Sunday, May 17, 2020

Beneath the Surface: A Different Musical Journey

When I was sixteen years old I started playing around with my father's acoustic guitar. I had no idea what I was doing but I wanted to learn how to play the instrument because I had always admired drummers who also wrote songs. My first experience with this was growing up around my father who was a big fan of Tito Puente. Of course we know that El Rey was not only an amazing percussionist but also a phenomenal composer and arranger. To this day I think his Afro-Cuban arrangements of many of the world's most popular Jazz standards are far and away the best versions that anyone has ever recorded of these classics.

Later on I would seek out and encounter other drummers who were also able to write songs from Peter Criss & Eric Carr of KISS, Will Calhoun of Living Colour, Phil Collins, Steward Copeland, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Thomas Lang and many others. Aside from the fact that they wrote great songs you could also see that musical element in their drumming, which is why they have such unique drumming styles.

During my teen years I learned basic guitar chords and wrote Rock riffs that many of my high school and college bands incorporated into our original songs. By the time I got to college I was studying music theory so I learned how to add a lot of things I learned at school to the songs I wrote as I continued to expand my guitar playing before experimenting with the bass guitar and piano. To this day I am far from being as efficient on these instruments as I am on the drums but I do have enough skill to not only write my own songs but to also play all of the parts on my own recordings.

Going Solo

My first experience doing a solo recording was when I released my Desert Drummer solo CD, which featured both original multi-tracked drumming compositions and drum set solos based on world rhythms that were arranged in familiar song formats. It was a lot of fun to do and upon its release put me out there enough to get the attention of those in the music licensing world who have used many of my drumming compositions on several television shows around the world.

While I am very proud of that release there was something I had still yet to do and that was to release a solo recording where I am playing non-percussion instruments. The last time I was involved in a musical project that allowed me to showcase those musical skills was when I was a member of the band Come Thirsty as I played acoustic guitar on the song "You Are Here" that was released on our CD called Colors of Faith.  I would also play guitar on it live whenever it was part of our set list. After that group disbanded I focused mainly on performing with working bands but there were still those moments when I would work on my own music just for the sake of letting out the creative spark that still burned inside of me.

I can't say that I purposely set out to write a new album's worth of songs. I was just being me and did so when I had the time to do it. Sometimes my performance and recording schedule kept me really busy so when I had some down time I didn't always want to do anything else other than rest and spend time with my family. There was also a part of me that wasn't sure about doing it anymore for a lack of self-confidence in myself. It wasn't that I didn't think I could write anything good. I just didn't think anyone cared so why go through all of this work to have a handful of people listen to it. It was my friend Angel Delallana who reminded me that music was not only something that I do but a part of who I am so numbers had nothing to do with that. So once I realized that I had enough material to put out a new album I figured....why not?

The title of the album reflects more than me just playing non-percussion instruments. In fact, one major thing that I did differently on this recording that I didn't do on my last album was use nothing but electronics when it came to all of the percussion parts! That is not to say that I did not perform any drumming parts. All of the percussion is a mixture of programmed loops along with some overdubs that I did using the various sounds available on my electronic drums. Yes, I do continue to orchestrate rhythms in my music but I wanted to focus on different sounds that I didn't use on my last album and since I didn't have every type of percussion instrument at my disposal I allowed technology to assist me on this endeavor. I know that doing such a thing may not be to the liking of musical purists but I did what I did and I don't feel bad about it. In fact, I did enjoy the process as well as the fact that the signals were both clean and consistent, which helped me get things done faster in order to spend more time working with the other instruments. 

I played acoustic guitar on two tracks, bass guitar on one track along with keyboards on five of the tracks. I have no problem saying that I played some of the bass lines using my keyboards as the sound that it offered did the job for me. No apologies, no looking back. It is what it is and what I love most about this project is that it did the whole thing in the privacy of my home studio, just me doing my own thing on my own time. So, here is a track by track description of what I came up with:

1) Tenochtitlan
Many years ago I came up with a melodic line on my guitar while playing along to a traditional Native American drum pattern. All I can say is that it was meant to be a heavy rock instrumental track but once I revisited it years later I wanted to do something different. I ended up playing many of the melodies on the keyboard using a pan flute sound and then used an acoustic guitar over what was now a Chicano rock beat. The upbeat section was me adding a Tumbao bass line over a Songo beat and Clave pattern in order to break things up a bit. Then we return to the beginning, which is meant to be a new beginning as the song pays tribute to my Aztec heritage.

