April 26, 2012
Scott Henderson Interview
Scott Henderson, one of the most respected electric jazz/fusion guitarists around, continues to tour and record. The band Tribal Tech (Scott Henderson, Gary Willis, Scott Kinsey, Kirk Covington) has recently released a new album, Tribal Tech X, after 12 year-long hiatus. I recently caught up with Scott, which resulted in this informative interview. Scott had just come back from a tour in South America with his trio, which consists of Scott, Travis Carlton on bass and Alan Hertz on drums.
Do you think you will be able to play in Western Canada some day?
It's hard, man. It's not likely, unless it's a one-off gig with flights, and that happens very rarely. Usually, that's like a festival kind of situation. A one night gig has to pay enough to make it worth it. There aren't many festivals right now.
The new album, Tribal Tech X, was released on March 27th. After 10-11 years or so since the last album, how did this album finally come to materialize?
Well, Gary Willis came to the States to visit his family, in Texas. He hadn't seen them since he moved to Spain. We said, "we gotta get him to LA so we can do some recording. Also, Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records had been interested for a long time to do a Tribal Tech album, but there's just no way to do it with the costs of flying Willis out here, and studios being very expensive.
Also, the M.I. facility is not as open to me as it used to be, because the school has gotten so big that I can't really record there as I used to. Over the years, Kinsey has developed his place into a studio, and a really good one. It was one of the main reasons we were able to do this, because we were able to record at Kinsey's house, in his home studio. I'm really happy with it, because I think it's one of the best sounding records we've ever done. So this was also a factor, because given the way the economy is, we couldn't afford to go in to a regular studio, it would've been way too expensive.
How did it feel to get together with the "old band", so to speak, after such a long break?
Oh, it was really fun. You know, when you enjoy playing with people, it sort of never changes. I mean, this band has a chemistry, and that chemistry was still evident from the very first note we played together. The whole thing was really, really fun. I enjoyed every minute of it.
What was the recording and writing process like?
There was a writing process, but it was after the music was recorded. So, in that way it was like Thick and Rocket Science - there is no pre-written music when we went into the studio. That will never happen again with Tribal Tech - those days are long gone where we write music beforehand. It's just not us. So we just go into the studio and start playing, and no one knows what's gonna happen.
Then, we came out of the session with about 30 jams, and we were very successful this time. I think any of those 30 jams would have been fine for the record. It was hard to pick 10 that we liked the most. We picked 10 tunes, and I took 3, Kinsey took 3 and Willis took 3. Each person is the producer for those 3 tunes chosen, and we add things to the jam, like add melodies or whatever we think it needs to make it into a finished tune. Actually, quite a bit of it is left as is. The ballad, Palm Moon Plaza, that pretty much happened in the studio. Not much was done to that. An acoustic piano was added at the end, that's about it.
Keep in mind, we're not mind readers - we're jamming within 2 feet of each other while we're playing. So it's very easy to call out chord changes. Kinsey is very good at it, I'm fairly good at it. We'll just play along and say, you know, "go to B, D Minor, Bb, do this, do that, etc" while we're playing. That on the spot harmony is coming from just someone deciding to go somewhere, and then telling the other guys to go there with them, and that's it.
One of the things about the band that I'm kind of proud of is that we've taken the Miles Davis Bitches Brew concept of just jamming in the studio and put our own little brand on it. We're actually making the jams into compositions. So when we're jamming, it's not in our minds that we're going to jam for 30 minutes in one key. It's in our minds that eventually this is going to sound like a song that we wrote. It's also in our minds to go to different territories to keep it interesting. We've gotten pretty good at that - being able to sense when it's time to change it up and go somewhere new, to keep it fresh.
The first albums where we attempted to do this were Thick and Rocket Science, and you can hear that we weren't that good at it then. Those records are fun and have their moments, but they're more one chord jam type albums. There's not much harmony going on, because we tended to get locked into one key. We didn't let that happen on this record, for the most part. We were able to keep our harmonic thing happening, even though we were jamming, which is very cool. That's one of the reasons I really like this record, because it's a jam record, but it's also a harmonic record.
