FIELD TRIP
There's Shag On Jupiter
(Field Trip)

 

There’s an innovative form of 21st century instrumental guitar music coming through the airwaves now that breaks the rules and invents a new sound in the process. Case in point is There’s Shag On Jupiter, the 2013 CD from Field Trip. Guitarist Ryan Fleming is fairly well known in the Boston area and, together with his band members—Graham English (keyboards), Nadjim Kebir (drums) and Tim Paul Weiner—Field Trip arrives on the scene with a sonically rewarding CD. Ryan Fleming’s guitar work is solidly inventive and he’s written some challenging music that make good use of it. Displaying a wide palate of electric guitar moves, Fleming comes across on record as a cross between Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. On this debut CD, Fleming takes the Field Trip sound way out there, adding a host of fab sounding studio effects in the mix. There’s Shag On Jupiter is superbly recorded and the CD artwork—as hilarious as it is—somehow suits the serious layers of sound. If you mixed progressive instrumental rock with a shot of jazzy Booker T. type instro R&B soul, you’d come close to the wildly eclectic sound of Field Trip. Make no mistake about it, Field Trip makes 21st century music and heads up a new generation of instrumental jazz-rockers. www.FieldTripBand.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Ryan Fleming of FIELD TRIP




mwe3
: It sounds, at least to these vintage ears, like you’re inventing a new type of instrumental jazz-rock or fusion as we used to call it with the Field Trip CD. What did you set out to achieve on the CD and how did this first Field Trip album come together?

Ryan Fleming: This was the group’s first album, and the first original music project I’ve done. I can’t speak for the album trying to establish a new musical genre. We want to have our own voice, but it’s something that develops as we go. It’s easy to spend lots of time pondering, “What can I do so that I’m one step ahead of what everyone else is doing?” But we all can’t be iconoclasts — striving to become one can make you miserable and it gets in the way of the music. At some point I simply said, “It’s time to make a document of where we are musically,” or, more accurately, “Damn it, we’re going to make a record!” From my point of view the goal was pretty simple - to record our music, have some fun, and see what happens.

mwe3: Where and when was the album written and recorded and what were the recording sessions like? Was the album mostly recorded live and were there any/many overdubs?

Ryan Fleming: I had little bits of music here and there marinating in my cranium for a long time. Some of the songs were written before Field Trip formed; others were written after we got together and I was better able to create material with the group in mind. The basics were recorded at 1867 Recording Studios in Chelsea, MA, in an old building that at various points was a Masonic Temple and an old-style movie theater. It has ultra high ceilings and it’s a great sounding room. During the recording it was the dead of winter and very cold, and this added a moody, dark sheen to a lot of the stuff which I liked.

Chris McLaughlin, the owner/engineer, is an analog junkie - he’s immersed himself in 1960s and ‘70s technology and recording techniques, plus he’s got a great indie rock aesthetic. He blended a lot of my favorite vintage sounds, plus modern ones by people like Beck and the Beastie Boys in which certain elements might be compressed/squashed to all hell or slightly overdriven. A lot of engineers like to record everything completely dry, and add reverb and room noise later, but for me the vibe of the room is crucial. There are many instrumental albums that on the surface have all the critical elements - great tunes, arrangements and playing - but often the productions are too clean and leave me cold.

There were guitar and keyboard overdubs done after the fact, all in Logic. I owe a huge debt to our keyboardist, Graham English, who’s a Logic Jedi master (and runs an outstanding Logic training website, www.logicstudiotraining.com).

mwe3: Can you tell us who’s playing in Field Trip these days? What’s the chemistry like between you and the other Field Trip players and how did you meet them?

Ryan Fleming: Graham English is our keyboardist who I met through Berklee Online, and is one of the most soulful players I know. He’s got great ears, not just for the melody/rhythm/harmony, but also for vintage keyboard textures. I’ve played with our bassist Tim Paul Weiner since we were both Berklee students. As a bassist he can do just about anything - his pocket is fantastic, plus he’s a total pro, super nice guy, and is a fairly prolific songwriter himself. Since our original drummer Nadjim Kebir moved to Algeria, we’ve been fortunate to play with a handful of equally great Boston-based drummers.

When choosing other musicians to play with, everybody has to bring love and respect for the players and the music, which is how I’d define band chemistry. I don’t blog often, but I did write a post on my website about “the hang,” which goes into some detail about this. I’m extremely lucky to play with these people.

mwe3: Why do you call your group Field Trip and tell us how you came up with a title like There’s Shag On Jupiter (lol). And how about that amazing CD cover art? You guys should win a Grammy just for the cover art alone!

