The Firebard (2014)

 
The Firebard (2014)

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1.   Legends
2.   Weekend Warrior
3.   Accolade
4.   Into The Act
5.   Chimes of Passion
6.   Still at Large
7.   Motif Operandi
8.   A Far Cry
9.   Epic
10. Journeys

5:42
4:55
3:37
4:35
6:03
6:17
3:24
4:55
6:00
6:45

52:13

All songs written and arranged by Randy Ellefson, Copyright 2014 Randy Ellefson (ASCAP).

Note: this album was originally released in 2004 but has since been re-performed, re-recorded, and re-released. Information about the original release can be found here.

Performers

Randy Ellefson – All guitars, bass, drums, and guitar synth

Production

Released June 29, 2014 by Guitarosity Records (indie)
Produced by Randy Ellefson
Engineered by Randy Ellefson at The Firebard Studio, Maryland
Mixed by Drew Mazurek and Randy Ellefson at High View Studios, Maryland
Mastered by Drew Mazurek at High View Studios, Maryland
Artwork and logo by Mattias Noren

Track By Track Remarks
1. Legends

This is the earliest composition on the album and captures my overall sound pretty well. As usual, I stumbled into the music while playing with chords and discovered the opening riff. The second riff, where the lead guitar enters, was written on a classical guitar, but it wasn’t until I wrote the riff at the climax (4:21) and its variations (all the remaining riffs) that I formed a song. These drums are the first I programmed with my feet on the drum machine, which I had rigged with letter openers. The lead theme at 2:54 was the first music I wrote after tendinitis took away my playing, and the guitar solo at 4:04 was in my head for years, so I was pleased to get it pretty close.

2. Weekend Warrior

A motif is a short musical idea, and I try to write my songs from only one or two motifs usually found in the rhythm guitar part. The second riff is where most of the riffs under the guitar solo come from, while the opening riff is the source of all other sections. The guitar solo is the hardest music I’ve played after tendinitis and was so demanding for me that after writing, practicing, and recording a phrase, I had to stop playing for the day. This continued for several weeks until the entire solo was done. The solo was recorded several months after the other leads in this song because I wasn’t sure what to play and knew it needed to be big.

Randy Ellefson 20043. Accolade

I often practice technique unplugged, and that’s when I wrote the opening rhythm guitar part in between exercises. I had new gear at the time and hadn’t created new sounds yet, so I started playing with lead tones, none of which I liked. In frustration, I turned on a huge reverb and delay setting, mostly as a joke, but it actually sounded pretty good. The edge was too strong, though, so I flipped my guitar switch to the neck pickup and instantly wrote the opening melody. More leads quickly followed, and soon I had most of the main parts, but it wasn’t until recording the album many years later that all the “chorus” variations were written, or the entire second pass.

4. Into The Act

Sometimes composers demand more cleverness from themselves, and I originally thought the opening riff was too obvious for me to keep, but less pretentious people than me liked the directness of it, so I kept the whole song and am glad I did. The rhythm guitars under the solo are one of my favorite variations on previous material (and were written years later), and I was also glad to get a quote of the “chorus” theme in there, too. The double lead guitars in the chorus were a big concern because making all the parts audible wasn’t easy.

5. Chimes of Passion

This is the last song I started writing before losing my guitar playing to tendinitis, and it was still in pieces. It is fairly easy to play and was one of the first songs I could play afterwards, and since I could only play about one minute before having to rest, the alternating guitars in the beginning made it ideal for my first post-tendinitis recording. I pieced together a rhythm section, then discovered lead guitar was easier on the arms if playing melodies. Without meaning to, I wrote first one lead melody and then another, and another…until I was surprised that I’d written all lead guitars up to the solo section. At the time, this was a big deal for me, for it showed there was life after tendinitis. I could still compose, and still make a recording. Thrilled, I wrote rhythm guitars for the solo and then the remaining leads. You can probably tell the lead playing is quite simple even though this was re-recorded later. It was the last song started before tendinitis, and the first finished after it.

