Speechless are Sean Tonar - guitar, Paul Rusek - bass, Robbie Hamil - keyboards, and Derik Rinehart - drums. Their 2006 debut Time Out Of Mind is a prog / rock / fusion gem. Before we dig into the hot, pulsing track-by-track action, a bit of preliminary background from Sean Tonar. Take it away Sean!...
For starters it was not named after the Steely Dan tune, nor the Dylan album. It was inspired by the cover art done by Will "Inkenstein" Renfro. It looks like the warrior on the cover has clock gears in his head. Our keysman Robbie suggested the name and we all liked it right away. Naming our second CD hasn't been nearly as easy! The debut was recorded at our bassist Paul's "Rooster Recording" studio and later mixed by yours truly with insight from the band at our drummer Derik's place. In the end it was mastered by Glen Schick who has worked with such artists as Collective Soul, Mastodon, Widespread Panic, Jellyfish and even Ludacris. We commenced writing this CD almost as soon as we met. Paul and Derik had been working on some music together and had three songs demoed prior to Robbie and I arriving. We started with those and went from there, working in songs Robbie and I wrote a few months later. I think it all hangs together as a band's work and in the end covers more bases than if just one person had written it all. Soon it was clear what the Speechless sound was going to be!...
Track 1: In The Clouds
ST: This is one of the first tunes we worked on. It was written mainly by Derik and his brother, guitarist Keith. I came up with the 7/8 bridge later with the chords that rise in minor thirds since we felt it needed a little extra something... This tune has a lot of what we do all wrapped up in one number- some rock bits, some symph and a touch of jazz. The sample in the middle is a real P-51 fly by. Derik and Keith are big aviation enthusiasts so that inspired the title. I think the music goes well with it, almost like a flight from beginning to end, with a dogfight in the middle. The phased Rhodes piano (real) adds a layer of warmth to the intro and outro.
DR: The main riff of this tune happened when my brother finished tuni ng his Les Paul and was giving it a check. I asked, "what's that tune you're playing?", he said, "Just something I made up." I told him to keep playing it for a bit while I threw some drums to it. Paul joined in and we had the start of "In The Clouds". What Sean & Robbie brought to it, just made it tons better. Putting that 7/8 part in the middle, and Robbie's key melody over the choruses..... just awesome!
Track 2: Spidercrawl
ST: This is another early number and the one that got the biggest response on our MySpace page- pre CD release. It's a bass driven number...a funky, slappy part that our bassist Paul does so well- it's one of his tunes. Derik saw the way his fingers moved when he played it and commented it looked like a spider crawling. The beginning reminds me of something like Primus meets Jeff Beck's mid 70s fusion period. Then it goes into this wobbly haunted-house sounding part. The middle is a languid, symphy solo bit. It seemed to ask for something lyrical, so I let that inspire my solo, which was improvised on the spot. When it gets back to the funk Robbie lays down one of the bitchinest synth solos on the CD! =0 D
DR: This was, I believe, the first song written of the tunes that are on the CD. Actually before the band ever formed. I clearly remember that day when Paul and I were talking about what we wanted to do, (after leaving the same band) and he said, "I just wanna cut loose, no rules, and play whatever I feel like playing." I said, "so do it!" And that opening bass riff was what happened. The rest is history.
Track 3: Stella
ST: This is one where we dig in a bit more and expand the scope a bit wider. Sort of a mini-epic, Stella is the first tune Robbie wrote for the band. It's been very well received, even garnering us an award for Best Indie Instrumental Performance from the Progressive Rock Hall of Fame. There's a lot of layers on this one, much ear candy tucked around the edges. Break out the headphones! I play the electric sitar on parts of this one and I think it adds a unique flavor. There's a lot of odd metered bits in this tune, something that Robbie excels at and features a lot in his compositions. Which is great! Derik has a way of putting them together in such a smooth and grooving way that folks probably don't even notice the odd bits. This tune covers some cool ground from driving riffage with greasy organ to a sort of Floyd / Yes-ish middle section. After the solo bits it breaks down to a short middle eastern bit with the sitar and hand drums before the riffage returns. There is a lick right out of "Whole Lotta Love" at the end of my solo. Robbie suggested something "Pagey" and I played that as a joke. He moved it over a few bars and it sounded pretty rad so we left it!
