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Shred Talk 2 - Code Of Perfection
I am sure you have read part 1 of the "Shred Talk" (if not, check it out HERE).
Ever since, Thorsten has been very busy, and I am sure you have heard about the debut album of his band Code Of Perfection. The album's in stores now, and it's called "Last Exit For The Lost".
Shortly after the release, we sat down in his office to have another Shred Talk. And as usual, it was a load of fun. In addition to the interview, we prepared an elaborate lesson with a load of cool licks from the album, plus soundfiles.
So without further ado (and another reminder to check out "Shred Talk!" Part One if you haven't yet, let's jump right in!)
Code Of Perfection Website
The label COP is on:
"Last Exit For The Lost" is the debut by Code Of Perfection. The band consists of Thorsten Koehne (all guitars), japanese bassist Keisuke Nishimoto and former Demon Drive-drummer Frank Kraus.
Also featured were several guest musicians, like vocalist Carsten "Lizard" Schulz, keyboard-player Ferdy Doernberg, and Michael Angelo and Alex Beyrodt on guitars.
The album combines instrumental tunes and vocal-tracks, and it's quite a wild ride (you may think I am biased, but I was seriously blown away by this CD). From great songwriting, memorable hooklines to complete shred-mania, there's a whole lot of stuff to wrap your ear around here.
So I took some notes and headed to Thorsten's apartment to pick his brain on the album and how it came together...
EV: Ok, let's get going. So how long did the whole production of "Last Exit For The Lost" take? From pre-production to production to mixing and mastering...
TK: Altogether, it took about 6 months, I'd say.
EV: Does this include demoing the songs?
TK: Yes, but actually, I didn't really make a lot of elaborate demos for the others. What did take some time was that I transcribed the basslines I had in mind for Keisuke (Nishimoto, the bassist of C.O.P., living in Japan).
Instead of transcribing them in actual sheet music, I tabbed them out using Powertabs, but it still was quite a lot of work to do that, considering we had 11 or 12 songs. Actually, he didn't even use too many of the bass parts I tabbed out.
EV: Which is the oldest song on LEFTL? I know a few of these songs as demos from the old days, so I was wondering what periods those songs were from.
TK: Good question. Let's see. One of the songs that is truly old is "Psychotic Nightmare". It's even older than "Shred It", and I think it's safe to say that it's the oldest song on the CD. It's one of the very first instrumentals I wrote.
Back then, I got an Tascam 4 track tape recorder, and once the creative juices started flowing (laughs), I started recording all kinds of stuff that I was planning to record. That's about 10 years ago now.
EV: And which song is the most recent one?
TK: That would definitely be "Miracle Times".
EV: Were all the vocal-tracks written for the album, during the production of it?
TK: No. "Super Woman" for example is an older song. It initially was supposed to be released the last Demon Drive album, "Four Play!" (see "Shred Talk"). We even did a demo with (former Demon Drive singer) Michael Voss in the studio back then.
For some reason, it didn't end up on "Four Play" though, and when we were working on LEFTL, Jochen Meyer remembered the song and suggested resurrecting it.
EV: When I compare the songs that I heard older demos of (for example "Hearts In Atlantis", which I have a demo of which is called "Beautiful One"), I notice that the songs have changed a bit. Is this true for the more recent songs as well? Did they change throughout the production, compared to the initial demos?
TK: I did a lot of pre-production with Jochen Meyer, and most of them were arranged differently. I gave him pretty much all demos of myself that I had laying around, and he picked whatever he liked, based on what he thought would be appropriate for the album.
Together, we picked 11 songs from all that. And it's safe to say that we did work on those songs quite a bit, rearranging and reworking them.
Listening back to those older versions, I knew I wanted to play certain parts a bit differently. That's why we re-arranged stuff, left things out in order to "streamline" them, make them more „listener-friendly“.
