All Our Yesterdays
- 1 ''...Where No Guitarist Has Gone Before...'' (Cymbiosis 1986)
- 2 Allan Holdsworth: Synthaxe (Guitar Player 1985)
- 3 Allan Holdsworth interview (Music Maker 2003)
- 4 Allan Holdsworth’s Untold Secrets + Worthy Quotes (Guitar Player 1990)
- 5 I want to reach people with my music – common people. (Sym Info 1987)
Cymbiosis: The very last track on the album, "All Our Yesterdays", is very different from the rest of the album. According to the title sheet, it's the only song in which there's any improvisation going on. . .
Holdsworth: There's improvisation on all of the tracks. I mean, all the solos are improvised. The only reason I wrote that down—the improvisation was it was total. We didn't have anything fixed. It was just absolutely, totally free.
Cymbiosis: And on vocals...
Holdsworth: Rowanne Mark.
Cymbiosis: Right. That's the first time you ever recorded with a female vocalist on arty of your songs.
Holdsworth: No, she sang on "Home" [from Metal Fatigue] originally, but I chose not to use it. Not because of her, I love the way she sings. She sang it beautifully and with no lyrics. But it started to remind me a little bit of too much of a Star Trek thing; because of the sound and the way that it worked out. But I always had in mind to use her because she's so talented. So when I wrote the melody for "All Our Yesterdays", I tried it on guitar, then tried it on synth, and I went, "Wait a minute, this is perfect for vocals, perfect for Rowanne," so I called her and she asked me how I wanted to do it. I told her to have a go and write some [lyrics]. I told her what I felt the music was about, and she phoned me back a few days later, sang these lyrics over the phone and knocked me out. They were perfect. It was exactly what I had in mind for the song. I was really pleased with the way that turned out.
Cymbiosis: It seems as though we are kindred spirits with Star Trek and that's where the title Atavachron comes from. Why that particular episode?
Holdsworth: It wasn't because of that episode so much. It was because of the machine, the Atavachron. They [Capt. Kirk and Co.] knew that this planet's sun is about to nova, and decide to check it out to see if they can do anything to help get the people off the planet. They find them all gone; they've all been processed through this machine that puts them back into their own planet's history. There's something intriguing about that. So much of history is forgotten in some ways. It was just the way I had to look back into my own past and the music I was listening to when I first started, trying to figure out if I'd missed anything on the way. And Atavachron is such a great word. I just love the name and the title. "All Our Yesterdays" encompassed the same thing. It was a reflective kind of thing, and that's what that song's about. It's like looking back over your own life.
I was tempted to do the whole album with the SynthAxe. I used it on every track in one way or another, but I also used the regular guitar for most of the solos. On the album and onstage, it's about 50-50 SynthAxe and guitar. There are only two major solos on the SynthAxe: "Non-Brewed Condiment" and "All Our Yesterdays." It works out well onstage, too. And it's really no bother to switch from SynthAxe to guitar: It's no different than for a keyboardist to walk from his synthesizers to a piano. It's no big deal. I just plan according to the song's needs. On "Looking Glass" I play everything on the SynthAxe live, but on the album the solo was done with a guitar. On the next album, I plan to use the SynthAxe more the way I'm using it live. Some of the pieces will be exclusively SynthAxe, while others will be exclusively guitar. All of the tracks on Atavachron are a mixture.
How did that start out on secrets, was that something you heard immediately?
Certain things, even though the vocals took up only very short sections of tunes, typically they weren't very long, they didn't involve a lot of the music. I mean some of them did. Like against the clock when Naomi sang it, that was kind of a longer piece. But usually with Rowanne, they were very short things, like maybe introductions or endings. It was very easy to communicate with her very easily. And she really is a great singer. Sometimes I feel like.. I think words are good. Not all the time, you don't need them all the time, but sometimes I think they are.And when I first her do that thing on Atavachron, where she did 'All Our Yesterdays', and that was very important. To have the lyrics on there, 'cause they were very..they meant a lot, you know?
Like a lot of kids, when I was growing up I was kind of stubborn, and although I obviously loved my parents, I didn't always show it - kids can be like that. I think they knew I loved them and cared about them, but I was just not very good at telling them. After my dad passed away, I started feeling unusually sad, particularly so because I was always left wondering if he ever did know how much I loved him. I tried writing some lyrics for this piece, but I couldn't express them. I called Rowanne, played it for her and explained the feeling, and that I wanted the title to be "Endomorph," something that's trapped inside something else, just the way I felt. She wrote it, and like she usually does, she just put a big frog in my throat. She did the same thing with "All Our Yesterdays," from Atavachron: I was just in tears, man. It was incredible. She'd written words that said more than I would have imagined I ever could have. The problem was that I'd written it for me, and it was just outside her range. She could sing it up an octave, but I wanted the melody to be inside the register of the chords. We tried transposing it, and it started not sounding dark or somber enough. I remember my dad used to say, "This tune sounds great in this key." Then he'd play it in a lot of different keys and say, "But listen - it doesn't sound right in this one." Sometimes you can get away with a half-step in either direction, but even then it often doesn't work. I tried it again myself, and I couldn't do it, man. I might have been able to 10, 15 years ago, but I was just croaking and sounding terrible. A few people tried, and then Craig Copeland, whom I met through Chad - who introduced me to Rowanne, as well - came in, and he really sang it great. Under the second verse there's a weird, ominous undercurrent. It was actually a resampled voice. It was taken way out of key, completely off, then we took other samples at different notes, mixed them together, and made another sample as the combination of all of them in that one note. Sonically, it wasn't as nice as I would have liked, but it did the job inasmuch as it had the spooky vibe about it - there's a lot of air in the sound. I'd also been working with the Steinberg Tx7 programmer, to get something to simulate the unique sound of a PPG synthesizer. I did two PPGish sounds and blended those with the voice sound That was the bulk of the piece. Did the piece come off with the kind of emotional breadth you'd intended? I don't know. By the time I finish an album, I'm numb. I don't even know whether any of it's good. You think, "Oh, Jesus, what did I just play? Was that the biggest load or what?" There's no way to know. You just say, "I think it was alright," and try again the next day. But sometimes you just have to get away from it. You have to remember what it was feeling like to you when you first did it. I usually come up with the idea really quick, so if the feeling is strong enough in the beginning, when I strike on something I think is okay, it will usually return later. Quite often I work to a point where I just can't tell. I won't listen to it for a while, and then I'll hear it later and go, "Yeah. It was alright."
Lets talk about something more pleasant and go back to your last LP but one, “Atavachron”. Recently I saw a replay of one of the episodes of Star Trek in which on a certain moment some kind of alien says to Spock, pointing to a machine: 'This, mr. Spock, is the Atavachron'
"I love that episode, the idea of a machine with which the population of that planet goes back to its own history to escape the destruction of that planet. In any case I'm a Star Trek-fan. I also love that word: 'Atava' from "Atavistic' and 'Chron' form 'Chronological'. 'All Our Yesterdays' was the title of that episode, and I've used it for one of the tracks, a reflective piece of music. I try to visualize music; mostly it's a word or a happening and that gives me inspiration for a piece of music. On my new LP there's a song '4:15 Bradford Exect'. I was born in Bradford an often took the train from London to visit my family. In this song I've tried to play a guitarsolo from seven minutes without one repetition, just like the constant changing landscape out of a driving train. With "Atavachron" it was something familiar. In the late evening I often sit in the studio. And than, with all the lights out, the only thing that gives some light are the little lamps of the mixing consule. Than it's not hard at all to imagine you're in a spaceship."