Here are the stories behind the songs
SPARTA plus some information on the recording process.
This project has taken me a while to
complete. It is a familiar story -- work schedules and family requirements made
finishing the album particularly difficult. However, it has taken just over
a year to complete and it has been a completely individual project: I wrote the songs, played
every instrument, produced it, mixed it, and mastered it. Note:
Using Hart Dynamics pads, I actually played drums on this album! No, I am
not a great drummer.
Like several of my other projects, this album was based on a short story I started writing during the
I wrote about 15 songs based on this story, but whittled it down to 11.
the song didn't move the story along, I ditched it. The songs are
important and had a huge impact on each other. As with my other projects, I wanted to ensure that I could actually play these
songs live with a band – a good band – and record some in a live setting. As
usual, when you have a “good idea explosion” there are always consequences. The big
challenge with this is that, as an individual project, adding songs and
complexity seems like it adds time required for completion exponentially.
Like "...the end", this collection was written as a vinyl LP.
There are 11 songs with the first five being side one and the final six being
side two. I doubt this will ever be on vinyl, but I do feel melancholy for
the days of sitting down and listening to music with friends. I thought
that this project would be a good candidate for that because the story flows
from the beginning to the end.
The songs were recorded on a recent iMac using ProTools 10.3. The
interface was a Focusrite Sapphire Pro 26 using the iMac's Thunderbolt port.
I used a Lacie Thunderbolt drive to capture the audio. This was not recorded in a
studio unless the pile of gear in the basement/underground lair counts as a studio. There were no megabuck plug-ins in use, and the real standout was the ik Multimedia Ampeg SVX bass amp plugin. As usual, we used
an old ’73 Marshall JMP 50-watt head, an early 90’s JCM-900 SLX 50-watt, our
Traynor Guitar Mate Reverb combo, and a variety of speaker cabinets
with Celestion speakers. I also used an 2x12 Avatar cabinet with a Greenback and
Vintage 30, and it really came through. There is POD 2.0 (Red Bean) and
ADA MP-1 on this
recording as well. Finally, we used our workhorse SM-57s, SM-58s, and a number
of Samson and MXL condenser mics. Our Presonus preamps have been a
pleasant surprise and they are recommended.
Guitars? I used my two alder-bodied Williams GSs with
AttackBuckers (one hard-tail, one trem) for the bulk of the recording. I
also used my Yngwie Signature Strat a great deal, and it is a particularly good
sounding guitar. As always, we also used a number of Les Pauls, our old-time 1975 Ibanez Flying V
(Rocket Roll Sr.), the Jeff Beck Les Paul, and our Fender HM Strat.
The bass choice
was easy – our much beloved Made in Japan Fender P-Bass from 1987. Strings are
always Ernie Ball Pink Slinkys (for guitars and bass), and this time we used their new flatwounds in
Cables? The George L’s are
really, really good; the skinny ones are the favorites around here. We even have
some George L’s speaker cables. Yep…we thought it was all hype, too.
As always, I tried to avoid a lot of creative editing with the software and what
you hear is, in most cases a complete take played straight through from start to
finish. This time I used a lot of the "draft" guitar solos in the final
mix. Somehow they just seemed better! Edit less, play more.
What is up with the title?
The title Sparta covers a number of
themes. Ancient Sparta; a more recent embattled idea; a town you may be
familiar with. Sparta is what we are defending; it is that thing that
others may want to destroy without really understanding.
This is the story of a young man living
in the basement who is constantly online, fantasizing about his band, and not
really getting anywhere. He is a constant loop, and each day becomes more like
Here are the songs in the order in which they appear on the album. If you
want the entire story, be sure to check back and download the "short story" and read it to get
a feel for where the songs came from. It may be available soon.
1. Lost in Space
Facebook. Instagram. Reddit. Twitter. Nonstop texting. Who remembers MySpace?
You name it. It becomes difficult to tell where it begins and ends.
It is easy to get lost. Seems like everyone is marching toward something
without really knowing what is going on....zombies.
Gear Notes: The guitar solos were played on our Williams GS hardtail with AttackBuckers. The
guitar sound is the POD, a 50-watt Marshall JMP with a DOD 250 Overdrive, and a guitar
plug-in blended…but mostly the Marshall.
2. What's In It For You
While the video games are cool, there must be something more. Those
failures and disappointments must be the result of a cosmic lottery, not the
choices we make...or refuse to make.
Gear Notes: I used an old Les Paul Standard for most of the verse to get some low-end crunch.
The solo is a Williams GS Hardtail into the Marshall JCM 900. I mic'd the
Greenback with a 57 and used a little room mic to get some ambience.
3. Hard Way
Why does everything have to be so hard?
