In­stru­men­tal in­qui­si­tion!

In­stru­men­tals have sup­plied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive and ex­cit­ing mo­ments. We asked some top gui­tarists for their take on this iconic move­ment. This month: renowned multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - Mike Ke­neally Mike Ke­neally is cur­rently tour­ing North Amer­ica, play­ing tracks from his new al­bum, Scam­bot 2

GT: What is it about gui­tar in­stru­men­tals that ap­peals to you?

MK: I’m not cer­tain that I have a spe­cific pref­er­ence for a given in­stru­ment to be the lead voice. I cer­tainly en­joy mak­ing in­stru­men­tals that are key­board­based. But I ab­so­lutely ex­press my­self dif­fer­ently on a gui­tar than I do a key­board – un­doubt­edly there are de­tails of ar­tic­u­la­tion, at­tack and tim­bre that are only read­ily avail­able to me on a gui­tar. And there are emo­tional as­pects to the sound of a gui­tar, which are very sim­i­lar to the hu­man voice, so it’s re­ally ap­peal­ing on that front as well. It’s like a drug to me.

GT: What can an in­stru­men­tal pro­vide a lis­tener that a vo­cal can’t?

MK: The abil­ity to im­pose one’s own mean­ing on the song, rather than hav­ing a mean­ing dic­tated by lyrics. The mind can wan­der a lot far­ther with­out a singer bang­ing away about some­thing or an­other.

GT: Any ten­den­cies you aim to em­brace or avoid?

MK: I’m never con­scious about do­ing that, other than em­brac­ing things that sound good to me, and avoid­ing things that don’t!

GT: How use­ful is study­ing a vo­cal­ist’s ap­proach?

MK: Any­thing to keep a song from sound­ing too mono­lithic, in­flex­i­ble or in­hu­man is a good thing; and vo­cal phras­ing, when ap­plied to the gui­tar, strikes a re­ally nice bal­ance in the ear. It feels fa­mil­iar and re­lat­able, but in­trigu­ing be­cause it’s ap­plied to a dif­fer­ent sound.

GT: Is there a typ­i­cal ap­proach or in­spi­ra­tion for you?

MK: On my new al­bum, Scam­bot 2 there’s an in­stru­men­tal called Freezer Burn that be­gan just as a feel­ing of or­gan-dom­i­nated open space. I started with a very slow-mov­ing chord pro­gres­sion over a wide-open old-school Pink Floyd type beat. I lis­tened to that for months while imag­in­ing what sort of thing might go on top of it, and at one point thought it might end up with lyrics. But then I got a strong feel­ing that gui­tar should take the lead and I recorded three dif­fer­ent im­pro­vised gui­tar tracks re­act­ing to the chord pro­gres­sion. Then I ruth­lessly edited each of those gui­tar tracks down to the phrases I re­ally liked, and lis­tened to that for a while, be­fore I fi­nally recorded a lead gui­tar track that com­bined the best phrases into one per­for­mance. In con­trast is a song like Egg Zoom­ing on Sluggo!, which was en­tirely scored out on pa­per be­fore a note was recorded; or Pitch Pipe on You Must Be This Tall, where I had a feel­ing for a spe­cific kind of crazy gui­tar melody, and wrote it on the spot with en­gi­neer Mike Har­ris record­ing phrases as I was writ­ing them, play­ing only to a click track. By the time I was done writ­ing the en­tire four-minute melody, I had the whole lead gui­tar track recorded; then I wrote chords, bassline and drum track to ac­com­pany the gui­tar melody. Al­most ev­ery in­stru­men­tal track has its own pe­cu­liar ori­gin story.

GT: Many songs fea­ture a solo that starts low and slow then fin­ishes high and fast. Is this struc­ture use­ful for in­stru­men­tal writ­ing?

MK: I would never limit my­self to that. I would never turn my nose up at a track that starts in an at­ten­tionget­ting frenzy, then set­tles down into a more con­tem­pla­tive vibe.

GT: Any favourite keys or tem­pos?

MK: No, not re­ally.

GT: Do you find mi­nor or ma­jor keys eas­ier to write in?

MK: I’ve never tried to work out the per­cent­age in my cat­a­logue, but I think it’s prob­a­bly pretty well equally di­vided be­tween the two. Prob­a­bly what I re­ally love is to tran­si­tion smoothly from one to the other, be­cause I’m fas­ci­nated by the emo­tions elicited by dif­fer­ent har­monic cli­mates.

GT: Any favourite modes?

MK: I never think modally. I wasn’t trained that way and it just never oc­curs to me. I’m about melody and har­mony and I’m happy to fol­low the muse wher­ever it goes, and step in and out of dif­fer­ent modes at will.

GT: Mod­u­la­tions into new keys?

MK: All the time. I of­ten find it dif­fi­cult to say what key a song is in, be­cause it’ll of­ten shift rad­i­cally from one sec­tion to the next.

GT: Do you view the band in a dif­fer­ent way than on a vo­cal song?

MK: You can get away with be­ing busier when there’s no lyrics. I prob­a­bly al­low things to get a bit more freaky than on vo­cal tracks. But it com­pletely de­pends on the song. There are acous­tic in­stru­men­tals on Wooden Smoke and Wing Beat Fan­tas­tic that are so del­i­cate, all the in­stru­ments re­ally need to be care­fully con­trolled or else the whole point of the song would be com­pletely cap­sized.

GT: Har­mon­is­ing melodies?

MK: That’s my play­ground. I love it. The end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties, the lit­er­ally lim­it­less choice of chords which could po­ten­tially ac­com­pany any given note – that’s heaven to me. If I could make a liv­ing only har­mon­is­ing melodies I would!

GT: What three gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have in­spired you?

MK: Spi­der Of Des­tiny – Frank Zappa, The Ocean Is The Ul­ti­mate So­lu­tion – Frank Zappa, Di­a­mond Dust – Jeff Beck.


Mike Ke­neally: mu­si­cal­ity at its very best

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