It was a good thing to collaborate on that with Jochen. As a guitar-player, you tend to go "OK, let's throw in yet another lick here". Jochen brought in a different perspective, as a listener.
EV: Did the other musicians have a say regarding arrangements and songwriting too?
TK: Yes, sure. They definitely had complete freedom when they were recording their parts, it was up to them what they'd play.
This tendency started already when we were recording the drums. Franky (Frank Kraus-drums) did change some of the drum-parts, playing them from a drummers' perspective, based on what he thought they should be like.
He used my demos as a click-track. That's what he heard in his headphones when he recorded the tracks.
Take "Miracle Times"... the beat was quite a bit different originally. He changed it to a straight, almost disco-like beat with a steady bass-drum
Or take the piano-parts in "Hearts In Atlantis"... we actually didn't even use a lot of the keyboard tracks that Ferdy (Doernberg) recorded. He had recorded quite a few tracks, most of it sounding really awesome, but we had to leave out a lot of stuff so that we wouldn't overdo it.
EV: Talking about keyboards... there's a really cool keyboard solo on "evil:FEX", which reminded me a whole lot of the keyboard tracks on the old Shrapnel records, like Tony MacAlpine's solos on the first Vinnie Moore-album.
Did you have the other guys listen to some of those albums, songs that inspired you etc.?
TK: I am pretty sure that all of them were familiar with those albums anyway. Ferdy is a fan of all those 80s records. He grew up with them, and he knows a lot of them, like i.e. the "Project Driver" album. He recorded quite similar stuff when he was working with (german guitarist) Axel Rudi Pell, too.
We were planning on recording one of those old school keyboard-guitar-duels, that's what's going on in "evil:FEX". However, that song is another example for songs where we cut out certain things to make it more listener-friendly. I still have some of the demos, and there were way more guitar solos on those. We just had to cut those down a bit, it would have been way too much otherwise. And of course, we actually wanted to feature the guest-musicians, that's why we gave Ferdy a bigger solo-spot in that song.
EV: Let's get back to the collaboration with Keisuke. How did that work? You mentioned sending him powertabs of the basslines you had in mind. Did he record those and send you the results of that, or did he change them a lot, or did he just play what he thought what would be appropiate, and gave you the option to request changes?
TK: He actually recorded several different versions of each song, playing different basslines. He then mailed those recordings to me, and we picked what we liked the most. If we made suggestions to change stuff, he re-recorded his track and sent it.
EV: Can we consider the lineup on the CD a solid one? Will this be the lineup on the next release as well?
TK: Definitely. I'd love to work with Carsten ("Lizard" Schulz, vocals). He was supposed to provide a few vocal tracks, but by now he is supporting the band very much, putting in a lot of work. He even was the one responsible for us getting the deal.
EV: What direction do you wanna move the band into for the next album? Will it be a similar ratio of vocal-songs vs. Instrumentals, or are you interested in having more vocal-tracks on the next CD?
TK: Well, we did get some really great reviews for LEFTL. And a lot of the reviewers did comment quite positively on the concept of the album, which is to not have only instrumental songs, but also some vocal tracks in between to "loosen things up".
They commented along the lines of "The instrumental tracks are really cool and fun to listen to, but it's a nice change to have some vocals in between, too". And that was our intention
EV: Was there some time-pressure throughout the production, regarding any deadlines? Or did you have all the time you needed to fully work out everything?
TK: There really wasn't any pressure at all, mainly because we didn't have a deal yet back then. The only deadline was the one I set, as I figured that this album should be done at some point (laughs).
It was about 3-4 months of quite focussed work, and that's the way I like to work. I wouldn't like to work on something for too long, or only work on it for a little bit and then take a break.
EV: Listening back to the CD now that it's done and in stores, are you completely happy with the results? Or are there parts that, by now, you wish you had done differently?
