run it through an Eden XST 4OHM cab for bass or a Mesa 4×12 cab for guitar.

I prefer headless instruments. I like the visual aspect of it. I feel it gives you a creative edge and something to be remembered by. I could not tell you the amount of times I hear people say “Oh you’re that guy that plays the headless bass.”  I was first introduced to Steinberger guitars by  Alarum guitarist Mark Evans. Not only is he one of the best guitarists in Australia, but having this guitar just made him rise above the rest. It was something I could not get out of my mind since I was 16 and first saw them perform their incredible metal-jazz fusion. I bought a Steinberger bass and recorded the demo and album with that. Now I use a custom made Status m2 headless mahogany bass with gold hardware and a graphite neck.  It’s my dream instrument and I could not play any other bass. I have 9 guitars and basses of different varieties. Two 8 string Agile guitars and a 5 string custom Belman fretless bass to name a few.

 I hear you doing chords sometimes, and tapping. How do you pick your spots? Do you gravitate towards certain chord shapes or voicings?

That would all come from the heart. A good musician must know when to not overplay. When I am shown a riff I learn the root notes to get my positioning on the fret board and from there I hear piano-like melodies that enhance the melodies that are already present. I just play these lines on the bass, if there is something that isn’t working we will communicate it, but it is rare as we all trust each other’s judgment. Obviously I would not do a bass solo under a violin solo, so I will hold back and keep it direct and interesting until the time is right. Generally I find bassists that play very simple bass lines are just musicians that aren’t very skilled or creative. It’s not that the part always requires one simple long drawn out root note; it’s that they can’t think of anything else to play or they’re just following the basic root of the guitar chord which does not enhance the music at all.  It’s a shame because there is unlimited potential there and I don’t believe the bass is there to be a simple backseat instrument. In old Funk and R&B music the bass often takes the forefront with quite complex, chromatic walking bass lines, dead notes and running arpeggios and extremely interesting pulses. I draw a lot of inspiration from those players even though I don’t necessarily like those genres.  I believe that the best use of bass I have ever heard is Spiral Architect’s A Sceptic’s Universe, and Cynic’s  Focus. They are by far my biggest inspirations and still to this day I cannot understand how they came up with those bass lines. They inspire me daily and forever will.

 On one of the videos in which you appear doing bass tracks at the studio, your bass is shown to have a curious pin attached to the strap. It’s a guitar pick crossed out, as if to say ‘No picks allowed.’ Is that just purely in jest, or do you in fact feel very strongly against using a pick to play bass?

I got that badge when I bought an Ebow (an electronic sustain device).  I don’t play with a pick and never will, I am against picks on bass. In my opinion if you play with a pick because you like the “sound it creates” – well, you can use your fingers to sound like a plectrum by angling your nails onto the string. People who play bass with plectrums are guitarists in my eyes, or just plain lazy. Every bass player I look up to plays with their fingers. Although an honorable mention would be my friend Cameron Grant from Psycroptic. He plays with a plectrum but I respect him because he keeps up with their guitarist Joe with some of most blistering fast and complex guitar riffs I have ever seen.  So I forgive him. (Laughs)

 On an interview with vocalist Xenoyr he mentioned that the band changed drummers at one point (from Dan Presland to Nelson Barnes), then went back to Dan.   How was that transition for you, and are there any noticeable differences in their styles?

