Mike Keneally’s been one of my favourite guitarists for, jeez, about 12 years now. After seeing him live with Steve Vai in early 1997 I tracked down a copy of his debut CD ‘hat’ and that became the soundtrack of my year. A few months later I also got Boil That Dust Speck, and from then on have followed each new release (you totally have to hear ‘Sluggo!’, ‘Nonkertomph’ and ‘Wooden Smoke’).
Mike’s new CD, Scambot 1, begins shipping next week. Pre-orders have been open for a while and I can’t wait to get this album in my little mitts. You can order it from Moosemart. The following is an email update sent to Mike’s mailing list today.
Scambot 1 Starts Shipping Next Week!*
Yes! And to celebrate, I’m going to do a couple of live chats next week over at RadioKeneally.com. Chat #1 is Monday, Nov. 2, 8:00 pm East Coast time. Chat #2 is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 12:00 pm noon East Coast time. RadioKeneally.com! Come chat with me!
Scott Chatfield sent me a small boatload of questions about Scambot; here’s my responses:
Q. In a nutshell, what is Scambot about?
A. Antagonistic consciousness manipulation, a/k/a soul control.
Q. Who did you write Scambot for?
A. Anyone who makes time to sit down with a good set of headphones and a clear head, and listen to an entire album from start to finish. I still love to listen to whole albums whenever I can. I think it’s a fantastic art form.
Q. When you began the project, did you have a clear vision of its direction, musically and narratively?
A. Not at all; it started as a drawing, a one-page comic strip continuity I drew in my sketchbook while I was working on Wooden Smoke in 2001. I made up this little character named Scambot, spontaneously drew his character design. He seemed grumpy, and he had a weird friend who felt compelled to loudly defend him against critics: “Scambot ain’t RONG!” he said. I showed it to Scott Thunes in 2003 and he shook his head and said “I don’t like it.” I realized then there was something intrinsic in the character of Scambot that made me need to rescue him, make SOMETHING interesting of him. Over time I developed this idea of simultaneously devising a narrative (which might possibly mutate into a comic strip or an animated cartoon or a stage presentation or whatever) alongside a set of new music which would be influenced by the narrative, and that new music would inspire further narrative work which might inspire me to draw new characters, etc. Each prong of the creative fork inspired the other prongs to further achievement. The final important component of creating Scambot was that I imposed no schedule pressures on the process; it would take shape at its own pace. I ended up releasing 6 or 7 other projects while working on Scambot, starting with the release of Wooden Smoke in 2001 to Wine And Pickles in 2008 – while I was putting together all of that stuff, Scambot was developing in the background, and finally in 2005 it became my primary concern. Enough music was created to form the foundation of three volumes of music, and the plotline was developing in a way which made me realize that I really wanted to take my time in telling the story as well. Instead of trying to complete the whole trilogy and release it as a set, it made obvious sense to release it in installments.
Q. Scambot 1 has some very accessible songs along with some of the most complex, layered music you’ve ever produced. How would you suggest that a listener approach this record?
A. With an open mind and an adventurous disposition. And feel free to pause every so often; it’s 67 minutes long, it’s a lot of music. Maybe take time to mentally “turn the side over” every 16 minutes. Or crank the whole thing loud from start to finish, whatever gets you off.
Q. Are the story and characters an integral part of Scambot’s music, or can story and music be enjoyed independently?
A. I discovered early on that I didn’t want the plot of Scambot to demand undue attention; the plotline and characters, ultimately, were a kind of ruse to inspire me to create different kinds of music. The story is a luxury – the point of the album is the way it sounds. I didn’t want to clutter it up with dialogue and exposition – it’s such an abstract story anyway, and it didn’t need to be spelled out letter by letter in the audio. The story – at least, the initial stab at it – is in the CD booklet for people who are interested, and it adds depth to the listening experience.
Q. Did the Scambot characters arrive in your imagination fully formed, or did they develop over time?
A. These are good questions! I sketch junk all the time, and most of the specific character ideas arrived after drawing them. What happens is a face or body shape will materialize in my mind – I’m not thinking about inventing characters or even of something to draw, necessarily – and I’ll quickly sketch it out. If it looked interesting, it was likely to be drafted as a Scambot character, and then I’d invent a backstory and a way to insert them into the plot. I just wanted to create something long-form and intriguing, and would accept input in any shape and form.
Q. Do you see the Scambot saga manifesting into other media in the future?
A. Oh yep. I have an urge to do a comic strip, heavily influenced by the 60s strip Odd Bodkins by Dan O’Neill. The plan is to present the strip online, running concurrently with the 3 albums as they’re released, and eventually collect the strips in a book once the whole trilogy has been released. I’d also be real delighted to see these characters animated. And eventually I will take some representation of this music to the stage, although I don’t think I’d consider a heavily narrative stage version until at least Scambot 2 has been released. But if possible (given other projects going on, including work on a second album of Steve Vai solo piano reductions, a collection of new songs co-written with Andy Partridge, and my touring as guitarist with the [adult swim] metal band Dethklok – the new album The Dethalbum II recently debuted at #15 on the Billboard pop chart, and as I write this we’re halfway through a six week tour with Mastodon, so there’s momentum for us to continue touring in 2010), I’d love to take an ensemble out next year to perform Scambot music. It won’t be easy to construct the instrumentation for a group that can do justice to all the textures and styles in the album, but it’ll be fun.
