Had things become better?
Not much. With Bill and U.K. the rehearsals had almost nothing to do with what ultimately went on the records. We just played bits and pieces of songs, and they would shake them up and record them. Then we had to try to reproduce those parts live. And I just don't feel at home doing that. I'd 'rather play something first, and then record it. Now, I'm not against overdubbing - it's great. It's nice to embellish things, but I think that the important things should go down on the tracks so that when you play the songs onstage, nine times out of ten they'll sound better. With U.K., particularly, we had millions of overdubs, and then we had to try to decide who could play what parts live because one guy doesn't have four hands, and so on. Again it comes back to the magical quality of interplay between band members.
How much guitar overdubbing did you do?
Not much at all. There were a couple of tracks where I added some extra guitar parts, but most of it was done as live basic tracks. For instance, on "Checking Out" I added an extra solo.
Were any solos spliced on I.O.U.?
We didn't do any splicing. In fact, most of the album was done straight in one take. I don't like cutting. I'd rather do it again from the top then cut it. I just don't like editing.
Part of Holdsworth's recording process involves sussing out a feel for the tracks from monitoring the band's basics; because each guitar part was overdubbed, recording solos required a certain period of emotional reaquaintance with the tracks. "As you get more experienced, you get a little bit better at it," he says. "I was familiar with the backing tracks because I'd been in the studio to do them. Sometimes I might like a solo from a guitar point of view - 'Oh, I played pretty well over that section' - but then I'd listen back, and it just wouldn't sound like I was there. Sometimes I do that too much; I might be overly conscious of what's going on, and that's why I want to do the next album differently. I didn't do anything differently than I would have done at the studio, and it still sounded reasonably natural."
Didn't this kind of 'isolated/overdub approach to making music tend to become fairly static after a while?
"For me, yeah. That's not to say the product is no good. But it was too sterile for me. Too cold. I'd like to think that you could do a good piece of music in the studio and take it to a gig and play it better. Those kind of bands are always chasin' the album. Everything is done in bits and pieces. And it drives me crazy. The only thing I felt reasonably happy about was that I got left to do the guitar pretty much at the end by myself, which was great. Everything was put together by then and I could just play along with the tape.
GW: But you've often said that, when recording with bands like with Bruford and UK, listening to the band through cans in a separate room or on tape - a separate musical situation - can really debilitate your spontaneity.
HOLDSWORTH: It's still like that, but I've kind of gotten used to doing it that way over the last few albums, just for practicality. It made more sense for me to worry about the performance of the other musicians than to say "I'm gonna use that track some other guy in the band doesn't like just because I played a great solo on it." I don't work like that because I want everybody to be happy with what they played. I worry about myself later. But I don't wear cans to do overdubs; I just go into the control room and play and listen. I try to be as inside as I can get in an overdub situation. It's difficult, because it's easy to overdub something that sounds like a good solo, but hard to make it sound like it was part of what was happening. I like to live with the tapes and listen to them until I get to play solos over them, to get an idea of what the men were doing there. I try and play off of what they were doing, so there is still the relationship. I like to strike the combination betwe en fitting in and maintaining a few ideas I feel are reasonable.
Another thing I've done is to play solos live, but not spend any time on them; you know, just get a really cheesy tone, stick a Rockman into the board or something, play the solo for a vibe thing, and then replace it with a proper tone. Some of that is dictated by the music as well, because of some of the pieces. For example, when I started using the SynthAxe, I started playing all the accompanying parts myself.
I wish I could go back and do 'em all again [laughs].
GW: Velvet Darkness included?
HOLDSWORTH:: [Groans] That whole thing was just a rip-off and an embarrassment; I don't even like talking about it.
GW: If nothing else, the acoustic work on the record was very memorable. You've said that the performances they recorded were live rehearsals, and you were denied the opportunity for overdubs. How did you accompany yourself "Kinder" and "Floppy Hat?"
HOLDSWORTH:: They were done a different day, and I wasn't happy with them. It was one of those things where you think that they're going to let you listen to what you did, let you choose and maybe even do some of it again. But it wasn't the case. We rehearsed, and they recorded it. Everybody was trying to figure out what was going to happen during the tunes, and then we were to try and record them, but it just didn't happen like that. The guy put us in the red zone while we were just running through things, and consequently it came out sounding like shit. Sometimes, really cool things can happen like that, but generally, that would be far more likely if the guys knew everything and were then thrown into the studio playing pieces they were familiar with, rather than going in and struggling. It was a struggle, it sounds like a struggle and I really felt bad for all the other guys involved because nobody really got a chance on it.
GW: The guitar line from "Wish" is identical to the melody Paul Williams sings on "The Things You See (When You Haven't Got your Gun)" [IOU].
HOLDSWORTH: That's because I counted nothing we did on that album. Usually, if I record something and feel that was the right place for it, I'll leave it to rest and never do another version of it again. I think that can only be said of that album; I can't remember anything else. The only time I ever did that was when it was unfinished - for example, on that Gordon Beck thing, we did a tune that turned out to be "The Things You See," or part of it, but that was before it was really finished. When we did the I.O.U. thing, I put it to rest.