In anticipation for the release of Alex Machacek’s new studio album “FAT”(Fabulous Austrian Trio), Alex took some time to answer a few questions about his album, music, and his playing.
Neal Shaw: Your new record “FAT” features Raphael Preuschl and Herbert Pirker, who were both on “[Sic]”. How did you meet up with them again to record the latest record?
Alex Machacek: I teach at a jazz seminar every summer in Austria and everytime I am there we play some gigs together. Since I really enjoy working with Raphael and Herbert I decided to finally record another album. This trio already played together quite a bit before I moved to LA. I had always planned to produce a full album with them but on [sic] they were only introduced on a couple of tunes.
NS: How was “FAT” recorded? Was it something that stretched over a long period of time or did you guys go into the studio and knock it out?
AM: 2 years ago we went into the studio for one day. The goal was to get all the drum parts. The rest was done at home. And there it sat for a while until I finally found enough time this spring to finish it.
NS: With each record, do you feel a need to take a new direction from the last, or one up yourself if you will?
AM: Not necessarily a new direction, rather a continuation of my previous releases. Ideally, each album is a reflection of what I am up to currently.
NS: How do you approach writing a piece? Does it start with a melody or rhythmic idea, and is then build upon, or do you hear the whole finished work in your head?
AM: The writing process varies from piece to piece. Sometimes I do have a very conventional approach and just write a melody / chords / solo sections. At other times I just write rhythms and add “notes” to it later. But I still like the idea of recording (somewhat conducted) jams in the studio and writing the music later at home. Regardless of the approach I do have a clear idea of the finished work in my head.
NS: You’ve recorded albums to pre-recorded drum takes. Would you say it’s easier to compose off the drums because you’re not starting from scratch, or is it more difficult because you can’t easily change what you are given to work from?
AM: Starting with a blank page can be somewhat daunting. In this sense recomposing is a fresh and inspiring approach. At the same time, you are confined to the given material which can be quite challenging at times. I wouldn’t say one method is easier than the other – it’s just different.
NS: How’d you come to meet Terry Bozzio?
AM: This topic will be covered extensively on my website under the FAQ section. www.alexmachacek.com
NS: Percussion is always a featured part of your music. Do you have specific parts in mind during the writing process or do you let the drummers play what they feel?
AM: I have done both and it totally depends on the drummer and the piece of music.
NS: Most of your live shows and albums feature a trio. Is there some comfort in trios?
AM: The trio setting is a great starting point which gives me lots of freedom harmonically speaking. I constantly ask myself which instrument I would like to add – no conclusion so far! Not to mention the economics and logistics involved in producing CDs and taking bands on the road.
NS: If money weren’t a factor, what would the dream Machacek ensemble look like?
AM: Ok, let’s dream a bit: besides drums and bass I’d like to have a string quartet, piano, bass clarinet, my own sound engineer and, drumroll please: a team of roadies.
NS: There are hints of metal in some of your pieces. What initially got you into music and was there a moment or artist that sparked your interest for jazz and fusion?
AM: Metal is not the kind of music that I personally listen to. But I do like the force of power chords (occasionally). Just like many others I always had a strong interest in music but after listening to Joe Pass I wanted to find out more about Jazz. And from there it went on and on. Every time I heard something new and appealing I wanted to know more.
NS: You’re a guitarist that has studied a lot; from the conservatory of Vienna to Berklee School of Music in Boston, and you teach as well. Is there ever an end to studying music and an end to music in general and where you can take it?
AM: Hopefully not 🙂
NS: A lot of people ask about gear, but it seems like you have a very simple rig: One guitar on the road, midi board, or axe effects and an amp. Do you think having a ton of gear is essential to a great player, or is it more what’s in the player’s head, and fingers?
AM: It totally depends on what you want to do. Gear can be very inspiring and get you to musical places you wouldn’t go otherwise. But it is no substitute for musical imagination.
NS: You recorded an amazing instructional pentatonic DVD. Are there any more educational things in the works, or is piracy still keeping you away?
AM: I have an abundance of ideas for educational material. BUT, I do have to make a living. It seems private lessons are the only thing piracy has no control over. Still, I have not abandoned the idea of a book or a DVD entirely.
NS: The pentatonic scales are a part of your musical arsenal, but what other scales and modes do you often use in your playing?
AM: Basically the usual suspects: major, melodic minor, augmented and occasionally dominant diminished.
NS: What are your opinions on the music industries’ current condition?
AM: One word: hostile!
NS: What do you do outside of music that inspires you? Are there any new guitarists, or artist in general that have caught your attention that you think people should check out?
AM: I started playing Ping-Pong, I bake my own bread (old school: without the bread making machine!) and I ride my bicycle. My latest discovery is the album Rom / Schaerer / Eberle – this is a fantastic trio, check it out!
NS: Fusion or jazz is associated with people that take their music pretty seriously. Some of your songs like Why Not, on the new record, or “[Sic]” are quirky tunes. So the big Frank Zappa question: Does humor belong in music?