The Pat Metheny Group have taken jazz back to street level with their chart-topping LP, American Garage. Dan Forte interviews the quartet, and Richard Vandivier analyzes Metheny's unique guitar style, on page 35.
Three years ago, when Pat Metheny formed his own quartet, his name was know mostly to jazz guitarists, through his work with vibraphonist Gary Burton and his two albums under his own name on Manfred Eicher's ECM label. When The Pat Metheny Group was released in 1978 - featuring Lyle Mays piano, Mark Egan on bass, and Dan Gottlieb on drums - Metheny's cult following began to reach massive proportions. The band's combination of jazz chops, rock energy, and pop- and folk-flavored melodies apparently struck a chord, with jazz and non-jazz consumers alike; the LP has sold more than 150,000 units thus far.
A year later, Metheny's smile was simultaneously adorning the covers of Downbeat and Musician, Player & Listener magazines - sort of the artist's equivalent of appearing on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same month - shortly before the release of Pat's first entirely solo effort, New Chatauqua. A highly personal statement, the album nonetheless hit high on the jazz charts and has sold over 120,000 copies to date.
Last summer, after recording PMG's second joint effort, Metheny and Mays went on tour as part of Joni Mitchell's all-star backup band, which included such jazz luminaries as Mike Brecker and Jaco Pastorius (a Metheny colleague from Pat's first solo LP, Bright Size Life). By January, Metheny's first self-produced album, American Garage, released late last fall, had reached Number 1 on Billboard's jazz chart. At present it has sold in excess of 200,000 copies.
In a recent poll conducted by Musician, Player & Listener and voted on exclusively by professional musicians and people in the industry, Metheny took top honors in the category of Jazz Guitarist - not of the year, but of the past decade - placing above such giants as John McLaughlin and George Benson. More importantly perhaps, those who voted predicted Pat Metheny to be the jazz artist most likely to assert an influence on the music of the Eighties.
Pat Metheny is without doubt the hottest ticket in jazz today. Not bad for a 25-year-old kid from Lee's Summit, Missouri.
Metheny first took up guitar at age 12 and became entrenched in the study of jazz, particularly Wes Montgomery, at 14. At 15, Pat received a scholarship to attend the summer music camps sponsored by Downbeat magazine. After graduating from high school Metheny entered the University of Miami on a music scholarship. After one semester as a studen - in which he got a D in classical guitar - Pat joined the University's faculty as a guitar instructor. While at Miami, Pat met the two musicians who were later to become his rhythm section - bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb. A year later he moved to Boston, teaching advanced guitar at the Berklee School of Music. Once there he got together with one of his early idols, Gary Burton, whom he'd met years earlier at a jazz festival, and was soon a member of the Gary Burton Quintet, appearing on three albums.
Though his tastes and influences are about as widespread as they come - embracing everything from Keith Jarrett to Cheap Trick, from Leo Kottke to the Art Ensemble of Chicago - the music churned out by Metheny and his group is among the most original being performed today. Egan's lyrical fretless bass lines, Gottlieb's aggressive rhythmic outbursts, Mays' spiraling improvisations, Metheny's shimmering melodies - the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts, it is something entirely separate - much in the same way that the group's elaborate system of electronic gear sometimes serves to accentuate the "acoustic" nature of the music.
The musical company of Metheny, Egan, Gottlieb & Mays explain how the pieces all fit together in the following round-table interview.
MI: Pat, you went the University of Miami one semester before you joined their faculty?
Metheny: Sort of. I've still got my report card from my first semester [laughs]; I got a D in Guitar.
MI: If you got a D in Guitar, why did they put you on the faculty teaching guitar?
Metheny: Well, the deal was, you could go to the University of Miami and study guitar, but that meant you had to study classical guitar. And I couldn't, and still can't, play anything that even resembles classical guitar. I went to one lesson, and the guy showed me how to hold the guitar - which never felt comfortable. So I completely blew it off, and I never went again. Why he didn't give me an F, I've never been able to figure out.
MI: When you began teaching at Berklee, did your age cause and ego conflicts?