Q. I can’t count the number of times I walked into the studio to find you leaning back in a chair listening to mixes, headphones on, eyes closed, and a gigantic smile spread across your face. How do you feel when you listen to Scambot 1?
A. I imagine, exactly the way I looked then. I love it. But I also feel that the styles covered on this first volume have been thoroughly dealt with here, and that the next two albums will differ significantly in style. I envision Scambot 2 being much heavier and faster, and Scambot 3 as airy and slow.
Q. What were your most pleasant experiences making the record? Most difficult or frustrating?
A. I honestly can’t categorize my feelings what way. The whole experience is one huge pleasure blob to me and I’m very excited about continuing work on Scambot 2 (I’m targeting early 2011 for its release).
Q. How can the second disc from the Special Edition, Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1, enhance a listener’s appreciation of Scambot?
A. First of all I want to be clear that the second disc of the Scambot 1 Special Edition is not Scambot 2 (which is about one-third recorded right now). Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1 uses plot material which fits into the continuity timespan depicted on Disc One. Some of the songs were intended for the main disc but didn’t fit for time reasons. The majority of the material was created specifically for this disc, done very quickly and spontaneously, as a spasmodic, cathartic response to finally finishing the first disc after so many years. The raw approach of Disc Two contrasts the relative polish of Disc One and I think they work nicely together as a listening experience. Also, if you’re concerning yourself with the narrative as it appears in the CD booklet text, there are major tentpoles of the plotline which are fleshed out musically on Disc Two. So you would want the Special Edition in order to hear the whole story.
What else is up. The Dethklok tour roars onward. Tonight was a sold out gig in NYC (and I met David Cross backstage – I nearly swooned). Tomorrow night is Halloween in Washington DC. Seriously, see this tour if you can. We’re just over halfway through, you got plenty of chances. I hung out for most of the day with Paul Green, that was fun. I’ve got a couple of Cream Tribute gigs with Kofi Baker in early December. The guys in Mastodon are all outrageous and entertaining to hang with. And I’m completely deliriously sleepy right now.
Chat with me this Monday and Tuesday at www.radiokeneally.com!
OK! Nite nite!
Love, me: Mike
* Editor’s note about Scambot 1 shipping: Orders will begin to be filled next week in the sequence they were placed. Since there are hundreds of ’em, it will take several days to fill them all, so your patience and understanding is kindly beseeched.
Scambot 1 Standard Edition
Calling the first volume of Mike Keneally’s Scambot trilogy “ambitious” might be understating things a bit. For five years Mike held it close to his heart as his main project, employing nine engineers and many musicians at six studios.
“We devoted intense energy to every second of the album,” says Mike. “There is a plot, and a bunch of characters. The CD booklet contains a very long story I wrote which lays out all of the action. Musically speaking, it’s about two-thirds instrumental. It encompasses a little bit of straightforward-ish rock and pop, a lot of rigorous composition and arrangement, some obsessively intricate vocal and instrumental harmonies, some improvisation which has been orchestrated, some digitally-manipulated musique concrete, some purely uncategorizable stuff and, I think, some of the most interesting melodies I’ve come up with. It is a peculiar album but I think very satisfying as a journey, and emotionally it hits a lot of different moods.”
And here’s another clue for you all: Scambot 1, Mike adds, is “dedicated to anyone who still listens to entire albums with their headphones on.”
Scambot 1’s songs:
Big Screen Boboli
Hallmark (see video HERE)
Tomorrow (download song for free HERE!)
Cat Bran Sammich Part 1
You Named Me
Cat Bran Sammich Part 2
We Are The Quiet Children
Life’s Too Small
Behind The Door
Scambot 1 Special Edition
The Scambot 1 Special Edition includes the complete Scambot 1 CD, plus a second 53-minute CD crafted by Mike entitled Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1, all packaged in an attractive Atticus Wolrab-designed slipcover made of genuine cardboard. This Special Edition is made even more special because Mike is individually numbering and signing the first 3000 copies!
Here’s what Mike has to say about Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1: “This is a very uncompromising album, with a lot of guitar improvisation, demanding sonorities, alien vocal textures, truly insane song structure and many crucial pieces of the Scambot plot continuity. Plus a very entertaining credit sequence. If you are intrigued by the conceptual world of Scambot, it’s heavily advisable to hear both albums.” The great majority of the music on Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1 is unique to it; three of the pieces are remixes of songs from Scambot 1, plus one demo.
Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1’s songs:
Tiny Red Bug
Tomorrow (Karaoke version)
Saturate (demo version)
Some Crazy Mishap
The 3rd Eye
Hallmark (2006 acoustic album mix)
The first commemorative Scambot T-shirt is a simple but elegant affair. As tradition dictates, it’s a black 100% cotton pre-shrunk heavy duty garment designed for years of Scambotian wearage. On the front is Mike’s white, orange and black rendition of Scambot himself, along with both of their names. Somewhat high upon the reverse side are the prophetic first words Scambot hears, from the song “Hallmark” (“What did you see? Can you remember?”), along with the www.keneally.com web address. Clothes that ask gentle questions are a good thing, we think. It’s yet another Atticus Wolrab design, as if you didn’t know.