I think this record strikes a nice balance between the really, super-anally tight arrangements of the old Tribal Tech (which I don't care for myself, because I just think they sound too stiff), and the really loose Tribal Tech on Thick and Rocket Science, which is maybe a little too loose. We probably lost a lot of listeners on those two albums, because they didn't enjoy that one-chord thing. For me, this album is right in the middle of those 2 things - it's the best of both worlds. That's why this is my favorite Tribal Tech album.
Tribal Tech's music has evolved a lot since the beginning of the band? Spears and Dr. Hee sound quite different in comparison.
We did 5 or 6 albums before we were even able to tour. You know, when you just get a group of guys together in town and write music and just learn the music and play only once in a while, you're not going to have the kind of playing experience and interplay, because there's just too much writing going on. There's too many notes to remember to play, too many arrangements for much organic stuff to happen.
Although I like some of the writing on those records, I feel they are too - I'm sure there is a word for it - just not very organic. We were basically in the studio trying to remember all the notes, and that's not the kind of level you're at when you're touring every night. When you're touring, the notes are on automatic pilot. You don't even have to think about them anymore - it's all about being creative with the music. Playing different stuff every night, and having interplay between the musicians, and we never got to that level on those early records, because we weren't touring.
It would have been great if we had done a lot of touring before the album Spears, because we would probably have taken a lot of sections of that music out, and just made them looser.
It must have taken a lot of time to write tunes that have so many arrangements?
It did, and we were into it at the time and I still like to compose. However, when I compose these days, I always keep in mind something that I learned from Joe Zawinul - you can have a great composition and it doesn't have to be so arranged. It can be loose, and still be a great composition, so that it can be played different ways every night, and with different interpretations every night.
On those early Tribal Tech albums, there seemed to be a lot of different players coming and going.
Yeah, we hadn't formed a real band until Kinsey and Kirk came in around 1991, and we stayed together all through the 90s. Before then, we had lot of changing members, not because people got fired, but just because people moved.
Was it you and Willis who started Tribal Tech?
Pretty much, there was only one bass player before Willis. Roscoe Beck and I were jamming with Gregg Bissonette. This was before we called it Tribal Tech. There was me, Gregg, Will Boulware and Roscoe Beck. Then Roscoe moved to Texas, and that's when I met Willis. It was coincidence that he was from Texas too. So we played a bit with Gregg, and then we got Mike Baker for a while, and later Land Richards. By the time we did the first record, Steve Houghton was in the group.
Did you mostly find musicians through Musician's Institute?
Yeah, that and hanging out at the clubs around LA.
When I did a Google search for "Tribal Tech X" on the day the album was released, I found it sad to see that the number one result was a site where the album could be downloaded illegally. What's your thoughts on this matter?
That's what the whole industry is facing. Not just the music industry, but the film industry and anyone that makes anything that can be turned into digital material, which includes books, software, etc. It's a major problem. Foreigners stealing our movies and music isn't a number one priority for our government right now, nor should it be, but there are bills in front of the Senate from the MPAA, where they're trying to get the government to put sanctions on the countries where most of the stealing is going on, which is mainly Russia and Czech Republic.
These guys are basically stealing our stuff, and asking us to buy it back, by paying a monthly service fee. That's how they make their money, and it's an excellent scam. It's almost impossible for us to do anything about it. I would even say, that even if they do get sanctions against these countries, it will still be very difficult for those countries' governments to do anything about it. The Internet is a very easy place to hide.
I sort of equate it to the drug dealers, or the guy selling stolen watches on the corner - those guys will always be there. It's up to us whether we want to use those services or not. If you're going to be dishonest and steal somebody's work, then you're going to steal it - that's all there's to it. If you're going to support those people whose music you're listening to, then you will. We just hope there are enough people out there who like what we do and want to support us.
