One-Word Questions with Extremely Long Answers regarding “A Sequence of Waves” by Patrick Grant

8questionsxxRecently a music zine proposed eight written questions to composer and performer PATRICK GRANT about his latest album “A SEQUENCE OF WAVES.” Grant sent in written responses and received this reply from the editor:

Your answers are wonderful but they are extremely long… typically these are one-sentence answers… (the) internet is a short attention span thing. People scan, look for a link or something to watch and then move on. They do not linger like with a newspaper article. Thanks!”

Grant obliged them and resent completely different answers, all of them one-sentence long.

Published here on The MMiXdown are his original replies. The music zine’s questions have been replaced by distilling down their essence to one word each.

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INCEPTION?

I once read something about The Beatles’ “Revolver” that went something like this: “It could be argued that every track on the album went on to create its own sub-genre in rock music.” I can see that point and I’m sure there have been many who have attempted to create a multiverse of song lineages out of it. Doing that’s not for me, but I like the point: every track has its own distinct personality and yet they all fit together and compliment each other like the colors of the spectrum. They are not a pastiche of songs. At their core they share the same DNA. There have been albums like that since, and I’m sure we could thoroughly debate what they are, but it’s that level of diversity and coherence that I was aiming for when I was putting together “A Sequence of Waves” because I truly like all kinds of music. That’s why different reviewers have been coming at it from different angles: rock, classical, jazz, world, you name it. I like that. I’d say that is 40% intentional on my part and 60% that’s-just-who-I-am.

It’s also understood that not everyone listens to albums like they used to (from beginning to end), but for those who do and for those who admire the architecture of an album, there’s an overall structure that holds these 13 tracks together. At the center is track 7, “Seven Years at Sea.” It’s also the only piece with vocals on the album and even then they were recorded in the first half of the last century, but not by me. Ha! Moving outward, track 6 mirrors track 8, track 5 mirrors track 9, and so on until track 1 mirrors track 13. What do I mean by mirror? I mean there’s there some aspect in which the tracks are related, either by style, instrumentation, tempo, or harmonic scheme. Sometimes it’s a couple of these elements combined. If you notice it, that’s great. If you don’t, I would bet that by the album’s end, you’d subconsciously get a feeling of coherence through the chaos.

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MEANING?

Being an instrumental album, many things were needed to keep it not only interesting, but to keep interesting to me. This was a good exercise for me in “killing one’s darlings,” I was cutting measures here, whole sections there. Even listening now, I could lose a few notes. And add a few too! Maybe these things are never truly finished, are they? It’s been said that they just get abandoned so we can move on. But I require some sense of artistic completion before doing so that there’s firmer ground from which we push off our little metaphorical boat into uncharted waters again.

Sorry, that sounds pretentious. Still, it’s not too far off. It seems that the most worthy things that we can endeavor to do are a manifestation of a search for meaning. My hope is that if I can keep honest and sincere in my work, that it will resonate in some universal way to those who are drawn to the work and care to listen.

When I was a student, I was struck by something Igor Stravinsky said, “I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, or psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc…. Expression has never been an inherent property of music.” That’s just a snippet of a longer quote. Uncle Igor had a lot more to say than just that. People should look it up and read the rest if they’re interested.

So, wow, I felt sort of depressed when I read that because it challenged everything that I, as a young man, had thought about music. Then I gradually was able to let go of preconceptions and understood what he was saying. I still am.

Remember now, he was speaking of pure music, instrumental music because, yes, if there are words, the music (now being considered a song) will mean what those words are saying. But, in a pure sense like are minor chords “sad” and major chords “happy?” No, they are not. When you listen to a piece of music, you are listening with your own culture and personal history. You are always listening to music in relation to every piece of music you’ve listened to before that moment. It’s the same with visual art. It’s the same with so many things.

So, if my music, or this album in particular, has any meaning, it’s what it means to each listener. Like many composers, I am amazed and get a kick out of what people hear in my music. Some of these things are fantastic, some are just plain ol’ wrong, and some reveal a part of me that I’ve been hiding from myself. Shazam! That can be powerful stuff.

Now that I have a body of work to look back upon, it’s as if it’s all about a search for meaning. I look for patterns that repeat in my own work and notice, no matter if it’s rock, classical, or something else, there are patterns there, patterns that are a language unique to myself. Even music discovers this. But what does it mean? That’s to be explored in the music-yet-to-be-created.

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INSTRUMENTALS?

While it is true that the human voice is the first musical instrument, I would say that the history of music, of all music, has shown that words are not always necessary. Think of all the classical music and music from other cultures that don’t have voices. On a small scale, any music with voice would most likely be what we’d consider a song. I’m particular like that: don’t call a piece of music a “song” if there isn’t any singing. It can be a jam, a tune, an invention, a scherzo, a waltz, a groove, dope beatz, whatever, but without singing it is not a song. I’ve found that just getting casual listeners to call music by a better, more correct name like that, automatically gets them thinking about music differently and, better yet, they begin listening with more depth.

Many people will hear the surface of the music first, the voice, the tune, whatever is most prominent in the mix. It’s likely that it’s intentional on the part of the producer to get you the hear that surface through how it has been mixed. Those who are trained, or who are naturally able to, hear the deeper layers in the music, will get more out of it and may have a better understanding of all kinds of things.

Believe me, I love songs. I listen to them, I sing them, and I write them. However, my most recent album, “A Sequence of Waves,” and the one before, “Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars,” are purposeful explorations in instrumental music. That’s for a couple of reasons. One is a desire to make my music as universal as possible. If there are no words, most people will superimpose their own narrative onto a performance or recording. Plus, there is no language barrier. As a result, my recent music has had a very international audience.

Another reason is that I like the challenge of creating stories with no words. A byproduct of this is that the music gets used in combination with visual media like video, film, and anything that’s staged. I have a background in avant-garde theater, so many times I will have definite pictures in my head when I create, even if they’re personal and not really meant to be shared. In this sense I favor music that is evocative, meaning that I want you to come up with your own visuals in your own head.

