Welcome to 2007! A year where you will see Baroque & Roll get bigger with more frequent updates so be sure to add us to your bookmarks.
To kick of the new year is our first interview of the year, the "as promised" interview with Michael Harris. If you have not yet checked out Michael's stunning new release "Orchestrate" don't hesitate to do so.
Michael, many thanks for agreeing to this interview, May I kick it off by congratulating you on “Orchestrate”, its absolutely fantastic.
When did the initial seed to do an album of neo-orchestral metal come to you?
I guess around 2 years ago I decided to compose a whole neo classical record, as I’ve always loved the genre and have written a lot of that style in the past from record to record. As the record developed, I realized “neo-orchestral” was a more accurate term for what I was doing than “neo-classical”.
How long did that vision take to materialise into the work of art that is ‘Orchestrate’?
I had some material already demo’d, so that helped a bit. Then the bulk of the record was written I guess within about a year. From start to release, it seems I’m usually looking at 2 years or more for my records. That’s what I feel it takes to get it right.
The album reflects the sound that I hear in my head when I think of a guitar with an orchestra in this setting perfectly. How was the music written?
My composing process can get quite ugly. If I get lucky, a song might flow smoothly from one part to another in my mind, but many songs are the result of fitting parts together that have been written at different times. Either way, I start with a theme that I feel is strong enough to work around, and build it from there until oops, I have a song.
I don’t like filler parts, so if I reach an impasse, I’ll move to another song while waiting to find the perfect part for the previous one, so I might actually be working on several at the same time. Then I go back and tweak stuff. That’s where I get into real trouble.
I imagine it was pretty demanding to work through the orchestral scores and then perform these yourself. What you were looking to achieve with the orchestra side of the music?
I love the sound of an orchestra - it seems to give music more “relevance” than a smaller format. There’s just something incredibly intense about it. So I wanted to intensify my music with the orchestra and to also have a lot of sections where the drums stop and the song collapses into an orchestral break (sometimes a chamber, sometimes a full orchestra.) Choirs also pop up from time to time as well. I also love timpani (nearly all the timpani sounds were recorded on my Roland guitar synth.)
How did you go about approaching the orchestration from a mixing viewpoint?
“Orchestrate” is the first record I’ve mixed on my own, and I was fortunate to be able to work in an excellent Pro Tools room at Gary Long’s studio, Nomad, here in Dallas. I recorded the orchestration one sound at a time as opposed to keyboard chords, so that made the mix more challenging, but allowed for more flexibility and authenticity. I had my engineering mentors, Sterling Winfield & JT Longoria both help me set up the mix as well. I’ve learned a ton from those guys in the last 5 years, and a ton about mastering from Gary.
Was the album written with the lead guitar as the dominant factor with the backing worked around those lines?
Yes, most of the time it was. But it definitely worked the opposite way at times as well. I won’t hesitate to compose an idea on keyboard or guitar synth.
The first thing that hit me was that your main focus was on the melody as opposed to ramming as many techniques or scale sequences into each track; is this a fair observation?
Yes, thanks for acknowledging that. That’s exactly my objective on every record. I definitely respect any musician with exceptional technique and strive for that myself, but it’s composition that is the real challenge for me, and that’s also where I have the most fun.
I especially like the way the album tends to bloom and then contract combining certain songs as per a classical movement. Was the running order of the album intentional or it is something that just panned out this way?
I definitely spend some time toiling over the running order of all my albums. I put them in order and listen back, usually going through several attempts before I lock one in. Whether I mean to or not, I always end up with a couple of songs that sound similar on a record, so I have to separate them. Then you can’t put all the softer tunes together, so you have to separate those in a way where the record still flows. I always like my records to have a lot of dynamics.
What classical composers served as inspiration for Orchestrate?
Some of my fave master composers are Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Dukas (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), and Beethoven. Although there is a lot of amazing Mozart in major keys, I much prefer music written in minor keys. There’s something about dark, depressing music that makes me very happy:-) Recently, I listened to some 20th century composers, such as Allan Pettersson and Krzysztof Penderecki, as I had read about them being very dark. Their material was unique and intense, mostly in a textural, not melodic sense though. My mother recently gave me some Dvorak, which I liked a lot.