What people don't realize, is that when you listen to an artist that you really like, and you don't buy their albums, you're essentially boycotting them. Just like you would boycott something you don't like. So, it makes a lot more sense to steal music that you hate (laughs), therefore stopping the artist that you hate from making any more records. But stealing music that you like doesn't make any sense at all, because that artist will eventually not be able to make any more records.
Education is the key, and I think that they should teach this in school. One of the saddest things is the stupidity of the RIAA. Those are the real villains in the picture. They're not the ones responsible for the theft itself, but they're responsible for dealing with it in a completely clueless way, by suing housewives and making themselves look like a giant horse's ass. What they did defeats the purpose of getting people to want to buy music. They make all record companies look like the bad guy. So, a lot of people who are stealing music think they are getting back at the RIAA, but they don't realize that individual labels are NOT the RIAA. These labels are just trying to make a living just like anybody else, especially jazz labels - most of them are very small. Their mission is the same as the artists, to keep putting out quality products that people like. So getting pissed off at the RIAA and refusing to buy records is not the way to help the situation. What makes me angry is that the RIAA could have put all that money which they spent on lawyers, into a huge educational campaign instead. A campaign with famous actors and musicians, focused on ads about stealing music and about supporting the arts. But instead, they sued people - the wrong people. So, those idiots did a lot of damage.
The downloading thing isn't the problem. I mean, no one can resist "I wonder what that sounds like". I mean, I can't resist that. If I wanna hear something, I'll go one of those sites and check it out. I won't pay a membership fee, but if I see a way to download something, I'll do it and listen to it. If I don't like it, so what? But if I like it, I'll go out and buy it. To me, the downloading is supposed to be like the movie trailer. You see the movie trailer, and if you like it, you go see the movie. So, if someone downloads Tribal Tech X and doesn't like it, I don't want their money. I'm happy that they can listen to it if they want to, and decide if they want to buy it. But, what I have a problem with is when a person downloads it and listens to it numerous times, calls themselves a fan, and still won't shell out the money for it. Those who know that the people who made it have families and need money to continue their art, and they still won't pay for the music. That's the person I have a problem with. They're happy to go pay 4-5 bucks for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which lasts a few minutes, buy they won't shell out 15 bucks for a CD that lasts a lifetime. I'm sorry, but I just don't get it.
I noticed this video from www.xtranormal.com/watch/12882507/tribal-tech-x - it is awesome.
Yeah, I always wanted to make one of those cartoons. Something fun to do.
What gear did you use on Tribal Tech X?
I don't remember which amp I used on which tune, but I used a '71 Marshall, a Dumble-modded Fender Bandmaster and an 18 watt Suhr Badger. I used the Marshall on most of it. I think I used the Fender on Anthem and Palm Moon Plaza. Then there's a bit of Badger in there, for some rhythm guitar parts.
Did you use the Suhr Scott Henderson Signature 100 watt amp much on the record?
No, I don't record with that amp very much, because I use it on the road and I don't want to burn out the tubes. It sounds pretty much exactly like the Marshall. I use the Marshall in the studio, and the Suhr amp on the road. The truth is, that when you take an amp on the road, the likelihood that it's going to get damaged is higher, and a good set of matched tubes are pretty hard to come by, and right now, I've had the same set of tubes in my Suhr for about 7-8 months. They really sound good, and I don't want to mess that up. So, I don't want to record with it and leave the amp on for weeks, and then have to get new tubes for the road and worry that I'm going have a bad set. Tubes are really iffy. They're not as dependable as they used to be. I've had tubes go out on me in the middle of a gig, so I always carry a spare set. I carry a matched set of 4 with me when I'm on tour, so if a tube goes, I don't replace just one tube - I replace all 4, because they're matched. I've had to do that several times, and that's why I don't record with my touring amp.