Ryan Fleming: The Field Trip moniker came from a brainstorm. Other candidates included Captain Booty, The Rabbit Hole, and about 50 others. Maybe some of those will turn into song titles. Field Trip seemed to imply something fun — a journey or escape. The cover art was done by Joe DellaGatta, an übertalented illustrator from Rhode Island. He hadn’t done anything like that before, and it was a blast watching it come together. There’s Shag On Jupiter suggested an outer-space bachelor pad of some sort. I give most of my instrumental tunes throwaway titles. But a sense of humor and a dollop of kitsch are always high on our priority list, so you end up with a tune whose title is about there being shag carpet on Jupiter.

mwe3: Who else was important during the making of the CD and who did the mastering and mixing of the album?

Ryan Fleming: First, the band totally delivered on the recording. Our budget was tight, and they came in and did all their basics in two days. Chris McLaughlin did all the mixing with some input from me and Graham. Discmakers did the mastering, plus the CD replication and packaging. Of course our fans, friends and family (particularly my wife Katrina) were hugely supportive and patient during the process.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the appreciation I gained for anyone who’s released an album. When you do a first album, you have to be prepared for it to be more work than you expected. Writing charts, doing overdubs, coordinating schedules, figuring out digital distribution and copyright — it all adds up quickly. Every step in the process is brand new so everything’s on a conscious level. While we’re very proud of our first effort, I know we can build on every aspect of it for the next album because we’ve already been through the process.

mwe3: When did you start studying guitar and what was your early music training like? What is your practice routine like these days and how do you push yourself to improve as a guitarist and composer?

Ryan Fleming: I started around seven or eight. I was initially self-taught and had a pretty good ear, and I was able to get by on that for quite a long time. After college I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and got connected with the local music scene. Eventually I realized I couldn’t depend solely on my ear to take me further, so I began studying in earnest, taking lessons, learning theory, teaching myself to read, and transcribing. At 28, I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, where I had the good fortune to learn with some stellar people.

I still transcribe, sightread, work through chord changes, and practice with a metronome, but not as much as I did when I was in school. Some music school graduates psych themselves out: they disappoint themselves because they can no longer shed for hours a day. Other things in their life start happening, and musical duties pop up that don’t involve practicing per se. Since I play professionally with a variety of bands around Boston, I spend a lot of time learning new material, writing horn charts, and keeping up with the business side of what I do. I know great players who shed constantly, but they shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t handle their business. They don’t return phone calls, don’t seem to own a calendar or watch, or they’re otherwise a drag to play with. You have to deliver on that stuff or you won’t get work.

Writing for me is often a process of fits and starts. Sometimes a riff will sit in a corner for months before I find a way to build it into a full song. I’ve spent a lot of my career working on my skills as a rhythm/groove player because that’s what comes most naturally to me — and I’ve gotten a lot of work because of it — but as a writer I often have to force myself out of that comfort zone and focus on writing better melodies.

Song form/structure is often tricky. Though I break away from it when I can, the “head — everyone solos — head” anatomy often works for a reason. At my core I love a well-crafted pop tune. I like choruses and verses. A lot of people try to dodge the issue of form by writing long, through-composed songs that are hard for either the musicians or the audience to follow, and the results sound contrived. Whether they’ll admit it or not, a lot of musicians write material primarily to impress other musicians. I’ve never found it cool to try to throw a fellow player or audience just for the hell of it. Playing to a roomful of people who, as a friend said, “are there to rank you on their artistic hierarchy” isn’t my bag.

mwe3: There’s some excellent guitar work on There’s Shag On Jupiter. Tell us about your guitars and what guitars and other gear, amps, strings, effects, that you use on the new Field Trip CD as well as what guitars you play when you perform live.

Ryan Fleming: For guitars, I employed mainly an Epiphone Les Paul and a Fender Stratocaster. I also used a Paul Reed Smith David Grissom model on the last track. All of the guitars were done in Logic with its amp models (a Vox AC30 simulator and others) plus some of its effects, including a great tape delay. I also used a Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah, a Blackout Effectors Whetstone phaser, and a Leslie speaker simulator called the Neo Ventilator. The Ventilator is so legit sounding and fun to play that it was hard not to throw it on everything. It’s prominent on one of my favorites, “The Secrets Behind Your Mistakes,” which was partly an attempt to honor the harmonized guitar solos that peppered so many great pop tunes of the ‘70s. Live I also use a Barber Direct Drive, Xotic Effects SP compressor, and a Hardwire delay. My amp is a Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue, and for strings I usually use D’Addario .010s.

mwe3: I know you’re active in Berklee College of Music in Boston, so tell us about your relation to the college these days. Can you tell those who might not know, what’s the significance of Berklee and why is it so important to the American music scene?

Ryan Fleming: Before I started as an undergraduate student, my first exposure to Berklee was when I attended the school’s summer guitar sessions program. It was a total game-changer. A few years after graduating, I began working in the college’s fundraising/development office, where I now raise money for scholarships, facility improvements, new technology, and the like.

