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Levin Minnemann Rudess

Interview by Sean Mitchell // November 13 2013
Levin Minnemann Rudess

I've been really lucky to play with quite a few great drummers, each with different style and feel, and it's been a wonderful musical experience for me. But if asked to give advice to drummers, I'd still pull it back to the basics. It is not fun for a bass player to play with a drummer who doesn't keep good time. - Tony Levin

 

It's not often a producer gets to work with a musical genius, nevermind three at the same time. But Lazy Bones Recordings' producer/founder, Scott Schorr, found himself smack dab in the middle of a musical Holy Trinity. Enter Tony Levin, Marco Minnemann and Jordan Rudess.

Scott was kind enough to "hook a brother up" and give The Black Page and its readers an interview with three of the world's most prolific players. Enjoy!

 

Scott, as a producer, what lessons do you walk away with on a project like this and working with these three amazing musicians? 

I walk away humbled, honored and a better producer after this project.  My role is to continue to supporter musicians like these and to understand the major lesson:  comment and give direction when appropriate.  The remainder of the time, leave these guys alone to work their magic.  I've also learned to always make sure everyone in a project is on the same page musically.  With that, the project's flow and musical direction just happens naturally.  Without that, there's chaos. Finally, have fun or why do it? 

At this level, what are some of the personal lessons (musical or otherwise) that you took away from this project? Any "Aha" moments? 

Jordan Rudess - Things can take longer than you think! I originally planned about two weeks to do this album. When I got the material I realized the project demanded much more of my attention than that. My Aha moment was when all the sudden I heard Marco's vocals on the album. I thought, OK, he plays every instrument and he also is a singer now! 

Tony Levin - I just did my usual; tried to play a bass part that worked well for the song, or if I wrote the idea, I tried to grow a bit beyond what I'd written before. Where I think we really succeeded is in making an album that's special music, features all the players' abilities, and will hopefully stand the test of time and still sound really good in a few years. That's more important to me than where the project took me as a player. 

How did this project come together? How long was this process for you three? 

TL - It took only a few months—started with me and Marco working back and forth on tracks, then brought in Jordan later (because he had been busy recording Dream Theater's new album, so couldn't do it before he was free). 

Marco, you have a great drum sound on this record. Can you talk to me about that process and how you achieved that? 

Marco Minnemann - Thank you. I record in my living room with 16 tracks, 12 close mics, two overheads and three room mics. It's a nice, open-sounding room, so I make sure to catch that with certain mic placements. And, well, of course the equipment is important, too. I use a DW custom-made Jazz kit, and sometimes also a special-sized Concept kit—both amazing sounding shells. 

Microphones are mainly Audix and some additional goodies here and there. Hardware and software is Steinberg and Universal Audio. For guitars, I mainly use equipment made by my friend and excellent guitar builder John Suhr. He made me an amazing guitar and I'm using his amp and also a Kemper modeling amp, which is really great. 

Tony and Jordan, you have had the good fortune of playing with some amazing drummers. What in your mind makes a drummer good and what makes a drummer great? 

TL - Great question. The first important factor, to be a very good drummer, let alone a great one, is to keep really good time. I wish that was the priority in all drum instruction and I think most bass players would agree with me. The player's technique, style, versatility, and originality all come after that.  

I've been really lucky to play with quite a few great drummers, each with different style and feel, and it's been a wonderful musical experience for me. But if asked to give advice to drummers, I'd still pull it back to the basics. It is not fun for a bass player to play with a drummer who doesn't keep good time. 

JR - A good drummer is someone who can keep the rhythmic foundation solid and strong. A great drummer is someone whose creativity shines while making that happen! Someone like Marco, who is a total musician, has enormous creativity and it shines through whenever he plays!  

Tony let's talk about producer Scott Schorr's role in this project. How does a producer contain this amount of musical talent? 

