Interview:Pat Metheny- One Quiet Night

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Pat Metheny - One Quiet Night
by Don Dawson

One quiet night, Pat Metheny sat down after an exhaustive day of production-related chores that would eventually lead to the release of Speaking of Now (his brilliant 2002 Warner Bros. release that once again showcased the complex virtuosity in the songwriting collaboration of Metheny/Mays). He popped a CD-R into his brand-spanking new CD burner and started to play. He played for six hours. When was the last time you picked up your guitar and played for six hours straight? Pat thus embarked upon a journey that would take him to paths quite unexpected.

Several days later, Pat hits the road for a year long tour and finds himself pleasantly intrigued with his 6-hour CD collection. You see, the unique thing about this particular collection of songs is that Pat recorded them as solo acoustic performances on a Manzer Baritone guitar. The guitar truly sounds god-like and the playing is some of Pat's most compelling. The performances range from stark and haunting to melodic and meditative.

As Pat's trio tour starts to wind down, he takes a few minutes out to chat with about his latest unexpected release, One Quiet Night. Pat shares what led him to record this new CD, his thoughts on Cream, Hendrix, and Gerry and the Pacemakers, plus, for an added bonus, he does his very best Nigel Tufnel impersonation. Hey Pat, thanks for calling. I know you've been really crazy touring and such but I appreciate you following up to make the interview happen.

Pat Metheny: My pleasure. I'm not sure if you're familiar with We're the largest online guitar community running and I had mentioned that I was going to be doing an interview with you on our discussion forums. I got lots of emails firing questions at me, to fire at you (laughing).

Pat Metheny: Fantastic. Fire away. One Quiet Night is your 30th release by my count. Am I right on that?

Pat Metheny: Wow! (long, long pause) That could be right. Honestly, I don't count them but, I'll have to take your word for it. Although, I think history will remember you as a supreme jazz guitarist, you're actually quite difficult to pin down, for the genre. From recording with Jaco back in '74 to doing be-bop with Redman and Brecker to the more avant-garde Zero Tolerance for Silence - each recording is unique in its own right, certainly not limiting you to one segment within the world of Jazz. How did you arrive at... I think I'll record an acoustic solo record?

Pat Metheny: Kind of inadvertently, actually (laughs). Basically I had this baritone guitar for a couple of years that I really couldn't figure out quite what to do with. It was sort of sitting around and I had kept thinking about it. I had just finished pretty extensive period of time working in the studio with my regular band. We made the record that came out, Speaking of Now. For a period of months, we were working on writing the music. Then rehearsing it, recording it. Really just living in that world. We had gotten the record done. We were at the point of making the album cover and all that stuff. I had a night where I was just kind of at home. And I remembered a way of tuning and restringing a baritone guitar that I had messed with many years before, that's kind of like a half Nashville tuning. You take off the middle strings and tune them up an octave. (e.g. Nashville Tuning is where you string your 6-guitar with just the octave strings of a 12-string guitar set. In other words, the low E, A, D and G strings are all tuned up an octave. The B and high E are the same as in normal tuning. This was initially a studio trick so that you could record a normally strung 6-string acoustic guitar, along with a Nashville strung acoustic guitar and it would sound like a really large 12-string guitar.) And I thought, well maybe I'll try that with the Baritone. And I did it. And it instantly came alive. It was sort of like, oh, now this opens up a whole different set of possibilities. I had just gotten a CD burner that day and it had come with three blanks CD's. And I thought, you know what, I'm going to fill up these three CD's with music. Sounds like a plan.

Pat Metheny: Right, simple enough. I was just about to go out on the road for a year, when the record got released. But then I'd have these CDs and I'd have them to listen to. So I just started playing. Really just kind of what was represented on the record, that sort of very adagio, stream of consciousness, improvisational, narrative playing. Played for about 6 hours. Filled up my CDs and took them out on the road. Just like my plan was supposed to be (laughs). I play my gig, come home and say, hmmm, maybe I'll listen to CD #2 (laughs). It's good to have variety (laughing).