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COLLABORATORS?

In terms of long time collaborators, my first nod for “A Sequence of Waves” would go to my engineer and mixing co-captain Garry Rindfuss. My first album proper was “Fields Amaze.” It was recorded at composer Philip Glass’s Looking Glass Studios on Broadway around Bleecker. He co-owned it with the Finn brothers from Split Enz and Crowed House. I met Garry through a common friend from the Knitting Factory and Lounge Lizards scene. He’s worked with many recording field greats from engineers and producers like Bob Clearmountain, Steve Lillywhite, and James Farber, to recording artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Queen, etc. I wanted to get contemporary classical music recorded with rock and pop techniques. That’s my sound.

The studio, since closed, was hopping then. Bang on a Can was recording their version of Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” at the same time as us while David Bowie was putting the finishing touches on his album “Earthling” down the hall in Mark Plati’s room. Being my first album, it was all a bit overwhelming, but Garry’s good humor and cool demeanor got me through it. He’s been my engineer ever since.

The other long-term collaborator on “Sequence” is drummer John Ferrari. I met him two years after I met Garry and under very different circumstances. After I released the “Fields Amaze” album, I put together the Patrick Grant Group. It was an ensemble dedicated to my music consisting of a core of piano, organ, synthesizer, and drums with flute, clarinet, trombone, viola, cello, electric guitar, electric bass, and percussion. It was a little orchestra. Sometimes we’d even add a gamelan, the metal orchestra of Indonesia, for pieces that were inspired by my studies in Bali.

While this was going strong, I also took a job as composer-in-residence at The Ross School in East Hampton. It was the time of the dotcom boom and they wanted to do an international musical composition project with students in NY, Sweden, and China (and I even got to go there). I was spearheading the compositional element of the project with other instructors from abroad, but the kicker is that my mentors were Billy Joel and Quincy Jones. It all sounded great, the student musicians were great, but the project was overrun with too many adults with their own corporate and educational agendas. I’ll leave it at that.

One of them, a Swedish businessman, kept throwing trendy jargon-of-the-day at us as if that would make things more musical. He’d say to me, “Patrick, we have to start thinking outside of the box,” and I’d reply, “You’re telling me? I am the very definition of outside-of the-box! That’s why you hired me!” So, when I felt this million-dollar project was falling apart, on the good advice of Billy Joel, I resigned and went back to the city. As I suspected, the project never lived up to its potential and was never presented to the world as originally proposed. I got out just in time.

Why is this important? It’s because that’s where and when I met John Ferrari. My personal growth aside, he was the best part of that whole experience. He was hired as a percussion instructor and he eventually started working with me in showing everybody how to create music through live performance and electronics. He became the drummer for all future incarnations of the Patrick Grant Group and we’ve been making music every since.

I only point out these stories and their circumstances because it’s these kind of events that have bonded me to, not only these two artists, but to many other collaborators to which I have been blessed. It doesn’t happen every time, but when a trial-by-fire forges life-long friendships, among other things, it will always good for the music.

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INSPIRATIONS?

I’ve been asked this question a number of times and my answer has not varied much. Let’s see if I can put an original twist on it. I mean, we’re all, everybody, changing constantly. I’ve changed my mind over time, but one can always draw a line that connects it all. I mean, it’s always evolving.

My favorite kind of music, for lack of a better word, is music that suggests ceremony. Now, that sounds heavy and religious and a bit of a drag, but hear me out. By “ceremony” I just mean an event that is bigger than any one of us individually. Sometimes we’re too close to the trees to see the forest (as the saying goes), but much of our lives are based on rituals of all kinds, large and small, public and private, in a time or over a time. I’m sure anthropologists see it clearly. I mean, it’s easy for us to see in other societies, but perhaps harder to see it in ourselves.

Okay, I’m going down a rabbit hole here, so let me backtrack and clarify with examples. I grew up loving and playing the music of Bach. Yes, I did. I could read music easily at an early-ish age so I studied many of his scores when I was young. I liked the idea that much of his music was created with a specific purpose or event in mind, sacred or secular. This is music that has extra-musical purpose attached to it. Examples of this could be movements in a suite (dance) or a cantata (worship). It becomes forms that listeners come to recognize and respond to.

Jumping ahead a couple of hundred years, think of how much a rock concert has become, through trial and error, a form of ritual, all the way down to people holding up lit cigarette lighters for the encore. To someone from another planet that ritual might appear very similar to being in a cathedral during high mass.

So, for me, it’s not so much about genre or geography, it’s about music that suggests things that are bigger than us. It can have words or not. In the end, it’s about the music’s intention, its ability to convey that intention musically, and its ability to pull in as many listeners as possible without compromising its truth.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all about being lofty and putting on airs. I’d be just as down with a Voodoo wedding or a Punk Rock divorce just as long as it was musically sincere.

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HEROES?

Last year I accepted a position as a professor at the NYU Film School for two days a week teaching, what is essentially, a sound design course for freshmen. It’s a required class to expose all students to the power of narrative in sound. Because sound is invisible, it is too often taken for granted. It’s also interesting to me because these students come from all over and with different kinds of backgrounds and widely differing skill sets. Whether they go on to screenplays, video editing, cinematography, or directing (everybody wants to direct, right?), they learn how powerful sound and music can be together and how to use them.

One of their first assignments is the Interview Assignment. It is to teach them how to make a good field recording, to learn microphone technique, etc. They find someone to interview and make a 2-3 minute edited audio piece. Many times students will interview each other because that’s logistically simpler than running around the city to far-flung places.

When I was listening to some of these interviews, a “Profile of Student X” let’s say, they were reciting a laundry list of their likes passing as an interview. For example: “I really like this kind of music, I like this kind of food, I really like this comedy director, I like books by this author from the 1970s…” etc., etc., etc. A number of these interviews were like this, a list of their likes. I thought that maybe this is how things are done these days. I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I did at that age, too.

