the 2013 CD release of Skyscraper, North Carolina-based
The Man From RavCon continues onwards and upwards. Much
like earlier MFR releases, the 9 track Skyscraper draws upon
all manners of instrumental guitar-centric rockfrom prog, to
New Age, to surf-rock to experimental and beyond. The brainchild behind
The Man From RavCon is guitarist / multi-instrumentalist Mike Brown.
Commenting on the making of the Skyscraper CD, Mike Brown tells
mwe3.com, Skyscraper is my sixth Man From RavCon release.
When I started this project back in the late 2000's, I didn't really
have a mission. I was in the midst of a huge DVD collecting phase
and didn't really listen to pop music at all. All of these cool films
were being made available affordably for the first time, and I was
exposed to some fantastic music as a result. I began writing and recording
stuff influenced by the most interesting work I was discovering -
scores for 1960s/'70s/and '80s cult cinema - spaghetti western, blaxploitation,
spy and horror films. Although many guitar instrumental
fans continue raving about The Man From RavCon, perhaps the lynchpin
to the sound is Browns use of the legendary, prog-rock centric
keyboard instrument called the mellotron, which is featured quite
liberally throughout the MFR albums. Fans of Mike Pinders Moody
Blues, Robert Fripp and even guitarist Hank Marvin and The Shadows
will find much to appreciate about The Man From RavCons do-it-yourself,
yet highly effective and well done albums. Guitar buffs and instrumental
prog-rock fans should give a good listen to The Man From RavCons
mwe3.com presents an interview
The Man From RavCon
Can you tell us where youre from originally, where you live
now and what you like best about it and how does it influence your
MIKE BROWN: I'm from Charlotte, NC USA and that's where I live
now. The fact that my family and friends are all here is what I like
most about it I guess
that and the trees. I can't really say
that where I live has any real influence on my music, though I have
definitely been inspired by the people I've met here.
mwe3: What were your early musical studies like and what instruments
did you study early on? At what point did you decide to become a recording
musician and how do you stay in shape as a musician as far as practicing
and improving the way you write and compose?
MIKE BROWN: My dad bought me an old acoustic guitar when I
was in the 4th grade. I learned a few Beatles tunes, but I soon grew
frustrated and gave up on it. I was in the 9th grade when I picked
it up again. I took guitar lessons over the next few years, and took
a piano course at the local community college. I planned to major
in music, but switched to a business major after about a week. I didn't
like the structure of music school, and decided it was taking all
the fun out of playing for me. I found I preferred learning by ear
and playing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Eventually I bought a 4-track cassette recorder, and spent a few years
experimenting, writing and recording prior to forming The Ravelers.
My initial goal with The Ravelers was to be able to record my songs
with a real band in a real studio. It was always the writing and recording
process that interested me most.
As for practice, I really don't do much of it these days. I just sit
on the couch and watch TV and noodle on the guitar until I stumble
across something interesting. After that, I just play the parts until
I can record them properly, then I move onto the next tune. Since
I don't perform live these days, I rarely play tunes again once they've
been recorded. I move onto the next thing.
mwe3: What musicians influenced you early on? It sounds like
you were greatly influenced by both the instrumental guitar greats,
the prog-rock legends as well as film music icons like Ennio Morricone
for example. Would you say thats a fair assessment?
BROWN: Yeah, I guess so
My dad is a big fan of westerns,
and my mom was a big horror fan, so I was exposed to the great film
scores of the time. AM radio was a big influence too. It was so cool
back in those days - you could hear anything
. Beatles, Burt
Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Jim Croce, Chicago, The Temptations, Deep
Purple, YES, Queen
it was all over the place. That's where I
heard the first rock instrumentals that really made an impression
on me: "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter, "Outa Space"
by Billy Preston and "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. Those all came
out around the same time, and I just loved them. A friend had an 8-track
with Hocus Pocus on it, and we used to listen to it over and over
again. We'd jump around like fools! This was all before I even thought
about playing guitar.
mwe3: When did you start The Man From RavCon and how did you
come up with the name? Was it an evolution of your work in the band
The Ravelers? How would you compare your work in the Ravelers with
The Man From RavCon?
