I don’t trust myself. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that I can be a space cadet that will pretty much forget my ass if it wasn’t properly attached to my body. Considering creative thought strikes at all times, instead of notating or transcribing an idea, I just play it into the voice memo on my cell, or video myself playing it. An informative perk from documenting things this way is coming across old footage after you’ve been performing the end result for two years. Since I get asked a lot about the process of developing solos and melodies, I figured I would share some recently found footage of me improvising over a couple of tracks from the Crown of Phantoms sessions last year.
There is not a lot of real footage out there of me going through the process in its entirety due to the fact that I mainly write on the spot. For the most part, it’s all about making sure a song’s arrangement is close to complete so you have more momentum to play off of. It’s also wise because you don’t want to be married to an idea just because you overextended yourself. It needs to be there for a reason and come from within the song. So I often find myself working backwards or even musically searching for what to put where. To narrow down the possibilities, I focus on the chord changes and if possible, writing the riff around a progression.
Soloing over metal can be comical. There is a sense of “of course Slayer solos sound like that.. listen to what they are playing over.” A common scenario for most guest sessions I’m a part of is having to play over the traditional “white guy thrash metal beat” which is very similar to polka. Needless to say, I’m a firm believer of “a song within a song” for solo moments. Melody, memorability, and pocket flaunts intent even if the arrangement does not allow for this kind of behavior. I find you have to show the listener that you are listening as well or subliminally there will be less of a connection between them and what you are doing.
I’m getting into the headspace of what sound and feel I’m going for, but in the back of my mind I know that if I play like this all the way through the section, its not going to be dynamic enough for people to make sense of it. Most of the great moments in music are setup to be great. If you look at Hotel California for example, I think that the last lyric before the solo, groove underneath the solo, the progression, as well as the harmonized melody that all 3 guitarists play at the end has so much weight that the solo’s themselves really don’t matter. The fact that they are still beautiful all this time later is a bonus no matter what Don Henley says about saving the Rainforest.
What wound up making the cut is definitely more musical and dynamic. I wound up going back and writing a more melodic build up to the Django inspired runs that happen later. Triads and open strings will always be my go to direction when it comes to writing melodies through changes. It starts with just getting through the progression with regular traids (1 3 5 etc) then filling in the blanks with passing tones. Here, I can control how “normal” I want things to sound. If you can see the skeleton of something, the rest of the body is easy to manage.
Comparatively speaking, the final version of Wrapped in Violence is more drastic than the beginning phase. You can see me digging around being more notey but at the very end, you can literally see me rediscover the entire direction the melody is based upon. Once this was out in the open, it was obvious that expounding on the initial melody was the answer instead of bringing something completely foreign into the tune.
The end result is much more fitting to the song. It has a lot of character and is the more “out there” tune on the record. I believe what made the cut is much more fitting for the big picture. I’m always looking for an excuse to use a Whammy Pedal as well. You can easily notice the opening melody/theme comes back underneath the solo. These are typical yet effective moves that are based on the comprehension of the listener and how much space you are working with. Similar to counter point – you can take advantage of contrasting space and rhythm between two or more parts.
Trying to get your point across with more words can be hit or miss. What I’m usually after is just being able to play freely over an idea. If you are comfortable with a situation, you can max out your fullest potential. In the studio, I just see it as speaking in fragments, run-ons, sometimes even stuttering phonetics just to find the right sentence. Sometimes people speak correctly and come off square or drab – then you go down south and hear someone talking like a toothless moron and it can be the most charming, dead-on expression that you could never recreate with proper terminology.
At any point, to properly communicate, we need to pick the best words to convey what we feel. Sometimes just pointing and screaming at the top of your lungs in horror is the most expressive. Sometimes, silence and very little words at all is the most powerful. It’s about how in tune you are with what is trying to come out of you. Just like an actor or athlete, as much as people will want to debate it, I feel that there is physical, psychological, and then there is a third thing that very few people wield. Most people will try to consider it “talent” or some sort of “gift” – I just see it as what separates the incredible from the norm.
Needless to say, it’s art. It’s an opinion. It’s good or bad, and no matter how much we say exactly what we feel, some people just say or feel otherwise.