CARL WEINGARTEN
Ember Days
(Multiphase Records)

 

In 2019, Bay-area based guitarist / composer Carl Weingarten released what some were calling then his finest album yet called This Is Where I Found You. Like most of the rest of the world, Carl was affected by the global pandemic of 2020, yet he rises to the occasion again with a most worthy follow-up release entitled Ember Days. Regarding the 2021 CD release of Ember Days, Carl tells mwe3.com “I recorded most of it over this last year during the shut-in. It was a challenge and became an opportunity to reimagine my sound.” The ten-track album starts off optimistically with “Round Robin”, featuring Carl’s acoustic and electric guitar and slide guitar, backed up by Michael Manring on fretless and 10-string bass. The album moves solidly onward from there with added presence from a number of musicians including Pete Calendra (keyboards), Kit Walker (piano), Ulrich Schnauss (synths), and Carl’s long-term accomplices in his early band Delay Tactics, David Udell (guitar) and Walter Whitney (keyboards). In the spirit of her appearance on This Is Where I Found You, vocalist Tate Bissinger appears once again on Ember Days, adding her wordless vocals, doubling Carl’s melodic lead guitar lines, on several tracks. As on This Is Where I Found You, the album artwork, this time from Martin Stranka, gracing the CD package is excellent, as is the first video from the album, the title song “Ember Days”. Musically, an air of wistful nostalgia permeates the soundstage. It’s not quite a Deja-Vu feeling, yet melodically Ember Days finds Carl Weingarten refining his guitar-centric sound. Some may describe the 10-track, 51-minute album as New Age, Impressionistic Folk-Jazz, future jazz or even contemporary neoclassical in scope and feel. With such a display of stately, sonic guitar-based grooves and sonorous arrangements, the effect of Ember Days is mesmerizing, soothing and entertaining all at the same time. www.CarlWeingarten.com

 


 

mwe3.com presents a new interview with
CARL WEINGARTEN

 

mwe3: How were you impacted by the Covid pandemic of 2020? Did you know anyone that was sickened or more severely impacted by the virus and where do you think it will end up from here?

Carl Weingarten: Like most people, not being able to freely see family and friends has been very stressful. Mostly I worried for them. I’ve been very lucky in that I can work from home and still have income, but I lost an aunt and uncle to Covid. Several friends of mine have been sick, or lost family members, and it’s frustrating when I can only be there for them from the other side of a computer.

mwe3: All these vaccines, are they really the answer to a seemingly never-ending systemic, global crises? It’s not a good omen either way. Will I have to provide proof I took a Co-vid shot to get on an airplane?

Carl Weingarten: Predicting the future is an impossible art. Most people who claim to predict future events got lucky and don’t say how many times they got it wrong. I’m not good at making predictions, but I am good at hoping for the future. We now have all the tools to beat the pandemic, but it depends on how cooperative people are going to be in getting vaccinated and staying safe.

mwe3: When did you write the music on your 2021 album Ember Days and was it mostly written and recorded during the 2020 pandemic?

Carl Weingarten: I began experimenting with various directions after releasing the last CD, but the new songs didn’t really gel until early 2020.

mwe3: Can you compare recording Ember Days with This Is Where I Found You? As you said, the musicians contributed mostly remotely this time but you’ve recorded remotely before right?

Carl Weingarten: It’s funny, because up to even ten years ago, remote recording was still considered faking it or “phoning it in.” Now it’s an accepted way to record.

Only a small portion of Ember Days was recorded remotely. I did most of the parts myself. There were several tunes that I expected to develop with other musicians, much like the ensemble music produced on The Is Where I found You, but the pandemic arrived, so change in plans.

I could see right away that the remote logistics for recording were not always going to work for me or for some of the players either. No reflection on anyone. I prefer to be in the room with the people I’m working with. I prefer direct communication and the performances to be as fresh and spontaneous as possible as we work through the ideas together. For some players, that’s how we get the best work done.

At that point it was like, okay what are my choices? Wait for the pandemic to end? Do a small solo project? Perhaps an ambient recording? I decided no, been there and I didn’t want to cover that ground again.

