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© James Chiang
Can you describe the recording process? Also, how did you choose the players?
“As usual, I gave myself a nearly impossible deadline to make the record. My solution was to organize everything – the band, the engineers, the photographer, the album art designer, the mastering – and then write the album as I was recording it. I gave myself a week to write each song, and then I got together with the band every Tuesday to record that song live in my studio.
“We would rehearse it a few times, tweak the arrangement and then go for the ‘real’ takes. Thomas, Kelly and Emi were really fantastic to learn these complex songs so quickly and do some amazing improvising with little or no rehearsal. I did overdub a few guitar solos and most of the vocals, but the majority of the record is live. We even did Enemies (In Jail) live, without a click track!
“This is the first time that I recorded with Thomas Lang. He’s an unbelievable drummer. He does the Rock Drums school at Artistworks, which is the same company where I have my online rock guitar school. I met him through that, and after one quick jam session, I was blown away at how much he listens when he plays.
“If I improvise and start doing any rhythmic theme or accents, he immediately picks up on it and starts supporting me. It really makes me play better, or at least makes me sound like I’m playing better. And Thomas has the rare ability to play a world-class groove, in addition to having his arsenal of face-melting techniques.
“Then there’s Kelly LeMieux, who I’ve toured with before, but this is our first recording together. Kelly plays in the pop/punk band Goldfinger, and he has such good bass tone, energy and instinct. He has tons of technique as well, and it’s just a joy to pull up his bass tracks when mixing. He’s always playing the perfect part with the perfect tone. Those elements are often surprisingly hard to find.
Let’s talk about the enormous contributions of your wife, Emi, who is utterly magnificent. What’s it like collaborating with her?
“Emi has played keyboards here and there on my last few albums, but this is the first time that I’ve really let her loose, and man, she played great. She started playing classical piano when she was three years old, but has been working on jazz, blues and funk for the last few years. She actually improved my ear for those styles a lot because I could listen to her practice.
“Emi always amazes me with her perfect pitch, because she can just play what she hears. I wish I could improvise like that. I’m working on it. Also, she has a really good sense of dynamics and tone. I usually have an idea for the basic keyboard part of a song, but she comes up with variations and really makes it grow.”
What were your main guitars on the album? Any new pieces of gear?
“I used two of my Ibanez Fireman guitars. One is the stock FRM100, the red one. The other is my custom shop Korina prototype Fireman. I also used an Ibanez PGM401 customized with a Wilkinson-Gotoh tremolo, like on the Andy Timmons model, and with Ibanez locking tuners to help the tremolo stay in tune. Plus, I used a vintage Ibanez semi-hollowbody that I bought on e-Bay.
“For pedals, I used an Foxrox Octron quite a bit. Octave pedals work better with a compressor before the input, so I used an Empress Effects compressor. I had an assortment of overdrive pedals – my Majik Box Fuzz Universe, an Ibanez Tube Screamer reissue, an Xotic Effects AC Booster and a Way Huge Green Rhino. I used different pedals depending on the song and my mood.
“At the end of the chain, I used a Lehle P-Split to go into two MXR Phase 90s, with the speed knobs set slightly different from each other. I ran these to two amps for a huge stereo effect.
“The amps were Marshall 2061x and 1987x heads, both running into THD Hot Plates and then into the speakers of two Marshall Vintage Modern 2 x 12 combos.”