Mike Keneally: Behind the Creative Mind
MK: On certain sections I did simply improvise rather than quickly compose something. In particular, "Clown Removal" and "Trying" have long, entirely improvised guitar parts. In the case of "Clown" I actually improvised the guitar solo prior to working out the chords which would eventually go behind it, a sort of backwards but interesting way to do things.
Or in the case of something like "Our Collected Wisdom To Date," I improvised a melody with a horn sound on John's Kurzweil keyboard, then devised harmonies for each little section of the line. All the music was manually played, there isn't any programming or artificial harmonization on the album.
AAJ: Where the song titles prewritten, and if so, did they influence your compositional approach to each track?
MK: All the titles came afterward and were simply responses to the way each section sounded to me.
AAJ: There are many layers to your playing on the album, as well as a number of instruments that you use in your playing. Can you talk about how you approach layering in your writing when tackling a project such as this?
MK: It's all very intuitive. When I would listen to a new section of the drum solo in order to begin working on a new part, sometimes I would hear a guitar part in my head, sometimes a keyboard part and sometimes a bass line. Whatever sound popped into my head, that's what I would record first.
The layering which would then build up around that initial part is just a reflection of my personal taste regarding arrangement and record productionjust build things up until the section feels the way I want it to feel, achieves some sort of goal which I can't describe verbally but can at least put down in sound.
AAJ: You mention in the liner notes that you perform on a "xylophone type instrument" on the album. Can you describe this instrument and tell us how you were introduced to it in the first place?
MK: It's a wooden mallet instrument of several octaves which was built by Joe Hlavaty and given to me as a gift on tour in the late '90s. It has no stand and no resonators under the bars so it has a very spiky sound. For the album, we put it on top of an amp case so I could play it in the sessions. You can hear me doubling some of the guitar lines on "Tooth And Cold Stone Pew" with it.
AAJ: How would you describe your relationship to jazz and classical composition? Do you even feel like you fit into those genres, or is the avant-garde beyond any categorization at this point in musical history?
MK: I'm not sure about genres in general as it applies to me. I think it's clear I've never fit into any particular style, which is why it might be hard for listeners to get a bead on me, and therefore why I haven't built up a larger following. A lot of people like to know exactly what something is going to sound like before they even press "play," but I've always enjoyed being surprised in my own listening habits.
I guess my own music is a natural extension of this taste for surprise and adventure. I love high-quality examples of every music genre you can imagine and I don't turn myself off automatically to anything. To specifically respond, my relationship to jazz and classical is one of enthusiastic listener and student, and awed admirer of the best practitioners of those styles, but I'm neither a jazz nor a classical musician. I use aspects of both styles to inform my approach to rock writing and playing. Even The Universe Will Provide (Favored Nations, 2004), my orchestral suite, is nothing like a classical piece really. I don't know what it is, but it sounds nice to me.
AAJ: Now that you've worked through the project and have seen and heard the final result, would you embark on a similar album-DVD in the future?
MK: Maybe, if Marco asks!
Mike Keneally/Marco Minneman, Evidence of Humanity (Exowax, 2010)
Joe Satriani, Black Swams and Wormhole Wizards (Epic, 2010)
Mike Keneally, Scambot 1 (Exowax, 2009)
Mike Keneally, Guitar Therapy Live (Exowax, 2006)
Frank Zappa, Trance-Fusion (Zappa Records, 2006)
Mike Keneally, Wooden Smoke (Exowax, 2002)
Mike Keneally + Metropole Orkest, The Universe Will Provide (Favored Nations, 2004)
Mike Keneally, Nonterkomp (Exowax, 1999)
Mike Keneally, Hat. (Exowax, 1992)
Frank Zappa, Make a Jazz Noise Here (Barking Pumpkin Records, 1991)
Frank Zappa, Broadway the Hard Way (Barking Pumpkin Records, 1988)