Flat Tire (album)
After “Tain”, Allan got divorced, and had to give up his home studio. He therefore recorded this album almost exclusively with his SynthAxe in a temporary dwelling, as it did not require the complex setup of guitar recording. The music is brooding and quirky, with the fitting subtitle “Music for a Non-Existent Movie”. Tracks like “Eeny Meeny” and “Bo Peep” still feature some of Allan’s jazziest solos, with the aid of Dave Carpenter’s acoustic bass.
Q: Did you change the members from last year?
A: I’ve been playing with these members for a few years in California. I played with Gary Husband on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass last year. But this time Dave Carpenter on bass and Joel Taylor on drums.
Q: Have you recorded with this new trio?
A: No, but I’m going to do it, and I can’t say when it’s going to start because I don’t make any contract with record companies. Recently I recorded a new solo album using only Synthaxe. I recorded it besides the band and itís almost finished,though recording the bass and mix the tracks aren’t done. The album constitutes with Synthaxe and bass, no drums. Most numbers are like orchestra.
Q: So, can we hear the new album soon?
A: The album will be finish within a few months. But the release depends on record companies.
On Flat Tire when you do the more rubato pieces, how did you work that out without a click? The ones that were like the more orchestrated pieces, there was no click.There was only a click for the tunes that had...like time on them, like Eeny Meeny and Bo Peep where Dave Carpenter played bass on, those were the only tunes that were done with a click.
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: 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 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: 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.
TCG: Okay, that’s cool. Tell me, is it a 2-CD set called Then, that’s all Synth Axe, or Just for the Curious?
AH: No, it’s called Against the Clock (Alternity Records).
TCG: That’s the compilation.
AH: Yeah, it’s a double CD. One of the discs has the majority of the guitar stuff on it and then the second disc is mostly Synth Axe but there are some guitar tracks on that side as well. We didn’t have room for it on the other CD so we kind of put a couple of guitar tracks at the end of the Synth Axe side. I did an album of my own called Flat Tire. Flat Tire is just a single, it’s not a double-album. It’s a single album and I did it right after my divorce. I didn’t really have a full-on studio set up then so it was...I lost my studio in the process. I was just doing some stuff in this house that I rented in San Juan Capistrano. So a friend of mine had kind of commissioned me to do an album for him but unfortunately, I couldn’t do it as a guitar album, so it ended up being a Synth Axe album.
Allan Holdsworth’s 2001 album Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie [reissued this year by Moonjune], opens with a plaintive guitar solo—the only guitar part on the record—floating over a cacophonous mélange of chaotically triggered drum samples awash in reverb, which, intentionally or not, reflected the acute emotional turmoil the composer was undergoing at the time.
“I had just gone through a difficult divorce, and I was feeling very lost and introspective,” says Holdsworth. “I didn’t have a recording studio anymore, because I had sold my Trident mixing console and most of my other gear, and I was living in a place where it wasn’t possible to record guitar or live drums. So I decided to make a record using only the SynthAxe [synthesizer controller]. But making a ‘synthesizer record’ was a problem, because I had also sold my Oberheim analog synthesizers, and I only had some Yamaha digital modules. The Yamahas excelled at more percussive-sounding things, while the Oberheims produced fantastic string sounds. They really complemented each other, so not having both was very limiting.”
“I’ve learned a few tricks over the years, so I’m pretty good at compensating for things,” he says. “But you can only do that up to a point before you can’t go any further. I did have Flat Tire mastered at Bernie Grundman Mastering, however, and they always do a fantastic job—regardless of what you give them. In fact, the original masters were so good that I decided to go with them for the reissue.”
“I had always wanted to compose music for movies, because when I see something, I hear something,” he says. “So, while recording Flat Tire, I created these imaginary movies in my head and then wrote themes for them.”
“Most of the things I played weren’t particularly technical in the sense of requiring exceptional dexterity,” he explains. “They were all about the emotion and staying true to supporting visual images. That’s very different from making a normal record, where the focus is on pieces of music and soloing within them. Also, other than having Dave Carpenter play upright bass on two of the pieces, I played all of the parts myself, including the ‘drum’ parts, which were done with an Alesis HR-16 drum machine. From a compositional standpoint, I’m most happy with the final piece, ‘Don’t You Know,’ which has the fake clarinets in the middle. That’s definitely the highlight of the album for me. I managed to do something I am quite proud of.”