Guitarist-songwriter Al Schnier grew up absorbing an abundance of musical influences while learning to play a number of instruments. Since 1991 Schnier has largely plied his trade with moe, an improvisational rock group and one of the hardest-working bands on the jam-band scene. Moe spends much of its time on the road fearlessly exploring and fusing American musical styles — hard rock, prog rock, blues, folk, country, bluegrass, and funk, to name a few.
In recent years, Schnier acquired an interest in synth music that culminated in his first solo release on moe's Fatboy Records, One, an instrumental album of chilled-out electronica and dance music. “A lot of music that I had been listening to — stuff like Stereolab, Tortoise, the Chemical Brothers, Moby, things like that — inspired me to go ahead and do this,” Schnier says. “It's not enough for me just to listen to the music; I want to know how it works.”
Schnier assembled a mobile studio to bring on tour with moe in the summer of 2001 so that he could sketch out song ideas. He brought his Mac G3/400 MHz Lombard PowerBook, equipped with a FireWire card and loaded with Propellerhead Software's Reason and Steinberg's Cubase VST/32. He also packed a RolandED PC-300 USB MIDI keyboard controller and a Mark of the Unicorn 828 computer audio interface.
“I had this very portable setup,” Schnier says. “I was working on the bus, backstage, and in hotel rooms. Before the summer was over, I was four or five songs into the album already, and I didn't even plan on starting it until January when I [was planning to] set up a desktop system [at home], so I just went with it at that point.
“I did most of the composing, arranging, and recording on the road,” he continues, adding that Reason was his primary songwriting tool. “The arrangement process is very user-friendly because you can cut and paste sections and add parts by getting some of your existing machines in the program to play other machines — you can get the drum machine to play synths and vice versa. You can patch anything anywhere in this program.”
Schnier also recorded audio sources on the road. “I had to dump everything into Cubase and do all my audio there,” he says. “If I had time backstage, I could work out some guitar parts or some of the real analog synth stuff that I wanted to add. I have a Minimoog and a [Roland] Juno-60 that I use with moe. Once I moved everything over to Cubase, I'd stay in Cubase because that's where I mixed the album.
“At home I did some final overdubs, editing, and mixing, and then I sent it off to be mastered; I wasn't ready to tackle mastering yet.” Schnier's overdubs introduced some warmer sounds. “I have a whole collection of vintage keyboards, effects, guitars, and amps — a Vox AC30 and an old Fender Tweed Deluxe amp.”
Schnier has been touring in support of One with New York musician Mitch Getz. “We're using Reason as the main accompaniment source,” Schnier says. “I also have a Yamaha RS7000 workstation. It's so easy to rearrange the parts as needed and put in different loops that we could improvise over. You can do a lot of stuff on the fly. Nobody recommended [using Reason live], but we've been having a lot of luck with it so far. It's been great to hear [this music] through a house sound system. It's a whole lot different than headphones on the bus.”