Elixr is the third record by Buzzy Tonic. Side one is now available as an EP from CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon. The sound is funkier than ever! Side two is shaping up nicely, with three out of four or five songs now complete. Watch this space for future updates.
and music by John Szinger, 2011
A perfect song to lead off a record: short and fast. It's a sort of fake-punk song and the first song I wrote on guitar. There's both an acoustic and an electric guitar in the mix. I tracked the electric using a combo of direct inject and miking the amp, which provided a bit of reverb and overdrive and fullness, and layers nicely with the acoustic.
The song has a really cool bass part, much too active and melodic to be real punk. At first I was playing just straight 16th notes on the root, but that got kinda boring, so I asked myself, what would John Paul Jones do? The line has a lot of movement, and I ended up using a combination of thumb, fingers and two-hand tap just to get it out. Sounds killer but hard to play a such a fast tempo.
The bridge incorporates a bunch of ideas, including some horns, bass riffs and a cool little half-time turnaround. The horn section consists of a bari sax and two tenors. The original concept was to go for something reminiscent of classic Chicago, but once I got into it the sound morphed into something like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or They Might Be Giants. Anyway I think it sound really good.
and music by John Szinger, 2011
Sea of Tranquility is sort of companion piece to Rocket to the Moon, a b-side if you will, and a study in contrast. It's an instrumental, soothing and hypnotic, based on a minimalist piano ostonato that begins in 5/4 time but dances around different meters throughout the piece. Meanwhile the orchestration builds slowly but insistently, like a Bolero. The first half is just piano and percussion, then the second time thru the instruments enter one by one to create a layered effect. In addition to piano, guitar, and some synthesizers, I used a saxophone quartet, with each voice double-tracked for a full ensemble sound. To top it off, Lizzy appears a guest artist playing the flute.
I mastered Rocket To The Moon and Sea of Tranquility together, and it was informative because the two songs sound very different and what works for one doesn't work for the other. My signal chain includes a dynamic eq/compressor and then a compressor/limiter. I find the limiter is the single most important thing in a song with drums, since most of the peaks are on drum hits. It's pretty easy to get an extra 3dB, but past that it's hard because my mixes are pretty hot, and the compressors start to change the sound if you put them on too thick. Two moderate compressors in series seems to work better than a single strong one. And of course, there's no substitute for alot of careful listening on different systems.
and music by John Szinger, 2012
This is a heavy funky rocker with prog leanings. The vibe is a sort of Steely-ELP groove with pre-postapocalyptic sentiment. I have a few songs that meet that description, but within that territory there's a lot of room for interesting and creative stuff. This one has been in the works for a long while and is shaping up to be one of my favorites. It's also the first song that I've written on the bass. One day I was working on this song in the studio, and Michelle, who continues to hang out when she can, said, "These are the weirdest lyrics ever and they make no sense." Jeannie, who usually pretty much ignores my creative efforts, was in earshot and said, "Those are awesome lyrics. What song is that?" So I guess you love it or you hate it. In any event, every album should have one or two big, heavy numbers, so this is one.
and music by Martin Szinger
I found this one in a pile of demos. Written by Martin it's an ode to that feeling you get that first day of spring when the weather finally turns mild. First I just wanted to learn it to play on piano, but it's really worthy of a full production recording. It's sort of a power-pop song, with the bass, sax and vocals forming three interlocking melodies, almost like a fugue. On top of that, he has this really clever way of turning the time around every few bars. I kept the original bass and guitar from Martin's demo. I added my own drum part and piano, and retracked everything else. I added vocal harmonies and a bari sax for extra bottom.
by Michelle Szinger, music by Michelle and John Szinger, 2011
A jazzy ballad. You may recall Michelle Michelle took in interest in my home studio recordings and been working on ways to get into the act. She came up with the lyric and the tune for Now and Forever a while back (she was in third grade) and I helped her put it into shape and work out the arrangement. We recorded it for Jeannie for mother's day. I liked it so much I decided to do my own version. I ended up making it a duet, layering in Michelle's orginal vocasls my lead so she's still singing on the track. I also blended Lizzy's flute with my new sax part. It came out very nicely.
and music by John Szinger, 2014
An upbeat party kind of number with a bluesy feel and a big ol' horn section. I've been focusing on simplicity in my songwriting, at least in certain aspects. This one has a eight-bar chord progression that changes every two beats and loops over and over the whole song, all dominant 7th chords, nice and soulful.
One feature of this song, something that I've wanted to write for a long time, is a unison horn section break, backed only by handclaps, in the mode of songs like Domino, Spain or Sir Duke.
