Artist Profile: Nick Zubeck part 1

Hello there, about two weeks ago I got to talkin' with musician Nick Zubeck. Nick just released a great album called "Tracker" back in November, and has been recieving some great reviews (you can check out his work over at his myspace page, posted here). Here is part 1.

So, how's the album doing?

Well, you probably noticed on the way in those masses of boxes piled up there, I think there are about 600 left, I got rid of about 400. Not sold, but, you know, I did a big blitz of sending them out which I've never done before, really. I did half heartedly my first one, I send out about 15 CD's, but this one I've tried a lot harder to keep on that... keep sending them out to press outlets, and labels, just wherever I think is a good place to send them.

So all your... you've gotten some pretty good reviews which is really nice... all of those where from you sending CD's out to them?

yeah, a couple of them... there were a couple that actually contacted me. I'm kind of still amazed, because I don't know how that happens. But that's kind of nice getting an email out of the blue... a couple from Europe too, that I haven't seen any follow up on. And I sent them out there, I just don't know what's happening. I think one played a track on their web radio station, which was kinda nice.

that's cool. And you were on the anti-hit list, for, what's his name...

Oh, John Sakamoto. I contacted him. and then, he kinda forwarded to his assistant, or editor. They were really nice about it. I just got one in the upcoming Exclaim. I don't know if it will be in print , but it's up on their website.

Yeah, I read it. It was really nice. I liked the comment... I think it was that one, that said one of your songs was like a cross between Chico Hamilton and Ween.

Oh that was the Eye magazine one. yeah, it's been nice to get good feedback, I appreciate it. People seem to dig it.

What were some of the influences on the album? There seems to be a 70's am radio feel to some of the tracks, Steely Dan is one of the names that get thrown around a lot...

Yeah that's funny. I never really thought... I'm not like a big Steely Dan fan. I mean, I like them, but I don't think I know a record really. But... well I know a couple records... but not really well. I think most of the influences were the people around me. Working with Darren [Wall, bass player] on most of the songs, trying to find the underlying pulse with Darren and Marshall [Bureau, drummer]. And I really credit Darren with that, he's really amazing at feeling that sort of thing out.

Yeah, he's got some songwriting credits on the album

Well a few of the songs, the ones that he's credited on, is because he actually came up with the alternate guitar tunings, even though he's a bass player. He did this, he got really into the idea of creating guitar tunings that would allow you to use fairly reasonable grips, and come up with really rich voicings. more like piano voicings, where there are smaller intervals. Usually to get the interval of a 2nd you have to do these spiderman stretches,

Yeah, four or five fret stretches.

Yeah, so That was his motivation. I don't know where it came from. He was like, here's these tunings try them out. I started messing about with them. For the tunes that he's credited with he actually came to me with these charts that were just like, chord progressions. Sort of whole note chords, but a form of a progression. and he said, see what you can do with this. So I started messing around with them, I do a lot of finger stylings, so I'd come up with these finger style arrangements of these chords moving, sometimes I'd add a whole new section, change them up, and they'd slowly turn into a song. Add a melody and words to it.

So they were pretty user friendly tunings?

Yeah they were really fun.

was it hard to adapt, or did it come naturally?

um it took a little while. for the last couple years I've been playing in those tunings almost exclusively, I've just started to get back into standard tuning, which is fun to come back to. I mean, I'm always playing it, when I play with Book of Gnomes, or when I play with Barzin it's all standard tunings.

So what was the tuning on the album?

The main one is sort of like, going from low string to high string, it's D A E F# B and then a D on top. So it's sort of like an open D, but you have the 9th, and some extensions in the middle. The interesting thing is in what would be the D string and the G string, you have an F# and a G, so you have that real tense interval there.

That's one thing I've noticed about a lot of your playing, is you do use a lot of those minor 2nd intervals, and Sharp 5's, is that a product of the tunings, or is that something you're drawn to?

Well, I was always drawn to those sounds, before I even had these tunings, sort of hear things, and make things up within those tunings... or those kind of notes. Playing with Justin Haines too, he said something funny, he noticed I use the Sharp 4 a lot, sharp 11, whatever you want to call it. He said his friend was going to organize a group, sort of like an alcoholics anonymous for musicians who use the sharp 5. I think it's a cool sound, but it can definitely be over used.