Metheny: Yeah, there were definitely ego problems, for other people. Actually, the ego problems were cooled out as soon as we played; then it was clear what the scoop was. But on paper it looked pretty suspicious - because I was 19 and my job, theoretically, was to teach the top 30 of the 800 guitar students. So everybody was older; but it really didn't matter, because I've always been the youngest guy in the bands I've been in - so I didn't really think about it. In fact, it's funny now, because I'm starting to have a lot of contact with players who are considerably younger than I; it feels a little funny.
MI: Did any of your Berklee students go on to become famous guitarists?
Metheny: Al DiMeola was really the only one. The best player there - who hasn't really done anything yet, but he will - is a guy named Mike Stern, who's just excellent. He's got a band with my older brother, Mike, who plays the trumpet.
MI: Do you and Lyle have any particular method for composing?
Mays: I think every tune has been different. Usually we just get together with piano and guitar, and we have some snatches that we've come up with before. Sometimes just playing through old ideas gives them new life - looking at them off the road. But there's no formula, no set process we go through.
Metheny: Generally, I'll have an A section and Lyle will write a bridge; or Lyle will have a whole tune and I'll try to build on it. I think most good ideas tend to come from individuals, as opposed to committee art, but we seem to have a way of enhancing each other's ideas. Even a couple of notes can make a difference.
MI: You each seem to have a remarkable sense of melody. Is that something that developed over time, or did it come naturally?
Mays: It's the Midwest.
Metheny: That's really true.
MI: Did you have that knack for melody even as children?
Mays: It's hard to remember. I would probably say no.
Metheny: I remember singing melodies since I was about two or three years old. I was always real melodic. I remember singing "Red Sails in the Sunset" for about two years, till everybody was ready to kill me. I liked those kinds of soupy melodies.
MI: It seems that each instrument's role in this group is a little unorthodox, as opposed to a conventional jazz band.
Gottlieb: Right. Pat's always gone for things that are different, that don't sound typical but get the job done. We try to get away from sounding like anything else.
Mays: I think that we all have found new ways of approaching everything. The concept of the group demands that.
MI: No one instrument seems to be holding down the bottom in this band, yet somehow the bottom is always there.
Metheny: Well, my feeling has been - and I think we're pretty successful at it - that in a good band, if there are four people in the group, three could drop out and you could still be able to tell what tune is being played. I think that's pretty much what happens with us. We all know the tunes thoroughly; and everybody's part - even though it may be sort of skirting around the edges of the essence of the tune - is still very much about that song. We've played these tunes a lot - like "Phase Dance" and "San Lorenzo," which we've been playing every night for almost three years - and there's a certain atmosphere that each one has. So by keeping the feeling of the tune in mind, there's something that happens where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Sometimes I wonder, what's holding it all together, too.
MI: Do the tunes you've been playing for a long time still have room for variation or new ideas?
Mays: Not so much change as challenge. I don't think we change them just to change them.
Metheny: To me, in sort of a jazz group category and all that, there are certain songs that I see very much as songs. There are some tunes that I do feel we should play as songs. For instance, if I were to go hear the Doobie Brothers, I would want to hear some of their songs the way I think that they should sound. And we have a few tunes that are like that. In that sense, we're more like a pop group; and that's one area that a lot of jazz critics take exception to. They hear us three or four times, and some of the songs are essentially the same. But, to me, that's the idea - they should be the same.
MI: You treat them more as compositions than as sets of changes to solo on.
Metheny: Well, there are other songs that are very much that way, too - for instance, "The Epic," which can be quite different from night to night in the solo sections. Then we do tunes like "Old Folks" that are straight - ahead jazz tunes.
Mays: I think when it comes time to solo on changes we're a jazz group. I don't think there's anything we do differently.
MI: Pat, are you responsible for most of the band's creative decisions?
Metheny: You have to keep it in perspective. It is a group, but it's my group. The idea is not for it to be a band where everybody's completely free. I'm of the opinion that that doesn't work. I'm of the opinion that there has to be one person calling the shots and one person that makes creative, business, and all kinds of decisions - as opposed to doing things by committee. I've tried to set up a situation where I'm open to suggestions from everybody, but there's one person who has the final word on everything, and that's me. I think that's been successful. I've had contact with groups that worked by committee where everybody says, "Well, I want to do this" and then try to work it out, and the music always suffers from it.
