Posts Tagged ‘guitar solos’

Song Stories: “Out of Time”

OK, so a while ago I said we were going to go through the back-stories to all our songs. I lied; we didn’t. Now I’m going to un-lie and actually do it. Last time, we started with our first full-length track on the album, “Running Scared.” Today, we finally move on to the next track, “Out of Time.”

Out of Time by Wrong Side of Dawn

“Out of Time” started with the chorus chords, I think. I had come up with them in high school to go with one of Tyler Currier’s songs. I think they are kind of Goo Goo Dolls-ish, which makes sense for me at the time. But Tyler decided that they didn’t really fit with his song. As in, they didn’t really sound like part of the same song. I guess they still don’t really fit with the verse chords of the current song; that’s why the song needs the stop-start transition between verse and chorus.

Goo Goo Dolls leader Johnny Rzeznik

I eventually came up with the verse chords by mistake. I was trying to go from a D to a D/C#, but my finger landed one string too high on an F#, and it seemed like I should go somewhere from there… In a couple minutes I had the rest of the progression.

I immediately went to show Nelson, but his reaction was lukewarm. In fact, he described the progression as “boring.” And I thought, “I’ll show him. These chords aren’t boring, they are pure gold!” Originally, I had strummed the chords, but I rewrote them again as more intricate finger-picking. Now Nelson approved. I had proven that my chords were not boring! Then again, maybe Nelson proved that my chords used to be boring. Either way, if he hadn’t criticized me, I never would have put in the extra work.

These new chords got thrown together with the old chorus chords I had lying around because… well, why not? I wasn’t just going to let them go to waste. I tried for a long time to give the song a bridge, but eventually decided it wasn’t necessary. The song uses only those two progressions.

I guess it’s pretty standard for a song to hit the (vocal) chorus at least three times, and that was my original plan for “Out of Time.” First would be the two choruses you hear, then a short guitar solo over the chorus chords, and the song would end on a repeated loop of the chorus vocal, fading out.

In order to facilitate the fade-out on my demo of the song, I had played the chorus chords over and over at the end. Just fooling around, I tried improvising some guitar melodies over this ending, and started to like what I was doing. I rewound the machine and pressed record. The first take didn’t quite work, as the chords stopped playing before I could squeeze in all the ideas I wanted to record. Rather than make the demo longer, I just tightened up the solo so that I could fit it in. The second take is here (skip to about three-quarters through if you don’t want to hear the boring part). It’s basically what I later recorded on the album.

I immediately fell in love with the idea of ending the song on a solo, and so the third vocal chorus went out the window. But there was still more to be done with the lyrics. As I wrote in an earlier post:

I also started to have second thoughts about my lyrics. A song with a guitar solo this good would need better lyrics than this…

…I figured that something was nostalgic and backward-looking about the sound of the guitar. From that jumping-off point, I fashioned some lyrics that worked sort of in reverse chronological order. The first verse starts in the present, watching the sun rise (on the wrong side of dawn, in fact). The second verse recalls an old friend. The last verse looks back to childhood, when you did stuff just because it was there to be done. Then the last line says there’s no more time for that, but hey…. GUITAR SOLO!!!!!!

David Gilmour. More often than not, my goal in any guitar solo is to sound like him.

The lyrics are still intentionally plain. I’m not very partial toward flowery language anyway, but I think these are plain even for me. I like to think that, if you just read my lyrics aloud, they’d sound more like regular speech than “poetry.” The last line is very quiet, very resigned to reality: “I could use a little more money. Guess that means I could use a little more work.” I like to think this leads well into the final solo which is, in contrast to the closing words, very big and cinematic. In order to facilitate this, my instruction to Anthony Santoro toward the end of the solo was, “Just be really loud and dramatic. Lots of crashes.” And of course, this again contrasts with the calm, march-like aftermath. The harmonized “oooh”s by Nelson and Karen also add to the intensity. I hope it sounds like a sudden recollection of a really old memory that you thought you forgot… but didn’t quite forget.

Anyway, I’ve probably already over-interpreted my own guitar solo. Never take the writer’s word for what something means, especially in the case of instrumental sections. So don’t just listen to me. Check it out yourself: “Out of Time.”

