Below are some of my recollections of making these CDs.
The Thanatopsis CDs are an important part of my musical output over the last several years. Thanks to Buckehead's participation, my music reached an audience it never would have before and allowed me and all of us to do something quite different from what we did on our own.
This has always been a bit of a two-edged sword in that the music I make and that Buckethead wanted to make with me was really quite different than what his following expected from him. I'm not sure why there were any expectations to begin with at all, given that his output up till then had been very eclectic. One of the things I most admire about him is his willingness to follow the whims of his musical interest regardless of how he thinks it will be perceived.
Also, things were changing, and his following among the young metal and shred fans was growing; and as time went on, the eclectic music that came before was becoming less known. So Thanatopsis began as a bit of a bastard stepchild, loved by some, hated by others.
Fortunately for me, I was quite oblivious to all this. Thanatopsis to me and Buckethead had always been my project that he was interested in playing on, for which I'm grateful and thankful. I simply followed my whims, and we all loved the result.
The first Thantopsis CD was released in 2001. As I mention in my comments on "Anatomize" below, I have noticed over time that appreciation for these records has grown, and interest in them has taken on a life of its own quite apart from their being a side project for Buckethead. And that's how it should be.
I started working with Buckethead sometime in the late '90s. We had
worked on Viggo's record "One Less Thing To Worry About," and I did "Cobra
Strike," "CSII," "Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse" and some others. For
"CSII" and "Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse" I had fashioned some tracks for
Buckethead to play over and told him if he liked them, he was welcome to
use them. "Spider Crawl," "Pin Bones and Poultry" and a few others were the
Sometime in 2000 I started putting together a bunch of these types of tracks. I asked Ramy, who had been doing sessions here, if he was interested in playing on them; and before I knew it, I had "Thanatopsis," the first CD. It's been a while, but I seem to recall that "Worm Hole" was the first of them. I would put the tracks together, Buckethead would add a few things, I would edit, Ramy would add his thing, and then more edits and all of us would add a bit here and there. We worked that way through the whole CD during the year.
I think my favorite is "Final Reparation." I used loops I made from Mozart and played my funky upright piano to it. Then Ramy played, and then Buckethead. We also put Buckethead's guitar through my Hammond organ Leslie for the eerie guitar sound on "A Thanatopsis."
I'd had the idea of doing a project called "Thanatopsis" before starting this project. I always liked the William Cullen Bryant poem, and in fact I named one of the tracks we did on the Death Cube K "Tunnel" CD "Thanatopsis." Thantaopsis was meant to be dark and evoke the feeling from the poem, and I had Fred from my Macintosh read the poem as the intro to the last track. -- Travis
After finishing the first Thanatopsis CD, I never stopped constructing tracks. I kept
working on them over the next couple of years whenever I had a chance. The
way I worked was, I would create an idea or chord change and lay that on
top of a programmed drum. I would then flesh that out and bring in Ramy to
add drums. Then Buckethead would take some passes and riffs.
All of these CDs involved lots of editing to put together the final product. But we didn't always work that way.
A couple of the tracks were started from snippets of riffs and chord changes Buckethead would play to drum loops. Usually after tracking he would let the loop play, and then play by himself for a while as raw material to create new tracks from. Later I would edit the bits together and play keys on them. Then Ramy would replace the drum loops. The track "New Year" was created this way.
Since so much time had gone by from the first CD and no preconceived ideas went into making this CD, no attempt was made to replicate the vibe of the first one. The result was quite a different sound from the first CD. But we thought any CD that had the three of us on it would be Thanatopsis, and that's the way it stayed. -- Travis
The making of "Anatomize" is really an extension of the story of making
the first two Thanatopsis CDs.
Long periods of time would go by when I was the only one available to work on these projects, so I just kept making tracks. I had in mind a solo CD; but when the other guys became available, I had them play on these tracks, and since any tracks that all three of us played on became Thanatopsis, a new Thanatopsis CD was produced.
This is my favorite Thanatopsis CD. I was more than aware that I would probably be alienating some of our audience (all two dozen of them). Buckethead's fans had gotten younger and he was getting into more of a hard metal sound on his own CDs, and I was much more interested in nuance and mood. That was going to clash at some point. But among us, both Buckethead and Ramy were supportive of this direction, and it gave everyone a chance to dabble in something none of us did apart.
