Interview With Composer, Producer & Session Guitarist Michael Parker
We were really excited to have a moment to catch up with Michael Parker, a talented composer, producer and guitarist who has been getting some rave reviews here on AirGigs. Michael has done a wide range of session work, from creating commercial tracks for clients such as Saatchi & Saatchi Philips, Nintendo, Holland Casino, to TV documentary soundtracks and much more. In addition to playing the guitar, Michael also plays the OUD (Middle Eastern Stringed Instrument), and a 13 string kontra harp guitar. He is one of the early adopters of the online music collaboration movement, working on a range projects remotely since the possibility first presented itself. His “noise seduction” studio keeps him pretty busy these days, and we’re really happy to introduce him to you here on the AG blog.
You can find Michael’s services here: http://www.airgigs.com/user/n0isebL0ke
You play a wide range of styles really well, can you tell us a bit about your musical evolution?
i always wanted to play guitar from the moment i saw T.Rex on the TV, i started actually playing just before my 10th birthday (i got given a guitar for my birthday by my parents.) i’d been playing on the family piano up till then and had countless toy guitars.
my brother had started playing bass around the same time & we used to play together which was a great way to learn. i started playing in a band with some friends from school in about 1976. and basically we would just jam around things for hours on a sunday at the drummer’s house.
i never really got into the formal lesson thing, i just wanted to play around and see what i could do, if i could make those noises i heard on records. i’m a bit impatient with tuition and things, i’d rather just give it a go – whether that’s been a good thing i ‘m not sure – there’s certainly a lot more technical guitarists with a lot more discipline around, but it’s the way i wanted to do it.
so whatever i liked the sound of i’d try to see if i could make similar sounds, come up with a similar feel & then i’d move on to the next thing. so at the start it was rock music – Hendrix, Sabbath & Zeppelin, then Pink Floyd & Gong, then John Martyn & Joni Mitchell. whatever i came across that i liked, i’d try and suss out what they were doing and how they were doing it – not in any great depth really, just so i could understand what was going on and get a similar feel.. which in a way was possibly the best thing i could have done as it has meant that i could perhaps get the basic feel of a wider range of stuff than if i’d studied one style in a very disciplined, in depth way.. maybe?! well that’s what i tell myself..
Who are your biggest musical influences and why?
as i say people i wanted to sound like when i was younger, things i listened to Dave Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, Toni Iommi, then John Martyn (a Martin plugged into an Echoplex has got to be a good thing!) & Joni Mitchell – she has such an interesting way of playing and great chord patterns.
i think lead guitar-wise Dave Gilmour has to be my overall favorite, his phrasing just seems to be so perfect, no needless widdling – the closest thing to a vocal on a guitar i think.
again, there’s some great technical guitarists that are very impressive but it all gets a bit too much for me, – all the shredding, or some of the jazz rock & prog stuff. it can start feeling like a bit of an assault on the eardrums. whereas a few well placed notes can often be a lot more effective – to me anyhow.
i think the real main influences have been people i know or worked with, people i’ve learned a lot from being around – starting with my Dad who played piano every weekend & my brother who, as i say, took up the bass around the time i started playing guitar – so we sort of evolved together in a lot of ways & has been a big influence on my playing and how i think about music (from the bass upward)
my friend Mark who was doing some really interesting stuff with tape recorders at college, another friend Brian who had a great studio when i started building mine – he was a big influence on how i got the equipment together and learned how to use it all. anyone i’ve worked with that has made me think differently about what i’m doing, that’s the most influential part.
How did you break into the world of commercial music, you have some amazing credits?
the tv & commercial work was a bit of an accidental development. i knew early on that the recording side of things was what i was really interested in, taking time to get sounds right and get an end result, rather than performing songs repeatedly in a flurry of adrenalin & panic! so soundtrack work seemed the obvious choice but very difficult to get into. luckily, through a friend, i met an editor i got on with, who liked what i was doing & introduced me to a couple of directors who then used me on a couple of ads for their reels & then ads that came along from then on, and it sort of carried on like that. it comes and goes & has got a lot harder – with less work around and much lower budgets, but it’s nice when it comes up.
