I recently had the opportunity of demonstrating Spectrasonic’s new cutting edge virtual bass instrument “Trilian” in the studio with Chris Vrenna (Marilyn Manson, NIN, Tweaker). Chris contacted me via email last October while on tour with Marylin Manson in Osaka Japan and asked me if I could come in the studio and write and record a song with him when he got back to LA. I immediately accepted the invitation and looked forward to making music with Chris again. Chris produced my first album “Artificial Intelligence” for my band A.i. on Dreamworks Records and I co-wrote and sang on his last Tweaker album “2 A.M. Wakeup Call” for a song called “Sleep Walking Away”. He’s been a close friend and mentor ever since we first worked together back in 2001.
When Chris returned from his tour, he asked me what guitar equipment I was going to bring to the session. Over the years, he’s seen me using just about every guitar setup imaginable (both good and bad!) from multiple amps, speakers, racked pedals to pedal boards to going direct to completely digital, etc!…both live and in the studio. I assured him that I would bring my Grosh Guitars (my favorite electric guitars…check them out!!!), an acoustic guitar, and an all tube 12″ boutique Marshall combo. Knowing that Chris loves new instruments and gear as much as I do and is always looking for new sounds and tones to play with, I told him that I would bring my revolutionary new digital guitar processor called the AXE-FX ULTRA made by Fractal Audio. We only had one day in the studio to write, record, and mix a song from scratch, so I spent the evening before the session testing out my setup and preparing different guitar tones/fx that I thought Chris would dig so that I could call up just about any guitar sound we wanted on the fly.
We met up the next morning at at Glenwood Studios in Burbank and there was a gang of people there from Spectrasonics along with 3 camera men with HD camera’s. There was even a guy huddled in the very back corner with multiple computers and headphones recording every sound we made in the control room. It was a bit intimidating at first but after meeting the super friendly Spectrasonics gang, I instantly felt right at home. Not only were they all very professional, but I could tell right away that they were all musicians themselves and were in it for the love of it! Even their publicist Paul J. de Benedictis, who I had previously met on the last Tweaker tour, happens to be a guitar player and was eye-ing my guitar setup and asking me about my Grosh Guitars and Axe-FX. Paul then introduced me to Spectrasonic’s legendary synth guru Eric Persing and drummer extraordinaire Bob Wilson. Over the last several decades, these guys have had an enormous impact on pushing the musical envelope by developing new instruments and sounds never heard before. You can’t turn on the radio without hearing instruments and/or samples that these guys developed. Their instruments and sounds are woven throughout every style of music from pop to jazz… I even have an African Drum sample cd that they produced years ago!
They were so excited to show us their latest inventions… Trilian and Omnisphere. I felt like a kid in a candy store while listening to all of the amazing new patches and sonic soundscapes… so many deep and rich musical sounds that I had never before heard! It was so inspiring! While Eric was showing Chris how Trilian worked and the sounds that it made, Chris turned to me and asked what I thought of it. “I’m glad I’m not a bass player!” I replied. This virtual bass instrument sounds so real and “life like” and is so intuitive to use… even the effects that are built into it are incredible sounding!
Moment of Truth!
After meeting everyone and checking out Trilian, our next task at hand was to come up with a tune using a bass patch from Trilian as the foundation, and write, record, and mix a song before the end of the day. Chris immediately began jamming on a heavy riff using Trilian and I began playing with melodic ideas on the acoustic in the control room. After coming up with several parts, we went into the live tracking room to jam on the song and flush out the arrangement. The song we ended up with that day is called “Home Is Where the Hate Is” and can can be downloaded for free from Spectrasonics website.
Rich Mouser, who was the chief engineer, helped produce the session and would give us constructive feedback and suggestions on the parts as he was dialing in Chris’s live drum sound and then my guitar sounds in the control room. Rich produced and engineered A.i.’s 2nd album “Sex & Robots” and has incredible ears. He is a master at capturing a live band in the studio as well as being an accomplished Producer. Check out Rich’s studio, The Mouse House.
My Guitar Rig
(Warning – TECH TALK) For my guitar setup I used my white retro Grosh electric guitar with a bridge humbucker pickup and fed that into my Axe-FX ULTRA. My AXE-FX was hooked up to a macbook pro laptop via midi so that I could easily tweak sounds on the fly using the axe-fx editor. I think I used a tweaked Gilmory “Floyd” solo patch as my main palette and used the volume control on my guitar to play with the level of distortion throughout different parts of the song. The Axe-FX is the most dynamic digital guitar processor I’ve ever used (and I’ve tried them all!) in that it is extremely expressive and reactive to the subtleties of my playing. It does such a close job of simulating real amp tubes but also can be used to come up with new and innovative guitar sounds. Its an instrument unto itself. I fed a stereo signal from the axe-fx into the control room and then fed another signal straight out of the axe-fx into a Marshall combo we had placed in a smaller room with a few dynamic mics (sm57, 421 & 441… i think we ended up using the 441 the most). That amp signal was used to add a bit of bite and depth tucked down in the center while the direct signals were used to give a stereo spread and surround the listener. Everyone was very happy with the guitar tones and it really helped inspire my playing and coming up with the right parts on my guitar.
WORKING WITH TRILIAN…
Spectrasonic’s Trilian is one of the most innovative musical instruments I’ve ever worked with and is now the first instrument I turn to when needing to record bass. Spectrasonics sampled every type of bass instrument you can think of… from monophonic bass synthesizers to electric vintage/modern basses to acoustic basses. They even built instruments to sample and recorded them in different acoustical environments to get sounds you just can’t get in a studio. Also, their “in studio” samples are top notch. All of the sounds use round robin and multiple samples for different velocities, as well as release samples so that while you play a series of notes, it sounds “performed” by a live player. They’ve coupled these samples with a technology they’ve developed called their “Steam Engine” which allows the user to manipulate the organic samples in real time in ways never before heard. To give an example, Omnisphere has a patch that uses the steam engine to manipulate the sound of a light bulb as well as a Tesla coil to turn them into musical instruments. They call this process Psychoacoustics. I highly recommend anyone serious about making new music and wanting to push the envelope of their creativity to get these two virtual instruments (Trilian & Omnisphere). My brother Zack and I are currently using Omnisphere to help score a documentary titled “The Maze: The Story of William Kurelek”.