Monday, May 14, 2007
Ken Andrews iChat Interview
As I mentioned in my review of his Troubadour show, Ken Andrews doesn't need an introduction. If you were alive in the '90s and played guitar, Failure was on your radar screen and was one of your favorite bands. Ken Andrews continues his tradition of stellar songwriting with his solo album Secrets of The Lost Satellites. I was lucky enough to catch him via ichat. Here is how it went down...
AC: Thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview for Amateurchemist.com. I am going to see Jesus & The Mary reunion tour tonight and was wondering have you ever been offered to do a Failure reunion tour?
KA: No, promoters haven’t reached out to us. I think most of them know we are not really equipped to do that at this point. A couple of agents have suggested it. Its nothing I see happening in the immediate future. I never say never to anything.
AC: One of the great purchases I made at the Troubadour was the Failure Essentials double disc set. The money was worth it in the liner notes, which were great, describing each song. What was the driving force behind that?
KA: The driving force behind it was the requests from the fans. After we released the Failure Golden DVD, people were like is there anything else? Please release something else. We opened up the boxes again and tried to look and see what was in there. That is where Essentials came from.
AC: Is there anything else in the vaults for Year of The Rabbit and On?
KA: Yes, there is. I haven’t figured out how to present it yet. There is a bunch of other stuff. I have been focused on the solo record. I haven’t had time to do anything else. I think there will be future stuff.
AC: The new album Secret of the Lost Satellites is great. One of the cool things about the solo album is that Tim Dow and Jeff Garber (Year of the Rabbit) were credited for “In Your Way”. Did they do some other songs that didn’t make the album?
KA: Tim, Jeff and I had jammed the beginnings of that song as Year of The Rabbit. I was looking for songs on my hard drive to finish and I found that one. I liked Tim’s drumming on it a lot. I changed the chords around. I basically kept Tim’s drum performance and Jeff’s guitar and changed my guitar part around a little bit and added bass and did vocals. It’s a pseudo Year of the Rabbit song but not really. When we were doing Year of The Rabbit we would finish everything as a band.
AC: It definitely has that Year of The Rabbit vibe.
KA: It does. Tim’s drumming is so distinctive and so is Jeff’s guitar playing.
AC: What records have inspired you in the past and present and what makes you identify with some of those records?
KA: You are talking about 25 years of music. I break it up into periods. There was the period that got me interested in music. The ‘80s hard rock stuff like the first couple of Van Halen records, and AC/Dc but I was interested in New Wave (Cars/Gary Numan). As I started learning how to play guitar I got interested in darker music like The Cure and Bauhaus. After I started playing music and writing my own songs it hard for me to tell what bands have influenced me. I am always trying to do something that is different from other people. I don’t really know for sure what people can pick out. It is interesting to me. I know what I listen to, and I hear it coming through sometimes but it seems like it is easier for people outside to evaluate that then myself. I am to inside the bubble.
AC: Are there any artists that you look up to today?
KA: If I had to pick two of the top of my head, I would say Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor. They have such a huge body of work now and almost all of it I think is really good and really important to the history of rock music. They are different but similar in a way. They have been around for a while and been through quite a few sound changes too within their careers. I kind of identify with them a little bit.
AC: Have you listened to Year Zero?
KA: Yes. I am listening to it this week. I like it. I definitely like it. I think its cool. I am glad he didn’t wait so long this time.
AC: It is interesting with his use of synthesizers and analog modular synths that he used on the album.
KA: He is a sound design expert. Even if you don’t like his songs you can listen to the album for the sound design alone.
AC: From a mixing standpoint for you, I assume it is something you try to model as well.
KA: I don’t do a lot of A/B’ing while I am mixing stuff, I tried it in the past but you end up with not as good of a mix. You have to find out what is best for the song and what exploits the song and the song’s strength mix wise. I think when I am listening to other albums some of their overall tone and some of the technique seeps in but I try not to actually reference anything when I am mixing my own stuff.
AC: One of my favorite albums you mixed was the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Album (Take Them On, On Your Own). Any cool memories or musical tidbits that you recall?
KA: That was a really difficult record to work on actually. Those guys are very particular. They were challenged by the whole experience of trying to getting the record to sound they wanted it to sound. That record by normal standards should have taken 2 weeks to mix but it ended up taking six. I was the third or fourth mixer that had tried to mix it. It was a long arduous process. But I hope they were happy at the end of it. They have a strange way of working. They record it all themselves in their apartment. The sounds they record are extreme. To a certain extent there is not a whole lot of latitude you have when you are mixing it. It is what it is. Sometimes they wanted to go beyond or in a different direction then what was recorded. That is when we found the process to get a little frustrating sometimes.
