Play Well with Others
When it’s time to cut your parts, keep a few things in mind: 1. Now is not the time to unleash your inner EVH; 2. If you have involved other musicians in this project, let them be heard; 3. There’s beauty in simplicity; 4. Silence speaks volumes.
“The guitar initially is a tool, a map to find a way into the song, and not always the primary tool,” says Leventhal. “I am a guitar player, that’s how I started, and I have some facility on the instrument, but I never plan to play more guitar or take more solos. My playing has economy to it in records I produce, and my records don’t have a lot of solos. Guitar playing shouldn’t be self-indulgent. It should feel like an organic part of the songs.”
“When we’re talking about doing a new record, we sit in a circle, pass the guitar back and forth and sing to see which songs might work with the band,” says Burleson. “The song indicates its arrangement, tempo and which of the vocalists is best suited for it. Our saying is, ‘The song is the boss.’ It happens pretty quickly for us because there are no huge egos as far as who kicks it off. Everybody is open to let what happens happen and no one is offended if someone says, ‘This song should be a mandolin kickoff, not a banjo.’ We all know what to play behind the featured vocal or instrument. No one overrides the primary focus of the song. You have to listen and support each other, not drown each other out.”
Mickey Raphael in the studio with Willie Nelson.
Raphael knows a thing or two about how to fit, when to play and when to step aside. “I weave the web around the pocket and thread it together,” he says, “and if it gets too crazy, I don’t have to play. If it’s too far out there, I shut the fuck up and listen. That’s something Willie taught me: It doesn’t hurt to sit back and listen. You don’t have to play all the time. When you’re in the studio, or onstage, you’ve got to be able to listen and work with other guys. When you’re a young player and still learning, you want to play everything you know as fast as you can. Again, it’s like Willie says: Less is more. Genre to genre, you have to listen to what the song needs and what you can contribute. I’m concerned about playing one note with great tone rather than a solo with all the licks I know. You don’t talk when someone else is talking. It’s the same thing with music. When the singer is singing, stay out of the way of the lyrics. People want to hear what the singer and the other players have to say. If it’s not your turn to play, watch the other guys and be gracious. It’s a team effort.”
“A lot of people are terrific players at home and in their bedrooms, but they can’t work with a group, take direction or apply themselves to what it takes to fit into a collaborative effort, which is what a band is,” says Kulick. “Everyone has their own approach. You learn how to fit in, and that’s a key element. Some people are talented but have no social skills, or no understanding of when it’s time to extend themselves and when it’s time to sit back. Each situation has its own dynamics, and you have to understand those dynamics in order to make it work. That’s been a key to keeping me successful and keeping me working.”