“’Premonition’ was written during the sessions for the Chickenfoot album, but not used, which was fine, because I knew it could be rewritten as a really cool instrumental. Interestingly, the solo was from a demo I’d done a year earlier. What was odd about that is that the music surrounding the solo section in the demo was exactly the same as on the rewritten version. I recorded a couple of live solos and an overdubbed solo, but I couldn’t improve on what I had done before, so we just flew the demo solo in.
“It is a real Marshall-sounding track. I played an Ibanez JS2400 guitar straight into one of the new Marshall amps designed by Santiago Alvarez, with no effects except delays. The Marshall has an articulation that the song really relies on because there are quite a lot of notes, and you can’t have a mushy sound.
“The sounds at the beginning are a composite of some footstep, bells, and other samples I found, and bits of us fooling around talking in the studio. Mike Fraser took all the goofy things we said, reversed them, and mixed them with my sound effects. I wanted there to be a rush of information like when you get a premonition of impending disaster, but you don’t know what it is because everything is all jumbled up.”
“One morning I awoke from a dream in which I was playing or writing a song, and I went right down to my studio and recorded what I was hearing before it evaporated, which I had never done before. By lunchtime I had reconstructed the music from the ground up, and it was like, ‘Listen to that, that’s exactly what I was dreaming.’ The layering was a lot of fun, and I used a Sustainiac on the guitar solo. I think I played through an old 50-watt Marshall. Once I had the melody down, I thought it would be cool to add something really different that wasn’t in the dream, and the wah part from ‘Shaft’ kept running around in my mind. I thought maybe there’s one note that I could play throughout the entire song that will work with all the chords, so I just started jamming along with it and I discovered that an E wah part would work. Then, I realized it would also make a cool beginning to the song.”
“The expression ‘Pyrrhic victory’ goes back to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans but lost just about everybody in his army. So it’s when you win something but at great cost. I wrote the main riff while experiencing the wonder of a Two-Rock amp that was built for me without the reverb. Some amps just give you more of something, and that particular amp was giving me a lot the evening I wrote that riff. Then, the challenge was to get the stomping boogie part to fit with the more classic rock part. Remember, I’m thinking about Pyrrhic victory, so I wanted a chorus that was very big but fell apart, so I added augmented fourths and other wrong notes. Then, at the end, it descends back into the dark boogie.
“I played the melody parts slightly differently each time, which has to do with my method. As I build a rhythm track I’ll sing the melody, because if I can’t sing the melody, it has too many notes. Then, I’ll find the right tone and push record and hope that I get it right on the first or the second take—because otherwise there’s the risk of polishing it to death. Afterward, I listened to the melody and decided it needed a harmony part.
“Another ‘Pyrrhic Victoria’ element was a really out of tune and buzzy stereo software synth patch that was combined with the guitar at one point to create a disturbingly warble-y sound.”
“LIGHT YEARS AWAY”
“‘Light Years Away’ is the simplest song on the album, but it actually took a lot of work as a band. You’d think you just hear the groove and go, but then you start playing it and you realize, ‘Wow we’re all swinging differently.’ Those are always the hardest things to get. If you want guitarists, bass players, and drummers to really play a riff with exactly the same swing, everyone’s got to feel it the same way. We played that thing a lot and just stared at each other trying to get it right. Also, there’s a solo on there that I had done at home before we had completed the final tracks, and when we revisited it we found that it swung in this very unique way, so we kept it.
“The guitar doesn’t start going crazy until the end of the song, after about five minutes of just pounding away, which I thought might be a problem, but it worked out really well. It’s got a cinematic vibe to it, and it’s not over-played. These days, I think there should be an effort by guitar players to leave some of the decades behind and try to come up with a fresh compositional approach that puts the guitar in a new light and puts the emphasis on soulful playing.”
“I originally intended ‘Solitude’ as an introduction to a song called ‘Heartbeats.’ I recorded it at home and afterward I listened back and realized that it was really heavy, and it came from somewhere deep inside. I was channeling something about my parents and their personality and how all those things get passed down to the kids. We tried recording it as an ensemble, but it wasn’t working, so we decided it should just be a solo guitar piece. I was kind of relieved because I really did like it all by itself. It’s an Ibanez JS2400 direct into a Millennia STT-1 channel strip using the Mo’ Joe bridge pickup with both coils.”
“‘Littleworth Lane’ has a pretty deep story. My mother passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer, and one of the evenings I was driving away from her home before she died, I wrote that song in my head and carried it around inside myself, not thinking it was ever going to be on the record. Then, while I was on the Experience Hendrix tour, I decided to make a recording of it using my iPhone and a funky old out-of-tune piano that was backstage, and that became the arrangement that we kept. It’s sort of a gospel blues with a little bit of rock, soul, and country.
“I had decided that the song was going to be about the street and the house where my mother lived, and not about her passing away. I wanted it to be something positive, so I focused on all the great times we’d had in that house. I recorded piano and organ and bass and all the guitars at home, and then when I brought it to the studio Mike Keneally replaced the piano and we recorded live bass, drums, and more acoustic guitar. My parts are really different than anything I’m known for, other than the melody writing, but they turned out to be the right performance.