AC: Are there some favorite guitar pedals that you like to use live and in the studio?
KA: In Failure, I had this giant rack that I used to cart around on tour that had 20 or something pedals inside of it. All inside this really deep switching system. It was really cool but when it broke down it was a nightmare. To chase down where the problem was there were about 300 cables in the back of it.
AC: Do you remember some of the twenty pedals?
KA: Oh, Yeah I am looking at them right now in my studio. I still have them. I took my rack apart and have them spread out on a table so I can easily use any of the pedals when I am recording. For live, I use the Boss GT-3. It probably sounds 80-90% as good as the all the real pedals I have. But what it lacks in perfect sound quality it makes up for in convenience and reliability. It works every time. There is one pedal though that I am going to use on the upcoming shows. I can’t find a pedal that sounds anything close to this pedal. It’s an octave divider pedal. It creates another note to what you are playing but an octave down. This has a sound to it. It’s really weird.
AC: It adds a harmonic to it?
KA: Yeah. The way it tracks. Anytime you have a pedal that’s making a harmony to the note you are playing. The quality of the tracking (the ability to know what note you are playing and figure that out. That is the sound of the pedal. How well it tracks. It never tracks perfect. Sometimes you don’t want it to track perfect. That is what I like about this pedal. It doesn’t track perfect. The way it doesn’t track has a really gnarly sound to it. I don’t know what it is about this pedal. It is awesome. It is a Mu-Tron Octave Divider. They were made in the ‘60s. When I got this one, it was considered vintage in the early 90s and they cost $100-$200. I saw one on ebay for 500 bucks. I won’t give it up. It’s the one pedal that no other pedal has come close to.
AC: It seems like a lot of your work you loved the octave shifts and harmonizers.
KA: The Whammy pedal I used a lot for an octave up. That sounds goods for an octave up. The octave down sounds okay. The Year of the Rabbit I would say half of Jeff’s guitar parts had the whammy pedal on with an octave up. It was a sound we were into. We used quite a bit on Fantastic Planet. It is a sound I am really familiar with.
AC: Any other key components in the 20 pedal rack?
KA: I have a Moogerfooger Delay that is awesome because the delay is so dark and fat sounding. The rest is pretty normal. Boss Digital Delay and Pro Co Rat stuff.
AC: Is there a dream collaboration for you either to produce or mix?
KA: There are so many. I would love to collaborate with Thom Yorke or Trent Reznor. I don’t even know on what level I would want to work with them. It would be cool for them to work on my stuff because their stuff sounds so good to me the way it is I really don’t want to mess it up. It would be cool for them to produce me. That is what I am more interested in now. I haven’t worked with everyone I want to work with as a producer or mixer but I can imagine what it would be like having done a bit of stuff. A lot of the stuff I really like. I am not jonesing to work on it because I think I will take it to the next level. I already think it is pretty awesome. I would like to work with those guys either them working on my stuff or in a couple of months I will be working on Los Angeles Digital Noise Academy (LADNA) project.
AC: Tell me about the LADNA Project.
KA: The progress has really slowed down to almost nothing right now. A lot people have gotten busy doing other things. Primarily including myself. I am the key motivator getting people to do stuff and making sure everyone is aware of what’s going on. There will probably be a LADNA record before there is another Ken Andrews record. I have already contributed quite a bit. I am already singing lead vocals on two songs. I really don’t want sing on more then two or three tops. I want to have a lot of different singers. I want a ton of different people doing all sorts of stuff. The main thing I will be focusing on will be getting new people to join and trying to talk to some of my favorite musicians who I am not friends into joining. It’s a major goal of mine.
AC: What does the project entail?
KA: A lot of people know how the Postal Service works. Especially since their name explains it. One of the guys would build up a musical track and send to the singer in the mail on a disk. He then would load it into his computer and do the vocals and send it back. My project LADNA is similar in that all the collaboration isn’t really done with people in the same room. It is more complicated in the sense its not just 2 people but 30 people. There are 18 or 19 people who have actually contributed something already. There are 30 people who have signed up. Before this first record comes out I won’t be surprised if there is 40 or more people contributing on tracks. Instead of doing it by disk and through the mail we do it by a server where we have folders.
