Ray Riendeau has been on the scene for quite some time now, and has easily earned the respect of those within the bass community, on all levels I might add. His technical prowess keeps him in that “second to none” category. But more importantly, his overall musicality is what has raised critical acclaim for him from an international audience.
He consistently flirts stylistically with genre-breaking musical entities, playing with the likes of James LaBrie from Dream Theater, 3 Doors Down, and the Mahavishna ReDefined project to name just a few. Ray Riendeau represents that state of musical openness in the best light, which I believe is critical to any kind of sustained success these days. The trick is to live there, and still present a singular individual voice “within” the music, remaining complimentary “to” the music, and this is definitely one of Ray’s fortes’.
The release of his newest CD, Atmospheres, is an excellent representation of his artistry on his instrument, a forward thinking musical approach, and his true joy just to be playing. For those of you who are not familiar with Ray, I would highly recommend taking some time to check him out. Ray is on the cutting edge, and the rewards will be all yours.
Jake: Let’s begin by talking about your latest CD Atmospheres. After listening to it, it’s easy to hear that a great deal of work went into it compositionally. What inspired this particular effort?
Ray: It had been a number of years since my last solo effort. I wanted to release some more material soon, but also felt I needed some time to come up with some new ideas and concepts and have something legit to say. I also made a conscious decision to show another side of my playing as my previous material really just showcased my slap bass skills. I wanted to not rely on my slap bass “chops” and focus more on my finger style playing and composition.
“Atmospheres” started with the idea of doing a live bass meets electronica kinda-thing. In fact all my demos (versions prior to involving other musicians) were made up of loops and samples with my bass being the only organic element. This really opened up things for me compositionally as well, the whole idea of treating a song as a “remix” of sorts. This concept allowed me to really cut and paste sections/ideas until I had final arrangements that I was happy with. I don’t have a set idea of how any song should be, arrangement wise. In fact, I prefer songs that really take things in all sorts of directions, whether it is mixing genres, motion, and tempos, whatever.
After getting the arrangements done, or close to it, I wanted to add more live instrumentation to the material and decided to start reaching out to some musicians that I dig, or that owed me for playing on their perspective CD(s). As I added these players, it took the material to a whole new level as a whole. I could keep the loops/samples that I felt “enhanced” the material and lose some that now didn’t need to be there. I really feel it’s a great mix of organic, visceral live playing with electronic elements. It also has a great mix of written, linear sections with sections that open up into total improvisations.
Jake: You actually brought in quite an array of international players for Atmospheres. What was the strategy?
Ray: At first, I figured I’d get just a few players to do a guest spot, but the response I got when I reached out to various players was amazing, in fact, there were so many people wanting to play I actually ran out of room on this CD! LOL
I used two drummers on the CD. One was David “Fingers” Haynes from Atlanta. I became aware of him from his YouTube clips; I believe he has like 1.4 million hits on there. He is an amazing drummer/musician who is mostly known for finger drum playing on a midi controller. I believe what he’s doing is truly revolutionary and definitely outside the box. Besides the logistics of how he plays, I really love his ideas, and he is so musical with unbelievable chops. The bonus was because his parts were played live into midi, it gave me many options for sounds, mixing, etc.
The second drummer I used is a friend that also resides here in AZ. His name is Martin Diamond, and we play together locally often. Martin has also performed with me at a few clinics/performances, and is the drummer I used for my upcoming instructional DVD. We have great chemistry together and I really like that we share a great deal of the same influences and direction in our musical tastes.
On keys I used Matt Guillory from the James LaBrie band on a track, and an amazing player from Sweden named Lalle Larsson, who I heard of from Peter Wildoer, the drummer in the LaBrie band. Alex Argento from Sicily played on a track as well, a fantastic player.