MIKE BROWN: In the late 2000's, after The Ravelers had ended,
I decided to start on some new recordings. In order to share these
tracks, I wanted to create a myspace account. I had to pick a name
for the account, and didn't want to use Mike Brown. There are quite
a few of us, you know? Anyway, a few years earlier, my friend Mike
Bozart had come up with the tongue-in-cheek concept of RavCon - an
acronym for Ravelers Consortium. RavCon included all the
folks within The Ravelers' "organization". He actually had
bumper stickers printed! It was pretty funny, but you probably had
to be there. Anyway, I had to pick a name to register the myspace
page, so on the spur of the moment, I decided to use The Man From
RavCon. I'm sure my contributions to The Ravelers show through in
The Man From RavCon stuff occasionally, but it's really only a connection
in name. The Ravelers became a shared vision, whereas TMFR is all
mwe3: How many albums have you released as The Man From RavCon
and what was your musical mission, so to speak with The Man From RavCon
and how has that mission changed or improved over time?
BROWN: Skyscraper is my sixth MFR release. When I started
this project back in the late 2000's, I didn't really have a mission.
I was in the midst of a huge DVD collecting phase and didn't really
listen to pop music at all. All of these cool films were being made
available affordably for the first time, and I was exposed to some
fantastic music as a result. I began writing and recording stuff influenced
by the most interesting work I was discovering - scores for 1960s/'70s/and
'80s cult cinema - spaghetti western, blaxploitation, spy and horror
films... There's really so much great music there to be mined. I found
it totally refreshing and inspiring. I really appreciated the instrumental
aspect. Vocal music tells you what to think, instrumental music lets
you create your own story.
My first album, Zombie Pimp Cowboys From Outer Space, was basically
a collection of early experimental tunes emulating these influences.
It got such a positive response, I figured I was onto something! Over
time, I've added elements from other areas of interest, including
surf rock and prog. If anything has improved, I would hope it would
be that these elements have melded into a more organic and cohesive
sound, with each tune incorporating several influences rather than
just one particular style. That's not to say that I won't consider
genre specific releases in the future though, I've currently got a
Blaxploitation project that needs completing!
mwe3: The new Man From RavCon album is called Skyscraper.
Why do you call it Skyscraper and how is the new album an extension
of your earlier Man From RavCon albums? Where and when was the music
written, produced and recorded?
MIKE BROWN: I don't come up with album titles until I've completed
all the tracks for each album. On this one, when I listened back after
everything was completed, I just had this image of a lofty, towering
construction. Skyscraper, the title for the most lofty, towering
tune on the album, just seemed to fit.
I think of Skyscraper as a kind of mellower, more contemplative
sibling to my previous release, The Traveler. For these two
albums, I didn't set out with a plan for what they would sound like,
or what type of influence I would favor. For example, on my second
album, Everything Is Golden, I went for a surfy feel. My third
album, Rides Again, was a Spaghetti Western project,
and my fourth album, Night Of The Beast was my version of a
horror soundtrack. These albums had specific influences and themes.
With Skyscraper and The Traveler, I just went with the
flow and recorded what came naturally, without a pre-designated theme.
Luckily, when all was said and done, the tracks worked together as
Skyscraper was written and recorded during the first half of
2013. As with all my other Man From RavCon releases, it was recorded
in my home studio here in Charlotte.
mwe3: What guitars and other gear are you featuring on the
Skyscraper CD and would you say your use of the mellotron separates
The Man From RavCon from other instrumental bands as well as other
artists in general, especially from the rock fusion and soundtrack
artists recording today? What is your experience with the Tron
and do you use an actual tron or the popular digital samples and who
is your favorite mellotron player and what are your favorite mellotron
MIKE BROWN: My main electric guitars for Skyscraper
were my Fender Jaguar, Douglas Gravity (thinline Tele clone w/p90
pickups), Danelectro Baritone, Agile 12-string, and SX Bass.
For acoustics, I used my Taylor and my La Patrie classical guitar.
I always mic the acoustics and record the electrics direct using Fender
Aside from guitar, I think my favorite sounds ever come from the mellotron.
I don't use it to set myself apart, I just love it's sounds - especially
the string, choir and flutes. They're all so organic and there's so
much texture there with the imperfections in the tapes.
always admired the way Robert Fripp used mellotron with King Crimson,
as well as Tony Banks of Genesis, but I guess the godfather of the
Tron would have to be Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues. He really
had it mastered. When The Ravelers were recording at Sea-Saint in
New Orleans, we tried to use their mellotron, but couldn't get it
to work. I was so disappointed!