The band was on hiatus for almost 2 years, with [guitarist] Benji’s Visa problems and personal issues in the band, money, and loss of loved ones etc.  It was a very tough time for all and Dan is someone who has a huge drive and must keep busy whether it be drumming or working. He lost interest in the band because it seemed we were going nowhere and he decided it would be best to step aside and focus on other things. It was very hard to deal with as we believe he is one of the best metal drummers out there, and there is a big shortage of phenomenal drummers. Our dear friend Nelson put his hand up to try out and claim the throne. He did a fantastic job. He really understands the drum kit. He learned the entire album in a couple of months. However, Australia is a very big place and Nelson had to fly down from Brisbane to Melbourne for every rehearsal and gig. It was just not a viable option, but it was the only option we had and did not want to delay the release of the album as we had already been waiting two years. We toured Australia for the Portal of I  album launch and went back to our jobs. We discussed the future of the band, if this is a long term commitment or if it would be best to part ways with Nelson due to the distance between states. NeO need to rehearse weekly to write such intricate music and there was no way we could fly Nelson down weekly,  or even fortnightly at best so we approached Dan again. We informed him that the band was back up and running and we have been touring and playing in front of large audiences and his interest was ignited.  Dan is now a permanent member of NeO again and we could not be happier as he is family to us and so easy to work with. He is the human metronome. As for Nelson, he is busy with his own band The Schoenberg Automaton and they have just released their debut album Vela. It will put Australia on the map because it is absolutely groundbreaking technical metal. They will be huge!

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You mentioned earlier that you intended to do a solo project. Can you please elaborate on that, and if you’re involved in any other projects outside Ne Obliviscaris?

I am in a few projects. There was a point in time I was in 3 full-time bands at once: Aphotic Dawn, Primordial Space and NeO. Aphotic Dawn is no longer around, they also featured Dan Presland on drums. We supported Morbid Angel and Kataklysm but did not release anything. I stepped aside from Primordial Space to focus more on NeO and my other projects. It was a hard decision because I love that band so much and have been part of it for 6 years. We rehearsed regularly but did not get anywhere – just a handful of gigs, no official releases. The band is still together and features Benji from Neo on lead guitar.

As of now NeO is my main focus and always will be. I play in a band called Vipassi with Dan on drums, and Ben from A Million Dead Birds Laughing on guitar. He is an absolute genius, and although the band is moving very slowly, once it hits the live circuit I think people will be quite surprised. It’s definitely the most challenging work I have been involved in. It can be described as a mix of Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Gorguts.

And lastly,  I have been working on a solo death metal project called Infinite Density for the last 4 years. I have 22 songs and have been recording them at home over and over,  getting better at producing,  but I am a finally at a stage where I am happy with my guitar playing and producing abilities and will release a demo/EP containing 8 tracks this year.  So keep an eye out and follow me at www.facebook.com/infinitedensity.

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Check out Ne Obliviscaris on the web:

https://www.facebook.com/NeObliviscarisBand

https://twitter.com/NeObliviscaris_

Larger Than The Sum of Its Parts: The Multi-Faceted Artistry of Christie Lenee

Posted in Interviews, Singing Guitarists with tags , on January 15, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Christie Lenee’s musical self is like a prism.  We’ve all seen that glass triangle (think of the cover art on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon  album)  which transforms a white beam of light into a rainbow of colors. Of course, we’re dealing with a rainbow of sounds here. When you experience her live show, or listen to several of her recordings, you are in for a colorful ride. But all the different  elements you’re hearing come from a single source: Her unwavering commitment to baring her soul with the aim of bringing joy to others. Whether that takes the form of a classically-inspired solo guitar piece, or a danceable tune with uplifting lyrics, what you’re witnessing is simply different hues of the same bright light that comes from her soul as it passes through her musical prism.

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Christie Lenee is a 27-year-old guitarist, singer and composer from Tampa, Florida who moved to Philadelphia a few years ago. By age four she was receiving performance coaching, but later on, a few musical epiphanies shaped her artistic path.

I had the pleasure of witnessing a performance at an outdoor courtyard by Lenee and her band, in which the weather seemed determined to ruin the proceedings. But Ms. Lenee and her band soldiered on, moving all their gear to another spot, while the heavy rain threatened to cause irreparable damage to it. You wouldn’t have known that by watching the performance that ensued, though. Neither Ms. Lenee nor her bandmates showed any signs of distress or disappointment. They played with the same positive attitude they had when the skies were clear. I don’t think there’s anything that could make Ms. Lenee hit a sour note.

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Who inspired you to become a musician?

