to the attention of mwe3.com by 21st century guitar hero Bill Hart,
the 2018 album release of Fifty-Two is a most welcome
album release by keyboardist and composer Pat Strawser. Strawsers
keyboards were a clear highlight of Bill Harts 2018 live album
Live At Red Clay Theatre. Compared to the electrifying, live
sound of that album, Fifty-Two is more a study of related instrumental
music that combines fusion, jazz, rock and soundtrack music. Bill
Harts guitar work on the lead off track Morning Light
is electrifying and theres several other fine musicians appearing
on various tracks. Strawsers keyboard sounds are both versatile
and quite daring in places. For instance on the track Baggage
Claim, Strawsers keyboards cosmically create the imagery
of an airport baggage claim carousel. Although the album is only available
digitally, Strawser has done a fine job on the digital album booklet
which you can download, adding detailed liner notes to each track
along with in-depth notes on what gear is featured on what tracks.
For instance, on Baggage Claim, Strawser recreates all
kind of sonic details on keyboards and computers that pretty accurately
depict the sounds of guitars and bass along with all kinds of ambient
sound effects and samples. In a humorous side note of Baggage
Claim, Strawser confesses, Additional crowd sound effects
are from an actual field recording I took at Midway Airport in Chicago.
Although many of the tracks are ambient and electronic in nature,
most are full blown fusiony instrumentals with more than a nod to
instrumental jazz-rock soundtracks. One could wish that an artist
of Strawsers uniqueness and depth would have a CD out that features
all the cool color artwork featured on the digital booklet, yet burning
this onto CD and reading along with the online notes is a real pleasure.
Fans who enjoyed Strawsers excellent keyboards on Bill Harts
Live At Red Clay Theatre CD will find much to like about on
Fifty Two. Ambient electronic fusion fans that think theyve
heard everything need to check out Pat Strawser and his excellent
Fifty-Two album. bandcamp.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
you tell us where youre from originally and where you live now
and what you like best about it? Have you done a lot of traveling
to other states or countries?
Pat Strawser: I was born and raised in Athens, Georgia, where
I still currently live. The last 10 years or so Ive been very
fortunate to get to travel a good bit. Ive been to South Korea
twice, and China, but most of my travel has been in the continental
United States. I work with an Elton John tribute artist and we usually
play a few dates every month all over the country.
mwe3: I will go further into Fifty-Two but first I wanted
to mention how great your keyboard sound is on the new Bill Hart album,
Live At Red Clay Theatre. Can you tell the readers how you
met Bill and what its like to play keyboards in his group? Also
what did you think of Bills Live At Red Clay Theatre
album as well as his 2016 album Touch Of Blue, which you also
played on as well...
Pat Strawser: Glad you like the keyboard sound! Working
with Bill is a lot of fun! He really keeps you on your toes as a player,
because youre never quite sure whats going to happen next.
Hes a very open guy, and he really lets you run loose to try
your own thing on his tunes.
Touch of Blue was the first record I worked on with Bill, even
though Id been working with him since about 2011. I really enjoyed
contributing to it
he would send me tracks, and I would contribute
parts from my home studio. This record struck me as quite a departure
from his earlier records, but I dig the overall sound and vibe.
Live at The Red Clay was a lot of fun! Red Clay is such a cool
space, and really a great sounding room. The house engineer over there,
Shalom Aberle, is a consummate pro, and we really had a blast doing
mwe3: How many keyboards do you have? I saw that pic that looked
like you had 25 keyboards rigged up together! Do you collect vintage
synths from the 70s or 80s? I remember when the Roland
guitar sounds came into effect in the early 1980s. That was exciting.
What keyboards excite you? With all the apps and computer programs
it seems as if actual playing is a lost art form.
Pat Strawser: Ha! Yeah, I get that question frequently. Im
..I have a good number lying around. Around 20 to 25
I guess. I try to have studio pieces that I keep at home for recording
work, and then I have 3 or 4 that I use live.
I dont have a ton of vintage stuff at the moment, but
I do have a Yamaha CS-15 (from around 1979), a 1973-model Fender Rhodes
Stage 73, and a Hammond A100, which is probably from the 1960s
or 70s. I also have a number of other 80s pieces: a Roland
D110, a Yamaha DX27S and a TX81Z.
