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Interview: Scale the Summitt’s Chris Letchford

Prog-Rock and Instrumental Guitar are not for everyone.  The music isn’t the type you hum in the shower typically.  But those that love it, LOVE it.  Scale the Summit start in 2004 in Houston and have produced six top-notice album and their latest In A World Of Fear is the first self-release.  We recently caught up with founding member, Chris Letchford, to talk about the band’s latest tour.
 
When you start out putting a song together are you working primarily first on the melody of the track or do you start more with a riff to build upon?
Chris Letchford: I let the song writing flow out naturally. Sometimes its a riff and sometimes its a melody. The only thing that stays consistent is that I 99% of the time write the songs from start to finish, which is why I have probably around 150 unused melodies, riffs and parts of songs that will never end up as a final song. I think piecing riffs together takes a lot more time to do and in a lot of cases ends up sounding just like that, one random riff after another. Though, people on the internet always say they think some STS songs sound that way, haha. Of course its all subjective and their opinions don’t matter, when its factual that I write the songs start to finish. From a teaching stand point, I always recommend writing the chord progression first for solo sections, its way harder to write backing a riff for a solo section after its finished. 
 

Can you talk about how the change in the makeup of the band has music?
Chris Letchford: For the last 3 albums and the new one I wrote all the songs. Not really by choice, it was either there was going to be a new Scale The Summit record or not, so obviously I wanted to keep making STS albums, so it just sort of happened and I start doing all the main song writing, structure and all the guitars. I write really quickly and its my favorite part of being a musician so it worked out this way for the best. For the newest album “In A World Of Fear”, I even wrote nearly all the drums and bass, whatever I hadn’t finished Charlie and Kilian filled in the blanks. For future records, if time permits, I would like to spend even more time sending them the songs outline and see if we can spice them up even more. Since its a lot of touring and life stuff in general its hard to really get as much time as you would like to write, revise and write some more. Its the typical answer from any artist that you finally have to go “its finished” or you’ll constantly be tweaking things until the end of time haha. 

 

In A World Of Fear is simply a fantastic album.  Can you talk about the process the band follows in recording?  Do you record live as a tri and overdub, lay down drums first, etc?

Chris Letchford: We do things really backwards and always have. We always record all the guitars first to a click. For the new one I actually recorded them myself which naturally makes for better final takes that you hear on the record. Doing them yourself allows you to eliminate the clock pressure of being in the studio. We don’t get $100k recording advances to make a record and time is money in the studio. It also gave me the ability to get even more natural takes and less robotic feel, again due to the fact that Im in my studio room by myself, no one watching, no time pressure, etc… just me and my guitar. It was by far the most stress free recording of any STS album. So I recorded all the guitars while at the same time writing drums and bass parts to feel out what the final songs will sound like, mainly to established the feel and groove of each section. Then I sent the songs off to Charlie Engen for drums and Kilian Duarte for bass. Some of the sections for bass were left empty so Kilian filled in those sections and a couple of full songs. Then for drums Charlie kept the same feel but spiced up the songs, added unique fills and some drum solo like sections. Im no drummer, so it was a pleasure to work with who I think is one of the best drummers out there. Then we headed over to Anup Sastrys where we recorded the drums, which spiced them up even more when we were all in the same room together doing the typical drummer punishment of “try this or that” haha. It made for amazing playing on the record and I love every hit he recorded. While tracking there, Kilian was up in Boston tracking the bass and sending me the recorded parts as he finished them. I went home and re-amped all of the guitars to fit the final album drum tones, sent them back to Anup and he mixed the entire record. Besides having to re-amp the entire record of guitars (which was 100% worth it), it was all smooth sailing and the least stressful record I have ever made. 
 

How does touring with with such amazing guitarists with Andy James and and Angel Vivaldi push you as a guitarist?

Chris Letchford: We just finished up a tour with Marty Friedman, who made me want to push my performance to the next level, so I can’t wait to see what Andy and Angel make me do. Angel will probably make me want to frost my tips and then force me to add dancing into our set haha, and then I don’t personally know Andy yet, so Im curious to see what type of tea and crumpets he makes me eat haha. These dudes shred so Im excited to get to share the stage with them each night. Since we’ll be doing a master class together each day Im sure Im going to learn a lot. Im just excited to tour with great people. Its going to be a lot of fun. 
 

Obviously many songwriters let the lyrics impact what becomes the vocal melody.  Doing instrumental how do you approach ideas for the melody? 

Chris Letchford: I let the melody really just come out on its own when Im writing the songs. I went for an even more “tasteful” style approach to the main melodies over just shredding. This is obviously subjective as someone who is not into guitar music would think my melodies are over the top shred when in the guitar community they really aren’t. I love a guitar melody that speaks though, the song “Astral Kids” is a prime example of that, the melodies in that song really speak. I don’t really miss lyrics, it takes a lot for me to really dig a singer, and it usually comes after I see them live. I do have some future ideas for STS, as a B sides kind of deal, that may include some singers! 
 

How much time pre-tour do you need to spend going through your catalog getting the set-list to remember it all?  You play a lot of notes I’m sure in a typical set. 
Chris Letchford: For all tours I like to rehearse the set once a day minimum for 30 days. Then the rest of the time I spend practicing is going over certain sections and parts that need more work. For this upcoming tour I only got in the set one time per day which feels like plenty. As a home owner and living way up in the mountains with my wife and dogs in the middle of nowhere I had a million “dad chores” I needed to get finished before I left for tour, mainly in preparation for winter and to make sure my wife was comfortable. I feel the most prepared for this tour out of all tours though, I like to get the songs to where Im pretty much bored with them by the time tour starts so I can have more fun performing on stage rather then just playing the songs and standing there like a statue haha. It happens of course, especially on “off nights” where I might not be feeling it, I have to tone down the stage presence and focus on playing the songs as accurately as possible haha. I invite everyone out to this tour just to see how that goes haha. You’re are right though, its a ton of notes… one day I want to get a ball park estimate of how many it actual is. It has to be around 20,000, at least. 

Chris and the rest of Scale the Summit will be at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls on Thursday, November 9th.  Tickets are still available.