GARY LENAIRE: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sound
Symphonic Liberties, the newest release from former Tourniquet guitarist and songwriter Gary Lenaire, was released at the end of February. The album is unlike anything Gary has released within his own catalog and unlike most albums that you will find anywhere.
The original plan was to have this interview completed and posted shortly after the release of the album, but a worldwide pandemic was declared and it quickly went to the back burner.
We find ourselves just a little over a month into new routines, daily updates and an uncertain future. Even with all of this going on, Gary and I were finally able to complete this interview and I appreciate his thoughtful answers and insight. I hope you enjoy his breakdown of the new album’s concepts, a glimpse into the past and hint of what lies ahead on his musical journey.
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to catch up with us and share what you have been up to. First of all, congratulations on the release of your newest recording, “Symphonic Liberties”. Tell us about the new record.
First off, let me say that HM Magazine has been a huge supporter of my music over the years and I appreciate you folks. Here’s a photo of the Reader’s Poll awards you gave me years ago. Brings me fond memories.
Symphonic Liberties is the first record I have done that embodies a panoramic view of my musical interests and abilities. Solo records are great for stretching out on ideas that you’ve wanted to finish. I engineered and produced the record and I’m happy it came out the way I wanted.
This is the third solo album that you have released, and it really goes in a different direction than anything else that you have been involved with. “Symphonic Liberties” is a great title for this recording, especially considering the variety of genres represented. What inspired you to have a combination of metal and classical tracks on one album?
I have always loved classical music and you can hear that in my music from the 1990s. Back in the day I encouraged classical influence in our music. The new solo record shows more of my composition and conducting aptitudes. The range of guitars, vocals, pianos, violins, cellos, and brass creates a vast soundscape that invokes emotion and sets various moods.
The classical pieces on this recording are excellent. One of my favorites, Moonlight Sonata, closes out the album, and it is a perfect ending. What was the thought process behind which classical pieces you chose? Was it how they fit in with the other songs on the album, or was it something as simple as them just being pieces that you enjoyed?
It is something I planned to do for many years. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor, Op. 27, No. 2 opens and sets the tone for the record. Though diminutive, my interpretations and expressions of that piece speak deeply to me. Sonatas are commonly compositions for solo instrumentation, but I heard other devices, even modern instruments, in the first track. There are many “metal” versions of this piece and I did not want to mimic what’s already been done. The final track, however, is my traditional tribute to the sonata. Beethoven is said to have dedicated Quasi una fantasia to his pupil Countess Giulietta Guicciardi in 1802. The piece was later titled Moonlight Sonata.
On the heavier side, songs like “Vainglorious Hypocrisy” and “Live Free or Die” feature what many would call your signature sound, both in the music and vocal delivery. With the direction that you took on this album, some fans might be wondering if this is the beginning of a mellower Gary Lenaire. Do those kinds of songs still come naturally to you, or do you find yourself being drawn to experiment with sounds outside of what you are known for?
Heavy music is my fist language. Growing up I was influenced by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and others. Music is a universal language and speaking many dialects is important to me. For instance, pop music has contributed many great songs. The Beatles, directly or indirectly, influenced ALL of us hard rockers, whether we realize it or not. Concerning my next project, heavy is already in the works!
That’s an interesting piece of news! Is it too soon to give us a peek behind the curtain?
Knowledge, experience and emotion are interrelated. My music is naturally intense, heavy. The breaks that breathe in between those brutal inflections are naturally quiet and ambient. Back in the day, those non-heavy songs were supported by my direction…and so were the heavy ones! Keep in mind, some folks make percussive rhythms, but composers produce compositions. That’s why the first few (and widely preferred) records were actually composed, and not simply thrown together with gratuitous distortion and melodies that go nowhere. That said, I am already working on my next record.
“Bedshaped” is a stunning song, and it is one of my favorites on the album. What was it about this song that made you want to include it on the album?
Many years ago, I heard this song and it brought me to tears. Its imagery and lyrical direction are emotive. The sort of saloon-sounding jangly piano resonates, and I kept that sound in my recording. I parsed through thousands of songs in consideration as covers for this record. From Miles Davis to Rush I wanted to cover many tunes, but Bedshaped made the cut.
Your version of the song is pretty close to the original, but with more edge, and, I believe, more passion. Did you play with the idea of approaching it differently at all, or was this the version you had in mind all along?
The original is beautiful, and Keane is a great band. I performed and engineered with many of the same kinds of instruments you hear on the original. I always heard guitars toward the end of the song and I think it worked out. The track reminds me of the rainy streets of my hometown in Oregon when I was a kid.
The vocal performance by Aly Frank on this song is haunting and beautiful. She also sang a song on your previous album, “No Time Now”, with the same results. How did you first start working with her?
I knew Aly was going to be perfect for this track, both for vocals and piano. I have admired her music and musicianship for years so I reached out to her. She’s great to work with. I was very pleased with her work on “No Time Now” and I hope we collaborate again.
