|Byron Fry: Photo by Joel St. Marie. Bishop, CA|
As Composer / Arranger / Producer, he has scored dozens of hours of footage for Film and TV; written, arranged and produced every style for live shows and records; been musical director of a theatrical musical’s 3-month run; written his first symphony and conducted its premier and spearheaded the writing of a major-label rock opera by an international team with multiple platinum records and number one hits under its belt.Mini Review
As a guitarist he has worked with numerous #1-hit artists and has credits in every genre for Film, TV, tours, records and club dates. As of this writing, he is producing Indie Folk / Rock / Celtic artist Christina Duane, composing a string quartet and recording the follow-up fusion album to “Combustible”.
As a teacher / clinician, Byron has taught many hundreds at many schools and colleges and as a contract artist for the State of California, as well as at academically elite Deep Springs College; he is on faculty at California College of Music in Pasadena. Players of all levels and styles benefit from his private instruction on line via video-chat technology. He teaches all Fretted Instruments, Keyboards, Vocals, and non-instrument-specific musical curricula to players of all instruments.
He venerates art and expression over pop “product” and his musical comfort zone stretches through every genre from Jazz / Fusion to Funk / R&B, World to Classical, Big Band to Country and of course all Rock styles, Blues to Latin to Slide and Acoustic forms, etc. In short, he’s somewhat of a musical schizophrenic but isn't above hoping you'll like his music and / or study with him. more
[Laurie Monk] Seriously, I never really get much time to sit down and write a review of any of the myriad albums that I have purchased, I have so much other stuff going on, about the only thing I do get time for is to listen to the albums once they are converted to mp3 format. I love the physical media, but the accessibility of the mobile format has meant I actually listen to more music now than I have ever done.
I'm still not a bigger down loader of music, save perhaps from bandcamp where there more of the newer younger artists, so I'm constantly buying CD's, or getting CD's as gifts (which I greatly appreciate). When the CD's arrives, they stack up as I also never have much time for ripping these either. So right now I have my trusty helper, Shred Medium, convert the CD's to MP3 format for me, enabling me through some convoluted versioning to a NAS drive, adding to google cloud storage and then importing to my mp3 player and adding to my hectic listening schedule.
So once the files are have made their tortuous journey across the interwebs they are landing either on google music player or onto my 160Gb iPod classic. Most of my listening is during routine weekday car journey's and in the evenings, during frenzied blogging sessions. The car journey is by far the best method to listen to music. Hey, you can even play along on the steering wheel.
As I drive, I often find myself thinking about how I might describe the music, the words and sentences that I might select that would best describe the quality, style, feeling that this music evokes in me... I think, yes that's a perfect comment, I would certainly write that in my review. Then time runs out and I'm left feeling that all too common feeling, the one that you get when you're getting older... "I just wish I had more time..."
So on the rare occasion I do get time, I like to devote it to albums that have something more than the average, something that I think guitar fans would appreciate. This time it's for Byron Fry's latest release "Explosive!", which landed on my doorstep before NAMM. I've been dipping into the recording on and off over the previous weeks.
The album consists of 14 tracks of music, including some not so straight forward, or out of the box cover of the Led Zeppelin tune, Black Dog. The Herbie Hancock classic, Actual Proof (this track also featured on Mark Varney's Legato records release, Centrifugal Funk)
The tracks are well engineered, there is no over compression of the music tracks, no brutal or in your face metal to negotiate here. The sound is well balanced, avoiding the modern idiom of super bright 32nd notes fusillades across a dense and super heavy bass/drum line, and, like fine wine, the tracks are given a chance to breathe. This is a particularly the case with the acoustic ballads like "For The Mercy Of Love", "Melt" ( I do love the harmony guitars in that composition) and "El Capitan Beach Road". All great and stand alone, no feeling of having heard it before. God the composition is great!
I'm not sure how Byron names his tracks, but I love the title The Chowderhead Theorem... anyone know what this might mean?... unless it means soup for brains? Byron's stacking of guitars in the harmony sections is really superb. Tough to get that sort of thing just right, without it being an homage to Brian May's Queen.
