Tone Poet was two years in the making... maybe even longer, but real recording and writing started two years ago. I'd like to take you through each song, share my thoughts on each of them, and give you an idea of what inspired them, how they were written, and what challenges they may have presented. Below is a preview video, giving you samples of each of Tone Poet's 12 tracks.
1. "Resurrectis" - Track 6 ("Luminae") was so much fun to compose and record that I immediately started another classical/choral composition that turned into "Resurrectis". Shorter than "Luminae", I decided this would be the album opener. Something unexpected for some listeners, I'm sure. The last few measures are lush and beautiful and come to an epic crescendo, which sets us up for...
2. "Brick By Brick" - Another track written early on in the project. The riffs, and the arrangement of the demo were intended to be for a vocal song. Believe it or not, as I was writing and recording the rhythm parts for this song, I kept thinking... "what would Reb Beach do?". I like Reb's rhythm playing, and this is my version of some of his heavier style of playing from albums like Pull and IV. The lyrics were my idea, but Mark Boals wrote the majority of them. He'd send me lyrics, I'd send back some re-writes and revisions, then he'd do his final tracking at his home studio, and send me the vocal tracks to dump into my rhythm section tracks. Drums were recorded last, by Charlie Waymire at his studio, Ultimate Rhythm Studios.
3. "When You Fall" - Having a bit of writer's block a couple years ago, I tried to make things interesting by using an open tuning. The open tuning for "When You Fall" is inspired by Devin Townsend, who plays guitars tuned from low to high: C G C G C E. That is what my guitar is tuned to here. Boy, did this work. The song wrote itself in a day or two. Intro, verse, chorus... done. This started out as an instrumental, and somewhere I have "Morning Rain" with lead guitar over the whole track. However, this was a great opportunity to have a vocal ballad, and I asked Mark to include the idea of rain in the lyrics, as the rain and thunder effects were already a part of the arrangement. The unique guitar solo was 16 measures pulled from the original instrumental lead guitar take, and fit really well. The outro features six tracks of Mark's backing vocals, creating a lush background... Again, drums were recorded last by Charlie Waymire.
4. "Flying" - This was the first song written for the album. The main guitar riff, groove, and choral ending was all written as a demo about 4 years ago. At the time I knew this was going to be a vocal track. I refused to record a guitar melody over this, simply because I knew this would be a vocal song, and that vocalist would be Mark Boals. Mark and I worked out the lyrics over a few short days, trading emails, and some demo vocal takes. The most complicated part of the song is the middle guitar solo section. The rhythm of the riff behind the solo is odd, and didn't feel comfortable to play over, as the rhythmic figure comes back in unexpectedly. I ended up combining two solos, that now are heard as these intertwined parts, and it happened to work out well.
5. "Movie In My Mind" - This song was hard to make work. I had 2-3 good parts written, and they seemed to kinda work together, back to back. I wrote the lyrics myself - my first lyrics ever to make it to tape! After Mark tracked his parts, I took liberty to rearrange the song, putting in the piano intro, which is also found in the new middle section break. I rerecorded my rhythm guitar parts, and must have rerecorded the lead guitar parts 6 or 7 times. It wasn't until after the live drum parts were tracked (by Charlie Waymire), and that Philip Bynoe laid down his bass part that it started to really gel. I then tracked what would be the final lead guitar parts you now hear. I think "Movie In My Mind" is a unique song, with interesting production, and a catchy chorus.
6. "Luminae" - This was the first of the three classical pieces, and was exciting to write and record. Somewhat inspired by the classical work of Uli Jon Roth, this pulls inspiration from composers like Arvo Part and Vangelis. As lush and as complicated as it may sound, a great amount of it was done in just 2-3 days. Later on, before mixing, I returned to this piece to really fine tune all the strings, choir, and guitar. I have not heard of anyone else combining electric guitar with this kind of "epic" style choral composition, and I feel like it is really unique.
7. "La Dolce Vita" - Written around the same time as the classical pieces, this takes those elements of choir and strings and puts it to a beat. My thought process here was to alternate between acoustic guitar and electric guitar. The groove was to have a fusiony drum feel, that Todd Sucherman nailed. For me, the song really came together when I added the 2nd electric guitar part (right speaker) that answers the main electric guitar melody. Listen closely during the "choruses" for the very Italian sounding faux-mandolin guitar parts in the background. The most difficult performance of the recording was the middle acoustic guitar/piano double-time unison part. This alternate picked one-note-per-string arpeggio part with a moving melody was near impossible to play in time, and I even retracked this part (again) after the song was mixed! Todd Sucherman really hit this one out of the park - one of my favorite tracks on the album.
8. "Tone Poet" - An all acoustic effort. My attempt at emulating Ukrainian "Bondura", which is a large multi-string instrument kind of like an autoharp meets a dulcimer. Tons of acoustic guitar tracks, doubling each other - both steel string and nylon (I think 4-5 guitars, some in stereo, some recorded in mono). The challenge here was to be able to perform these multi-tracked guitars in time, as the slightest deviation would make such a mess. The background heard underneath the ascending 16th note guitar part is inspired by Arvo Part's Tintinnabuli composition technique, using simple triads, with a rhythmically simple melody played counter to the three individual notes of the triad, but giving no weight to any particular note... How rock and roll, I know?! Again, Todd Sucherman's drums are outstanding here, and really show off a side of his playing that you don't get to hear when he's on the road with Styx. This song's groove felt much stronger after Philip Bynoe tracked his bass parts.
9. "Epoch" - I debated whether or not to include this composition on Tone Poet. There's no guitar! But I felt that it showed another side to me, and is a breakthrough for me in recording quality orchestral music. I thought about trying to track some guitar, but then thought "nahh...". The biggest challenge of this track was getting the various string parts to sound in time, as they tend to drag a bit with a slow attack. I really like the lead melody violin part, which delivers a very emotional performance.
10. "Echoes of El Greco" - This track started out with the simple 16th note rhythm guitar parts against the double bass drums... just messing with programming double bass drums, really. The big electric guitar part is my take on the not nearly asked enough question, "what if John Sykes were to write an instrumental?"...I wanted it to be "Crying in the Rain" - huge, and then schizophrenically switch to a Latin inspired neo-flamenco guitar solo section. This is a high energy, fun track to listen to, and according to Todd, was very taxing to record!
11. "Ur of the Chaldees" - Another track that got its start from Devin Townsend's open guitar tuning, C G C G C E. The song was written starting with the strummed guitar part, then the acoustic guitar melody. Over the coarse of the rest of the composition, it morphs into a middle eastern, world music inspired musical caravan. Layers, and layers of guitar, strings, choir, violin, percussion, and more percussion. The outro trading electric guitar solos are all the same takes from the original demo, they may not be perfect, technically, but they feel good and have the right energy. Not an easy track to mix.
12. "Spring (The Return)" - There are three parts to this song. The intro/verse, the "prechorus" harmony guitars, and the chorus featuring the arpeggiated guitar melody. But as simple as the arrangement is, boy does that chorus melody pay off. This guitar part was me experimenting with a one-note-per-string arpeggio figure with this moving melody line above. The left hand stretch and the right hand picking was a real challenge. So much so that I probably re-tracked this part a couple times, just to make sure the triplet timing was just right. The outro solo is a single take. The benefit of playing guitar more and more on a regular basis is that I find myself liking the first and second takes, and not laboring to "fix" and "punch in" any trouble spots. Listen closely to hear the background soprano vocal harmonies underneath the 2nd chorus and outro solo.
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