CHARLES BROWN
A New Awakening
(Charles Brown Music)

 

Colorado-based guitar conceptualist Charles Brown is back in action in 2023 with his latest epic called A New Awakening. The title track is a veritable progressive instrumental masterpiece that also borrows from blues-rock and heavy metal. A guitarist’s guitarist, Charles Brown has released nine solo albums of pure instrumental rock to date, and now his tenth solo CD, A New Awakening is sure to spark interest among his many followers. This time around Charles is a one man band, playing all the guitars, bass, synths and drums. A musical mastermind, Charles was greatly influenced by Pete Townshend and one could also hear the Who guitar dynamic in play on A New Awakening. In the spirit of Townshend, Charles fashions his impressive sonic vision by mixing electric guitars with acoustic guitars to great effect. Speaking about the epic 8+ minute title track, Charles tells mwe3.com, “A New Awakening” ended up being something of an epic prog type track, so I decided to make it the basis for the name and feel of the whole CD. The combining of themes and melodies at the end is a major influence of Pete Townshend and his work on Quadrophenia."

On A New Awakening, Charles also follows in the footsteps of his guitar heroes Billy F. Gibbons, Robin Trower, Kim Simmonds and Richie Blackmore. Every track here has something to offer. The  title cut “A New Awakening” is one of his best and “Rock Solid” finally finds a place on a Charles Brown album, as it first appeared on the “Emidio’s Den 2” compilation album on Bongo Boy Records back in 2020. “Edge Of Time” goes through several different changes and has a jazzy, prog-light guitar sound that is quite tasteful. “Walking The Edge” is very Who-inspired with its mix of acoustic and electric guitars while the classical guitar flavored CD closer, “Touch The Sunrise” displays the artists fretboard versatility. Telling mwe3.com about performing all the instruments, Charles adds, "I ended up doing this project by myself because it was extra hard to get together with people during the pandemic. Once I got started, I just kept going. All the parts that sound like keyboards are with the guitar synth. It has tons of patches of instruments. The trick is to incorporate the phrasing of that instrument with the guitar." Perhaps the finest solo album yet by guitarist / composer Charles Brown, A New Awakening is clearly an album that reveals new layers of sound with each spin. facebook.com

 


 

mwe3.com presents a new interview with
CHARLES BROWN

mwe3: You mentioned the pandemic of 2020 as being an impetus in writing and recording the tracks on your 2023 album A New Awakening. How many of the tracks on the new album were written during the pandemic times and what was your frame of mind during the A New Awakening writing and recording sessions?

Charles Brown: Some of the tracks were written during the pandemic when there was nothing else to do during the lockdown.  Everything else came together when things finally started to open up again, and the name for “A New Awakening” started to take shape.

mwe3: “The Darkest Winter” is a great way to start off A New Awakening. It’s one of your best tracks yet. It certainly has an appropriate title. Was 2020 pandemic the inspiration for “The Darkest Winter” and is it a kind of overture for the whole album?

Charles Brown: The title “The Darkest Winter” is kind of a description of how it felt during the worst of the pandemic during the lockdown.  I really like the end guitar solo in it. It’s very influenced by Ritchie Blackmore, and is reminiscent of his playing in “Stargazer” and “Gates of Babylon” from the early Rainbow days. It has a mystical type sound to it.

mwe3: The title track “A New Awakening” was one of the first tracks I heard. Why did you choose that title for the track and for the entire album? The main themes repeat several times in the song, which clocks in at nearly nine minutes. Does repeating the themes make this track more powerful and effective?

Charles Brown: “A New Awakening” ended up being something of an epic prog type track, so I decided to make it the basis for the name and feel of the whole CD. The combining of themes and melodies at the end is a major influence of Pete Townshend and his work on Quadrophenia.

mwe3: “A New Awakening” features a number of guitars both electric and acoustic? What guitars are you playing on “A New Awakening” and in fact throughout the entire album? Also tell us something about playing your Roland TD series drums. Do you find those drums are the best you’ve played so far? What other instruments did you use for percussion on A New Awakening?

Charles Brown: A New Awakening has a number of guitars. Much of the electric work was with my ’78 Fender Strat, and Les Paul. The acoustic parts were with a Fender acoustic that has a Furman preamp. It makes it sound like an acoustic even going through the mixing board.

