Michael Landau Organic Interview
What can you say much about the amazing Michael Landau, a guitar player that is probably one of the most recorded guys I know of. Although he has been one of the hottest session players in the musical planet, Michael is absolutely a giant as a solo artist. He has always achieved to make a very personal statement through his music, and his new album Organic Instrumentals is no different. It stands out as one of his finest work.
Abstract Logix: Organic Instrumentals from Michael Landau, what is the story behind the title ?
Michael Landau: I’m a minimalist and wanted to just call the record Instrumentals but decided to put Organic in the title partly because it fits the record sonically with most of the sounds being straight ahead amp tones, but also because its humorous to me as well with everything being organic these days. It also sounds serious and light at the same time, It has a good flow to it, its easy to say. Most of the song titles are of a nature subject, I guess its my modern day New Age record.
AL: Lets talk about this record, what’s the inspiration behind the new songs ?
ML: I’d been wanting to make an all instrumental record for a while, half of the songs we play live are vocal songs and it seemed like it was time for instrumentals only. I love non-vocal music, its completely open to interpretation. Some of the compositions are intentionally simple, the most important thing being a strong emotion and setting a mood on the recording. I’m also inspired by crazy things that make perfect sense,music can be like that.
AL: How do you write nowadays, is it all on guitar ?
ML: I play all the time, not necessarily practicing, but more so just playing. I’m truly addicted to the feel and sound of the guitar and music. These tunes eventually come out and are then organized into a form. Recently, I have also been writing songs away from the guitar, these have mostly been vocal songs though, I can sometimes get a better picture of the song away from the instrument, writing for me is imagining what I’d like to hear in my head, its an escape.
AL: Great choice of drummers, Novak, Colaiuta and Drayton . How are these guys different in your ears and what’s your reasoning in selecting the tunes that they play on ?
ML: Any one of those mentioned could have played on any of the songs on the album, like you said, they are all great drummers. In general, Gary played on the tunes that have more of a jazz influence, we have been playing some of those songs live for a while now. I imagined Charley playing Woolly Mammoth when I first had the riff in my head and the tune Sneaker Wave with Vinnie was recorded a few years ago, it was originally intended to be a vocal song. All three of them have their own voice on the drums, such great musicians.
AL: I just love the way you have integrated the sound of Hammond on your records, really gives it a vintage sound to the music, can you share your thoughts ?
ML: I’m a huge Hammond Organ fan and especially a huge Larry Goldings organ fan. The Hammond works so well with the guitar sonically, its very easy to sit it in the mix at the same time being very different from the guitar. It can add so much to a song, it has a similar grit to the guitar with the big wood cabinet through the tube amp. Hammond is considered to be a retro – vintage sound, but what Larry plays on the organ sounds very modern to me, some of my favorite moments on the record are the colors and parts he adds to the songs.
AL: Listening to Organic nstrumentals, I cant help but guess that you must like Derek Trucks . Are you playing any slide on this , it surely does sound like it ?
ML: I play a small slide part on Sneaker wave but all the rest of the guitar on the record is done without a slide. Yes, I’m a big Derek Trucks fan, I don’t see how anyone with a soul and a heartbeat could not be. Its obvious to me that he’s all about the music and how it makes our lives better. I was going to dedicate the song The Big Black Bear to him, instead I imagined how he, or an Indian Classical Musician would phrase the melody. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m imitating him, its really meant to be a tip of the hat if you know what I mean. He truly has his own voice on the guitar, its not an easy thing to do these days.
AL: I believe Renegade Creation just recorded a new album. Can you give us a sneak peak on it ?
ML: Ed Cherney is mixing it now, we are about half way through. This second record is very much song oriented, I think we have some good ones this time around. We’re hoping to have it out in April with touring to follow this summer. Robben has a beautiful ballad called Nazareth, its probably my favorite song on the record.
AL: “I’m Buzzed” has become such an important signature tune of Michael Landau . I have personally heard a few different spin of it at different live settings, have you thought about recording it on acoustic or even release a record of just different versions of it ?
ML: That song has a definite place in my heart, it reminds me of the good times in the late ’80s. Its usually in the set when we play live, so I’m not sure it needs to be recorded again, hopefully the improvising takes it to a different place each night.
AL: Mike you have done it all in studio setting over the years, what are some of your favorite session work over the years ?
