Les Fradkin - 10 Questions Music Interview
Les Fradkin is a Producer and Composer virtuoso Guitarist and an innovator on the Starr Labs Ztar. He employs futuristic playing techniques realizing Progressive Neo-Classical Rock from the Pioneer of MIDI Guitar. Les captured headlines as the Original Cast George Harrison in the mega-hit Broadway show "Beatlemania" in the 1970s and has played with The Ventures, enjoyed 16 #1 hits at mp3, Composed #1 hits for French Songstress Mireille Mathieu and Latin Pop icon Roberto Jordan, and won several awards from Akademia as well as several other Indie Music Channel Awards, including 2016 Best Instrumental Recording. He is also a member of the Television Producers Music Production Hall Of Fame as a Composer and has also been named one of the Top 20 Guitar Synthesizer players of all time by Wikipedia.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it. I’m both a Classically trained musician (Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Timpani and Orchestration) and a rock guitarist and keyboardist (Guitar, Mellotron, Moog Modular, Organ, Bass Guitar). Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were introduced to me at a very early age by my Mother who was a Classical Concert Pianist. I loved Bach’s work immediately. It spoke to me, as did Mozart, Paganini, Vivaldi and other Classical and Baroque composers. When The Beatles, The Left Banke, Procol Harum, The Moody Blues, King Crimson, The Yardbirds, Renaissance, Wendy Carlos, Stories, Silver Apples, Yes and other Artists came along, I saw that Classical, Baroque, Electronic sounds and Rock could be effectively combined. I wanted that Poly stylistic synthesis for my own music. As for Rock guitar, as a beginner, I started off with learning guitar music by The Ventures, The Beatles and other bands. The Ventures, The Yardbirds, Cream and George Harrison pointed the way to my lead guitar style which evolved from listening to a lot of Nokie Edwards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and George Harrison solos. As time moved along, the Mellotron and the Moog gave me a way to portray symphonic sounds in a rock context. My influences there were King Crimson, Yes, ELO, The Moody Blues, Renaissance and Wendy Carlos.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career? Getting chosen to portray "George Harrison" in the smash Broadway Music "Beatlemania".
What has been the high point of your music path? Many high points. Over a long career, too many to list.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like? I record each line of the score, one overdub at a time. Generally, a chordal sketch or top line melody, followed by accompaniment. For example, when I’m recreating a Bach score, I record that first to a click track, and then, I layer on the Rock accompaniment. This is the reverse of how rock bands generally handle Classical influence or Orchestral arrangements. It is probably the main reason that my musical approach shows a strong Classical influence. I like to work in small sections, sometimes, a couple of bars at a time, the way a painter brush strokes a canvas, one segment at a time or the way a Classical Composer writes a score, one section at a time.
When all the segments are done, I assemble the sections linearly for final mix down. This approach gives me the opportunity to assemble intros and outros which only become apparent as variation ideas, after the initial work is done. Each composition has to be programmed for tuning, synth setup, sonic choices, response curves and where on there fretboard it can/might be played. This requires in depth knowledge of the MIDI spec and takes great patience. It is not for the faint of heart. As far as regular songwriting goes, I mess about with various ideas on Piano, Ztar or guitar until something appears that sounds promising.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Publicity and reaching a mass audience are the most difficult things to achieve for an Indie Artist.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why? The Moody Blues, or Yanni. Why? Because my music would be appreciated by their audiences.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
I don't rehearse with other musicians as I am a Solo act. For live, I use a Mac Book Laptop with Ableton Live which operates the Clip cues and busses the various synth and Mellotron sounds across 15 MIDI channels. Channel 16 is reserved for Clip cueing, and other MIDI functions in Ableton Live. I do not use wireless in the studio since it’s unnecessary, only on stage.
The real programming challenge comes when preparing the Ztar for a live performance of my music. It generally takes 8 hours per tune to prepare the programs which routinely contain as many as 16 to 32 zones. I have to program zones to organize where things could be played, with comfort. Often, I’ll alter the scale tuning if I don’t have enough frets in a particular zone or use 3 or 4 nested tuning maps to play a left and right hand chordal accompaniment with shifting inversions on a single series of buttons across a single fret. You can’t do that with a conventional guitar. Of course, constant practice must be a regimen every day, since maintaining Ztar technique and speed requires vigilance and dedication to craft.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
"System Crash" without question gets my nod for greatest challenge. It has lots of complex musical ideas and lots of lyrics. And it could be the most important song I've ever written.
What's coming up in the future?
Promoting "System Crash" and "The Les Fradkin News" album.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
For more information on Les Fradkin, please visit his website.