Yes, they were defining themselves by declaring a list of their likes, possibly because many are too young to have done anything yet of their own or, through Facebook, we are living in a “like” culture now? That’s just a theory, a gut feeling. Sounds good on the surface, it’s probably wrong.

I often wish that I heard more good music than I have. There is so much of out if you look and if you have the time to listen. Most of my time is spent putting together music that’s based upon the many things that have inspired me, and these things are not necessarily music either.

So, when I get asked “what musicians do I most admire and why?” I’m careful not to give a list. More than that, if I did, it would be hard to list musicians only. For me, people that have influenced me extend beyond musicians. There are visual artists, writers, playwrights, filmmakers, scientists, philosophers, architects, activists, and the list just goes on. It’s also an entangled and intertwined list because the history of all music, art, and science has always relied upon each other for inspiration. It’s a conversation between all of these things. It’s polyphony. It’s a cosmic clock.

Here’s something I noticed: the one quality that they all have in common, these things that I “like,” is the ability of the creators to communicate their personal experiences in such a way that it becomes universal to all those who hear it, see it, feel it.

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ADVICE?

This is always a difficult question, not only for me, but for many of the other musicians that get asked. I know that some, like Robert Fripp from King Crimson, will famously (and humorously) discourage young people from what gets described as “ a miserable life” and that becoming a plumber or some such trade would be a much better contribution to society. Recently the producer Brian Eno’s advice fell along the lines of “don’t get a day job” and was met with wild misunderstanding and criticism. Laurie Anderson suggest that we, “Keep it loose, be flexible…make it vague,” while Patti Smith offers up a straight forward “just keep doing your work.”

While all of their advice is good, it’s clear that there isn’t any single path to the life of an artist. Somebody once asked me, “Why does it seem like every famous musician received a lucky break at some point in their career?” I replied, “Easy. Because you never hear about the unlucky ones!” There could be some truth to that, but it’s also never a bad idea to live in a way that increases your chances of being in the right place at the right time in a way that makes sense to you. Even if fame and success are elusive, it’s a good way to live.

Falling into clichés when giving advice like this is a potential danger, it’s a trap. The truth seems to be that everyone who is determined will find a way. I feel like I’m still trying to find mine. You be surprise how many successful people still feel that they’re not there yet, that they’re not worthy giving out such advice. I can only speak of my own life and what has worked for me, things that I have observed in the work habits of others, and list some things that I have found inspiring.

In no particular order:

Until you make it, move to a city where some form of the industry exists. I know that cyberspace is supposed to level the geographic playing field, but there’s nothing like finding out where all the big shots are gathered and go there physically. This could be an art opening, a diner, even a small club. So, for all of the emails these people must be getting from other young hopefuls, there you are, in person.

Never stop learning, especially science as it relates to your craft. You know all of those names at the end of the movie in the credits? Those are jobs. Real jobs. Not only can you perfect your craft while you’re there, you’ll meet real people doing real things that could point you in the right direction if your aim needs clarification.

How can I get one of these jobs? Again, move to a city where some form of the industry exists. After you’ve made it, then you can get that house in the country. They’ll all be coming to you at that point.

If you haven’t done so already, expand your appreciation of the arts beyond music alone.

Read a book once in a while (technical manuals do not count!).

Go to a museum. Any kind.

Watch every “Dramatic Demonstrations in Physics” video that Julius Sumner Miller ever made. They’re uncommon and enchanting! Everything is music when you know physics.

Draw some pictures. Even if you suck at it, if you have good ideas, a real graphics person can show you how to flesh it out. We all made drawings when we were kids. Why do most people stop?

Watch the first 20 minutes of every “VH1: Behind the Music” episode ever. That’s how people made careers (don’t watch anything after that; it’s too depressing). Even if you don’t like the style music, anybody who has made a career in music has a story worth knowing.

Don’t think only about yourself. Be there for other musicians. Great things can happen when you give instead of take. Unexpected collaborations will come about if you make some time for other people’s ideas.

What’s the message here? Never stop learning. Learn across many fields. It’s all music if you listen.

The Future Is Now - (Dubai, UAE)

FUTURE?

There’s always something new from me in the social media, so I can give you those links to put on the end if you want. I’ll use this question to discuss current projects and where I hope they will go.

Right now I feel like I am creating in three parallel universes, one each that are rooted in the past, the present, or the future. 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Strange Music, the company I founded when I incorporated. I have a number of works that have been building up that were never properly released or some that had one big performance and that was it. I feel an obligation to get this music out into the world, especially since I have an audience now. I need to do for my own legacy and I also need to do it to set the record straight in a couple of communities as to who-did-what-first. There are a number of cases where others with greater means than I took my concepts of mine and developed them on their own. Getting out these musical missing links will be a help to future writers in putting together a more complete picture of the current scene.

As worthy as these older and slightly older works may seem, there’s too much going on right now in the present to dwell too much in the past. It’s always a balancing act. The good thing is that there’s always something to do. Also, it’s easy to complete this older work because I have some “distance” on it now. I have no problem in being cutthroat in the editing process. The outcome is that we have leaner and cleaner versions of these pieces and I think they sound damn good. They sound as fresh and current as anything.

You asked earlier about meaning in my music? This is it. Drawing the line through all of these pieces to recognize and connect the elements that make them truly the result of myself. This is what is powering my present. It has become much easier for me to identify what it is that I should be doing. I have “put my ladder up against the wrong wall” a few times, only to climb it and see there was nothing I was looking for on the other side, but never again if I can help it.

What does that boil down to in reality? Projects. I am finishing tracks projects from Strange Music’s past and I am finishing two new albums for release as-soon-as-possible. Editing and mixing is in process now on one of them. I am also focusing on reconstructing the workflow of my studio. I simply need to work faster and more efficiently. I am getting work for radio and film down the road and so I prepare for that. Film has been a big inspiration in my music and I look forward to that work. This is the reason behind my creation of my production and publishing arm Peppergreen Media. That in itself is a way to frame disciplines within disciplines.