ML: I’ve been very fortunate, some of the highlights for me were Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Ray Charles and BB King. Joni, for letting us pretty much do as we heard, at the same time being very much in control. Pink Floyd, I’m still not sure why I got a call to play on a Pink Floyd record but I’m glad I did. After I played on a couple of songs David Gilmour showed me his setup he was using at the time, very sweet guy, I could tell he really loved working out his tone and the whole recording process. JT, Ray Charles and BB King, what can I say, they are American Masters.
AL: I am such an admirer of your guitar work on Joni Mitchell albums among others, have you considered on recording some of the classics ?
ML: Thank you, although I have to say that I’m not a big fan of tribute / cover records in general, they’ve never made any sense to me, especially when they’re released while the artist is still alive. I know the intent is usually good, but I would almost always rather hear the original version by the artist that wrote it and performed it. The tribute records always sound like T.V. commercials to me. I know, I’m a bad person…
AL: I love that video with Joni Mitchell (Refuge on the Roads) with Larry Klein, Vinnie and and Russell Ferrante, can you share any stories from that tour ?
ML: That was ’83 – ’84, it was a blast for all of us. Vinnie and I were hanging out a lot in those days and also working in the studio with her so when we got the call to tour with Joni we just continued the party on the road. Joni and Larry were new in their relationship and it seemed like Joni was truly having a good time performing live again. We were her new young rocker dudes, there was no drama on the road, only good times. I was 24 years old, when you’re that young, you can still play a show with a hangover and have fun.
I can remember a few times Joni taking a break at the end of the song Wild Things Run Fast, she would walk off the stage Miles style and let us go nuts…
AL: How have you evolved as a musician over the years ?
ML: Less is more for me these days, but also what I do play is hopefully more intense. I try to make every note count and what I don’t play is just as important to me as what I do play. I’m always excited to improvise with my fellow band mates and create something together with the audience. I think I’ve evolved into a better improviser over the years.
AL: I know so many guitar geeks would love to know about your set up in studio recording this album , fill us in ?
ML: ’63 Fiesta Red Stratocaster
’68 Gibson 335
’63 Gibson SG
’54 Martin 0-15 Acoustic
Dumble 100 watt Overdrive Special
Suhr 18 Watt Badger
’64 Fender Super Reverb
Kerry Wright open back 4×12 with Celestion Heritage Series G12-65 speakers
Pedals and Rack Gear:
Vintage 808 Tube Screamer
Rodger Mayer Voodoo-1
Fulltone Plimsoul Overdrive
Boss RT-20 Rotary Pedal
Boss FV-500H Volume
Line 6 Echo Pro
Api Mic Pre
Shure SM 57 mic
Royer R-122 Ribbon mic
AL: How long do we have to wait to see a Instructional DVD from you ?
ML: I’m sorry to say, I’m just not a good formal instructor, I don’t have the personally for it, but I would love to do a live DVD this year, lets do it Souvik.
AL: We surely are going to do it!!. Thanks to you and Jimmy Johnson for the invite to see the James Taylor gig. I felt that I was listening to a audiophile recording. What the secret ?
ML: I know it sounds like a cliche’ but that group of musicians really listen to each other and we are all there to support James. When the songs are written that well, you don’t have to do very much except compliment the song with a sound that adds to the music, keeping the parts simple and to the point.
AL: Have you heard some cool music lately ?
ML: I’ve been buying a lot of vinyl lately so I’ve been listening to a lot of the old Blues, Jazz and Classical recordings. Its so great to hear an actual record again, I really love it, but to answer your question, I guess not, I’ve been going back to the past, again.
AL: Mike, enough of music questions, whats some of you favorite – Beer, Vacation Spots, Books, Food,
ML: Boddingtons make a great pub style ale in a can, super tasty… I like the Stout beers as well.
My wife and I love the Big Sur area on the coast of California, maybe some day we’ll move there permanently…
I’m reading the Keith Richards book now, I’m not a very big reader but I do enjoy it once I’m in the thick of it…
I love all foods. Everything from fancy foods to simple foods. We recently got into making bison burgers instead of beef every once in awhile at the house, I’ve tried being vegetarian, sorry to say I couldn’t stick to it.
AL: If you werent a musician, what would you like to do ?
ML: I think It would be great to be a successful sports athlete of some kind, maybe a Basketball or Hockey player, they are the new rock stars after all. Or maybe a comedian like Chris Rock or Larry David.
Or maybe I should be a Monk, I’m not much of a talker.