The newly issued Levin Minnemann Rudess offers an opportunity not just to enjoy the towering musical gifts of Tony Levin and Jordan Rudess, but also to dig deeper into the oft-overlooked versatility of Marco Minnemann.
Best known to the broader public simply as a drummer — thanks to concert treks with Steven Wilson and, currently, with Joe Satriani — Minnemann’s role in this rangy Scott Schorr-produced trio project for Lazy Bones stretched to include both guitar and compositional work. For anyone who only knew him from his spot at the back of the stage on those massive tours, Levin Minnemann Rudess is a revelation.
In an exclusive SER Sitdown, the German-born San Diego resident talks about his journey to this trio effort, offering insights into his work with Wilson, Satriani and Mike Keneally along the way …
NICK DERISO: There seemed to be an immediate spark with Tony Levin, as the two of you created the LMR album’s basic song structure. What was it like to hear that timeless bass groove accompanying your compositions?
MARCO MINNEMANN: It was fantastic, how we worked. Tony was sending bass lines over, and leaving a lot of space — so I could create on top of them — or, as you rightly put it, I composed complete pieces and then Tony had to replace the bass lines. We had both of these variations. Tony Levin is one of my all-time favorite bass players. We had worked together before in a band called UKZ, with Eddie Jobson, early on. He has a very strong tone, and musical vision — always. I always loved Tony, going back to when he played with Peter Gabriel and all of the artists he worked with even before I had started making music. (Laughs.) So that was actually really, really awesome. I have a lot of respect for that, and I am very thankful to have him play some of my songs. It was like: “Oh, my goodness. Are you going to send that stuff over to Tony? I hope he’s going to like it!” I’m happy he did.
NICK DERISO: Did your intersection with Jordan in Dream Theater impact the way you approached the writing process for Levin Minnemann Rudess? Were you more aware of what might have worked with him as a collaborator?
MARCO MINNEMANN: No, Dream Theater didn’t have anything to do with it. I can completely tell you that — because Jordan and I met early on. Actually, we did a thing called the Musical Mind Meld. Of course, it might have been beneficial that that thing (Dream Theater) came along, and grabbed the attention of many fans — so a lot of people are happy to hear the both of us working on another project now.
NICK DERISO: For those who’ve never heard albums like 2012′s Evil Smiles of Beauty/Sound of Crime, your appearance on guitar for this new collaboration might have come as a something of a surprise. As a multi-instrumentalist, do you chafe at being pigeonholed as a drummer?
MARCO MINNEMANN: I’m very happy to have the chance to be presented as a multi-instrumentalist — because that’s what I do. But, yes, I pretty much hang my ass out the window as a drummer most of the time. That’s what I’m doing when I’m touring with Joe Satriani, Steven Wilson, and those guys. They book me mainly as a drummer. That’s what I play live the most. But in the studio, people know me as a multi-instrumentalist. I’m very happy about that. But no, I don’t have any hard feelings is I’m only seen as a drummer — because I know the true fans, they do care.
NICK DERISO: Certainly, this is the highest profile project yet to feature your guitar playing. There is even a turn on vocals. Are we seeing the beginning of a new phase for you — one that focuses less on your rhythmic skills?
MARCO MINNEMANN: That’s funny that you should say that, because I’ve been doing this stuff for years and years and years. But it seems like, with LMR, it somehow swapped into a different area. That’s so fantastic. I’m getting this new attention from other people. I’m winning new fans with it. So, I’m excited about it, and very happy about this. So, absolutely, this is a great thing for me. I’m happy that the guitars were kept.
NICK DERISO: You contributed to Mike Keneally’s newest studio effort, as well. Often times, he told us, Mike brings nearly completed songs and asks you to add drum tracks. Is that difficult? Or has your lengthy time together given you a sixth sense about what works?
MARCO MINNEMANN: Interesting, with Mike, he does things a little bit like what Steven would do: He lets me do my thing. He lets me have a free hand, and my input is welcome — which I like. But, of course, there are also very structured moments where you either have to listen again, or read parts, or repeat parts when he go into certain sections. But, most of the time, I am asked to create using my style.
NICK DERISO: Meanwhile, you’re both playing with Joe Satriani on tour. What’s that been like?
MARCO MINNEMANN: It’s been great, though it’s different than what we usually do. But, we’re rocking out on stage. Isn’t that wonderful? And Joe is asking us to contribute to his music. So, our stuff is welcome, what we offer. There’s hardly any restrictions. Again, I’m so happy to have been booked not to kind of replicate something, or to do what somebody is telling me, but rather: “I like this guy’s style; please join my band, because I like what you do.” That brings way more fun into the band.
NICK DERISO: Steven Wilson’s solo career took a huge leap forward — creatively, as well as musically — in the last year, year and a half, and you’ve been intimately involved there, too. Did you sense that something was coming together with that band?
MARCO MINNEMANN: When he asked me if I wanted to join his band, I did not know too much about him. I didn’t know, really, any Porcupine Tree album and these things. I knew the name, but I had no idea what his music sounded like. But he was a very nice guy. Then, he sent me his music, and I liked it, and we collaborated. It was fantastic. I love working with him. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until probably next year until we can collaborate again, because my plate is kind of full. But, yeah, there was very, very good chemistry there — and I hope, of course, to keep that up and running with him.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Neo-progger Steven Wilson talks classic ’70s sounds, the genre's stirring rebirth and his amazing album 'The Raven That Refused to Sing.']
NICK DERISO: The LMR album represents, in many ways, the new model for collaboration — with files being shared, rather than musicians sitting in the room together. Are you excited with the manner in which technology is making things like this possible?
MARCO MINNEMANN: Yes, very much. I love it. I just love it, because I can work at home, from my studio. I have everything mic-ed up and ready to go, and I can create my own schedule — and then send files through out the world. Isn’t that fantastic? And without having to book expensive studios. Musicians can do their thing, and live off that — if they’re good. (Laughs.) Or if there is a vision that can be followed.