On other tracks, you get the sense that Byron has written for film and TV, (it says so in his biography) as the music is both memorable and evocative. Sandfire, is a case in point, there's a sense of these heat and sounds of the souks of Morocco, punctuated by Byron's distinctive legato guitar, hot and bursting full of eastern promise. Throughout the album Byron delivers great melodies and for a good number of tracks there are real drums (hurrah!) all ensuring that there is enough memorable nuggets of musicology to listen to again and again. Plus where horns are called for, you get real instruments, played by real musicians!
So all in all I really like this album, it has a sense of maturity in the composition, the melodies and production often missing from many guitar albums I listen to. It is stacked full of great guitar, from rock to super legato fusion, all delivered with professional aplomb. "But will I understand it?" I hear you say, well The tracks are not so impenetrable that you need to be a total fusion head to get anything out of it. How do I know this? Well one of the car tests I observe, after the "Arrgh... can we have another track dad", is when one of the Shred trio says "Who's music is this, dad?", then I know that we have an album of accessible quality. Often times, for the shreddlings, it's too much of the former and not enough of the latter... so it makes me all the happier when it's the latter.
So do yourself a favour, grab a copy of Explosive... Great guitars, great composition, melodies, harmonies... all I can do now is lead you to the shop, but you'll have to do the rest http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/byronfry2
How the album was made
Byron was also kind enough to take some time out to answer my questions about the recording process for this album. I want to try to understand what motivates and drives a person to spend so much time on a collection of sophisticated tunes, present them to the public, who in many cases, can toss all that hard work and effort aside without the merest appreciation in the effort, the love, the craft and the art within.... hopefully it's for the people who get it and more power to him for that!
How long did it take you to record the album?
[Byron Fry] It took a few years; I had to keep putting it on the back burner for things I was producing or arranging for other people. It seemed like forever.
How did you know when you had finished the album?
[Byron Fry] "I started out wanting it to be a larger album than most---Hendrix's
"Are You Experienced" is 17 songs, and not a runt in the litter. By halfway through, I was setting my sights on 16 or 17 songs, but then I got a production client for a full album, and ""Explosive"" got pushed back by 6 months and I had to lower my sights a bit. By about the 9th or 10th track, the nature of the thing was coming into focus and I could see what was and wasn't needed for it to be balanced. It wound up being 14 songs; I'm happy with that."
How do you know when a track is finished?
[Byron Fry] Hah! Great question! There's a great quote attributed to Picasso: "Paintings are never really finished; only abandoned." Being an orchestrator / arranger by trade, I do have a much more organized approach than most in the studio, and when writing or arranging or producing for a client I'm able to see clearly what is and isn't needed…but for some reason it's difficult for me to have that clarity when working on my own stuff. As I tell people at clinics: The one thing no music school can teach you is how to know when it's done.
How do you decide what is going into a track and how do you name it?
[Byron Fry] Another great question, and it deserves a real answer, so here I go: Normally, arranging music is pretty straight ahead: You have the melody---she is the Queen of the Universe and typically dictates the rhythm, the root motion and the chords. For this reason, I tend to write FROM the melody out, as opposed to writing a rhythm bed first then fishing around for a melody that fits. I arrange everything to present the melody to the world in the best way I can through pads, thumb lines, ostinatos, obligatos, counter melodies, orchestrational delegation and entrances of parts, etc etc…all those components of thematic development I call ""The Arranger's Toolbox"". As I teach my students, it's really all just nuts and bolts. But when it's guitar doing this, guitar doing that, guitar doing this other thing over here, it can get tricky and very cluttered. It's important to have a lot of different sounding things…Classical, Electric Sitar, Steel Acoustic, Baritone, Slide and so on.
As to having different tunes lying around in different states of completion, yes that happens, but I don't retain ideas well when my attention is split between projects; I do best in a state of immersion.
Naming my pieces is BY FAR the most difficult aspect of writing for me; I suck at it!"
What equipment did you use in the studio?
