Wardenclyffe Tower (album)
“Wardenclyffe” blends guitar and SynthAxe, but leans more on guitar. The music is quite dense, with long tunes and extended solos. “Against the clock” would be the last vocal track on a Holdsworth album. Jimmy Johnson, Chad Wackerman and Steve Hunt are the core band, with important contributions from Gary Husband.
Q: What’s going on with the new record?
Allan: It’s finished, but it’s not mixed. I do want to record one more track, and drop one of the tracks that I have onto the next album, because I turned out having a lot of ballads. Also, I really enjoyed playing with Skully [sic] Sverrisson and Chad Wackerman on this tour, and I’d like to record a track with Skully on it. What I’m going to do is mix the tracks that I’ve got now, and then right before I hand it in, go in and record and mix another track.
Q: And this is for Restless Records, right?
Blinded By Science: Allan Holdsworth Explores New Guitar Frontiers
Guitar Player, February 1993
Society rarely recognizes genius. Perhaps that’s why Allan Holdsworth sympathizes with Nikola Tesla. Holdsworth named his latest Restless album The Wardenclyffe Tower in tribute to the man who developed alternating current, fluorescent lighting, and the radio without attaining the fame of an Edison or Bell. The Wardenclyffe Tower was Tesla’s most ambitious, and perhaps most controversial idea: a Tower that broadcasts radiowaves worldwide and transmits power through the earth’s surface, without transmission wires, providing free electricity to the masses. Of course, Tesla never saw his dream come true - he couldn’t raise the funds.
In many ways, Holdsworth shares Tesla’s ambitious, idealistic, and inventive spirit. Holdsworth constantly pushes the guitar beyond the boundaries that confine so many players. He has developed his own voice on the instrument, explored guitar synthesis, and experimented with special baritone guitars to expand the instrument’s range and custom electronics to improve its sound. Most important, he pursues and maintains musical integrity without compromising his vision, conceding to his record label’s whims, or blindly pursuing the almighty dollar.
Holdsworth experiments tirelessly with equipment. His studio is littered with the latest amps and gadgets from several manufacturers, all awaiting Allan’s approval. He’s most satisfied with Mesa Boogie gear: "For a long time now I’ve mainly been using Boogie stuff. I just discovered the Dual Rectifier. It’s a cross between some of the things I liked about their old amplifiers, and it has a lot of what’s happened afterwards. It has a vocal quality that I really like. I also have a .50 Caliber which I’ve used for a long time. It’s slightly modified so it doesn’t have as much gain."
The Wardenclyffe Tower features several cuts with Synthaxxe (sic) guitar synthesizer, but Allan says he’s retired that instrument from live performance, possibly even from recording. In its place, he’s dabbling with a new controller developed by Starr Switch. "The instrument has unbelievable potential," he beams. "It’s different than a guitar. It looks like a small keyboard. It’s laid out with 24 ‘strings,’ which are actually keys, and 23 frets or keys. It’s like a two-dimensional keyboard. You can play it vertically as well as horizontally, and play chords on a single ‘string,’ I had him design me one that’s like a guitar neck, where the different-colored keys are like the dot markers on a guitar."
You’re known for being highly critical of your own playing. What do you think of it on Wardenclyffe Tower?
The problem I have with Wardenclyffe Tower is that the album was recorded a long time before it was mixed. It was recorded over a year prior to releasing it and the reason is that we recorded it and the scheduling was such that I could never get to mix it. I started to mix it one time and I wasn’t happy with the mixes so I stopped and we went out on the road. I came back and tried it again. I usually go to Front Page [studios] in Costa Mesa and I mixed it there pretty quick. I thought it was going okay, and then when I listened to the mixes I wasn’t happy with them, so I didn’t release it. I was gonna do it again, but because of the amount of time that had gone by, I started to get really fed up. I was getting very tired of it. So I thought, having played the mixes to my friends and the guys, to release the mixes that I had done at Front Page, which is how the album is now. But I’m not completely happy with the way the mixes are now.
What do you think is wrong with them?
With Secrets, I mixed that album at home and I spent a lot of time on the mixing. It’s different when you do it at home—you don’t have to watch the clock. So, obviously I can take longer to make decisions.
Why didn’t you mix the new album at home?
I decided to go to the studio at that time with Wardenclyffe Tower because I didn’t have my home studio set-up working because we had just moved. So, otherwise I would have tried to do it at home again, but I didn’t have a set-up going at the house. We moved everything and I lost the set-up I had, so I had to start again. I think the album is what it is. I think it’s pretty good. The thing that lets it down for me is just that I would have liked to mix a couple of tracks again—not everything.
You don’t sound too enthused at all.
Well, I like some of the music on it. I thought all the guys played really great on it. As I said, the only thing that let it down for me is the mix.
What were you going for when you first conceptualized the album?
