The Work of a Musician - Playing or Listening?

"The world is full of people that have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for."  - Joseph Campbell

Doing guitar overdubs with the blue Strat and the Gibson ES-225
The real work of being a musician, or any other creative artist, is deep listening.  Sure, craft is also important.  Craft provides skills and techniques of a mechanical nature.  But regardless of our level of advancement in craft, something else is necessary to produce work of depth.  The only SOUL our work will ever have is what we are able to impart, and without deep listening we have little to share.  

I've noticed something about the musicians and songwriters whose work moves me.  Not all of the musicians have the same level of technical ability on their instrument, not all the songwriters are poets, but the one thing they all share is a depth to their work.  They learned to touch something within that was both personal and universal, and then communicate that through their music.  This is not something that is necessarily respected in the marketplace where style often rules over substance.  A great book or painting or piece of music sometimes requires a degree of attention to appreciate that our current fast-paced lives do not encourage.   That's okay.  The flip side to that coin is that a book, song, poem or performance that has depth can give someone a reason to slow down for a little while and then influence or even change their perspective.

This is some of what I've been thinking about as I continue my current recording project.  I was back at Cloud9 Recording on Monday, Aug 30th to overdub additional guitars on the four songs that were recorded at the last session.  I have a basic philosophy about recording (and performing).  Pay attention to the moment.  Guitar solos are 90% improvised in the studio.  Other parts of arrangements are 100% thought out, but the moment dictates whether or not they will remain, be altered to fit a piece of music that is evolving as it is being recorded, or abandoned altogether.  Allowing the music to negotiate its own path and then following helps create lively, inspired performances.  I like to leave some room for magic.

The Gibson Lucille and a few other guitars ready for playing
This next bit is for guitar players and recording enthusiasts.  I'll talk about the subject matter of the songs when I blog on the vocal recording sessions.

Once again Joe Napoli was at the mixing board and Jack Napoli had selected 2 guitar amps and a few guitars based on a conversation we had a few days earlier.  The amps were set up in the live room while I played my parts in the mixing room.  I prefer this to being in the room with the amp because I can hear the music better via the control room speakers than headphones.  The first song we worked on was "A Rock and a Nail".  I played a Gibson ES-225, and then played a similar part with a Telecaster that had a Strat pickup at the neck.  I like doing this because some sections end up doubled while others will play off each other.  There is a short guitar solo in the middle of the song that I thought I'd end up playing on a Gibson, but while I had the Tele in my hand from the last rhythm take I decided to try a pass at the solo with that guitar.  Whoa - first take had some nice moments and that Tele fit in the track way better than I'd expected.  I did a few passes with a Gibson Lucille, but none had the magic of the Tele solo - so that is one that will end up on the CD.

The second song we worked on was "Brooklyn, 1964".  Again, I wasn't crazy about the tracking rhythm guitar so I did another complete rhythm take on the Tele.  I then played some melody lines that are part of the arrangement on a blue Strat.  The guitar solo was also played on the blue Strat.  I went for a clean guitar sound on this solo - no pedals and we didn't drive the amp too hard.  This is a fun song to solo over.  I did 5 or 6 takes of guitar solo but I think we went with the first or second one - it had the magic.

1950's Fender Deluxe - This amp and a Vibrolux have been sounding great with the Fender & Gibson guitars
Next up was "Nobody's Friend".  This has the most complex musical arrangement of the four.  The verses are rhythmically broken up and syncopated, and then the chorus has a straight rock feel.  To create the sound I wanted I used three separate guitar parts, all played on different guitars through different amps,  that interweave to create the final guitar 'sound'.  The main rhythm guitar is the Les Paul I tracked a few weeks back.  I then played the Telecaster with a very different sound in the spaces of the original guitar part.  The third guitar is a Strat that comes in on the lead-in to the chorus to color that part of the song a different shade.  Once these were complete I played the guitar solo that happens in the middle of the song.  I used the blue Strat again - its sound worked really well with this song.  Played lightly the notes sounded very clean, but if I picked harder they got edgier.

The last song of the day was "Follow the Money".  The Les Paul rhythm track I laid down at the last session was perfect to build on.  I doubled that rhythm track on a Strat just in case we want to thicken the guitar sound for the chorus or create a stereo effect when we mix.  The most straight-forward rock song of the four, it has two lengthy guitar solos.  I wanted to take my time with these try to play something that fit the aggressive tone of the rest of the song.  This was the only song where I used a stomp box for some extra overdrive.  It was fun playing some loud'n'nasty guitar.

The Vibrolux - Used this with a Les Paul for rhythm tracks and with  a Strat for some tracks as well
One last thing I wanted to accomplish was an acoustic guitar on "Brooklyn, 1964".  This required additional set up so we decided to do this last.  I played my Lowden acoustic and was pleased that it fit well with the electric rhythm guitar. I will be back at the studio to record guitar/bass/drums for the next group of songs Monday Sept 6th.  Joe Chirco will be back on the drum stool and Al Improta will be back on bass.  I'll write about that session next week and give you all the updates.  

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