Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
Randy Ellefson has returned with his second instrumental rock offering, aptly titled, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. This time drummer Jeff Moos and session bassist Dave DeMarco have added to the melodic overdose. Still playing his homemade guitars, Ellefson shows no signs of having lost his playing for five years to tendonitis, which resulted from achieving four years of classical guitar skill in only two years to earn a Bachelors of Music. Since the release of his debut album, The Firebard, Ellefson has earned endorsements with Alvarez Guitars, Peavey, and Morley Pedals, and been heard on XM Radio Unsigned 52 and stations in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. Great reviews of Rand's playing can be found in BW&BK magazine (issue #83), which also featured the song "Weekend Warrior" on their KnuckleTracks compilation. Ellefson's band is now performing in the Mid-Atlantic, USA, was invited to perform in the local All-Star Jam, and has been interviewed by local press twice. He is a top five Google search result for "instrumental guitarist" three years running, and has published articles at top guitar re-lated sites, including Guitar9.com and UltimateGuitar.com. ABOUT THE SONGS 1. Better Things To Do This is the song that turned me into an instrumental guitarist, which is odd considering it was written to have a verse and chorus and is still in that arrangement to this day. Come to think of it, that's probably why I still organize songs that way, generally, though I often have multiple 'verses'. At the time, I was struggling to introduce the classical theory I was learning in college into my rock playing without changing my style. I didn't know what the problem was, but in hindsight, I knew the guitar neck by shapes and scale patterns, like most players. Classical music is all note-driven, so knowing music theory inside and out wasn't helping me because I didn't think about notes when I played. That might sound odd, but most rock players are like this. Anyway, most of my music was in minor keys, but when I stumbled into the 'chorus' riff in this song at 1:46, it suggested E major, not E minor. I hadn't played in E major before, but I knew the difference from school, so I manually converted each D to D#, C to C# and G to G# as I experimented with more riffs. Each time I did that, those spots on the neck became those notes to me, not a position in a scale pattern. I was beginning to play by the notes on the neck. I quickly wrote the 'verse' riff and a kind of lull in between that starts the song. Then came the big breakthrough. I didn't know the scale patterns in E major and couldn't play lead over it, but I started playing anyway, albeit slowly. Again I manually converted pitches, and each time those spots on the guitar became letter names to me from then onward. I stumbled into the main theme, which has classical knowledge of 'voice-leading' all over it. It was one of the best melodies I'd ever written. Then I wrote another version, then another, then different melodies. They were pouring out of me one after another as I went around the neck, lighting up the fretboard that, in a way, had been in darkness to me my whole life. I suddenly knew every note on it, and with that knowledge, the classical theory came pouring over. Every melody was the best one I'd ever written, only topped by the next. I was euphoric, having the time of my life. I went from struggling to write 30 seconds of lead to casually writing a 4 minute lead with no effort. When friends first heard it, they were shocked. I had arrived as a lead guitarist, and the major key, upbeat style stuck. Around this time, a friend brought over a drum machine and left it with me after we came back from a bar. I started playing with it and writing drums for this song, being so obsessed that I stayed up until dawn. When I finally went to bed and woke up again, I went right back to drum programming, anxious to hear a song with drums on it for once in my life. I was so obsessed that I'd ditched plans for the day but had a nagging feeling I was supposed to be doing something else. At one point I thought the phrase, 'Isn't there something better to do?' Then I smacked myself and thought, 'Who am I kidding, this is the better thing to do!' Then I realized I'd found a title. 2. A Trill A Minute This track is the fourth instrumental, and is one of three (along with 'Some Things' and 'Waltz') that were written in three days of a weekend (Fri, Sat, Sun) in July 1993, my most productive output ever. Before that weekend I was considering being an instrumental guitarist. By it's conclusion, I was one, with half an album going. Most of the riffs were written on the one Friday, and once again my writing was super fast compared to the old days, as obvious variations on the material leapt out at me. The only riffs not written then were those under the guitar solo at 3:25. In their place was something else that sounded too much like what had come before it. The solo riffs were written a few years ago and based on part of the trill section that gives the song it's name. By the way, a trill is what each guitar is doing starting at 2:18 as the music moves around the head. Sometimes I don't play lead guitar over a song for a long time - I'm talking years here - and this is one such case. I thought the song was 'B-side' quality until I first wrote melodies at :18. Suddenly the song's stature grew dramtically, earning it a prominent frontside position (and booting 'Everlast' from it's intended album position, known as far back as 1994 for all songs, though I sometimes swapped two adjacent to each other, like 'Blue' and 'Waltz', and 'Pitter' and 'Mantra'). The addition of the 12-string acoustic didn't come until 2005 but really helped the texture a lot. And the way the trill section was recorded wasn't planned at all. I had the idea at the time and made up the alternating stereo positions as I recorded each trill by itself. I wasn't sure it would hold together well at the time, but now it's one