I heard an incredible guitar composition called “Sunburst” by Andrew York in my freshman year of high school and experienced a transforming moment.  Hearing this composition brought about a profound emotional experience that struck a chord in my soul. I exploded with tears and knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do.  Right after the show I ran to John Michael Parris, the guitar teacher at Blake High School.  I told him that I had to play and dedicate my life to music.  And I have.

Were you already into classical guitar music, or was that piece more or less your introduction to that field?

I grew up listening to classical music- Bach, Beethoven, etc.  Though, this was my first introduction to modern classical guitar.  It certainly opened up a new world of possibilities.

Who or what was your inspiration for your “unorthodox” techniques on the guitar?

Michael Pukac, one of  my favorite painters today, hired me to compose a piece for a multi-media project.  I had already started composing the piece, then saw Sean Frenette perform Bach inventions on a three-string guitar using all finger tapping.  I was so inspired by this two-handed technique that this sound ended up permeating my composition for Michael Pukac.  So, Sean Frenette was the first musician I heard use those techniques. Many others have since inspired new ways of using this sound, such as Andrew Gorny, Michael Hedges, and Kaki King.

Hearing Andrew Gorny was when I got inspired to tune my guitar to a low C. It quickly led me to start writing my piece “Evolution” which is about 17 minutes long.

You mentioned bassist Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson on one of your websites. I see some parallels between his work and yours. Another one that comes to mind is Michael Manring.  Were you influenced by them?

Oh, definitely. Victor Wooten is one of my favorite musicians. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is my favorite band, along with the Dave Matthews band. It’s music at another level. I learned a lot listening to them, and I definitely see my instrumental music going in that direction.

 There’s very few proper record stores left.  But, if a store like Borders had ever stocked your music, what section would it be filed under?

That’s a really good question. I’d say my instrumental music would fall somewhere between New Age and Folk. It’s hard to categorize.  For my full-band music, I’d say rock. Or “acoustic rock” if they had it.

Your piece “Evolution” has three movements, which is a concept usually associated with symphonic music. Do you expect the piece to be taken as a classical guitar composition?

Absolutely. It can be interpreted as a modern classical piece. I intend to orchestrate it, and have it performed as a symphony.

As far as the line-up in your band is concerned, would you rather stick with a steady group, changing members only if you have to, or do you prefer playing with different people intentionally to keep it fresh?

Good question. Since I travel a lot, I end up doing a lot more solo stuff than band stuff.

Every musician adds their own little touches to the music, and that kind of keeps it fresh.  I am fascinated by what different people bring to the table. But, at some point I’d like to have a more consistent band.

 What qualities do you look for in your musical partners?

I look for people that are dedicated to their instrument and craft- people who have character to their musical voice and can react in a live setting.  I choose musicians who are enjoyable to work with, will spend individual time with the music, and bring a good vibe to the band setting.

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How often do you play solo shows versus with a full band, or is it always a mixture of the two on every show?

In my effort to tour frequently, I do my best to balance solo and full band shows- more solo on the road, and “special event” band shows in Philly and Tampa.  As of now, it’s probably about 75% solo and 25% band. Playing with a band and performing in various acoustic settings keeps things fresh and exciting.  Every show is an experience!

Do you ever perform music by other artists, or is it all original?

My original music is the main source and focus. Of course, I certainly enjoy arranging new versions of popular songs- especially for tribute events, etc.  Learning covers is always interesting when the artist puts a fresh spin to it.  Likewise, I sometimes do it just for fun.

 When you and your bandmates go into solos, I get the feeling that those sections are not entirely pre-planned. How much of it is improvisational?

Certain songs have composed chord progressions and rhythm hits in which a lead instrument (most often a guitar or keyboard) will improvise over it within the structure of the section. For the most part the songs are composed and arranged, but these moments are when the band can let loose a little more.

When working up a song with the band, do you basically tell everyone what to play,  or is it more of a give-and-take?

