Michel St-Père, founder, guitarist, keyboardist and composer of the symphonic prog rock band Mystery, shared his thoughts on the eve of the upcoming release of his next album, entitled The World Is A Game. I sat down with Michel at the Unicorn Digital studios, where we talked about the new CD, and even had the privilege of being one of the first to listen to the almost completed album in its entirety.
RD: When have you started working on the material for the new album?
MSP: Immediately after the release of the album One Among The Living
RD: So, no rest, right back in the studio?
MSP: Yes, there were a few compositions, two in particular, that I wrote at the very beginning of Mystery and that were never released, so we made demos of these with Benoit, but for the majority of the compositions on The World Is A Game, it's all brand new material that I composed right after the release of One Among The Living, so in the last year and a half.
RD: Did you write all the material?
MSP: Yes, aside from a few lines of lyrics here and there that were written by Benoit. The way we work usually is that I present a text to Benoit and we review the lyrics together, and sometimes, after a few days, Benoit comes back to me with a few comments like "In this verse, i'd put this instead of that" and at that point, it becomes a collaboration.
RD: Have you recorded all the demos and main tracks in your studio?
MSP: No, not everything, the main drum tracks were recorded in a studio in Toronto by Nick D'Virgilio, and the main bass tracks were laid down by Antoine Fafard in his studio in England. Aside from that, everything else was recorded right here.
RD: Anyone else contributed to this album?
MSP: No, for this album, all the guitar and keyboard tracks are from me, vocals by Benoit, drums by Nick and bass from Antoine.
RD: Steve Gagné didn't participate in the recording of this album, did he work with you on the demos?
MSP: No, he did not participate this time around, I recorded the demos by myself from A to Z. Usually, I record drum tracks by myself using a programmable drum synth, and when the demo is listenable and close to the final draft without paying too much attention to the drum sound, I present it to the band. So I had recorded four tracks for the new CD and submitted them to Benoit and Steve. Steve told me he liked them very much, but he was taking a lot of time to come back to me with a date of availability to lay down the tracks, and he eventually told me that he could not participate to the recording sessions because of his new job in provincial politics.
RD: So aside from Nick, Antoine, Benoit and you, no one else contributed to the recording sessions?
MSP: Indeed, unlike the One Among The Living recording sessions where I had numerous contributions from special musical guests including Daryl Stuermer, Claire Vézina, Oliver Wakeman, Richard Lanthier, John Jowitt and many more.
RD: All these tracks were recorded separately and assembled together at a later date?
MSP: Exactly, as a matter of fact, we used the skeleton tracks of the demos as our "click track" to construct the album, and even some of the demo tracks were used in the final recording, including guitar and back vocal tracks, because they were well recorded from the beginning and they were exactly what we needed. All the drum synth and bass synth tracks were used to synchronize the guitars, the keys and the vocals, the synth drum was then replaced by Nick's recordings, and at a later date, the synth bass was replaced by the tracks recorded by Antoine Fafard.
When I got the parts recorded by Nick and Antoine, they had a whole other dimension, so I had to re-record several guitar and keyboard tracks, the rhythms and punches weren't at the same place, bacause I had mentioned to Nick that my tracks were simply rhythm guide tracks and that he had all the latitude he wanted to adjust the tempo and the rhythm to his liking.
RD: You relied on his ear as a drummer for the tempo, the fills and the rhythms...
MSP: Yes, bacause when I program the drum synth, I get a good sound, especially with modern synth and sample libraries, you can put together he bits, adjust the speed and the tone and I get good results that are listenable, but I do that with the mind of a guitarist. When a drummer listens to the demo, he imagines that track with the mind of a drummer, so if my drum synth tempo is out of place and unnatural, he will bring back some of the fills and rhythms so its sounds more natural.
Had we practiced together, it would have sounded natural right on the first take, because we would have had the same rhythm and we would have adjusted to one another. In this case, we work a bit in the opposite way, so that's why I gave him a lot of leeway and I adjusted my guitar and keyboard tracks based on his rhythm tracks. I worked the same way with Steve Gagné on One Among The Living, he recorded his drum tracks and I tweaked the tempo afterwards.
RD: So for the previous albums, at no time did the entire band record together in the studio?
MSP: No, it never happened, the only time we were together was to practice for an upcoming concert.
RD: On the technical side, any new recording technologies used on this album?
MSP: No, not really, aside from the digital recording technologies where we can adjust rhythms, move tracks like blocks without having to re-record everything, compared to the recording of the album Destiny? where we played, recorded, and if you missed a beat, you started from scratch right up until you got it right. Aside from these digital recording technologies, nothing is much different from the last few CDs, the sound is pretty much recorded straight.
RD: Is Benoit feeling better?
MSP: Benoit is recovering, his voice is getting better, because as you know, he recently had major problems with his voice, espcially during the last Yes tour at the end of 2011 where a few of the last dates were cancelled, and his voice isn't back 100% right now. But for the Mystery album recording sessions, Benoit had laid down all of his vocals tracks before he left for the European tour with yes, and all of his recordings were impeccable, so there were no bits and pieces to re-record and he could take all the time he needed to recover properly since his departure from Yes.
RD: He is still a member of Mystery?
MSP: Yes, he's still a full-time member of Mystery.
RD: Is The World Is A Game a concept album?
MSP: No, not really. With Mystery, I don't really do concept albums, but often during the recording sessions, you can sometimes see a theme developing.
On the contrary, Beneath The Veil of Winter's Face was initially a concept album but we finally decided to break apart the concept at the suggestion of Benoit David and do it piece by piece, but Mystery fans told me they still felt the subtle guidelines of a concept in there...
One Among The Living wasn't a concept album but when you listen to it, it's obvious that the whole thing was composed, rehearsed and recorded in a short period of time, giving the impression of a concept because of the consonant theme and sound.
For The World Is A Game, there is a base subject about the passing of time, but its more a theme than a concept. All the tracks stand up together very well.
RD: Is there an epic?
MSP: Yes, there is an epic track that's 19 minutes long. On the album One Among The Living, there was the epic Through Different Eyes that we decided to break-up in six parts, but for this one, I think we'll leave it as a single 19-minute opus. A main course if you will!
RD: Any tour plans in 2012?
MSP: We certainly want to play live to promote the new CD, everything will depend on Benoit and how his voice recovers. It certainly helps now that he's no longer with Yes, we will have less constrains. When he was touring with Yes, we would have to plan our work around his availability, but still, we'll wait until his voice has completely recovered.
And if his recovery takes longer than anticipated, we'll proceed immediately with the recording of another album, where the recording process is much less demanding for Benoit since he can take breaks between takes to let his vocal cords rest.
We also thought of revisiting some of the old material from albums like Theatre of the Mind and Destiny?, and re-record them using our current digital recording technologies, and with Benoit on vocals, maybe even in 5.1... sort of a "best of" the early Mystery material, and of course we'd love to record a live album, it all depends on how many shows we'll play.
MSP: My pleasure!
© Copyright Robert Dansereau 2012 - All Rights Reserved
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