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Tim May's L.A. Scene

A Seamless Soundtrack for Lilo & Stitch

Tim May's Bio

In this month's article I'm going to discuss some of the various instruments I used at the scoring sessions for the animated Disney film Lilo & Stitch. I was involved in six sessions for this project, two double sessions, and two single sessions over a two-week period. The composer was Joel McNeely, and the music was mostly Hawaiian, although there were some other styles involved.

The band in the first week was made up of two percussionists playing a variety of drums, bongos, congas, shakers etc., a bass player playing acoustic bass and electric bass, Doug Livingston playing pedal steel guitar, and George Doering, John Goux, and myself playing an assortment of acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, etc.

When we started the session, Joel explained that the film had a Hawaiian theme, and he that he wanted to experiment with different sounds and textures. We all had the same parts; basically lead sheets (chord symbols and melodies). There were a few indications of guitar and pedal steel melodies, but for almost all the songs, the guitars provided a rhythm track, and any melodies we played were overdubbed on top of those. John, George and I have done a million dates together, and we knew what to do without having to say almost anything. The first thing we did was choose various instruments each of us would play to stay out of each others way, and compliment one another. I had ready my 1961 Martin D-18, an early 70's Epiphone flattop that I have strung as a high-string (the lower four strings are tuned up an octave resulting in a nice light and "shimmery" rhythm tone). I also had a Gianini baritone ukulele, a standard ukulele, my late 70's vintage Guild 12-string, an early 80's Yamaha gut-string, and my usual collection of electrics - an old Fender Telecaster, a '74 Les Paul Custom, and my John Carruthers Strat.

For amplification I use an Egnater pre-amp, a Rivera SLS power amp, a Roland volume pedal, an old Vox Cry Baby wah pedal, and an assortment of processing gear including Roland and Eventide effect processors, a DBX compressor, and a Korg delay, all set up to be accessed with a Ground Control switcher. For the electric parts I played, which turned out to be mostly low fifths "chugging" along, I chose the Les Paul.

Each of us had basically the same assortment of instruments, plus George had a Tahitian banjo, which I had never heard of before. It's a little 8-string acoustic instrument strung with fishing line! I'm not sure of the instrument's original tuning, but George probably tuned it like a guitar. It provided a unique high and bright sound that put a nice shimmer on the top of the rhythm tracks.

We started the first piece, and each of us chose an instrument that would fill a different space in the track. I think John played a nylon-string, I played ukulele, and George played an acoustic 6-string. This was a starting point, and after we ran down the track, Joel and the director of the film made comments about the overall sound.

Everyone loved the sound, but the director wanted to hear some options, perhaps a lighter, brighter sound. I decided to play the high-strung guitar, and John switched to ukulele, and George played the Tahitian banjo. That did the trick, and we started to record. For the rest of the day we used some variation of those instruments, along with the all the other acoustic instruments I mentioned. We knew what combinations of instruments would provide thicker, higher, lighter, heavier, or "whatever" sounds the director wanted to hear, and he was thrilled to be able to get the results he was looking for. As I said, the three of us have worked a lot together, and we knew what to do without any egos getting in the way. The approach we took was simply to compliment one another, and the result was a very happy composer.

The next week's sessions were with a large orchestra, and the guitar parts were for acoustic steel and gut-string guitars. While not very complex, they were very exposed and the challenge was to follow the conductor and blend in with the orchestra. For these sessions I used the Martin D-18 and Yamaha acoustic guitars. I was the only guitar player, and the parts were primarily finger-picking parts, although Joel asked me to have the high-strung guitar and ukulele ready in case they wanted to add them. As I said, I was given chord symbols to read, and we experimented with strumming and picking styles, as well as different registers before they decided what was best. Being able to "play it high, play it low, pick, strum etc." on demand was essential. Soon a style was decided upon and we were on our way.

The Hawaiian-style music in Lilo & Stitch was lots of fun to play, and is yet another example of the various styles presented to us in a studio environment.

'Till next month- ALOHA!
Tim May

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