I’m always fascinated by the process of making things, and the internal struggles to overcome. One such example is reaching out to other musicians you want to play with.
So a little while back I was having an email conversation with Adam Moore who’s a member here at Electric Campfire. He mentioned he’d been working on a transcription of a Mattias IA Eklundh solo that he’d gotten to contribute to one of his records featuring Chad Wackerman and others.
Er, Hang on…!
Obviously I was super intrigued to hear about recording with those guys, and Mattias’s solo is RIDICULOUS, great composition & playing from Adam, and Chad’s not bad too ;)
So I asked Adam if he’d do a guest post for the site. I thought it’d be super illuminating & inspiring for us to hear about the process involved in reaching out and making this happen: How did he go about getting those guys on board; how did they connect; how did he pitch it? What was involved in the recording process? Pros/cons, lessons learnt, what it brought, what he’d do differently, etc.
I think if you’re on the other side of that, and wanting to do something similar such as make your own record, or book a tour with a special guest musician, (or just reaching out to someone new to come and jam) it can seem like there’s no way on earth they’d be up for it. And it can feel like a huge barrier to to even try to make something like that happen. So I wanted him to share how he did it!
Over to Adam…
In 2015 I released an E.P. of original tunes called Swung By Seraphim. There was one solo guitar improvisation, a really slow song where the melody and harmonies were all sung, and two songs with a big jazz/rock fusion sound and a lot more banging and crashing about. I felt they all had something unique going on, however embryonic, and were worth putting out there. I’d previously made lots of music, mostly rock and folky rock, where I played, sung or programmed all the parts. These were great experiences and I cherish lots of it, but the guitar parts where the only really advanced element and everything else was a bit underdeveloped.
So for this project I wanted to get more people involved and it’s this experience that Mike has asked me to talk about, as it ended up involving some pretty heavy hitters. I’m not a very pushy person, so if I can do this so can you.
I’d made a demo called The Theatre Garden on which I played everything and was pretty pleased with it, so I tackled this first. At the time I was teaching at an F.E. college, playing lots of drums to fill gaps in student bands, so was fairly well practiced and had access to a good-sized studio for demo’ing drums. Here’s the demo:
I tried to play the kit part in the style of Chad Wackerman, as he’s a big hero from Zappa, Vai and Holdsworth records. I did OK and planned to use that performance and just mangle the hell out of it until it sounded convincing. However, I happened upon Chad’s site and saw he offered on-line recording sessions… so I contacted him via email.
Reaching Out to Chad
The essence of my message was ‘Hi Chad, I’m a working guitar playing in England, not famous (obviously) but doing well enough to be making a living as a jobbing player, here’s my website, et cetera. I’ve made this song with you in mind and wondered if you’d be willing to record it?’
A few days later he got back saying he’d be happy to, this was his rate per song (pretty high but still quite a lot less than I’d imagined, a reasonable multiple of what I would charge for a day’s work and such that I wouldn’t have to sell a kidney, or worse a guitar, to fund it). He said he’d be free in a few weeks after some touring and was that OK?
Yes, said I, it very much was OK!
So I sent my demo, stems (all the parts on a few separate stereo tracks) a chart and information for laying out the song in Chad’s audio software. Prior to recording he asked which parts of my performance I particularly wanted to hear replicated and which of the parts in the demo I was likely to keep, as he’d want to play to fit the ones that were staying.
At this point I do remember thinking, ‘blimey, this bloke has taken musical direction from Frank Zappa, I really must try not to come across like a total idiot’. Communicating via email, I think, meant I could work on my responses a bit and not just blurt out ‘whatever you think is best, oh great one’. The bit I was most precious about, oddly, was where everything drops out and the groove turns to the straightest ever, easiest, drumming book one, pattern number one. Chad initially sent a mix for me to consider and then, once I’d signed off on it, a set of multi-tracks.
What arrived back was fantastic, as you can hear, and I set about mixing it with extreme reverence.
Very kindly, he offered me a couple of tickets to whatever show he was doing in the U.K. at the time, which turned out to be Steven Wilson’s tour (Guthrie Govan was on guitar, so that was nice) and I met Chad after the gig. He’s a very sweet guy, quiet and unassuming. We chatted about what he was doing and what I hoped to do with my music. He offered to play on another song if I wanted, which was cool as it meant he didn’t think the first one was awful. I said I had another and that the time signature changed every bar, to which he replied without sarcasm or irony ‘yep, that’s kind of where I live’.
His playing on the second tune, Swung By Seraphim, was equally fantastic and made what I thought was really difficult – if not unplayable – music sound totally natural and musical. And that was that, I had two of my songs played by probably my favourite drummer ever.
