Seattle-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, producer, engineer, and filmmaker Stan Snow recently dropped his new long player, Into the Great Beyond, featuring A-List collaborators such as Abe Laboriel Jr. (Paul McCartney), Valerie Pinkston (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston), Lyle Workman (Sting, Beck), and Ben Smith (Heart).
Snow explains, “‘Into the Great Beyond’ is an adventure in sonic and lyrical landscapes. There are 12 songs on the album. Mostly indie-rock and Americana but with other styles brought in as needed.”
When not working on his solo music, Snow plays with the Sundogs, releasing four albums, and has recorded with Alan White, Abe Laboriel Jr., Lyle Workman, Valerie Pinkston, Larry Goldings, Gregg Bissonette, Ben Smith, and Keb’Mo’.
Tattoo.com spoke with Stan Snow to find out more about the inspiration behind Into the Great Beyond, his gear, and his recording process.
What inspired your latest album, ‘Into the Great Beyond?’
I had released four albums in the past five years with the Sundogs and wanted to work on a solo album.
In terms of inspiration, each song is different. There are songs about Ukraine (‘Insanity Repeats’), Covid/survivalism (‘Chemical Fallacy’), money laundering and drug running (‘Into the Great Beyond’)….songs about the people we have lost (‘Gone Too Fast’), hanging in there (‘Try’), cheaters (‘Trouble’), being present (‘Now’), new relationships (‘Fight’), being vulnerable (‘Guard’), mind games (‘Jungle’), dealing with challenging times (‘Change’), and navigating transitions in life (‘Seasons’).
All songs were written and recorded in the order they appear on the album. I wrote each song to satisfy the music fan within. After I finished writing each tune, I would ask myself – ‘what do I want to hear now?’….and I would write the next tune based on what I was hearing in my head.
The transition from each song to the next is almost like a concept album. Each track is like a movement in a suite or symphony. But instead of it being classical and/or instrumental, there are lyrics to every song.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
I recorded each song as I wrote them, and in the order that they appear on the album. I don’t do demos anymore. I go straight to recording the lead vocal and guitar or keyboards. I try to capture the spirit of the tune as I am writing it, and while it is fresh in my mind, and inspired. The core of the song has to be able to stand on its own with just a lead vocal and guitar or keys. Once I have those recorded, then I’ll begin to add bass and/or backing vocals, and then drums. The rest gets added in as I build the arrangement.
How did you get started in music?
I took piano lessons when I was 8 years old. Then, played 5-string bluegrass banjo for five years and picked up guitar when I turned 14. Went on the road as a lead guitarist with a Top 40 band when I was 19. Playing mostly by ear. After returning from the road, I studied music at San Jose State University and privately with Rick Vandivier who had studied under Pat Metheny at Berklee. I then taught 500 guitar students while going to college and playing in bands, one of which included Keb’ Mo’ in LA. When I turned 25 years old, I decided to put my business degree to work and keep music as a hobby. I was a commercial real estate broker until I retired seven years ago. I then rebuilt my home studio and got back into writing and recording full-time.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
It evolved naturally. I have always drawn inspiration from the music of my youth. Late ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s music mostly. I like lots of different styles. At one point I was trying to become a session guitarist in LA. I learned a lot from the great jazz/rock guitarists …. guys like Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Lee Ritenour, Steve Morse, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, etc… I also loved the complexity and energy of many of the classic rock bands of that era. The Who, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan, Santana, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Mark Knopfler, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Tom Petty, etc… And singer/songwriter artists like – Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Todd Rundgren, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc…
Which amps, guitars, and pedals are you currently using?
See the liner notes. Some of the gear is spelled out there for each song. I have 26 guitars and basses. Martins, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, Gretsch, Fenders, Guild, …lots of vintage stuff. For amps, I primarily use two these days – a ’59 Fender Twin (reissue that I bought through Joe Bonamassa), and a Divided By 13 amp (JRT 9-15). Pedals – EB5 MultiComp compressor, Double Bloom overdrive, Strymon Mobius, Boss FV-50 volume pedal, Ernie Ball Ambient delay, EchoRec, Spring Chicken reverb.
Are there any special recording techniques you use in the studio?
I run the amps through a Universal Audio OX box which emulates the speaker configuration and miking. This enables me to hear, almost exactly, what the guitars will sound like in the finished recording, as I record them live. It also makes it so I can have the amps cranked all the way up, if I want, and my wife can still be sleeping in the room down the hall. I have a full drum kit (Gretsch Broadkaster) and have an excellent engineer, Don Gunn, who comes over to my studio anytime I am recording drums. We have 10 mics set up on the kit with a 75’ snake cable running down the hall to the main control room. I usually set up four cameras on the drummer and film everything live to use in the videos later. I have the entire drum room set up in green screen so I can add backdrops if needed for video post-production.
What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time?
For every song that I’ve recorded in the last seven years, I have documented the tone settings. For soaring lead tones, I might use a Les Paul or a Strat. Sometimes through the ’59 Fender Twin. Sometimes through the Divided By 13. Sometimes I want the tone to have a lot of edge to it. Other times I want it to be just at the edge of breakup where I can back off the volume and get a cleaner sound. Then, put it up to 10 and play more aggressively in order to get it to cut more. Mid-range frequencies often stand out better for guitar parts. Sometimes tone is about blend with other instruments. I usually mix while I go. Every time I finish a track, I mix it in with the rest of what’s already there. Only changing the new part. Keeping the rest of the mix the same. This helps with the arrangement as well. I can find the part that fits with everything else, in terms of counterpoint. It’s like a machine. But usually keeping in mind the tone of things and the blend with other instruments.
Any time I need to create a new part, I can pull up whatever song over the last seven years that had the tone that I’m looking for, and then recreate it using the settings I’ve saved in the library.
How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?
I’m not performing on stage these days, so, thankfully I don’t have to worry about it.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
See the liner notes. Lots of detail there. It’s somewhat different for each song.
What can you share about your writing process?
Also, in the liner notes. I usually start with the music. I have to have something that catches my ear and pulls me in. It can be a guitar riff, a bass line, a groove, a chord progression, etc… Once I have something that I want to develop further, I will then start to add words and melody. I often don’t know what a song is going to be about until I start in on the first verse. It sort of reveals itself in the process. Then, it can happen quickly, or it might take a week, usually, not longer. I tend to focus on one tune at a time. Working it over until I get it to where I think it needs to be. Then, recording it as soon as possible so I can make further tweaks if needed. When it’s done, I usually move on to the next tune. And the song I just finished goes into the cue for the recording process.
What is your definition of success?
Success is wanting what you get. Each day, when I finish working on the music, I have succeeded if I find myself wanting to hear the track again and again. I’m always trying to make things better and stronger. By listening to the track with fresh ears, (sometimes waiting days before doing so) I often find the path to solve whatever puzzle might exist during the creation of the song. I often feel that I’ve succeeded once I have finished a song and there is nothing bugging me about it anymore ….and that I look forward to hearing it again.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
There is a young guitar player from Italy, Matteo Mancuso. He might be the greatest in the world right now. Sarah Jarosz is a gifted singer-songwriter. Jason Isbell is fabulous. Dave Matthews is so talented and just released a new album. Love seeing him live. Peter Gabriel is in the process of releasing a new album. Fantastic stuff. Bonnie Raitt had a really good year last year and continues to crank out great music.
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
I’ll be releasing music videos for every track on the new album. 12 in total. The videos will be available on Facebook and YouTube. Two are out now – “Change” and “Now.”