Different keyboards excite me in different ways, depending on what
Im doing I guess. I really enjoy trying to take the time to
find out what any given instrument can contribute to whatever it is
that Im working on. All that said, Ive really enjoyed
tweaking the CS-15, the Moog Little Phatty and Mother 32, and the
Korg Minilogue. Those are a lot of fun to play with.
How many albums have you recorded? Are they all in the realm of
Fifty Two and how has your composing and recording style changed
over the years? I remember a time when the recording studio was always
the king. Now it seems like you can download the sound of Abbey Road
recording desks via some app. Have you worked with a producer?
Pat Strawser: My first record was with my first band, Volaré,
that came out in 1997, but Fifty-Two is my first official original
solo release effort. I have a lot of other material that is yet to
be released, but Im hoping that will change soon. My next record,
which is already pretty much finished, I hope to release within the
next year or so, depending on how much more work I want to do on it.
I think you can probably hear a lot of similarities between the Volaré
stuff and my current writing. Ive always had a soft-spot in
my heart for that band and the material we came up with. Ive
tried to recreate some of that sound in my own writing over the years
because I like it so much.
One massive difference though is that Volaré was a band, and
each member had a hand in composing or arranging the material. We
would all sit in a rehearsal room together and write, learn, and play
the song, one little piece at a time. There were no computers, no
loops or iPhones or anything. We would occasionally record a rehearsal
on a boom-box so we could remember the arrangement, but that was it.
It was very much a group effort.
Now, all of the material I write I do entirely myself. I can sequence
all the drums, I program all of the synths, I write all of the parts,
and I can even do all my mixing and mastering. Its pretty remarkable
what the technology can allow you to do. From my own personal standpoint,
thats made my home studio a crucial ingredient in being able
to do anything. So, yeah youre right about being able to download
just about any kind of sound or emulation.
As for working with a producer: I didnt do that directly with
Fifty-Two, although I did run my mixes by other professionals
to get their opinions. I kinda made a decision to just do it all myself:
mixing, mastering, distribution
everything. And not because
I knew what I was doing (lol!), but because I knew that if I involved
a producer, or a mixing and/or mastering engineer, it would take me
another year to get anything done. Its already taken me over
15 years to release anything, so my thought was: get it done, and
see what happens!
mwe3: How does Fifty-Two compare with your other albums
and is there a way the Fifty-Two album will ever come out on
an actual CD pressing with a booklet? Do you think the advent of mp3
files and downloaded music sites like Spotify are the wave of the
future or will people want to go back to actual physical albums? Im
fairly disillusioned with the 21st century resurgence of vinyl pressings
which were made obsolete or so I thought forever 35 years ago.
I think that Fifty-Two is a good representation, stylistically,
of my other yet-to-be released material, and my writing in general.
I would love to do a physical CD release but it would depend on if
I saw enough market interest to justify the expense.
These days its not that necessary to put out a physical product,
which is kind of cool. It certainly has changed the landscape for
musicians who are trying to distribute their material and capture
any revenue from all of that. Its hard to say exactly what the
future will look like, but it seems hard to believe that well
ever return to a physical product-based model, like the LP or CD or
something. I imagine there will always be holdouts, but the marketplace
is dictating something else. For my part, Im going to do my
best to adapt to whats emerging, and Ill just try not
to get left too far behind!
mwe3: The Fifty-Two album starts off with Morning
Light which features a Bill Hart guitar solo that really catapults
the track into a unique sonic realm. What was involved in Bill appearing
on that track and did he or you write the cool guitar solo that cuts
through the track? Even though it starts off quite ambient, it goes
into some pretty dynamic fusion-y terrain too. Its also impressive
that the track features drum samples as I could swear theres
a live drummer on that track. You were saying that you wanted to do
some writing with Bill Hart, so what would that sound like?
Pat Strawser: I asked Bill to come by the house one day, and
I had to take a few passes on the tune. That was about it. I kinda
cobbled the solo together from several takes. Hes a really great
player, so I was honored and excited to include him on a couple of
tunes! Im not too sure what a writing collaboration would sound
like with Bill, but I can imagine it would be pretty fun! He and I
are very similar in our interests, so I think it could be good, if
he and I actually sat down and did it.
