PAT STRAWSER
Fifty-Two
(Pat Strawser Music)

 

Brought 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. Strawser’s keyboards were a clear highlight of Bill Hart’s 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 Hart’s guitar work on the lead off track “Morning Light” is electrifying and there’s several other fine musicians appearing on various tracks. Strawser’s keyboard sounds are both versatile and quite daring in places. For instance on the track “Baggage Claim”, Strawser’s 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 Strawser’s 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 Strawser’s excellent keyboards on Bill Hart’s Live At Red Clay Theatre CD will find much to like about on Fifty Two. Ambient electronic fusion fans that think they’ve heard everything need to check out Pat Strawser and his excellent Fifty-Two album. bandcamp.com / www.facebook.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
PAT STRAWSER

mwe3:
Can you tell us where you’re 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 I’ve been very fortunate to get to travel a good bit. I’ve 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 it’s like to play keyboards in his group? Also what did you think of Bill’s 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 you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. He’s 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 I’d 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 that gig!

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. I’m not sure…..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 don’t 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 1960’s or 70’s. I also have a number of other 80’s pieces: a Roland D110, a Yamaha DX27S and a TX81Z.

Different keyboards excite me in different ways, depending on what I’m 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 I’m working on. All that said, I’ve 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.

mwe3: 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 I’m 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. I’ve always had a soft-spot in my heart for that band and the material we came up with. I’ve 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. It’s pretty remarkable what the technology can allow you to do. From my own personal standpoint, that’s made my home studio a crucial ingredient in being able to do anything. So, yeah you’re right about being able to download just about any kind of sound or emulation.

As for working with a producer: I didn’t 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. It’s 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? I’m fairly disillusioned with the 21st century resurgence of vinyl pressings which were made obsolete or so I thought forever 35 years ago.

Pat Strawser: 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 it’s not that necessary to put out a physical product, which is kind of cool. It certainly has changed the landscape for musician’s who are trying to distribute their material and capture any revenue from all of that. It’s hard to say exactly what the future will look like, but it seems hard to believe that we’ll 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, I’m going to do my best to adapt to what’s emerging, and I’ll 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. It’s also impressive that the track features drum samples as I could swear there’s 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. He’s a really great player, so I was honored and excited to include him on a couple of tunes! I’m 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. It’s 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, I’m self-conscious about that.

So I tried this trick that I’d 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.

mwe3: “Baggage 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! I’m glad you’ve 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 wouldn’t say that I use field recordings a lot, but I’d 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. There’s 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 you’d say that Eno is an influence, primarily through recordings he did with other artists… Peter Gabriel, 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?

Pat Strawser: Man, I only had one Kit Watkins record back in the day, Sun Struck, which I really dug. But I couldn’t 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. It’s my go-to setting anytime I need guitar, though, so I like it a good bit.

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. It’s 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 it’s 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 Multimedia’s Sampletron, which is great. I’ve always loved the sound, especially being a big prog-rock fan. It’s 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 you’re not careful.

mwe3: “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. It’s 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 sound?

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 that’s 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. It’s 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.

Pat Strawser: Yeah, having hard drives crash is just part of working with computers I guess. It’s 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. I’m 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 I’m thinking something more West Coast vibe ala Brian Wilson. How cool is that?

Pat Strawser: Wow, I’ll 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 it’s own. I do know that I’ll 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 I think.

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. It’s 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 they’re completed? Is that good or bad and can a track ever be fully completed? There’s 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? It’s a very spiritual sounding track.

Pat Strawser: I was a huge fan of Charlie Haden’s 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 I’d 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 end!

So, yes, the track that you hear is the “finished” version with the added Hammond part. Let’s 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 you’ve done? It does have a kind of Zeppelin like sound in it! Were you more influenced by rock sounds or jazz-fusion sounds? It’s a bit jarring coming after the Haden tribute. Man, that’s some hard rocking sounds. I was almost thinking there’s an Edgar Winter sound in “Knockout”. Have you listened to Edgar's instrumentals?

Pat Strawser: This one is definitely on the heavy side of what I typically write. I’ve 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. I’m 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 didn’t 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.

Pat Strawser: I’m not familiar with Coincidence, I’ll have to investigate them! I really was trying to write something melodic, but concise, so that’s why it’s so short. It could always develop into something more, but I kinda like how short it is. I’m 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 Hart’s guitar solo here. It’s one of the great guitar solos I’ve 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. He’s a real pro!

mwe3: The album closing “Through A Glass Darkly” is the centerpiece of the album as it’s 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: I’m 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. I’d 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 don’t consider Fifty Two to be New Age or is it more vintage fusion / electronica? Do what’s 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?

Pat Strawser: I suppose you could call it New Age, or at least parts of it. I’m 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 I’m hoping to have arranged for forthcoming records as well. I’ll likely be slating Fifty-Two for distribution through other channels like iTunes and Spotify as well, if I ever get around to it! Additionally, I’ll 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!





 

 
   
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