TK: No, I am completely happy with the result. What was weird was: prior to the mastering, I listened to the CD, and at that point, I had heard the early demos and rough mixes so often... well, those demos and rough mixes had way more guitar solos on them, so when I was listening to the final mixes prior to mastering, I felt almost disappointed that some of the solos were gone.
It was just force of habit, though. It was a good decision to cut some of the stuff. I'll have you listen to some outtakes later on, parts where Jochen said "Man, we can't keep this in". For example, there was this wacky 32nd note string-skipping shred-lick in the break of "Hearts In Atlantis".
It was a cool lick, but it definitely would have ruined the song big time.
We also had the "normal" listener in mind, and therefore some parts were cut.
EV: OK, how did you get in touch with Michael Angelo?
TK: Met him first time in LA, at the NAMM. Back then, he wasn't with Dean Guitars yet (the guitar company Thorsten is endorsed by). He dropped by at my workshops / showcases every day and was watching me. So we started talking.
A few years later, he was in Germany, at the Musikmesse, playing workshops for Dean. So I asked him whether he'd like to contribute some solos to my album. He referred me to his manager, as he doesn't like to worry too much about the business-side of things at all.
Two shred-masters: Michael Angelo and Thorsten K.
EV: So you sent him a backing track, and he sent you back his solos?
TK: Yes. And I had no work with his tracks at all. Everyone who was asked to play on the CD had complete freedom, and we knew that none of them would send anything that was crappy or anything... just awesome musicians.
We spent some thought regarding what song we'd like Michael to play on. Then, we sent him a backing track of "Psychotic Nightmare". He went into a studio in LA, recorded something and sent that back to me.
EV: So how did it feel to have him play on the CD?
TK: It was awesome, a dream come true. Back in the 80s, I used to religiously watch his Star Licks video. I don't know how often I have watched it, and he soon became a hero of mine. So to have him on my record was awesome.
EV: K, let's talk licks. Regarding "Shred It"... that song almost sounds like a "Best Of Shrapnel" type thing, with a passage that seems to be an obvious tribute to Jason Becker, and the sweeps that sound a bit like the hammered-on arps in Satch's "Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing" (check out "Shred Talk" for a walkthrough of that passage!)... Was that the intention, or did it just happen like that?
TK: OK, first of all, the sweep part... that obviously was inspired by Satch. I heard him use those arps, hammering on the notes. I then figured out you could sweep-pick those too, so I started with that min11-arp, and made up a major-version of it (which actually is a maj add9 with a third on top- EV).
The Jason Becker-part is an obvious tribute and was meant to be one too, I mentioned that in the liner-notes. That happened in the studio... we only had the arps in the background, and I remembered some of Jason's songs, so I played the melody that you hear on there. I tried to play the way I thought Jason would play it.
EV: Regarding the harmonies... do you plan on those in advance, or is that something you just try when you have recorded the original voice?
TK: No, that usually is intended right from the beginning. What I do experiment with is what intervals I use... whether it's thirds or fifths or whatever. I try different things and then see what I like the most.
Thorsten and his ibreathemusic-t-shirt
EV: When you decide what you will try to play (as a harmony), and you figure that a certain interval will result in an extremely tough to play part, to a point where it's pretty much impossible without using an unusual technique or even some effect unit or whatever, does that influence your decision?
TK: You have to find the best way to play stuff. Sometimes that may result in using a weird technique or trick, but in general, you have to find a compromise.
EV: Like, when you i.e. Play a line, and you hear in your head a harmony that's like, say, 2 octaves below that, and you notice that you couldn't play that without tuning down a lot, or using a harmonizer or something...
TK: Then I'd probably just see whether there's something else I could play instead. I always try to keep in mind that I also have to play the stuff live as well, thinking practical. That's my way of thinking... "Could I play this live, maybe with a second guitarist?". I want it to stay organical.
EV: How about the rhythm guitars? How many tracks did you use?
TK: 2 tracks in every tune, one left and one right.
