Face the Heat is the second record by Buzzy Tonic, available from CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon. Moving ahead and breaking new ground, building on the sound pioneered in The Brothers Zing, this diverse set of songs is unified by a sonic palette of strong melodies, vocal harmonies, driving rhythms, tasty jazz chords, out time signatures, saxes and synthesizers. The tracks presented here are teasers, trimmed to let you hear the first minute or two.
and music by John Szinger, 2006
I lead off the record write a high-energy summertime party rock song, a number called Heat Wave, inspired by a vacation in Florida. As the song developed, it became a bit twisted, with a 7/8 time signature, copious use of upward chromatic movement, jazz chords, allusions to John Coltrane, and an environmentalist subtext. But it sure is high energy.
It took a while to get the arrangement together. The drum part was fairly tedious to record, which is ironic, because the whole point of it to make it sound spontaneous and really groovin'. The bass went down fairly easily, played live and jammin'. I added a clav to the chorus and bridge to give a little rhythmic counterpoint to the piano and bass. The arrangement is centered on Tenor sax, stacked with a synth horn section and layers of synths. I added a bari sax to give the tenor some big bottom backing. The part went down fairly quickly and came out great, and added just the right reinforcement to the horn section.
and music by John Szinger, 2007
A quasi-autobiographical number, this song is a sci-fi reverie contemplating the wonder of the night sky and speculating about things that can be seen but not readily explained. It has a multi-part structure and prog sound. There's an ethereal synth intro, segueing into a slow jazzy part, then fast middle part with meter changes and churning, swooping, blazing gonzo synthesizers, and then a recapitulation and elaboration of the first part.
The chords are based mainly on stacked 4ths over shifting roots, which is a pretty cool sound. The bass part involves a lot of two-note chords. I double-tracked the part, which creates a natural chorus effect. Drums always involve a lot of editing, building up and pulling down, creating dimension like a chalk drawing. The song features an analog-style synthesizer solo in the middle section. In the old days I would have played this on a real synthesizer and twiddled the knobs live. But my setup has gone all digital and fully computerized, so I ended up using a software synthesizer inside proTools. Thanks to John Neumann for rendering out the midi of my synth solo on his Nord Lead synthesizer, providing an extra dimension of analog wow. I mixed his track in with my software-simulated Moog.
by John Szinger, 2007. Music by John Szinger, 1996, 2007
This is a new incarnation of a song that I wrote years ago and I liked enough to revisit. The song is based on a nine-note ostanato played by two pianos. The pattern phases every nine bars. On top of is layered the rhythm section and melody. It is both flowing and machine-like, sort of relentless and melancholy.
I had previously recorded it with Flip|Hippo
, but we did the recording under enormous time pressure and I was never really satisfied with my sax playing. Plus I wanted to expand it a bit and do something new with it. My new version highlights the dramatic tension of the song arc. I added a break in the middle and a short lyric, inspired by Led Zeppelin in that they like to pepper their songs with Tolkien references. This song is heavy on synths and effects. There were a few sounds on my original version I really liked. So I fired up my venerable Kurzweil K2000RS synthesizer and dialed up the a patches. I'd forgotten what a great sounding piece of gear that is.
by John Szinger, 2007. Music by John Szinger, 2008
A love song. I was inspired after Jeannie and I celebrated our Twennyversary. The lyrics are heartfelt and straightforward. The music is accessible and soulful, a classic R&B kind of groove with the changes all based on 7th chords. As so often happens, I had a couple musical patterns I was playing around with and the lyric made the whole thing come together. The intro uses an ostanato over a descending bass line that wraps around, passing thru some dark and interesting chords. No worries though, the main riff moves upward. Also the intro is in 3/4 time, while the main body of the song is 4/4. I couldn't leave well enough alone and for the bridge the meter alternates between 3 and 4, for a bit of extra fun. I laid down the vocals fairly quickly. The harmony was spontaneous. I had an idea and decided to go for it, and liked the way it came out. I put a full horn section arrangement on it, four saxophones: soprano, alto tenor and baritone. I had so much fun playing it I decided to give the bari a solo.
