Creating a Vocal Melody / Switching Technique / Writing a Tune / Writing with Phil Kennemore / Working in the Studio / Lyrics
Creating a Vocal Melody
Dave or any hard rock musicians out there:
Can you offer suggestions on to how you would create a vocal melody? Do you "scat" (for a lack of a better description) and create through this method. Or do you use melodies from other songs and re-arragen them to fit your particular song?
Or is there some another method you would recommend?
I basically just scat over the top of the chord patterns or licks until I find something I like. It helps to just let go & be wild & experiment,
recording everything on cassette, or whatever. A lot of times I won't realize that I hit on something good until I play back a bunch of attempts that I had on tape. Then a lick or pattern sometimes emerges. Just as important, is the phrasing. If you just wait to start the melody a beat later, break it up, move stuff around, etc, it can give you more inspiration, when you feel like you've run out of ideas on a tune. When all else fails, get away from the tune for a while & start listening to a lot of different stuff for an idea to attack it from a different angle. Whatever inspires or triggers you, no matter how stupid, give it a try.
tommypenngotti: Dave- I remember being in the front row @ the Old Waldorf & thinking that toggle switch rapid fire soloing was the coolest..where did u come up with that technique(that seemed to find it's way onto many Y&T classic solos)
Just kinda stumbled on it. Like most stuff, from just fooling around at rehearsal. Thought it was pretty cool, but nobody else in the band paid much attention to it when we were practicing, so I just kind of laid off of it. But I pulled it out again when I was soloing on the song "Black Tiger" & Max Norman (producer) loved it & we left it in. That, of course, meant I had to do it all the time when we played the song live. This obviously made me want to do it more, etc, etc. You know where I'm going with this. That's it!
Writing a Tune
Dave: There are many ways that I write. Here are a few of the the most popular methods I use, in order of how often I use them:
1) I'll sit in my home studio with an electric guitar running through my live setup, mic'ed in the tracking room & coming through the board in the control room with a mic positioned on a boom stand in front of the board for singing. I'll sit there & play & sing randomly until I hit on something, usually recording it to dat or hard drive. Sometimes I'll set up a beat on a sequencer program, or after I come up with an idea, I'll lay a bass track down over a drum beat & come back with guitar ideas & vocal ideas over it, then take it from there.
2) I'll get the guys together & jam until we hit on something & record it with a single omni mic in the tracking room straight to a hard drive on the computer. Them come back later & work on it further (usually by myself).
3) Grab the nearest guitar I can find in the house (acoustic or un-amplified electric & put down an idea that just comes to me, using a handheld cassette recorder or mini cassette recorder.
4) When something comes to me while I'm driving, I'll grab the mini cassette recorder I have in the car & record guitar, melody or lyric ideas with my voice, while driving.
5) Sometimes I'll dream a great song & I'll try to make myself wake up so I can remember it. Sometimes it works & I grab a guitar & handheld cassette & try to put the basic idea down, then go back to sleep. Sometimes I'll wake up & forget the whole thing. It's never the same. I've written tunes in every way you can imagine. Sometimes while I'm hiking in the hills, something will come to me & I'll just keep it in my head until I get to the car or get home. Or I'll think of a song in the shower, etc. Everything goes when you're writing.
You take the inspired moments & run with them.
With Y&T, most of our writing was done when we were together & we'd just jam until we came up with something. Or else I would have an idea & show everyone the lick or groove & we'd jam it out from there. Sometimes we would come up with complete songs on our own & bring them to rehearsal. We almost always allowed everyone in the band to add ideas or change parts to make it better. Only on rare occasions would someone not want to change something because they wanted their idea to stay as it was. One thing I've learned is that if I try too hard to write, when inspiration isn't flowing, I usually come up with stuff that I end up trashing later. Just letting it happen naturally works for me. Good mood
or bad mood usually doesn't matter (except for writing lyrics, sometimes it works if you're in the same mood as the song is talking about). Yeah, I guess you can be more inspired for certain types of songs, if all hell is coming down on you, but I don't believe you have to depend on that. Every day & hour is a potentially different emotional moment & you just take what you can get. There you go. There's more, but I think that kinds covers the most of it. Now I better stop typing & go do some writing!
Writing with Phil Kennemore
Dave: Phil & I got to the point where we could really read each other & it was second nature to make the tunes happen. We usually wrote the music & melodies first, then made the lyrics fit the melodies & phrasings. Though there were plenty of times that we'd change the melodies & phrasing. This usually happened when Phil was having a hard time with a lyric or topic & he would try different phrasing & melody ideas to try & break the stalemate of agonizing over the lyrics.
A lot of the time, as I'm coming up with a melody, as I'm playing, I'll sing nonsense words & phrases that trigger the real words or subject matter. It's kind of funny how well that works now. It's almost like it's a subconscious thing that I do to "on the spot" write some of the initial lyric ideas. It's kinda spooky how well it works at times. That's very prevalent on this new record. I just tape all the initial times I jam a new idea down, either when I'm by myself or with the band, and there are usually all kinds of keeper lyrics that come out of it. In fact Phil was over my house yesterday & I asked him if he'd like to help with some of the lyrics to a few tunes. He's doing that as we speak. Can't wait to see how he interprets some of my ideas on a few of these tunes. I have written the majority of the lyrics for this record. It's been fun & frustrating at the same time. But that's what writing is usually like.
Working in the Studio
Dave: The engineer is more important than the studio in most cases. A good engineer can make a band sound great with a 4-track cassette portastudio & 6 $100 mics. A well stocked studio doesn't guarantee a great project, but it "is" guaranteed to cost you more. The flip side to this is that some studios have such a good vibe to them, it can help inspire better performances from the musicians. But in general, the band, the engineer & producer makes a great project by maintaining an inspired workplace & a good vibe to the session. The best engineers & producers are the guys that know how to make musicians comfortable when they're uptight, laugh when it gets thick & feed the ego when it needs stroking. That's all worth much more than any piece of gear you can rent per hour. Of course, if you have all of that AND a great sounding room with top gear, then you are kicking ass.
Dave: We all collaborated in the early days, then as the years went by it started to skew towards Phil & I doing the lion's share of the lyrics. One thing that gave Phil more lyric time was that we would track more tunes than we had finished lyrics written for each record. In order to get them finished in time, I'd usually be busy tracking solos & lead vocals, while Phil would be socked away finishing lyrics. This allowed us to finish those incompleted tunes while we were actually recording the record. We're real good at being last minute guys. Plus it just became obvious that Phil had a real talent for lyrics so I could always trust he'd come up with something brilliant when we needed it.