EV: Last summer, when you had me listen to the album the first time, you mentioned that the solos came together rather spontaneously, all of them recorded with a simple yet effective setup. So what's the basic setup you used?
TK: That was my ESP Flying V and a Marshall amp. Guitar straight into the amp, that was it.
EV: Ok, regarding "Polka Beast Stampede"... when you wrote that one, was your intention to write something with that specific polka-style beat, or was it something that just happened, and you picked the name later?
TK: I simply love that beat. I am a fan of that punk-style beat. That was the whole intention: to make a song with that punk-beat. (Laughs) Which reminds me... the piece originally was called "Shred Punk". The title was based on the sound I imagined in my head when I wrote it... to combine shred and punk... a simple offbeat rhythm with three simple chords and shred guitar.
However, we didn't use the title, because... when we were talking about song titles for the album, Jochen said "There are two words you definitely should avoid... shred and punk!"
So he suggested to rename the piece to "Polka Beast Stampede".
EV: When writing tunes, do you have a solid idea that you recreate when you make the demo, or do you create songs by i.e. Jamming on drumbeats, or do you sometimes even start with just a title and let that inspire the music?
TK: It depends, really. Usually, I always have the music in my mind at first, and think of a title afterwards. Especially with instrumentals, the images you get in your mind when listening are based on the music, and the title can help to suggest a few of those images, give the listener a general direction.
However, sometimes I did have a title or a certain feeling at first, and then tried to figure out how to express that in music.
EV: Are there also songs that came together when jamming?
TK: Definitely. It's tough to recall how the older songs came together exactly, as it's been quite a while. However, regarding newer songs like "Last Exit For The Lost", that song came together in my home studio. What's funny is that that happened right after a wild shred-orgy I had. You know, I was noodling for 3 or 4 hours, scales up and down... eventually I felt like "empty", all played out. And then you start to sit there with your guitar and start to play all free, expressing your feelings. You get the technical stuff out of your system, and afterwards, you can let your feelings out. It's tough to explain it, really.
The clean intro came together right there. It was meant to be an acoustic piece, but later on I changed it and turned it into an electric piece.
EV: Regarding the vocal tunes... did you write the vocal lines and sang them to the singer, or did he make those up?
TK: Take "Walking On Thin Ice"... that one I collaborated on with Carsten. He wrote all vocal lines in that song, plus the lyrics. The original demo had completely different vocal lines and lyrics. So I changed a lot of it around, together with Carsten.
Regarding the other vocal-songs, the lyrics of those were written by me, and Carsten did change some of the vocal-lines slightly, according to the style he likes to sing in.
EV: Did you use a mic or a piezo pickup to record the acoustic guitar in "Underneath A Blue Kiss"?
TK: That was simply acoustic guitar recorded straight into the mixing desk with a microphone. I did try it with a piezo, but I liked the results we got with a mic a bit better. A good condenser-mic, I prefer that in the studio.
EV: The solo in that piece is amazing. Was that worked out, or did it come together spontaneously?
TK: Many of the solos on LEFTL were improvised, but some were worked out. The one in "Underneath..." was worked out.
EV: I also heard Paul Gilbert's "Terror Death Lick" (from Intense Rock II) pop up in between... was that an intentional tribute, or something that just happened? I know you have been influenced by PG a lot, so I know some of his licks kinda creeped into your lick vocabulary as well?
TK: That just happened, it wasn't any intentional tribute.
EV: How about playing live? I know Keisuke lives in Japan, so will he be able to come over to play live with COP?
TK: That would be quite difficult, we might have to ask someone else, but of course Keisuke is the bassist of COP, that's a fact.
EV: Are you preparing a tour yet?
TK: Yes, and before we get going we'll schedule a marathon-rehearsal in some studio as well. All the guys are complete pros, so I know it'll work out perfectly, as everyone will be well-prepared.
