Andy West With RAMA:
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Released Sept 24, 2002
Bass Andy West
Drums Rod Morgenstein, Jonathan Mover, Mike Portnoy
Guitars Toshi Iseda, Mike Keneally, Andy West
Keyboards, Synths Jens Johansson, Mike Keneally, T Lavitz, Kit Watkins, Andy West
Vocals and lyrics on "Meat Frame" Mike Keneally
"My music isn't really directed," says Andy West. "It just reflects what's going on in my life. I've got these two careers in music and software engineering, so my life is crazy. I'm always juggling lots of different influences and energies. What I try to do is just let go and let my music lead me somewhere. With this RAMA 1, a lot of the songs came from my time in Chicago, where I was really influenced by the heavy, industrial, apocalyptic rock that was going on Ministry and all those guys. I wanted to take that heaviness and tweak it slightly, skew it into something else."
As another example of his need to tweak and skew, West says he's deliberately stunted his musical training and developed a more "humanistic" approach, playing without really thinking about what's coming out of his fingers. It happened mostly out of necessity he simply doesn't have the time to focus on study.
"What I tend to do more is pull from life experiences. But I do have this long-standing foundation of technique that allows me to do things that are maybe a little more exciting in that realm. For me, there are two distinct aspects of music: composition and performance. From a compositional standpoint, I don't hear complete pieces. I start out with a drum pattern or chord progression and sort of reflect on it, and then I'll add other parts. It's not something that's conceived as a whole from the start. And as I interact with other people and hear what they do, I get other ideas too. As for performance, I do like precision, but I also like looseness. The Mistakes and The Dregs were great that way. They required two completely different sensibilities and let me explore very different aspects of performance."
Strangely enough, West believes that splitting his time between software engineering and music has provided him with a new sense of artistic freedom. When he's finally able to sit down and actually compose, he produces material that's more focused, more pointed. He's also less likely to fall into the trap of musical self-absorption, what he calls "getting onto a loop within yourself." RAMA is the result of this clarity. West says he did the groundwork, and his guest artists drummers Mike Portnoy, Jonathan Mover, and Rod Morgenstein; guitarists Toshi Iseda and Mike Keneally; keyboardists T. Lavitz and Jens Johansson; and keyboardist-electronic wind instrumentalist Kit Watkins provided their own input.
"RAMA is from me, but it's not me necessarily," West says. "Even though it's my album, it's not what you'd call a bassist's solo album. I don't even think I play any solos on this record. There are a lot of really interesting bass parts, in my opinion, but no real solos. We're calling it Andy West with RAMA. We're going to go down the Arthur C. Clarke road and have RAMA I, RAMA II, and so on. So the next one will be in a similar vein but have different people on it."
According to Andy, it's not easy trying to explain this record to people who haven't heard his music. "The first two songs set a tone. They're very dynamic not in the sense of being wide-ranging but more in the sense of being in your face. They're heavy and have a lot of notes. People might get a certain feeling from those songs and a couple other on the album, but there's also stuff that ranges from moody and cinematic to more musician oriented. I guess the genre is instrumental rock, but what kind of instrumental rock? It's not Satriani or Vai, and it's not Dregs. I really don't have a sound bite for it. It's got a lot of qualities I like, and some other people seem to like it too, so I'm happy with it."
West's thoughts on the record's nine tracks are illuminating:
Mad March "This one had a really bizarre time feel from the beginning. It sounded a little jerky in the original version, which I wrote on my synthesizers, but Mike Portnoy's drumming made it a lot more rocking and heavy, and Toshi Iseda's crunchy guitars gave it the kind of machinelike power it has. Everyone was scratching their heads over what sort of melody we could give it because it's so odd and because of the harmonic structure underneath, the chromatic notes and passing tones. Then when Mike Keneally was at my house helping me finish up the album, he sort of effortlessly came up with the melodic figures that overlay everything. The angular melody he plays just brings it to life and makes it all work."
Meetings "This dates from when I was exploring the odd-time fusion thing. Because the bass is so distinctive, the guitar and the drums pretty much have to reinforce it. In the A sections of the song, you've got the winding, sweeping, weaving melody that Jens Johansson came up with, and then in the B sections, Toshi put in these weird little guitar tweaks and noises, the cool little sound effects that I like. This song really exemplifies the collaborative nature of the record; we did the bass, guitar, and keyboards before Portnoy provided the drums; Jens turned the ending into an almost Frank Zappa-ish section with marimbalike sounds; and Mike Keneally overlaid his own coating afterward."