But, I am very much into the idea of having a band where people come to see the group as a group - as opposed to Pat and whoever he's got on the road this time, which is the way a lot of jazz guys work. I did that for awhile, where Lyle and I would rehearse different guys the afternoon of the gig, and then play that night - that was when I was still with Gary and I'd do sideline gigs.
MI: Were you doing the same sorts of tunes?
Metheny: A lot of the same songs we do now.
MI: What did it sound like?
Metheny: Shit [laughs]. It sounded awful.
Gottlieb: It shows that this can be done, that this type of a group can exist, starting from being totally unknown and just hitting it hard and really working. I talk to people who are either waiting for a break to happen or they say, "We can't do anything without record company support." I mean, Pat has done it.
Metheny: I never wanted to take any money from the record company. We took $3,000 once for tour support, which I paid back. And we've never done crazy things on the road. It's always been comfortable, everybody's always had his own room - we never had to get four guys in a room - but we never spent money just for no reason. Most groups I see on the road are really into extravagance. This is actually the first tour where we've had hard travel cases for everything. I can remember when we would fly from gig to gig, and I'd just check my amp, check the drums, check the Oberheim.
Gottlieb: Lining up to see how many pieces were coming off the plane!
MI: Why does this band tour so much?
Mays: Yeah, why do we tour so much?
MI: Obviously, you've reached a position where you can afford to have extra roadies, you can carry your own sound system, you own piano. Couldn't you also afford to take it easy?
Metheny: That's a possibility. I know I, for one, could not do now what we did when we started. We drove something like 50,000 miles in a year, and that was with us packing all our own gear, making virtually no money at all. But it's gone from that level to the point now where everybody's making really good money, we get to play the same piano night after night, we've got a great PA and monitors, everybody can hear, everybody's getting individual recognition - it's really been worth it. Not to mention the fact that we all take great pride in the music that's come from it.
Mays: Also, judging from the experience I had with Joni this summer, I think both Pat and I felt that it was impossible to get any momentum happening. She'd work one day and have two days off. She was taking it easy, and the music really suffered. We'd have one good night, but it was impossible to sustain that, because with a day or two off in between, everybody'd go take a sauna and get real mellowed out...it was kind of a drag.
MI: What did the rehearsals with Joni consist of?
Metheny: It was interesting, in a way. There was no music. Basically, what happened was, we'd show up at the rehearsal, Joni would put on a guitar and start playing one of her songs, and we'd sort of look at each other and find out what key it was in [laughs], and start playing. In fact, at the first few rehearsals, it was difficult, because every tune sounded the same. There was this kind of strumming part, and then [Mike] Brecker, and I would sort of play obligato fills, and Lyle would play a pad - and Jaco wasn't even there till the last day, because he already knew all the tunes. It was hard to make each tune have its own identity. But by the time we got on the road, it was a fun experience. But, like Lyle said, it was so much the complete opposite of our touring philosophy - much too laid back for us. In fact, the more distant I get from it, the more I see how much of a strain it was to be on the road like that and not play. It was great to hear Joni every night; that was the best part.
MI: Rock and roll definitely seems to have an influence on the band's stage presence. Do you think it also influences the music itself?
Metheny: Oh yeah. I'm always reluctant to say "Yes, we are a jazz group," or "Yes, we are a rock group," because I can get equally enthusiastic about a number of different styles. I mean, if we were to start talking about Wes Montgomery, I would be glad to talk for an hour. I'd also be glad to talk about the Beach Boys for an hour.
MI: Who are some of you influences on guitar?
Metheny: I'm still knocked out whenever I hear Wes Montgomery or Jim Hall. Also, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett. I like a lot of the early Sixties cool jazz - Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Steve Swallow. I think probably more so than most young players we're very aware of the traditions that this kind of music we're playing is based on. I mean, I really see my way of playing guitar as an extension of Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery and that whole scene.
MI: What about bass influences, Mark?
Egan: I started bass when I was 16, playing in soul bands. My first influences were people like Chuck Rainey and those cats, playing with Aretha Franklin. Also, Jaco; we hung out a lot. I remember the first time I heard him; we played in this band called Baker's Dozen, in Miami, with [trumpeter] Ira Sullivan and a lot of studio players. Actually, there were three bassists in the band, alternating. Jaco had arranged this tune he'd written for the band, and he played me a tape - I couldn't believe it. It sounded like John McLaughlin on bass!
