Carl Verheyen’s Studio Diary

June 14, 2011

imgA TREND IN THE ROCK CONCERT business is to record every night of a tour, and offer some songs for near immediate release via the Web. I was initially a little nervous about this during rehearsals for a Supertramp tour last year. Knowing there would be an official release of every show was a little daunting. I like to reach for something a little different every night in my solos to keep the music fresh, and I can occasionally fall short of my own expectations. We improvisers don’t like to fall into patterns—we always seem to feel the need to push the creative envelope— and, for me, a seat-of-your-pants attitude gives the music an edge that is missing in most arena shows these days.

Of course, the risk in “going for it,” is that I can walk offstage overwhelmed with joy, or completely bummed out, based on my perception of what I played. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing, and here’s why: Your assessment is based on what you meant to play—not necessarily what you played. Many times, when you’re going for something and you miss, what you actually played is every bit as valid. It just takes a few days (or weeks) of separation from the show to hear it.

For example, I recently recorded a live DVD with my band, and, of course, I went through the usual morning-after thoughts such as, “It’s rubbish—nothing I played was cool.” But three weeks later, I realized it was actually a fine performance— mistakes and all. One happy accident was that my wah pedal was on by mistake at the beginning of a solo, and although I cringed at the time, it sounds cool now.

The joy of performing should override any trepidation over the red light being on during a live show. That self-conscious feeling of second-guessing everything you’ve just played gets you nowhere in a hurry, and it can restrict you from really going for it. We’ve all experienced a bad night when things aren’t coming together sonically, or the band isn’t playing together well. So how do you rise above that type of adversity?

I’m reminded of the advice my friend Larry Carlton gave me many years ago, at a now-defunct L.A. jazz club called Donte’s. I came onstage and noticed him in the front row—right under my nose. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, my 1958 Gibson ES-175 had recently undergone a neck repair, and it wouldn’t stay in tune. The entire night was a disaster, and at the end, I asked Larry what he does when all is going badly wrong. He said simply, “I let the music take over.”

The Zen ability to take yourself out of the moment that just happened, and into the moment that is happening now is a skill I continually work on. Live recording is just one of the places where that skill comes in very handy.

A member of Supertramp since 1985, Carl Verheyen has also logged a dazzling 25-year career as one of L.A.’s premier studio guitarists. His most recent Carl Verheyen Band release is the DVD, The Road Divides.

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