Sandro Perri

Back to the album, you had Sandro Perri produce it, you've known Sandro a long time right?

Yeah, I've known him since early university days. We didn't go to university together, but I was going to school with a guy who was good friends with Sandro. I started playing with this guy named Alex, (who's doing Circe De Soleil in LA or something now) and he was good friends with Sandro, they grew up in Brampton together. So when Alex and I were playing he brought Sandro in. We had one of our first bands together, which if I remember well, was called "Drift". There was 3 guitarists and a Drummer, and we'd alternate on who would play bass. None of us could really sing, but we stuck it out and we became "The Tenth Planet Ensemble" and we had a bunch of gigs, played a lot. We never made a record, we have a lot of four track recordings of rehearsals and stuff like that. I haven't played with him a ton since those days, I did a bit back when he was still doing Polmo Popo shows. He'd just live mix his Polmo Polpo stuff and I'd play some lap steel. We did a few shows like that. When I was thinking about the record, and really wanted to bring in other people, cause in the past I'd always just sit at home in my basement and layer things, and maybe get people to record over what I'd done, like Marshal played on my last record. I never had anyone come in to bring ideas into the mix. I thought it'd be cool to have someone come in and mix it, but also while doing that, make some creative decisions about it too.

What were some of the influences of having him there, for you? Maybe stuff you weren't expecting? or things he brought out of you?

He was sort of... Like, I don't think he assumed the role of producer in the traditional sense. He wasn't there from the beginning, he wasn't there when we recorded the beds. He wasn't really part of the creation of it, it was more like post production he was doing. The process was, we had this group of songs that we'd rehearse, mostly just Darren, Marshal and I, as a trio. Robbie Grunwald a fair bit too on Keys, was involved from the beginning. I got a grant as well which was great, so I had some money to spent. I was like, I want to take this into a studio, and get a better core sound than I could get at home. I also wanted to capture, at least at the basic level, a bit of a live sound. SO, I booked two days at Cantebury studios, and Jeremy Darby is the owner and engineer there, he's this older kooky British guy. Really nice guy, but hilarious, foul mouthed and the rest of it. It was really about the process of doing that, I'd never done it before. But at the same time, in retrospect It would have been nice if I had like unlimited time in a space like that with an engineer, where you can actually experiment with that. We didn't have that luxury at all. We had two days, and I had a schedule with the maximum of takes we could do for each song. It was really tight. I t worked, but I think it only worked because we were really well rehearsed and really prepared. So we went in there and did everything off the floor, the four of us, plus Justin. I called Justin last minute because I thought, it'd be really cool to get someone in who was an improviser, and who didn't really know the songs, wasn't there for the arranging. and he was totally into it. I said, just go nuts and make noise. So we had all this crazy Justin Haines material all over the songs, that we could use as we pleased. I think Sandro's role at that point was to make those kinda choices, what are we going to use out of all of this?

So he did a lot of cutting and pasting ?

yeah, a lot of cutting. You know, I did a bunch of recording at home after that, I recorded the vocals, and I did a bunch of over dubs. He had all that stuff to work with. But to go back to your question of what his influence was, I think originally I thought he would somehow make it weirder and crazier than it turned out, I don't know why.

the Polmo Polpo stuff is pretty out there

Yeah, I just thought, Sandro.... But I think he did a great job. He said why are we here? what are the songs going for, and we decided it's not a weird crazy thing, it's songs, and their concise on how they're written and arranged and performed, so why should we stray from that? More of what he did was really find a space for each instrument and take those interesting things that Justin did or that Robbie did, and feature them in the songs. One thing that he did that was interesting was he would do pitch shifting with some things. Like, there's a part in the song Track and Field that robbie did a real mid range piano clunky part. Sandro took it up an octave or maybe two or maybe both, and it turned into this kind of Harpsichordy kinda sound. It's just a grand piano shifted up.

It sounds almost like a glockenspiel

yeah, he did stuff like that, nothing too crazy, just trying to get each song to sound interesting and different.

He does a good job, it seems like a very concise album, it feels really focused, and totally opposite of the crazy thing you were expecting out of Sandro

Yeah totally.

Part 2 of my interview with Nick will be up tomorrow. In the mean time check out his myspace, and try to get a hold of his new album Tracker.

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