I always have a vision for the song and do my best to translate it to the musicians. For band arrangements it’s nice to get specific with notated melodies and rhythm parts, but at the least there is usually a chord chart laying out the structure of the tune.

I usually start by recording an acoustic demo of the song, then emailing the band a document explaining the form, vibe and feel I’m hearing on each instrument. At rehearsals I’m known to sing drum parts, bass lines, melodies, and tap out ideas on the keyboard.  Then I allow the musicians to put in their perspectives and see how it feels- add, subtract, experiment.  We’ll rehearse a song until it best fits the initial vision, though of course sometimes it goes beyond what I ever it imagined it could be.  Feeling a composition expand that way is an incredible feeling.

 You play expansive solo guitar compositions, you also play with a full band in which your sound moves into a more familiar rock/funk/folkish pop territory.  I also read you’ve written choral compositions.  To what do you attribute such varied interests? Do you prefer wearing any of those hats more than the other?

I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other, because I feel they’re all integrated. I go through phases in which I focus more on writing instrumentals, and then more on vocal songs, and so on.

What I find really inspiring is composing something that I have a vision for, and then going into the studio and seeing it come to life.

Your online bios indicate that you want to project positivity with your music.  Do you ever see yourself writing an angry song to vent your frustration at some situation or person? We all get frustrated or angry at least once in a while!

A lot of people ask me that. They want to hear that side of me. But music has been a force of transformation in my life, it has been my saving grace. So, whenever I’m feeling upset or whatnot, and I go and play, it comes out more expressive than angry. It’s my way of letting go of it.  That’s why a lot of my lyrics are about moving on, growth, and overcoming obstacles.

Do you ever get any flak for being a female musician? The old  “you play good for a girl” or anything of the sort?

Yeah. When people say stuff like that, I chuckle. I usually say, “There’s a lot of great female artists out there you should check out.”  But people are going to think what they think.

Did you ever take vocal lessons, or do vocal warm-ups before recordings or shows?

When I started performing on guitar,  singing was a sort of secondary thing.  I did have some vocal coaching throughout my childhood in performance and theatre groups. However, that was certainly a different school of thought.  Once I transferred my career focus from acting to guitar, singing and theatre got put on the back burner.  It took years to bring it back and develop it into something that went together.  In fact, during my first attempts to sing and play simultaneously, many people told me I should just play the guitar and have someone else sing.  At the time that really got under my skin and upset me, but it made me even more determined to practice and improve.  So, I took it with a grain of salt and took the necessary steps- started taking lessons and trying to stretch my voice more. I was not going to let anyone discourage me, especially knowing in my heart that I had the music inside of me. The struggle with any person learning could be getting past the elementary stages, but you can really do anything if you want it bad enough.  Especially if you keep your focus on the big picture.

I am still practicing and expanding every day and will never become complacent. As for the vocals, if you listen to the earlier albums you’ll hear how my voice has evolved.  Being a musician is an incredible journey.

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What are your short and long-term goals?

I plan on getting my own studio in the mountains with a broad array of instruments and top-tier recording gear.  The main goal is to compose and record an abundance of music, tour, and collaborate with multi-media (film, television, art, dance).

In conjunction with that,  I want to inspire people to follow their dreams and travel the world: teach workshops, do community outreach, help charities, and educate people. Anything I can do to bring positivity to the world, I will.

At my first Dave Matthews concert during my senior year of high school, I had another transforming experience.  This was before I started writing music, when my main focus was classical and jazz guitar.  Acoustic music and singer/songwriters were just starting to come into my life… then this took it over the top.  I was front and center at at a beautiful Amphitheater in West Palm Beach.  Dave Matthews looked out into the audience while singing and an expression of radiance was captured by the stage lights. I imagined what it must feel like to write something so beautiful that such a crowd of people would come together to experience it live- such a community, such joy brought to these people through the music.  I felt the most pure essence of happiness and the gift of giving to the point of tears… just as hearing “Sunburst” for the first time.  Dave then looked directly at me: eyes connected, and something happened. Everything I’d done in my entire life came together– guitar, poetry, singing, acting, dancing – it all became one.  It was then it hit me that I wanted to write music. This intense desire came to light and I began exploding with compositions.  Really, it has continued to evolve ever since.

