Feedback Alley: Track-by-track.

Guy Hatton - Feedback Alley cover artwork

A track-by-track breakdown of the “Feedback Alley” album, including recording details, background information etc. In fact, everything you might expect to find in good old-fashioned album sleeve notes, but in digital form because there is no physical sleeve.

1. Feedback Alley:

With both this and my previous release “Switch On Your Electric Light”, I have adopted the approach of writing, recording and mixing/mastering as a single, unified operation. Once one tune is written and arranged to a fairly well-defined degree, I start to think about what I would want to hear follow it, and start more composition accordingly. Occasionally, a tune I have previously sketched out will suggest itself, but by and large, each project is, in a sense, through-composed. I also like to have all the tracks on an album flow seamlessly into each other, which is why I recommend that listeners should download the complete album and play all the tracks in the “proper” order to get the intended effect.

Thus, “Feedback Alley”, the first track on the record, was also the first to be written. It’s based around the distinctive bass line, realised here using IK Multimedia’s MODO Bass plugin and a model of a Rickenbacker 4003 bass in drop-D tuning. I think that somewhere in the back of my mind I may have had Juan Tizol’s standard “Caravan” influencing the vaguely Middle-Eastern-tinged melody with its more conventional B section. The guitar solo was originally played over an alternating D minor to F minor sequence, but then considerable reharmonisation was applied after the event. The last element to be added was the extended introduction, which sees the entry of the feedback guitars hinted at in the title.

2. Transit Of Mercury:

In keeping with the “what happens next?” method (see Part One for an explanation of this), “Transit Of Mercury” is built almost entirely around a simple G minor figure that I heard as a distant answer to the tail-out of “Feedback Alley”. It was originally played by a Synclavier trumpet sound, but was soon brought into the foreground and assigned to two guitars. The harmonies are designed to frame this motif in several different ways, and the answering phrases were picked out from the electric piano arpeggios.

The contrasting B section was a relatively late addition, providing some relief from the otherwise unrelenting G minor tonality. The guitar solo is recorded in three separate parts, each with its own AmpliTube model and settings. The listener might also notice that a couple of the arpeggiator parts from “Feedback Alley” are carried over from one track to the next.

3. Bad Hombres:

Yes, a sarcastic riposte to Donald Trump’s demonisation of Mexicans – instrumental music can be political too! This was, once again, built up from the baseline, and having chosen a Gibson EB-0 model in MODO Bass, I was inevitably drawn to thoughts of the late lamented Jack Bruce. Jack was one of the musicians who best epitomised for me the fluid interchange of ideas between jazz and rock, and this track quite unashamedly aims for a bit of a Cream/Hendrix vibe, and the guitar solo section in particular demonstrates my “virtual house band of improvisers” approach at work.

4. Lady Viola:

Time for a ballad. Or maybe a waltz. Or maybe both. A few years ago, when I was writing the music that would eventually form the basis of the Guy Hatton’s PANTECHNICON album, I adopted a method which deliberately avoided writing on an instrument (especially the guitar) in an effort to find new ideas that were not dependent on what fell easily under my fingers, and instead relied on drawing notes into the piano roll editor in Logic Pro and allowing my ears to be the sole judge of their worth. It worked very much to my satisfaction, and I have continued to use it ever since. There are, however, some exceptions. I often tell people that I am the world’s worst keyboard player, but every now and then I might manage to pick out a melody and some interesting bass notes to accompany it.

“Lady Viola” is one such tune. It’s essentially in the key of A minor, but almost never lands on the tonic chord (and just when you think it’s going to, it’s delayed by suspensions). The electric piano introduction which provides the bridge between the hanging chord at the end of “Bad Hombres” and the E7 chord at the beginning of “Lady Viola” proper is programmed rather than played by hand, and the string section is subtly bolstered by a Roland Jupiter 8 string patch. Nothing is necessarily quite as it seems.

5. Fire And A Knife:

This is where things start to get a little complicated. Initially, this seems like a fairly straightforward slice of 80s-inspired funk. And indeed, for a while, it is, with its C minor riffing and contrasting B section with fast-moving harmony. The guitar solo plays over a solid C minor vamp, but with some flexibility in the superimposed harmonies, before collapsing into an unashamed space-rock floating interlude.

What happens next is the big surprise. For a long time, I literally had an extended gap in the track at this point. I vaguely knew I wanted to try a slow melody here, but the piano/string arrangement was quite unforeseen.

Eventually, the funk returns to carry us to the end of the track.

6. Old Crack And Rackety Jack:

I tend to assign my tunes to various broad categories. One of these is “arpeggio tunes”, i.e. tunes built on top of arpeggio-based accompaniments (see “Six Four Eight Seven Four” on “Guy Hatton’s PANTECHNICON”, for instance). “Old Crack And Rackety Jack” is one such, starting in an Ab Lydian tonality before wandering off round the houses a bit. There’s an unashamed Mahavishnu Orchestra influence at work here. The guitar solo sees the return of the alternating D minor/F minor sequence first introduced on “Feedback Alley”, this time with less root alteration, but a much freer approach to chordal colour. Oh yes, and it’s in 5/4 time too.