As for live performance, I’ve been very picky about excepting doing shows these days. For my bigger projects like Tilted Axes, there needs to be financing in advance. I’m currently working on two new sets of music for that group, one based on astronomy that’s meant to be performed partly in a planetarium (Imaginary Planets) and one that’s based on solar power and sustainable energy (Renewable Riffs). Science! Both projects have wonderful forms and structures that are found in physics that, when mapped into the realm of audible tone and rhythm, sound amazing.

I also have a practical need to create a small “performative” unit that can easily tour. There have been too many opportunities for this now for me to keep passing up. This unit would be comprised of me performing on guitar, keyboards, laptop and possibly vocals, with a live drummer and one or two other musicians. I have already written a lot of new material for this set-up, I just have to put it together this spring and begin summer previews for autumn performances.

In the meantime, everyone can look forward to the follow up to “A Sequence of Waves.” Right now the new album’s working title is “Velcro Variations,” but that might change. In the end, the finished album may reveal that it has a new title it has given itself. Sometimes it’s feels like it’s not up to me. I mean: I can only position the sail of the sailboat in the right direction. I am not the wind.

April 2018

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8questionsRECx

Patrick Grant Web Site: http://patrickgrant.com

http://peppergreenmedia.com/main_events_news.htm

Tilted Axes Album: http://tiltedaxes.com/tiltedaxes.html

PG SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/patrick-grant-9

PG Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/patrickgrantnyc

Tilted Axes FB Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/tiltedaxes/

A Sequence of Waves: http://www.peppergreenmedia.com/seqwav.html

 

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Detroit Music Awards Nomination!

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Thank you Detroit Music Awards 2018 for nominating my album “A Sequence Of Waves” for OUTSTANDING CLASSICAL RECORDING. An even bigger thanks to all of the musicians, artists, and engineers who helped create it.

If you or anybody you know is a member of the DMA Foundation, please vote! The award ceremonies will take place at The Fillmore Detroit on May 4th

Patrick Grant

https://www.detroitmusicawards.net/

https://www.detroitmusicawards.net/nominees

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Interview: Patrick Grant – Fireworks

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INTERVIEW – Fireworks Magazine (UK) interview with musician and producer Patrick Grant, creator of A Sequence of Waves (twelve stories and a dream) released on the Peppergreen Media label.

Patrick Grant is an American composer living and working in New York City. His works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have found place in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media over three continents. Over the last three decades, his music has moved from post-punk and classically bent post-minimal styles, through Balinese-inspired gamelan and microtonality, to ambient, electronic soundscapes involving many layers of acoustic and electronically amplified instruments. Throughout its evolution, his music has consistently contained a “…a driving and rather harsh energy redolent of rock, as well as a clean sense of melodicism…intricate cross-rhythms rarely let up…” Known as a producer and co-producer of live musical events, he has presented many concerts of his own and other composers, including a 2013 Guinness World Record-breaking performance of 175 electronic keyboards in NYC. He is the creator of International Strange Music Day (August 24) and the pioneer of the electric guitar procession Tilted Axes.

FM: The last time we spoke, you were talking about your Detroit origins in classical and rock music, your early avant-garde theatrical work in New York City, but mostly about your album Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars. How was that?

PG: I could not have been happier with the response that album received. It was a crystallization of five years work, the end of a Phase One. If anyone is not familiar with the project, it began as a procession of electric guitars with portable amps for the winter solstice in 2011. It is part concert, part theater, and part street spectacle. Musically it encompassed everything from rock to classical to non-western, all written my me. It a way, it is a huge theme and variations. It became popular and we’ve performed versions on three continents so far. The album was a way of getting the music out to people and radio stations far beyond the scope of the live performances we did.

FM: What has Tilted Axes done since then?

PG: A couple months after the album came out, the USA was scheduled to have its presidential elections. The album was peaking in the press and we just finished performing for over a quarter of a million people in the NYC Village Halloween Parade. That’s a big thing here. Then we had the election and you-know-who won. That was highly unexpected. I was in shock for a number of weeks and it’s fair to say that a number of people are still in shock. I felt there was going to be a change in the coming year, maybe years. It was a good time to hit the brakes and re-evaluate. It seemed clear that the current models of professional music making were going to change and I wanted to stay ahead of that curve. I greatly reduced live performances so I could concentrate on recordings and took some formal training in film sound and associated disciplines. So, to answer your question: Tilted Axes has been on hiatus but will return in 2018. Currently, that’s the plan.

FM: What do you mean when you say “film sound and associated disciplines?”

PG: I needed to get current with my Pro-Tools skills. It is the industry standard for film and TV. My albums have been mostly Ableton, Reason, WAVES and other plug-ins up until now. My engineers were handling anything pro-Tools up until recently. They were better, faster, and has more experience. Then there’s dialogue recording and editing, sound design, ADR and Foley, as well as musical scoring. On top of all of that is the mixing and mastering for film and TV. It’s very different than music alone. Everything used is being used in service of a narrative, even if it’s abstract. It’s all about stories. Telling stories in sight and sound, even before language, could be argued to be the oldest art we have as human beings. Everything else is just detail and decoration.

FM: How has that affected your current work?

PG: I decided to do something concrete about it. Like a number of my avant-garde colleagues, I accepted a position at institute of higher learner. OK, I’m being funny. What I mean to say is that for two days of the academic week, at am a professor at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts Film School. NYU Tisch is pretty famous if those readers outside of the USA don’t know it. Its students include Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee, and a slew of others. It keeps me sharp and on top of the tech. I have studios and rehearsal rooms within which to experiment. The students are full of great ideas so I feel hopeful for the future of film, music, the arts. Really, I do.

FM: So that’s two days a week. What about the other five?