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Christie Lenee on the web:

www.christielenee.com

www.youtube.com/christieleneemusic

www.facebook.com/christielenee

It’s Time For The Good Stuff, aka Lisa Casalino!

Posted in Interviews, Singers with tags , , on January 12, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Lisa Casalino is living proof that dreams do come true. Of course, it takes talent, hard work, and determination.  Since she’s not lacking in any of those areas,  she’s now reaping her well-deserved rewards.

Casalino’s real last name is Hertzner. But, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, because she says it “sounds prettier.” I think most of us can agree with that! Credit also goes to her mother for getting her started in music, as we shall see. Her dad’s amazing music collection also contributed to her love of music.

Lisa Casalino is a New York native who moved to Florida in 1995, having earned a music education degree from the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. She took a teaching job at a brand new high school in Florida, in which she developed a music program. Years later she took up real estate. Of course, through all this she was also performing as a singer.

Eventually, she decided to give singing full-time a shot. She thanks Tampa for giving her opportunities when all she had was a business card and a smile. The last couple of years have seen the talented singer realizing her dream. She released a Christmas single, but most importantly, she released a full-length album.  Introducing Lisa Casalino includes nine jazz standards and three original songs, also in the jazz vein.

I met up with the charming Ms. Casalino at Love’s Artifacts Bar & Grill in Tampa, where she performs every Friday. We chatted in between a set of mostly Motown classics, and a set which leaned more heavily towards the material on her album.

Whether doing Jazz, Motown, Country, or even No Doubt songs, you can be certain that with Lisa Casalino, you’re getting the good stuff! 

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I read that your dad was a big fan of doo-wop music, and your mother taught you how to play guitar. Can you elaborate further on your musical upbringing?

My parents were big music fans, and my dad had this huge collection of 45 records. We had a jukebox growing up. My mom played the guitar, and she used to play and sing to us.  She taught me a few things, but I was mostly self-taught. I did take a few months of lessons.

I have a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. I underwent classical vocal training as part of the program.

Which singers did you study the most?

I didn’t really study any singers, per se. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, so singers like Whitney Houston, Cindy Lauper and Madonna were huge influences on me. I also liked Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. I was also into The Go Go’s and The Bangles. I got to meet The Bangles recently. I almost died, “Oh my God, I’m gonna meet The Bangles!”

I recently met Richard Marx, and spoke with him for about an hour. I also met Vince Neil [lead singer of Mötley Crüe] in Paris, just by chance. I thought, “Oh, my God, it’s all coming around!”

Why did you decide to move to Florida in 1995?

There was a brand new high school [Durant High School, in Plant City], and there were no new schools in New York. It was all sort of “established.”  So, that was a factor, and the warmer weather.

You made a studio recording years ago, and you have said you weren’t satisfied with the results. What kind of music was it, and why exactly weren’t you satisfied with it?

I was doing original songs. It was supposed to be contemporary, it wasn’t really jazz. It was pop, I’d say. Some of it was kind of country, actually. I kind of had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like, but otherwise I had no idea of what was going on. So this producer I was working with did a lot of it without my input. But, since I had paid him a lot of money up front, I let him finish it. But I wasn’t really proud of the way it came out, I didn’t want to share that with the world. I may revisit those songs eventually, though.

Do you do vocal warm-ups before a performance?

I used to, but I’ve gotten a bit into bad habits. When I’m not singing, I like to rest my voice as much as possible. Instead of doing warm-ups before the show, I start with songs that don’t push my range to its limits, so they sort of serve as warm-ups.

How did you go about selecting the songs for your album?

I collaborated with [guitarist] Nate Najar, and he co-wrote three of the songs with me. We picked out a bunch of songs that he liked, and that I liked. We just kept going through those, trying to figure out a good mix of songs.