MI: When did you switch to fretless bass?
Egan: When I joined the group, when we got together, Pat had a bass that was a fretless which Jaco was working on. It was like an awakening; it definitely fit in with this format.
Metheny: It's a funny thing that I've noticed, as far as my sound and playing goes - it somehow blends better when there's that nebulous intonation. I always enjoyed playing with Steve Swallow, who plays a fretted bass, but he's always sort of slopping it up. I can't get in between the frets, and I rarely bend strings, so if Mark is playing fretless it gives it a little more mystery, which I like.
Egan: A little more expression.
MI: Do you think your background on trumpet has any effect on your style of bass soloing?
Egan: Definitely. Chet Baker was the first melodic cat I dug on trumpet.
Metheny: All three of us [Metheny, Mays, and Egan] played wind instruments before - so did Gary Burton, so did Steve Swallow. All of the best rhythm section players - at least my favorites - seem to have played a horn before. And I've learned that the reason it helps is that you tend to breathe with what you play. Because on a bass or guitar, it's real easy to just go crazy and play all the time.
Gottlieb: I watch Pat sometimes, and he actually breathes in the holes, it's great to watch.
Metheny: I think it's important, because people subconsciously respond to that. When people are listening, they tend to breathe with what you're playing; and if you play too long and there's no space for a breath, they'll lose interest. Gary [Burton] was the one who first pointed that out to me, because he played the trumpet too.
MI: Dan, did you play another instrument before you took up drums?
Gottlieb: Actually, I was a cello player first. But there was something about the drums that always got me. For some reason, I could play drums better after two weeks than I could play the cello after eight years. There was a period when I was 14, when I would walk around carrying drum sticks, banging on everything I could find. In the car, I had a drum pad up on the dashboard. I drove everybody nuts. I was lucky, because I had a junior high teacher who'd been a sax player in the big band era, and he used to play Miles Davis albums for detention - so we'd all hand out there and just listen to Miles Davis. The first album I bought was Round About Midnight [Miles Davis, Columbia]. Everyone was into big bands in high school; the big rage was the Buddy Rich Big Band, and also Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. We used to go hear Thad Jones and Mel Lewis at the Village Vanguard every Monday night. In fact, I used to hang out with Mel a lot. I think that's one source for my affinity for a lot of different cymbals - that's his main thing, trying to find cymbals that have different textures. Same with Tony Williams.
MI: Your drumming style seems almost like an updated version of Elvin Jones' approach with John Coltrane - where the drums are making a constant commentary on what the soloist is playing.
Metheny: To me, the way the drums work in the group is way up on the list of what makes us sound the way we sound. Stylistically, it's much closer to Elvin's type of playing than to the metronome kind of time-keeping. That's why I really take exception to the term fusion, when people try to put us in the same category with a group like Jan Hammer or someone, because it's nothing like that at all. With those kinds of bands - which is true of virtually every fusion band - the drummer plays some sort of a rock or funk beat and everything else is sort of layered on top of that. In our case, in many tunes, I think the three of us hold the time together more, and Gotts just goes playing over the top of it.
Gottlieb: One thing I'm still trying to work on is trying to create as big a spectrum as possible from very soft to very loud. I think the beauty of this group is that we can combine all different kinds of dynamics. That's something that Pat sort of harped on from the beginning of the group - not to play everything at the same volume. I hear a lot of bands, and one or two tunes will just knock me out, but then it's just the same thing. I can imagine what some of them could sound like if they could diversify it.
I think I probably play best when I'm playing as hard as I can, mainly because the hardest thing for a drummer to do is play with incredible intensity softly. That's something very few people can do - DeJohnette is a good example. I feel there're a lot of holes in the set where we just let things breathe.
Egan: We approach it orchestrally.
Mays: Those are just standard elements of music. Doesn't say much for the rest of the groups I hear.
Metheny: It's a funny thing about dynamics. You look at the tradition of classical music, and dynamics was very, very important, and it's pretty much been ignored in pop music - meaning jazz, rock and everything else. For some reason, it's just gotten overlooked.
MI: Lyle, who were some of your early influences on piano?