The Roland TD series drums are an electronic drum kit, that has great sounding acoustic drum patches. I eq it a bit, and use a Lexicon gated reverb to fatten up the production of it.

mwe3: Was A New Awakening a challenging album to engineer and mix compared to your last album Explorer Of Life? Tell us about working with the Audio Spectrum Pro Tools, Lexicon processing and about using the AKG microphones and tell us something about the mixing and mastering process for A New Awakening.

Charles Brown: The main challenge of making this CD was making everything flow. I record the songs all the way through during the tracking to give it a “Live” feel. Then, if things need to be fixed, I go back and fix that section. Using Pro Tools makes it easy to edit, and tweak with things as needed. And, I can’t say enough about Lexicon. Their processing gear is top notch. All their effects are clean and fat sounding.

mwe3: Your 2017 album Explorer Of Life featured keyboardist Steve Espinosa. Why did you want to play all the keyboards on A New Awakening and do you still keep in touch with Steve. Compare your approach to keyboards with Steve’s.

Charles Brown: I ended up doing this project by myself because it was extra hard to get together with people during the pandemic. Once I got started, I just kept going. All the parts that sound like keyboards are with the guitar synth. It has tons of patches of instruments. The trick is to incorporate the phrasing of that instrument with the guitar. I really love Steve Espinosa’s playing, but we weren’t able to be in contact during this project. Hopefully we can do something together again at some point.

mwe3: “Dance Of The Sun” has so many musical moves, it’s a real head-spinner. Did you pair the synth sound with the acoustic guitar sound? It sounds like a synth or horn. Do you recall how many different instrument layers you put on that track?

Charles Brown: “Dance Of The Sun” is a pattern I came up with just messing around. It ended up being in 10/8 time. I put the acoustic guitar and a synth sound in unison for that pattern. I probably pushed the limit on tracks in Pro Tools for it!

mwe3: Tell us about Jilaen Sherwood’s painting for A New Awakening. Did you offer some suggestions on the artwork or was it already done and chosen by you? How far back do you go with Jilaen and when and how did you meet her?

Charles Brown: Jilaen Sherwood has been doing CD artwork for many years. I came across her way back when I was with Fossil Records. She’s done most of my CD projects. All of the artwork has had a theme featuring a set of rings that appear on all my CD’s. It’s kind of like a Roger Dean effect on the YES albums. I didn’t have any specific ideas for A New Awakening, I just gave Jilaen the name and she came up with the artwork for it.

mwe3: “Rock Solid” finally appears on your new solo album. That track first appeared on Emidio’s Den 2, a compilation Bongo Boy put out in 2020. You say it has a Robin Trower meets Hendrix sound. Tell us about the Trower and Hendrix influence on that track? What era of those guitarists do you feel was most influential on your playing? It seems like Trower didn’t get the right recognition till after he left Procol Harum. Favorite Hendrix and Trower albums?

Charles Brown: “Rock Solid” is very influenced by the Robin Trower track “Day Of The Eagle”. I love that riff and came up with Rock Solid in that vein. I’ve always been into Hendrix and Trower, and their influence has been significant on me. There’s too much great Hendrix music to really choose a favorite, so all of it! I always loved For Earth Below by Trower. Of course, Bridge Of Sighs is his most famous, but it’s incredible as well. “Whiskey Train” by Trower is a ball burner from when he was still in Procol Harum, but it shows where he would eventually be heading.

mwe3: “Sea Of Myst” is a deceptive sounding track. I thought it was a classical piece till after the two minute mark, when the synths kick in. Even with the many moods it goes through, “Sea Of Myst” also has a kind of New Age hard rock sound. Also why do you spell Myst like that? I really liked the tempo change at the 5 minute mark.

Charles Brown: “Sea Of Myst” was something that I pieced together with a few different ideas. I wanted to show something classical/acoustic which is how it starts out, then I had a David Gilmour/Pink Floyd idea of a rhythmic echo pattern, that finally segues into a Trower kind of dreamy riff. The tempo change section comes straight from one of my very first songs “Mystics”.  There used to be a computer game years ago called “Myst”, so that probably was in my head somewhere!

mwe3: “Edge Of Time” starts with another classical type intro that goes right into a Deep Purple kind of groove. The mix of acoustic guitars and electric styles makes it one of your best tracks. It’s like a modern day “Smoke On The Water”. There is an amazing break about the 2:30 break. What is the chord change on that track? Do you like adding these dramatic twists and turns in your songs?

