Vol.127 Guthrie Govan / June 2022

Guthrie Govan

Photo by Cian O’Sullivan

The dynamic trinity of Rock/Fusion, The Aristcrats consists of guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann. Their collaboration album with Polish orchestra Primuz Chamber Orchestra, “ The Aristocrats With Primuz Chamber Orchestra” has been released recently.
This project started when the band coincidentally found the orchestral version of their song “Culture Crash” arranged by a polish composer/arranger Wojtek Lemański and played by Primuz Chamber Orchestra on YouTube.The fusion between the orchestra and Aristcrats turned out surprisingly great. The orchestra added dynamics and dramatic feelings on the original and it makes us listen to the album deeply. We had a chat about this album and the whole process of this project with the man Guthrie Govan.

Interview / Text  Mamoru Moriyama
Translation         Hiroshi Takakura

Photo by Daniel Work

Muse On Muse : Your new album “THE ARISTOCRATS WITH PRIMUZ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA” with the Polish orchestra has been released. Please tell us about the details of how you joined forces with them. I heard you knew them through YouTube?
Guthrie Govan : Indeed! About two years ago, we randomly discovered a YouTube video of Primuz Chamber Orchestra playing Wojtek Lemański’s arrangement of our song Culture Clash. From the very first moment that we heard this version, we all loved the way that the guys had interpreted the track. However, the idea of reaching out to Wojtek and the Primuz guys to propose a full collaboration actually came from our manager, Riccardo Cappelli… It’s easy enough to dream about making a collaborative album with an orchestra but many logistical challenges emerge when you actually commit to turning such a concept into reality so Riccardo was definitely an important part of the whole process!

MM : Did you know the writer/arranger Wojtek Lemański, who did string arrangement for this album, before this project?
GG : No – somewhat embarrassingly, none of us had heard of him before (although I believe he’s a highly-regarded composer of film and TV music in Poland, where both he and the orchestra are based.) He definitely knew a lot about us, though – during our collaboration, we learned that Wojtek and his sons (one of whom plays cello in the orchestra) had actually attended one of our Aristocrats shows in Poland several years before!

MM : Did you check what PRIMUZ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA and Wojtek Lemański had done when you started working with them? What was your impression of them?
GG : We understood the potential for this project as soon as we found that Culture Clash video on YouTube! We were really excited to hear such an intricate and challenging arrangement performed with so much energy and conviction – it really felt like both the arranger and the musicians truly understood the intention behind the original so they really managed to transform the composition whilst remaining true to its intended spirit. In particular, I think that Wojtek’s style of arrangement is uniquely suited to the kind of “complex yet fun” music with which people usually associate us, whilst the Primuz string players combine technical precision with a rare kind of “rock ’n’roll” attitude in the way they perform the music so it really felt like we were working with the ideal ambassadors from the orchestral world!

MM : There are some collaboration albums between Rock guitarists and classical orchestras. What did you expect from the collaboration with the orchestra?
GG : Well, all we really knew was that the band, the orchestra and the arranger all understood each other very well from a creative perspective. We didn’t know exactly what to expect from the collaboration but we did feel totally confident that the results would make musical sense and have artistic validity!

MM : Did you add orchestra sounds onto the existing songs of THE ARISTOCRATS? to make this album. Please tell us the production process in detail.
GG : We made a conscious decision to work with existing Aristocrats performances from our previous albums and to encourage Wojtek to build his arrangements around those. The first step was to generate a MIDI click track for each song, using a tempo-mapping function within (DAW software) Logic Pro: Wojtek was then able to create MIDI string arrangements which were emailed back and forth as we discussed all the finer details regarding dynamics and harmonic ideas. When we were all happy with the final arrangements, the orchestra then needed to find a suitable recording space so they could record their performance of the arrangements live – they all insisted that they needed to play the music as “a band in a room” and we totally understood that, as we adopt the same approach when we’re making a trio album. Of course, all of this was actually happening in the middle of the pandemic, with an orchestra based in Poland and a rock band spread out across the UK and the US so there were some challenges – as you can imagine! – but eventually the arranger, conductor and orchestra all found a way to come together in the same recording studio so the strings you hear on the album really were played “in real time”.