Mays: Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson were the first albums I had growing up. Where I came from [Wausaukee, Wisconsin] it was impossible to get jazz albums. The nearest town was so many miles away, and the only place that had records was like a Woolworth's.
Metheny: Compared to Lyle, I'm like from New York City [laughs].
Mays: Those were the only two albums I had for about three years in high school.
Metheny: You know, that can be good, though. I sort of had a similar experience. But if you absorb everything on a few albums by good players, you can learn a lot - as opposed to having 85,000 records and listening to one cut every now and then. But if you just listen to two records for three years - assuming they're good records...If it was the Ramsey Lewis Trio playing "The `In' Crowd" or something you might be in trouble.
MI: So it was a long time before you were exposed to piano players like McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett.
Mays: Oh yeah! I had no idea that those people existed. I mean, I was really in the dark. When I finally got to college, a lot of the other kids had been into all that was out there, and they gradually turned me on. I spent about three years trying to rid myself of bebop cliches, because that was all I could play. I listened to Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor - just everybody. I didn't play with any other musicians all through high school - there weren't any musicians. All I could play were these licks I'd gotten off these two albums, plus the bebop sort of jazz theory that you get from the summer camps - which can be real detrimental; it doesn't give you the whole picture. I'm sure there's still some residue of bebop in my playing, but at this point, what's there is there. Now I'd say Keith Jarrett is a major influence. I mean, it's impossible not to be influenced by Keith, the guy's so good. He's just miles above anybody else on any instrument.
MI: Growing up in such an isolated environment, how did you get attracted to music in the first place?
Mays: I just seemed to gravitate toward it. My family was musical in the sense that we had a piano in the house, and my mother played, like, four-part church harmonies, hymns. She couldn't play a note by ear. And my dad played guitar, and he couldn't read a note of music. So instead of getting the worst of both worlds, I sort of got the best.
MI: Were there any high school rock and roll bands to play with?
Mays: No. As a matter of fact, this area was so rural that jazz was considered, like, sinful; it was considered illegitimate. I was sort of a closet jazz player, and I played the trumpet in the high school band, because that was legitimate. I didn't know it was cool to play jazz; I didn't think it was something that you got rewards for.
MI: What did you formal music education consist of at North Texas University?
Mays: Very little. I'm a fifth semester sophomore. I've never studied piano from a teacher or university or anything. I started to study composition down at North Texas; I got through a couple of lessons and decided it was kind of bogus, because this guy wanted me to write like he did. So, basically, I just got into the scene down there. I was taking two credit hours a semester and concentrating on playing all I could and running the big band.
MI: What's your keyboard setup on stage?
Mays: My main axe is a Steinway grand that we're carrying around, and we're miking that. We all hate the sound of piano pickups; they really destroy dynamics, and they give the piano a real metallic, electronic sound. So we just close-mike the piano and put blankets over it. That's going through the house, and I get that back through the monitors - it has nothing to do with the rest of my speaker setup.
As far as electronics, I'm using an Oberheim 4-voice with a programmer - which is the first synthesizer I ever got, one of the early ones - and a Prophet 5-voice, which is a recent addition, then a Yamaha CP-30 electric piano, and a Yamaha YC-20 electric organ. I'm putting it through a little black box that electronically duplicates a Leslie. Then I'm running all those into a Tangent 12-channel mixer, the 1202-AX. I'm running all of the instruments in mono into the mixer, even though the CP-30 and the Oberheim are both stereo. Then I've got two digital delays - one I'm running through the effects channel of the Tangent, to add quite a beat of repeat echo. It's essential for synthesizers to have lots of echo; otherwise they sound dry and ugly. Then I take the left output of the stereo outputs of the mixer to another digital delay to add to the pitch-bend effect. Plus, I'm tuning all of the instruments out of tune. Each module on the Oberheim has two oscillators; I tune one of them flat and the other one sharp, so they sort of vibrate around the center pitch. I do the same thing with the Prophet and the CP-30. I was trying to duplicate the effect Pat had with his digital delays. And that's also the way a real string section or horn section will play; it's not going to be exactly in tune. Anyway, I'm running the left output of the mixer into a digital delay with pitch-bend, and the right output straight. I'm also running both of those into a Furman stereo crossover, and powering the high-end through a Crest 750-watt stereo power amp and the bottom end through a Peavey 400-watt power amp.
