Michael Landau just released his new solo album “Rock Bottom” which is his first solo release following his 2012 instrumental album “Organic Instrumentals”. The new album features fellow BURNING WATER members Ted Landau and David Frazee, displaying a live and musically independent vibe. The album not only showcases Michael’s superb guitar performances, but also proves itself to be a collection of gems with layers and layers of sonic essences that enhance the music with every listen, making it a highly addictive album. Here’s what Michael has to say about “Rock Bottom”.
Interview / Text Mamoru Moriyama
Translation Louis Sesto (EAGLETAIL MUSIC)
Muse On Muse : Ted Landau and David Frazee took part in your latest album “Rock Bottom”. Carlos Vega didn’t participate on the album as he unfortunately passed away, but the band can be considered as BURNING WATER. Tell us how and why you decided to record a new album with these members?
Michael Landau : A couple of years ago I had my Studer 2 inch tape machine tuned up, I really wanted to record to tape again, so I called my brother and Alan Hertz to come over for a couple of days to record several ideas that I had, most of these tracks ended up on the Rock Bottom record. I’d been playing mostly instrumental music for the last 10 years with both my trio and the Steve Gadd Band so I had the urge to play some heavy music with vocals again, I had always planned on working with David Frazee again so when I had these new tracks recorded, David was the obvious choice to sing on them.
MM : Tell us about the other members that participated on the album.
ML : Larry Goldings played Hammond Organ on most of the record, he’s one of my favorite musicians of all time, I couldn’t imagine making a record without his input. Jimmy Johnson plays bass on 2 tracks, Alan Hertz plays drums on 7 of the tracks, Shannon Forrest plays drums on 3 of the tracks, and Gary Novak made the drum loops on “Heaven In The Alley”… these are all some of my favorite musicians.
MM : Tell us about the meaning behind the album title “Rock Bottom”.
ML : I wanted people to know that the new record was a rough edged vocal record, the term ‘rock bottom’ is also meant to be a funny play on words, so many people are hitting ‘rock bottom’ these days in a ridiculous reality show kind of way… I thought it was amusing to call the record that.
MM : It seems as if the album fascinates you more and more with every listen. Definitely highly addictive.
ML : Thank you, I’m glad about that! I did spend a lot of time layering all of the guitar parts with the organ and vocals, there’s a lot of audio information on the record but I don’t think its too much, you can still hear everything and the different parts do reveal themselves at different times depending on when and where you’re listening to the record. It’s a fun record to listen to on headphones if you get the chance.
MM : How was the songwriting done? Can you tell us about the songwriting process in detail?
ML : I play guitar around the house a lot, sometimes as much as 3 or 4 hours a day. Most of the time a song will start with a chord progression or a riff that keeps coming up… but I also write songs away from the guitar on purpose, I imagine myself as a listener, I can sometimes hear completely realized songs by doing this process, or at least a complete verse or chorus which is a good start. I wrote all of the music on the record and the lyrics and melodies to ‘Gettin Old’, ‘We All Feel The Same’, ‘Freedom’ and ’Speak Now, Make Your Peace’… David Frazee wrote all of the rest. I’ll normally send him a demo with a guide vocal for a possible melody, but it’s sometimes more interesting when I just send him the track and he’s free to write what he feels, he’s a very creative lyricist, and he write’s beautiful melodies.
MM : “Squirrels” quietly starts the album. David’s voice and your guitar performance with great taste seem to blend in very well and the progression definitely leaves a great impression.
ML : Thank you… “Squirrels” is one of my favorite tracks on the record, I thought it was a good song to start the record because of all the different elements, it’s melodic and mellow at times but it also gets very heavy, it’s a good example of things to come on the record.
MM : On “We All Seem The Same” we can hear some very emotional guitar performances with your wah pedal. Tell us about this song.
ML : ”We All Feel The Same” can be viewed as a cry of help for the human race, or for someone that’s dealing with drama and anxiety in their life… in reality, most humans all need and desire the same basic things, respect, love, security for their love ones… the guitars on that song mirror the lyrics of the insane banter and drama going on in the world today.
