Ambel & Cimino

1.0 – What can you tell us about your new project?  ***Well, I was sifting through some recordings that I had and found this piece of soundtrack music I had recorded for Amos Poe’s “Empire II” film.  It was some noise that I had done with my engineer Tim Hatfield early one morning while the studio was all set up for tracking, before the band got there.  I did one pass of guitar going through a couple amps and pedals, then played drums then we mixed the song all before the band showed up.  Stuff that I’ve recorded by myself usually gets the code name ‘Gringoman’ so I decided to release the song as “Monster Track Suite” by Gringoman on Bandcamp and put out 100 signed and numbered CD singles with art by NYC Cycling artist Taliah Lempert.

At a Chip Robinson Lakeside Lounge gig with him fronting my band I did a song where it started with just Phil Cimino on drums and myself on electric guitar. It sounded so cool like that that I wanted it to keep going.  I waved off the band until the last verse.  That got me thinking about doing some Gringoman live as a guitar/drums duo.

We did 5 mondays in a row as Gringoman at the Lakeside and a lot of what we did came from licks that I had played into the iPhone voice recorder on a recently acquired guitar that seemed to have a new lick popping out of it every time I picked it up at home.  I’d sing a beat to Phil and we’d be off.  We also did some instrumental versions of songs I like to figure out on the guitar.  With just the two of us we could go pretty much anywhere at any time.

The 5 mondays brought more new bits that I was recording to a Flip camera and I sent one of them to Kasey Anderson who wrote a song around it and a title that I had (Bad Actor).  Phil and I recorded “Bad Actor” with Kasey at my studio and it will be released as a Kasey Anderson & Gringoman single on his Red River Records soon.  We have started to work on more tunes this way.

2.0 – Has your approach to song writing changed over the years?  Yes and no. For me there are two rules to song writing. First rule is “There Are No Rules”. Second rule is “See Rule #1″

3.0 – Which guitarists did you try and emulate most when you first picked up the guitar?  Well, when I was a kid it was Beatles & Stones and then the British Big 3 (Beck, Clapton & Page) but Creedence was the first band you could actually sound like in your garage or basement. Grand Funk was sort of like the hard rock Creedence.  There wasn’t much trickery to their sound.  You could do it.  You could pull it off.  One of the first songs I learned on a borrowed guitar was “House of the Rising Sun”.  It had basically all the chords in the one song.
4.0 – Was there a record you heard early on that really set the bar for you in terms of your goals as a producer? Well, the Beatles records, even if the US versions were different, set the bar incredibly high.  I grew up with piano lessons and the church choir and playing trumpet in the band.  The Beatles records were both complex and specific even when they were experimenting.  Also being a kid with a radio in the late 60′s early ’70′s in Chicago we had 2 fabulous AM radio stations WLS and WCFL.  If you didn’t like the song on one of them you went straight to the other.  Lots of great songs and great records.
5.0 – Do you get involved with ‘pre-production’ with artists before they come in the studio and, if so, what does that entail?  Absolutely.  All projects and artists are different but if you are producing a band you have to see the band play live.  You’ve got to.  Most the time I’m either producing bands or singer songwriters who want to sound like the really have a band, a band feel.  Band project or Singer songwriter, I really like to get a solo acoustic version of all the songs that are in the running for a record.  If I spend time listening to that solo version rather than the band’s arrangement I may come up with an idea they hadn’t thought of.  I like to get those solo versions to the rest of the group or the guys that we put together for a singer songwriter record.  So they know the basics of the song not just their ‘part’.
6.0 – What are the bare bones, essential elements necessary to make a good record? Great songs, a great vocal and a couple interesting things that happen along the way.
7.0 – Recording for the first time with someone with your credentials can be intimidating for young players, how do you put them at ease? Well, I find that lunch is a mighty good start.  My credentials don’t matter that much.  It’s the band’s record.  I want to get them comfortable with their setup so they can do a great job.  Over the years I’ve sat in every chair in the room (songwriter, hot player, rhythm section, group guy) so I hope I can think about things from their point of view.  Every day is different but I’m always shooting for making an inspired record that everybody will still like 10 years from now.
8.0 – What is the bigger high for you these days; playing a great show, writing, or producing? The best for me is being in a position where I don’t have to pick.  Doing each one of those things helps the others a ton.  That’s why I try to keep active writing, playing and producing.
9.0 – Are you surprised at all at how vibrant the roots music scene is today? Pretty interesting to me.  I like that it seems to have gone beyond the cheap cowboy hats. I do wish for a bit more variety of sound sometimes.  When I see the strict acoustic acts I wish they’d get loud once in a while to mix it up.  It’s like the ‘tall trees metaphor‘.  If they are all tall trees then how tall are they?  You need a short one in the batch for scale. Works the other way too.
10.0 – Do you ever have dreams about jamming and, if so, who are in them?  I don’t have many jamming dreams but I never leave the house without a guitar pick.

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