Q & A – Saiichi Sugiyama

Q. How did the new single ‘Melting Away’ come about?

I was on a visit to Tokyo some 12 years ago. This song came to me one night there as I was jet-lagged and having a very shallow sleep. Then it just came to my mind with imagery of Paul Kossoff waking up from a deep sleep into a beautiful, probably, after-life world. I had to grab my guitar and recorded it to capture it.

Q. So what happened to the song?

When I came home to England, I did a demo. I added the Fire and Water riff as a tribute. As I was putting down the bass parts, I thought what I was playing sounded like Andy Fraser’s. I played this song live for the first time at Colne Great British R&B Festival on the British stage in the summer of 2007.  When I met Simon Kirke in autumn of 2007, I asked him if he would play on this song and he kindly agreed but due to scheduling conflicts, the recording didn’t happen. I then shelved the song because I felt the main riff sounded too much like Free. 

Q. How did it come to be recorded with Andy Fraser on the bass?

Fast forwarding it to 2014, I came in contact with Andy through his UK PR person who also represented me at the time.  Andy had heard my music through him and kindly said he would play the bass on my tracks and would like to produce my music.  We met at a restaurant in South Kensington when he came to visit London for promotion of his Rock Against Trafficking charity. When we sat at the table, he showed me his latest music videos on his iPad. I told him that I had a song that I would really like him to play on, but I wasn’t sure if he would like to because it sounded a little bit like his old band.  I knew that Andy was trying to get away from blues rock of the Free era for years. I passed on my iPod with the song. Andy sat there listening the entire track – the six minutes of it. When he got to the end, he said “I will, but I will put a new spin on it”. I pushed the boat out further and said to him “I wonder if you noticed there was a section for a bass solo”. He said “Yeah. It will be a challenge.”  I never told him of the Kossoff inspiration, though.

Q. Andy lived in California. How was the track recorded?

Andy went back to California with the multi track file of the song, which I had recorded with Mune Sugiyama, who is the producer and the drummer for the album, at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire and to which Rietta had put the vocals on doing a beautiful interpretation of my melodies. A couple of weeks later, he sent me the track with his bass part as well as a synth part and his screams. I just beamed with a smile when I heard what he send me – the bass line could not be anyone else’s but Andy’s  but, as he said, updated. He also put some effects on the track and told me that he wanted the track to have more depth, which somehow made me hear string quartet parts to work with Andy’s bass parts on the long instrumental section.  We recorded the parts with a quartet and I was anxious to hear what Andy thought of it. Then the next thing that I heard was that he passed away. I couldn’t believe my ears. It became one of Andy’s last recordings. He still had so much to offer and I was really looking forward to working with him in future. 

Q. Are you classically trained?

Far from it, but I had a sort beginner’s luck. I was working with the musical director of Jack Ashford’s Funk Brothers, John Shipley based in the US for string parts on my other songs on the album. I asked him to write parts but on this occasion, what he sent me was not what I had in mind. I wanted to explain to him my ideas. So, I went to a Maplin and bought a MIDI keyboard and found a violin sound in a Pro Tools plug-in. I had never played strings parts in my life, but I just had a go and laid down three parts demo, just improvising.  It came out as a sort of a violin playing a lead guitar parts. When I sent that to John as a sample for the feel I was after, he said that what I wrote were the parts and he just sent me transcriptions. Mune, who has a classical background, then wrote the main string arrangements for the body of the song with his signature pizzicato, glissando etc. After we recorded his parts, this time with nine string players, Mune went into hiding into the studio for weeks and came out with his wall of sound production. The song was transformed from a blues rock band playing live in a room via a string quartet super-imposed finally to a full orchestral tour de force number. In the process, the track realised Andy’s early vision – the spaciousness, the depth, that he said he wanted to hear in this song.  I hope he would approve of what we did.

Saiichi Sugiyama will be playing the Centre alongside the Back Porch Band on the 3rd October 2016. Tickets still available via box office or WeGotTickets: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/369743