Bio: The basic composition for synecron’s first song was done in 2000, over a Christmas break during my first semester of college. It took thirteen years to write the rest of the record in between classes and, later, professionally developing videogames.
When I finally found the time to record, I contacted Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, PlanetX, Yngwie Malmsteen) — mostly since he lived nearby in LA, and I thought it would be a fun excuse to email one of my personal musical heroes. When Derek heard the material, he offered to produce and engineer my keyboards, which was a thrill — to my ear, Derek has the best keyboard sounds in the world, quite apart from being one of my favorite players and composers, period.
I already had a clear vision for the music, but it didn’t take long for Derek to demonstrate that he effortlessly grasped my aesthetic, and how to push the already-progressive compositions to a new level of complexity.
After putting the music through the Derek filter (including inspired arrangements involving his custom Hammond B3 organ setup, modern and vintage hardware synthesizers, and other keyboard wizardry), Sherinian introduced me to another of my musical heroes — drummer Virgil Donati (PlanetX, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth) — and some of the best performers in progressive metal today: drummer Marco Minnemann (Tony Macalpine, Kreator, Paul Gilbert), and guitarists Marco Sfogli (James LaBrie, Jordan Rudess, Alex Argento, Creation’s End) and Taka Minamino (Derek Sherinian).
For mixing and mastering, I needed someone good at mixing intricately layered music. A videogame sound designer I used to work with at Crystal Dynamics — Kurt Harland of Information Society — had worked with a sound engineer named Steven Seibold (Hate Dept, Pigface, Information Society) on a progressive and intricately layered industrial-rock record called “Don’t Be Afraid”; Kurt introduced us, and Steven painstakingly mixed and mastered every last detail of synecron.
Genre: I call the music “ultra-progressive” and “stream-of-consciousness” because the songs were made to have as little repetition as possible while maintaining a smooth, coherent emotional flow. So the extended length (7-10 minute) songs “progress” in a “stream-of-consciousness” journey rather than following a traditional verse-chorus-bridge song structure. Of course, the music is overwhelmingly Metal — it features heavy guitar riffs, prominent drums, and some shredding on all instruments.
Other hallmarks of progressive rock include many layers of music happening at once, “genre-fusing” elements of music not typically found in metal, some odd time signatures here and there, and a concept to tie the record together.
Of course Derek, Virgil and the Marcos have well-documented careers in progressive music, and Taka’s played on three great shred metal records beyond synecron.
Evolution of the initial musical and thematic elements: Even after I dissolved my high school progressive metal band to do my degree, musical ideas would still pop into my head, fully formed. So in the middle of class, or wherever I happened to be, I started jotting down music notation and stashing these ideas.
Later, when I took a break from the rigors of game programming, I’d sometimes hear a song intro in the shower, or wherever. Then I’d sit down to write the music, and ideas would naturally flow into one another, and before long, I’d reach an idea that felt final, and a song’s basic composition would be done.
I composed all the parts in music notation at the computer, and then learned to play the bass and keyboard parts after the music was largely complete.
Ideas about the album: I’m very happy with synecron. Virgil, Derek, Taka and the Marcos did an incredible job playing some difficult music — and their performances also express their unique identities as instrumentalists, which is just what I wanted. Steven was so diligent at picking apart every nuance of the mix with me, and making sure all of the many layers of music come across to the careful listener.
I got away with a “no-compromise” stance on my compositions. I made the songs as unique and melodramatic as I could, with no regard for traditional song structures or genre boundaries — and managed to convince these accomplished musicians to play on the record anyway!
There’s not much I would change about the production process. In an ideal world, I’d have spent (a lot) more money to use one of the best studios in the world to rehearse the music as a band, and get that little bit of extra feel that comes from everyone playing in the same room together. But sadly, very few projects these days can afford to do that!
Reception: synecron’s reception is still early, but it’s been surprisingly good! The people who like it really seem to love it, and the people who find the music too “out there” usually find some element somewhere that appeals, or at least recognize the serious musicianship on display.
Next step; live or studio: There are no plans for live performance or a follow-up at this time. It costs so much time and money to produce a record like this — the music really needs to find a (financially) supportive audience to continue to be viable.
If I can find the time and get the right personnel on board, I may do some videogame soundtrack work in the next few months — but that’s going to be significantly more “accessible” than synecron (though I’m sure my compositional proclivities will sneak through somewhere!)
Of course, Derek, Virgil, Taka, Steven and the Marcos are busy with all sorts of cool music!
Future plans: My immediate future is focused on my latest game project with Mechanical Butterfly Studios! It’s still in stealth mode, but we’re having a lot of fun with it.
Lyrics, themes and concepts: synecron is a concept record: the record title and song names intertwine with the song order and song structures to touch on some conceptual ideas. Rather than broadcast my thoughts on the concept, I’ll leave interpretation to the listener.
Preference; live or studio: I love playing live, practicing and improvising on bass and keyboards, but my favorite thing to do musically is compose (in music notation, on a computer). I enjoy discovering how the mathematical structures of music theory develop ideas that originated from improvisation or a moment of inspiration.
Composers: I wrote all the songs, although Marco Sfogli and Taka Minamino contributed some awesome rhythm and lead guitar parts, and Derek improvised a killer keyboard solo and (incredibly) found ways of producing the keyboard tracks to be even more “progged out” and complex than my original compositions. Virgil Donati and Marco Minnemann created their own drum parts — often with little reference to what I had originally written. (I’m no percussionist — their drum parts are immeasurably cooler than my temp MIDI drums!)
Inspirations: I have many influences; of course the guys on the record had a huge impact on the final sound (especially Derek’s solo records, Derek and Virgil’s PlanetX, and all eras of Dream Theater)
Also, for (progressive) metal: Liquid Tension Experiment, Symphony X, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jordan Rudess, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Cacophony, John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Nightwish, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody of Fire, Luca Turilli, Children of Bodom, Megadeth, Metallica, Pantera, Ron Jarzombek/Spastic Ink, Nevermore, and Annihilator.
For soundtrack music: Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Angelo Badalamenti.
For new age: James Galway and Hiro Fujikake.
For fusion: Allan Holdsworth.
Preference; cater to the audience or music for its own sake: I made synecron to sound how I wanted it to sound. I had no other objective.
Greatest Accomplishment: Hearing Derek, Virgil, Taka, Steven and the Marcos bring my music to life is my greatest musical accomplishment.
Anything else you’d like to share? Support the musicians behind the music you love! Whether it’s this record or a completely different record, if you don’t financially support the artists who do what you enjoy, most of the music you love won’t continue to be made. Also, check out everything Derek Sherinian, Virgil Donati, Taka Minamino, Marco Sfogli, Marco Minnemann and Steven Seibold do; they’re all fantastic!
Want to read more about Nathan? Here is his official site!