We didn’t want to do anything that was too overdone. The type of signature songs that people recognize an artist for. Songs such as “At Last” by Etta James, or “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” which brings to mind Judy Garland, etc. We wanted to steer clear of those.

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The album harkens back to the classic jazz vocal albums of the 50’s, but with a certain energy that’s all your own. Was it all recorded live in the studio like in the old days, or were the instruments and vocals recorded separately?

It was all live. The only song I added vocals separately to was “Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea,” because I showed up an hour late, and the band had already recorded it. Everything else was recorded with all of us playing together, and with hardly any  ‘punches’ [the practice of going back and fixing just one spot of a performance after the fact.] The track “I Get Along Without You Very Well” was one take.

We never even rehearsed. We just had guidelines for the original tunes. Nate just told everyone basically what we were going for, and we just did it. It was amazing.

Are there any plans to release another album in the future? And if so, is it going to be in the same vein as the first, or should we expect some detours?

Yes, but I don’t know when. I’m still trying to sell this one! I’ve sold over a thousand copies, and it’s been played on the radio, all over the world, which is great.

I’m going to do more originals on the next one. I need to get with Nate on that, because we write together. I wrote a Christmas song on my own, though.  So, I’ll probably do more of those jazz tunes. However, I’ve been writing some stuff for specific reasons, and it’s not jazz at all. They’re more country, actually. I know you don’t like country, but you might like my songs!

Alright! [laugh]

I don’t know that I’m going to do actual albums, though. I did the Christmas song as a single, and singles work good, too.

You mentioned adding more originals to your next recordings. Do you foresee adding a significant number of originals to your repertoire?

Yes. On the first album, there’s three originals and nine standards. On the next one, I’d like it to be closer to half and half. And then eventually move my way into a completely original album.

Which is very brave, especially in Jazz.

It is, but I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the original tunes, and they’re basically my favorites.

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Do you think the general public is really open to fully embracing new, original compositions?

Well, not the mainstream public. If you’re not a jazz person, you can appreciate it for what it is, but you might not get much into it. My mom is not that big into Jazz, for example. She likes the other stuff that I do more. Don’t get me wrong, she’s proud of me and supports me, but it’s just not her style of music.

But, I think for me, it’s about where my voice fits best. You gotta play to your strengths, and I do like Jazz. Some of what I sing is Jazz, and some of what I sing is from The Great American Songbook – standards. But, people basically lump them together, because it’s old school.

Is there anything on your music collection that would completely surprise your fans?

I love A Tribe Called Quest. [laughs] I listen to all kinds of music. Like I said, I grew up in the 80’s-90’s, so when I was in college I was really into hip-hop and rap.  Back in middle school, I was into Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi…all those guys. I love Pink. I’m even going to go see her in concert. I like the Beastie Boys…I don’t stick to just one type of music.

Now, I like to listen to Broadway music, or acoustic music as well.

What are your long-term goals?

It’s funny, because you wonder at the beginning of the year, “Where am I going? What’s important?” I feel like I may be the 12 or 15 year “overnight success.” Things are starting to happen, I’m starting to branch out more. I want to do bigger shows, concert-type settings.

My long-term goal would be to reach the level of a Michael Bublé, or Diana Krall. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get from here to there. I’m just going to keep singing, and doing what I do. I’m not really a person who has an agenda, I just do what comes naturally. So far, it’s been working for me. It’s not always about the destination, but about the journey.

Three years ago I was teaching, selling real estate, and singing. I was doing three full-time jobs. And for over two years now, music is all I’ve been doing. It’s going well enough that I’ve been able to help out other musicians, getting them work.

Any parting thoughts?

Thank you! I think this was really sweet. I appreciate you taking the interest.

Thank you, Ms. Casalino!

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– Check out Lisa Casalino on the web:

On Facebook: Click here.

On Twitter: Click here.

Or her own website: lisacasalino.com

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