You mentioned that you play the oud…I really love the sound of an oud. What inspired you to take up that instrument, and what other instruments do you play?
i’d always loved the sound of more arabic / oriental scales and especially the sound of the o’ud so when one of the directors i’d been working with started getting work in the middle east (mainly through Saatchi in Beirut) it seemed ideal for me. we did a couple for Jordan & Lebanon, but when i got taken on for a series of ads & a documentary for Qatar it financed buying an o’ud..
i bought it from an amazing shop in Amsterdam called “Palm Guitars” – it’s a real Aladdin’s cave of weird and wonderful instruments. i found an Iraqi O’ud which wasn’t pretty (someone had carved out the rosettes with a hacksaw blade!) but it was a large instrument with a loud & very warm tone. unfortunately it got damaged some years ago and i still need to replace it, but finding one that compares has been really difficult.
i’ve played mandolin but didn’t really get on with it really, the o’ud being a similar scale to the guitar feels a lot more comfortable. i also have a 13 string kontra (harp) guitar which is a normal acoustic guitar but then with 7 open sub-bass strings. i also got that from Palm Guitars but that’s currently in for a total refit with Benoit Meulle-Stef – a luthier in Brussels who makes harp guitars, an amazing guitar maker.
other than that, and a bit of ropey piano, i tend to stick to guitar now. i have other instruments i make noises on, a lap steel & an old autoharp i sometimes play with an ebow, but it’s mostly noise making which i then cut up and sample for later tweaking
Your studio (aka noise seduction) began in 1990 in Holland. How has the work and your studio evolved through the years?
i started recording on two cassette decks, overdubbing on to the left channel of the second as i played what was already recorded on the first, onto the right channel (if that makes sense) – all a bit basic and it meant that everything except the last overdub was on one channel and then (usually the lead vocal) was on the right.
i then got a yamaha 4 track portastudio (cassette) and then eventually a lovely little fostex R8 tape machine, running an Atari with a midex+ but when the soundtrack work came up i needed to go digital as i couldn’t sync to video and the R8 at the same time.
i’ve had a wide range of desks and outboard, buying what i could afford at any given time and then updating it when possible. a few nice Mackie desks – i had the 1202, 1604 and then a 2404. again when doing more adwork i had a yamaha 01V – which was handy as everything could be saved in the sequence so remixing ads for repeat campaigns was easy. but now it’s all on the computer so the mixer has become less of a vital thing for me. (which is in some ways a shame as mixing used to be almost a separate performance and a sort of event in itself, whereas now the mix evolves as you go along) the setup i have now is a lot smaller than in the past, but it seems to work. i have the racks for guitar stuff & effects then straight into the mac. i like the AKG mics they’re clean and warm. i just try to keep things simple and get the best sound i can with what i have.
i use to use Cubase mainly, some Pro Tools but switched to just using Reason a few years ago.
Can you tell us a bit about your guitar rig and studio setup?
it’s changed over and over again as things evolved or new stuff came onto the market, i do love my effects, especially for the more abstract and ambient soundscape work. i have loads of long delays and loopers (Gigadelay, Headrush, a couple of Korg DL2000Rs which are lovely an old digitech time machine, also Boss RC3, 20 & 50 etc) all linked through a couple of Akai MB76 audio mixbays (very old but great things – basically 7 inputs and 6 outputs, any or all inputs can be routed to any or all outputs, all midi switchable) so i can set up sync’d & asynchronous loops and delays and let things evolve, they can drift across each other for some interesting textures which can be recorded or sampled of for further tweakage.
i have various multi-fx – the main one now being the Boss ME70 but i have TC Electronic and old SE70 & SE50 plus various stomp boxes.
guitarwise i have a lovely Patrick Eggle, a very old Squier Strat & an Epiphone Dot, then a Takemine EN10 for acoustic stuff, and a spanish guitar that i use when i need that sound. the takemine i’ve had since 86 i think, it’s looking a bit beaten up now, which i like immensely.