DR: First 'original' tune Robbie ever presented to a band at all. And here it was the 1st to get airplay, and an award!! WTG Robbie!! The intro is me on a Roland SPD-20 pad system I used to have on the left side of my kit. The middle solo section was originally 'more confusing', (as I like to call it) jumping from 7 to 6 to 7 to 6 to 6 to 7 to 7 to 6 to 7..... ahhhhh!!! You get the idea. So we ended up at 7! LOL Oh yeah!! It's named after one of Paul's dogs!!! No kidding, really it is.
Track 4: Thank You
ST: A laid back tune, the mid tempo "ballad". This is another one Paul came up with and it features a different side of his style- two handed chord tapping. It's dedicated to all the girls in his life, past and present. It serves as a breather after the rather intense 15 minutes that opens the CD. I was hearing something like Zappa meets Andy Summers when I came up with the guitar chords. Lots of 9ths and 11ths which helped to extend the harmony out into a more uptown place. Paul does a nice solo before a rather Yes-ish bridge pops up that I had maybe too many hands in! LOL The electric sitar is featured some on this one again as a little extra flavor. Robbie plays Rhodes piano on this one and it adds a lot to the lushness and a 70s vibe too. It's not his fave instrument to play so I wanna thank him again here for doing so.
DR: I just remember being proud of the fact that this was totally improvised for me. I only knew the arrangement, and had nothing prepared for this one until we hit record. One take. I literally made it up as you hear it on the disc.
Track 5: The Big Majestic
ST: The name is inspired by the opening chord progression. This one reminds me of flying through the clouds, then them breaking to reveal a huge mountain before you. Next thing you know you are careening down it! I play slide on the intro over three tracks of open tuned acoustics. This is the second tune I wrote and arranged for the band and unlike Vader's Boogie, it had no old, leftover parts from my past. It all was fresh and came from sitting in front of the TV or PC and creating on my nylon string acoustic over the course of a few months. I came up with a sort of baroque sounding verse progression as a fingerpicked part first, you can hear a clean electric behind the crunchy one playing it on the CD. The middle bit has a series of triads over a pedal tone, a sound I never tire of. I think Pete Townshend is the first person I heard do that... These weave in and out of three or four keys which makes for some cool tensions. There's three acoustics playing different inversions of the same chords there, behind the melody. This tune is a good example of what I bring to the table. Whereas Robbie's writing often features odd meters and such, my thing is more about a variety quirky chords and progressions. That's what excites me the most when I write. I seldom think much about meters, just grooves, though occasionally they are odd as well. Next in the tune we go through some heavy, riffy Dorian bits and fun with sus chords. The version on the CD was pretty much created in the studio, the only song that was. We had to learn to play it later. I know Derik feels he winged it because of that, but I am amazed at what cool parts he came up with on the fly. It's really a drumming tour-de-force and they are mixed more up front than most of t he other songs as well. Live it is a lot of fun to play and the crowd always looks winded after that middle section.
DR: Sean & I spent 2 1/2 hours one evening at my house putting the arrangement together for this one. Another slightly improvised drum part for me. As Sean says, I really did just wing it. This was the last tune we recorded drums for. I had the drum tracks done December of 2005, little over a year before the CD was released. I recorded all the drum tracks in 2 days. I can tell you this much, as you're listening to the track, what's going through my head while I'm playing what you hear is, "this thing ain't ready to be recorded..." We hadn't spent very much time on it, but it came out great I think. Now that we've played together for long, I bet we could pull off the same situation even better should it happen again.
Track 6: Something Green
ST: This is another of Robbie's and features a different side of his playing. All of ours actually. More of a jazz meets funk number. But fairly laid back, with a bouncy groove. I played acoustic on the whole thing except for the solo. A mixture of fingerstyle and banjo-like flatpicking I think it stands apart from the rest of the CD and shows we can do more than just muscular pieces. It probably could have been a vocal tune. Think we could sell it to Beyonce?
DR: This was also a 1 take tune. Well, sorta. I had the parts I wanted to play down. But we found a glitch in the keyboard track that we were using as a metronome/guide track. When Robbie came in to fix it, we decided to slow the tempo down as well. So it was 2 takes. This song is my favorite live after doing crazier energetic songs. It's a nice breather with some fun bits.
