Peter Fernandes Discusses His Latest Release Q.E.D.
Q.E.D. is packed with amazing guest musicians that make the album a real treat to listen to. How did getting all these musicians together come about?
This was definitely a process, and not exactly planned from the beginning. In other words, I didn’t really set out to make a power players album, though I guess that’s how it ended up. There were some tracks that I had specific players in mind for, like the title track and Dorothy for example, and other people I got referred to when I needed a part filled. Joel Rosenblatt is a great example of that. I needed a drummer for Grown Ups to do the Weckl-style thing, so Ric Fierabracci turned me on to Joel and he ended up playing on half the album! Ric is also one of my favorite bass players and I’ve worked with him on a few things in the past.
When looking for musicians to help make your composition come to life, what characteristics do you look for in a musician other than incredible proficiency at their instrument?
Well, this is kind of an interesting case because while some of the players I had known and played with before, most of the guys I had never met prior and only knew from years of listening. Most of these people I have been a fan of for a long time so I knew I wanted their specific sound on a specific track. But I guess more generally outside of technical proficiency, I am drawn to people who create a unique voice on their instrument. The people you can identify in two seconds on a recording. I think that’s a good thing to strive for as an instrumentalist.
With so many musicians contributing to the sonic landscape of the album, did you have a strong idea of what each musician would play, or did you allow a lot of room for improvisation?
I think both. When I’m arranging parts for music like this, I know I want some parts to be played verbatim, for instance in concerted sections or if there’s just a part I come up with that I particularly like. Then there are sections where there are only changes written and I expect the groove to just happen. But even for the written parts, especially with the guys I’ve worked with more like Ric or Shane (Gaalaas), there’s an understanding that they are going to do certain things to a part to make it musical and I can anticipate that in the writing. But I would say as a whole Q.E.D. is a very composed album with allowances for improvisation where appropriate.
Q.E.D. hits on a wide variety of genres and influences. Are there any particular musicians, composers or styles of music you could site as a strong influence as a composer?
Oh man! Yeah, I suppose the album is quite the mixed bag, which also makes it a little tough to describe to people when asked the inevitable what kind of music is it? I’m definitely a jazzer at heart; I grew up with some really good teachers and a pretty good jazz program at school so I was always around that, but at the same time I was listening to Rush and Dream Theater and all the crazy fusion in-between. So if you listen to the record there’s a lot of the big fusion guys in there in spirit…Chick Corea, Allan Holdsworth (maybe my favorite musician??), Dave Weckl….but then I’m also really into Japanese music and specifically from video games. If you’re pretty familiar with the band used on each track, you can tell I really tried to cop the style from different bands. The title track (a total Planet X style tune with the lineup to match) and Market Street are good examples of that. The latter I wrote with one of my favorite Japanese bands, Dimension, in mind. I was fortunate enough to get the sax and guitar players to play on the track through a connection Shane had in Japan and it was incredible to hear them play on my writing! When you really know players, you can anticipate how they are going to phrase things and get the sound in your head before it’s tracked. Very cool and totally a fan moment for me!!
I’ve noticed metal influences have slowly made their way into new fusion artist’s sound. Songs like Destiny Controller, Dorothy, and the title track Quod Erat Demonstrandum have heavier aspects to them.
I can’t really listen to 100% metal stuff without getting bored, but I like a lot of the sounds and it’s fun to mix with jazz harmonies and syncopation….and all those tracks have very specific roots. For Destiny Controller I wanted to do a balls-to-the-wall Derek Sherinian prog piece, Q.E.D. again was a Planet X thing, and Dorothy is loosely based off of a track on one of Greg Howe’s earlier albums, Introspection. Bonus points if you can figure out which one from the title….
You site Your Truth to be a very Holdsworth inspired tune. What was it like to track with Holdsworth’s classic line up of Jimmy Johnson on bass and Gary Husband on drums and piano?
They’re true professionals. Also stand-up guys otherwise. I suppose it was somewhat obvious what I was going for with this track (haha) but yeah it’s incredible working with such a classic group and they play off of each other so well, even from thousands of miles away recording at different times. I would also be negligent to not mention Richard Hallebeek who played a huge role in that track. He did the Holdsworth stuff I wanted perfectly well, but with his own voice. He also did some promotional video work of the recordings that you can find on YouTube. Definitely one of my favorite guitarists and a go-to session guy!
Your Truth is also the only song on the album to feature vocals. What about the piece called for vocals? Is there a story behind the lyrics of the song?
The idea for vocals came from Allan’s vocal tunes, especially the ones with Rowanne Mark on his Secrets album, a game-changer for me in terms of influential albums. Those tunes (check out the title track) have some very non-standard changes for a singer to be performing over, and I like the sound. The lyrics on Your Truth, eh…. Lyrics have never been a strong point for me. I’ll usually write and rewrite, and then it doesn’t matter because after the recording is done, the meaning will continually evolve for me over time. Anyway to be honest I don’t feel a particularly strong connection to what I wrote there, but I suppose that’s not entirely the point if everyone can take their own subjective interpretation!