of the best spots on the album. The guitar solo is challenging to play live due to the right hand action that is nearly non-stop from the trill section to the end of the solo. 3. Blue Sky This song was written one night while I was avoiding a phone call I had to make to cancel a date with a woman I didn't really want to go out with. I was stalling and picked up the unplugged guitar, then found myself holding down the 11th fret on the G string while also sounding the open D string. The result was the interval of a major 10th, a sound I'd previously liked on the piano. I fooled with it a minute, then made the call. After hanging up, I resumed and wrote the opening riff, using that interval for the high note. Once again I had started writing in a key I'd never played in before: D major, and this constant newness had an impact on the sheer speed of writing and general explosion of composing. Soon I had another riff where the drums enter, but the song seemed almost too happy to me. In an effort to add some weight to it, I changed keys to the relative minor, B, and immediately wrote the next riff at :28. After that, the variations were fairly easy to write, and this is the first instrumental where all the music is traceable to two ideas, an approach that dominates my writing. The new song was certainly a better use of my time than a pointless date! I still remember that it was weeks later that I was standing in line for the Rebel Yell roller coaster in Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia when I thought of the rhythm guitar part for the solo at 1:40. It's based on the three rising chords just before the rest. Except for the solo, none of the original lead guitars written for this have survived, mostly because they weren't thematic enough. The existing leads were written and recorded around April 2005, 12 years after the riffs! For whatever reason, the key of D major reminds me of blue, which, along with the generally sunny disposition of the tune, led to the title. It was after writing this third instrumental that I started to consider becoming an instrumental guitarist. 4. The Waltz This is a rare case of the entire rhythm guitar part being written in one day, on the Sunday of the three-day writing spree mentioned above on 'A Trill'. It has never been altered in content or structure. Neither have the leads actually, though I did use a wah when I recorded them for the album and didn't on the original. Jeff's little high-hat swishes during the pauses was a nice touch. 5. Everlast Shortly after writing 'Better Things', I stumbled into another riff (at :14) that was in a different major key I'd never played in: A major. Soon I wrote the opening riff and, for key reasons, decided it went first. I was already using the classical knowledge of keys in structure to arrange my songs. What had been hard before was suddenly second nature. All of the riffs up to 2:31 were written and recorded, and soon I was adding leads to it. Many of the original leads are now gone, having been re-written in 1996. At the time (May 1993), I sometimes took chances with song structure that I later regretted. Both this and 'Just Passing Through' shared the same mistake: no diversion or solo section in the middle. In both cases I eventually added new riffs based on existing ones and then leads. In this case, the new music starts at 2:31 and continues to 3:25. This was written a few years ago and the melody section at 2:45 is one of my favorites on the album. It was actually recorded years before anything else on the album, back when I wrote the new riffs you hear under it. The feel and aura sounded so good and I couldn't capture the tone again that I tuned the rhythm guitars to it and recorded the riffs for the album, then did the other leads. Speaking of leads, I once again re-wrote some of them in 2006, particularly the variations at the end of the theme sections. The climax of the solo was also re-done several times. 6. Just Passing Through This eighth song was largely improvised at tempo with barely a pause one afternoon, and except for the first riff, each section does not repeat so that the song is seemingly always in transition, which suggested the title. This also posed a structure problem where the average listener might get lost. Adding to this is that there wasn't a 'solo' section originally so there was no diversion in the middle. I initially ignored this and wrote leads, though many are now gone except the opening lead phrase and the coda's leads at 3:12 (two-handed tapping and double-stops). Years later I decided to fix the structure of this and wrote the riffs at 1:38 and 2:02, then decided a third pass was needed for the original set of riffs. Then it was on to the coda. Most of the leads were replaced because, like the song itself, they lacked structure. While I liked the phrases, they didn't recur, adding to the sense of aimlessness. I spent a lot of time fixing this, some of it detailed in the studio log below. This song went from a disappointment to being one of my favorites. 7. The Key When I wrote the opening riff, it suggested three different keys for the song: F# minor, D Major, or A Major. I couldn't decide what key to write variations in but started fooling around with F# minor, and I soon had the main riffs up to 1:48. At that point I was stuck, but I did write an A major version of the starting riff at 2:14. To me it sounded like a peaceful interlude, so I eventually wrote some stormy transition music in between. Now the song journeyed from F# to a destination of A major, suggesting A would be the ultimate victor and the key the song was ultimately in. However, I then wrote a solo section version in D major at 2:37 before returning to first the F# stuff and then A major stuff. It seemed I still couldn't make up my mind. Then I wrote the repeating lead line for the coda at 3:51. As it turns out, this coda music alternates between two keys: D major and A Major, meaning F# has definitely lost the war (in my head), and now it's down to these two. So who wins? D major as it turns out. Why? Because it's the key