LYLE WORKMAN IS SOMETHING OF A MULTItasker.
Or he’s schizophrenic. Or maybe he just
can’t say no. How else can you explain a career
path that has taken him from pop funksters
Bourgeois Tagg to playing wingman for Todd
Rundgren to sessions and gigs for Jellyfish,
Beck, Frank Black, Sting, and many others?
And that doesn’t take into account his most
high-profile work over the past few years: scoring
smash-hit movies such as 40-Year-Old Virgin,
Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
But that still ain’t all. There’s the Lyle Workman
we see here. The guy who releases
elaborate, intricate solo albums where he
combines complex string and percussion
arrangements with massive guitar layers and
textures and chops that call to mind Jimmy
Page, John McLaughlin, and Jeff Beck. That’s
what listeners are treated to on Workman’s
latest, Harmonic Crusader [Infrared], a record
that features tons of Workman’s guitar work,
but also the drumming of monsters such as
Simon Phillips, Gary Novak, and Vinnie
How did you find the time to make this record?
I worked on it on and off for about eight
years, in between touring and movies. Basically
in between all of my income.
What was the evolution of the songs, from the
writing stage to the demos to the finished product?
Some songs were written and recorded
in a very short period of time. For example,
most of the song “Ode to the Gypsy King”
was done in a few days. And “Devotion”
came together pretty much in one day. It’s
essentially just one acoustic guitar, one electric
guitar, and my voice. I played a really old
Washburn parlor-sized gut-string guitar from
the 1800s, and overdubbed the second half
with my ’72 Thinline Tele through my ’66
“Ruckus Maximus” was a tune that took
a long time to finish. It required a lot of
work to embellish it the way I wanted and
I didn’t have enough time to do it start to
finish when I wrote it. I basically fleshed
the whole thing out—the chord progression
and the melodies—with just one guitar
and a click. Then I started to add instruments
like drums and bass. That song has
Simon Phillips on drums. When I came up
with the A section, I just heard Simon playing
it. I had him in the back of my mind,
because I had been listening to all those Jeff
That tune has some pretty wild lead work.
I believe the solos on that song were
tracked to a click. My plan the entire time
was to replace the solos. But there’s something
about the relaxed state I’m in when I
know it’s not for real, when I know I’m going
to come back to it and replace it. There’s an
ease to my playing. I’m not too precious
about it and that’s what happened there.
When I listened back after Simon played on
it, I ended up keeping my rough solo.
What kind of direction did you give him on the
I sent him an mp3 of the basic version
and a chart, because there were several meter
changes. I didn’t know how he was going to
feel some of the sections, because they can
be felt a couple of different ways. If you were
to listen to this song with a click track, you
might be surprised where the click is.
Like a lot of tunes on this record, the guitar
on “Ruckus Maximus” is doubled with other instruments.
Talk about your approach to those layers.
That doubling usually happens toward
the end of recording. Once I outline the basic
harmony and outfit it with the meat and
potatoes guitar, then I’m always looking for
textures that I can add to give it some variety.
On that song, there’s a guitar melody
that’s being doubled by vibes and marimba—
sort of a Frank Zappa-style thing. I wrote all
the notes out for the percussionists and it’s
a fairly elaborate chart, with some of the
notes flying by pretty quickly. I love the sound
of guitar being doubled by percussive instruments
like vibes. I also love the sound of
guitar and strings, and there’s a fair amount
of that on this record, as well. I’m a huge
fan of classical music, where you’ve got brass,
strings, horns, and woodwinds. Within that
framework you can get a lot of textures, and
I like to apply that concept to the music I
write. I’m always into a wider sonic scope
than what electric guitar, bass, keyboards,
and drums can provide, even though a lot of
great music has been written with that
At about 5:00 in “Burning of the Brightest
Flame,” there’s a really fast, intricate passage that
kind of sounds like guitar but kind of doesn’t.
I’m doubling that line in octaves. That
was my modified 1969 100-watt Marshall
that I just love the sound of. I use that a lot.
What other gear did you rely on?
I used a lot of Divided by 13 amps. On
the guitar front, I played my ’63 Strat, a ’58
reissue Les Paul, and my ’72 Thinline Tele—
a lot of the lush chordal stuff is that guitar.
I miked the amps with a Shure SM57 and
either a Royer R-121 ribbon or this Heil PR30
that I really like on guitars. I tend to use
those microphones in combination, and I
blend them pretty much half and half.
“Pieds-en-l’Air” has some incredible EBow
work. How did you put that together?
Dave Gregory from XTC told me about
this composer, Peter Warlock, who wrote a
piece called Capriol Suite. I got the CD and
there was this one movement, “Pieds-enl’Air,”
that I just loved. I got the score and
recorded the parts one by one with an EBow.
Then I tripled or quadrupled each track to
give it the sound of a guitar orchestra. That’s
21 tracks of EBow guitar.
Did you take steps to make certain parts sound
more like clarinets, oboes, or cellos?
I did. For the cello parts, I didn’t want
such a vibrant top end, so I rolled the tone
off the guitar a bit and changed the EQ on
the amp. I wanted to give each part its own
space as much as I could.
Your resume is pretty varied. Was there a guitarist
that you modeled your career path after?
No. I don’t know if it’s because I get
bored easily or that I have an interest in all
aspects of music, but any time I was anywhere
near an opportunity, if I was asked,
I would just say yes, even if I didn’t know
what I was doing. Yes, yes, yes. I’m doing
orchestral stuff for films now. I don’t have
any background in that. I’m relying on my
ears and my abilities, and I’m constantly
surprising myself with things. It’s amazing
how much you can do that you never knew
you could do.