It has been three years since you released your last record New Me. How have you grown in this time span as both a composer and a musician?
Well, I think there’s a pretty big gap in terms of quality (in every aspect) between the two albums. With every release I do everything gets better, but I think that’s starting to slow now as I’m pretty much at the point where I can translate sound in my head to something that sounds good, in the technical sense, on a recording. To put that in perspective, The New Me was actually my third album. But usually I all but deny the existence of the first two because they sounded so bad…haha! I also think my writing is getting better in terms of cohesion and flow. I’m better at writing tunes that make sense from one section to the next and I’m also getting better at making transitions between segments more musical. I’m definitely a perpetual student!
For your last album I read you relied heavily on MIDI as a compositional tool. What is your approach to writing, and has it changed or evolved in the last few years?
My compositional process has been the same for a while now. Usually I’ll get an idea and repeat it over and over in my head so I won’t forget it. Then sometimes this goes into mental storage for quite a long time before I do a brain dump into Cubase. I’ll track scratch tracks using virtual instruments, then the guys have automatic backing tracks to play over so at least they know what the general sound will be. I’m a really slow writer though. Sometimes I’ll track something then come back weeks or months later and add to it. Writing for me is actually kind of a love-hate relationship. It’s basically my most fulfilling creative outlet, but I get really stressed out about it and question decisions and freak out about whether what I’m doing will compare to what I’ve done in the past. I think that’s a common thing for creative people to worry about though.
Were there any particular synths or gear you relied on to get your sounds for the album?
I have a few go-to sounds that I use. For Rhodes I really like the Scarbee Mark I from Native Instruments. It’s really dynamic and has some really good built-in amp settings and other effects. Most of the organ stuff is my Nord Electro 3, though Derek said I needed to get a real B3…. Honestly I don’t think my neighbors would like that and I’m pretty confident I could fake it pretty well if I put some time into the sound. 😛 I also have a couple older rack synths that I keep around for one or two sounds each but they’re really a pain to use vs. the software stuff.
I couldn’t find any information on the subject online, but did you also mix the record in addition to producing? Everything, especially the drums, sound great. With more musicians recording and engineering their own projects, do you have any advice on the subject of mixing?
Thank you! I did the mixing and mastering. Drums in particular are a difficult instrument to get to sound good, but I had some really good help from Shane and Ric who weren’t afraid to tell me (and offer great advice) when my shit didn’t sound good. This album really made me change the way I think about mixes. There’s this really cool talk from Chris Lord Alge where he mentions that he doesn’t build mixes up from certain instruments, he just puts all the faders up and goes. That made so much sense to me because when you mix with instruments soloed, you’re working against a fake reality. So it makes sense to hear the entire context the entire time (with exceptions of course). I also spent an insane amount of time on each mix. Like really insane. They’re complicated mixes and I’m pretty anal about the sound, but I’d like to get better at just working straight through a mix and working with more confidence. That being said it’s usually good to walk away when you’re feeling fatigued or frustrated because you won’t make good decisions.
I guess there was some embedded advice above, but I can layout a couple of other points that I’ve found useful. I think the biggest one is to become obsessed with criticism, preferably from people who are better than you. It’s difficult to consume at first but takes over where self-reflection leaves off. Also forget about all the cool new gear like converters and speakers and the best new compressor plugins….it’s all a joke. This has been said before but the best musicians can make great sounding music on the cheapest equipment. I recommend getting a good pair of headphones (headphones are a godsend because my room, as most in project studios, sucks for critical listening, though it’s necessary to reference on speakers from time to time to check the translation) and an audio interface with decent converters (most of them nowadays I expect). Then add when your current setup is limiting you.
The album’s title Q.E.D. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum, which is often used to signify the end or completion of a mathmatical proof. What inpisred the album’s title? I hope is doesn’t signify the end or completion of you career in music.
Ha, I couldn’t escape the music even if I wanted to! I got the idea for the title from a Planet X (of course…) track title. I thought the phrase sounded pretty badass in a metal/rock context so in it went! The meaning was sort of an afterthought. The entire album’s production was about a two-year process…maybe it’s signifying the triumphant end of something I worked for a long time on? I’m also a math person/software developer by day so I suppose it’s fitting in that regard. 🙂
Will listener have a chance to hear these tunes live on the road?
It’s definitely a goal of mine to play some gigs…maybe on the west coast. I would need to do some serious shedding on the keyboard to play that stuff live, but I like the pain! I played the trumpet for 14 years and also play EWI and I’m a better improviser on those instruments when it comes to live stuff, so maybe I could find a way to work those in.
Be sure to follow Fernandes through his website, and on Facebook.