I never really have a concept for an album as a whole. Whenever I’m working on a piece of music, I’ll just be working on that. I’m never thinking about a concept for an album. I just think about writing tunes and trying to find a balance between the tunes to make up an album. Usually, when I come up with an album title—and this has been true with every album I’ve ever done—I don’t think of it is as a whole. Sonically, and making sure the balance between types of tracks, and the running order—that’s important. The titles of the albums have always been related to one piece or one song. I take one piece of music and say "That’s a good title, so I’ll use that." And then the album ends up being called that. Secrets was the same—just that one track, I liked the title, so I used that. So, it wasn’t a concept for the whole record. I balance the pieces of music in a record to make it a whole. I never have an album title based on a concept.
Musically-speaking, did you achieve what you envisioned?
Yeah, pretty much. I think each piece of music turned out the way I wanted them to, except with the way they were mixed, which is very important to me. They weren’t so bad that they weren’t recognizable. I carried a tape of mixes around that I had, even though I started out saying "Geez, I shouldn’t have done that, I should have done this." After I spent time listening to the tape, I got used to it and made the decision not to go back to do it again. I got so used to hearing it as it actually was that I didn’t know if it was gonna be worth doing it again. I like to work constantly on something until it’s the way I want it and release it and never worry about it again. I’m not very good at working to a deadline, in fact I’m horrible at it—that’s what’s going on right now, I’ve got this stuff I’m supposed to do by a certain date. To me, that whole concept doesn’t work. They’re gonna take as long as they’re gonna take. I can’t guarantee it. You might just get one thing that sounds really good right away and it’s done and you get to another track and you just can’t get what you want out it.
Composition-wise, Wardenclyffe Tower strikes me as an extension of Secrets.
I think every album has been an extension of the previous one, or has grown out of the previous one. But I think it’s quite different. I think it’s a little less aggressive in a way. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not—it’s just the way it turned out you know. [laughs] I’m already working on stuff for the next album. Obviously, the problem with Wardenclyffe Tower is the amount of time between recording it and releasing it. I like to get it so they’re fairly quick. Usually, when we start recording it, I work on it until it’s mixed and it’s out, so there’s not a huge difference between when it’s recorded and when it comes out. Now that I think about it, that happened on Secrets as well. I got involved in a tour and other projects at the same time, and I wasn’t able to finish it when I wanted to. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to say, it’s hard to compare them. They sound different—the music is different. Hopefully, they have something that’s the same about them, the thread of evidence of one mind or something, but I don’t know.
It seems to have a more spontaneous and live feel than Secrets.
If people perceive that, then that’s always a good thing. Even when we end up overdubbing things, I try to make it sound live. Sometimes you can overdub something and it might be correct, but it just might not feel right since it didn’t happen at the same time. So, sometimes I’ll make it sound like it really belongs there even if it’s not exactly what I wanted.
Why did you choose to call the album Wardenclyffe Tower?
It’s about this particular Tower and Nikola Tesla. I always intrigued when I had the big book with his patents and everything. He seemed to be a guy who was doing things, being really creative and it seemed he wasn’t in the right time to be doing what he was doing! [laughs] Although what he did contributed to everyone and everyone benefitted, not many people actually know he was responsible for all the things that he did. When I started working on that track Wardenclyffe Tower, I had this idea of this guy in his workshop. So, when I finished that piece, I thought well, that would be a good title for the whole record.
Are you often inspired to write music that way? Do you need that sort of catalyst?
I set out to write something. I quite often start out with an idea I have and work with that. With Wardenclyffe Tower, that was definitely a concept I had—creating an imaginary backdrop for this guy.
Tell me how you go about representing a story in music without lyrics.
It’s only perceived obviously from my own eyes and ears really. I just have to hope that whatever I visualize is somehow transferred to someone else’s mind. That’s why I’ve always wanted to be involved in film music. When I see something, I often hear something at the same time. So it’s just a matter of putting it together. It’s almost as if I’m doing an imaginary film. I think all of my music is kind of like that. They’re almost like imaginary film things. Not so much the soloing aspect of it—that goes into another thing, trying to be creative in an improvising way—but the composition aspect comes from the pictures in my head. So, I was thinking about what I know about Nikola Tesla—which isn’t that much—and just visualizing something and then just putting the music to the pictures of what I see, and that’s what I do usually.
As you said, Tesla contributed to the world as a whole, sold the rights to his inventions for a meager sum and received little recognition. Do you see any parallels between that and your own career?
It’s possible, but I wasn’t thinking about it like that. I wasn’t using it as something where I could say "I’m doing something and no-one is taking any notice." It wasn’t like that at all. If it was, it was some sort of a coincidence. I wasn’t concerned with myself. I was just trying to write some music around what my imagination was doing with regards to Nikola Tesla.
CH: How would you compare it to Wardenclyffe..., for example, I mean in terms of the sound?
AH: Well I actually think it sounds better. I think it’s more linear, or more uniform than Wardenclyffe Tower. That had different groups, different combinations of guys doing different studios and it wasn’t quite... one uniform sound.
CH: There was a track with Vinnie Colaiuta, for instance, on Wardenclyffe..
AH: Yeah, yeah. Chad played on it...
CH: Was that left over from Secrets, or something?
AH: No, no-no-no. We went in and did that. So it was... Gary played on it, Gary Husband; Chad Wackerman played on it; and Vinnie played on it. So there was three different bands, and a couple of the tracks that Chad played on were done at different studios.