Berklee is known as a leader in contemporary music education. Jazz, rock, classical, hip-hop, film scoring, bluegrass - it’s all there. Many of its alumni are renowned performers, songwriters, engineers, educators and music therapists. The college has attracted some of the brightest students and faculty from all over the globe. It’s a world-class laboratory of musical ideas, and the caliber of talent is almost overwhelming. In addition to the undergraduate and summer programs, Berklee also has an award-winning online school (Berklee Online), and there are even free courses on Coursera. Berklee Press offers great instructional books and DVDs.

mwe3: What artists and other influences do you cite as being important to your development as a musician and a music fan too and what other artists and groups do you feel are making inroads for jazz-rock these days?

Ryan Fleming: Like everyone, I’m a product of what I’ve listened to. My parents were the first people to turn me onto music. My dad played cassettes in the car constantly - the Eagles, Toto, Boston, Supertramp - all that stuff still has a profound effect on me and people tell me it shows on the Field Trip album. The second lightswitch was my stepbrother Eric, who’s a fantastic guitar player, totally schooled musician, career role model, and a great hang. He got me into hard rock/heavy metal when we were kids; then Clapton, Hendrix and the Beatles; jazz guys like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny; and he’s still turning me onto new music and ways of thinking about music, usually over a glass of bourbon. Guitarists like Robben Ford, Wayne Krantz, Keith Richards, John Scofield and countless others have also been influences.

As much as I identify myself as a guitarist, I’m most moved by a great song. If throw on some music on a whim, whatever I grab might feature a guitar, but it’s not necessarily the center of the action. Though a melody might initially snare me, my ear will quickly latch onto a rhythm part - the drum groove, the keys comping, or even the tambourine. The rhythm/pulse is the sauce that holds it together. Jamiroquai’s guitarist Rob Harris is a perfect example of this: he’s a great soloist, but his rhythm playing is what makes him a rock star. He knows that’s what makes asses shake. James Brown’s guitarist Jimmy Nolen knew this; so do Leo Nocentelli from The Meters, Al McKay from Earth Wind & Fire, and session players like Steve Lukather and Paul Jackson, Jr. Eddie Van Halen’s solos made the headlines, but his grooves on tunes like “Beautiful Girls” or “Mean Streets” are what made them so awesome in the first place.

There’s a difference between treating things with sincerity, and taking things too seriously. There has to be joy in the playing, and it must be shared with the audience and the people on the bandstand. When I go to see a show, I want to see a show. I can smell onstage apathy a mile away. Once I saw a trumpet player finish his solo, then stand there and check his smartphone in the middle of someone else’s solo — and he did this twice! No matter where I’m playing, I’m committed to those musicians and that audience. I love to entertain people and share a laugh with them. If you’re not engaging the audience, you’re not doing right by them. Performing musically rewarding material doesn’t have to be at odds with entertaining people.

There are great bands all over the world, at all levels of popularity, making the inroads you’re talking about. Even if they’re not on my radar, they’re connecting with an audience somewhere, and that moves the dial for all musicians. Snarky Puppy is doing some great things, as are the musicians on the Daptone label (who play as Sharon Jones’ backup band). Guitarists like Jonathan Kreisberg, Julian Lage, Oz Noy, and Kurt Rosenwinkel are all groundbreakers.

mwe3: Is the new Field Trip CD coming out in other countries and how are you planning to spread the word about the new Field Trip CD?

Ryan Fleming: The album is available physically or electronically on the band’s website, CDBaby, and electronically on Amazon & iTunes. One of our fans (and terrific musician) Carlos De Rada, is a music educator from Sweden. He organized a fantastic series of concerts and clinics for the band around Stockholm. Two of our songs were aired on an Israeli podcast called The Jackass-Penguin Show. We do some social media of course, but some of the most meaningful connections we make are with audiences at the shows, and that’s where I want to focus efforts right now.

mwe3: Every track on the new CD is great but one of the tracks that really stands out for me is the album closing track “Love At The Steering Wheel”. Can you tell us about that track? It’s sort of the perfect mix of jazz-rock and Americana instrumental.

Ryan Fleming: We threw a few things in there: gospel, pop, Americana, psychedelia, etc. I told the engineer to have fun with it, and he did, especially toward the end of the song. I used the Neo Ventilator on this one as well - the thick, churning sound of that speaker along with the production added kind of a mercurial element to it.

mwe3: So what does the future hold for Field Trip and tell us it’s the start of a great career with a lot more Field Trip CDs.

Ryan Fleming: Perhaps I don’t know any better, but I think the best way to move the Trip forward is to play as often as we can, and build our sound and audience naturally. It’s easy to sit back, over conceptualize, and mull over what the next creative step is going to be. The next Field Trip album might have horns and some other textures. I might do a project with vocals, which would include the guys from Field Trip and other musicians as well. I also play in an acoustic duo called The Two-Timers. Maybe it will include elements of that plus Field Trip - we’ll call it Two Trips Through the Field!

Thanks to Ryan Fleming @ www.FieldTripBand.com



 

 
   
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