For pedals, I used a few different ones. I definitely remember using a Klon Centaur on the first cut, on the first solo. Then I use a Fulltone Plimsoul on the second tune. The rest of the album is either the RC Booster or the Maxon SD-9. The pedals I use are all somewhat similar; they just have a different frequency in the midrange. The most scooped one is the Plimsoul, and then the next would be the SD-9, and the most mid-rangy one is the Klon Centaur. I just like to change it up now and then so each solo has a different flavor.
For guitars, I used one Suhr guitar (Scott Henderson Signature Model) for the whole record, except for an electric sitar that I used for one tune. I use the FL pickups live, but I prefer to use V60LP's for recording.
It must get pretty loud in the Henderson house when you are recording?
Yeah, it's loud, but I have a sound proof room at home. Well, it's not completely sound proof, I think the neighbors can hear me, but it's not loud enough to really bother them, otherwise the police would be here a lot (chuckles). The room has the windows drywalled up, and then I have Primeacoustic panels all over the walls to tune the room.
What about your family inside the house when you are recording?
I try to record in the day time when my daughter is in school, and my wife has her own studio in the garage, so she's working out there. I don't bother the family too much. I'm really getting into Badger lately. It's an unbelievably great sounding amp, and it's only 18 watts. I can record with that thing at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning while the family is asleep, and they can't even hear it. It's not much louder than a TV set. I get a lot of work done with my Badger. John Suhr makes such well built amps that if there's a problem, it's 99% about the tubes.
Do you get similar tone with the Badger 18 as with your 100 watt heads?
It doesn't sound quite like the 100 watt head. There are certain things that the Badger won't do. For example, the 100 watt has this huge amount of bass, than nothing other than a 100 watt head will give you. Not even a 50 watt head will give you that kind of bass response. If I want the solos to sound huge and fat, I'll use the 100 watt amp, because that gives you the biggest sound. However, a lot of times you don't need a big sound. For certain melodies, rhythm guitar parts and so on, the Badger is great. For solos, my favorite amp is still the Marshall, because it sounds so big.
Did you do many overdubs in your home studio?
On some tunes I added quite a bit, and some tunes I just left the way they were. I can't remember which ones I did what on, but I definitely overdubbed a lot of stuff.
Were most solos added later?
It depends. If I like what I played in the studio, sometimes I'll learn it, or at least the best parts of it, and then redo it at my home studio, because I can usually get a better tone that way. I can also fix what I don't like. Sometimes I don't keep any of it, if I hate it. I'm not a purist, by any means. However, there have been times when I kept the solo and didn't touch it. The ballad Palm Moon Plaza is pretty much untouched. There are also some that are completely new, recorded in my home studio. To tell you the truth, when we're making this kind of record, we're not all that concerned about solos. We're concerned more about making a good tune. If someone plays a good solo that they want to keep, great. If not, we couldn't care less, because we have the ability to just overdub a better one. It's more about the song, and the interplay within the song - that's what we're looking for. That level of interplay has to be pretty high for us to use the tune on the record, but regarding individual solos - who cares. If I don't like my solo, I'll just play a better one (laughs). If we didn't have the ability to overdub, we could never make albums like these. Every jam has some great moments, but we can add more by overdubbing. It's a process of making music that's pretty different, and as far as I know, we're the only band doing it this way. It's my only claim to originality.(laughs). The jamming in the studio thing has been done for many, many years, starting with Bitches Brew - jamming, but not changing it after that. For us, a jam is just the blueprint to work with to create songs.
How long did the album take to make?
About a year and a half. We did the jams back in 2010, but all through 2011 we were touring like crazy. I was touring a lot with Dennis Chambers and Jeff Berlin, and with my own trio. Also a couple of tours with Scott Kinsey's band, so were on the road a lot, and working on the record whenever we could; that's why it took so long. If we had all been home, I think we could have finished the album in a couple of months.
So you sent audio files back and forth then a lot?
Yes, a lot! When I changed something, I would usually need the bass changed. So I would record a new midi bass file and tell Willis "I erased your bass from here to here, and here's the new bass line - I need you to play this". I got the same requests from Willis and Kinsey, so yeah, the files circled around the globe for a while.