PG: Like I said, it’s been a time of re-evaluation. I’m pretty much the same writer, performer, and producer that I’ve always been. I’ve been consciously upping my game in the studio. I’ve been going back and forth between four projects and the first of these, a 13 track instrumental album, has been released, “A Sequence of Waves.” Its subtitle, (twelve stories and a dream), shows some influence of the film school. It’s also the title of an H. G. Wells short story collection, a connection I don’t mind at all. It feels like a pop album in duration and form. Many of the tracks have a verse, chorus, middle feel, even though I try to twist that around. The tracks themselves have a lot of variety in terms of style: prog rock, classical, blues, ambient, EDM, samba, cinematically inclined… there’s many cross-pollinated genres on it. It’s chamber prog! Supposedly no one listen to “albums” anymore, they just flick through playlists until they hear a track they like. However, there is a strong programmatic element as to the order of the tracks. It’s not just “a sequence of wave files.” [Dryly] Ha ha. That’s storytelling, plain and simple.

FM: What do you think are the standout tracks on the album?

PG: While we don’t really live in a time where there are “singles” as such any more, it could be argued that there are four singles on the album. The first would be “Seven Years at Sea.” On an album of instrumentals, it actually has vocals. It contains a 1930s field recording of three Creole sisters singing the ancient sea shanty “Sept ans sur mer.” I added piano, guitars, and other electronics to it. The end result is unintentionally Eno-esque.

The second of these four would be “Lonely Ride Coney Island.” It was originally created for a film but I recorded an album version here. I used every retro synth I have on it though it has real drums like all the other tracks. “Lonely Ride…” has turned out to be a hit in the EDM community. I wasn’t going for that but I’m happy that they picked up on it. Third would be “To Find a Form That Accommodates the Mess.” I’ve been saying that “every track has a story.” The story of this tracks actually begins with the one before it, “Prelude II”:

“Prelude II” began as an assignment from Robert Fripp. A few years ago at one of our Guitar Craft events, he pulled a number of us newer folks aside and said he had a “performance challenge” to give us. We all sat down and he pulled out The Hat.

The Hat is rumored to have once been worn by Bowie on one of his tours (Serious Moonlight?) and is now used in Guitar Craft to pull out names and numbers for random draws on slips of paper for such on-the-spot assignments. In this case Robert had written on little slips of paper words that designated quartets, trios, duos, and one solo. He pulled them out and assigned them to us at random. I was the lone soloist, a composer and performer who usually hides within layers of other guitars. That irony wasn’t lost on anybody. Robert swears to this day it wasn’t a set up. I believe him.

The challenge was that we had 24 hours to write a new piece of music and perform it in front of the larger group after dinner the following night. Being the lone soloist amongst the group, I announced the title of my piece as “Dude, Where’s My Band?” Robert laughed so hard. He himself calls it a Guitar Craft classic. That’s an honor of sorts. That’s how that piece was born. I renamed it “Prelude II” for the album, I multi-tracked it in places in the recording, but it is essentially a solo piece.

I liked its themes so much that I developed most of them further in “To Find a Form That Accommodates the Mess,” into which the original became the prelude. So, this new piece, “To Find a Form…” became this Post-Prog mini epic with a lot of orchestral textures. It also contains many elements from all the previous tracks. It’s a way of summarizing the experience of these twelve “stories.”

FM: And the fourth “single”?

PG: That would absolutely have to be “One Note Samba” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. By default it’s the “dream” on the album though, I like to say, any one of these tracks could be the dream depending on your perspective. The track began as a demo for a radio show here in NYC. I found a lot of sounds that I could render into the same pitch. It got played once on a Christmas special. I was invited to create a Tilted Axes performance in São Paulo, Brazil at the 3rd Música Estranha (Strange Music) Festival. I was able to record a number of found sounds there and incorporate them into the track with similar sounds found in NYC. I’ve always been a fan of original sounding covers whether it’s Joe Cocker doing The Beatle’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” or Devo doing The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” So these four tracks represent four different ports of entry into the album no matter what your main style of interest may be.

FM: Anything else to say about the other tracks or the album as a whole?

PG: It’s true that “every track has a story.” A quick run-down would be: “Lucid Intervals” began as a live looping piece but is now performed by orchestral instruments, the album contains a mini-suite called “Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms,” “Primary Blues” was created for the 100th anniversary of the first blues piece. There’s a few more tracks but that’s the gist of it. Like its predecessor “Tilted Axes,” this new album has somewhat of a mirrored sequence in the tracks. That is, track 1 mirrors track 13, track 2 mirrors track 12, and so on inwards with track 7 as a stand alone in the center. BTW that track is “Seven Years at Sea.” It’s no accident that it is in that position. All of this gives the work a sense of cohesion. Again: it’s storytelling.

I should speak more about the instrumentation. Those who know my work through “Tilted Axes” will hear more than the electric guitars, basses, and drums that make up that album. On “A Sequence of Waves” there is all that but there is also piano, organ, violin, viola, cello, synthesizers, percussion, and sampling. In a certain sense, it’s a more colorful album. I tried to reflect this in the album art and design.

I used the same production team as on the last album. Garry Rindfuss engineered much of the recording and was present for all the mixes. I rely on his ears a lot. Sheldon Steiger did the album mastering. He has a long list of credits working within a number of classical and popular styles. I think it’s because of this he is able to balance of the eclectic sets of tracks I give him.

FM: What are your interests outside of music?

PG: I’m interested in anything that can tell a story using non-verbal means. This includes all kinds of visual and graphic art, design, and architecture for example. A well-designed household item can speak volumes. This spills over into the realm of semiotics and this is a branch of philosophy I use a lot in our work. I’ve written a lot of music for modern dance and for experimental theater. That last one interests me a lot because it’s the only art form I can think of that contains all of my interests under one umbrella: every aspect of the visual, of music, of movement, of text, live performance, projection, and political commentary.

Another intentional aspect of the album was to suggest music that would be good for visuals. I am looking forward to creating music for film again. I have been away from it for a couple of years when Tilted Axes was at the center of my work. Now that I’m working with the NYU Film School, things are set up for that return.

FM: What’s in store for the future?