For guitarists I started with some guys I dig and that I’ve worked with in the past which included Derek Taylor, Greg Koch, Ron Jarzombek, Ward Aycock & Jeff Kollman, all amazing players. Nat Janoff was someone I really wanted to work with after hearing the CD he did with Matt Garrison and Gene Lake. We really connected musically, and in fact he invited me to play on a track he did for a John McLaughlin tribute CD called “Mahavishna Re-Defined 2” on ESC Records. Guitarist Rob Michael was someone I actually connected with on twitter (who says social networking doesn’t work! (LOL)
Another guitarist I used was Marco Sfogli who also plays with me in the James LaBrie band. Marco was a must after hearing what he played on the LaBrie CD, SO musical! Lastly was Alex Machacek who is one of my favorite guitarists on the planet. To have him on my CD still freaks me out, I’m such a huge fan of his playing/work. Besides Martin on drums ALL other musicians were from different parts of the country/world. The fact that current technology allows musicians to play together from all over is so amazing, and I feel I truly capitalized on this.
Jake: I think on this particular CD, you’ve really brought your improvisational skills to the forefront…a very impressive effort. Improvisational studies have always been a bit of a mixed agenda. What are some of the study constructs you’ve followed that in your eyes have worked for you as far as improvisation goes?
Ray: Thanks for noticing! I believe first and foremost is just to do it as much as you can. Just like anything else the more you do something the more proficient you become at it. Unless I am playing a bass part that is written out for me that needs to be played specifically, I feel I am always in improvising mode.
There are surely more calculated ways to practice these skills such as creating bass lines, grooves and soloing over various chords, progressions, rhythms, etc. Also, nothing replaces playing, interacting with other musicians. When you look at any great improviser, they all have one thing in common, they play a lot, and with a lot of different players. I actually wish I had more of an outlet to improvise with other players. My dream gig would be one where I played all the time with great players and each performance was improvised music…oh and as long as I’m dreaming, that it paid well!!!! LOL
Jake: Beyond improvisation, what other I guess I’ll say study paradigms have you immersed yourself in as of late that you feel have made a difference in your overall musicianship?
Ray: One thing I’ve really benefitted from has been the study of Konnakol (spoken rhythms) for the last couple of years. This subject has even found its way into some of my clinic material. The practice/study of Konnakol really helps develop your understanding of rhythm and makes it more musical than using numbers to count. I use it in slap bass as a way of thinking about what I would normally call “groupings”. For instance, if I wanted to play a measure of 4/4 using all 16th notes I could use different groupings that add up to 16, such as 2 groupings of 5 plus 2 groupings of 3, adding up to 16. For each grouping, I have a few common ways in which I attack the string(s). For a grouping of 2, I might use thumb & pop, or, thumb up & thumb down, etc. I’ll use this concept for any type of grouping, say 3, 4, 5, 6 etc.
Here’s where the Konnakol comes in. Instead of counting groupings with numbers, I use the Konnakol syllables. This makes them more of a vocabulary that in turn makes it easier to interchange the groupings for improvising. In this example I’m using of 5-5-3-3 to get 16 and I would use the Konnakol to “count” them.
Ta- Ka- Ghi-Na -Ton Ta- Ka- Ghi-Na -Ton Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ki-Ta
1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 1 2 3
At some point I plan on creating a book and/or DVD that describes this whole concept in depth and its usages. This may be out of left field, but I have to also say that my involvement in boxing has really helped my playing tremendously. The parallels between boxing and playing bass are very similar to me. Overall concepts and practices of economy of motion, performing in a relaxed, focused state, and reacting to your surroundings are things that I use in both. Just like music, you cannot master the art, you can only take the journey.
Jake: You’ve mentioned James LaBrie of Dream Theater, and I know you just took on the bass chair for him. How did this all come about, and what’s it been like working with him?
Ray: I was asked to take part in the James LaBrie band by Matt Guillory, the keyboardist and main songwriter for James. We met years ago at NAMM while I was demoing for Fender. I am a fan of Dream Theater and was excited to be part of the new CD and band. We (the band) recorded this past March in Varberg, Sweden for two weeks while James was still on tour with Dream Theater in S. America. The band had great chemistry both as people and musically, and I think the music really captures that synergy. After we recorded all the music, James recorded his vocals in Canada when he returned from touring, and I believe it to be his best vocal work in a long time.
The music is less “prog rock” then you might expect, and is in fact a really cool contemporary, modern metal record. I had a great time recording, and there are some really interesting bass parts on the CD, definitely not what you’d expect on a metal CD. The result, “Static Impulse”, is set for a September 27th release on InsideOutMusic.