 

Recording electric guitar with Brian Rose

In our efforts to bring back the best features of classic rock, Brian’s lead guitar has been our secret weapon. We think that the emotive, virtuoso guitar solo is an important part of rock music that has been neglected for far too long, and we’re trying to fix that. Brian is a bit of a perfectionist, and that can be frustrating when we are paying for studio time by the hour, but his attention to detail really shines through on this album in every note the lead guitar plays. Sharing the studio with him has been a joy, an honor, and a learning experience.

Choosing an electric guitar

"Slash" guitar w/ flashBrian used three electric guitars on this album: a “Slash” Les Paul, an American Stratocaster, and a Mexican Stratocaster.

The “Slash” Les Paul has a very raw, hot, unforgiving sound. Brian used it for the lead parts on Out of Time, Running Scared, Flight III, and Last Warning (you can hear semi-final versions of those songs from The Grinder’s Tale 3P right now!). I was a bit surprised that we didn’t use the “Slash” Les Paul more, it can sound really mean when you play it right and I was very impressed by it in rehearsal. It turned out, however, that we didn’t want the lead guitar to sound quite so mean and in your face all the time. If we didn’t want a guitar part to cut right through the music and slice open your eardrums, we had to pick a different guitar instead of the “Slash” guitar, because that guitar really demands attention.

Brian experiments with effects pedalsThe American Stratocaster is the smoothest-sounding of the three guitars, but it still has a thin, jazzy sound. It is very versatile, you can make a very wide range of different tones depending on which pickups you select or pedals you use. We used it for the lead guitar part on The Grinder’s Tale, Flight II, My Private Asylum, Break Free, and Contained.

(If I recall correctly, the picture to the right also features Brian experimenting with his effects pedals in order to get the several layers of feedback right that appear at the very end of Out of Time. We left the door to the amp closet open so that the guitar would feedback, and we played with delay pedals that gave us some rhythmic patterns, as well as producing some bizarre results that reminded me of the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. This was one of the few times we used multiple pedals, as I’ll discuss later.)

Mexican Strat w/ flash
Finally, we used an inexpensive Mexican Stratocaster for rhythm guitar. (We didn’t use it for lead guitar at all.) Brian likes it for rhythm because it has a little bit of a wobbly, unstable sound that gives more flavor to the rhythm parts. We used it for the rhythm on Last Warning, Running Scared, and the electric guitar at the end of Bobby McGee.

Pedals, or lack thereof

Brian's effects pedals Back in the day when we were in Nuzzo’s basement studio recording our old EP, Brian used to use lots of pedals at once in his pursuit of the ultimate electric guitar sound. The photo to the left shows a typical pedal setup from the Nuzzo sessions. We’ve learned since then that sometimes less is more. If you have a good guitar and a good amp+preamp, and you’ve got a good sound, throwing lots of pedals on top of that will just screw it up. On the “Stay Awake” album, Brian mostly used only one pedal, a distortion pedal. We’re keeping it simple and raw.

The “Out of Time” solo

The guitar solo that closes “Out of Time” just might be the crowning moment of awesome for this album. It’s the solo that made me say “we need to get this into Rock Band” (stay tuned for more on that). The interesting thing to me is that the most emotionally powerful part of the solo, the climactic 20 seconds, is the only part that is simple enough for me to play (although Brian plays it much better, of course). Van Halen-esque theatrics are impressive, but sometimes what you need for a great solo is to play just a couple notes very passionately, and I think that’s what Brian did. Which is not to say that Brian doesn’t also have amazing technique.

One technique that Brian used in this solo that I had never seen before is a pinch harmonic or a “squealie”. Pinch harmonics are quite common in heavy metal and ZZ Top songs, all heavy metal solos are full of pinch harmonics, but I don’t listen to heavy metal much. Neither does Brian, I understand, but he learned the technique from his friend Christan who is into heavy metal giutar. To play a pinch harmonic you pluck the string with a pick, and then immediately after you hit it you barely scrape the string with your thumb. Thumb it too hard and you kill the note, thumb it too lightly and it doesn’t have the desired effect. You’ll be able to hear a pinch harmonic in “Out of Time” at around 3:27, it’s the 3rd note that Brian plays after the background vocals come in, and it is an extremely distinctive sound. I can’t wait for you to hear it 🙂