As for the drum sound, I spend a lot of time fooling around with drum
programming. Because I use almost exclusively programmed drums. Its
the one thing about recording that I always feel will expose me somehow
like, those drums are fake, and I can hear it! For some
reason, Im self-conscious about that.
So I tried this trick that Id heard about where you playback
the drums through a sound system, and then record the ambient sound
in a physical space and mix that with your original parts. For this
track, and for "Knockout", I played the drum track back
from my car stereo system while it was sitting in my carport with
the doors and trunk open. I set up a couple of SM57s in my driveway
to capture the ambient sound of the drums.
Claim is very ambient and it definitely sounds like a guitar
on it. You also use field recordings on that track? It has a kind
of Eno effect on it and it's interesting that Eno made his famous
Music For Airports forty years ago, yet there was no airport
effects on it! Im glad youve gone back to the airport
imagery as airports are great places to hear all kind of strange noises
and hypnotic sound effects. Were you influenced by Eno and other ambient
music composers as well and are field music tapes backing tracks an
untapped resource in your music as well?
Pat Strawser: For Baggage Claim, I did use a couple
of field recordings that I had made with the memo recording app on
my iPhone. I wouldnt say that I use field recordings a lot,
but Id like to. Especially since most of my recordings are all
in the box synthesizers and plugins, I really like the
air of adding real sounds to the mix. I travel a good
bit for work, and thought that getting my own recording of the sounds
of an airport would be useful for something like this. Theres
something kind of lonely and impersonal about an airport, and a baggage
claim in particular, and I wanted to evoke that kind of idea in this
piece. I guess youd say that Eno is an influence, primarily
through recordings he did with other artists
Robert Fripp, Daniel Lanois, and U2 in particular. I really like the
airy sound of a lot those recordings, and I wanted to capture that
with this tune.
mwe3: Journey Across The Day features what you
call a kind of jungle-beat rhythm on it. It kind of reminds
me somewhat of earlier music by Kit Watkins and also Jan Hammer, two
major keyboard influences of mine. Have you heard Kit Watkins? Again
the guitar sound on that track is actually a processed guitar you
use in a program called Kontakt. Is that your favorite guitar plug-in
and what other guitar plug-ins are among your favorites? Will all
music in the future be virtual or plug-ins? Plug ins seems like a
boon for musicians, but where will it end?
Man, I only had one Kit Watkins record back in the day, Sun
Struck, which I really dug. But I couldnt tell you any of
the songs off of it or anything. The drumbeat from this tune was just
the product of me fooling around with different loops and plugins
in Logic I think. And even the guitar sound is just stock library
sound in Kontakt, with a little overdrive and some delay. Its
my go-to setting anytime I need guitar, though, so I like it a good
I do have a couple of other favorite acoustic guitar sounds that I
use a good bit: Kontakt Acoustic Strum, Kontakt Factory Nylon String,
and Air Xpand!2 12-string acoustic are some of my favorites.
Plugins are pretty amazing, but I really enjoy having hardware and
software at my disposal. Its hard to imagine that software will
replace real instruments or other hardware, but you never know!
mwe3: You say Free Range was written during a major
snow event in Atlanta? Wow, that sounds pretty dramatic. The track
has a kind of dramatic effect yet its very synthy sounding.
Is there a kind of Jarre effect in your multilayered synths? What
is truly amazing is the way you notated the track in the Fifty-Two
liner notes. You even notated what keyboards and sounds were used
down to the seconds on the track. You also mention Greg Clinton added
guitars to that song played through a Leslie cabinet. Tell use something
more about Greg and his Leslie guitars. Also what are Abbey Road drums
as you indicate in your notes?
Pat Strawser: I frequently write and record as a way to experiment
with different instruments, sounds, and software plugins that I run
across. This tune was very much that kind of piece, where I layered
a ton of different apps and plugins that I had just found online.
I had my friend Greg Clinton play his guitar parts through my Leslie
247, which I usually use for my Hammond setup. I just thought that
would be a cool effect. The Abbey Road drums are just another Kontakt
plugin that I used for the drum tracks.
As for the mellotron, that again was a plugin: IK Multimedias
Sampletron, which is great. Ive always loved the sound, especially
being a big prog-rock fan. Its such a distinctive sound in the
genre and I love to sneak it in here and there, though it can be easy
to overuse if youre not careful.