I should add that we spent a lot of time trying to find the best approach for mixing the album, as the orchestral and band elements both contained a lot of detailed information… I think (and hope!) that we found the best solution for the unique sonic challenges of this project.

MM : Did you try some new ideas, something like changing the arrangement of THE ARISTOCRATS music for this project?
GG : The basic idea was to enhance the existing arrangements with the new sonic textures provided by the string players but in certain songs (The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde, Jack’s Back, Dance Of The Aristocrats…) Wojtek inserted whole new sections to highlight the orchestra and extend the original song structure. At first, we had no idea that he would make such suggestions but we very much welcomed his new ideas when we heard them on his MIDI demos!

MM : I was really surprised to see the great synergy between THE ARISTOCRATS and PRIMUZ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. Orchestra added some dynamics and live feeling therefore it sounds completely different from the original.
GG : Thank you! I really feel like we were fortunate to find the perfect arranger and orchestra for this project – the fact that they understood our music so well definitely contributed to the overall effect of the finished product!

Photo by Nigel Neve

MM : This album reminds us of the beauty, dramatic atmosphere which THE ARISTOCRATS music contains and it is totally inspiring.
GG : We’re all really excited about the way this album turned out – the concept worked even better than we could have hoped! – so we can’t wait for our fans to hear these new interpretations. We always try to treat our songs as “living things” which can continue to grow after we’ve recorded the studio versions – this is illustrated by the way the music always seems to evolve organically during the course of a live tour – so our collaboration with the orchestra basically basically revealed another dimension to that whole process.

MM : Please explain each song of this album. How did you feel about your songs which were reborn and blessed by PRIMUZ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA and yourself?
GG :
“Culture Clash”
This one is a special track for us because (of course!) Wojtek’s YouTube arrangement of Culture Clash was the initial inspiration for this whole musical adventure. I find it interesting that this was the song which the orchestra picked first, out of our whole catalogue, so in a way perhaps it’s the most symbolic representation of the creative “common ground” where the band and the orchestra overlap the most.

“Stupid 7”
This was almost certainly the hardest song for the orchestra to play but they did a great job – it’s a very cool, energetic performance of a high-tempo arrangement featuring a lot of complex melodic lines in an odd time signature! I think the last five chords in this song have a particularly “Aristocratic” character – the original guitar chords were intentionally ugly-sounding so we asked the orchestra to expand on this by deliberately playing their parts out of tune, to create the idea of the song totally disintegrating at the end… I think it’s a really interesting, unusual effect.

“The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde”
This is probably the most cinematic track on the album so the addition of strings seemed to work particularly well here, really enhancing the drama within what was already a dynamic, “story telling” kind of song… Wojtek added a lot of his own ideas on this one, contributing an extended intro and an interlude in the middle: these ideas made perfect musical sense to us and really illustrated how well he understood the spirit of our music.

“Dance Of The Aristocrats”
This was always a somewhat unusual song for us, as Marco’s concept was to write an “electro” tune (his initial demo consisted entirely of programmed instruments!) and then to perform it as a live band trying to sound as robotic and “sequenced” as possible. Adding an orchestra to this formula just took the weirdness of the whole concept even further – I particularly like the sonic effect of the cellos doubling the bass line along with Bryan’s synth pedal.
One really nice surprise for us on DOTA was the “waltz” outro section – when Wojtek sent us the first demo of his string arrangement for this track, I recall that he ended it with just a few bars of this approach, as a kind of joke, but we all loved the change of mood which it brought to the song so we encouraged him to extend the idea further!

