EQ.com Interview Exclusive: More from Al DiMeola
The April issue of EQ features Al DiMeola's Radical Rhapsody. Here, read interview extras with the guitar great and his engineer, Katsuhiko Naito...
“I like to get all the charts prepared beforehand for each player so I write everything out; it’s painstaking. I’ve tried to do it the other way, but there’s no surefire method to play and have it print out for you, unless you’re a keyboard player. They haven’t really perfected that for guitar players. But also, I don’t want it to become a dying art. I like maintaining that ability to compose with pencil.”
On using his own group on Radical Rhapsody:
“I had a plan that I wanted to tour with the material for almost a whole year. And during that tour, I would keep updating and perfecting and adding. So we were super-comfortable with the material, and we brought it up to a level that I never would have been able to do had I hired studio session guys who come in for a day or two and try to read the stuff that way. So we brought it up to a place where we could play it really well and just do a few little overdubs later.
On his iPhone App:
“There were two tracks I’d written in Morocco—‘Mawazine’ [Pt. 1 and Pt. 2] is a tribute to a festival there, and I wrote those on my little Sonoma WireWorks app on my iPhone—an amazing 4-track studio app that works phenomenally well, is super-easy. The sound is good. I use it primarily as a writing tool.”
On The Beatles (the album contains “Strawberry Fields”) and the ’60s music:
“What a phenomenal era we had to grow up in! A lot of the music I liked then I still like now. In addition to the songs being extremely strong and the sound being fresh and new, there were things that were revolutionary in terms of how they recorded and mixed. We all know about the 4-track recording and how they bounced tracks. I remember that when I was a teenager and I did my own recordings on my 4-track Teac how big things sounded—the acoustic guitar was huge! As time went on, after that, it wasn’t quite the same. It might’ve been cleaner, but it wasn’t quite the same thickness, let’s say.
“I was also very turned on by the unorthodox kind of panning effects [Beatles producer] George Martin used, in terms of putting the drums on one side. I was totally into all that kind of stuff, separating things in interesting ways. For me, that carried over into the way I mix, because I have a lot of parts that are highly syncopated between the arpeggiated parts—which are usually the first parts written, and they’re the most complex parts—until the melody occurs. Sometimes the melodies are complex in themselves, so if you put them together in a wide mix, you’re going to have a lot of confusion for the listener, so I like doing the extreme left and right thing.
“Actually, the accordion was my first instrument, prior to electric guitar. It was really big with Italian families, Polish families, Jewish families and Germans, so it was natural for parents to want their kids to play it. It was corny back then. I guess it still is to some people. But played right it tears at your heart, and I like that blend of acoustic guitar and accordion.”
More from his engineer Katsuhiko Naito...
On working with DiMeola:
“His songs are pieces of art, and there’s so much going on in the songs, and he’s kind of writing a song as we’re going. He’s written the song, but as we’re recording he gets new ideas. It’s like a painting. He does a basic track and then when he listens back he gets new ideas. He tries it in his live show and then if he likes it we put the new thing into the recording, so the music grows by itself in a way. It’s interesting and amazing how he writes the music.
“Sometimes everything is already mapped out and written when we go into the studio and sometimes he makes the arrangement as we go, so we make a rough mix and listen to it for, say, week, and he comes up with a new idea or sometimes a new melody on top of the existing melody.”
Overdubbing electric guitar:
“Even though we work in Pro Tools now, he grew up with tape and he likes to record over his own takes. He never looks back at the old takes. So whatever he likes right now, that’s a take, and if he doesn’t like something, he doesn’t like it forever. He doesn’t mind throwing something out and redoing it.”
On the mix:
“It was mostly mixed at Al’s studio. Me and Al have the same kind of setup, which is basically Pro Tools and a few pieces of analog gear. We always make a rough at his studio. He has a Soundcraft Sapphire console from the ’80s. It’s a midline console and we make a rough there then he’ll make comments about the sound of the instruments or panning suggestions, so as we’re going, we always update our roughs with his input.
“Mixing is challenging. He has so many melodies. It’s really dense music and he wants every part to be heard. There are no hidden atmospheres. Everything has to be heard. The other thing is, he knows what he wants, so if he hears something wrong he says, ‘That’s not working.’ He likes something, or not. But he sees a final picture of this project at the beginning, and the rest of the time he’s just trying to find a way to get there.”