All in all, I think this might be the darkest-sounding major-key tune I’ve ever written. The title comes from a memento carved into a stone near the Cow and Calf rocks in Ilkley, Yorkshire by some long-gone and unknown visitor(s).

7. Clockwork Dog:

It can’t all be unremitting darkness, can it? Maybe every album needs at least one bright, optimistic tracK? If so, this is the one on this record.

“Clockwork Dog” is probably the most conventionally “jazzy” track on the album, based around an AABA form with a funky interlude inserted after the guitar solo, all in the very common jazz key of F major. The virtual house band concept is at its height here, with keyboards, bass and drums allowed considerable leeway to manipulate the basic material, so that the harmonic and rhythmic content is constantly shifting, creating a kind of rollercoaster ride. I never really quantified how much time I spent programming this (altering the harmonies in the electric piano part was a lot of fun especially, though), but I guess a real rhythm section of jazz players would probably have nailed it in a couple of takes.

The other significant point about this track is that it marks the point where I stopped writing the music “on the fly” and began to introduce compositions that had already been sketched out, as the overall shape of the recording was by this point clear enough to allow me to know which existing tunes would fit in.

8. Oh Really, Aurelija?:

The second of the tunes to be drawn from my vault rather than being written “in place” in the album. The title is simply a play on words around the name of a friend of mine. My original sketch for this was quite a gentle, almost ballad-y affair, but here it takes on a rougher edge, with organ and choppy rhythm guitar spread across the stereo spectrum in an homage to one of my all-time favourite albums, Deep Purple’s “Machine Head”. In particular, the introduction to “Never Before” comes to mind, though ultimately the two tracks are very different. There’s arguably a hint of reggae buried deep in there too.

Set against this is the slightly more grandiose B section, with its synthesiser fanfare, crashing piano and tubular bells. Finally, the guitar solo sees me using a technique that is exceptionally rare for me: bluesy string bends, enabled by digging out my Stratocaster with its (for me) much lighter string gauges. Oh, and a little nod to the Floyd’s “Echoes”.

9. The Hum:

And finally, the big one. I like to end an album in one of two ways – either a short, succinct statement or a long, rambling discourse. And if I’m honest, I don’t really like short statements all that much. So, long, rambling discourse it is.

“The Hum” is a tune which, unlike most of the others on this album, has had quite an extended gestation period. Two elements formed the basic material: the title, referring as it does to the phenomenon where some people claim to be troubled by an unidentifiable background “hum” either in specific places, or generally in their environment (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hum), and a two-chord pattern consisting of Fmaj7+5#9 (or Amaj7/F) and Fm9 (Ab maj7/F). By sheer coincidence, the rhythmic ostinato pattern that holds down the F pedal note is duplicated almost exactly by a Hum sufferer whose spoken description of the effect can be heard just after the synthesiser solo. The pitch of this description is also exactly the same as my chosen key: F. The two-chord pattern is heard in a number of places and contexts: right at the very beginning of the track in a fairly plain, straightforward statement, woven more intricately into the fabric of the A section of the main theme, and as a short modal shift in the first guitar solo.

The relentless F pulse is broken up by two contrasting sections, one with a simple melody and a less claustrophobic harmonic character, the other an unashamedly grandiose interlude where the melody and a single harmony line are carried by two guitars and two synthesisers over a riff driven by two more guitars, electric piano playing stacked fourths, a Jon-Lord-like Hammond organ and two trombones. The guitar solo is followed by a short spoken interlude, before we get to the only part of the record I didn’t play myself.

I knew quite early on that I wanted another improvised solo, possibly electric piano (which might have emphasised the jazz angle) or, to provide a rockier edge, synthesiser. I also had candidates for the job of both in mind. Eventually the rock urge won out, and I invited Andy Tillison of The Tangent to contribute a 64-bar solo over the F pedal. Andy and I have worked together on many projects in the past, and ran the semi-legendary Lion Studios in Leeds together. We hadn’t done anything together for many years, though, so I was delighted when Andy accepted the challenge, even though he was busy with the final stages of his own album. We exchanged files via Dropbox, and Andy sent me the marvellous solo you hear here, along with an accompanying chordal pad.

The final decision I had to face was how to end the whole thing. I’m not a fan of fade-outs, but for a while, fading out on the second guitar solo seemed like an option, until the idea came to me to revisit the B section melody in orchestral form. You can hear the result of this inevitably spiralling out of control. Even this wasn’t enough, as it turned out, so we ultimately return to the feedback and radio noise that opens the album, having come full circle.

Guy Hatton, July 2017.