Snakes And Ladders
AL: You are working on a new record. Your last studio album was the magnificent Sixteen Men of Tain. Is your new album going to be conceptual in nature ?
AH: It’s essentially a trio record featuring Joel Taylor and Ernest Tibbs. The working title is Snakes and Ladders. I’m working on recording it at present. No, there’s no particular concept as such. I would say its closer in terms of the music to 16 Men than Hard Hat Area. Beyond that, when it’s done I guess you can tell me.
The first new CD is Snakes and Ladders, coming out on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label. What can you tell me about it?
I signed a deal with Steve around the time I got divorced and he never got his album. He’s been unbelievably patient. The reason he hasn’t bugged me is because he’s a musician and understands that things can go wrong. Usually, a business-oriented record company guy would be beating down my door by this point.
Snakes and Ladders is an interesting record because it has two sets of people on it. Part of the album has Jimmy Johnson on bass and Gary Husband on drums. It also features another rhythm section I was touring with comprised of Ernest Tibbs on bass and Joel Taylor on drums. People have always asked me how different personnel change the music, and Snakes and Ladders really depicts that. There’s one tune that appears in two different versions on the album, played by each set of players. It sounds completely different because of the way they interpret it. With Jimmy and Gary, the music is a bit more high energy and rock-oriented, and with Ernest and Joe, it’s a little softer and goes into Sixteen Men of Tain territory. The record that comes after Snakes and Ladders will be another trio record, with Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson, who I’m currently touring with.
Discuss the creative process behind Snakes and Ladders.
Because of the different way these groups play, I chose to do some tunes with one group and not the other. In general, I was writing tunes that were designed for each unit. My writing process starts the same way, regardless of who I’m writing for. I start by improvising and when I get an idea, I’ll keep working on it. Sometimes nothing happens. For instance, during my six-year hole, I wasn’t feeling very creative at all and lost interest in music. I didn’t go see music. I wanted nothing to do with it for a long time. Now, I’m writing again and have quite a few new tunes that we haven’t played yet because we haven’t had time to rehearse them. I’m looking forward to finishing this album and moving on to the next one.
The way it’s worked out for me is that I tend to write tunes around the personality of the band that I’m working with currently. For example, when I was playing with Dave Carpenter and Gary Novak, that band was considerably softer than, say, Hard Hat Area, which was more aggressive. But that was intended by the players. On one of the new albums I’m working on now, I recorded the same song twice, just so people could hear how much the music changed being played by different people. I did a tune with Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson, and then I did the same exact piece of music with Ernest Tibbs and Joel Taylor. And aside from the melody, you wouldn’t even know it was the same tune! It’s quite remarkable how it changes.