Keep in mind, we're with Limb Music now. That's a really good international label, and there might be a possibility for us to tour as a support act. We'll have to wait and see what kind of offers we get, though.
EV: Once you get back to the studio to work on the follow-up album... do you still have some older songs to put on there, or will you have to write all new songs?
TK: Oh, I still have bunches of songs from that weird "creative output" phase back then, there's plenty of material for more albums.
Regarding a follow-up... we will definitely stick to the concept we had on this album, mixing instrumentals and vocal-tracks, inviting guest-musicians, and a variety of styles. The album will be a bit harder and faster though, it's safe to say. The boss of the label likes the fastest songs on LEFTL the most, and so he's in favor of that as well.
EV: How about playing live in other countries? What if some people in the States would like to hear COP live?
TK: Everythings possible. I'd love to play there or in Japan again. I also would like to play more workshops again, like on the NAMM in LA or Chicago.
EV: OK, good luck with that. Any messages for the guys at the ibreathe forum?
TK: Sure. Ibreathe was an important portal for me, that's for sure. Ibreathe enabled me to get in touch with a lot of people, and many of them got introduced to my playing and music through my posts there. It's unbelievable to see all the feedback and discussions that has come in through the site. And I hope that the people there who liked my playing will check out the album, too.
We interrupt our regular program for a public message by Eric V:
Guys, it would be quite honorable and fair to BUY the record if you'd like to check it out. There are plenty of opportunities, with the album being sold by Amazon, and it would be a great way to support Thorsten and his band.
I was told that the album is already being swapped by way of p2p-sources, and that's a bummer. Yes, it does help to spread the word, yet it's not exactly "supporting the artist" IMO. So I ask you to do the cool thing and purchase the album instead of downloading it.
Actually, that wraps up our second Shred Talk, and once again, it was a load of fun. Thanks to Thorsten for doing this. It's very cool to see COP slowly but surely taking off big time. I have kept an eye on the development, and got a unique sneak preview of the album last summer (thanks for that!). It's an awesome album, and I wish you the best of luck with it!
Licks Licks Licks
Yes, just like in the first Shred Talk, we have a TAB section / lesson included, and this one is even bigger than the other one. Together, we're gonna walk you through some of the coolest licks on "Last Exit For The Lost". And that definitely does not mean that the licks in this lesson are the only cool ones! Also, a little surprise awaits you at the very end!
So, how did we go about this? I picked a load of things I thought would be interesting to you, the reader. Thorsten picked out some more, and then he went ahead and tabbed them out. Also, he did recordings of himself playing those licks.
All guitars on the album were tuned down a half step. The TAB displays the licks as played on a guitar in that tuning. To avoid having gazillions of accidentials, I didn't tune down the guitars in the powertab-file, so the MIDI-playback will sound one half step higher than the originals on the album. But that really doesn't matter, as you get to hear Thorsten playing them for you in this lesson.
So, without further ado, here we go!
Track 1 "Last Exit For The Lost"
First of all, here's the clean intro. As Thorsten mentioned in the interview, this he came up with after an extensive shred-jam. It's mainly based on an Emin chord (actually, no third involved, so it's basically an E5 with a changing bassnote: E-C-B-E). Since this can be clearly heard on the CD, there's no soundfile to go with this.
And here's the cool bluesy lick that starts at about 2:00. This lick immediately stood out to me, so I asked Thorsten to tab it out and record it. It's basically the meaner, extended version of a very popular blues-lick. I guess we can call that the "COP-twist" =).
When you try to play this one, pay particular attention to the bends. Make sure they're in tune, unless you're going for an even dirtier, bluesy sound
Track 2 "Flyin' High"
The next example is from "Flyin' High" and starts at about 3:30. It's basically a repeating pentatonic lick in the key of F# min (remember, the guitars on the album are tuned down). The pentatonic scale is distributed in three notes on the high e-string. For more on this subject, check out my articles about the "Stretch Pentatonic" (Stretch It and Stretch Some More)
Track 03 "Miracle Times"
Even though "Miracle Times" is one of the vocal-tracks on the album, it doesn't mean that Thorsten was holding back. Here's a fast run in sixtuplets, on the CD it starts at about 3:59.