Metheny: Don't you have a compressor or something in there too?
Mays: Yeah, I use a limiter in the Prophet and an Axe Max on the Oberheim, a little box that matches the impedance. I also had a couple of modifications done on the Oberheim to get a cleaner, brighter signal.
MI: Whose idea was it to use an Autoharp?
Mays: That was Pat's. He called me up on the phone one time and said, "Listen to this!" I have two Autoharps with the bars taken off, tuned to open chords - one is a big open D chord, which I use on "Phase Dance"; the other I use on "San Lorenzo" in conjunction with the tuning Pat has on his 12-string. We put a hockey puck pickup on each one, which I think is like a submarine detector or something.
MI: Do you program the Oberheim yourself?
Mays: Oh yeah, I play the Oberheim more than any of the others; it's my favorite.
MI: But you still take most solos on acoustic piano.
Mays: All solos. I play the melody to "House of the Rising Sun" on the organ, but other than that I play all solos on piano. As a joke, I wanted to go out and buy the cheapest organ I could find to get that Farfisa effect, and this Yamaha turned out to be great.
MI: You're going to be doing a solo album?
Mays: Yes, let's keep the rumor alive [laughs].
MI: On a solo project would you take any synthesizer solos?
Mays: No, I'd die first. I'd feel a little uncomfortable doing that. Compared to the acoustic piano, there are just very few possibilities there. I play piano about 90% of the set.
Metheny: It's funny, now we've got all those keyboards up there and it looks real impressive, but the fact is, some of the keyboards he only plays, like, once a night for eight bars.
Mays: Yeah, I play the Yamaha electric piano twice - on "Airstream" and on "Heartland." And on those two tunes it's only for three sections, four bars at a time.
MI: Do you think that the growing number of electronic keyboardists has resulted in a decline in the number of young acoustic pianists?
Mays: Oh, it's possible. I can't think of very many young acoustic pianists. I think, in a sense, we're keeping that tradition alive - even though I'm surrounded by all these keyboards - because my focus is on the acoustic. I consider myself an acoustic piano player. I consider the other keyboards as orchestral devices, things to add color.
MI: Pat, what's your guitar setup?
Metheny: The guitar is a Gibson ES-175, a '58, with one humbucking pickup. It goes into an MXR DDL [digital delay], used essentially in the same way as you'd use an Echoplex - just barely on. That goes into my main amp, which is an Acoustic 134, my favorite amp in the world. So it goes from the preamp to the Acoustic 134 into a new product, a Lexicon Prime Time digital delay, which I had modified slightly so that it's got a sine wave VCO instead of a triangle VCO. Then that splits that signal into two more signals, which are both delayed - into a Peavey amp on one side of the stage and another Peavey on the other side of the stage. So I essentially have three signals aimed at me - the direct signal, one delay at 14 milliseconds, and another delay at 26.
MI: How did you experiment around to come up with such an elaborate setup?
Metheny: In the studio, when we did Watercolors, in February of '77, Manfred had the big Lexicon DDL in there, and I'd never even heard of it. I said, "Okay, turn it on," and I loved the way it sounded. We only used it on one tune, which was the last song we were mixing. If I'd known it was available earlier, I would've put it on every cut. I came back to the States and found out they cost about $8,000. By this time MXR hadn't come out with their little Blue Nose yet, so I had to wait about six months until they came out with one. I bought that, got real interested in it, figured out all the different ways you could hook it up - by putting it before the guitar, after the guitar, between the preamp and the amp. There's a lot of different ways you can place it to make it sound different. I finally ended up with the setup I've got now, and then Lexicon came out with this one for $2,000.
MI: Are you consciously striving for a unique guitar tone, or is that just a sound that you like?
Metheny: It's a sound that I like, and also, even though we're talking about all this technical junk, if you were to hear me play my Gibson acoustically it would sound pretty much the way it sounds amplified. You'd know it was me. In a lot of ways, the DDLs make it sound more like the way it sounds acoustically.
MI: So the midrangey sort of tone you get is more a product of the way you pick?