One of the things I most admire about Buckethead is that he doesn't care about any other considerations having to do with what he works on, as long as he thinks it has merit. I have never had a genre of music I liked more than another. I always look for the merits of the music, whatever style it is.
I think that's always a good part of collaboration. Without the contribution of each of us, this wouldn't have worked on any level, and it became my favorite because I think it achieves a combination of mood and dexterity.
I have seen these CDs called jazz or jazzy. I never understood that, unless the definition of jazz is music that's not in any other category. I have never been influenced by jazz and have no real working vocabulary in jazz as a musician. There are vary few key changes or tempo and time signature changes on these CDs. I think there are more classical and blues sounds here than anything else, but it really is just hard to categorize. I hope so, anyway.
Interestingly, as new Buckethead fans became younger and more into aggressive metal, the Thanatopsis tracks that had been placed on Youtube began to generate an audience quite independent from the younger metal listeners. I've started seeing much more interest in these records over the last couple of years. I think they have found their own audience; and as the younger listener matures, a new appreciation for what we had been doing has emerged.
I don't know if there will be any more Thanatopsis CDs. I guess it's possible that the three of us could play together on something sometime again, and by definition that would be Thanatopsis. However, in a lot of ways I think it's a nice little body of work; and if this is the last one, I'm happy with that. -- Travis
Piano, Hammond B3 and Hammond C2 with Leslie 122 and 147, Mini Moog, Virus, Tokyo, Fender Rhodes Suitcase, Yamaha CP-80. (The piano behind me is the one used for "Final Reparation" on Thanatopsis one.)
Fender Rhodes used on "Cult Of One" and "Non Sequitur"
Hammond B3 used on "Pretzel Logic," "Vicious Circle" and "New Year."
Gretsch drums (below), here with 13" rack and 16" floor tom and 22" kick drum. On some tracks 8", 10", 12", 14" or 18" toms were used. Main kick was 20", 22" or 24". A second very old 28" kick was used for effect on some of the tracks (see the track-to-track below). Snares were mostly very old Ludwigs or Slingerlands (below, a Ludwig is the main snare with another tuned tightly on Ramy's left).
One of the bigger setups.
One of the smaller setups, with bells on feet.
Buckethead played his custom Les Paul for all the electric guitar parts; acoustic guitars were Yamaha steel string and a Yamaha gut string.
Amps were a Mesa Recto or Peavey 5150 going to a 4X10 cabinet, mic'ed with a Royer 121 and a Sony C37 tube mic. A lot of guitar parts were recorded direct through a Neve 1073 mic pre after going through hundreds
of stomp boxes.
Les Paul (custom made for Buckethead by Gibson).
Pedal used everywhere, including the bass part on "New Year."
Pedal used for the note-bending solo on track 9.
Amp used for the song "Axiology" and other solos.
2. Pretzel Logic
Buckethead played his Yamaha acoustic plugged directly into the board and overdubbed his white Les Paul directly to a Neve 1073 preamp to tape for the lead guitar. Keys are just piano and a violin and cello sample I love. I played the bass on a Mini Moog. Ramy used the 22" kick drum and one of his vintage Ludwig steel snare drums.
3. Vicious Circle
Buckethead played rhythm guitars plugged directly in, but the leads were through his 5150 amp and mic'ed. Keyboards were piano, Hammond B3 through a Leslie 122 cabinet and the Virus synth. Bass was Mini Moog. You can hear Ramy's 28" kick drum on the breaks and his use of two different snare drums.
4. Cult Of One
Here Buckethead is going through a chain of pedals going directly in. He's switching pedals and tone for every go-round of the form. Keys are Hammond B3, piano and Mini Moog bass. Ramy is using a 20" kick drum on this.
Buckethead plays a steel string acoustic and his Les Paul through a 5150 amp for the leads. I'm playing the Fender Rhodes and a cello sample. The bass is Mini Moog. Ramy is using a digital delay that he triggers from a pedal. You can hear it kick in during the second half of the verses; the drums double back on themselves, then decay off.
6. New Year
This is Buckethead playing slapping bass and a picking electric guitar part. I'm playing a Moog synth and strings. Ramy is using a 20" kick drum.
Buckethead is playing a steel string acoustic guitar for both the rhythm and solo track. He also plays the bass on a Fender P-Bass through his micro synth pedal. I'm playing piano, B3 and strings. Ramy has an 8" tom on the kit and he played shakers, tambourine and bells as well.