You are probably best known to many of our readers from your time in Tourniquet and Echo Hollow. They love great music of course, but many of them put a strong emphasis on lyrics as well. While the signature sound that know and love is found on Symphonic Liberties, fans who may not have heard your newer music will notice a different direction with the lyrics on this album. Is there a particular theme that ties all of these songs together?
Liberty is certainly a theme alongside the symphonic musical direction. Liberty from tyranny, bad relationships, etc. Liberty to do want you want musically. Anyone who has followed my music in the last 15 years has seen a progression in the imagery of those songs. The meaning of lyrics often varies from person to person. That is art and I like that. What one person may see in a painting can be very different to another.
Does “freedom”, in the context of the song, refer to anything else besides the social or political aspects of the word?
One common thread in my music, from the 1980s to now, is freedom. Freedom can be a loaded word. We live in a world with tethers, restrictions, and in some cases even slavery. Every person must define for themselves what freedom really is. Freedom can be legal, spiritual, financial, etc. Knowing the margins of oppression will determine the cost to obtain liberation from it. And there is a price. A line from Live Free or Die: “fools and the free think with different minds, freedom is not free, could cost you mine.” I live in New Hampshire where the state motto is “Live Free or Die”. When you cross the state line you see a sign with those words overtly posted. We take those words to heart in New England.
Spiritual imagery, which is very important to many of our readers, can be found in several of the songs, “Forever in a Second” and “Taking Flight 1985” in particular. Would it be incorrect to look for spiritual meaning in these songs?
Forever in a Second was musically inspired by my love for Rush, especially the synth sounds. Now is a good time for me to dedicate that song to the very great Neil Peart who we recently lost. He was an amazing lyricist and drummer who influenced my art. The lyrics somehow provoke a sense of struggle, determination and hope. Taking Flight 1985 was a fun song to write and produce. The lyrics and music style of the song are inspired from my experiences in the 1980s. I met Guy Ritter in 1985 and he and I formed the early version of the band. Taking Flight 1985 has that 80s metal vocal style, sort of operatic. The middle guitar solo was inspired by the great guitarist Robin Trower, with that beautiful Fender Strat guitar and Univibe effect sound. I used a Les Paul on the 2nd solo and a San Dimas Charvel Strat on the 3rd solo, all through Marshall amps. Mesa Boogie amps for the rhythm tone, much like we’d do back in the 80s. Concerning spiritual imagery, consider the song Bargain by The Who. Read those lyrics and tell me what it speaks to you. Lyrics can take you many places. It’s all up to you and the context of your experience.
A treat for Tourniquet fans shows up on “Vainglorious Hypocrisy”, featuring Luke Easter on vocals. This was a song that you highlighted before the release, and it is definitely one of the strongest songs on the album, both musically and lyrically. I personally love the approach of the dual vocals and the contrasts in your voices. Was this song written with Luke in mind, or was that something that happened as it developed?
Luke and I lost touch for many years and recently started hanging out again. I wrote Vainglorious Hypocrisy and Luke did a great vocal performance. You can hear the way Luke and I formed that sound back in those days. I initially released it as a single and then as a remix for Symphonic Liberties. It was also cool doing the video with Luke.
Forgive me if I am overreaching or assuming too much here, but two of the most intriguing lines on the album are in this song. “Together we were greater than any one of us, a fact that you can’t hide”, and, “Seemed so sincere once upon a time”. Both appear to be references to the time that the two of you spent in Tourniquet. Do you ever wonder what else the band may have accomplished if you had more time with them, or is that a chapter of the past that pretty much just stays put where it is?
The past always stays where it is, in the past. I am a person who lives in the moment and looks forward to the future. Lyrics, as I’ve said before, take on different meanings to each person. Vainglorious Hypocrisy can mean something different to different people in the context of their own lives. I think many can relate to dealing with someone who is self-centered, lacks teamwork skills, says one thing but does the other, is backstabbing, is unprofessional, or is just simply a hot mess as a person. I think it’s good to distance yourself from those folks and succeed without them.
You and Luke sound great together, and you also worked with Guy Ritter on your previous album. Is there any chance that we will see you doing more with either one, or both, of them in the future? If we were to conduct a poll, I believe that the results would be unanimous in hoping that we get to see that happen!
Thank you for that comment. I really hope to work with Luke again. We recently had dinner and discussed a few things. Guy Ritter and I are working on a new song now and I am pumped! It’s like we never took a break from the music. Guy and I have been the best of friends since 1985 and there is no one like him. His vocals are very distinct. Also, he’s one of the kindest and funniest people I know.
I would like to thank you again for your time and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us. I wish you nothing but success! Before we wrap this up, is there anything else that you would like to say?
As I do this interview, the world is suffering from a terrible pandemic. We have an opportunity to help each other like no other time in our lives. I mentioned earlier that music is a universal language. Love, however, is the greatest language. Now is a time to place our differences and opinions aside and simply look after one another. Not any one of us has the same exact views and I believe that forgiveness is a better path than judgment. I thank all of you who have enjoyed and supported my music over the years. Please be safe and healthy in these difficult days.
For more information and music visit GaryLenaire.com