Guitar Player, Bass Player,
Keyboard, and Electronic Musician were among
the sponsors of the 2012 Strange Arrange
competition held in Nashville at the Limelight
Entertainment Venue during summer
NAMM on July 14. Open to bands across
the United States, five finalists were challenged
to perform unique live “remixes”
of popular R&B and hip-hop radio hits.
Prizes for the winning act included $10,000
cash, gear from sponsors (Sony, Steinberg,
PreSonus, DW Drums), and a recording
and video shoot with R&B singer Musiq
Soulchild. After the final notes decayed at
the Limelight, judges Soulchild, bassist
Ethan Farmer, bassist Adam Blackstone,
and drummer Gerald Heyward selected
Miami’s Nurdy Tunes as the champion of
the 2012 Strange Arrange competition.
Here, Nurdy Tunes guitarist Kerry Marshall,
Jr. details how his band took the crown.
How did Nurdy Tunes approach the live remix
We did “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry,
and we kept the song as pure as possible
by adding embellishments that put forth
the excitement of a live show. We knew
people would want to feel the music, and
hear the different hits and licks, but we
added some different colors and highlights.
The song had a lot of open spots, as well,
so there were definitely places we could
fill in with something special. I think our
arrangement was approximately 70 percent
of the original song and 30 percent
Groove is obviously a critical element in
these arrangements. How do you interact with
the drummer and bassist to ensure the rhythm
We always play to a click, and I always
stay right on tempo—unless I’m asked to
drag or rush a little bit. We all use in-ear
monitors to hear the click so we’re never
guessing about the tempo. If you play a
lot of R&B, you’re trained to use a click
all the time, so we’re used to it. In fact, if
we don’t have a click, we feel like things
sound kind of empty. We can certainly play
without one—it’s just an empty feeling.
Why do you think you won?
We followed the format—which was rearranging
the music, not completely remixing
the music. We also respect the artist’s
record, so we’d want them to know it was
their song if they heard our version. We
wanted our arrangement to be unique, but
we didn’t get away from the song too much,
and I think that was the difference maker.
How did you approach your embellishments?
From where do you draw your colors?
I use a lot of different chord voicings.
Just adding a 9 or an 11 or a suspension to
add color to the chord. Those inversions
often make a chord stand out a little bit
from what the other musicians are playing—
they also add more boldness and
more depth to the music. I can make this
all work because my guitar sound is real
clean and soulful.
What’s the best way to stay true to someone
else’s work, and still insert your own personality
into the mix?
The main thing is to your homework—
to know the song and be completely comfortable
with the music. If you do that,
you can be open to interpret the music
and put your emotions into your playing.
Then, it’s all about knowing when it’s the
right time to do your thing and having a
unique-enough style so when that time
comes, people really hear you as doing
something amazing and different.