MM : Throughout the album, there seems to be a very independent vibe as in a live situation. On the other hand, songs like “Getting Old” and “Heaven In The Alley” have various sounds almost like hidden ingredients that effectively enhance the music. This definitely lets the listener discover something new each time you listen to the album.
ML : Thank you… again that goes back to layering all of the guitar parts. On this record I tried to push the limit and get the most amount of musical information on a song without overpowering the original feel and inspiration of the basic track. I love the purity of basic tracks, so if I lost the original emotion of a demo or a basis track, I know it’s time to thin the track out and get back to the original feel.
MM : Please tell us about the song “Speak Now, Make Your Peace”. The vocals and guitar seem to sublime in a very fantastical and free atmosphere on this impressive song.
ML : “Speak Now” is another cry for the human race to give peace a chance. I wanted to end the record in an epic style anthem way… the solo at the end of this song is a clean guitar tone played very simply… I wanted the record to end in a big and beautiful, but powerful way.
MM : Tell us about your gear. What guitars, amps, pedals did you use for the recording of this album?
’63 Fiesta Red Stratocaster
Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster with (2) Lollar F-Spaced Imperial Humbuckers
’75 Fender Jazzmaster
Fender Custom Shop Telecaster with stock Tele pickups
’68 Gibson 335 (with out of phase switch, “Squirrels” guitar solo)
’56 Les Paul Special (rhythm guitar on “Poor Dear”)
Suhr Badger 35 Head
Suhr Bella Head
’64 Princeton Reverb (using (2) vintage Marshall cabinets, = 8 ohm load)
Pathfinder 18 watt P.A. head (by Newcomb, converted to a guitar amp,
this was the solo sound on “Poor Dear”).
Dumble Slide Winder (4 input, 50 watt Bassman style head)
Vintage Marshall Straight 4×12 with stock vintage Greenbacks
Kerry Wright Closed Back Straight 4×12 with vintage G12-65’s
Vintage Fuzz Face
Vemuram Jan Ray
Vemuram Shanks Fuzz (solo on “Bad Friends”)
Strymon Timeline (post amp, off of a send from the API console)
Dunlop Echoplex (post amp, off a of send from the API console)
Deluxe Memory Man 550-TT (post amp, off of a send from the API console)
Lexicon PCM60 Reverb
Neumann U87 (‘We All Feel The Same’ solo guitar)
Api Mic Pre
MM : I’m sure there are many players out there that look up to your sound and tone that you create on the guitar. Obviously a lot of this comes from technique as well as psychological aspects from you inner self, but what kind of advice would you give in terms of physical gear such as amp/pedal settings?
ML : I always recommend keeping your recording and live setup as simple as you can in the beginning. I’ve done so many records in the past with just one amp, a Suhr Badger 18 amp through a 4×12 cabinet and a couple guitars plus some pedals… the simpler the better when you’re first starting out in my opinion.
MM : You are one of the leading guitar players in the industry not only with your own activities, but also with tours and recordings for other countless artists, hence greatly contributing to the music world over the years. What is your perspective on the current music scene?
ML : I’ve always considered myself as an outsider in the music business. It’s always been my main priority over the years to respect music and stay true to whatever musical vision I had at the time. That being said, there is always going to be great new music and great artists out there in the world, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it these days… I’m still so inspired by so many great artists these days.
MM : Please tell us about your upcoming schedule. What do you have coming up next?
ML : I have a seven week tour coming up with James Taylor this summer, followed by a three week tour with the Steve Gadd band in Japan in September. I am also in the planning stages of a three week tour of Asia with my new band the ‘Michael Landau Liquid Quartet’ in the beginning of 2019, hopefully in February.
MM : Please give a message to your fans.
ML : Thank you for taking the time to really listen to my music, and to music of all kinds. Music is a precious, powerful, healing thing. It’s something we can all enjoy together.
Michael Landau official site : http://mikelandau.com/
MICHAEL LANDAU / ROCK BOTTOM
2. Bad Friend
3. Gettin Old
4. We All Feel The Same
5. We’re Alright
6. One Tear Away
7. Poor Dear
9. Heaven In The Alley
10. Speak Now, Make Your Peace