Buckethead is playing his Les Paul through many pedals direct to tape. Keys are piano, Virus synth and Moog bass. Drums are set up with the 22" kick.
9. Non Sequitur
Keys are piano, cello and Virus synth. Bass is the Moog. Buckethead is playing through his 5150 amp. Ramy is using the 20" kick drum.
10. Top Of The World Ma (from 'White Heat,' if you're wondering)
Guitar is going direct through a bunch of pedals. The solos went through Bucket's Mesa Recto amp. Keys are piano, Virus and Tokyo synths and the Fender Rhodes. Bass was the Moog. Ramy is using 13" and 16" toms and 22" kick.
Guitar is the Les Paul through the 5150. Keys are piano strings, Tokyo and Virus synths and Moog bass. Drums are 10", 12" and 16" toms and 24" kick.
I get a lot of requests asking for pages similar to what I posted for the making
of "Axiology." On that page I gave a song-by-song description of
who played on what.
I'm going to do that here as well, though not in such detail because a lot of the same instruments were used in the making of this CD as on "Axiology." So if you look at that page, you can get a lot of info about "Anatomize" as well.
The next-most-popular question is "How do you create the songs on these CDs?" Since the name of this CD is "Anatomize," I thought I would take apart the song "Simper" and dissect it for you.
Listen to "Anatomy of Simper" (you can follow along):
Not all Thanatopsis project songs were created the same way, but in the case of "Simper," it went like this:
The first part of the MP3 shows how I first outlined the song structure. I worked out the chord changes and recorded the Fender Rhodes to a click track. I haven't included the click on the MP3 so as not to be so annoying. The next part of the MP3 shows the next step in the building of the song with the overdubbing of the Hammond B3 (it actually enters a bit later but was recorded next), strings and bass. Next you hear Buckethead's first overdubbed guitar, in this case a Fender Telecaster. The next step is the three of us -- Ramy playing my studio Gretsch drum kit, Buckethead playing the Les Paul and me playing the Moog synth -- taking the final pass. You can listen to the entire finished mix of the song here:
"Anatomize" was a long journey. I recorded lots of tracks that, as usual were ideas I had for a solo record. The direction of the record was all over the map. Some sounded a lot like the first Thanatopsis CD, some similar to "Population Override" some even went into "Gorgone" territory. In the end we continued the aesthetic that "Axiology" represents, with a little of everything else thrown in.
So with that in mind I culled out stuff that I thought didn't work in this context, and we continued to pursue the direction this CD represents because we enjoyed it so much. We made this record for us, but I hope you enjoy it too.
The Fender Telecaster and Hammond B3 used on most of "Anatomize."
The Gretsch drum kit used on the record.
A close look at the Ludwig Black Beauty used on almost every track.
Keyboards are Fender Rhodes, Moog lead and Moog bass.
Guitars are Tele and Les Paul on leads.
Drums are pretty much the same setup on most tracks
as the photo above.
Keyboards are B3, Moog lead and bass.
Guitars are both Tele and Les Paul.
Track 4. Pollyanna
Keyboards are Rhodes, the synth is a Prophet 5, and Moog bass. I'm using an arpeggiator on one of the Moog lines. Guitars are Tele and Les Paul on the leads.
Track 5. Prolix Mood
Keyboards: Rhodes, Prophet 5, B3, Strings, Moog bass. Guitar is the Les Paul.
Track 6. Common Ground
This track was the most work for me. I had a pretty delicate theme but I wanted to create a really dense orchestration of different elements. This song is a collage, a sum of its parts. I wanted to see how dense it could be and still hang on to the melody. Keyboards: everything, really. Lots of guitar parts played with both the Tele and Les Paul.
Track 7. Unnerved
Keyboards: Rhodes, Moog lead. Guitars: Tele and Buckethead plays the bass.
Track 8. Simper
Keyboards: piano, Prophet5, B3, Moog bass. Guitar was the Telecaster.
Track 9. Broca's Area
Keyboards: Rhodes, B3, strings, Moog lead and bass. Guitars: Tele and Les Paul.
Track 10. Cross Section
Another dense track. I did a lot of Moog programming for this one. Keyboards: Moog, Rhodes, Moog bass. Guitars: Tele and Les Paul.
Keyboards: Rhodes, Prophet 5, strings, Moog bass. Guitar was the Les Paul. Ramy threw a bed sheet over the whole kit while laying down this track. The sheet dampens the drums and adds an old-time compressed sound.