Bill Mike Band “Courageous” (Influenza)
Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: Influenza, Music, Twin Cities.
Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Bill Mike, Chris Morrissey and Steve Goold of the Bill Mike Band detail a track from the band’s latest release, Truce.
Bill Mike: I got off a plane in Ft. Myers, Florida for a family reunion of sorts. I remember driving out of the airport and seeing a sign “Panther Crossing.” I said holy crap, you’re kidding me, how cool! But the more I looked all I saw were corporate business centers being built and gated condo communities with not one but three golf courses. In my opinion, another fine example of America’s over consumption of natural resources, uneducated/greedy land developers, and the one percent of Americans who “want it all” at any expense. That was a sad day for me, but it changed my life for the better and forever. You have to keep in mind that I was a kid from Ohio that had no connection to the outdoors and no connection to the earth. I wasn’t thinking about a global picture for most of my adult life. It took several moves (Los Angeles/Minnesota) and several hardcore life experiences to help me come around and think, maybe I should be writing material that deals with events outside of myself? Every musician or public performer has a bit of narcissism in them but without inspirations and influences outside of your own art life, you’re simply living in your little trivial bubble. “Courageous” is a song dedicated to our new earth movement that seems to be taking off. I’m quite proud to be a part of it in whatever way I can. Music is an ideal uniter and a great channel for all things earthly. Hats off to my hard working friends, and colleagues that are helping educate folks (me included) to correct our bad habits.
“Courageous,” the guitar riff… As a kid I loved percussive guitar players like Michael Hedges, and Eddie Van Halen. They were pioneers of a guitar technique called finger tapping. Thanks to bad “Hair Metal” of the eighties the technique became overused and very uneventful. Thanks to Grunge, hair metal faded away but you still here new comers like Kaki King kicking out the old school tapping. Regardless, it still sounds cool as hell and I love doing it in small doses in the Bill Mike Band. The pre-chorus of courageous contains a Spanish style chord progression and flam technique. At home I play a lot of nylon/Spanish style guitar. Again, a very percussive and aggressive style of music that I can’t get enough of. I wanted a pretty but serious vocal melody to emphasize the lyric content. Chris and Steve did another superlative job of bringing in the global grooves and unique parts to connect all the dots.
Chris Morrissey: It should be said that the catalyst for every Bill Mike Band song is the guitar part. If I’m proud of any of my parts in that band, and I am, it is only due to the deep connection and love that I feel for the spark of all these songs: Mr. William Michael. It should also be said that in my recorded career the piece of music that we are focusing on is my proudest moment as a musician. It is this way not because I’m demonstrating any advanced technique, or that my part is particularly inventive, but that the relationship of five parts (bass, guitar, drums, melody and mix) is as realized and true as anything I’ve ever been a part of.
I have to reign myself in here and not talk about the piece as a whole and stick to my contribution. This is hard because like I said, there are other places on the record where I’d say my playing is more unique or forward thinking but on this piece the magic for me comes from it being a working component in a well oiled machine.
In the rehearsal space, it began with Mike’s part and as is frequently the case in this band the creative process is very fast. First instincts are honored usually as what is supposed to be played in the song. Our love of improvised music influences this as Steve and I will truly just improvise over what Mike is playing and a part was solidified for courageous quite quickly.
Mike’s part was very percussive and I wanted my part to be that way too. I imagined one of those giant marimbas, or melodic African percussion instruments when I made the part for the verses. Palm mute was employed to help that cause as well as to help lean towards a more acoustic sound. The part itself is pentatonic in the hopes of invoking some African tinges. The rhythm is simple but it also functions as a secondary melody. In the middle sections I hint at chromatic harmony for the first time shifting from African to something more middle-eastern in scale origin. I love the subbed out nature of this. The bass in this section again functions as a melody instrument. The bridges or choruses (I don’t really know which is which in this song… a good thing!) it is a quite typical eighth note bass line but with lovely and interesting chord changes and modulations thanks again to Mike Michael. In this band especially I try to think orchestrally in my parts. Like Mike is playing the violin and viola part and I’m playing the cello and bass part. Sometimes we can be unison, and sometimes we can play counterpoint. In short we just try to consider each of our contributions to be melodic. and centerpiece worthy rather than soloist/accompanist.
In the studio we got fairly inventive with tone. We plugged my Jazz Bass into a Leslie Organ cabinet which oscillates creating a natural chorus effect and I also used a Boss Octave pedal which superimposes an octave lower to the pitch you play deepening the sound considerably. I hope you like the song “Courageous” and the rest of our second record Truce.
Steve Goold: My first thought for the groove on “Courageous” was tempo-related. The BPM sits right where early Dave Matthews grooves are, so I took just that kind of rhythm and adapted it to the bass line Chris was playing in the verse. The 16ths from the guitar and the nature of Mike’s tone keep the tune from sounding like those influences, so the verse section ends up being unique and in it’s own world, but there’s nothing deep or complicated about it. On the pre-choruses, I just went with my first instinct on how to cop the flamenco-ish vibe of the guitar. I’m using the floor tom to offset the snare, so the snare has emphasis in the pattern even though I’m hitting all the notes at full power. The choruses are just a straighter version of the verse groove, with slosh hats. The ending opens up with some crash ride, and I’m using the busier section as a way to churn more energy on the outro. The busy part happens on bars 9-12 on the outro, and then back to the groove for 13-16, and I guess my intent on placing the extra notes there was just an AABA pattern. Overall, Courageous was a tune where the drums weren’t the driving factor in the composition, so I felt like my parts just followed naturally behind Chris and Mike.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]