I don't own a mellotron, but thanks to the magic of the digital age,
I'm able to get all those classic sounds using M-Tron Pro software.
These sounds, as well as other samples and synths, were controlled
using my Ensoniq SQ 1+ and Casio Privia keyboards. All tracks were
recorded and mixed on my iMac using using Garageband software.
mwe3; What about the drumming sounds, who plays drums and what
other instruments did you play on the Skyscraper album? How were the
tracks recorded? I was amazed by the drum sound, its excellent.
I imagine there must have been a lot of overdubbing. lol
MIKE BROWN; I'm not a drummer, but I know exactly how I want
the drums to sound on my tracks. In order to keep this in house, and
to expedite the creative process, I use Toontrack's EZDrummer software.
I've used it on all my albums except Zombie Pimp Cowboys, on
which I used a Boss drum machine and drums sequenced on the Ensoniq.
EZDrummer was a giant leap forward for me. It's easier to use than
a drum machine, and gives me a much more realistic and natural sound.
I either create drum tracks from scratch, or manipulate existing MIDI
tracks to fit my tunes. It's a very time consuming and quite tedious
task, but it's actually one of my favorite parts of the process.
I think I covered all the other instruments used in the previous question,
and yes, there was LOTS of overdubbing!
mwe3: Balloon is a great way to start off the Skyscraper
CD. What inspired Balloon and do you feel the track is
a great way to achieve lift-off for the CD so to speak?
How do you determine what track will feature a more guitar-centric
melody or more of a prog-rock style track where the mellotron is more
featured? Im thinking of Secret Passage there, with
its rich prog-like sonic tapestry. What can you say about that track
MIKE BROWN: Thanks. "Balloon" was actually recorded
in 2010. It was one of the first tracks I recorded on a computer based
system. Before then, I used stand-alone tape and digital recorders...
At the time, I was working on the Everything Is Golden album,
and "Balloon" just didn't fit. While I was working on the
Skyscraper project, it popped up randomly on my iPod, and I
realized it would make the perfect opener for the album.
I find that the melody and mood generally dictate what instruments
to use on a track. I really love a nice tuneful and tone-ful guitar,
and that's the instrument I'm most proficient with by far, so I generally
try to carry the melody with that as much as possible. Sometimes however,
the tune calls for a different texture. I like having the choices
that the mellotron offers, so I'll generally find a use for that if
I can. I found this to be the case with "Secret Passage",
where I used mellotron cello and piano to carry the melody.
Track four The Spring Of Our Content is very Shadows /
Ventures oriented. Were you going for more of a retro style melody
on that? Are those mellotron flutes on that track too? Theres
a great musical resolution of that track. What Shadows era tracks
or albums stand out for you?
MIKE BROWN: I love the classic surf/instro stuff, and especially
The Shadows. My favorite track of theirs would have to be "Wonderful
Land". Mike Oldfield did a really cool prog version of it as
well! I think "The Spring Of Our Content" was probably influenced
more directly by the Italian soundtracks though. There's usually a
nice soft melodic sequence amongst all the violence, and those tracks
really appeal to me
nice and moody, but uplifting. "Spring"
features mellotron flutes, violin, and french horn, as well as a little
harpsichord, tubular bells and some 12-string electric. My wife, Peggy,
came up with the title by the way. She does that for a lot of my songs.
She really nailed the mood. Sometimes I think she knows my music better
mwe3: What artists of today do you listen to today? In your
estimation what guitarists and bands are breaking new ground for guitar
instrumental or progressive instrumental / soundtrack albums in 2014?
MIKE BROWN: As much as I love guitar, I don't really zero in
on guitarists as much as I do melodies and arrangements. However,
I think Croatia's The Bambi Molesters' album, As The Dark Wave
Swells, from a couple years back, is a guitar-driven instrumental
beautiful melodies and arrangements, and some of
the coolest guitar tones I've ever heard. I found it very inspiring.
I can't wait to hear what they come up with next. My friends, The
Crazy Aces out of Nashville, and King Pelican from San Antonio both
have instro releases slated for 2014 that I'm really looking forward
to. In the soundtrack department, I think Daniel Luppi and Adrian
Younge are both keeping that classic '60s/'70s spirit alive in their
music... I just recently discovered those guys, it's great to know
I'm not alone! My favorite recent release was not actually an instrumental
album though. I think Steven Wilson's The Raven and That Refused
To Sing is a melodic prog masterpiece. Very cinematic, very moving,
and just downright Beautiful. Lots of mellotron too!
mwe3: Friend is another great song with a definite
1960s kind of nostalgic vibe. I hear a Zombies like melody there!
