Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Gary Rees, US-based composer/producer whose label debut Southwest Passage is out now on Triplicate Records, following a string of self-published releases.
More TBTs in our archives.
I live in the American Southwest, so I thought a play on the phrase Northwest Passage could tie the material to where it was written. And I’m returning to writing after many years and feel like I’m making a passage between old music and new. Overall, I think this release gets better as it progresses. It warms you up in the early tracks and saves the best for last.
A number of tracks on the album are fairly dense and complex, so I figured I should try a longer, simpler piece. I hear this one as a playful excursion on a single theme. I had also discovered, not too long ago, a setting in one of my effects that, when altered even just a little, produced a warble in a sound like a tape loop going off speed. A bit of glitch that animates this piece at the start, center, and end.
At the center of this is a synth sound that’s a bit like mid-size bells. The instrument is complex and layered in that tones are altered based on how soft or hard the keys are pressed. Overtones emerge. I wrote three independent note lines in three tracks using the same instrument, feeling out the mood of each line independently. It produced something more nuanced than playing a series of 3-note chords.
More of a fragment than a song. Vinyl crackle has been so much used over the years, I tend to avoid it. But it seemed like the right thing for the mood of this one.
This track represents the first time I’ve resurrected a musical idea from my past. (Ooey from Sour Orange Records planted the seed for this in asking on Twitter if people reuse/remix their previous pieces. Most people said yes, indeed.) This theme dates to 1988. I always loved it but I didn’t do it justice the first time I recorded it. In bringing it back I felt drawn to producing a kind of smooth jazz feel, which in turn drew me to use a stand-up bass sound.
This piece depends on a couple of lengthy sequences of triads sounded note by note. I generally tried to produce a different variation on each triad, though there are some repeats. When the second series of triads commences, later in the piece, a second instrument delivers another set of variations on the triads. The sequences play off one another, delivering a variety of triads across a chord progression and staggered by a couple of beats. I sometimes see this kind of thing in composition as a game or exercise that makes a piece interesting and unique. (And on occasion I even impress myself!)
A very rare occurrence for me is to finish something in an afternoon, such as this track. This one is simply three melody lines on different instruments that intertwine from start to end. All the initial takes for the parts were pretty good so I didn’t fuss over it much or prolong the process.
If there’s any track here that reflects my biggest musical influences from earlier years it’s this one. I was deeply engaged with both classical music and progressive rock from childhood through most of my 20’s. When I wrote the opening theme for this I thought I’d channeled something from Mike Rutherford’s Smallcreep’s Day. Further along I was writing melody lines that felt like they had to go in a specific direction and that I was possessed by some 19th century classical composer. Fluid lines writing themselves. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
At some point, when you’re writing all the time and working on a dozen things simultaneously, you can lose sight of a track. So, while I’d love to supply some random interesting tidbits about this one, I actually don’t much remember writing it. I think the title is fun, though.
The last three tracks are examples of the more complex things I enjoy writing. In this case I was in a mood for strings and a punchy bass line with a lot of movement. I’m always interested in writing things no one’s written. That sometimes lands me in the quirky zone. Either because a chord progression is weird or I’ve joined together two themes that don’t necessarily flow.
I get a melancholy feel throughout this piece. I didn’t come at this thinking I would write something wistful. But songs have a life of their own. And as much as I can be quirky, I can stay with a mood as well. The melodies here, backed by dolorous pads, carry a lot of feeling. Especially the last section with that searching lead line. This is my favorite track on Southwest Passage.
My title for this, before I named the album, was Deadwood. It had this old west, outlaw vs. lawman, feel to me. Once I set the album title I felt this track needed to migrate from Deadwood , S. Dakota, in the upper-midwest, to Arizona, to the town of Tombstone, site of the OK Corral. The prominent harmonics here are via a synth voice with an interesting echo built in.