Why don't our dreams just come true? Disappointment can be a real
soul-crusher...or a great motivator.
Gear Notes: I used some ADA MP-1 for some guitar sound on this song.
It is a really old one, and I ran it through a TubeWorks MOSFET power amp into
an old TubeWorks 2x12 cab with V30s. For some reason, that rig sounded
really killer that day! Note: I think it has a lot to do with the
voltage coming out of the wall.
4. Something Stronger
Sometimes we just need something stronger to help us through the hard times.
It is hard to avoid when it is calling. It doesn't solve anything -- it
just puts it off for a little while.
Gear Notes: I used an old analog MXR flanger on the section leading
into the solo...the old-school kind. There is also an MXR Carbon Copy
delay on the solo. I also tried about four different cowbells before I
found the right one. A rock album has to have at least one appearance of
the mighty cowbell.
5. Be The Enemy
Time to fight "The Man"...figuratively, of course. There is no violence
except that in Call of Duty. Time to get motivated and try to move
forward...in the real world, whatever that is.
Gear Notes: Sometimes you just need a shaker. I used my FM Goldtop
and a Dunlop Joe Perry slide
for the slide parts. There is some genuine Echoplex EP-3 mixed in here for
ambience on the slide solo. Yes, it is noisy.
The end of the first side -- sorry...vinyl is too
expensive to give away.
The Man came to the basement and tried to give some "tough love". He
doesn't understand the complexities of video gaming/playing in a band and tried
to give some guidance...which was ignored.
Gear Notes: A Rocktron Voice Box in the solo....kind of like the "Charlie
Brown" adult voice.
7. Can't Go Back
One of the darker songs on the album. Not being able to go back and change
things is a consistent theme in Western literature, and even makes an appearance in
"Napoleon Dynamite." Feeling sorry for yourself is not valid course of
action when things are going badly.
Gear Notes: The clean guitar sound is the Spare Parts Les Paul through
the Traynor. You can hear the goodness of the AttackBucker in the neck
position during the solo.
8. Crossed the Line
Time to get the band going again, Elwood. Feeling trapped, getting out and
playing a gig is going to make a difference.
Gear Notes: The first appearance of the venerable Fender HM Strat.
It is still a great guitar (bone stock) and really cuts through. The wah
solo is the hardtail GS played through an ancient Thomas Organ "Cry Baby" into
the JMP Marshall.
9. Big Star
I think most people live like their lives are a dress rehearsal rather than
realizing that time is really slipping away, every day. Like I've said
before -- I was initially more interested in being a rock star than a proficient
musician....a big, common mistake. This is what "American Idol" feeds in to.
By the way -- if you are making "big bucks" in music today, you are part of the
ultra 1%. We've all become used to music being free unless we pay $75 to
sit in the last row at an arena show.
Gear Notes: The guitar solo was played on my 1999 Yngwie Signature Strat
(even though I talk about a Les Paul in the song). It was played straight
though and I think the tone really fits the song. It is a great-sounding
guitar even though it is not an Yngwie-like solo.
10. What We Get
When we sit back and do nothing, we'll wind up living in a Government apartment,
riding a Government bus past the Government green space to our
Government-approved job, shop in the Government store, and wait for the
Government to tell us what to do. Don't wait for it to just happen.
Gear Notes: The guitar sound is layered with the Marshalls and the POD.
The AttackBuckers sound particularly good through the POD.
Stay away from drugs...particularly the Big Guns. It always leads
to bad things. Just watch an episode of "Behind the Music" or
Gear Notes: GS Guitars though the Marshalls. The initial solo is on
the trem-equipped model. It took me a long time to get the drums
Album complete...and it starts
over...just like a day in his life.
Why so many guitar solos? Like my other albums, the answer is
simple: I am primarily a guitar player, it is a rock album, and I wanted to do some guitar solos. I
believe guitar solos are cool, and some of the great 70s and 80s soloists influenced my
guitar style. I really like playing guitar. I am a guitar hoarder. I really
didn’t want to do yet another guitar instrumental album, so the song structures are
vessels for the guitar solo.
Do you wanna be a rock star? No -- I want to find somebody to play
with. I really don't want to be a singer -- I would rather stand on stage
right and play guitar and do some backup vocals.
Any secrets? As usual, a couple of things – use good quality strings and change
them often. Note: All you hear on this album are Ernie Ball strings. Have your guitar set-up by somebody who knows what they are doing. Use short patch cords between your guitar and amp or preamp. The
first take of the solo is usually the one you like best. Finally, if you start
getting frustrated while recording, take a break and come back to it.
Yet another word of warning. I don't care for Bro-country music.
I do listen to "Liquid Metal" on XM. As previously stated, I like Blue Öyster
Cult and Ted Nugent. I do listen to vinyl.
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