So, I sketched out a few of pieces and started orchestrating tracks with guitars and keyboard sounds with my DSS-1. I made sure each new part had a distinctive purpose and a unique sound, so I wasn’t just layering tracks. When you layer tracks, the sound often just gets louder. That’s fine, but what I wanted was the sound to become more dynamic and more intricate. This was also different than simulating a band, where here’s the drums and that’s the bass and that’s the guitarist and there’s the singer over there. As the pieces developed, I focused on whatever sound I thought the music needed, rather than any specific instrument.

It’s somewhat like a choral ensemble. The conductor’s aim is to make thirty singers sound like one voice. Of course, what you hear doesn’t sound like one voice, but a multitude of textures and tones all focused in unison.

mwe3: Did you also use remote recording techniques on Was This Is Where I Found You or was that album made for the most part with other musicians in the same room?

Carl Weingarten: Most of This Is Where I Found You was made in person. Only Kit Walker and Ulrich Schnauss recorded remotely.

mwe3: So you live in the Bay Area and there have been no live concerts for just about a year now? Terrible times for live music down the line.

Carl Weingarten: It’s been a loss, for sure. I was hoping to travel and work with Ulrich Schnauss overseas, so that’s delayed. There were shows planned for Blue Eternity that were also cancelled.

mwe3: In my mind, is Ember Days sounds like a logical successor to This Is Where I Found You, considering that both albums are very melodic as you indicated earlier. You said earlier that some artists were bemoaning a lack of melody in popular music, so I’m glad Ember Days is also filled with a lot of melodic infusions.

Carl Weingarten: I was satisfied with how The Is There I Found You turned out. It’s a very melodic album, but the melodies are often thematic, whereas on Ember Days the pieces have more of a song structure. As my producer friend Noah Perry would say, “If you get the head-bobbing reaction, then you’re on the right track.”

mwe3: Is your music becoming more melodic or has it always been melody-based? Is it harder to write melodic music than more free-form experimental music?

Carl Weingarten: Melody has been a long and winding learning curve for me. I have always aimed for melody, but usually ended up in more abstract and thematic territory. That’s because the mood and atmospheric elements came first, often with the melody later. It’s working backwards basically, and that made it a challenge. Eventually the melodies would come through improvisation, usually with guitar. Peter Gabriel talked about composing arrangements first, then vocalizing to them, “until the words come”.

For Ember Days, I instead wrote the melodies early on, and those melodies paved the direction for the entire arrangements.

mwe3: One well-known avant-garde guitarist told me, at least 35 years ago, that he doesn’t write more accessibly because he’s afraid someone will steal his music from him! lol Do musicians have built in radar against “sonic ID theft”. lol

Carl Weingarten: If we’re talking about stealing a specific melody or arrangement, then sure, that goes on all the time unfortunately. In the meantime, when my music becomes popular enough to steal, please let me know.

mwe3: Is the style of music on Ember Days what the programmers on radio want these days?

Carl Weingarten: I wish, but like I said earlier, I’m not a predictor of anything. Making music is something I love to do and is an expression of where I am at the time. Once the music is finished and released, I hope for the best and that people will hear and enjoy it. Music tastes are constantly changing. Every time I release an album it feels like sailing into uncharted waters. So far “Round Robin”, “Ember Days” and “Geola” are the tracks I see most on playlists. The test now is to see if they stay on those playlists for a while.

mwe3: The lead-off track “Round Robin” sets the tone of Ember Days perfectly. Why call it “Round Robin”? It has a circular bounce and Michael Manring’s bass is quite prominent in the mix but many tracks on the Ember Days album have that nice “round” sound.

Carl Weingarten: “Round Robin” is about the joy of traveling. It has a great rhythm. The guitar tracks alone set the pace, but the song needed the boost that only percussion and bass can provide. I added the rhythm, but Michael did more than keep the beat going. He added a funk element and a back beat. It was the perfect track to kick things off.

mwe3: Speaking of mixing the album, your liner notes mention that J. Goody did the mix and mastering of the album. What is involved in that process? I think many listeners don’t fully appreciate or understand the important post-production work after the music gets written and recorded. Who is J. Goody?

Carl Weingarten: I met Jeremy Goody when Henry Kaiser asked me to play dobro on a song he was producing. Jeremy is a fantastic sound engineer, musician and producer with a studio in Oakland. Jeremy mastered The Is Where I Found You, and we’ve continued to work together.