[Byron Fry] I have a pretty good home studio; almost 20 years ago I realized I'd never be empowered as a producer / arranger until I had my own rig. It doesn't have to be fancy, pretty or super expensive to empower you… it just has to be functional, and that's what I have. I have good mics, fantastic front-end and monitors, and I use Digital Performer. I've produced a lot of albums here, as well as many hours of footage for Film and TV. It's a plain-looking but very capable studio.
Axe-wise, on "Explosive" I used the following: My main workhorse Frankenstrat (a pretty highly customized Strat platform with a Jelutan body, Seymour Duncan wiring, Holdsworth-designed bridge and Carvin neck), a PRS, a Gibson LP Jr with some really cool new pickups from Seymour called 'P-Rails', another Strat with huge strings, tuned down a 4th which I use for the low grunge stuff, a Danelectro Baritone, another Strat with Seymour-designed lipstick pickups that I use for that Surf sound, a custom wonder-guitar from Kopo called a 'Malaga'---it's an electrified classical with one of the fastest necks I own---a Fender Dobro-like thing, a Guild D50, a Guild D-25, a very old Washburn steel acoustic, a Tele, a Heritage Archtop (L7-like), an Ibanez Archtop, a Fender P-Bass, a Fernandes Jazz Fretless on most of the bass tracks---I think that's about it for stringed things.
Amp-wise, I used a Carvin VL100, a Carvin V3 micro and a VHT Special 6 Ultra.
How did you record the drums for the album?
[Byron Fry] I'm very honored and humbled to have drummers Ronnie Ciagp, David Anderson, MB Gordy, Herman Matthews and Nick Seiwert on the album. They each recorded at their home rigs and I don't know what they have...but they all have chops, that for sure!
All told, they covered 5 songs; the other 9 songs I programmed, using sounds from Roland and Spectrasonics.
Do you approach an album as though it is you meister work?
[Byron Fry] Over the years I've come to understand that a musician's reputation rides on every note, every song, every gig. Add to that the simple fact that in this landscape of post-record industry apocalypse, the only way to get any traction with a recording project is to do something that is undeniable. So, yes, I approach everything like it's going to be my magnum opus.
Accordingly, I'm very pleased to have some of the planet's most absurdly talented players with me on the album…besides the drummers mentioned above, there's also Terry Landry on Tenor Sax, Bill Churchville on Trumpet, Greg Vail on EWI, David Hughes on Bass and Chris Buck on Bass.
When the album is done how do you feel about it?
[Byron Fry]To me, the real test of a song or an album is if, after I've heard every track a thousand times in production, I can even stand to be within earshot of the thing when it's all done. Most I can't; this album I can; that goes in the 'win' column.
Did you have a budget for the album?
[Byron Fry] Not really, no. I racked up the favors…I owe some very good players guitar tracks in return for their brilliant contributions.
How did you go about your promotion strategy?
[Byron Fry] My what? What's a promotion strategy?
Seriously, promotion is my single worst area. It's best I leave that to others, which is unfortunate because I don't have a budget to pay others to do it. It helps to be signed to a label, so I'm thankful for that and for things like this interview. Hopefully, the word will get out and it will grow..."
How did you decide what the album title and design would be?
[Byron Fry]The title is a continuation of the theme I started with the album before, which is called 'Combustible'.
As to graphic design, I hired a very, very talented person (Sam Hayles of Doseprod.com), told him what my basic concept was and did my best to stay out of his way."
What were your musical influences on this album?
[Byron Fry] Wow...where to begin. (clearing throat)
Ravi Shankar, Mahavishnu, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Miles, Michael Brecker, Henry Mancini, Chopin---I guess it's fair to say that I'm the sum of my musical experiences so this list could go on for days.
"Explosive" downloads, either .WAV or (if you must) mp3:
|Byron Fry: Explosive|
High-quality, factory-pressed CD in digipack:
Bryon's previous album and also highly recommended Combustible
|Byron Fry: Combustible|
...and I teach students worldwide via skype and google videochat; always room for more. Just email me through my site!"