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Writing and recording a solo album was the absolute last thing on my mind in the summer of 2002. I'd just hiked Mt. Whitney and was thinking about buying a house - that's how far away my mind was from any kind of creative musical output. But like a lot of good things, it all came to me when I wasn't looking for it.

I was down in San Diego in August of 2002, doing some recording for Mike Keneally's upcoming 2004 release (working title: Dog). Since I was down for the weekend anyway, I brought my bike along with me and decided to go riding in the hills of a small mountain town called Alpine. Somewhere along the ride, a melody popped into my head. Ten minutes later, there was a second part to go along with it. I turned around and headed back to my Motel 6 to see if I could remember what I'd heard.

I had my Taylor acoustic/electric with me. I also had a little microcassette recorder I carried with me, in case I got any literary ideas I wanted to capture. So I turned the thing on "record" and played the melody. Then I played the harmony while the melody played back through the worst little speaker you've ever heard. The idea became the core for the first track on the record, "Bear Divide."

It suddenly hit me that I was going to have to buy a digital multi-track recorder and see if this was an isolated incident or not.

 

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Two weeks later, I had five tracks complete in demo form: "Bear Divide", "Projectile", "Elate", "Wildflower" and "Get Things Done." I'd gone from never having done any home recording at all to full tracking - including drum programming, "guitar parts" on bass, mixing and mastering - in less than a month. Stunned by the sudden output after thirty-one years of literally nothing, I decided to recognize it as a sign and officially take the thing on. There was no working title.

Around the same time, the Webmistress Katy Towell brought something over to my apartment. It was an oil painting she'd done for me, a gorgeous sandy-hued piece with a desert landscape and a dusty highway and a window suspended in midair over the road. "What's it called?" I asked. "View," she said. Right then and there, I knew that View was the title of the album, and that Katy would do the artwork based on the theme of the painting.

Meanwhile, I got bogged down in the next two songs. "Supermarket People" took two weeks. Then, executing the concept for a majestic, longer piece called "Eighteen Weeks" threw me completely off-balance. It took two months to finish a demo of that one song alone. But little by little, a sequence formed, a theme developed, and as the final two tracks ("See You Next Tuesday" and "View") were finally finished in the last week of 2002, I started to get a sense that the album as a whole had a storyline, a sound, a theme, and yes, a message, however obtuse.

The demo version of View - all thirteen tracks - existed on a CD, in sequence, on January 1, 2003.

 

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I have a reputation as a planner. Lists dominate my life; obsessive-compulsive behaviors dictate a portion of my day-to-day activities. The habits always came in useful in work situations, but I'd never fully applied them to my musical life. My friends knew better, though, and I got the feeling they weren't the least bit surprised when I started bombarding them with outlines and lists and spreadsheets and other things they probably didn't get from their other freelance clients. Schedules, for the most part, were worked out months in advance.

I'd long had a pretty good idea of who I'd want to work with in the studio if I ever had the opportunity to decide for myself. Joe Travers as the main drummer was a no-brainer; we'd been dying for a chance to work together more since the demise of Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa's band Z. I also wanted to get back in the studio with ex-Keneallyite Toss Panos, a drummer I'd grown to admire more since watching him play with Michael Landau. Rick Musallam would be the key guitarist, the go-to guy for most parts. Mike Keneally would be the secret weapon. Griff Peters, a great guitarist and fellow Berklee alum, would do things on guitar no one else I know can do. Special guests Tricia Steel, Yogi, Colin Keenan, Jeff Babko, and everyone else fell into place. The enthusiastic responses I got from those who signed on to do it were gratifying beyond measure.

But the key guy turned out to be Nick D'Virgilio, the project's chief engineer. Nick is an incredible musical force. He's a pro's pro of a drummer, he's a legitimate lead singer, he writes music, he plays guitar, he plays keyboards - and, oh yeah, he's an experienced engineer. When I first told him that I was going to do a solo album, he actually approached me, saying that he wanted to be the guy and that I should do it at Lawnmower and Garden Supplies Studio, Kevin Gilbert's old room in Pasadena (where, not coincidentally, Nick recorded his own solo album Karma). Three meetings later - and with the knowledge that the drum sounds, one of my main concerns, would be in very good hands - we shook hands and began planning for tracking, mixing and mastering to start in mid-April and be done no later than June 15.