Abandoned has a another kind of guitar like figure in
the sound and you also mention Vangelis as an influence on this track.
You say that track has a kind of soundtrack influence on it. Its
not a very fast moving track yet the imagery is very diverse and detailed
and harrowing, like the old train yards. Tell us more about your interest
in soundtrack music and can you cite a few of your favorite soundtracks
albums for movies and soundtrack composers and what about the guitar
Pat Strawser: I suppose that, because I primarily write
instrumental music, there is something very appealing to me about
soundtrack music. Movie and video soundtracks to me are the unsung
heroes of those mediums, as the music can make or break the story
being told. I also like the simplicity of a lot of soundtrack music,
and I like thinking about how well the music I create would fit behind
a visual medium. I really like the kind of openness and space that
composers like Vangelis, Hans Zimmer, and Daniel Lanois create for
some of their soundtrack work.
Abandoned was written for a short video project I had
to create for a film class I was taking at the University of Georgia.
I wanted something ethereal, spooky, and desolate sounding; something
evocative of an abandoned warehouse and railroad, which was the setting
for my video. So thats really where I was going with the whole
thing. As for the guitar sound, I used the same Kontakt plugin, with
a bit of overdrive and delay. Its become my go-to guitar setup
in Logic X.
mwe3: In your notes for To The Nines you say your
hard drive crashed during the making of this track. How did that happen
and what computers did you have that crashed? Tell us about working
with drummer Brandon Hicks on this track. You also used the Abbey
Road drum library here. What part of that app did you use and do you
find To The Nines has a kind of progressive rock or math
rock metre to it, especially you mentioned you were going for some
odd metered rock riffs.
Strawser: Yeah, having hard drives crash is just part of working
with computers I guess. Its bound to happen eventually! I was
using a really old, slow iMac 24 inch for a long time for doing all
of my recording, and I was constantly pushing it to its limits.
I had worked out a fully programmed drum part for this tune, but Brandon
was kind enough to add real drums to it. He gave it a very different
feel, which I absolutely love! He navigates those crazy time signatures
masterfully and really gives the whole song a great, natural feel.
I had been going for a classic riff-based prog rock type of thing,
in the spirit of UK or Rush or King Crimson or something, and I thought
Brandon really nailed that vibe.
mwe3: Almost There is another soundtrack influenced
track. Is that one of your more sparse sounding tracks as that track
has a kind of pastoral sound to it. Im trying to find a kind
of influence on that track, and I thought of classicists like McCartney
or Brian Wilson for some reason. You mentioned soundtracks yet Im
thinking something more West Coast vibe ala Brian Wilson. How cool
Pat Strawser: Wow, Ill take any reference to Wilson or
McCartney any day! In all honesty though, I think I was just playing
with a piano melody that just took on a life of its own. I do
know that Ill frequently use a simple idea, like the beginning
of this piece, and use it as a starting point for testing out my orchestration
chops. I used the Miroslav Philharmonik for this one, for example.
But I agree... this ended up having a pensive, pastoral sort of feel
mwe3: You dedicate Song For Charlie to the late
great jazz bassist icon Charlie Haden. It does have a kind of mournful
effect, as you say in the spirit of Bill Frisell. What are you favorite
Charlie Haden albums and I know his daughter, Petra is a famous singer.
Its a very deep track, I guess on this track, you were going
for depth and feel rather than dazzling keyboard sounds. Also, I just
noticed that you add an update sidebar note to many tracks. Are you
saying that you keep modifying tracks even after theyre completed?
Is that good or bad and can a track ever be fully completed? Theres
been so many remasters, remixes and reimagined mixes. Back in the
1960s and 1970s that was unheard of. Does this track I downloaded
also feature the updated Hammond organ and synth pads near the end?
Its a very spiritual sounding track.
I was a huge fan of Charlie Hadens playing on the Ginger
Baker Trio records, with Bill Frisell, and I absolutely loved the
Haden/Metheny duo record Beyond The Missouri Sky. Those were
definitely my favorites. I played those albums constantly, and just
love the space and feel that they have on them.
