Seance In Black is the latest solo album from guitarist Michael Abdow (Fates Warning, Ray Alder, Last Chance To Reason). Abdow fills us in on the new record and his other projects.
Chad Bowar: Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Seance In Black compared to your previous solo albums?
Michael Abdow: I’m always trying to make a new record and not take the same approach twice. This extends beyond songwriting and into personal headspace. Séance In Black had a very unstructured “let’s see where the music wants to go” approach with its only parameter, albeit a distant afterthought, being “can I play this with only a trio(?)” I’ve had records with more concise arrangements and records that I simply can’t make work with a three piece band. Séance lives somewhere in between. It also has consistently the longest songs, very organically reaching an average length of about seven minutes. With this album I also took a heavy program music approach and noticed a reflection of influences like Jesper Kyd and Buckethead.
Compare and contrast your approach to writing instrumentals and writing songs with vocals.
I tend to write instrumentals with a voice in mind; only when the voice is an instrument then the language can be more complex. At the same time it is less discrete in that it presents emotion without instructing the listener what to think. It can be a more free-form approach to songwriting.
Alternatively, writing for a vocalist typically takes on a pop format to satisfy our desire for western song structures. This could still be exploratory and progressive but there is going to be some type of chorus and verses or vocal variations with segueing sections. I actually am very interested in pursuing more through/composed songwriting with a vocalist.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
My strongest memory will be of conceiving the song “Eternity” and the connection I felt to my daughters as I wrote it. The song represents that eternity is now and that the things we embrace will be our eternity; time being a construct and illusory. I have a couple of pictures with my daughters that I revisit that remind me of the song and conversely, the song brings me to that eternal joy that I have with them and those moments.
What was the biggest challenge in recording it?
By far the biggest challenge was managing my energy levels. I almost always worked between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.; only to get up again at 7 a.m. to start the day. So these were 18-20 hour days. I’m convinced it took years off my life but I’m also convinced that diet and exercise can offset the detriment. As you might imagine, that lifestyle can have a ripple effect both physically and mentally. As a result, I learned a lot about will power, state of mind, and ultimately metaphysics.
How has your sound evolved from Heart Signal?
My sounds is always evolving in that I record each record with different amps or a different approach. The leap from Heart Signal to Séance In Black was drastic. On Heart Signal I used one main lead sound and wrote more concise songs that could be easily adapted for my live trio. The recording approach was my Engl Steve Morse amp direct through a Rivera Rock Crusher.
Séance In Black took a much more exploratory approach to tones and composition. For this album I mixed in my Telecaster for low gain leads along with my Carvin DC727. They main amp was an Orange Crush Pro head mic’d through Vintage 30s. I used a variety of pedals for the low gain sounds and the Orange “Dirty” channel for my main high gain sound. The music on Séance at times almost approached soundtrack territory while still remaining in a rock ensemble context. Lots of atmosphere with the guitar voice narrating each piece.
Are you planning on playing any live shows in support of the album?
Yes. My trio has been actively playing in the northeastern United States over the past few years, opening for Sarah Longfield, Joe Stump and Greg Livesay. We are pushing and are ready to tour as soon as we gain enough traction. The lineup is Shawn Deneault on drums (also performed on the album) and Steven Lanning-Cafaro on bass.
What other tour plans do you have coming up with your other projects?
There’s always the next solo album in the works. I’ve been writing and recording my solo music for nearly 20 years and it’s how I explore new territory in music. First up though is a new project that I am just breaking ground on with a friend and well-known drummer who has played on some of my favorite albums. We’re excited to see what we create together and have every intention of making it more than just a studio project. I won’t say who he is until the project gains some legs and we can make a formal announcement.
How did you come to join Fates Warning?
Back in October of 2013, Fates Warning was going out to support their new record Darkness In A Different Light. Frank Aresti had played on the album but was not able to tour and so needed a fill-in. A mutual friend recommended me to Jim Matheos and I auditioned and subsequently went to Europe with the band for my first show at ProgPower. I’ve played every Fates Warning tour since, played solos on the albums Theories Of Flight, Long Day Goodnight and recorded Live Over Europe with the band.
What have been some of the highlights of your time in the band?
I think the biggest highlight is just getting to make music with the guys. They’re all such great players, artists and people that simply playing together, be it a big festival or small club, is a highlight. As far as moments, the sold out run of shows for Live Over Europe as well as Athens in 2013 are particularly memorable.
What is the timeline for the next Fates Warning album?
Both Ray and Jim have stated and confirmed publicly the lack of plans for any new Fates Warning music. The band is still together, and schedules permitting, still would like to tour.
What was the response to Ray Alder’s II album released in June that you wrote several songs on?
The response has been great! I wrote the majority of the album with Ray as well as the acoustic bonus track. Ray’s solo music is pretty dark and eclectic and I think that people have enjoyed the varied different approaches to the songs. Like his first solo album we did What The Water Wants, it’s not an album that sits in one genre yet has continuity in its vibe and of course Ray’s voice.
You’re also in the long running ‘80s tribute band Aquanett, obviously a lot different than your other projects. What is it about ‘80s music that you enjoy?
Pretty much high gain guitar! ’80s in and of itself is like anything else: great songs are great songs. I think I enjoy going out with Aquanett not so much because I am an ’80s guy but because I can play high gain rock music with my sound in clubs year round. My favorite stuff to play with the band is Whitesnake, Winger, Ozzy Osbourne and any of the pop stuff with melodic guitar playing. I’m not solely a note-for-note guy in this particular band. We play so much that I have to let my personality creep in as a player.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
I love hiking and going to the woods. It’s the real world and I try to take something non-material back to this world with me every time I go. It’s like church for me; only I’m not worshipping anything out there (laughs). I think people forget that we live in paradise if we only make it that. Visiting the woods and mountains is a reminder that all the stuff we left at the car is just created by people. It shifts what we see as important in life. I’m also an avid reader, typically enjoying books about history, the paranormal and the James Bond novels.
What’s the best thing you’ve binge watched lately?
The last thing I binge watched was Game Of Thrones back in 2014. It was pretty good. I love Black Mirror. It’s a brilliant show but I don’t get to watch TV much and so haven’t seen many of those episodes.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Right now for heavy music it’s Sylosis – A Sign Of Things To Come, Mastodon – Hushed And Grim, Symphony X – “Twilight In Olympus, Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World and Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Séance In Black is out and available in all formats from my website www.michaelabdow.com! Immense thanks to Heavy Music HQ for the interview and talking about the record!
(interview published October 9, 2023)
Listen To Michael Abdow – “Eternity”