“THE GOLDEN ROOM”
“‘The Golden Room’ began with a composite loop I created using some world music loops. I wanted eight minutes of something Indian sounding in D that I could use for practicing modes and doing amplifier and pedal tests, so I layered about six Indian instruments and laid down a very simple bass line. Then one day I was fooling around with a ’78 Fender Telecaster Custom—a pretty ballsy guitar that weighs a lot and sounds really big. I started playing some Spanish-sounding chords and got the idea of doing something where the melody has an Andalusian kind of vibe, and then, when it dissolves, the improvisation part has a sort of Indian vibe. The Spanish thing works best with an open-E-type chord, however, so I repitched the loop to D# , because the guitar was tuned to Eb. When soloing, I used Phrygian and Phrygian Dominant for the Spanish parts and Mixolydian for the sarod-like Indian parts.
“The original looped guitars are something like 13 or 15 or 17 bars long, because I had some crazy ideas about odd looping. So, the loops flip around at different times throughout the song. Jeff played a Korg Wavedrum rather than real drums, and since I already had that big bass note in there, Allen improvised around it. We went for a sort of Grateful Dead improvisational thing.”
“TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY”
“‘Two Sides to Every Story’ is my nod to when I was a teenager, and to the influence of saxophonist Eddie Harris’ music in particular. He was a very lyrical player, and had a knack for playing in times like 5, 6, 9, and 11 while making it sound like you could just snap your fingers and dance along without giving it a second thought. When I came up with the riff for this song, I knew exactly whom I was channeling, though it was hard to write a melody to. Again, I built the rhythm track first and then came up with the melody by singing rather than by playing guitar, so that I wouldn’t be influenced by stuff I already knew how to play. We’re all creatures of habit, and if you start writing by riffing over something, very often it’s going to sound like something you’ve already played.
“I played the melody on a ’69 maple-cap Strat, a Hendrix fetish guitar that sounds great but is noisier than hell. We edited out the noisy bits between notes in Pro Tools. I also used a ’64 Strat on two unison parts panned hard right and left, probably played through either the Two-Rock or a Wizard amp, and a maple-neck Ibanez prototype with three single-coil-looking DiMarzio pickups into a Marshall JVM410 on the solo section. I was looking for a sort of Hendrix-meets-Gilmour thing, when the tune suddenly modulates to the minor key.”
“I used software synths to build up a cinematic G minor thing on ‘Wormhole Wizards,’ trying to capture something of the vastness of the universe, with a really low bass and a minor 10 on top. And I played the bass line using a Fender Rhodes patch, so it has kind of a Doors feel to it, rather than a bass guitar feel. We wanted to keep that slight techno dance vibe, so we worked it out where Allen plays part of the piano bass riff and I play part of it, and the three parts blend together in a way that makes the line clearer and more precise than if we all played the same riff. Beyond that, you can hear Mike Keneally doing some unusual arpeggios on electric piano, but we didn’t want to go too crazy. The whole melody is really G minor.
“I used the Sustainiac for the solo, which was recorded at home, and I tracked the rhythm parts live. The solo has this weird technique in the breakdown section where I’m playing sixth harmonies on the G and the E strings in G minor, and I’m rubbing my fingernails against the strings and the fretboard very percussively, sort of flamenco style.”
“WIND IN THE TREES”
“I started writing ‘Wind in the Trees’ when I was a teenager. I almost did it on Surfing with the Alien, and every four or five records it would come up for consideration, but I just couldn’t figure out how to get a band to do it until now. There are three guitars tuned E,B, D, G, A, B, low to high, only lowered a halfstep— so it’s minor-7th voicing with an added 4. Two really clean guitars are panned hard right and left, and all I’m doing is playing harmonics on the 12th fret over the E chord, and harmonics on the 7th fret over the B chord. The third guitar was a ’59 Gibson L-5 running through a Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe set to get kind of an underwater sound.
“I played through an Antares Auto-Tune on the melody part, but instead of using it during the mix I performed it. I plugged my guitar directly into Auto-Tune and then into a Tech 21 SansAmp, using a Vox Big Bad Wah on the second setting, with a very low-register throw, as my only effect. I programmed Auto-Tune for Eb Dorian and set it so that only the seven notes in that scale would come out. By just going crazy with no regard for tuning, the program worked so hard that this sound with a very vocal-like quality came out. Then, I used the Sustainiac for the solo.”
“GOD IS CRYING”
“The intro to “God Is Crying” began as a jam. Mike Fraser always gave us free rein to jam, and he recorded everything. This particular jam started out with Jeff giving us a beautiful backbeat and we started playing this funky thing before taking it into the song. We all thought the jam would be edited out, but when we listened back to it, we decided it was the keeper take. Then Mike turned to us and said, ‘We need handclaps,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we should go do those right now.’ But he said that he already had them. He, Jeff, my tech Mike Manning, and I had recorded handclaps in a little hallway in between the control room and the studio for the song ‘It’s So Good’ on the Super Colossal record. Mike located the tracks on his hard drive and flew them into the new song in a matter of minutes.
“Mike also did an interesting thing with the guitar part. He used a splitter to send the guitar signal to three separate tracks. One signal going through a Whammy pedal set to an octave lower was panned left, one going through a Whammy set to an octave higher was panned right, and a third guitar signal going through a wah was panned dead center. Then, during the mix, Mike reacted to the music emotionally and shifted the relative levels of the three tracks to emphasize certain parts. We could have used a harmonizer but the Whammy pedals were grittier.” —BC