As for the update sidebar on so many of the tracks, that
probably requires a bit of explanation. When I originally wrote all
of these songs, I was posting my finished mixes to my blog, and adding
the commentary to each track as I went along. These original versions
of the songs were posted to my Soundcloud page, where you could go
to hear them, and make comments or whatever. A couple of years later,
when I decided to do the record and release these particular songs,
I went back through each song and decided to remix, edit, and enhance
them a bit, adding some instrumentation in some cases.
Really, I decided to do a record so that Id force myself to
put a limited number of tunes under a microscope so that I could
properly finish them and say that they were complete and done.
Otherwise, I would continue endlessly fix things and never let it
So, yes, the track that you hear is the finished version
with the added Hammond part. Lets hope that I leave it alone!
mwe3: You cite Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck as influences on
Knockout. Is that track among the heaviest, riff-friendly
tracks youve done? It does have a kind of Zeppelin like sound
in it! Were you more influenced by rock sounds or jazz-fusion sounds?
Its a bit jarring coming after the Haden tribute. Man, thats
some hard rocking sounds. I was almost thinking theres an Edgar
Winter sound in Knockout. Have you listened to Edgar's
Pat Strawser: This one is definitely on the heavy side
of what I typically write. Ive always had a soft spot for heavy
classic rock-type of bands, like Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, and the
like. The riff-based stuff that those bands play is a nice departure
from the more sophisticated, jazzy stuff with all the orchestration
and everything. Im really only familiar with Frankenstein
from Edgar Winter, but yeah I can see some connection there.
mwe3: The Real Enemy is short but sweet and is
very electronica based. Why didnt you do a part 2 or something
to expand on it? The sound is kind of 1977! It reminds me of the French
group Coincidence. Have you heard them? Also brilliant finding out
about the Novachord and I love that sound.
Im not familiar with Coincidence, Ill have to investigate
them! I really was trying to write something melodic, but concise,
so thats why its so short. It could always develop into
something more, but I kinda like how short it is. Im sort of
obsessed with the sound of the Novachord, and I love the mysteriousness
of the instrument. It seems like any note you play on it evokes creepiness!
Kind of like a polyphonic version of the Theremin or something.
mwe3: How about Either Way You Lose. It came out
of a tragic death you had in your circle of friends. Sounds like brilliant
tribute. Tell us about Bill Harts guitar solo here. Its
one of the great guitar solos Ive heard recently. I understand
you wrote the solo, so it has the best of both worlds!
Pat Strawser: Yeah, so this is a tune that I improvised while
contemplating personal tragedy, death, loss, and things of that nature,
hence the somber tone and title. Bill was kind enough to record the
guitar solo, which I had originally recorded using a synth guitar.
He was really patient with me, too, as I made him re-record his part
a couple of times trying to get it just right. I was really pleased
with what he did. Hes a real pro!
mwe3: The album closing Through A Glass Darkly
is the centerpiece of the album as its nearly eight minutes
long. The church organ sound kind of reminded me of Rick Wakeman in
YES and it does have a very progressive rock kind of overture type
sound. Wakeman should check out your album Pat! So is the church organ
sound from a very complicated named computer app? Tell us about that
Church organ app and sound.
Pat Strawser: Im not sure I ever thought of Through
a Glass Darkly as the centerpiece of the record, though I guess
it does have a real epic type of sound to it. Id love for Rick
to hear it though! The pipe organ was really just a few synth plugins
stacked on top of each other with a whole bunch of reverb added to
it. Nothing very fancy there!
mwe3: So you dont consider Fifty Two to be New
Age or is it more vintage fusion / electronica? Do whats on
tap for the rest of your year into the new one? What blows me away
most is you must have dozens of great tracks as many of these songs
on Fifty Two, especially as you say these were written in 2014!
What kind of album would you like to do next and is there some other
news from any of your ongoing activities?
Strawser: I suppose you could call it New Age, or at least parts
of it. Im not sure the best name for any of it, really. My goal
for the next year is to release another more overtly synth-based record,
which is largely finished. I also have a bunch of other stuff that
Im hoping to have arranged for forthcoming records as well.
Ill likely be slating Fifty-Two for distribution through
other channels like iTunes and Spotify as well, if I ever get around
to it! Additionally, Ill be working more with the Elton John/Billy
Joel tribute shows, and hopefully another French TV record. We just
got done playing at Progtoberfest in Chicago this last weekend, which
was a lot of fun!