When I have a song ready for mix, Jeremy usually asks to hear a demo first, so he can get familiar with the tune. From there I send him my final tracks and he’ll take some time to sort through and organize the files and do some pre-mix production. On the session day, I’ll come in and we do the mix together.

mwe3: Can you change music more in the either mixing or mastering stages?

Carl Weingarten: Mixing is the last stop if you want to change the arrangement of a song. Mastering is where the final sonic embellishments are made to the overall sound of the project and to make sure all the songs on an album roll together.

mwe3: Tell us about the Café Mix’ on “What The Raindrop Saw”.

Carl Weingarten: The Café Mix for “What The Raindrop Saw” was a last minute decision. As I was prepping the tracks to mix Raindrop, I listened through to the alternate piano takes that Kit Walker had sent me. Hearing them solo I could tell he really listened to the song and did more than just play accompaniment. His tracks were very skillful and beautiful performances. I decided to do a second mix, very pared down with Kit’s piano as the lead instrument, along with Michael’s bass and just a hint of guitar. So, the album comes to a close with this beautiful jazz trio.

mwe3: Tell us about your primary and secondary guitars that you play on Ember Days. Do you still play the Sweetwood guitar you used on Life Under Stars?

Carl Weingarten: Yes, I used the Sweetwood guitar for all the electric work. I have several acoustic and resonator guitars that I also use.

mwe3: Ember Days sounds like the most guitar-centric release from you to date.

Carl Weingarten: Ember Days is very guitar centric, and different than This Is Where I Found You in that I didn’t have an ensemble to work with because of Covid. But that situation pushed me to change directions and refresh my sound.

mwe3: You play slide guitar as well as dobro and also there’s your keyboard playing too. How did you blend the keyboards into the mix and what keyboards do you use on Ember Days?

Carl Weingarten: My main keyboard is an old school 1980s Korg DSS-1 that I bought years ago from Walter Whitney. All sounds are loaded in with floppy discs. There’s no onboard memory. I have a few favorite sounds that I like to use and mix together – a vibraphone, strings and piano. Aside from that I have software plugins to generate sequences or process tracks I’ve already recorded. Often, I’d process a guitar track with filters or delays to the point to where it becomes a completely new instrument, and another discreet sound in the arrangement.

mwe3: Also tell us about the three guitars that are featured on the inside of the CD packaging.

Carl Weingarten: That would be my Regal Dobro, Recording King acoustic and classical guitar, with the Sweetwood electric on the back cover.

mwe3: Ember Days features more tracks with Tate Bissinger than were on Where I Found You. What’s new with Tate and how were the tracks made with her?

Carl Weingarten: Tate was perfect for this music because she’s not a lead singer, and her choral training allowed her to add a vocal element to the music akin strings or other atmospheric sounds. Once I had the songs arranged for her, she came by the studio where she rehearsed the melodies and tracked her parts. Tate works as a program coordinator and media producer for The Piedmont Choir organization in the San Francisco East Bay, and sings professionally.

mwe3: Speaking of other artists you record the album with, what is their take on the horrors of 2020? Did you discuss the pandemic with your recording friends and associates?

Carl Weingarten: The friends I have talked to are in very similar places and we generally don’t go on about our individual woes. My friend, and singer Monica Reed lost two brothers and a nephew. I can’t imagine. When I do connect with friends, we talk about what we’re doing now and think ahead to when we can start playing shows again.

mwe3: How many albums have you released so far? Do you recall your first albums from way back in the 1980s?

Carl Weingarten: I’ve released 30 something recordings at this point. Those first albums, Submergings, Windfalls and Delay Tactics were inspired beginnings for sure. The gear we had to work with was primitive by today’s standards, but we produced music I’m still very proud of.

mwe3: Is there a consistent line traveling through your music from then until now? Would you consider a CD compilation with historic liner notes about you and your music?

Carl Weingarten: There’s a connection that runs through all the music, and I’m told that I have my own sound. Though honestly, I could not describe to you what that is. Someone just ordered one of my few remaining CDs of my first album Submergings along with Ember Days. That’s a 40 year stretch between the two releases. They are from completely different universes as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to think that each step, each project along the way had something new and unique to offer.

