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B.D. Lenz: Finding His Own Voice

By Published: December 15, 2009
AAJ: How much time did you spend transcribing during your development?

BDL: Years ago, especially when I was in school, I filled books with the transcriptions that I did. I spent a lot of time back then transcribing a ton of stuff. I think now it's mostly just laziness that I don't do it much anymore. I still hear things that I really dig, and I'll listen back to them a few times, but I don't actively write them out and study licks or solos anymore. I spent a lot of time doing it when I was younger, but now I have other things I like to focus on during my practice time.

AAJ: You have a strong sense of rhythm in your playing and writing—on the tune "Pilly," for example. Do you focus on finding a cool groove when you're writing your tunes and then add the melody, or vice-versa?

BDL: The way that I write the melody seems to come last. I'll develop a rhythm section idea and then fit the melody around it. I'm really big on writing melodies; it's not like it's not important or that I'm pushing it off until the end. I have to get the base of the tune first, then I can develop the melody. I usually spend a lot of time working on melodies; I really like to get them as perfect as I can.

That tune, "Pilly," in particular is very rhythmic in nature. I had originally written that tune with my drummer, Joel Rosenblatt, in mind. The album had originally been pitched from the label as being Joel's album, so I was writing the tune with the idea that other drummers would be checking it out. It's a 7/8 thing, and it definitely focuses on a specific rhythmic idea.

AAJ: How much overdubbing did you do on the record? Do you approach overdubbing as a necessity or more of a compositional tool?

BDL: I know that some people are very strong in their opinions about overdubbing, especially in the jazz world. My record isn't really a traditional jazz record, it's a little more contemporary and composed, so I did spend a lot of time producing and arranging the music using overdubs. If I was doing an album of standards, that probably wouldn't be the case, but I'm more of a modern, fusion player, so I do overdub quite a bit in order to get the sounds down on record that I'm hearing.

AAJ: Since you are using overdubs as well as other studio techniques in your compositions, how finished are the pieces when you get to the studio? Do you spend a lot of time writing during the sessions or do you prefer to have it all worked out once it's time to record?

BDL: I would say that as I've grown musically over the years, the more I have everything worked out before I get into the studio. For this last record, I basically brought in a skeleton for all of the tunes that I had demoed on my home computer, and the guys used that as a scratch track to play over. When I'm dealing with high-level players, like the guys on the album, and in a very expensive studio, I can't mess around. I have to be as prepared as possible, so I can go in and just bang it out with as few issues as possible.

AAJ: On a couple of the tunes on the album, "No Regrets" and "Sympathy for the Common Man," you use an acoustic guitar, which isn't a surprising choice given your musical background. What is it about the acoustic guitar that draws you to use it in your writing and performing?

BDL: Well, I like to make every song have its own unique vibe. As well, I like to have each song on a record have its own sound, or else it might get kind of boring. Two huge heroes of mine are Mike Stern and Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
, and I love the beautiful ballads they've done on acoustic guitar. So in a way I'm emulating them, but it's also about finding a variety of sounds that I can use effectively on a record.

AAJ: On another tune, "Truth is a Temple," you use a volume pedal to get some very cool sounds out of the guitar. How do you approach using effects pedals in your playing and writing?

BDL: I wish I could say I was more adventurous with sound, but I feel it's a weak point for me, just exploring effects and stuff. My live rig only has three pedals in it. That tune in particular—I always wanted to write a tune that had that kind of vibe to it. I had been listening to some players who did ambient music, and I wanted to do something like that myself, so I had to go find the right patch to make it happen, but otherwise I'm very simple when it comes to choosing effects.

AAJ: That tune is a solo piece, and it fits very well within the context of the rest of the album. Do you have any plans to pursue your solo playing further—maybe do a whole album of solo tunes?

BDL: Not really. I want to touch on that aspect of my playing, but to do a whole solo album, I would have to be a master at that style, and frankly, I'm not. I did the one piece, and I'm happy with how it turned out, but I don't think I'm good enough as a solo player to do a whole album.

Frankly, I've heard whole records of that stuff, like Robert Fripp
Robert Fripp
Robert Fripp
, and it was amazing—he's one of the best ambient solo players out there—but even then it got to be a bit much after a while. I figure if I feel that way about a master like him, than I'm probably not ready to do an album like that myself.

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