Metheny: Yeah, it's the way I play the guitar. I bang it real hard with my left hand, and I hardly touch it at all with the picking hand. And I use Fender thin picks and hold them sort of backwards, picking with the rounded corner. But it's mainly the guitar that sounds that way. It's just got a sound of it's own. It's the first guitar I ever owned - my pride and joy.
MI: What type of acoustic guitar do you use on "Phase Dance"?
Metheny: It's a Guild D-40C, in Nashville tuning, with a Bill Lawrence pickup.
MI: What about your 12-string?
Metheny: I've got an Epiphone 12-string, a Fender, a Guild, and an Ibanez. They're all strung up weird ways. For "San Lorenzo," it's basically all E strings tuned to an Eb pentatonic scale in fifths. I'm not into open tunings so much as I'm into redefining the high to low configuration. Sometimes I'll have the highest string in the middle or the lowest string on top to come up with different things. On some tunigns you have to order this special string from England that's an .006. Human hair is .005 [laughs]! I actually met a guy in Tulsa who had figured out how to play the harmonics to "San Lorenzo" on a regular 12-string by doing that Lenny Breau, false harmonics thing. I said, "Man, you blew it" [laughs]. Because all I do in "San Lorenzo" is hit harmonics across the 12th and 7th frets. But the tuning makes it sound mysterious.
MI: What's the bass setup?
Egan: I'm using a 1958 Fender Precision that was originally fretted, but the frets were taken out and a Jazz Bass pickup was added to it. It's got a really hard finish on the fretboard, like a bowling alley. Actually, it's boat epoxy. It's real resilient, and it gives it a lot more sustain. From the bass I go into a volume pedal; I keep my pots wide open and adjust the volume with the pedal, so I can change the volume without affecting the sound. Plus, I don't have to reach down and do it by hand. I go from that into a custom-made Dennis Electronics amp, made in New Jersey. It's a 120 watt power amp with a 15" JBL. I also tried out Pat's digital delay, the MXR. I'm bi-amping - so out of the Dennis Electronics preamp I'm going into the MXR at about a 35 millisecond delay, to give it some phasing and slight pitch-bend. That goes over to another amp that's over by Danny, which we use for a drum monitor. And I'm taking two directs - one from the straight bass and one from the delayed bass signal. It's not delayed all the time - I have a footswitch. I use it on certain things when we really want to spread the tone out and make it sound real full.
MI: Which setting do you use when you take a solo?
Egan: Wide open [laughs]. There's usually no delay on the solos, just straight bass. I use delay on real mellow things, like "San Lorenzo." I'm real conscious of making a statement and being as lyrical as possible whenever I solo. Also, a lot of times I'll play in different places on the bass, with the right hand, to get a different tone. I'll play closer to the neck to get more of a mellow sound, whereas on "Jaco" I'll play right near the bridge, and pop.
MI: What type of strings do you use?
Egan: I'm using D'Addario round-wound strings. They've just come out with a new line that are really good, really live. I like the round-wounds, because they're like piano strings.
MI: What kind of acoustic bass guitar is that you play?
Egan: That's a Fyld guitar made for me last summer in England. I love it. It's got a Bill Lawrence pickup on it and really gets an acoustic tone.
Metheny: I got one of their 12-strings too.
Egan: I'm also using a Walter Woods amp, from California. It's 150 watts, solid-state, real light.
MI: What does the drum setup consist of?
Gottlieb: I've got a combination of Ludwig Vista Light drums, which are clear plastic, and some hand-made wood shells made by a small company in Wakefield, Massachusetts, called Ames Drum Company. They make 15-ply wood shells made by a small company in Wakefield, Massachusetts, called Ames Drum Company. They make 15-ply wood shells by hand, which is commercially unheard of in this day and age. The biggest metal-ply drum on the market is a 9-ply Sonar. Ames doesn't make their own hardware, so I like the Ludwig hardware a lot and have that all over the drums. I came upon three distinct sounds that I can get out of these particular drums, and it seems to depend a lot on the way they're tuned and the heads that I use. There are certain drum heads that have little pads on them, dotted heads. The three sounds are to use non-dotted heads on top and bottom; or clear on top and clear on the bottom; or clear on top and dotted on the bottom. I came across that from a studio drummer in New York named Steve Jordan. He likes the clear on top and dotted on bottom, because it limits the overtones on the bottom of the drum and gives you a real bright sound on the top. On the other hand, if you put the dots on the top it's a duller, more mellow sound. Consequently, I found with the clear tom-toms the only way they sound good is if they're low in pitch, almost dead, in fact - if you look at them you can see ripples in them - and if the dots are on top. What it does is, it cuts down on the tone a lot and makes it sound real thick. On this tour the whole sound of the entire band is going through a digital reverb unit out at the board, and it can change the sound of the drums. So the sustain of the drums is not that crucial, because that sustain can be created by this other source; but for my immediate sound I like the combination of having all those different sounds. So, I have four of the Ludwig tom-toms, called Paratoms; then I have some of the Ames drum shells, with Ludwig hardware; the snare drum is 7" deep and it's 15-ply birch; all the stands and pedals are Ludwig, because they're real sturdy. I play real hard, so I use the heaviest stands they have; otherwise, they'll topple over.