At some point I’ll get to that retrospective box. In the meantime, we’re offering much of the catalog on the digital services, including on Bandcamp, and reissuing both Delay Tactics albums on CD later this year.

mwe3: Are other labels getting more interested in your music? Tell us about your reissues for example on the Emotional Rescue label. How did that come about, and did you write liner notes for the reissue?

Carl Weingarten: In the last few years several labels have come around that specialize in reissues of early indie labels that never got much attention, but now with hindsight seem worth bringing back into print. I’ve had interest from several labels, Emotional Rescue reissued Dreaming In Colors and Azure Vista reissued Living In The Distant Present and Emotional Rescue is due to release a Delay Tactics compilation called Imperfect Strangers anytime now. As far as liners, Emotional Rescue didn’t want to add them, but Jonas at Azure Vista had me write liners for the Living LP.

mwe3: Why are they only reissuing on vinyl? I keep forgetting that the younger generations never lived through the days of black vinyl LP and 45rpm releases.

Carl Weingarten: LPs are where their market is right now apparently, though Azure Vista did release a CD version of Living along with the LP.

mwe3: Why did they call the collection of Delay Tactics music Imperfect Strangers?

Carl Weingarten: We wanted to give the release a unique name and not just call it “a compilation.” It came from David, Walt and I joking about how long it had been since we worked together. It was Walter Whitney who came up with that title.

mwe3: What other labels have you recorded with?

Carl Weingarten: Kit Watkins briefly had a record label in the early 1990s called Linden Music and he released Pandora’s Garage. Producer Kavi Alexander of the label Water Lily Acoustics had Joe Venegoni and I play on a world music CD called At The Court Of The Chera King, also in the ‘90s. Forrest Fang and I did a record for Foundry. I’ve been fortunate to make a few guest appearances on other releases including for Barry Cleveland, DJAM KARET, Lygia Faragalo, Joe Venegoni, Forrest Fang and a few others.

mwe3: Tell us more about your label Multiphase, you have had the label for many years now.

Carl Weingarten: I started Multiphase Records in 1980. At first it was going to be the house label for a new record store, but the owners backed out. So, I took what savings I had and produced and released Submergings, which was basically an industrial ambient recording. From there I expanded the label to include a number of St. Louis artists doing techno, prog and electronic music. We also did three compilation cassette releases of St. Louis bands called The Urban Cabaret, plus two LPs from Delay Tactics and the Dreaming In Colors album with Walter Whitney and several cassette-only titles.

When CDs came on the scene in the mid-80s, they blew into the record stores like a tsunami and out went the vinyl. The small distributors who had circulated independent records either went out of business or went to CDs over vinyl. The Multiphase LP era ended at that point. It was three years before I could afford to do another release, which was Primitive Earth, on CD in 1989.

mwe3: The cover art of Ember Days is excellent. Who did the artwork on Ember Days and is there a concept in the artwork?

Carl Weingarten: Martin Stranka is a Czech photographer who blends staged scenes with digital art. His work is high tech, beautiful and very imaginative. He was very generous in allowing me to license the cover image. The image of a man striding through a torrid scene represents the core expression of the music, and the events we’ve all had to go through this last year. The character is focused on his inner life despite the world around him.

mwe3: I’ve seen you wear that odd-looking mask before. Is that also a kind of social statement regarding the times we now live in?

Carl Weingarten: It’s a 14th century plague-era mask, that photographer Anne Kohler loaned me for our shoot. It’s a replica, I hope anyway. It was believed that the mask gave people protection from getting infected, but it’s not clear how many people wore them. And since we live in a pandemic today, I thought I’d wear it.

mwe3: So, I am happy you continue making new quality music. I’m hoping Ember Days gets heard far and wide. What steps are you looking at to make sure the albums get the proper amount of airplay both near and far?

Carl Weingarten: Higher Level Music (HLM) is doing the radio promotion, and the CD is getting some play on college and independent stations. Syndicated programs like Echoes have the music in rotation now. Several reviews have been helpful to get the word out, and the album is available on most of the digital platforms like Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Bandcamp and many others. So, it’s out there for people to hear.

We’re also getting more of the Multiphase catalog out to digital distributors for the first time. I’ve been a holdout in that area until now, but I’m excited that people will soon be able to stream and download the entire extended catalog…

{Thank you to Myles Boisen for the black and white photos, and Anne Kohler for all the color shots, and Tom Carlson for the black and white graphic images.}

 



 

 
   
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