Herd Instinct "This is one of my favorites, although I don't expect a lot of people to get it. I love the sound the baritone sax, and I had a sampler with a bari sax sound on it. I wanted to write a whole song with the sax and the bass playing these chromatic lines that moved all over the place and really made no sense. Arbitrary chromaticism. It's an interesting thing to explore, and it's very hard to do any kind of chordal overlays on that kind of underpinning. Mike Keneally somehow came up with wonderful guitar and weird synth sounds that took it in this almost cinematic direction. It's not a hummable song; it's more like a mood piece that goes on and on and on."
Bloomsday "It started off moody and mysterious when I originally wrote it on the synth, and then Toshi recorded all these chunky, heavy guitars, with that Pink Floyd-ish slide melody, and took it into a different, more powerful direction. Jonathan Mover changed the vibe again with his drumming. I'd thought of this as a rock song, but he heard it as something that needed more on the toms, and it really worked great. When I listen to this song, I just kind of go out of myself because it's very otherworldly, I suppose."
Old Meat Frame "I was screwing around with some hip-hop samples I had and came up with a groove. From the beginning, I heard this as a vocal tune. After Toshi put down the guitars and Rod Morgenstein played real drums over some sampled drum loops I had in there, Mike Keneally wrote the first verse of lyrics in about fifteen minutes. It's this off-the-wall, metaphysical song about what it is to be a human in a body. You really have to read the lyrics because the vocals are distorted and screaming, pretty much the way I'd wanted them to be. There's also a drum solo in the middle. No one lets drummers play solos against repetitive patterns like that, but I just love what Rod does. I kept telling him 'More! Do more!'"
Memento Mori "It started with a synth melody I'd programmed, and then Mike Keneally played it and articulated it in a more human way. It's similar to "Bloomsday" in that it has this plodding, otherworldly thing going on, but then it has these B sections that are almost baroque, with harpsichords and so on. T Lavitz came up with a lot of that, and then Mike Keneally took it all and made it more fuguelike, I guess. It's such an odd song because it changes mood so radically. That's the sort of stuff I like. The title means 'Remember Death'; if you ponder the fact that you're mortal, you'll live differently than if you think that you'll live forever. I like that concept."
Qubit "This is the shortest song on the album. It was a chance inspiration in that the percussive sounds that start the song off were in a sampler I had. I was just hitting the keyboard and came up with the pattern, and then I started hearing this repeated chromatic line underneath that walks up and up and up. It's a very layered song that's built up from that one pattern. The funny thing is that I was using the Pro Tools computer program to overlay fretless bass, and I cut and pasted and put it in the wrong place, and it sounded really cool. So we ended up overdubbing basses in displaced sections. You can't really figure out where the phrasing starts. It was one of those happy accidents."
Government "It's called 'Government' because originally it had a boatload of samples I'd taken from a CD of great speeches of the twentieth century. We took all that stuff out, though, so the title has no real meaning except to me. It's a rock song that Mike Keneally wrote the melodies for. The interesting thing is that in the middle, there's this fast clavinet melody that I programmed into my synthesizer, and when we came to that section, Mike asked if he could double it on his guitar. He finger picked it, and it was just crazy. I can't believe that he pulled it off."
Resonate "This is another song inspired by a sound patch on my synthesizer. I came up with a sequence just by hitting the keys, and they'd sound different depending on how hard you hit them. Some were sharper, some were softer. Rod Morgenstein played drums, and Mike Keneally did that sort of spacious tremolo guitar filler. It was very hard to figure out music for this. I had a couple of guys try to come up with chord patterns and such, but it wasn't until I gave it to Kit Watkins that I got the right music for it. To me, what I write makes sense, but because it's usually so chromatic and oddly structured, it's hard for people to overlay things. It's hard for them to find chords that fit. But Kit somehow did it. The sax and piano give it a weird jazzy vibe, which I wouldn't have heard in this. Rod's drumming on this song is one of my favorite parts of the album because it's just so free."
So in the end, what is RAMA? Andy West says RAMA is contribution. "Everybody brought his own thing to it and elevated it to a higher level. I brought people in because I knew they'd be great playing this stuff, and it didn't matter if the other guys knew him or not. I pulled them in because I wanted their influence. That's what this was all about everybody contributing, with my input as the fundamental."
Andy's new CD is RAMA 1. Order direct from Magna Carta!