Do you spend much time nowadays trying new guitar gear?
Not really. I'm pretty happy with my tone, it's the notes I'm not happy with. I don't have an excuse any more, because my tone sounds pretty good now. I just need to get my playing to sound as good as my tone does; that takes longer. (laughs)
How much do play guitar in general?
It depends on what's going on around me. If I'm practicing for a tour, I practice 8 hours a day for a couple of weeks before the tour. When I'm home, I try to practice an hour or two a day, just to keep my chops up. I also need to write, so that seriously cuts into my practice time. I need about another 5 tunes so I can go into the studio with Alan and Travis. Right now, I'm in the middle of overdubbing on the Jeff Berlin/Dennis Chambers record that we recorded last month. I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but I know I played two solos I really hate, so I'll have to do new ones. But there are a few that I liked, thank goodness. There's a lot of other stuff to do too - lots of layering, because we're playing some Weather Report tunes. Joe had a lot of keyboard tracks on those tunes and they sound really fat - I want to capture that.
Are there any original tunes on this album?
If you want to call a 1-4-5 blues shuffle original, yes. No, this is a cover record.
What do you see different in your own playing today compared to 20 years ago?
I don't play as many notes. My main concern is to phrase well and get good tone. Most of my students can play faster than me, so I'm certainly not going to impress anyone with my chops anymore.
When you're not playing guitar, what do you do? What's your hobbies and interests?
I go to the movies a lot. I have an 8 year-old daughter, and I try to spend as much time with her as possible. Being a dad is a whole other scene. I'm a late dad, and I'm glad I waited, because during my 20s and 30s, I didn't have the time for kids. Now, later on in my career, it's a great time to be a dad. I'm really digging it. I still have to go on the road, but our trips are never longer than a month at a time, unlike actors and rock bands that go out forever. I'm at Disneyland a lot. (laughs)
What's your favorite movie?
I have too many, way too many. I like movies in every genre. There are so many, I can't even name one.
How many dogs do you have?
2 dogs - Buster & Ruby!
This last decade, it seems you haven't recorded much.
Yeah, I've been busy being a father. Now that she's older, she's more independent, so I actually have a bit more time do music than when she was a toddler. I'm constantly trying to find time to write music, which is extremely difficult. Touring, teaching 2 days a week at MI, doing recording sessions for other people, the Tribal Tech album, the Berlin/Chambers album, etc - it all takes a lot of time so it's like "geez, when am I going to have time to write some songs?". I can't just do it in spurts - I have to sit down, lock myself in my room, and put in some serious time. Previously we had vocals, but this time it's instrumental. I've never written a whole album for guitar trio, and I want to be able to play the music live, so it's a challenge. I have 4 songs so far, and I'm hoping for 5 more and maybe we'll do one cover.
Previously in your career, you have played with Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, among others. Are there any experiences you can share with us from those days?
Well, as my fans know, the Chick Corea gig didn't go well, because there was a huge personality clash between me and Chick, mostly due to the fact that I have absolutely no use for organized religion, and Chick is a Scientologist, so that wasn't going to work. We clashed from the beginning, and I was only in the band for 4-5 months. It's kind of funny when people ask me about being in the Elektric Band, because that was such a short time in my life that I hardly even remember. I did however play with Joe Zawinul for 4 years, and that was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, and it was very exiting to play with someone who I always believed to be THE baddest musician in the world, hands down. It was an honor and a dream come true to play with him - I was listening to Weather Report way back when I was in college and they were my favorite band, even though they didn't have a guitar player. So yeah, that was an amazing time for me.
You did a lot of touring with him, right?
Yeah, a lot. We were on the road for 6 months a year.
Do you like touring?
Yes, except for the flying part, which I hate. Touring and playing every night is a vacation compared to what I do at home. I'm a busy dad, and I'm always writing or recording at home, which is WAY harder than just playing every night. I don't have to scrutinize myself on the road like I do at home.