PG: I feel that I have put 2017 to good use and that I have a firmer foundation upon which to build. I’ve already spoke of a return to film scoring so there is that. There are also a number of recordings that need to be finalized for early 2018 release. One of these albums has members of the California Guitar Trio, King Crimson, and the Adrian Belew Power Trio on a number of its tracks. Also appearing will be my Tilted Axes and Guitar Craft regulars. You’ll also hear a lot more of my keyboard playing on future releases. Many people forget that keyboard were my main instrument for years. It’s time they should remember!

Tilted Axes will be making a return in a Phase Two sense. A tilt shift? I have partnered with a Canadian company that is making a new kind of portable amplification for electric guitars. It’s in prototype now and should begin production after the new year. We’ll begin working with these new amps in February.

One thing is for sure is that I have missed live performance a lot. Then again, I wouldn’t have this improved base of operation if I hadn’t put my attention toward other things for a while. Duty now for the future.

The next album’s working title is “The Velcro Variations,” because, after all, what is Velcro but hooks and loops? Yes, it’s hooks and loops.

December 2017

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“DETROIT INDUSTRY” by Diego Rivera, music by Patrick Grant

1 of 3 (string orchestra version), The Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, music © 2008 by Patrick Grant / www.StrangeMusic.com, performed by SONYC: String Orchestra of NYC

2 of 3 (electric guitar version), The Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, music © 2013 by Patrick Grant, performed by Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars and recorded as “Rivera Court” ℗ 2016 PGM1601 (ASCAP). Premiered March 20, 2013 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI

3 of 3 (techno music version), The Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, music © 2011 by Patrick Grant / www.StrangeMusic.com, performed by Hi-Q

 

13 Questions for Patrick Grant from the Prepared Guitar Blog

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Patrick Grant is an American composer living and working in New York City. His works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have found place in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media over three continents. Over the last three decades, his music has moved from post-punk and classically bent post-minimal styles, through Balinese-inspired gamelan and microtonality, to ambient, electronic soundscapes involving many layers of acoustic and electronically amplified instruments. Throughout its evolution, his music has consistently contained a “…a driving and rather harsh energy redolent of rock, as well as a clean sense of melodicism…intricate cross-rhythms rarely let up…” Known as a producer and co-producer of live musical events, he has presented many concerts of his own and other composers, including a 2013 Guinness World Record-breaking performance of 175 electronic keyboards in NYC. He is the creator of International Strange Music Day (August 24) and the pioneer of the electric guitar procession Tilted Axes.

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1. What were the first and the last records that you bought with your own money?

When I was 11 years old, I saw a commercial on television for Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” The music in that commercial grab my ears right away. I could not figure out what was making those sounds. It was winter so I shoveled snow to earn the money to buy the LP. When I brought it come I put it on my record player and dropped the needle from track to track to find the music I had heard. It was the March section in 6/8 of the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as performed on the Moog synthesizer by Wendy (then Walter) Carlos. It blew my mind because up until then, to me, classical music was only stuff that was used in a humorous way in cartoons. The sounds of the Moog entirely captivated me. In one moment I was transformed and dedicated my life to music and, in many ways, my personal pursuit to this day is to relive that feeling I had. Now, the last album I actually purchased, on CD, was “King Crimson Live in Toronto, November 20, 2015.” If you also count digital purchases, that would be Frank Ocean’s “Blonde.” Whether you like his music or not, there is a lot to be learned about recording techniques on that album.

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2. What’s your musical practice routine ?

I begin every day with the Sitting Practice I have learned from being a part of Robert Fripp’s projects. It wouldn’t be right to call it meditation. The idea is, “How can one do anything if one doesn’t know how to do nothing?” So that’s it, I begin my day by doing nothing, as excellently as possible. The goal is to calm our Monkey Minds (reflex) and replace it with clear aims (intention). From there, I’ll go through a number of exercises on my acoustic Ovation tuned in Guitar Craft’s New Standard Tuning (C – G – D – A – E – G). I go through a number of finger exercises called Primaries. I find that this guitar’s tuning, in 5ths, really stretches out my left hand. Being acoustic, the right hand, playing with a pick, is given an equal amount of attention. There’s no hiding a sloppy right hand technique on an acoustic. If done well, the result is having exercised one’s ability to put attention where it’s needed, when it’s needed, not just in the hands, but throughout one’s being. All of this warms me up and gets me ready for whatever musical tasks I have for the day. If it’s a “keyboard day,” I’ll do all of the same preparation but will run through some of Bach’s Two-Part Inventions. I love the purity of the two monophonic lines working every finger equally.

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3. In your opinion, what’s the relevance of technique in music?

If one wants to make a life out of music, the learning of technique never ends. Not just in playing one’s instrument but, in all of the related fields that makes music possible. Understanding musical instrument technology and its constant evolution is one area. Then there are the various techniques of arranging, recording, and producing. So yes, it’s incredibly relevant. I’d rather feel I’m creating on the edge of learning something new rather than repeating myself. Those uncertain waters are a good place for creativity. Where those waters are, metaphorically, depend on how far out our technique can take us before we drown. It’s always good to push ourselves a little further each time we creatively venture out.

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4. Tell me one impossible project do you like to realize?

For years, I’ve wished to put together an electro-acoustic ensemble that would work well with projections, films and such. I would like the synchronization between the music and the images to be exact. The difference here would be that there would be flexibility in tempo. There would not be a static tempo connecting these sonic and visual elements but one that would be dynamically controlled by the musical ensemble. In other words, the image would follow the musicians, not the other way around which has been the traditional way. I have done some research into this and I believe I have finally found a way. This ability would have many possible (and impossible) uses on the stage and in alternative venues.

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5. What are the challenges and benefits of today’s digital music scene?

