Tim Lefebvre onstage with the Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2014. Photo by Takahiro Kyono
Did David and Tony play a heavy role in making tonal choices?
Monder: I don’t think we ever discussed specific sounds or tonal ideas. The requests stayed vague for the most part—they asked for atmospheric things, textural things. They never took issue with any of the sounds or colors I used. Sometimes a part wouldn’t work, of course, but there wasn’t any real talk about the tones used.
Lefebvre: They’d say if it was too extreme or something, but other than that we were left to our own discretion about how we wanted stuff to sound—as long as it was in the character of the song. That said, as I mentioned before, David had pretty specific demos so we tried to keep things pretty close to those, at least part-wise.
A lot of the tracks have dense textures where individual instruments almost blur into one another. Can you talk about some of the guitar subtleties that might not be immediately apparent to listeners?
Monder: I overdubbed the sort-of Phrygian-sounding chords on the title track a couple of times with a pretty distorted sound, and then again with a clean tone and that shimmer setting on the Strymon BlueSky. I think Tony and David brought the distorted part in and out a lot as needed. There were also a lot of high-harmonic textural parts on a couple of tunes.
On “Sue,” they asked for something atmospheric over one part of the song, and my go-to trick was turning the mix on my Lexicon LXP-1 [half-rack reverb unit] all the way up, as well as putting the delay and decay all the way up—which makes this giant wash of sound and makes whatever note you play sound really good. And whatever other pedals you add into the mix are further accentuated by that wash.
Bowie performing live circa 1991. Photo by Ken Settle
Speaking of “Sue,” tell us about the big, semi-quirky rock riff.
Monder: I’m basically just doubling the bass line. At one point, Tim moved something around in an interesting way and I just stuck with him, so that part is more reinforcing the bass line than anything. I believe I tracked that song with my “Partscaster” Strat[-style] for the main, single-line lick, but the harmonics are always my Ibanez—they just don’t pop out as well on the Strat.
The lead you take at the end of “Dollar Days” is one of the most rocking parts on the whole album. Was that improvised?
Monder: I recall Tony had a suggestion for a vague line going through that part of the tune, but he didn’t have specific notes. He sort of had a contour of the line in mind and I came up with the notes. It was mapped out pretty well by the time we tracked it.
Do you have a favorite contribution to the album?
Monder: The repetitive melodic line in the title track was something I came up with on the overdub date, and it turned into a recurring theme and an important part of that tune that led the rest of the melody in a lot of ways. So that’s pretty thrilling for me.
Lefebvre: I played some guitar as well as the bass on “Girl Loves Me,” so I’m really proud of that. It was David’s guitar that I used, and I just went in and doubled the bass line. That’s kind of my favorite tune on the record, though it’s all really great so it’s hard to say which is my favorite.
What are your thoughts on the gravity of Blackstar as the final statement from an icon? Has the meaning of the lyrics or video visuals changed for you at all?
Lefebvre: Well, I understand some of the lyrics better now, and that makes me love it even more and take even more pride in taking part on Bowie’s last album—not in a cocky way. It’s a heavy thing. It seems like he knew it would be his last now, and it’s just wild. The references to his own mortality, the symbolism in the “Lazarus” video—it’s all spelled out. And he went out in a ball of flames. It’s been pretty emotional for me, but the way this all unfolded is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. None of it’s set in yet.
David Bowie’s haunting video for “Lazarus” is rife with existential messages and now-obvious clues about the musician’s impending death.
Monder: I remember really loving the songs the way they were when he brought them into the studio. They were inspired and unique, with tightly crafted yet odd structures, and they offered lots of ways to dig into them. Speaking more as a fan than as a participant, when I finally heard the record I was taken with its dark beauty and with what a great job they did with the production. I found it simultaneously raw, elegant, and intense, but I didn’t see it as more than a collection of great songs. With his death, it has obviously broadened into a beautiful, self-penned epitaph. As poetic a farewell message as I’ve ever heard—poignant, but oblique and challenging enough that it really penetrates to our core. David is an example of an artist going to the limits of his imagination, and having the courage and genius to bring his discoveries to life. And he did this consistently for decades. How could that not be inspiring?