The key is A Maj / F# min
Track 04 "Polka Beast Stampede"
This crazy instrumental has some insane guitar licks, like the string-skipping lick at 3:36. Key in this case is Bmin.
Lesson Part 2
Track 06 "Walkin' On Thin Ice"
At about 2:59 in this song, you have yet another cool string-skipping lick. Pay attention to how accurately this is executed. Key would be Gmaj / Emin. I am mentioning the key signatures so that, in case you wanna attempt to do so, you can try to take some of these licks and add them to your "arsenal". Once you get the licks up to speed, try playing them in different keys, or apply them to different patterns etc.
Track 07: "Evil:FEX"
Another crazy instrumental. This lick will require you to polish your bending technique, as it's not really easy to play such a run with accurate in-tune bends thrown in at the correct tempo.
Click HERE to hear the same lick with an added harmony, just like on the CD
Track 8: "Psychotic Nightmare"
The title is quite appropiate, as there are some very sick licks and lines in here. The next TAB is a good example of that... a crazy atonal lick.
To make this one even more insane, Thorsten added a harmony to the line. Quite psychotic, ain't it?
Click HERE to hear the harmonized version
Track 9: "Superwoman"
If you have checked out more of Thorsten's songs, or some of his many contributions to the ibreathe-forums, you know about his skills regarding alternate picking. This run from "Superwoman" is a great example for that. There's a definite Yngwie-influence here!
Track 10: "Underneath A Blue Kiss"
Here's a very challenging, but also very nicse-sounding run from "Underneath A Blue Kiss". It's very interesting due to the large intervals, and can be executed in several different ways... all alternate-picked or using a combination of legato and Picking, maybe even economy picking.
Lesson Part 3
Track 11: "Shred It"
"Shred It" is one of Thorsten's oldest songs, and a pure shred-workout. As mentioned in the interview, there's a little tribute to the amazing Jason Becker in here, a part that sounds both like "Altitudes" and "Opus Pocus" (both songs from Jason Becker's "Perpetual Burn" album)
This is the "background" to the very Becker-ish slow melody Thorsten plays. I recommend to analyze the notes he used, as they're mainly based on triad arpeggios. It's very interesting to see how Thorsten merged them into such a long passage, and it's safe to say that this part is a wonderful workout, regardless of whether you alternate-pick throughout, or use a combination of picking and legato (Paul Gilbert-style)
Click HERE to hear Thorsten play this lick unaccompanied.
Encore: An outtake from the recordings... the lick that almost killed the producer
You may have noticed that, in the album-walkthrough above, the beautiful ballad "Hearts In Atlantis" was not mentioned. There's a reason for that, too... Thorsten mentioned in the interview that, while working on the lead guitar parts of that song, he recorded a wild string-skipping-passage that didn't make it to the CD. Jochen (producer) considered it a bit TOO far out for this mellow ballad, so it was left out.
As a special bonus for all of you, Thorsten tabbed out what he did play that day, and recorded himself playing it. So here goes:
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed round 2 of the "Shred Talk", and hopefully you got something out of the bonus lesson. There are a bunch of awesome licks on the CD, but that of course is not all that matters... "Last Exit For The Lost" also features some great song-writing, and all performances by the musicians are top-notch.
It was a load of fun to have this convo with Thorsten, and I consider myself blessed to call him a friend. We don't get to hang out and jam as often as we used to, but everytime we do, it's really inspiring and fun.
So all the best to him and the other members of "Code Of Perfection", and I hope you will check out this CD.
To download a powertab-file of all licks, click HERE
To download a pdf-version of that, click HERE
This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/187
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