Ricky Garcia Releases Solo Album
Guitar virtuoso and Cubase user Ricky Garcia has recently opened a new chapter in his career with the release of Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, his eleven-track debut album. Musically talented and technically impeccable, Garcia manages to convey the energy and fervor for the music he plays, revealing musical influences such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Andy Timmons. And with Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater being featured on the opener, this album is destined to be an all-round success.
Apart from rising in prominence with the launch of his solo career, Garcia is no newcomer to the rock music scene. He graduated from Berklee College of Music — a Berklee alum to have been endowed with a scholarship — and has moved through a succession of bands before settling down with LaFee, a pop/rock band with multiple gold and platinum awards who are particularly popular in Germany and across Europe and all of whom employ Cubase. But it’s fairly obvious that Ricky Garcia is out for more, keenly continuing to pursue his artistic vocation with a downright dedication to his music and its performance.
First off, congratulations to the release of your debut solo album! You must be absolutely stoked. Are you pleased with the reception Let Sleeping Dogs Lie has been getting?
Finishing the CD was a big relief to me. It’s like having an inner voice for many years and nobody is able to hear it but yourself. Not to mention the never-ending work on such a project which you have to manage all by yourself. Several people were really surprised because most of them know me only as the guitarist for LaFee, who have a different musical focal point and where almost no virtuous element can be found. Apart from that, I believe my CD and its audience need to develop gradually. I mean, there are many incredible, established guitar players out there, and I still need to find my place among them. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to learn how the LaFee audience responds. A lot of them don’t know this kind of music, and I find it very interesting to see how people in general react to something they’ve never seen or heard before. I believe I have a good chance to find my own audience. You see, it’s rather common that listeners stick to the first artist having made the biggest impact on them. It’s really an exciting time for me right now!
Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater is shredding the keys on “Tank”, the first track on your new album. How did this transcontinental collaboration with the two of you come about — you working in Germany while Rudess situated in the US?
Well, first of all, I've known Jordan for ten years, since he was working with Liquid Tension Experiment after which he joined Dream Theater. All these years I’ve been a big fan of his, especially of his solo albums. Jordan has always shown an interest in my development, and he invited me to loads of his gigs. Just imagine one of your heroes inviting you to shows and being interested in what you do… WOW!!! That was quite an honor for me. Of course I was always hoping that one day I might perform together with this master craftsman! You should’ve seen my face when I got his e-mail one morning at the beginning of 2007, inviting me to play a couple of guest solos on his solo album. I needed several minutes until I realized what I was actually reading there: an incredible challenge and experience with a high personal value to me. Jordan really liked the moments I had on his album, and at the beginning of 2008 he offered to play a guest solo on my solo album. And once again, I was sitting in front of his e-mail and needed a time-out! [laughs] I think each musician needs to have a couple of names at hand with whom it’d be nice to work at some stage!
Back to the logistic part of your question: how does one work together remotely — both situated at different parts of the globe. Just think, Jordan lives in New York and I live on a farm in the beautiful German Sauerland!! Thanks to the absolute resourcefulness of the internet and programs such as Cubase and Nuendo, it’s all possible nowadays! Simply make a rough mix and transfer it via FTP; export the solos as WAV files which then can be imported into the corresponding projects. It doesn’t really matter which DAW each of us is using. I still remember the days when working this way was unimaginable and that’s why I still get excited about the artistic freedom present technology has to offer, giving people the opportunity to team up from almost anywhere in the world. And that’s how it was with Jordan’s guest solo on my CD. When it comes down to it, he recorded his tracks in some hotel room while on world tour with Dream Theater. A couple of months ago I read your artist story about Dream Theater’s FOH mixer Randy Lane where he mentions his Nuendo system being fully functional on a laptop. Well, this is the system we used, too. My mix was imported by way of FTP, Jordan’s keyboard was hooked up, and on your marks, get set, go!! I can’t say it too often: it’s incredible what’s possible nowadays!
Both you and Rudess rock the crowds when it comes to instrument mastery. Did you have to hand over a concept of how you wanted the tone and harmonies to be or did you simply give him carte blanche?
In karate you can achieve ten black belts. Well, if I had the first one, Jordan would definitely have the tenth!! [laughs] We simply made notes about each other’s cues. Did I doubt he’d rock the song? I don’t think so! He’s Jordan Rudess! [laughs] What could possibly go wrong?
How long did it take to put the album together?
Well, I’ve been playing the songs with my trio for some time now, and had already recorded backing tracks for clinics and trade shows. The actual recordings for the CD began in March 2007. We met up at the studio of my drummer Ulf Stricker where his entire drum set is picked up by microphones, plus he uses Cubase. The bassist Goran Vujic (also bassist for LaFee) and I made ourselves nice and comfortable in the control room, recording guitar and bass as guide tracks as well as changing the arrangement here and there. We gave ourselves a couple of weeks and, when finished, stored it all on a USB hard drive. Then, the bassist borrowed my machine in order for him to record his tracks in his own time — one or two times he had to come to my studio though. In July and August I recorded the rhythm guitar and edited the drum and bass tracks. Then I went on tour with LaFee for the rest of the year so that I couldn’t find the time to record lead guitar. However, in January 2008 I finally got down to it, giving myself enough time till the end of May.
On the gear side, was your album produced entirely on Cubase? Do you use any VST instruments or plug-in effects in your setup?
