After several years of focusing almost exclusively on my rock/folk band projects, string quartet arrangements, running live sound, and recording projects, I took a recent, quiet weekend alone at home to write a piano sonata. Read the rest of this entry »
Pay the Devil released a new single, featuring me on cello! The band has started to release singles in-between larger recording efforts, so this one comes relatively hot on the heels of another single and their full album from earlier this year. Take a listen!
Since early college, mandolin has been top on my “next instrument to learn” list. I did finally start playing a few years ago when my former bandmates from Whiskey Doubles gifted me a mandolin as a new-house gift, and I did end up playing two songs with that group on mandolin, but never really felt comfortable with the instrument. After a few years of it mostly just hanging on the wall, I started playing it near daily this year, usually 15-30 minutes a day, teaching myself some bluegrass and americana staples, as well as working on my own arrangements of songs like “Amazing Grace” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”. And now I’ve just finished my first gig with the instrument!
Milwaukee’s favorite “shanty-grass” ensemble, the gruff and lovable, Pay the Devil, released their sophomore album, “To Hell Luck” last night at the Walker’s Point Music Hall. Though I don’t play with the group regularly anymore, I actually did contribute bass to all but one track, and played cello on three others.
The band recorded all of their parts at banjo-Ivan’s house (yes, there are two Ivans in the band, one on banjo, one on guitar), usually in a group setting with the vocals added later. I then rented a stand-up bass to lay down the bass tracks in my home studio, where I also recorded the cello parts. Harmonica was layered in all the way from Erie, Pennsylvania, performed by banjo-Ivan’s dad. Once everything was recorded and mixed by Ivan, he headed into my home studio where we sat down to a night of mastering and Thai food. It was a long but enjoyable and collaborative process.
A particularly collaborative song is “Buffalo Bill”, written by a friend of the band, Lucas Riddle. Banjo-Ivan plays guitar and performs lead vocals, I play cello, Ivan’s dad added harmonica, and the band’s new bassist, Jacqueline, provided backup vocals. The track turned out fantastic despite none of the performers actually sitting down to play the tune together!
This song harkens back to my formative golden year of music, that period in middle or high school where you formed a strong bond with certain types of music that carries through the rest of your life. When I wasn’t listening to No Doubt, Bush, Stabbing Westward, or Garbage, there was a strong chance I was listening to this song. It’s still a favorite, and it’s fun and cute quality has helped it age well over some of the more angsty things from my teen years. I’ve always enjoyed the songs great melody (it seriously is a study in melody-writing 101) and jazzy harmonies provided by the guitar and backup vocals.
For the arrangement, I decided to make the first verse stand out from the rest by means of the entire accompaniment playing pizzicato, with the cello take some percussive slaps. As the song progresses, I dug more into the harmonies and countermelodies, even adding a bit more color to them than is in the original recording. It’s a relatively simple, but effective arrangement in the end.
Oh boy was this fun. This is such an incredible song, but I was afraid that it’s heavy use of a drum beat, very bassy synthesizers, and free-styled vocals would make it a poor choice for the more straight-laced string quartet. Once I set out on the arrangement though, I quickly found some intriguing harmonies I could dig into. I also heavily debated whether or not I should arrange the instrumental coda to the song not played on the radio, but when I eventually did start it, it turned out to be the best part of the song!
Closing out a recent flurry of quartet arrangements is the incredibly soulful “Hold On” by The Alabama Shakes. I initially hesitated on arranging this one as the melody relies so much on an intense vocal delivery, but it was actually the rhythm section that convinced me to arrange this. The main guitar riff works out beautifully as a cello line with some percussive slaps, and the key ended up lending itself to a lot of double-stops worked into the melody and harmony parts to bring some soul into the string delivery. And of course, I close the quartet with a bit of a round, pretty much a hallmark of my arrangements by now.