This is the fourth song in the project, so I have a logical album side or virtual EP. I had originally planned on making this record a collaboration with Martin on guitar, like The Brothers Zing. When that fell thru I continued on my own, decided not to worry and made my peace with not having guitars. This pushed me into a new creative space, and I'm actually quite happy with how this set of tunes turned out.
and music by John Szinger, 2008
Who is more the fool, the fool or the fool who follows?
This is the fifth song of my record. It's a defiant and bitter song, a reaction against the constant lies and manipulation coming from forces of power thru the media, and how everyone seems to go along with it rather than maintaining the sovereignty of one's own mind and judgment. I came up with the basic idea for the song a few years back. The feel is tense end edgy. It takes a cue from old-time cartoon jazz, but sort of warped and blended with modern electronica. Structurally, it's basically a C minor blues, played in a stride style, but in 7/8 time. The basic blues chords are embellished with upward chromatic harmonic movement.
The song features the wind synthesizer. The track has a virtual orchestra consisting of a mellotron, a string section, and two real saxophones -- tenor and soprano. The lead synth combines with the saxes is designed to evoke the classic jazz horn section of a trumpet, clarinet and tenor sax, as used by for example Raymond Scott. I wanted the synth to sound something like a cross between a gutbucket trumpet played with a plunger mute and wah-wah guitar with a warm overdrive. This gave me occasion to plug in my venerable Yamaha VL-70 wind synthesizer. It is a very cool piece of technology that produces sounds thru physical modeling. The sounds are responsive to multiple realtime continuous controls, and the unit is designed to work with a wind controller such as Yamaha's WX-11. The combo of the WX-11 and VL-70 is very playable, and feels alot like playing a real saxophone. I found several patches that fall either into the "brass" or "guitar" category, but no suitable morph of the two. I finally settled on a muted jazz trumpet. Amazingly, it sounds almost too real, but a bit of flange effect moved it nicely into the electronic-sounding zone.
and music by John Szinger and Elizabeth Szinger, 2009
A winter-themed Kafkaesque metaphor of metamorphosis and rebirth. I had written a sketch of the lyric a few years ago, and combined it with an idea from Lizzy to create a whole new song. The chorus is based on a riff Lizzy made up. It turned out to be a great hook, a sort of hopeful transcendent mantra. The theme evolved from a metaphor into a rather specific impression of my morning commute. Coming out of Grand Central Station into the weather, becoming part of a crush of people, like a cell in a larger organism, and arriving at Times Square in all it's neon monstrosity. The city is seen as a virtual reality devoid of nature apart from the dark and cold.
This is a bit more of a standard rock song for me. It doesn't use any out time signatures or strange jazz chords, and it doesn't even have a solo section. Instead it relies on an insistent riff and building repetitions of the chorus, contrasted with a more introspective and narrative verse. The sound is sort of an post-prog pop. There's lots of layers of vocals. I had Lizzy sing on the chorus, part of a wall of voices in the ending section. (Not to miss out on the fun, Michelle has been pitching a song idea called "Ouch My Toe." I told her I wasn't too sure about that one, so now she has a new one "You Can't See Me".)
and music by John Szinger, 2009
I made this one up when we were painting our house and a green glove literally fell out of the coat closet and onto my head. I just started singing it and we had a good laugh. Days later I was still singing it, and it seemed like it was a catchy tune so I decided to work on it. The lyric is short, in contrast to my last song which was very verbose. There's a smokin' piano solo in the middle and the ending builds up to a big coda.
This was something of a departure from my usual way of working. In the past I've tended to work out the structure of a song to the point where I can sing it the whole way thru and accompany myself on piano, and that gives me the skeleton that I can use as a basis for arranging. But on this one I did a good amount of experimenting once I started tracking. To some extent this was inevitable because there's a fair amount of layering going on in the vocals and in the instruments in the second half of the tune. I think I've achieved a pretty funky groove, and the piano solos ain't too bad if I say so myself. Thanks to Jeannie for singing the backing vocals in the outro.
and music by Martin Szinger
Making Miles was written by my brother Martin many years ago after coming home from a month of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I visited him recently and when I got home I started playing it on piano after not having thought about it in years. It's one of the best songs he's ever written, and ranks as one of my favorite songs of all time. The lyrics are melancholy yet hopeful, and the music is sweet and full of subtle turns that make it rewarding to play and listen to. I had wanted a solo piano song for this record, and this one fit the bill nicely.
