Friday, February 27, 2009

Lee Carlson Interview - Music career, recording, and a new band

Lee gives us some valuable tips on forging a career in music and becoming a better guitarist, as well as telling us some of his latest news.

What steps have you taken to forge a career in the music industry?

Well apart from the old trial and error method, which I had been stuck in
since I was about 18, I started devouring any books or articles and stuff
like that I could find on the business side of music. I had been in a lot
of different scenarios that presented opportunity, but I didn’t really
know how to take advantage of them so progress was quite limited.
So although I had learned a lot from my trial and error, it was time to
move ahead and that is when I found Tom Hess’s Music Careers Mentoring
Program back in 2007. The course was invaluable in that it added what was
needed to my experience up till then, how to build a career, sustain a
career and create opportunity, not wait around for some magical
opportunity to fall from the sky! And of course a lot of hard work and
perseverance. Never give up, educate yourself!

What advice do you have for people trying to get into the music industry?

As I mentioned, educate yourself, but also apply what you have learned!
And realize luck has nothing to do with it, some people will say they are
waiting for a big break or to be discovered, but although that does
happen, it is very rare. The reason we hear so much about these type of
big break stories is exactly that, they make a good story for the media.
What would be so exciting about an artist who worked his butt off and built
a successful career? Media wants hype and emotion, rags to riches. My
advice, don’t wait to be the rare exception, take control of your own

What are the pressures in the industry? How do you cope with them?

For me the pressures are usually deadlines. So I have had to develop a
strong work ethic and fight the evil of procrastination! I am an indie
artist so a lot of the pressures other artists might have I really don’t
have. But there is always going to be tough decisions to make and
difficult people to deal with, so be aware and treat others how you want
to be treated, be professional. And don’t take all things too personally!

During your formative years, what sort of practice regime did you have?

Skipped school and practiced instead... LOL Actually, I did do that a
lot, but I don’t suggest it. I just did the usual type exercises and
stuff everyone else does, but I was one of the people who would do it for 8
hours a day, not because I thought that that amount of time was necessary
but because I was completely obsessed with guitar! I also studied music a
lot, I had a stack of theory books up to my knees. Also being a big Steve
Vai fan I was beside myself with excitement when in the early 90’s he
published his 10 hour workout in a guitar magazine, then when I bought it
I realized that my regime was very much like his already, so I stuck with

What advice do you have for beginner and intermediate players who are
looking to achieve a highly advanced level of playing?

A good teacher is always beneficial. And I stress GOOD, one that knows
guitar, knows music theory and doesn’t just want to show you the latest
song on the radio. And of course put in the time, lock yourself away in
the woodshed and practice your butt off! Keep track of your progress and
don’t stop until you have mastered whatever it is you are working on,
whether it is a technical exercise or a new theory concept. Be organized
and practice, practice, practice!

What gear do you use (and more importantly) why?

I am one of those people who are very specific about gear. For guitars I
can’t play anything other than Ibanez RG or Jem models. I have used them
since 1991, I have tried others brands but I love Ibanez too much and I
find their floating bridges far better than any other. With amps I am a
little more flexible. My favorite up till now has been my Carvin Legacy.
It is smooth and has great clarity. I am not very into a lot of the new
amps geared towards metal, they seem a little too abrasive sounding. For
FX I use a TC Electronic G-System, it is great, I can even use it to
switch amp channels. I like simple, not into tap dancing on 20 different
stomp boxes. Picks are 1MM, strings 9-42 and a Morley wah pedal.

What parts of your playing reflects your personality and self expression
most accurately?

I would say something like the main melody for The Eternal of my Essence
Of Time album reflects my personality. A simple yet epic sounding melody,
it has got a nice smooth flow. Also the improvisational side of my
playing really reflects what I try to express. I love having long
extended sections to improvise over where you can take time to develop
ideas. In fact a lot of Essence Of Time was improvised.

What are you trying to achieve compositionally?

It might sound like a cliche, but I am just trying to tell a story, of
course without words. If I can get the listener to connect with the mood
then I would feel I achieved the purpose of a song.

Talk about the process of recording your album. Are there any tips and
tricks you could pass on?