Pat Metheny: Yeah, so I listen to all this stuff and I kind of found myself becoming attached to it in a way. As the year went on, I started to make notes, like I really like number 17 and number 3 on CD one, etcetera, etcetera. When the tour was over and I got back home, I went to the computer where everything was stored and compiled a CD of the ones that I thought were the good ones. And it still didn't seem quite like a record. I felt like it needed something. And what I thought it needed was a couple recognizable tunes mixed in there and a little bit of wrist. So I set up the same way I set up before. Basically it was just a mic and a DI and... And you're recording onto a hard disc recorder or...

Pat Metheny: Going to Digital Performer (Digital Performer, manufactured by Mark of the Unicorn, is an integrated digital audio and MIDI sequencing production system. It provides a comprehensive environment for editing, arranging, mixing, processing and mastering multi-track audio projects for a wide variety of applications). Oh great - great system.

Pat Metheny: I picked four tunes that were recognizable tunes, the kind of standard tunes that are represented on the record. And then wrote very quickly, two pieces of all strumming. Then I played it for some people and said "Is this a record?" And everybody said "Yup, that's a record!" So we real quickly put a cover together. I got Rob Eaton, the guy who has been involved in all of our recordings and we mixed it in one day. It really benefited from his expertise. He just got the right EQ and the right reverb. It came out like four weeks later. It was really one of the fastest turnarounds from that moment of making the decision to release that I've ever experienced. Now have you always been or were you ever a fan of fingerstyle players, say a Michael Hedges, or a Leo Kottke, or maybe Ed Gerhard?

Pat Metheny: Not to the degree that I would say yes and that I've always wanted to do something like that. I'm aware of all of them. Leo, especially, I would say that I'm a pretty big fan of. We do a lot of concerts opposite of each other. I've always really admired his playing. I mean, the kind of thing I was kind of going for actually, in what is represented on that record, is really much closer to string quartet writing. I was sort of thinking of it - the way that guitar is strung up, it's really like you've got three two-string guitars, that are sitting right next to each other. There's the mid-range one that's on the top. And there's the high-one in the middle and then there's this extremely low-one on the bottom. What a lot of that music is is just following lines. Sort of just handing them off from one of these two-string instruments to the next. That was the fun of it for me. Sort of like how can you move this line from this register to that register, smoothly and what harmonies sort of rebuilt from that. I wasn't really thinking about conventional harmony in a way. I mean there are some things on there that are certainly that but I lot of it you'd have a hard time defining what the harmonic results are. Well I think it should be said that regardless of how basic or how involved the recording process was, it's truly a very resonant CD. The low end is booming, very rich and vibrant.

Pat Metheny: It's a great sounding instrument and we should probably talk about Linda Manzer a bit. Well oddly enough, that was my next question. I know that she's made a number of instruments for you, including the infamous Pikasso. How many instruments has she made for you?

Pat Metheny: I don't even know. That many?

Pat Metheny: Yeah, maybe 13 or 14. She's really been an important collaborator for me over these last 20 years or so. We have a great relationship in the sense that I can sort of dream up these weird things and she can make them happen. In fact the baritone guitar that she initiated, it really had nothing to do with me at all. She got a request from a guy in New York. He's a well known session guy and he asked her to make this baritone guitar. Well he brought it over to show me, he was so proud of it. When I played it, I immediately called Linda and said "I want one." (laughing) That good, huh?

Pat Metheny: She's since made four or five others. I talked to her the other day, since the release of the record, she's been getting bombarded by orders. That's great for her, I would think.

Pat Metheny: She's very special. We live in such an exciting time for guitarmakers. It seems like everywhere I go somebody brings me this amazing instrument made by a local guitarmaker. But even within that context, Linda really stands out. Her instruments have, to me, a very unique quality and are particularly balanced from top to bottom. It's something that she's been able to consistently deliver regardless of the weirdness of the instrument. Regardless of whether it's a soprano guitar, baritone guitar, conventional guitar or a 42-string guitar, they ring from the bottom to the top. There's not these big dead spots or worse, there's not these big humps. A lot of guitars that I play they have incredibly big low end but the top end is just not happening. Hers have a very similar to what a good Steinway is like; each note speaks. She's really got something great going on. As we talked about earlier, you tuned the Bari much like a regular Baritone, down a fifth (A-D-G-C-E-A) but you used a semi-Nashville tuning. So to better understand that, you left the "E and A" as bass strings.

Pat Metheny: Right. And what gauge would you be using for this application?

Pat Metheny: .060 to .070 What is the scale on the Bari?