In regards to your guitar work, what was your primary aim for this aspect of the music?
I wanted to play very melodically, have a nice blend of electric, acoustic, and nylon guitars, and definitely lots of metal rhythm guitar. I wanted to have some sections where the orchestra and guitar play parallel lines, and other sections with them working against each other. Chops-wise, I wanted to play a lot of whole notes, haha.
What guitar gear did you use for this album?
The electric guitar was mostly my Hamer Scarab II, also a Brian Moore electric w/synth & piezo pickups, my Hamer Eclipse on one passage in “Octavian II” (because the mini humbuckers have less gain), my Tacoma Chief acoustic, and my Wechter Pathmaker electric nylon string. Amp-wise, I used a Line 6 POD direct and a Mesa Dual Rectifier head mic’d through and Mesa 4x12 cab.
Is the Hamer a custom instrument as I have never seen one like that anywhere!
Yes, that’s why I liked it so much when I first set eyes on it. It is a Scarab II, a model that was only made for a couple years. And it is custom, in the fact of being non tremelo. My 2 Scarabs are the only U.S.A. models to ever be non tremelo, although Hamer has started to make a non tremelo import version of the Scarab. I love what my graphic artist, John Holland (http://www.mistymountaingraphics.com/) did visually on the front cover with the Scarabs. It epitomizes the fusion of classical and metal.
What were you looking for in your guitar tone into how that would balance with the orchestration?
I went with my normal tone and didn’t have to EQ too much in the mix. In fact, I EQ’d my guits at first, but eventually went back and took most of the EQ off. As far as overall balance with the orchestra, it was a matter of tweaking over and over and fortunately having time for perspective in between. Getting a proper balance between any group of instruments is always a challenge, because it’s subjective and everyone in the room has an opinion.
Despite the heavy classical nature of the album there is also a metal element present. What do you feel it is that allows metal and classical music to fuse so well?
Pure classical music can run the gamut of dynamics, and on the heavier side of that, can be incredibly powerful, like metal is. In making “Orchestrate”, I realized just how much a drum kit can add to that power. Timpani is wonderful, but there is nothing in pure classical instrumentation that is as heavy as one single rock drumkit. Matt did a fabulous job showing how metal drumming can exploit that classical power, such as in “Battle At Storm’s Edge”.
Do you find any inspiration for Orchestrate in Yngwie’s or Uli Jon Roth’s classical/guitar albums?
Absolutely, Ulis’ solos (Scorpions; Electric Sun) are the best solos ever, epitomized by “The Sails of Charon” or “Still So Many Lives Away”. Yngwie’s Alcatrazz record and first 2 solo records were my personal faves. Blackmore and Steve Morse are also influences in fusing classical with rock, but my biggest influences in this style are the compositional influences of ELP & Kansas. You may hear that more on future releases (such as my new band, “Thought Chamber”) than you’d hear on “Orchestrate” though. Kansas is my fave U.S. band ever. There’s not even a runner up in my book. I’m not talking “Wayward Son” though, I’m talking deep cuts such as “The Pinnacle”, “Journey From MariaBronn”, “The Wall”, or “Song for America” - chiefly Kerry Livgren compositions, who is my favourite rock composer, and very classically influenced himself. Unlike most composers, I can’t see where Kerrys’ influences came from. Incredibly original. And ELP’s “Karn Evil 9” is among my favourite pieces of music ever!
Anything else you would like to add for the readers?
Thanks to those who give “Orchestrate” (or any progressive record) more than one good listen in order to absorb it properly. I hope fans of the genre will also check out my new band, “Thought Chamber” in 2007, and the new Vitalij Kuprij record, “Glacial Inferno”, which is a freakin’ AMAZING record, very neo classical, and I was honoured to play on it. Also, thanks to those who support their favourite artists by BUYING their music.
Michael many thanks for your time.
I enjoyed it immensely. Somebody please shut me up:-)