Jake: Is there any touring coming up for that particular project, as well as your own I might add?
Ray: I will be part of the James LaBrie touring band and we are looking at doing some shows in Europe & the US in the spring of 2011.
As far as doing my own shows, most likely not, at least as far as a full band scenario. I will be looking into doing a lot more clinic/performance type things after the release of my slap DVD. This will most likely be with a drummer (duo setting) and I may also start including some samples/loops for more textures.
Jake: You have your own home studio called Knockout Studios. Tell me what kind of work that has opened up for you, and how do you feel having that particular artistic option has affected your career more or less?
Ray: Being able to record bass tracks at my home has been awesome. Recording sessions are truly one of my favorite things to do. I record bass parts for bands, musicians, and producers all over the world, exchanging files by e-mail and FTP. I work with musicians and bands in a multitude of musical genres. This is something I really want to do more of and the fact that I don’t have to live in L.A. or NY to do so is great for me.
Besides my latest solo CD some recent tracks I’ve done are, “Are You the One?” – with guitarist Nat Janoff, for “Mahavishna ReDefined” CD – ESC Records, “What Have You Become” – for Sylvia NuVynska – Produced by Richard Chycki (Aerosmith, Pink, Rush), “Cooling The Plasma” – for Sax player, Neamon Lyles (with Jeff Lorber-keys and Rayford Griffin-drums) and a couple tracks for keyboardist Sergey Boykov (Russia) for his first upcoming solo release.
I also have been doing a lot of Pre-Production demos for various artists including 3 Doors Down, Gavin DeGraw, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Charlie Sexton, Zac Maloy, Forever The Sickest Kids, Adelitas Way, South Jordan, Jon McLaughlin, Joel Jorgenson to name a few.
Jake: Tell me more about the upcoming release of your new instructional Slap video which will be available in 2011. I know full well this is one of your fortes’. With so many of these types of videos available out there, what do you feel yours might have to offer that kind of gets beyond the norm?
Ray: The DVD is something I’ve wanted to do for years and I’ve gotten many requests to do so. It was really a matter of being able to do it in the right way with a proper budget and distribution. The DVD will be released through Alfred Publishing and they were great in letting me do what I wanted.
One of the things I’ve done for years and still do is teach. This gives me great knowledge of what types of things that needs to be included in the DVD and in what manner to teach them. The DVD is intended for anyone interested in Slap bass techniques from beginner to advanced. I know there are many books/DVDs on the subject but I wanted to create something that was very inclusive. I also break down some specific approaches I personally use in this style of playing and show examples from some of the DVDs performance sections. All in all I really tried to cover all the basics through the newer techniques used today.
Jake: I recently came across a rather disturbing fact. As of 2009, it’s reported that the percentage of CD’s sold that are “Jazz” CD’s is 1.1%. With a nothing less than thought provoking figure such as that, what might you have to say to a young and inspired artist looking to go in kind of a jazz direction?
Ray: Honestly, I believe CDs in general are a thing of the past and this figure does not surprise me. In fact ALL CD sales are down in all genres. My latest release is the first CD I’ve ever done that I have not made physical copies of, it is for download only. CD manufacturing only makes sense financially if you are rich or know you are going to sell truckloads to pay for the costs. I myself don’t buy CDs anymore, and if I do, they go right to my IPod. I like most people am curious to see how the music business in general will keep evolving with all these new technologies. The positive side is that all music is more accessible than ever before. Even with all the people downloading for free and file sharing I’m assured by the fact that most people with a conscious are willing to support artists they enjoy. I’m even seeing more situations where music is available for a donation and it seems to work well. Besides, for me I’d rather have someone have my music (even for free) then to not have it out there at all.
In the subject of Jazz or improvised music in general, I think a young musician is going to be more up to date on the newer ideas of how to market themselves and their music more so than someone older that is used to the older ways of doing things. Hopefully this does not “derail” any musician that wants to play jazz. In any genre, being a musician and making a living at it is a labor of love for most of us. I believe that like anything in life, where there is a will there is a way.
Visit online at www.myspace.com/rayriendeau