Pat Metheny: 27 3/4' but you can check that on her website as well. That's the only tuning for the whole record?

Pat Metheny: That's the only tuning for the whole record. Which is incredible because there are two songs on the record, maybe "My Song" and "Another Chance," the harmonies and dissonant relationships seemed to change for me.

Pat Metheny: No, it's just the one tuning but one thing that is particularly cool about that tuning is that you do wind up with four upper register strings that can be used as open strings as opposed to just two. Like on a regular guitar you only have the E and the B string that just ring and you can work out voicings that utilize those. With this tuning, because the middle two strings are higher than the top two strings AND you have these super low notes, you can create inversions that you would never be able to play on a conventional guitar. The harmonic territory that you can cover is so much wider. For instance, the strumming tune on there, "Song for the Boys," I mean, there's open strings involved in almost every voicing but I think I moved through eight or nine different keys. That's something that I really wanted to take advantage of. But that really only made itself available once you changed out the G and the C strings on the baritone.

Pat Metheny: Exactly. Now, a lot of players will say, once they get a "luthier-built" instrument, that it'll take a year or better to really open up. Do Linda's instruments go through this process?

Pat Metheny: They sound great from the first day but they just get better and better. The main Linda - 6, the guitar that I got from her in 1982 is just - just - you just look at it and it sounds good. (laughing) That's very Nigel Tufnel sounding of you.

Pat Metheny: Thank you (laughs) Right. I read a mention on the liner notes of a Dr. Ray Harris from your hometown. He was the one that clued you into the Nashville Tuning. You also mentioned he was an inventor, as well as a guitarist. Did he contribute any inventions to the world of music that we might be familiar with?

Pat Metheny: Well, yeah. He was a pretty interesting guy. I think many small towns have like an eccentric guy that makes stuff in his garage. In Ray's case, he was one of those guys who would be building guitars but he'd also have this Chevy Nova up on a rack, working on the muffler and he was a Chiropractor. Of course, that makes complete sense (laughing).

Pat Metheny: Right. He played on the Kansas City jazz scene but he was also playing on the Kansas City country scene. He couldn't read. He didn't know the names of things. He was always coming up with this weird stuff. I remember he had this double neck guitar with a regular guitar and a baritone guitar and he had the baritone strung up like that. That's very cool.

Pat Metheny: Yeah, I had actually used this tuning before on a track called "The Search... " On Amercian Garage...

Pat Metheny: Right, and that involved a 12-string that was strung that way. He was an inspiring cat just for his investigation of everything. I think I had the same guy living next door to me as a kid. He worked at the dump and he'd bring home a broken lawn mower and two weeks later he'd be trying to make an airplane out of it.

Pat Metheny: Isn't that great stuff, though. It really is. Let's talk a little bit about the songs on One Quiet Night. Twelve tracks, nine original compositions - including "Last Train Home," which you were playing solo on your last tour. Were you playing that on a traditional 6-string or was that on the Baritone?

Pat Metheny: I was doing that on the Baritone. Chronologically, the tour followed the recording. I sort of stumbled onto all of this that night but then was so intrigued by it, I took the Baritone out with me on the road and was looking for a way to start the show. And that seemed like a good thing to do. Over the course of the year, I ended up playing quite a bit of Baritone and the version that I recorded later, which is the one that's on the record, is the result of the year's worth of investigation. So that's the closure to the whole project.

Pat Metheny: Exactly right. So "My Song" by Keith Jarrett (from his '77 release My Song), "Don't Know Why" (of Norah Jones fame) and a hauntingly brilliant version of the classic British Invasion song from Gerry and the Pacemakers, "Ferry Cross the Mersey." Any particular reason you sought or chose these songs? Did they fit the voicing of the instrument particularly well?

Pat Metheny: Well "Ferry Cross the Mersey" has kind of been one of my favorite songs since I was like nine. I just always loved that song but I never really played it. I just kind of stumbled onto the (hums melody) - while I was playing the baritone and I was like - "Hey, that's 'Ferry Cross the Mersey.'" Well, I figured, why don't I play that. Well, I couldn't exactly remember what the bridge did. But I learned a version of it and recorded it. The one thing that you have to keep in mind to play something on the Baritone is that if you're going to have the melody on what we're calling the top two strings, it sort of has to start at a certain middle zone and not go too high or not go too low. And that tune really did that. Same with "My Song," it just kind of happened to lay good and it was a tune that I always loved. It's actually quite hard. That one was physically a real knucklebreaker, especially the bridge. But I really enjoyed the process of - the tunes that I loved and listened to a million times and yet never really learned and never really thought about, well, what is that tune really. So I transcribed it and learned it and figured out a way to play it. That's a good method.