It has its pluses and minuses. It depends on what the aims of the artist are and I can only speak for myself. It certainly helps an artist in getting their music out into the world quickly. Where it goes from there is the question. I myself don’t have high expectations on digital sales, I’m more interested in getting the music to the right audience. I have been functioning in a traditional role of composer first, and performer second. That means that most of my music has been commissioned, meaning that I get my money up front. The purpose of my digital distribution is to get it to the people who commission new music and performances. If there are any sales, that’s the gravy. I would also ad that having one’s publishing and copyrights in order is very important if there is any chance of one’s tracks being licensed for use in visual and other media. As a result, I look forward to regular royalty checks from my PRO. Despite the relative ease that one can get their tracks out into the world, I have found that most serious reviewers and serious radio stations still prefer to receive an actual CD. Perhaps that will change but for now, I’m still sending out hard copies to the larger institutions.

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6. How do you feel listening to your own music?

Too be honest, a little awkward. The newer it is, the more awkward I feel. Every note reminds me of what I was thinking of or what I was doing when I created it. It’s funny. As time passes and I have some distance to it, I am able to listen more objectively and I’ll get critical of missed opportunities and things I’d like to change. When enough time passes, I can listen to it as if someone else created it and enjoy it for what it is. After too much time passes, to even think about making any changes seems a fruitless endeavor. Let it be what it is and, if there are any remaining criticisms, better to express them in a new piece of music.

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7. What is one musical work that has provoked a change in your music?

That would have to be Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” I was 14 years old and received that LP as a birthday gift. Like all music I fall intensely in love with, I didn’t like it at first. I almost hated it. That was because it challenged the way I had been listening to music. I was young and liked music that changed very quickly. Think of how fast the harmonies change in Bach and Bebop. It made me slow down and that took some time to do. When I was finally able to listen deeply, I began to notice all kinds of things going on that my ears were initially deaf to. That ability carried over into all over kinds of music that began to interest me. I was then able to listen to music that I thought I knew well and heard things that I didn’t hear before. This is a skill that all musicians have to acquire but, to me, when I was 14, it was pretty profound. I obviously remember the effect it had on me to this day.

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8. What is your relationship with other disciplines, such as painting, literature, dance, theater, etc.?

I have had a good relationship with all of the other arts early on. I can credit my mother, who studied art and drama, for that. As a teenager, I credit Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and Anthony Burgess for saving me from a life of illiteracy. They were so much more interesting than the classics we had to read in school, though I read those too. As a kid, I was leading two musical lives. On one side I was very classical: Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, and Stravinsky. I skipped over much of the Romantic Era. I found that music to be too nationalistic and full of over-orchestrated folk tunes. My other side was drawn to rock, the Beatles initially, even though they were years past. I started playing in Post-Punk and New Wave bands because I loved the immediacy of having an audience and the theatrical element it had that came from smart places like Modern Art and cult films. Later, I was interested in the music of John Cage. His book “Silence” was another ear-opener. I loved how all the arts came together in New York City and so I moved there and live there to this day. By being aware of the city’s history, I found many places to plug my music into besides concert venues: art galleries, theater, dance, film, and began producing my own concerts in alternative spaces. This was due to having a good understanding and relationship with other arts. Not too many musicians have this, or maybe they think they do. I became very involved with avant-garde theater for a number of years as a composer and performer. I have created music for the legendary Living Theatre. They interested me because of the sheer number of great composers that worked with them over the decades. Plus, as a theater composer, you have the benefit of a space to work in. That’s hard to get in NYC. I also created music for the visionary Robert Wilson, most famous for creating “Einstein on the Beach” with Philip Glass. That experience was a prime example of all the arts coming together on stage. Gesamtkunstwerk. Opera. I often say that the theater is my favorite art form because it is the only one that can contain all of my interests under one umbrella. That’s avant-garde theater, I mean. Traditional theater was there for research and technique. I pushed the envelope every chance I had.

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9. What are your secret influences? (Non-musical ones, like books, people, experiences, art…)

It’s not so much a secret, well maybe it is, but that would be the influence of science. I did not do well in school when it came to science. The concepts were, at the time, too abstract for me. The math, I mean. That’s strange since all other forms of abstract thought were never a problem. I always loved the short TV programs of Julius Sumner Miller. He was a student of Einstein. He produced short videos called “Dramatic Demonstrations in Physics.” The guy was hilarious. Anyway, he was able to get across some fairly deep concepts through simple physical demonstrations using things that one could find around one’s house. Search for his videos on YouTube. They’re priceless! So, like that, I needed something physical to understand the ideas. Soon after I finished school, I was given the book “On the Sensations of Tone” by Hermann Helmholtz. That was another paradigm shift. As I read it, I realized that I had the electronics to make the sounds he was describing in the math. When I could hear it, when I could see it, then I could understand it. It was physical, sensual, it was not abstract. From there, I started incorporating more and more science into a lot of my work, be it natural (physics and biology) or man made (architecture). These sciences offered many new models for composition. Since then, whether overtly or covertly, these things have informed the compositional elements of my work. I even created a number of concert theater pieces based on science like “Genome: The Autobiography of a Species” (2003) about DNA and “Big Bang” (2006) about the creation of the universe. I would also say that fractals are consciously present at some level in all of my work.

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10. If you could, what would you say to your younger self about a musical career?

Besides “learn orchestration,” I’d say stick with positive people. Don’t let anybody tell you what you should be doing. Follow your gut because, yes, life is too short and there’s little time to do anything over. Don’t party too much. You’ll regret that wasted time as you get older. Plus, it takes a toll on your body. Don’t worry about being liked. No matter how good you are, you cannot please everybody. Be a part of a community. Remember, music is a social art. Sure, we need time alone, but don’t isolate. Nothing happens if you do. If what you’re doing creatively scares you a little bit, that’s good. It will keep you sharp. Never say you can do more than you can do. That will take a while to figure out but stick to that ethic once you understand. People will appreciate your honesty even if it initially disappoints them. One axiom from Guitar Craft sticks with me: Honor sufficiency; Honor necessity. It’s more difficult than it sounds. Practicing your ability to maintain and deepen your attention. It requires constant work. Begin now.