 

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My plans for a smooth set of tracking days to be interspersed with my day gig at SWR went out the window when, three days before the first tracking day, I found out that SWR would most likely be sold to Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. As one of two Vice Presidents at SWR, the impact on my time and energy was immediate and severe.

What had been planned as a carefully calibrated, medium-paced set of tracking days turned into me waking up early, coming in to work hours before the start of a session, and then staying in the studio from 11AM to 2AM, all the while checking my cell phone for emergency messages (which seemed to pop up every hour or so).

Meanwhile, I was figuring out on the fly what I was supposed to be doing in my role as producer. I'd never done it before. Exerting authority in an office atmosphere and getting what you need performance-wise from a professional musician are two different kinds of leadership, and it took some adjustments at first. The first session I led was for "Supermarket People," which featured a band of the ultra-experienced Toss Panos, L.A. session ace Jeff Babko, and Mike Keneally. I was in over my head, to be sure.

But it got easier with each session. Some days were like rolling parties, with friends coming in and out all day, people having conversations while others were tracking, and plenty of altered substances for all. Other days were more private, like the day we tracked all of the solo acoustic/electric bass pieces, and "vocal night," when Colin Keenan and I let Nick D'Virgilio and Mike Keneally produce our tracks. There was so much talent and experience in the room at times, it was awe-inspiring. I realized that, while I was tracking the vocals on "Wildflower," I was being watched by three different singer-songwriters who had already written and released albums: Mike Keneally, Nick D'Virgilio and Yogi.

The unsung hero when it came to tracking was Nick's friend and Pro Tools expert Ed Monsef. He was supposed to come by on the first day to make sure that the Neve board was feeding Pro Tools correctly, and that the whole Pro Tools setup in general was working fine at the start of the sessions. Once I tracked with him and watched how quickly he worked, I pulled Nick aside and asked him, "Is Ed coming to the next session?" He could, Nick said. Whatever it took, I said. He was there every day but one from then on out. He literally saved us hours, and most likely an entire tracking day or even two.

As the SWR deal went down in the end of May, the schedule got more intense. There were more than a few frantic moments in the last days of the old company; some were heart-stoppingly stressful. I wasn't even sure I'd have a job on the other end of it (it turns out that I did), but one way or the other, final tracking was scheduled for the first week of June. Time was booked and it simply had to get done by June 15, because Nick was leaving town soon thereafter. I'd long promised myself that, when I tracked the actual bass tracks for my own solo album, that I'd give myself all the time I needed to make sure it was exactly what I wanted to keep. After all, it was my album, right?

What I didn't realize is that, as a producer, I'd spend most of my time trying to make things right for the other musicians so that they could make things right for me. By the time it came down to my tracks, we had less than two full tracking days left, I was half-awake, and I ended up barreling through them as quickly as I could. There's a life lesson somewhere in the fact that despite the better part of a year of planning, as the final tracking day came to a close, only Ed and myself were left, it was after one in the morning, both of us were falling asleep in our chairs, and I was tracking the most difficult bass parts of the whole record - the bass solos in "Supermarket People" and "Get Things Done."

Still, somehow, on June 15, I left the mastering studio with the final copy of View in my hands. That much of the recording plan survived, if nothing else.

 

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When the dust settled, I couldn't believe how satisfied I was with the final product. Everyone involved went above and beyond in terms of their performances and dedication to making sure that the little things were done right. I heard some of my best friends play like I'd never heard them before, and I made some new friends who came in and blew me away with their talent. I couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished.

