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Gregg Bissonette Talks "Warning Will Robinson" Track-By-Track
Gregg Bissonette (Ringo's All-Star Band, David Lee Roth) has released his third solo album and his first pop-vocal album. Warning Will Robinson is a dynamic modern fusion of rock, pop, electronica, dubstep, funk, bebop and jazz, along with epic drum solos, heavy-hitting guitars and a lost-in-space futuristic vibe. It's also his first independent project, which he worked closely with CD Baby to release. The album includes a second disc with play-along drum-less tracks, and features Matt Bissonette on bass and backing vocals, with guest musicians Ron Cohen, George Bernhardt, Doug Bossi, Ellis Hall, Danny Jacob, Wally Minko and Dan Strain.
Gregg checked in with his quick explanation of each of the eight tracks: "Mars," "After All," "Warning Will Robinson" [available as a download here], "Want Me to Be," "Starbucks Is My American Embassy," "Twenty Dollar Bill," "Let It Loose," "Not by Human Hands"
The cool thing about “Mars” to me is that it's got a really great mix of technology—sort of a Skrillex-y sound—and Matt is doing some cool keyboard stuff, these kind of dancey dubstep sounds. But the thing that's really unique about it is that the electric guitars, played by my friends Doug Bossi and George Bernhardt, are really playing in that style too, making really fast, really cool guitar riffs.
We recorded it at Matt's studio in Anaheim. He got a really super open room sound, which I really like. It sounds like we're playing in a huge space. I'm singing lead and Matt sings harmony on almost every song on the whole album, and his harmonies are just so right. They always seem so right to me. We're both fans of Alice in Chains fans and the way that they write those fifth intervals in their harmonies. Jerry Cantrell, the guitarist who's now the singer, the first thing I thought about when I heard Matt's demo was, "Wow, it's got that Alice in Chains parallel fifth harmony!"
“Mars” is talking about a mission through space. The drum solo starts with a press roll on the snare. Matt really guided me through a lot of stuff on the solos. He said, “What if you just start with a roll like Billy Cobham used to?” So with “Mars,” I did a lot of displacement stuff where I'm turning the beat around, shifting the beat by a 16th note either way. I also played a lot of fives and sevens between my Zildjian trash hats and the snare. I also tried to leave holes for the dubstepy guitars and everything else to play in.
Matt doubled a lot of the ¼-note triplet figures after I played the solo; it makes it sound like we were all in a room together playing it, but we weren't. A lot of stuff on this song I've gotten from Vinnie Colaiuta (one of my favorite drummers ever), including the displacements and that floor tom, double-bass lick that he uses (right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot) that I use that at the end before it goes back into the chorus.
“After All” has a lot of Stewart Copeland/Police influences and some of that famous Coldplay beat. It also has a lot of dubstep. Matt and I are really into Skrillex and a lot of dubstep stuff, and he wrote this song based on all that. The song is dedicated to our great friend Bob Birch who passed away last year, and the lyrics are about him. Bob was a really good friend of ours from Detroit. He was Matt's student teacher in high school and gave Matt a lot of help on bass during that time. Bob, who was a great bass player himself, played bass with Elton John for 18 years. In the lyrics Matt says, "From Motown to a California sun, you made good from the bottom end." And he says we will be together after all. The lyrics are really touching and the song means a lot to us.
George Bernhardt and Doug Bossi each play really great guitar solos on this song, and my brother's bass playing is locked in and just so right for the groove on every song on the record -- he's definitely my favorite bass player and musical hero.
For the drum solo I start with the "Come Together" Ringo part and then play a blushda, a lick that Tony Williams originated. Many of my favorite drummers, including Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Smith, and Gary Novak, got it from Tony. It's one of my favorite licks.
Matt was saying, "Let's make your solo have recognizable parts. Instead of just a bunch of licks, let's make it like you're writing a song with your drum solo. Play this, then play that, play ‘Come Together,’ then a blushda," and he helped me structure my solos like a songwriter would. Then I use a great 6/8 Afro-Cuban groove that Changuito showed me (he's a great Cuban drummer that started a lot of songo music in Cuba). I'm playing the cowbell part on my trash hats and the bata part between my snare and bass drum. [Sings.] Then more blushdas. We got that Skrillexy kind of synth part in there, and Matt said, "Why don't you just wait and play a solo that has holes and let it be like a question-and-answer thing. You play a lick, then the Skrillexy keyboard will answer with a lick." Matt also plays some really nice fretless bass solo stuff, and I know he was thinking of Bob when he did that.
Warning Will Robinson
The title track! This intro actually has a little bit of accordion, and it's kind of folky, 6/8 or 12/8 sing-along kind of song.