Chad was really professional and appeared to take me as seriously as anyone else he worked with. I’m pretty confident that isn’t going to be the case with everyone you ask, but it was great to see someone conduct business like that. Getting him to play on my music was the only part of the project where I messaged someone out of the blue and for whatever reason got a positive response. There are lots of factors – I picked someone who actually offers this service, I was honest about who I am and where I’m at, he had enough free time, etc.
Here’s Swung By Seraphim:
Reaching Out to Mattias
The other ‘name’ I got to play was Mattias IA Eklundh. He’s a fantastic guitar player, totally unique, and the last on the continuum of Satriani and Vai et al to really push my buttons. I’d attended his Freak Guitar Camp in Sweden in 2007 and 2009 and it turns out he’s really loyal to the people who’ve bothered to trek across the world to study guitar with him. I emailed him and said ‘I’ve got this song, Swung By Seraphim, and my solo is dreadful (it really was) [Here’s a clip of the Demo Audio], would he be up for trying it?’
By this point Chad had already done the first tune and agreed to play on this one, and as IA is a massive Zappa fan I don’t think it did me any harm to let him know he’d be playing on a track with Chad. IA was great, agreed straight away and basically said pay me whatever you’ve got. So IA was perhaps an easier call, but still I could have picked a time when he was super busy and couldn’t fit it in or he just hated the song or something. Luckily, he didn’t. What I got back was unbelievably good.
After three years I’ve now transcribed this solo, and it is as bonkers as it sounds, the way he lands such cool phrases over the time changes was so inspiring. Just like Chad, he made what I thought was really difficult music sound natural and musical. I learned from IA is that you can do your own thing on anything. I’ve always felt his melodic sense was on another level and it still came through on a 15/21/15/23 groove.
Here’s a link to a clip of the file I got back from IA playing his solo over MIDI drums, I include it because this is what I then sent to Chad. If you listen to the finished track you can hear that Chad is following IA’s solo. Recording drums after solos and melodies is quite unusual, I wonder what IA would have played if the drums had been recorded first?
Completing the EP
All the other players on the EP were friends, my brother, or players I’ve worked with on gigs over the years. Tiago Coimbra is an awesome bass player who at the time was working with Gavin Harrison I think, but I’d done a wedding gig with him the year before, so that was good enough. Alex Best is an amazing jazz drummer who I’d always heard spoken of in hushed and reverential tones by local players, but I’d just found myself playing in a regular function band with him, so that was easy. He did not need asking twice to share a drumming credit with Chad Wackerman. Matt Hodges is a mate and spectacularly lush piano player. We’ve played lots of jazz together so it wasn’t difficult to recruit him. Serpentine – the track Matt and Alex played on – often gets highlighted by listeners over the others. They were totally the right players for the track.
In doing all this, I got a very powerful sense of what a better, and I do mean better albeit in each case totally different, musician actually is. I came away with something wonderful to aspire to – a form of heart and musical spirit that is not easily quantified. I think, ultimately, this is what I wanted them for. It was a reminder that the riches are there, so keep searching.
It’s also what makes me take one-to-one lessons, you still can’t beat just getting in front of someone who exemplifies where you’re heading. It’s the difference between watching a video of a fire on YouTube and standing next to one. I imagine the experience is a bit like what a pupil feels when they bring you an idea that, to you, seems very simple and you’re able to demonstrate all sorts of variations and developments off the cuff with ease, but to the pupil this is verging on witchcraft, as the idea was at the very limit of their understanding.
My aim wasn’t to populate this recording with any big name I could get hold of in order to gain greater exposure, Chad and IA were the only two people I asked and this because I am genuinely moved by their playing, I feel like this matters for some reason. Once they’d agreed, I got both barrels of each player’s talent and there was no sense of doing a second rate job or cutting corners as it wasn’t for a big project.
Everyone I asked on this project said yes, but I have messaged a few other people at various others points since and got a polite ‘no, afraid I’m too busy’ or just nothing back at all. So it’s not guaranteed. Still, I have a couple more name players that I still plan on reaching out to when a suitable piece of music comes along.
So that’s my little story, I’m now working on a live project that will include some or all of that music plus lots of new things. I’m also transcribing all of my old guitar music, entirely for my own entertainment, but will be releasing the music later this year alongside all the transcriptions and making YouTube performances to go with it. I also make music for Yoga classes and have just finished a second album of that stuff. The rest of the time I teach, examine, play function gigs, theatre shows, big band gigs and a million other working musician things… I love it!
– Adam Moore.
Thanks to Adam for sharing his story here. Hope it inspires you in some way!
To find out more you can visit his website at www.adammooremusic.co.uk