that sounds like 'home'. For you music geeks out there, A major is V of I in D major, meaning that the A major music is suborinate to the D major phrase. D is 'The Key' and this is appropriate because the three letter names of the keys in question (D, F#, A), spell a D major chord. Also, during the tumultuous transition at 1:48, the fast 16th notes being emphasized are also D's, and the original riff that starts the song might be in F# minor, but it outlines a D major chord. By the way, as a side note, the F# variations from the start to the transition are what's known as a chaconne - a variation on a chord progression. As for the leads, most of these are note for note to the original version recorded in August 1994. The exceptions are noted in the studio log below and the new leads are some of my favorites. The guitar solo at 2:37 makes me chuckle a little because it sounds very 1980s, but so what? The 80s rule. The harmony leads and extra melodies on the coda are some of the best stuff on the album. 8. Pitter Patter These opening riffs are a blast to play and are definitely 'metal', like the tight ending. Of course the second and third riffs are variations on the first, as is the pre-solo at 2:39 and solo sections in the middle. After writing the tempo change music, I wondered how to get the song back to the beginning, which led to the other tempo change at 3:16. At the time I wasn't playing along to drums and didn't realize the tempo shift was that dramatic, though when Jeff added his parts it became more subtle again. If you listen close, you'll hear that the ending at 4:10 is faster than the beginning because the second tempo shift wasn't as extreme. Despite having written the riffs in 1994 (it is the last song of the ten), I never played lead guitar over this song until 2006 after recording the riffs for the album. A log of how this went is below. I guess I have a lot of confidence in my ability to come up with something sooner or later because I knew this was going on the album despite not having a note of the all-important melodies. This turned out to be mostly shred, with the first lead break reminding me of Satriani's 'Circles' lead break (I always loved that). I really like the lead tone I got on this, thanks largely to the Morley Wah. At the time of the album release, this song is a favorite, partly because the leads are newer. I'm already hearing a lot of people say they love the opening riffs, even when I think that person couldn't possibly like something so metal, but I guess you never know. 9. Mantra Dreamscape This aggressive song was initially conceived on a classical guitar during my degree days. It was actually played without a pick, using my right hand fingers to pick through the notes. It's basically three note chords on the bottom three strings, and each string has only two notes it can play (the rule I made up at the time). If you change notes one at a time in certain ways, it does a kind of metamorphasis, slowing evolving away from where you started and back again. It was interesting. I realized that if I plugged in with an electric guitar, I'd probably write something with this, and I was right. Within minutes the pounding rhythm appeared. This was a weird song from the start, and I decided to let it stay that way. As usual, the riffs were written, arranged and recorded before I played a note of lead on it. I had no idea where leads should go until I started playing, and I ended up with three guitar solos that have little to do with each other, but so what? Why be traditional all the time? The title came from the minimalisitic riff idea and pounding rhythm, plus an alien atmosphere that showed up. The first two guitar solos are exactly as they were in August of 1994 when I wrote them. The percussive end of the first is still a favorite, going along with the drum rhythm Jeff duplicated from the drum machine years ago. Only parts of the third solo remain from the original. I intended this to be a shred-fest but found myself writing peculiar melodies everywhere, so once again I let the song be what it wanted. Both Jeff and Dave thought this song was a bit nuts, partly from the strange meter (usually 6/4 - though to me it's really 4 + 2/4 - with some 5/4 measures in odd places) up through the big pause. I suspect this song is a 'love it' or 'hate it' type with little middle ground. 10. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid The album's title track is the fifth instrumental I wrote, back in 1993, and as usual, I was goofing around when I stumbled into the opening riff. All of the main riffs were written in order that one Saturday, except the coda (starting at 2:12), which was written the next day, though in this case it was the repeating lead guitar line that came first, the chords being placed underneath later. The coda really has nothing to do with the rest of the song but seemed to fit. It's hard to believe I didn't think of the harmony at the beginning of the song. It was actually suggested at rehearsal one day by Tony Dormio, the live band's rhythm guitarist in 2004-5. It was so obvious I wanted to smack myself. All of the leads were written as they are today during Spring Break in 1995, with two exceptions: in the coda, the variations on the repeating theme, and the guitar solo at 3:07 were written in 2005. The solo was improvised at Tony's house one day, and since I'm more a writer than an improviser, shocked me that this solo had just come out of my guitar pretty much note for note. I immediately told the band, which was just me, Tony, and Jeff that day, to repeat the coda a few times so I could make sure I remembered it. When I later went to record it, I was startled to find the album was much faster than we'd been playing the coda in rehearsal, largely because Jeff had a tendency to slow it down. I had to practice the sweep arpeggios for a week before I could record them at that speed. I always knew this song was the album closer from the day I slapped the coda on it, and that it was the title track once I gave it this name. Some things are indeed better left unsaid!