KA: If you want to get technical. It is much simpler than that. We work with high res mp3s. There are a bunch of folders on the server. One says, “initial ideas, songs in progress, almost finished, completed songs, lyrics and art ideas. If you are a member, you go up there, and you start downloading mp3's of initial ideas or songs in progress, if you find one you like, and you think you can add something, you download it, you start a new session or document in a high res file format, like 24 bit/ 48k, you import the mp3, which basically converts the mp3 into that high res format, you're doing your individual work in high res, you add your "thing", and you make a quick bounce down a bit with your thing added, convert that back into an mp3 and post that back up. So basically everything that's on the server is mp3's so that people can quickly download something just to listen to it to see what it is, rather than downloading full big-ass file. Once the song is done or approaching done then I contact all the people who worked on it and I get them to send me their individual high res files and I make a master session that has the high res and then I do a high res mix of it and master it. The mp3's never end up on the record. They are just reference tracks.
AC: Right, Wow.
KA: It's just been a blast, I haven't worked on it for a few months, but when I was working on it, it was one of the coolest projects ever because you can put up something that's super raw and then come back a month later and all these cool people have turned it into a song. It's really addictive.
AC: Is their any potential for a remix album for secrets of the lost satellites?
Follow this link: www.dinosaurfightrecords.com/remix
AC: Couple last questions for you. Is there a quintessential song that you've written that typifies you? This is THE song that explains who you are? Does that make sense?
KA: The question makes sense, I just don't know if there is THAT song. If that song does exist, I'm not sure that I would be the person who would know it. Like most artists, I'm always into the last song that I worked on.
AC: right, right.
KA: You've got to stay excited about your new stuff.
AC: One the cool things when you did "In Your Way" for FM 94.9 you had the whole pro Tools Mbox setup. I was very curious to see what you think the impact of home recording and pro tools will be?
KA: I don't think it’s later on. Its already has had a huge impact. At least in Los Angeles all the mid level recording studios have been almost wiped out by pro tools and home recording. Recording industry wise its pretty much a revolution. There are so many different levels of it too. Hobbyists who really into it. It’s very inexpensive to have a home recording setup now. All the way up to people like me who have what amounts to a full on studio in my back house. For me, it’s huge. I don't know if its changed the way I make music or the way I write songs. But it’s certainly affected the convenience of working on a lot of different projects all at the same time. I have my own studio because of Pro Tools. Because I don't have to have a giant console and a big tape machine and two guys to keep it all running, you can have a computer and a bunch of other gear that you see at a recording studio to. You don't need the whole thing that you used to need. I don't know if that has made music worse because anyone can make a record. People listen to what they listen to. If people want to listen to American Idol stuff, they do. And they like it.
AC: So you said it doesn't change the way you write a song? Do you have a specific process of how you write a song? Do you grab a guitar? Will you hear a piano line in your head? How do songs surface?
KA: For me, it’s different. I purposely try and make it different almost every time because if it comes about the same exact way the chances of it being very similar to your previous stuff is greater so I find that by starting ideas or at least changing them up. For instance, sometimes I feel like doing a song in 7/8 and have a weird drumbeat. I will come into my studio with that as a starting point concept. I will just sit down and program a beat. I will listen to the beat and then all of a sudden a bass line will pop into my head and I kind of build up a song track by track like that. Other times I will be sitting around playing acoustic guitar and I will stumble on a chord progression that I really haven't stumbled upon before and it will catch my ear and I might end up writing a whole song just on acoustic guitar and vocals. It just really depends. On the new record I would say probably a third of the songs were written acoustic guitar and vocals first. The rest were done on a track-by-track process but not necessarily starting on the drums. Maybe a few of them. Some are starting with a guitar riff or a synth riff.
AC: May 17th you will be back at the Belly Up doing another show with First Wave Hello. Any more tour plans?
KA: We are looking at the possibility of a fall tour. I won't know for sure for another week or two.
AC: It was great to see you up there. Thank you again for taking the time out. I will be there May 17th. I know you have plenty of stuff to work on. Thanks again.
KA: Thank You.
Thanks again to Ken Andrews and Lisa at Dinosaur Fight Records. I received 5 Ken Andrews signed Secret of the Lost Satellites Lithographs that I will dispatch to my loyal readers. Please email amchemistcontest(at)gmail.com with the subject line of Ken Andrews contest and list your favorite song on Secrets of the Lost Satellites. The deadline for submission is on June 15th. Good Luck!