My arrangement started as basically just piano and voice. The parts went down quickly and captured alot of the original spontaneity. The piano part is my own voicings, an adaptation of the way Martin plays it on guitar. From there I added a synth bass part following Martin's suggestion ("Taurus pedals") and multi-tracked the lead vocals to create a natural chorus effect. From there it sort of grew, with a solo on the wind synthesizer and a grand, huge final chorus.
and music by Mark Colicchia
Like Making Miles, this one is a cover of sorts, a blast from my own past. Way back in the 1980's I was in the prog rock group Infinigon. We did mainly covers by bands like Rush, Yes, Genesis, and ELP, but we aspired to write our own original songs. Touch the Ceiling was one of the best. It was written by our drummer Mark Colecchia, crafted by contributions from the whole group. The song is a good expression of Mark's philosophy as well as a really good song with a strong melody and groove, some interesting twists, an atmospheric middle section and a jamming ending.
I'm doing this new version in collaboration with John Neumann, the original bassist for Infinigon, who is now a fellow recording studio artist and the driving force behind Tea With Warriors. The arrangement was true in spirit to the original version, but updated as well. The major difference is now we have all this machinery making modern music where back in the day we had to cover all the parts live. I'm doing most of the keyboard parts. The spine of the track is my Fender Rhodes part, on top of which I layered a lead synth that was fairly faithful to the original. On top of that we layered a few more synths. John played the bass and guitar, singing the backing parts, and contributed some cool synthesizer textures. He broke down the guitar part into layers and built it up track by track, and in the end I had six tracks of guitars to integrate, a veritable guitar army! It was a lot of fun collaborating with John.
Mark is perhaps the best drummer I ever worked with, and I tried to do justice to his style, energy, and chops in my drum track. There's an eight-bar drum break after the guitar solo that was a lot of fun to do. I record my drums using the "four finger" method. I use a general midi drum kit layout and the left hand covers the kick drum and snare and the right hand does the hi-hat and cymbals. I don't typically use a lot of fills, but in the song it seemed like a good idea. My vocal on this song was delivered in a more hard rock style than usual. I was inspired by John's suggestion to listen to David Lee Roth on some classic Van Halen. I added some spontaneous lyrics in the ending jam, as all chaos breaks loose among the synths and guitars.
So this is it for the songs on my new record. Next I'll be going over them one by one with an ear to fine tuning the levels and effects and cleaning up anything I might've missed, in preparation for the final mixdown and mastering.
Martha My Dear .
Letter From Home
I am working towards a follow-up to Buzzy Tonic
, but it is early in the process and still taking shape. Maybe it will be a solo project, or another collaboration with my brother, or it might involve other musicians. I'm developing new material but that takes a while. So for now I am working on a series of covers to investigate specific issues with the recording process. Maybe they'll end up as bonus tracks or an EP someday.
The first of these is Martha My Dear
, a Beatles song off the White Album. It's a quirky Paul song, very studio-ish in style, with a brass and string orchestra accompanying basically a piano arrangement. I wanted to see if I could map the orchestra to sounds in my own sonic palette, and I re-interpreted it as a bit more electric and synth-y. I was also interested in capturing that "natural chorus" multitrack vocal sound that the Beatles used to such great effect.
As a B-side if you will, I did a version of Letter From Home
by Pat Metheny. I picked this song for a few reasons. Like Martha it's pretty short, about 2 and a half minutes, but that's about there the similarity ends. It's an jazz ballad, beautiful, yearning, ethereal, melancholy. I used to play a few Metheny tunes back in the day with Event Horizon
, so this is also a bit of a nod to that. On a technical level, I wanted to see how proTools handled a tune that was completely rubato, and with meter changes, with it's automatic beat tracking tools. It turned out to work OK, but a fair amount of manual assist was required. Now that I have the gist of it, the next one will go quicker.