6. Still at Large

The most recent composition here, “Still at Large” is a personal favorite. It reminds me of a hot pursuit even before the somewhat chaotic middle, which was largely improvised during one of my occasional bursts of frustration with “the rules”. I knew I wanted to start a riff (at 3:22) with a certain chord, and when I stumbled upon an odd key change, I ran with it, purposely destroying all sense of key by leaping between tri-tones, falling down chords in half steps, and then improvising what turned out to be a theoretically complicated passage at 3:47. Thinking in multiple keys at the same time and determined to not suggest any of them for more than a moment, I ended up using all 12 pitches on the fifth string while alluding to D major/minor, E major/minor, and A major (despite this, it’s just a simple IV-V-I progression). Fortunately, it sounded good to not play lead over this, since that might have been quite hard!

Aside from this, the entire song was written from the opening rhythm and chord, which ranks as my most simple motif. The coda (at 5:48) was arranged in my head. As for the lead, I was most happy with the passage at 2:55, partly because I had no idea what to do there for the longest time and it turned out to be one of my personal highlights.

7. Motif Operandi

As with all songs on the album, the riffs were written first and, in this case, fairly quickly. Something about the conciseness of the material suggested the song was a more pure example of my motivic development style, which characterizes my composing and is my modus operandi. It was during the writing of the guitar solo that I regained some of my lead improvising ability, which I had lost after tendinitis, mostly on account of it being too demanding for my arms to handle.

8. A Far Cry

I often play this simple tune to warm up or cool down, and the opening riff is similar to piano music. A lead theme that consists of only two notes is a rare thing, and while it is nicely straightforward, I like the harmonies added the next time around. Guitar music often sounds like it was written specifically for the guitar, so part of what I like is that it simply sounds like music. The pedal tone lead guitar towards the end has always been fun to play despite the danger of rushing it. A free download of the tablature is available from www.randyellefson.com.

9. Epic

Standing in a room with my guitar one day, I thought to myself, “I haven’t written anything simple in a while”. The next thing out of the guitar was the opening riff for “Epic”, but I couldn’t leave well enough alone and ended up writing three other versions with increasingly active rhythms. I shook my head at this, since it was typical of me. I had just bought a new 8-track recorder but hadn’t tested it yet, and, knowing my tendency to go overboard, I purposely chose to record the new riff instead of a song. That way, I wouldn’t be tempted to work on it, so I recorded and then doubled the riff. Two tracks down, six to go.

I started improvising some chords (at :38), and then added these to the recording. On the fourth track, I improvised a simple melody (:57) that turned into a repeating line at 1:18. On the fifth track, I wrote some double-stops in a higher register, at 1:15. On track 6 (at 1:32), I struck the high E string repeatedly, tapping a harmonic, and on the seventh track I added the first lead guitar. I later erased this and replaced it with a bass, for the lead I improvised onto track eight (at 1:53) was better. All of this had been done in about 30 minutes without me realizing what I was doing. I had taken my “simple” song and turned it into one of the more complicated things I’d written. Oops! The remaining music was written years later, and I’ve always liked the lead cascade at 3:25, the sad melodies at 3:59, and the ghosting chords underneath.

10. Journeys

This song’s motif (the first four notes) is similar enough to part of “Epic” that I’ve always thought of them as a pair (“Epic Journeys”). The motif is three short notes (usually ascending) followed by a longer note, and this forms all of the music up to the solo. The opening lead is peculiar to play despite sounding natural, but the “chorus” (:58) is the standout. As I improvised, I had the call and answer idea and worked it out on one guitar first. The simplicity of it allows the rhythm guitar part to come through. I’m always up for a challenge, and since the start is in C# minor, a good portion of the guitar solo is C# major – not your friendliest key, with 7 sharps. The hardest part of writing this was figuring out how long to make the big rest in the middle, though it sounds obvious now.

 Posted by on February 14, 2015

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