“Through The Flower”
Wojtek’s arrangement for this track was full of interesting surprises! He invented a whole new harmonisation for the unaccompanied guitar intro and he added some really beautiful things during the solo section in the middle of the song. The fade-out ending was actually one of the biggest mixing challenges of the whole album: much of our recorded catalogue is deliberately based on a raw “live trio” formula (so we can replicate the songs accurately in a live setting) but during the ending of this particular song we had already added a lot of overdubbed layers on the original version, to create a dramatic “build-up” effect, so it was challenging to preserve all of those ideas and also incorporate the new orchestral ingredients. It’s such a long fade-out section that it was important to control the pace of the build-up all the way through…

“All Said And Done”
We always viewed this song as a kind of affectionate Beatles homage so it made perfect sense to add some strings to the arrangement… We asked Wojtek to think of George Martin as a reference point for this one and he delivered exactly what we were hoping for!

“Jack’s Back”
It’s impossible to pick a favourite track from this album but, as the composer of Jack’s Back, I must confess that I felt particularly proud of the way this one turned out!
When I’m writing for the Aristocrats, I often feel like the challenge lies in condensing all the necessary harmonic information into parts which can be played live by just three people so sometimes musical details have to be sacrificed or condensed… This was particularly true in the case of Jack’s Back: I wrote the song shortly after completing a live tour with Hans Zimmer so subconsciously I think I was imagining a lot of additional orchestral ideas during the writing process: it was fascinating to hear how Wojtek “reconstructed” this mood just by listening to our raw trio performance!

“Ohhhh Noooo”
This track might seem like one of the less obvious candidates for an orchestral arrangement – the main riff has such a straight-ahead “rock” attitude! – but Wojtek clearly found a way to have fun with it, contributing a lot of entirely original counter-melodies for the strings. I particularly like the pizzicato string parts in the quieter sections of this song (they have a “cheeky” quality which really suits the mood of the song!) and we all loved the addition of the rich orchestral textures during the bass solo section in the middle.

“Last Orders”
This one is unique in the sense that it features a guest oboe player – all of the other orchestral parts on the album are exclusively violin/viola/cello/contrabass – and I have to confess that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea at first… but then I heard the final oboe performance and suddenly realised that it really does enhance the mood of the song!
When we recorded the original version of Last Orders, the long jam section at the end of this track was one of those totally loose, spontaneous studio moments and our initial plan was for it to be a fade-out… but then we decided that we liked the vibe so much that we really didn’t want to lose any of it! This section is my favourite example of something Wojtek does remarkably well, where he’ll take an improvised section and orchestrate around it in such a way that the final arrangement sounds entirely composed – I love the way the string parts lock in with some of the rhythmic displacement ideas from our original jam!

MM : Do you have any favorite projects between Rock musician and classical orchestra and why do you like that?
GG : I’m aware that various other rock bands have collaborated with classical players in the past but I can’t really think of a favourite album. To this day, I think my main reference point for this kind of musical intersection would still be the Beatles – I’m sure that many people could argue that the Beatles were more ”pop” than “rock” but for me they really did demonstrate the full artistic potential of a band merging with classical instruments and I’m sure that their early work in that field must have “paved the way” for many subsequent orchestral collaborations by other bands.

MM : You have an upcoming tour of North America. Do you have any plans to tour the rest of the world? Please tell us the schedule of you and your band.
GG : We’re still trying to rebuild our whole touring/recording cycle after the pandemic forced everything to shut down for two years… right now, all I know is that we’ll be touring the US in the summer and that we’ll be working on further plans for the future whilst we’re all out together on the road. We’re really hoping that we’ll be able to return to Asia next year but I can’t offer any precise dates at this stage so… watch this space!

MM : Please give a message to your fans.
GG : Thank you all so much for your continued support – we can’t wait to get back on the road and see you all again just as soon as we can! In the meantime… we’re very excited about the release of our new orchestral collaboration with Primuz Chamber Orchestra so we really hope you’ll enjoy it.

The Aristocrats official website https://the-aristocrats-band.com/

The Aristocrats With Primuz Chamber Orchestra

1. Culture Clash
2. Stupid 7
3. The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde
4. Dance Of The Aristocrats
5. Through The Flower
6. All Said And Done
7. Jack’s Back
8. Ohhhh Noooo
9. Last Orders