Metheny: At the board there are things that affect everybody as far as the overall sound of the group - mainly the Lexicon digital reverb, model 224, that I just bought. The drums and piano go through that. It's a computer that's got basically four programs: Symphony Hall in Boston; Carnegie Recital Hall; and EMT plate; and an acoustic chamber. And for various tunes the soundman punches up different programs.
MI: Have you ever thought about incorporating two bass drums?
Gottlieb: I was going to try that on this last tour, but I haven't worked on it enough. In a group like this there're so many different types of music being played that stylistically I hear the same types of sounds that a jazz drummer like DeJohnette or Tony Williams would use - very open, powerful, tom-tomish sound for the bass drum - as well as a very padded, flat sound that rock and funk drummers use today. My concept ultimately, is to have a double-bass drum set with one tuned one way and one tuned radically different, and also two hi-hats. I make do with a lot of toms, but I haven't incorporated the two bass drums yet.
MI: What's your cymbal arrangement?
Gottlieb: I've got almost all Paiste cymbals and one Zildjian, which is the main ride cymbal, a Zildjian flat. I found myself gearing more towards the sound of flat cymbals and cymbals that are on the thin side, because they seem to blend the best. Almost all of the cymbals I have are on the thin side except for the crash cymbals, which don't seem to hold up unless they're pretty heavy.
MI: Which is the one that's inside out?
Gottlieb: That's called the China type; it's made by Paiste. Mine has a square type of bell, and I have it upside-down just because it gets a brighter sound that way. Most of the other Paiste cymbals up there are their Sound Creation set, a new line they just came out with in the last year or so. The Paiste thing is that they try to find a way to make cymbals sound very much the same within a tone group, so they're consistent. If you picked up a dark crash cymbal similar to the one I've got it would sound almost the same.
MI: Where did you get the idea for the little cymbals?
Gottlieb: The cup chimes? They're also made by Paiste. They're actually bells of cymbals. The first person I saw with them, I think, was Alex Acuna playing with Weather Report. I also have a bell-tree up there.
MI: What about sticks?
Gottlieb: I've been getting my sticks from a manufacturer that makes drum sticks for a lot of different companies; it's called Capella Woods, in Icetown, New Jersey. I used to use hickory sticks, but I got some maple sticks from them in a standard 3-A and they actually sound better on the cymbals, because it's a softer wood. But, by the same token, they're not as strong as hickory. I used to break maybe one or two hickory sticks a night, but these maples I've been going through five or six a gig, which gets pretty expensive.
MI: What was it like producing American Garage on you own after working with Manfred Eicher on the previous albums?
Metheny: It was really pretty easy, it that we had been playing the music, in some cases, for almost a year. We knew the tunes; it was just a matter of getting versions of the songs that we liked. So there was really not that much to it. It's a little difficult not having someone in the studio as a third ear.
MI: Did you adhere to the Manfred Eicher philosophy of trying to get everything down in one take as live as possible?
Metheny: Yes, virtually everything on that album is first, second, or third takes.
Gottlieb: In fact, with "The Epic" we tried piecing it together, and we sort of got one that was okay; then we went back and played it another time in its entirety and that was the keeper.
Metheny: There's almost no overdubs; we overdubbed synthesizer parts only for technical reasons. But no solos on the album were overdubbed; everything was done live. Basically, the entire second side was recorded in as long as it takes to play it.