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 concept?
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 our embellishments.
Groove is obviously a critical element in these arrangements. How do you interact with the drummer and bassist to ensure the rhythm is solid?
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.