Yes, all the tracks of Jordan Rudess were recorded on Cubase and Nuendo. I’m quite a purist when it comes to playing guitar. I just need a good amp and a good guitar. Virtual VST guitar plug-ins and amp emulators just don’t do it for me. On the other hand, I compose quite a bit on Cubase using Hypersonic, which gives me all the sounds I’m looking for. Since I use MIDI sounds while working on the songs, the drum and bass parts are replaced by my band later on. I also have Spectrasonics Atmosphere on my system.
We know that Cubase is your choice of music production app. How and when were you introduced to Cubase? And why have you stuck with it?
I only came to Cubase two years ago. Before that, I was using hardware recording systems for a long time after which I started to use Logic Audio. However, I’m a PC fan and really couldn’t be asked to switch to Mac when they stopped supporting the Windows version. It was interesting to see that over the years more and more people suggested that I switch to Cubase. But my system was running well and met my requirements to that time. But the day came when an upgrade was unavoidable and so I checked out Cubase SX3. What an improvement when compared to my old system. I was rather annoyed with myself for not having switched earlier on. [laughs] But I’ve been using Steinberg’s WaveLab since it was introduced in 1995! Cubase just has all these fantastic editing possibilities! It’s all “non-destructive” and the sound of its engine is fabulous. I always record in 96 kHz/24 bit, have zero latency and haven’t come across any issues. Today, Cubase is the nerve center for everything: composing, recording, rehearsing, and so on!
Do you have any favorite features in Cubase you’d care to share?
As already mentioned, the editing is really great! The tracks are cut, and it’s all so quick and efficient! Especially when it comes to financially critical productions such as making a solo album, already edited tracks are extremely helpful for any mixing studio. This way the mixer can focus on the really important things. I didn’t want to mix my album, instead I asked Jordan Rudess’ mixer John Guth, who also lives in New York, to do the job. He’s mixed a lot of Jordan’s solo albums — only problem being that he doesn’t use a Steinberg system and that he wanted a WAV file of each track. However, I really wanted my editing work to have been worthwhile and that’s where the really helpful feature of being able to program macros in Cubase comes in handy. I was able to generate an entire automation routine which exported each track as WAV file which then was saved in a designated folder. In the end I had eleven song folders, each containing the individual drum, bass guitar and guitar tracks as well as a couple of VST keyboard tracks — synchronous and ready to be imported as one group into the DAW of his choice. The whole thing was put on DVD and sent via postal service to the USA. The mixes were then exchanged via FTP and email. Another Cubase feature worth highlighting is its stability! Up to now I’ve only managed to crash my system once, and that was because my pet dog crawled underneath the studio’s desk and managed to rest his head on the extension’s power switch! [laughs] I guess that doesn’t count! I also find the mobility of my Cubase system fantastic, allowing me to use it on my laptop without having to make any compromises. I always have my laptop with me when I’m on tour. This means I can be creative and work on new songs wherever I am. Every musician knows what I’m on about when I talk about the inspiring energy that comes from the different locations one visits. Well, my mobile system lets me capture this energy which I use for a song or current project. I also take my laptop with me to presentations and trade shows and directly mix my backing tracks on Cubase. This lets me adjust the tracks when played through the PA system of the booth or on stage as well as create a stereo mix for an MP3 player in case I’m supposed to play there several times.
Anyhow, I know from talking to you guys that I only use a fraction of what Cubase actually has to offer. It can do so much more and that’s the great thing about it. You’re equipped for any possible situation. You can effortlessly expand your system, without having to change platforms or get used to new programs.
Do you use a lot of Steinberg applications when working with LaFee?
LaFee is a Steinberg warehouse through and through. The whole band uses Cubase and the song writers, sound designer, mixers, and all the others use it as well. Our DVDs are mixed down and mastered to 5.1 with Nuendo. In the process, compatibility between Cubase and Nuendo plays an important role for the projects being sent back to Germany for mixing from the sound designers living in Ibiza. And I deliver my guitar solos from my farmhouse studio using FTP so that I don’t have to carry all my gear to some other studio.
What are your career plans for the future, near or far?
We’re about to release our next LaFee single and our third album. Then, we’ll be doing a lot of promotional work as well as touring Europe in the upcoming year, which will result in a live DVD. Of course I hope my solo album kick starts my solo career, allowing me to perform live as much as possible.
There’s just one last question we’re bursting to ask you (it’s caused many sleepless days). It’s common knowledge that you like Star Wars movies. Is there any connection between the films and your dog’s name and has he possibly a featured place on the album cover?
Yes! It really must have been hard for you guys to wait until now to get the answer to this question. [laughs] My dog Luke is named after the great Jedi master Skywalker. I love the movies since I was a kid. And, what’s more, I’m a big fan of film music! Then I always have to think to myself that I’d love to play guitar on one of Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks! That’d be one of those moments like working with Jordan Rudess! Luke is also the dog on the cover of my album. It was such a lucky shot. Taking pictures of animals isn’t easy because each time you press the release button they’ve already budged. [laughs] When I finally got to see the picture on the cover for the first time, the album's title came straight to my mind: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. There’s a song on the CD with the title “Doggy Luke” where I try to grasp the mood of my dog. He’s a rather lively companion, cracks me up most of the time and goes off like the Tasmanian devil. In case somebody should see me having a laugh while playing the song, now you know why! By the way, I can only recommend having a dog in your studio. Going for walks on working days makes you spend some time outside. This gives you a chance to catch a breath of fresh air and fill up on energy and inspiration!
Thank you for taking the time to fill us in. We here at Steinberg wish you all the best for your future career, which we will follow with great interest.
Thanks for this interview, the great support I’ve been receiving from Steinberg and especially for the excellent software with its sheer unlimited possibilities!
Ricky Garcia’s website: www.rickygarcia.com