The guitar player is Dan Strain, who also mixed this song and some others on the album. In the drum solo I decided to double-time it, and then go from double-time to an Afro-Cuban groove for a second, even though not on the cowbell. Again that trash hat, the two cymbals tightly closed together, that's featured on just about every song or every solo on this album. After that there’s kind of a Terry Bozzio question and answer thing on the snare, then the same lick on the floor tom. He always does those cool question-and-answer, call-and-response things. A lot of Tony Williams licks on this, too. I got to study with Tony Williams for a year before he passed away, and I'm doing a lot of those flams that he was so known for. Then at the end of the song, we play a little reprise where I'm playing percussion. I played an udu (a clay pot with a hole in it) and a bunch of shakers and sang at the end.
Want Me to Be
The next song, "Want Me to Be," starts off with a real avant-garde, fast kind of bebop solo on a little jazz kit. I was really thinking of one of my favorite jazz drummers Bill Stewart when I thought of that, particularly a John Scofield song called “Wee”, where Bill starts the song off. In the studio Matt told me to play a jazz solo, so I started probably close to the same tempo as Bill Stewart plays on “Wee.” I played that song in my head maybe for a second and then went on to some other stuff. Then I do this Billy Cobham-y kind of roll on the big fat snare on a funk kit, and it goes into a feel kind of like an old Billy Cobham or old Nile Rodgers song, similar to Daft Punk’s song "Get Lucky" - kind of like that feel. Wally Minko plays some great piano, Danny Jacob plays great guitar, and my brother’s funk bass playing is just really cool, and we keep going back and forth in double-time. Going back and forth from funky Daft Punk kind of stuff into double-time Miles Davis bebop probably makes it super non-radio-friendly, but it was really fun because there was nobody to tell us “no.” My brother paid for the recording sessions, so we didn't have to answer to anybody. We did what we wanted. That's what's great about independent releases these days-- there's a ton of room for creativity.
Starbucks Is My American Embassy
“Want Me to Be” goes into “Starbucks Is My American Embassy,” which is a song all about how Matt and I travel so much, and wherever we go, no matter where we are, we always know that we can wake up and get the same thing for breakfast at Starbucks. Whether we're in Russia or Germany or China or Arizona, no matter where we are in the world we can get a black tea, oatmeal, a yogurt and a banana at Starbucks.
That's actually Matt on the megaphone listing all the cities and countries and things, and I sing the choruses. Then in the drum solo we thought it would be funny when I'm displacing stuff and it’s hard to tell where 1 is, if the computer voice just said ONE! So on all my breaks, you hear the computer voice say “ONE!” It gives it a little bit of a clue as to where 1 is, especially for beginning drummers. We've got a play-along CD with this double CD packet so drummers can play along. That's one of my favorite songs; it's kind of a dance tempo that goes into double-time.
Twenty Dollar Bill
And then there's “Twenty Dollar Bill,” the concept of being a twenty-dollar bill that's passed all around the world, and talking about Benjamin Franklins and Andrew Jacksons, and twenty-dollar bills and one-dollar bills and hundred-dollar bills. It's real heavy, kind of like the Mustard Seeds or King's X, real super tuned-down guitars.
Like I said, every song has a drum solo. I'm pulling on my influences from Tony Williams, Buddy Rich, Stewart Copeland, Stanton Moore and lots of others. For this song I flipped the snare drum over and played on the bottom head with the stick on the snare wires. That's something I got from Stanton Moore. There’s some Tony Williams stuff in that song, too.
This is a realy pop song. I love pop, and there's a lot of it on the album -- that Beatles-y, classic rock pop.
Let It Loose
On the next song, “Let It Loose,” I played drums but didn't sing; Ellis Hall sang. Ellis is a great, great LA soul singer, and he's just amazing. He's played with Tower of Power and bunch of bands. This is a song that Matt and Ellis Hall wrote together, and Ellis plays keyboards and sings lead on it. Matt plays bass, and Danny Jacob plays rhythm and lead guitar. It's very much an ode to David Garibaldi in Tower of Power, very much like one of their songs. "Let It Loose" is about a guy who goes out to a dance club but he's afraid to get on the dance floor, and Ellis says, "Come on man, what are you waiting for? Just get up there and let it loose!"
Not By Human Hands
The last song, "Not By Human Hands," has a drum solo at the end that starts in kind of half time but then I add some David Garibaldi/Tower of Power hi-hat stuff in there. On this song I sang the lead, but on all the verses we did a group vocal with my son Noah, my daughter Mary, my sister Kathy, my brother Matt, my sister-in-law Chariya (Matt's wife) and Matt's sons Joshua and Brandon. We all sang together like a gang vocal.
The drum solo on the end goes and goes and goes, kind of like "Manic Depression," played by Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix's drummer. After the song ends there's a little hidden vocal thing at the very end. If you let it go for maybe 15–20 seconds, you'll hear a little hidden vocal thing there, which is Kathy, Mary, Noah and me just goofing around.