My friend Lee was supposed to come an lay down a guitar part, but we were never able to work out a time, so I did the guitar part myself. I used the Stratocaster thru my Roland JC amp. I had never really dug the strat before but this turned out to be just the right sound for the song. My part is pretty much straightforward rhythm. I had envisioned having a riffing lead guitar toward the end of the song, but since I don't solo of guitar I did that on sax. It's pretty slammin', so go ahead and enjoy.
and music by John Szinger, 2014
Heavy and anthemic, TBaR is about trying to stand firm and true while adapting to world of shifting uncertainties. Alot of vocal layers, especially at the end, where that parts overlap and interleave. It was a bit of work to mix them all and make all the parts come out clearly. There's a big bass solo for the intro. I came upon it one day and it sounded really cool, but it took some practice to be able to play well.
Once I had all the basic parts tracked, it seemed to be missing something. So I let it sit for a while until I had a direction. Eventually I added some organ and mellotron parts. It took a few iterations to really get it right, for the arrangement to enhance the ups and downs of the dynamics, and to get it to sit on the edge of chaos without overloading.
and music by John Szinger, 2015
This one is a jazzy, dancy number, sort of hybrid of swing, funk and disco. The main musical ideas I've had hanging around for a while; it just had to be hammered into shape. I learned it in several different keys before settling on Db minor, and I taught myself to play a pretty groovin' walking bass line for the middle section.
The lyrics are just something to sing that sounds good over a song that sounds like that. More or less about watching someone in the audience dance to the music while you're playing sax at a gig, inspired by my time playing in funk bands in California. The vocal track went down fast: three quick takes straight thru, no overdubs, less than an hour. The performance brought the whole thing up a level. I laid down a sax part with my new horn, and ended up using a single take as-is with no alterations.
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding by Elvis Costello. As with all my covers, I chose this song for a few musical and other reasons. First off, although it's not exactly a holiday song, it's about peace love and understanding so it's seasonal in a more abstract sense. Second, I've thought for a long time it might be fun to do a set of songs with really long names, like Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More, What Is and What Should Never Be, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, and of course the inimitable When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around. If nothing else, it underscores some of the weakness of current music playback technology, because (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.mp3 doesn't fit on the screen of my iPod, and it's out of alphabetical order.
The main reason I chose this song was to do a number with just voice and piano. I had attempted this with Making Miles on the last Buzzy Tonic album, but I ended up adding a rhythm section at the second verse and synth solo later. This one remains stripped down throughout. Usually the tendency is to go ballad. But WSFBPLAU rocks out, thanks to a propulsive 8th note rhythm in the left hand. Also, I wanted to see how quickly I could make a song. I'd been waiting for the MBox3 Pro to become available and did this song partly to fill the void. It took me four sessions. The first session I set up the project and laid down a piano part. I hadn't really worked it up; I just banged out the chords. The next session I did the vocals, which went down after just a couple warmup takes. Then I went back and redid the piano part with better voicings and rhythm. The last session was to mix it and add effects.
Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression
Originally off the ELP album Brain Salad Surgery. Keith Emerson had long been one of my big musical idols. His music is above anything else I've studied on piano in terms of imagination, complexity and difficulty. It sounds high energy because it takes a lot of energy to play. He loves fast tempos and wide melodic intervals, so your hands are really moving a lot.
My version is a bit different from ELP's, and hopefully somewhat my own. I memorized it long ago and since it's drifted from the original, so some parts are condensed and others expanded. Also, I play without bass and drum accompaniment. Perhaps the biggest change is I use a Rhodes rather than a grand piano, to bring out the jazzy aspect of the piece. My version is a bit more rubato too, and not quite as uptempo.
As far as the mix goes, there are actually six piano tracks. I triple tracked the part with three different samples, each in stereo. The main track is a straight-up Rhodes. Second is a Rhodes with tremolo and other effects, mixed to the left to provide some sonic motion. Third is a grand piano, mixed to the right and way down low, almost subliminal, to provide a bit of plonk on the low and trinkle on the high notes, just a bit of general attackiness. Add some efects and the result is a big, fat sound.
Rocket To The Moon (Demo)
An ealy demo of the song. Acoutic guitar only, no horns, no bridge.
Now and Forever (Michelle Demo)
Michelle's original version, with her on lead vocals and Lizzy on flute.
Now (Michelle Demo)
and music by Michelle Szinger, 2012
A follow-up to Now and Forever. It's a sweet and simple song, yet surprisingly deep. Michelle wrote the music on piano, discovering the Lydian mode on the way. She did the clarinet part too.