Brian’s interview


N: You’ve just finished a long day of recording electric guitars, how are you feeling?
B: I’m feeling tired, I’ve been tired for a like few hours now. I’m definitely like several hours, um, steps behind where I should be going to sleep…
N: That’s what our band is about, right?
B: Actually yeah, that’s right, I kind of forgot about that part, the whole Wrong Side of Dawn thing… I mean, I would be staying up until morning if that were true.
N: That’s true, thank god we are not there yet.
B: Yeah, I mean, I feel really good with what I recorded, I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t get through every single song today. But that might have been a little overambitious.
N: What was the favorite thing you recorded today?
B: Definitely the ending solo for Out of Time. We spent a lot of time on the feedback afterwards, which actually I think we need to kind of hold back on that with the mixing so that it doesn’t overshadow the song or anything like that. It’s supposed to be that it comes in for 10 seconds and then goes away. The actual solo itself, I was really glad how that went. I basically got it in one take, had to punch in just a couple of parts. I’m really glad I got the “Slash” Les Paul, it worked really well for that solo. I think it sounds really intense, and once we get other things like the vocal harmonies and stuff in there, that’s going to be a good climax to that song. I’ve definitely really been looking forward to that particular one minute of this album, and it’s gone well so far.


N: What was your least favorite thing about today?
B: Definitely Vulture [now called My Private Asylum], it’s weird how pretty much the solos were the easiest thing to record. It’s something like Vulture that doesn’t have any solos that needs to be exactly right. Definitely the solos were, ironically enough, the easiest thing to do, everything else is hard.
N: How do you think the album is coming along?
B: I think it’s coming along really good. I really feel like these songs are better than good. It’s disappointing when I show people what I’m writing and they say it’s good. People always say it’s good, and it really frustrates me. Your 3rd grade class project that you did the night before is good. I really think our songs are better than good…. so I sometimes wonder if I’m like the only real believer in some of these songs, but I think they’re going really well. Better than well.

 

The Path of Rock – Part 1; what's gone wrong

This rant about the sad decline of the guitar solo in modern rock was originally posted by Brian on his Facebook. Since he’s our lead guitarist, I thought you might be interested 🙂 It is intended to be the first in a series, so if you like it, you can hope for more!

If you asked me four years ago about the state of popular music, I would have told you that rock had died sometime in the mid ’70s, that with a few exceptions, chief among them U2, no one had recorded anything worthwhile since then, and I had no reason to listen to the radio because all new music is crap and I’d be better off spending my time figuring out what classic rock record I should buy or download next. Nu metal, hip hop, emo, pop punk, teen pop, it was all crap to me (some of that is still crap… others not so much).

The other day I was listening to the Fray’s “Over My Head.” I’m sure most people are pretty tired of this song by now, but, since I still don’t ever listen to the radio, the song still seems fairly new to me. Now, I don’t think the Fray is anything special, in fact, they’re probably primed to flame out after one album. And the song is an excellent pop song… no more and no less. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on the radio today. But it’s also the kind of thing you could never hear 35 or even 5 years ago. Despite my insistence that rock music is degenerating, I have to admit that it has evolved.

I’m not really looking to give a complete lesson in rock history, but simply to trace a few elements of rock music that I, personally, like. This is purely my opinion, and I’m working with a strong confirmation-bias. I was going to write a note about this, but I think it’s going to be too much; I’ll have to write two notes. I know you don’t want to read two notes. In fact, there’s probably no one who even made it this far in this note, once they realized the whole thing was more than two paragraphs. That’s OK, because this isn’t for you. It’s for me. Seriously, I’m going to come back and read this tomorrow. And when I do, I’ll say to myself, “Self, this is some damn good shit.” But if you like reading other people’s opinions on this stuff, as I do, you can go ahead and read.

The good stuff will come later, but I’ll use this first note to get one thing off of my chest, the one thing that really sucks about rock, the one area where musicians have been dropping the ball for thirty years. I’m talking about the downfall of the emotive, virtuoso guitar solo.
Read the rest of this entry »