I went in thinking that the making of a record is like the construction of a building. You draw up the blueprint, you hire the contractor, you get the labor and you do the job according to the specs on the prints. That's my obsessive-compulsive side's kind of thinking, and it's not exactly the highest plane available. What actually happened, of course, was totally different. Everyone's energies combined to make the whole so much more than the sum of the parts that the original components became nearly unrecognizable. The combination of whatever original ideas I had, plus the players' unique musical personalities, plus the vision and wisdom of Nick D'Virgilio, plus the original inspiration of Mike Keneally, plus the invaluable behind-the-scenes contributions of Ed Monsef, Wayne Perez and Chris Opperman…and, finally, the art direction of Katy Towell and photography of Wes Wehmiller, all combined to produce this thing, this amazing, complete thing called an album.

 

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So what does the album mean? What's the message? It's funny - I was going to list a track-by-track description of what each song means to me, and then I thought better of it. I'm now of the mind that whatever's there to be interpreted would be best interpreted by the listener, not the composer.

I'll just say that the vision of the city in the window on the cover art is not just a vision, or a mirage - it's a reflection of what's left behind.


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Extended Thanks

Adam Nitti, Adrian Ashton/Bass Guitar Magazine (U.K.), Alex Perez, Amanda Wernert, Amy DeGroot, Andy West, Antal Adriaanse, Atticus Wolrab, Bill Leigh/Bass Player Magazine, Bill Miller/Modern Drummer Magazine, Billy Sheehan, Bob Tedde, Bob Willocks, Bob Wilson/Sound Technology (U.K.), Brad Warner, Brad and Shelley Dahl, Brad Houser, Brian McDonald, Brian Timpe, Bruce Kaminsky/KYDD Basses, Chris and Stacy Golden, Chris G., Chris Opperman, Cindee Pazuros, Cindy Zeuli, Co de Kloet, Colin Keenan, Craig Rathkamp, Dana McMahan, Darin DiPietro, Daryl Jamison, Dave Pomeroy, Dennis Hill, Derek Sheen, Don Randi, Don Zulaica, Doug Lunn, Doug Wimbish, Dweezil Zappa, Ed Monsef, Eric Shea, Eric Vesbit, Erika Homan, Eva Ruise, Evan Francis, Fausto Cuevas, Frode Berg, Gary Davis, George Furlanetto, Gina Hazelrigg, Greg McMillan, Greg Olwell, Griff Peters, Hillary Manning, Ian Perge, Inga Wohlgemuth, James LaBrie, James Rotondi/Bass Guitar Magazine, Janet Robin, Jason Feinberg, Jay Frigoletto, Jay Piccirillo, Jedd Beaudoin, Jeff Babko, Jennifer Lallande, Jim Roberts, JoAnn Ekblad, Joe Travers, John D'Agostino, John Dreyer, John Ferrante, John Volpe, Jon Finn, Jon Gowdey, Jon Herrera, Jon Levy, Karen Chatfield, Karl Coryat, Katy Towell, Kelly Castro, Kira Small, Koos Hofman, Lance Konnerth, Lesley Poling, Lisa Frolio, Luis Espaillat, Lynda Kay Parker, Mark Kendrick, Mark Meadows, Mark Small/Berklee Today, Mark Tessier, Marqueson Coy, Marsh Gooch, Martha C. Lawrence, Mary Klimek, Matt Slavik, Melissa Savage, Michael Connolly, Michael Manring, Mike Keneally, Mike Lull, Mo West, Nancy Brookes, Nick Beggs, Nick D'Virgilio, Nicoll Bacharach, Paul Herman, Rachael Nadel, Randy Allar, Rich Appleman, Rich Lewis, Rich Pike, Richard Johnston, Richard McDonald, Rick Musallam, Roger Gee, Ron Bienstock, Ron Garant, Ron Spiegelhalter, Ruta Sepetys, Scott Chatfield, Scott Koziol, Sean Westergard, Steve Rabe, Steve Vai, Thomas Nordegg, Todd Rogers, Tom Wheeler, Tom Wictor, Tony Franklin, Tony Motta, Toss Panos, Tricia and Brady Steel, Trina Simpson, Virgil Donati, Wayne Kramer, Wayne Perez, Wes Wehmiller, Yogi…SWR, Mike Lull Custom Guitars, Taylor Guitars, D'addario, Raven Labs, Fender…and my loving family.

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