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
I don't have any particular preference. I usually put my iPod on "surprise me mode". I have many different kinds of music in there, so I never know what to expect. Straight-ahead jazz, pop, rock'n roll, blues, funk, country - whatever. I just listened to a Cannonball Adderley record the other day, which was awesome - he was so incredible. Weather Report is still my favorite band, and my favorite album is Night Passage - what a great record. That being said, I try not to listen to any one artist too much, because I'm too easily influenced, so I listen to different music all the time.
Is there a chance Tribal Tech may go on tour?
It depends on the offers we get. My agent wants to try an Asian tour in 2013, but we'll see what happens. That would be the most likely place for us to tour since their economy is currently stronger than most.
The Trio Live recording was great, by the way.
Oh thanks, but I hate it. I like to fix my mistakes - you don't get to do that on a live record. For the jazz purists, who say you should never overdub on a solo, I tell them to go buy my Live album - that's what I really sound like. When I go into the studio however, I'm going to fix my mistakes, so fuck the purists.
Have you ever considered making another live album?
To be honest, I was nervous when we recorded that album. I don't usually record shows, although I probably should, because then I'd get used to it. I'm usually very relaxed on stage, but if someone says "hey we're taping tonight", that makes me nervous. I know it shouldn't, but it does. I sometimes listen to what people post on YouTube of my live playing, and I mostly hate it, and immediately remove it. There are a few rare solos which I like, or at least don't hate, and I put those on my YouTube channel. I'm very self-critical. The likelihood that I'm going to like a solo I played live is about 10 percent (laughs). I tell my students when they say they feel horrible about their playing - you don't have to like everything you play. Just relax, enjoy yourself while you're doing it, and hope other people like it. If you're trying to be your own fan, give up, because it ain't gonna happen. I've learned from experience not to judge myself and try not to compare one night to another, because that's a roller coaster. I just try to have fun when I play. If you get caught up in thinking you've gotta play your best performance every time, you'll just make yourself miserable. A good artist has nothing to prove.
Have you considered recording live shows regularly, like Wayne Krantz is doing?
You know, I'm just too lazy. To set up recording equipment properly at gigs every night, it's so much extra work. I know I could record onto my laptop myself if I really wanted to, but it would take so long to set up all the mics and preamps, etc. When we're on the road, we're often driving all day and we're lucky to get there in time to eat and play. There's no time to be in the recording business every night.
What's your thoughts on writing tunes that are more "accessible" to a wider audience, so to speak, in order to sell more albums and get your name out there more?
I did a couple of short, strictly blues tours, and didn't enjoy it much. Playing one kind of music all night drives me crazy. I'd rather just do what I do, and let the cards fall where they may.
Final question - what's your goals for the future, regarding your career?
Basically, to make more money. I want to keep doing what I'm doing, I just want to get paid more for doing it (laughing). I'm not going to change the music so I can make more money - I'm not that type of a musician. I write what I like, and hope there are fans that want to listen to it. If I wanted to make money, I'd be writing Kenny G music, but I'd also be miserable.
Thanks for the interview, Scott!
Visit Scott Hendersons Website at http://scotthenderson.net/
Check out Suhr Guitars for the Suhr gear that Scott uses.
Albums with Scott Henderson
Buy Tribal Tech X from Amazon.
Preview tracks here too - Tribal Tech X.
Books & DVDs
By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com
Comment on this?
Comments on this blog entry
Thanks, it was a lot of fun to talk to him, and hear his thoughts about a lot of stuff. He's a great guy to talk to.
Comment added on May 11, 2012
As for my playing - I'm not even in the same universe as him, musically speaking, and I don't think I even want him to hear me play! haha
Hey, thanks so much for that terrific interview. Has he heard your playing? BTW It's folks like you Robert that made me trash the TV and save those ridiculous cable/satellite TV charges. Now instead of staring at my TV, If i want to sit and watch stuff i go to a bar or a concert, or to websites like yours. Much thanks again.
Comment added on May 08, 2012
Great job on this man.
Comment added on April 27, 2012