The recording was done all in my home studio. A nice simple setup with
Pro Tools LE and an MBox2. The first thing I did was write the songs then
lay down a scratch track which I could build the drum parts around using
EZDrummer. For the guitars I mic’d my cab, I still am not sold on any
software amps yet. I used an SM57, sometimes on axis, sometimes off,
depending on the sound I wanted. And recorded dry, I added reverb and
delay in Pro Tools. Bass guitar was recorded direct with just a little EQ
and compression. The keyboard parts were all Korg Triton, again played
direct. The only Midi was EZDrummer. All the songs were built this way.
As for any advice. Take your time! But if you are paying to use someone
else's studio, be WELL rehearsed, it can get expensive!
And listen to other recordings that have the sound you are going for and
work to get as close as you can. Experience is going to make each
recording you do that much better. Of course educating yourself through
articles and stuff will also big a big help.

You've joined a new band, tell us more about that.

The new band is pretty cool! I met this guy while I was buying some gear,
he was the salesmen. We got talking and soon realized we would work great
together. He is a fantastic folk singer/songwriter, his name is Kevin
Phillips and the band is called Redhead Mack. During our conversation he
mentioned he loves blazing guitar and was looking for one to add to his
lineup. The sound is kind of a folk-rock-fusion sound. We have done some
demo tunes already and we start gigging this month. Hopefully we can put
out a full album soon, there is enough material, it will just be a matter
of making the time.

If readers want to contact you, what is your email address and website?

They can go to:

And a huge thanks to you, Guy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Album Review - Lee Carlson "Essence Of Time"

Lee Carlson is an Instrumental Rock guitarist from Calgary, Alberta. His unique, epic style of composing and playing takes the listeners on an aural adventure. He has been likened to players such as John Petrucci , Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Born & raised on Vancouver Island, Lee started playing guitar at age 12 taking private lessons and playing in the school band. After graduating, Lee attended Malaspina College for one year where he studied Jazz Theory and Composition. He moved to Vancouver after college and studied composition with music producer David Malecot of Malecot Music Enterprises.

A year later, Lee began teaching guitar lessons and joined the metal band, Acropolis. The band was a great musical outlet, he was with this band for a year and enjoyed many great shows. After Acropolis, Lee joined a band called Friday's Cry, toured Western Canada and recorded 5 albums.

Shortly after moving to Alberta in 2002 he joined Da Capo, a jazz quartet and recorded one live CD. A year passed and Lee moved on to form a heavy rock band called Critical Day. With this band, he enjoyed a host of great shows which included opening for Jars Of Clay, Starfield and Riley Armstrong. He has also studied music business under guitar virtuoso Tom Hess.

As well has having recorded a self titled EP, Lee has recently released his debut solo album, ESSENCE OF TIME. This marks the 8th album to his credit.

Kicking off the album is a straight-up, epic rock track called The Eternal. Lee told me that he really likes the solo section which has a Phrygian Dominant tonality! This song also appears on the compilation album, Guitars From The Shadows. The track is full of great ideas, but stays accessible enough not to make Lee sound like some kind of shred snob. Influences on this track range from the obscure to sounding like Satch himself wrote some sections. The hook is very singable too.

Track 2, For Evermore, is another rock instrumental. “This song kind of wrote itself,” says Lee, who had the basic chord progression and improvised on it until he heard the rest of the song in his head. There is a dramatic change of feel for the solo section, which is a lesson in virtuosic picking.

The title track, Essence Of Time, evolved over a couple of years and was originally written with many alternating time signatures, but Lee decided that it worked better in 4/4. The Steve Vai influence on Lee is most apparent in this track. Fortunately Lee isn’t just another Vai clone and exhibits his own tastes and style while playing on the edge (or is that the ultimate control?). The emotive bridge section creates an interesting contrast to the driving of the rest of the song.

Beyond is a lesson in song writing and imagination. “I wanted to write a song that just cycled the same chord progression from start to finish, but each section would have a different interpretation, so to speak, of the progression”, says Lee. Well, apparently, Lee has a bottomless bag of tricks. The solo on this song is my favourite part of the entire album.

The last track, Smooth Waters, is “Your basic guitar ballad”, according to Lee. However, Lee has definitely taken the time to acquire full control of that mystical 6-stringed beast called the electric guitar, and I can assure you that there is nothing basic about this track.

All-in-all, this is a great album for those who enjoy a good amount of feel/emotion on their shred records. You’ll be seeing and hearing more of Lee Carlson, that’s for sure.