2) La Chachita
The bass line is from a piece of music that I was working on that I had hoped to present to my old band Come Thirsty but I never finished the song. So I took it and made it into my version of a dance track in the spirit of those old Miami Vice type movie scenes. I have no problem saying that I am a child of 80's and I am pretty proud of that because the music is not only amazing but timeless. The title is dedicated to all of those Latin ladies that I am both related to and grew up around who had a way of walking into the room and taking over.

3) Gethsemane
This song literally wrote itself. I was sitting at home one day and randomly put the capo on the third fret of my guitar, put my hand in the E minor add 9 position and then just played the opening arpeggio. Once that happened it all went from there. If memory serves correctly I literally played through the whole guitar part arranged in the way you here on the recording today. In listening to what I had played I had images of Christ in agony as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane so that immediately led me to the title of the piece. I added some keys to fill in the background and the percussion loops and tom overdubs were meant to emulate both His heartbeat as well as the fear that went through His entire being as He prepared for the inevitable.

4) Suruuq 
This song started out with me playing the opening melodic line on my guitar. After coming up with the second and third parts I decided to move the melody over to the keyboards and then added the counterpoint parts in order to add some color to it. The low end string part and percussion loops are there to fill in the rest of the song. In hearing what sounded like a relaxing Middle Eastern theme I started to think of a sunrise, hence the title in Arabic.

5) The Upper Room 
This is a piece of music that started many years ago in a practice room at El Camino Community College back when I was studying music. I had recently came across the chart that I wrote many years and started to play with it again just to see where my head was back in the day. I realized that I was thinking too much, perhaps being a bit too ambitious so I made a few changes that not only simplified the song but also opened it up a bit. That gave me the option to record it four different, which allowed me to vary the sounds a bit. The title is named after the location of the Last Supper.

6) Thunderclap 
My daughter is a dancer and one day while we drove home from one of her dance classes she was listening to the Michael Jackson song Slave to the Rhythm. I was digging the beat so once we got home I started messing around with a groove on my drum machine. Before I knew it I had something and what I liked about the rest of the parts that I came up with is the fact that they are either a percussion sound of something I could hit with my electronic drums. That was not my original intention as I had planned to add other musical instruments to the track but ended up being happy with it being a drummer song. The title was a suggestion from my Sun Mirror Productions partner Angel Delallana because I couldn't think of anything. 

7) Protector 
The last few years have seen me become fascinated with all kinds of Asian drumming. One form that really gets to me are Samurai war chants. I get chills thinking of those great warriors getting pumped up by the sound of those big drums as they prepared to go off to battle. But there was this sentimental part of me that wondered how many of them thought of the women that they loved and how their willingness to die for their country also included the protection of these women. That was the inspiration for the title. It's not too often that one gets to write a love song on the drums but for me this was the case for this selection because the intent behind it was a man doing whatever it took to protect the woman that he loves.

8) Hail Storm
Yes, it's the same title you may have seen on my Desert Drummer album and the truth is that recording was an idea that happened in the studio. It really should have been a working demo but I ended up putting it on the album. I decided to play around with it again and this time I got it right. Start with some heavy rain and then start messing around with some Timbale sounds along with some toms and now it sounds like an Arizona hail storm that I have been caught in numerous times.

Time For a Change

On another note that is somewhat related to this time in my musical life are the changes that I am going through in other parts of my life. In late 2019 I started a Catholic ministry with my friend Angel Delallana who is a Nurse Practitioner, Catechist and a very talented visual artist. She had already been producing some great work for our ministry so that was on my mind as the idea for a new album started to brew in my head.

It was also at this time that things stared to change in my writing career. I ended up making the decision to leave my publisher and began re-releasing my books under the umbrella of my ministry because my stories all have a faith based theme. Along with that we are in the process of making other products to sell in order to help support our ministry so that's when we thought of the idea of just putting together our own production company that we call Sun Mirror Productions. The name is based on the combination of the root of my last name (Solorzano...Sol...Sun) and her maiden name, which is Espejo (Spanish for mirror). With this company we are going to be putting out my books, my music, drumming books that I am working on right now, other writing projects her and I are working on together at this moment as well as many creative products that she creates with her amazing talents. Most importantly, I will have more control over the products I am putting out with a partner that is not only very supportive but very reliable. In terms of this project, that support began with her creating a beautiful cover for the album. 

In conclusion, I am pleased with the end result of Beneath the Surface. It's nice to take a totally different approach musically than I did last time because as far as I'm concerned, that is why people make solo albums. You want to show people a different part of your musical abilities. Years ago I showed what I could do with the drums besides play in a band setting. This time it was more of here's what I can do with other instruments as I now have something to say in a different musical language.

Carlos Solorzano
IG desertdrummer

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