TL - The producer's role is always important, even if he stays somewhat out of the way at times. Scott is great at setting things up so the musicians can do what they do best, and letting them go where the music takes them.  

Being that all three of you are so highly acclaimed, musically, how does the trio avoid the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome? There must have been a great amount of maturity in creating the parts for these tunes? 

TL - The parts, from my end, varied quite a bit. On the pieces I instigated, I made up the bass part, of course. With Marco's pieces, he suggested bass parts (he plays bass quite well) and sometimes I changed them a little or a lot, but sometimes I played exactly what he did. And on one track, it's Marco's bass on the recording. Jordan doubled a few of the bass parts, and sometimes played a different bass part on synth—that became more the main part than what we'd started with. The keyboard parts were completely up to Jordan. So a lot of variety from the perspective of bass ideas.  

MM - Thank you for seeing that aspect. That was exactly what I was going for in the songwriting process. I was more interested in creating vibes and auras, instead of going straight into flashing people by focusing on technical abilities. To me, and you can hear this in my solo albums as well, composing is always focused on the beauty and uniqueness of creating pieces that hopefully will take you to a place you feel comfortable or trigger some emotions.That, for me, is the mission.  

Especially when recording guitars, I much rather like to try my best to deliver cool riffs or orchestrations with a focus on sound as well instead of concentrating on how many scales I could squeeze into a solo. I like to let music breathe, depending on the purpose of the composition, of course. I also love to leave some mic bleeding in here and there or guitar noises. It, in places, can create just the right amount of additional magic.

How did the three of you come to know each other? 

MM - I met Tony first in Eddie Jobson's band. We toured together a few years back and had a really good time there and kept in touch. Jordan contacted me the first time in 2010, I believe, for a project called the Musical Mind Meld we've filmed and recorded in Chicago. That was a lot of fun, too. And Tony, separately, also worked with Jordan before. So now it seems that the universe somehow wanted to create this particular musical triangle.

TL - I know Marco from UKZ tour we did together in Poland a few years ago.  Been wanting to work more with him since then. I know Jordan from the group Liquid Tension Experimen; we did two albums and a tour with Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. 

You all come from other projects, talk about your process for writing songs specifically with these players. What imagery and melodies come to mind when you think of these guys? 

JR - I took a very free approach to my writing and my contributions to the music with these guys. I called upon many of my stylistic interests. Everything from Zappa-like ideas to space rock to jazz fusion. For this album, Tony and Marco had a lot of ideas and some structured tunes as well that they sent me, and then it was my role to bring it all together with the final elements. It was like a musical puzzle, at times, and I felt free to bring things in all these different directions and have a sonic party in my studio! 

MM - It comes easy writing for players that have a strong and unique musical voice because you can already hear inside your head what they sound like or where you can take them to and make them shine.  

For example, on "Orbiter" and "Descent" I purposely wrote and demoed the bass lines with my baritone guitar (you can hear the demos on the bonus disc), playing the strings more percussive, because I knew how amazing Tony would translate it to his trademark sound. And on songs like "Service Engine" and "Mew" I thought it would give Jordan a lot of opportunity to take these songs as a playground and create his awesome soundscapes to it. He also a lot of times surprises and delivers things you'd never expect, with loads of great technical and musical finesse! 

But I also liked the challenge to provide a few tunes that were written completely unrelated to this band. "Lakeshore Lights" and "Ignorant Elephant," for example (which I was planning for my trio with the Aristocrats), were a complete experiment to see how Tony and Jordan would translate into it and 'decorate' the rooms—or whatever room was left since these tunes were pretty much envisioned and full of stuff already (laughs).  

Are there any plans to tour in support of this album and if so who would you like to see on that tour besides the three of you? 

TL - We'd like to do some touring together, but that hasn't been planned for this release, and all the guys are very busy for the coming months. Next album, we'll see. 

MM - There are no touring plans so far. We all are busy with our other bands and kept LMR so far as a remote studio relationship. But, you never know. 




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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