Charles Brown: The intro for “Edge Of Time” is a classical / Renaissance type idea on the acoustic that I decided to combine with a heavier riff I had, kind of in the vein of Rush, Led Zeppelin, etc. I love combining acoustic with heavier riffs and sounds. It’s a technique that all the great prog bands utilize. Kind of like “Light & Shade” as Jimmy Page calls it.

mwe3: Does “Waterdance” highlight a new direction in your music? It’s very jazzy and has a light bounce to it. It’s not really jazz and there’s a cool break at the 1:14 with a horn sound. You have many jazz influences, what are the influence you can cite on “Waterdance”? What guitars and guitar sounds / EFX gave you that jazzy, light and airy sound?

Charles Brown: “Waterdance” is an example of my influence / inspiration by Pat Metheny. It’s a “jazzy” sounding guitar progression, but I wanted to throw in a totally different sounding middle section the way Metheny does on albums like Offramp, etc. The clean guitars are with a Strat through a clean Marshall, and the horn solo is the guitar synth.

mwe3: What sound starts off “Rain Of Sorrow”? I can’t figure out how you got that intro sound. It sounds kind of Allan Holdsworth inspired but it quickly kicks into a tight hard rock groove. What inspired the title “Rain Of Sorrow”? What kind of guitar sound appears around the 2:45 mark? It's another track that changes directions quite effortlessly.

Charles Brown: The Intro sound on that one is the guitar synth. That’s another influence from players like Pat Metheny, Holdsworth and the fusion players. The different sections going from loud to soft and back, is more of the “Light & Shade” concept. It was mostly the weather that inspired the title “Rain Of Sorrow”.

mwe3: You don’t record much funk but you did on A New Awakening and it’s very cool. What inspired “What The FUNK”? How did you get the horn sounds? Heavy metal fusion works for me. What guitarists / bands / artists most inspired your interest in jazz-funk?

Charles Brown: With this CD, I kind of wanted to go back to my very first CD Mystics, that had a variety of styles.  I had this funk riff, and wanted to show something along the funk/jazz fusion area.  The horn parts are with the guitar synth. I’ve always been into players like John Scofield and the funky grooves he does. I also like the old Eleventh House stuff by Larry Coryell.

mwe3: “Walking The Edge” has your trademark sound. On several occasions you’ve mentioned the big influence of Pete Townshend of the Who on your writing and recording. Does this track have a Townshend influence, especially the way you layer the acoustic and electric guitars. Tell us something more about “Walking The Edge” and Pete Townshend’s influence on your music overall. You also play sometimes in a tribute band for The Who in Colorado. Tell us about the band The Substitutes and what they’re planning next.

Charles Brown: Pete Townshend is one of my biggest influences. “Walking The Edge” is done with a capo at the 3rd fret. Townshend uses a capo a lot, on songs like “Going Mobile”, “The Real Me”, “Love Reign O’er Me” and many others. I’ve had to utilize that technique covering parts with The Substitutes, which is a WHO tribute band I’ve been involved with in Denver. I’m not sure what will be happening going forward with the Substitutes. There are various health and other issues at the moment. They have been recently working on mixing a Live CD from a show before the pandemic.

mwe3: A New Awakening closes out with an acoustic guitar track called “Touch The Sunrise”. After so much rocking on that album, that track sounds almost subdued. Tell us about the percussion sounds on “Touch The Sunrise”. Would you consider recording other acoustic guitar tracks or even make an acoustic solo album at some point? What guitar(s) are you playing on that track?

Charles Brown: “Touch The Sunrise” is inspired by the acoustic work of Steve Howe and Steve Hackett, and even Pat Metheny’s more textural kind of pieces.  It features guitar synth pads and I’m using a shaker for the rhythm, and a rain stick as well.  I am definitely interested in exploring more things on the acoustic, and bit by bit putting together a collection of acoustic based tracks.

mwe3: So, now with the release of A New Awakening what do you have your sights set on next? Are you continuing to write and compose with an eye to the future? You spoke of a possible best of or even a DVD? Since your music is so atmospheric and visual would you consider a DVD kind of like Paul Speer did for his Oculus video DVD?

Charles Brown: I’m always working on new music and ideas. I just want to share my version of Prog and rocking guitar music with people who enjoy that style.  I’m looking into putting together mountain and nature video footage I take when hiking, with mostly acoustic/textural based pieces into videos I can post on You Tube. When I can get the time, I hope to start doing that. And, I might even include photos or a bit of footage of friend’s bands or bands I try to follow in Colorado.

 

 




 

 
   
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