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11. What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

Learn orchestration. No matter what one’s instrument or style of music, learn orchestration. There are some very real reasons why the orchestra has evolved into what it is and, in the end, those reasons are the physics of sound. Yes, science again. This will be especially useful when one begins using electronics. Whether it’s stomp boxes, synthesizers, or digital recording, all of these have their analogs in acoustics. It makes everything so much easier to navigate once you learn the principles of how sound works and how our ears hear. Thankfully, there are not too many things to learn (in essence) but the combinations are infinite. This was said to me and I’ve said it to younger musicians. They’ve all come back to thank me for it just as I thanked my mentors.

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12. Which instruments and tools do you use?

I’m a guitarist as well as a keyboardist so I have a bit of both. Guitar-wise, my sound is electrically defined by a Fender Jaguar, a Gibson Les Paul, and a Rickenbacker 330. Acoustically, I have an Ovation Balladeer and a Taylor T5. I have other guitars but those are the main ones. You know how in film they have lead actors and character actors? Well, as a guitarist, I’m not really a lead guitarist but, I’m much more than just a rhythm guitarist. I say that I’m a “character guitarist.” I’m the guy who plays the inner voices that you remember, if that’s a thing. I have plenty of top notch lead guitarists in my group to get that job done. As far as keyboards go, I’ve owned so many over the years that I haven’t been able to keep them all. Most every keyboard I’ve lost now exists as a software version. Currently I use a Korg SV-1 electric piano (with a tube!), a Novation MIDI controller, but the best of the best are the two Moog Sub 37s that I use as a pair. There’s nothing like that Moog sound. I mean, that’s what got me started in the first place. Electro-Harmonix and Vox Amps are project sponsors so I have a number of items from both of them for FX and amplification. For recording, I use Ableton Live. When many pieces have to be multi-tracked by different players at different times, I found that its editing capability can really bring everything together into an ensemble sound quite well. My partner Jocelyn is a Pro-Tools genius (she teaches it at the New York Film School and is a podcast producer for the New York Times) so, if I ever have to go there, it’s around. Still, it’s time to upgrade. I’ll need a new MacBook Pro and audio interface soon. For the latter, I’m thinking I’d like to get an Antelope Audio Zen Studio. It has so many inputs and it’s crazy good for taking on the road, so my friend can testify.

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13. What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

The Tilted Axes album just came out so we’re using that for promotion and planning our next performances. I’d like the next step to be “Tilted Axes: Music for Planetariums” or something like that. “Astronomic” is another working title. That would be a continuation of musical work that has roots in science. Plus, planetariums and museums are idea venues for what we do. My theatrical sense sees many extra-musical applications that could be pursued. A whole new repertoire has been written and I’m ready to begin recording the demos for the group. I like these new pieces because they mark a return to a lot of the polymeters I’ve been known for. I mean, the original repertoire was written for processions so much out it simply had to be in 4/4/. The music will evolve into more complex structures. Also, I am host of the Strings and Things Podcast. We just started that this year and it’s become very popular. The idea is simple: I invite interesting guitarists over to our studio, and we change our strings while talking about all kinds of things. After we have stretched and tuned our new strings, we always end in a short duet. It’s simple, it’s informal, and it’s lots of fun for the listener. On top of all that, I am mixing two more albums. One album is of electro-acoustic chamber works, and another album is of music for theater, video, and electronics. I’m enjoying the finishing up of these recordings since they’ve been building up over the past few years. Every time I get some music out into the world, good things happen. I can never guess exactly what that will be, but it’s always good. I’ll follow whatever path the music presents to me.

More iNFO…

TILTED AXES: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars
Official web page: http://www.tiltedaxes.net/tiltedaxes.html
Booking contact: tiltedaxes@peppergreenmedia.com
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/tiltedaxes
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tiltedaxes/

Angela Babin: Strings and Things

 

On this episode of Strings and Things, Angela Babin drops by to work on a Melody Maker that hasn’t been out and about in years, while our host Patrick Grant restrings his studio-weary Les Paul. They’ll swap stories about the weirdest gigs they’ve played in New York City, and talk about how numbers and math inspire Angela’s current compositions. Then they’ll amp up for a special Strings and Things duet.

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Since picking up the electric guitar at 14 years old, over the years Angela’s performed in a wide range of venues, from Folk City and CBGBs, to BAM and the Berlin Jazz Festival. She entered the downtown New York music scene with the band Off Beach, and played guitar in the nine-piece experimental rock group The Ordinaires. The Ordinaires were compared to Philip Glass, Captain Beefheart, Henry Mancini, Husker Du and Stravinsky – all at the same time! You may remember their cover of “Kashmir” was all over MTV at the time:

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Angela performed with Homer Erotic, founded by poets Maggie Dubris and Barbara Barg, as well as the groups Alpha Cat, Inviolate, The Raging Hormones, and The Blacklite Orchestra. She’s currently playing guitar with the blues-based Gotham Roots Orchestra, formed by composer/producer Cristian Amigo.


photo by Marc Latrique

There’s a great blog post on the Prepared Guitar website where you can find out much more about Angela Babin and her work. Check it out!

Anthony Mullin: Strings and Things

This time on the Strings and Things podcast, we have Anthony Mullin, from the merry band of head-banging hard-rockers called The Blackfires. He’s here to work on a very special Les Paul with a cool backstory, and he’ll tell us how his PhD influences his musical efforts.

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While he and our host Patrick Grant re-string their guitars, we’ll hear how Anthony’s parents played a pivotal role in his early days as a musician, and we’ll find out what riffs and records inspired Anthony’s blues-based approach to his own playing.

Hailing from Leeds, England, Anthony joins an international crew of dedicated rockers in The Blackfires and the group is in a significant moment in their career. Enthusiastically described as a “hard rock circus,” their live shows garner raves for the rollicking energy and potency of the band’s performances.

The Blackfires – photo: loudwire.com

After opening for Aerosmith in Russia and continuing a busy live schedule, the band heads into the studio this summer to work on a new album. Your can find out more about Anthony and The Blackfires at their website, theblackfires.com.