Or is that a Pink Floyd influence? Is that a fair assessment of that
song? The 1960s play a big part in your music I assume! What
kind of keyboards are you using on that track? Just amazing sounding.
MIKE BROWN: Well, I'm a huge fan of The Zombies and Pink Floyd.
On Friend, I was going for the mood of those classic early
1970's pastoral soundtrack themes... the stuff that played as the
actors explored the forest "where the trees have leaves of prisms,
and break the light in colors". Of course these soundtracks were
influenced by the bands of the day, so it's all circular. The main
keyboard tone in there is Hammond B3, one of my other favorite instruments.
mwe3: How about Veni, Vidi, Vici? I love the title!
Sounds a little Latin but with a dose of Classical Gas
MIKE BROWN: That's my full-blown Spaghetti epic
for this album. It had to be done, and I had to do it! It started
out with a couple of really simple guitar riffs, and before I knew
it, I had completed what is probably one of my biggest productions
to date. I love it when the orchestration falls into place. I never
really know where a track is going until I start recording, and I'm
always surprised by happy accidents that present themselves in the
process... It's like the tune is writing itself sometimes! I had a
lot of fun with this one, but it did take a lot of work. Peggy came
up with the title here too by the way. Perfect!
mwe3: The title track Skyscraper is very interesting.
It gets back to the prog-rock instrumental sound again. This track
sounds kind of Moody Blues inspired. Were you setting out to create
a prog-rock masterpiece on the title track? Who are your big prog-rock
influences? Also how about your favorite movies and movie soundtracks,
being that your music is so cinematic!
BROWN: I didn't have a set plan for this one really. I had just
bought a new keyboard, and came up with the main riff while fiddling
around, and went from there. I had some new Moog software, so I made
use of some of my favorite classic synth textures during the middle
break. Other than the guitar lead over the middle part, it's a very
key-driven song. At one point, I thought it was too heavy on the keys,
and considered leaving it off the album, but Peggy said I should keep
it on there. I guess she was right!
My biggest prog influences would be the melodic stuff - Moody Blues,
King Crimson, Genesis, Supertramp, Focus, Camel, YES, Pink Floyd,
Mike Oldfield, Earth and Fire... classic stuff from the late 1960s/early
'70s. My favorite soundtrack composers include Ennio Morricone, Luis
Bacalov, Riz Ortolani, Fabio Frizzi, Harold Budd, Goblin, Isaac Hayes,
John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Bruce Langhorne... I guess my all-time
favorite soundtrack would have to be Morricone's Once Upon A Time
In The West. It's so sadly majestic... I love it. Bruce Langhorne's
score for The Hired Hand would be a close second.
mwe3: The Fugitive is a great way to close the
Skyscraper CD. Was the track inspired by the TV show The Fugitive
or something else?
MIKE BROWN: No, The Fugitive just seemed like a
good title for what appeared to be going on in the song... lots of
lurking about and escaping from something! This all became apparent
to me of course, after I completed the recording. All I had when I
started out was the opening bass line, and it just sort of exploded
from there. It honestly took me to places I didn't see coming! Have
you seen the video for this one? You should check it out on YouTube.
I landed some really big names for it! lol
mwe3: What are your plans for 2014 and beyond? What is the
musical mission for The Man From RavCon moving forward?
MIKE BROWN: Well, we just released The Ravelers final album,
Ravel On. We actually finished recording it back in 2004, but
broke up before we got it out. I'm pretty excited to finally have
that one available for folks
to hear. I may be biased, but I think it's great stuff, and hope it
doesn't go totally ignored. I'll probably work with Peggy on a couple
more videos for tracks from Skyscraper. She's a great photographer,
and has a really good eye for matching visuals with my music. Being
a one-man operation, it's great to have someone else to help me out
every once in awhile! I may get around to finishing up that Blaxploitation
project, unless something more interesting presents itself... who
I guess my mission would be to just keep making music that interests
me, so that folks that like the sort of things that I like, will have
more to potentially discover. That's about all I can hope for.
Thanks to Mike Brown @ The
Man From RavCon