Mark Egan Interview – About Now Album, Tour, and More – Part 2
Article by Eric Larson, © Copyright 2015 FretlessBass.com
I recently interviewed Mark Egan, focusing on his latest solo album About Now, and also covering some new projects that he is working on. This particular project was released in the spring of 2014, and features long time collaborators Danny Gottlieb on drums and Mitchel Forman on keyboards.
This is Part 2 of the interview where we focus more on the songwriting process itself. (click here for Part 1)
FB: The one song that really struck me from About Now was the title track. I really love how the song builds, starting with the slow and singing bass melody, as if it is pleading its case, then dropping down a bit to let the rhythms and foundations of the song form. The song continues to grow as it goes, and evolves to a strong and confident piece, all while allowing for amazing solos bursts from each musician, and a truly cohesive band performance. Your comments on the musicianship and skills of the band as “master improvisers” are spot on.
Mark Egan: Thanks Eric, I’m glad that you like the song so much. It’s a very solemn and special song to me about being in the moment.
FB: What was the inspiration behind that song, and how did you come to write it?
Mark Egan: The song “About Now” was composed at the piano. As I mentioned our piano is a Steinway B and just playing a few notes on it is really inspiring. As with most of my compositions, it started with a little piano groove similar to what you hear once the band comes in. Composing is like an audio puzzle to me. I keep connecting ideas and try to have an overview of the direction of the song. By that I mean: who will be featured, the drum groove, the melody form, the solo form and the ending.
For this trio with Mitch and Danny I wanted to feature everyone’s improvisational abilities as well as the way each player compliments the whole sound of the ensemble. Between the three of us we have many recording and touring experiences with many groups over the years. Danny and I were the original rhythm section for the Pat Metheny Group, Gil Evans, and our group Elements while Mitch and Danny were members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John Mcglaughlin as well as sidemen with so many world-class artists.
FB: Does your writing process vary from project to project? Do you have consistency in the process or do you write as you feel inspired?
Mark Egan: The writing process does vary from project to project depending on the direction of the music. It really is directed by the instrumentation and style of the project. My strongest abilities are to write instrumental improvisation music with jazz, funk, rock, and world influences. I think that my composing process is consistent in that I start with basic ideas that evolve into full songs. Sometimes it starts with a drum groove or a bass line or piano comp and one thing connects to the next while utilizing the sensibilities from my experiences. I would list my overall music related strengths in the following order: player, composer and producer. All of my compositions come from a player’s perspective.
FB: How long did that song take to develop into the final piece?
Mark Egan: About Now was written in two days. I wrote the basic feel during one evening on piano then I came back to it the following day and added the melody and arrangement.
FB: Do you record many demos as you go, allowing the song to grow over time, or does it happen all at once?
Mark Egan: Sometimes I’ll record a little demo of a song and live with it for a while if I don’t immediately have ideas. Some songs happen fairly fast without demos. For this recording I kept a paper and pencil notebook and wrote down ideas as I went along.
I have a very simple program on my iPad called DAW that is a multitrack app that is very fast for putting down an idea then overdubbing parts for reference. I used this app for much of the composing as well as Garage Band. Yes….Garage Band for a very quick sketch. I really don’t like being bogged down by technology so the fastest way to get an idea down for me is to play it. After the arrangements were completed I made final basic demos and printed charts that I then sent to Danny and Mitchel so that they could have an idea of the music before going into the studio.
In the notebook that I use I try to write down as much info that I can, regarding the tempo, melodic ideas, the groove, ideas about the arrangement etc. So many times in the past I come back to something that I’ve written in a notebook and have no idea of what I was thinking about or going for.
FB: Do songs come from playing and practicing, or do they sometimes come from out of nowhere, unexpectedly, far from any bass or studio?
Mark Egan: Songs come from many places. Sometimes while practicing or playing, that’s why I like to keep a notebook and recording device near by so that I can capture the ideas when they happen. When I’m collecting ideas for a new record I’ll go through these recordings and notebooks and choose ideas that I think are gems for the beginning of a composition and start to develop them.
Sometimes a word or phrase will inspire a song. One song on the About Now CD, “Tea In Tianenman Square” was a title that I’ve had since 1999 and it was waiting for a good home. The title inspired me to write at the electric piano starting with chords that I associate with China and I developed the song from there.
The song, “Graceful Branch”, was another title that inspired me to write in a certain direction based on a mellow mood and electric piano groove.
For me, the key to creative writing is to be open and not distracted. Therefore it’s important for me to set aside the time without distractions, shut off my cell phone and computer, and go inside the music and have fun while doing it. I love being in that space.
FB: Do you play other instruments as you write?
Mark Egan: Yes, I write on keyboard, bass, and in the computer using a sequencing program. My keyboard skills are basic chord progressions and melodies. I also have written many songs just in my head and written the ideas down with pencil and paper which in a way is the purist and most difficult for me.
Be sure to get your copy of About Now!