Track 7: Spaghetti Junction
ST: This is where it all began, the first tune we worked on and recorded. Right away we knew we were on to a sound of our own. This is one of the tunes Paul and Derik wrote prior to working with Robbie and I. The version I first heard had some whiz-bang, Satriani kinda guitarist on it and made it all sound like rather typical guitar rock. Which was a shame because the rhythm section is really what is cookin' on this tune. Paul plays a rake-ish style on the verses that really locks with the drums. Over that Robbie and I added a bit of dissonance and a melody. The octaves I play were inspired by something the "Satch guy" did on the first version, but the rest was all mine. After the verse there’s some cool upwards, dreamy slide and then some chicken-pickin' on a clean as a whistle Strat. Derik about shit when he first heard it after Robbie and I laid down our parts, it was so different than the original version, even if the arrangement was the same. At the end we added an extra verse so Robbie could add that killer organ solo. It is named after the big "stack" interchange here in Atlanta, which is like two minutes from where we recorded it at Paul's studio. It dawned on Derik as he was driving over the top stack one day. Originally it had the working title of "Slammer".
DR: Actually this was the 2nd song by Paul & I before Speechless ever formed. It was the 1st that Sean & Robbie worked on in the studio. Think we pulled this one off rather quickly. I also think it was the 1st drum track recorded for the CD. The title came from me listening to the demo of it while being stuck in traffic at the famous intersection in Atlanta, GA. The music was a perfect soundtrack to all the chaos of traffic, and the insane appearance that interchange has.
Track 8: Hangover
ST: This is a another total makeover of a Paul tune- like building a new house on an old foundation. It was written by him and the drummer in his old band Shaker Day, Eric Olsen. In fact it was on one of their CDs back then. The opening bit Derik plays was a part Eric wrote. It's another that features Paul's propulsive slap and rake work. It's the shortest song on the cd, yet one of the weirdest. Robbie and I did a number on it and turned it into a rather dissonant rocker. There was a lot of root to b5 movement in it, we figured we would take that to the hilt. The beginning is like this churning groove.... We lay some chromatic lines moving in opposite directions over it to skew things some, like falling down a hole in some nightmare. Then it gets heavy with a wild, octo tonic melody atop it. I can almost feel the desert sands hitting my face as I play it. There's a lot of breaks on this one where Robbie and I get to play little, quick fills. I went for a busier approach than the rest of the CD. You can almost hear me laugh as I play a few of these parts, they were so far removed from where my head was at for the rest of the CD, but they worked well in context. They are closer to how I am playing on the second CD, come to think of it.
DR: I kept the beginning of this the same as the original to respect the request of the drummer who wrote it. Otherwise I'd have done something a bit more wicked. It's a blast to play, but that intro isn't what I would have done.
Track 9: Vader's Boogie
ST: This is the closer and actually one of the earlier tunes we recorded, the fourth. We played it for several months before recording it. The title was inspired by two things- Derik's love of Star Wars and the boogie song titles I had seen like "Jeff's Boogie" from Jeff Beck, or his "Space Boogie". As I mentioned earlier, it's made of bits of some old songs from previous musical projects, revamped and rear ranged. Some are ten years old if not more. The opening bit in F# was one song and the happy bit in B in the middle was another. I wrote new bits as well to tie it together. The heavy riff about two minutes in came as Derik and I jammed one day. I call that part the boogie, though it isn't truly one. I knew it needed a part where it got down after all that opening bit, which is a pretty long intro. The staccato / ascending section that leads to the happy bit in B was new as well and features a chord progression I doubt will be found elsewhere. Not much anyway. The spacey bit after that was new too and is one of those "start quiet and build to a big crescendo by layering more and more parts" type things. Put it all together and we wound up was a small epic that closes out the CD with a bang. The trade offs at the end between guitar and keys is one of my fave moments. Next to Stella this was the most overdubbed too. A lot of ear candy lurks in some sections, like the clean- happy bits in the intro for example. There's guitar with ebow and slide, Rhodes, synth, electric 12 string- all going at once. I think if I had to do this one again I would have trimmed about a minute off it, which we did once we started playing it live. This is the only tune not cut with a click track too. We played it live and then kept the drums and rebuilt th e rest. It is meant to be somewhat of a period piece from the time Star Wars was first released (the late 70's) and a lot of the sound effects in it mimic sounds of the time, mixed with some of that late 70s prog vibe.
DR: This thing just rocks all together. One of my favorites to play live. The drum intro is my interpretation of a drum bit Sean's old drummer did in some other song. He played me this tune from a previous band of his and said, "I love this beat, can you do something 'like' this?" And well, I did!!!! This was also the only track on the CD where, (A.) We didn't use a click track. (B.) Sean, Paul & myself were all in the drum room during the recording. They were going direct to the board, but only as a guide track that was done in the fashion of us 'jamming' together. was a lot of fun. Think we knocked the drums out in 1 or 2 takes. No more than that. I also did some percussion overdubs with bongos, dohlak, shaker, tambourine, and a frame drum in the middle break-down.