i use a lot of ebow & glissando bar (for which i use the trem from the Patrick Eggle)
Tell us a bit about how you track guitars for different styles, projects, etc?
acoustic-wise i try to keep it as simple as i can. stereo mics (AKG C3000s) straight into a preamp and to disc – a little compression & eq it afterward to get it to sit nicely in a mix.
electric is usually DI’d although i have a couple of amps i can use (Laney & Marshall) and can usually get hold of anything specific i may need.
i use Propellerhead Reason nowadays as it just fits what i do and seems to make sense to me, far more than Cubase or Logic or even Pro Tools, i found – especially since they’ve introduced Rack Extensions and no need for a rewire host, i just stopped using everything else. there’s some nice 3rd party amp & cabinet models which work really well.
so i just keep things simple, i usually record a lot of takes and use the best bits. sometimes
i’ll write a set part and work on it in a very fixed way, but more often than not it’s the haphazard little things that happen that really work well so just looping round the track recording everything seems to work best
Tell us a bit about how your all internet based band Ink1 came to be, and how an online band project works?
to be honest most of my work has been internet based since it became possible, all the commercial work – except when i very first started doing it as that was pre-internet, but all the middle east stuff was remote i think.
the ink1 thing came about when i’d got to know Laurie Fraser (spoken word) in Canada, we’d done a couple of things together, she would record some spoken word stuff, poems etc and i’d write around it. i’d done that with a few people, i really liked her voice and wanted to record with her. we did a track called “In the Silence” based on one of her poems.
then, i think, she played it to a friend of hers, Peter who was based in London, & he was doing a similar thing using a lot more conversational voice stuff from various people, so then he’d send me a rough mix and i’d play in what i thought would work, he’d take that and use what bits he wanted. we did a couple of albums and it was fun. i wasn’t really involved in it anymore than that really. a couple of hours on each track and then there would appear these intense & dark soundscapes from London. it worked well.
i like working like that as it gets rid of a lot of the logistical problems of when people are able to turn up to a set studio or rehearsal room etc & you don’t have to lug huge amounts of gear around – and as a non-driver with a bad back that’s a definite bonus!
What’s an average work week like for you these days?
nowadays it’s very varied, which is great. a bit like plate spinning – which is how i like it. going from one project to the next, and as many styles and genres. keep you fresh i think. i write a lot through a publisher for tv & film and for various libraries, then there’s the sessions through AirGigs and various collaborations sites. then working on tracks for myself. and then various recording projects, recording other bands live
for the Publisher & Library i do a lot of different stuff, from rock, retro to acoustic and jazz, a lot of soundalikes too so it’s good to have the variation. it never gets into a set routine, which is nice.
Would you like to share any exciting upcoming news / projects?
i’ve just started working with my brother again which is excellent. (it’s probably been about 20 years). he’s got a bit more time to work on stuff now and just got a recording setup (he lives in Cumbria & i’m now in Essex, so it’s all done remotely) we’re working through some of the songs we used to play together, stuff i wrote in the 80s, getting it recorded well & releasing it on iTunes & Amazon which has been great. (using session musicians from AirGigs for drums, piano & brass/wind, so it’s all coming together nicely)
i’m off to Belgium again next week to play a series of gigs with “Day Release” which is a rock/funk improv band that started during the 4 years i was living there, that’s a lot of fun – very haphazard and a bit bizarre, but seems to go down well & nice to have fun playing live again. we’re hoping to do a cluster of concerts every few months, when i can get over
there, as it’s far too much of a laugh to stop doing. so we’re getting more and more gigs together. i’ve been talking to a couple of venues here in the UK & some in Holland so hopefully we can spread out a bit.
and i’ve just been asked to produce an EP for some friends of mine, Mouthful of Ashtrays, who have just reformed after a long gap. i’d recorded one of their rehearsals which turned out well, and then a gig they did a few weeks back, which was a lot of fun. they’re a great band so i’m looking forward to doing that. hopefully more sessions & soundtracks, & just keep doing new stuff as often as possible, for as long as possible!