Don’t you know? The Lost Words (Oneiric Moor 2003)
Olivier Feuillerat June 2003
Let me first tell you the story about this interview.
The questions were originally written in 2001 just after the release of "Flat Tire", Allan Holdsworth's Synthaxe album. The interview was arranged with Megazoidal, the label on which Flat Tire was released. For some reason the questions were lost and did not make their way to Allan. Two years later, I had the opportunity to ask Allan if we could go through the interview anyway, and he kindly offered some of his time to answer my old set of questions. Hence the sub-title "The Lost Words". And this is why this interview is very much focused on the haunting and beautiful "Flat Tire" record. Good Reading.
OF: Allan, since the eighties you have been the greatest Ambassador of the SynthAxe, but it is only now you decide to make a complete album with it... Why ?
AH: In the past I had thought about it, but I was focusing on Group projects, so although I wanted to do it, I just never had the opportunity. When I found myself with the time to do it between projects, I went for it.
OF: In the leaflet you mention some serious personal problems you have gone through before the creation of "Flat Tire". Of course, music catalyses feelings and emotions (good or bad), and it is especially true with your playing which is so intense. Does music act as a kind of therapy on you ?
AH: Creating music can be therapeutic, but if I am in a bad space, the last thing I want to do is listen to or create music.
OF: Is there a special reason for using guitar only in the tormented overture of "The Duplicate Man" ?
AH: No there is not.
OF: Did the SynthAxe change something in your writing ? (or did you compose some pieces first on guitar)
AH: Some pieces are composed on guitar, but usually if I am writing a SynthAxe record, I will write it all on the SynthAxe. It did change something in my writing. I could play sustained chords and with the breath controller I could play long notes and make them loud or soft, make them go away then bring them back, just like you can on a real wind instrument. I could turn it into a non percussive instrument where the guitar is a percussive instrument. So overall, I would say it gave me more flexibility.
OF: Usually how do you tackle composing a piece ? Melody comes first or a chord sequence, or ?
AH: Sometimes it a melody, sometimes it's a chord sequence a lot of times it's a combination something like a choral melody where the top line is the melody that is the most common thing that I do.
OF: The rhythm has always played an important part in your music and you've always had the finest drummers in your bands. I notice you did some drum programming on Flat Tire. Is it something you enjoy working on ?
AH: No, not at all.
OF: In general, do you work a lot with computers ? What comp/softs did you use for the arrangements on Flat Tire?
AH: In general I do not work allot with computers. I do have a collection of old Atari Computers because at the time the Synthaxe came out, it was the only soft where that would record the thing, because it puts out so much information, that if I used a regular sequencer I would play half way through a tune, and it would be full, and half of what I played wouldn't play back. I then got turned on to the Steinberg softare, the Pro 24 which is really old, then I switched to Steinberg Qbase, which is what I still use, so I basically have an ancient set up.
OF: A few months ago Gary Husband released a terrific piano solo project called "The things I see - Interpretation of the Music of Allan Holdsworth"... It casts a different light on your music, maybe closer to classical music... What was your reaction upon Gary's interpretations ?
AH: I absolutely loved it! I was so incredibly flattered. I was very moved by it. It meant al lot to me. The fact that it was interpretations of my music was something I really liked. There are people out there who make these clone records, and try to do everything verbatim just like it was, and what he did was much more deep. He came at it from a totally different perspective and I really liked that. He knew I would have wanted it that way and I like that he chose to do that.
OF: A few jazz composers have used symphonic orchestras, for instance John Mac laughlin, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, etc, And obviously the music of "Flat Tire" is very much "orchestrated"... So, have you ever considered writing a symphonic piece for an orchestra ?
AH: Well I would like to, but I don't have the necessary skill of to be able to write out the parts. I would have to have someone like Allan Pasqua helping me. I remember when we worked with Tony Williams, I would play him something and he would play it right back to me, as if he had recorded it. He is amazing for that. So I would certainly love to do it, but it would have to be a collaboration with someone like Allan. There is also substantial cost involved, and it is hard enough to get a record company to pay for trio records.
OF: And... what about an acoustic guitar album ?
AH: No, I can't play acoustic guitar.
OF: Some people claim there are differences between the Japanese and US mastering of your records. Can you shed some light on this please ?
AH: The masters that the Japanese receive are identical. They are all made at the same time, they are not digital copies they are identical. You send one to Europe, one to America, one to Japan and they all come out sounding different. The difference is not in the mastering it is in the manufacture of the CD. Just like in the old days of Vinyl, Japanese pressings were always superior to anywhere in the world. So, I don't know how or why they turn out better, but they do. It is a mystery to me, I wish I knew.
OF: I read once you were not too happy with the mix of Wardenclyffe tower and a lot of bands are remastering or remixing their first generation CDs, so have you got any plans of remastering some albums ?
AH: Definetely. I will be getting my entire catalog back at the end of the year, and I will be remastering some of them. The problem with Wardenclyffe Tower was I thought I had mixed the guitar too loud on a few tracks and that bugged me. But it is done, so I live with it now.
OF: Finally let's go back to Flat tire. On the overall, there's quite a few external sounds like industrial or natural noises. It all contributes to make the music even more visual, hence I guess, the subtitle "Music for a non-existent movie" ? Would you like to be involved in making some (existent) film music next ?
AH: I would love to do film music. Unfortunately, it is a very hard field to break into. There are people who have been trying to break into film music for as long as I have been trying to establish my career. The technical aspects are quite different as well. I would need a totally different studio. I would love to make music to pictures, because that is essentially what I do anyway. If I have an idea for a song or a title of a song, I have some sort of picture in my mind. So yeah, I would love to do film music. I would really like to do a Sci-Fi movie, I would be really good at that.
OF: Thanks so much for the words !
AH: Thank you very much to you Olivier. I really love your site and what you have done it's great!
Thanks to Katherine Kurner for the help