Pat Metheny: Yeah and you learn a great deal within the process. The "Don't Know Why" tune - I live right in New York and across the street from me is a club called McCore. For about two years, every Tuesday night there was this girl singer that played there and she was great. And it would be like Me and like three other people checking her out. She always used good cats playing with her. She did "Don't Know Why" and I was like, what a great tune. I'd be walking out of the club humming that tune. I'd usually stop by on the way home or whatever. The rest is history. Yeah, no lie. That was a major sleeper that came from nowhere, or so it seemed.

Pat Metheny: It made me think, wow I should have been an A&R guy (laughs) You missed your true calling (laughs)

Pat Metheny: I picked it two years ahead of everybody else. But seriously it's just a great tune and it just lays good on the guitar. It was fun to put a little different spin on it, in terms of the harmonic vocabulary. Did you get caught up in the whole Brit invasion as a kid; Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Cream?

Pat Metheny: By the time Cream came along I had already turned into a jazz snob. Bascially the way it went for me was that during the time of Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Dave Clark Five and the early Beatles, I was completely into that. I was drawn to the guitar in many way because of the impact of that. What was a little bit unique about my case was that starting almost immediately after I got guitar, my brother brought home a Miles Davis record and as soon as I heard that, it was like someone turned on a light switch in a room. Then my entire focus shifted to the other thing. In fact during all the time of Hendrix and Cream, I was like "Oh Man, that s--t ain't happening." I was like Wynton Marsalis times ten, twenty years before Wynton Marsalis. It's funny, because by the time I got to be 16 or 17 I was like, this is really a dumb way to go through life. But in a way, I think if you're going to deal with that music in a thorough way, and I notice this amongst young musicians, you almost have to put on blinders. Yeah, I agree with that to a point. Total emersion.

Pat Metheny: Yeah, just complete emersion into that genre. And that's where I was at that time. From when I was like 12 or 13 to the time when was like 16 or so I missed everything. I missed it all. I was busy learning everything else. But I think that it's just part of the learning process and it's unique to each person. And the results in your case, speak for themselves.

Pat Metheny: Yeah. You had mentioned your home studio, which is obviously all digital. What are your weapons of choice as far as microphones, DI's, etc?

Pat Metheny: Well, the mic I used on One Quiet Night is a beautiful mic. It's the AMT, Applied Microphone Technology, that goes right inside the guitar. I've got an XLR out built right into the back of the guitar. I've got a Fishman piezo undersaddle pickup, which gives me great direct sound. I've got two really good Avalon preamps that were involved in this, that go between the guitar and the MOTU (Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer). I think that helped a great deal. So there was no other ambient recording of the guitar?

Pat Metheny: By the time I got to the end, where I was like okay, this is going to be a record, probably. For the strumming tunes, I did put another mic a little bit further away. For those I ran three channels. I know you're out doing dates with the trio (featuring bass monster Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez) currently. So I'm sure that's keeping you busy. Are you planning on releasing a trio record with Christian and Antonio or can we expect a band release soon?

Pat Metheny: No we're more than half way done on what will be the next Pat Metheny Group record. It's really something. It's certainly the most ambitious writing thing that Lyle and I have ever embarked on and we're really excited about it. And this trio, just based on the weeks worth of gigs that we've done so far, I have to record it. It's so good. Those guys are just so good together. In fact, we're recording every night that we do now. Technology being the way it is we might even get something along the way. Do you take recording gear out with you when you go out?

Pat Metheny: Well, now you just take your Mac with a little oxygen thing and that's it. That's true. I didn't even think about it.

Pat Metheny: Yeah. I mean having to live through everything from the Synclavier on, it's finally gotten there. Right, it's truly portable and it can sound good.

Pat Metheny: It's really portable and you can really do some serious damage. Pat, we really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. I wish you much success on your current tour and with One Quiet Night. All the best.

Pat Metheny: My pleasure and I enjoyed talking to you. Article Archive
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