The third snippet from the new album, Progress, called We Danced. Tapping. Hedley Lamarr. John Gotmann marriage counseling. Tom Morello vs Mark Knopfler guitars. Saw. Ferraris. A Clockwork Orange. Masters Of The Universe. Sammy Hagar. Straight head rock in Prog? Tales From Topographic Oceans.
Roger CortonNow this is more like it. Some actual GUITAR PICKIN’, son!
JCHIn the immortal words of Heddy L…
...it’s gotta sound like Mark Knopfler accidentally wandered into a Saw movie. The chords have to hit your face so hard they rush you to the burn ward!
JCHShit. You beat me to the punchline. Well forget that joke. I finally figured out why you’re getting more of a sense of a humor. It’s to cut me off at the pass!
RCYou finally caught on.
JCHLike I tell ya, I’m not as sharp as I used to be!
RCWell let’s try to focus on the song for once and not your failings as a man.
JCHI’ll try, ma. What do you wanna know?
RCWell, first of all, as a guitarist I just have to say those are some slamming tones. The picking is just about too clean considering the distortion. How’d you do that?
JCHWell to begin with, let me stipulate that I am not entirely happy with the guitars right now.
RCLess than one hundred words in and once again Mr. Negative rears his ugly head. I didn’t ask you what is wrong with the guitars, I asked you how you do that?
JCHMan, you’re tough. We’ve been doing this now, what four or five years, right? You used to be so nice. What happened to that guy? Where did we go wrong, Rog?
RCI have to admit, that’s pretty good couples counseling talk.
JCHYa like that? Got my John Gotmann Mac Daddy Vibe workin’ today. But to your question, it’s one of those things where the answer is simple, it just takes forever to do. Which is why I’m so whiny about it.
JCHIt’s not complicated. A distortion pedal, then a gate, then another distortion pedal, then another gate. But you gotta pick and mute really carefully to make it work otherwise the feedback is just insane. I wore ear plugs and even then I couldn’t take the SPLs. I dunno how we’ll do it live. But anyhoo, I got the idea watching Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine).
RCBut it still jangles.
JCHWell that’s the other problem, come to think of it. It’s not standard tuning. So I’ve got open strings to play with to keep some ‘ring’ going. Otherwise it sounded too hair band tapping.
RCHair band tapping, you say?
JCHYeah, the thing I tend dislike about most ‘tapping’ is that, no matter how impressive, it tends to always sound like one thing to me. Same thing with fusion guitar. There’s this one standard ‘Holdsworth’ sound that everyone seemed to do back in the seventies, which I personally never liked much. I want something where I can play those fast bits but it still sounds vaguely like a Telecaster. Like the opening of ‘Money For Nothing’. But more punishing.
JCHYeah, it’s gotta sound like Mark Knopfler accidentally wandered into a Saw movie. The chords have to hit your face so hard they rush you to the burn ward! And those tones still don’t do that for some reason.
RCJust had to get that last bit of whining, didn’t you?
JCHWell, it bears repeating that these are not final mixes. I’m doing these for the (cough) ‘marketing benefit’. But if the mixes stink, I worry that listeners won’t come back and hear the final version when I actual figure it out.
RCThe mix doesn’t stink. I think it rocks. Almost like something from the 80’s. However, the song is pretty conventional for ‘progressive rock’.
JCHI’m glad you mentioned the 80’s. I actually did have the idea for it back then. So this song is basically a ‘road trip’. I was out in the desert camping and I saw these middle-aged guys driving a Ferrari around on BLM land with rifles. Just shooting at rocks and cacti. MILES from anywhere. It was insane. Like a Hunter S. Thompson story come to life. One of those moments where you think, “Damn, this should be in a movie!” How did they get there? Why tear up a beautiful car like that? Why tear up the desert like that? Insanity. And then I read The Bonfire Of The Vanities and it struck me that those guys were kinda like ‘Masters Of The Universe’. They were doing that because they could! Kinda like a capitalist version of A Clockwork Orange.
RCI know exactly the scene you’re talking about. The Durango 95. But I’m not hearing the sonic connection. Those guys wouldn’t be thinking about Alex De Large.
JCHRight. But to your original point, the reason it sounds like a ‘conventional rocker’ is that, I mean, do you really think guys doing 360’s out in the desert in an Italian sports car would be listening to Tales From Topographic Oceans?
RCPoint taken. So that’s why it has echoes of ‘Barracuda’ (Heart). I hear some of that in there.
JCHInteresting! I didn’t even think of that until you mentioned it, but YOU’RE RIGHT! Great song. I know it’s totally played out, but if you try to listen to it with fresh ears, to my mind it is the quintessential ‘classic rock’ song. But sadly, that isn’t what I was thinking. It was the eighties and what I was thinking of is Sammy Hagar. That’s kinda the thing that those morons would be listening to. I’m trying to make a good song out of a silly MTV video.
RCSo this is satirical?
JCHAbsolutely. But it’s not parody. I don’t want it to sound like a parody. And I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet. Ya know, that’s what made Steely Dan so great. You can hear their songs with total ignorance of the story and they’re still great songs. Parodies, by definition, don’t stand on their own. But this thing has to stand on its own, so I gotta keep working on it.
RCHas to? Why?
JCHOne fair criticism of my albums is that almost all of them seem to have a ‘throw-away’. A song (or five) that wasn’t very strong; it was just thrown on there to fill out the track count. It’s not true, but I get why people feel that way. But this ain’t that.
RCYou’re sure? As much as I love your work, you could be wrong.
JCHRight. Well, I don’t wanna talk about stuff too far ahead, but the big tune on the record depends on this. If this one fails, it will distract people from the beef.
RCGot it. OK, back to the music. One thing I notice is how slow “I Can’t Drive 55” sounds now compared with “We Danced”.
JCHIndeed. I have to make all sorts of mental adjustments all the time when I listen to old rock. Songs that were recorded more than a decade old simply don’t have the ‘beef’. They seem slower, thinner, etc.
RCIt’s that ‘evolution’ business, we’ve talked about so many times, right? Everything is getting louder, lower, faster. As you might say, “more visceral”.
JCHMaybe. But here’s the thought for the day. I don’t think that other genres suffer in quite the same way. Classical records, folk music, jazz, all sorts of records from the sixties on… you know that were recorded in decent stereo… sound fine to me. But so much ‘rawk’ and ‘pop’ seems so dependent on the recording technology.
RCAlmost as though you have to re-master it in order for it to be (gulp) ‘competitive’.
JCHExactly. And that makes me wonder about the intrinsic value of such music.
JCHI mean that if you have to re-master a tune in order for it to not sound dated, maybe it wasn’t such a great tune to begin with. Maybe one metric for a song’s ‘greatness’ is how little it depends on the recording technology. And I don’t mean that only acoustic music rates. I mean that you listen to a Beatles or Motown song and it still sounds fat and marvelous. But lots and lots of times, when you think a song needs to be re-mastered, maybe it’s the song that was the problem.