Pat explains that life in the studio can sometimes "outstrange" fiction. "One time I was doing some TV thing, and was asked for my best brass sound on a really tight, funky, Brecker brothers type part. On the chart someone had written, 'play your best Jerry Hey trumpet section.' I finally got a pretty good sound and was right in the middle of recording the thing when I looked over to my left and noticed the trumpet section -- Jerry Hey, Gary Grant and Chuck Findly -- THE trumpet section in town. I just thought well this is weird--after knocking my brains out to get something that they should be playing. Afterwards, I went up to Jerry and said I really feel like a fool trying to do that with you sitting there and he said 'well, what are you going to do? That's what they wanted.'"
One thing that separates Pat from the handful of studio keyboardists who have recorded solo albums is that both of Pat's projects were performed "live to two-track." His second record, Just Ahead, has just been released by Sheffield Lab, the label that built its' impeccable reputation for sonic quality around this technology, and flaunts "it feels live because it is live," as part of its moniker. And in this world of computer-driven, endless-track production, recording and mixing an album "live" is quite an alien concept. But most audiophiles and recording engineers agree that there is no better way to achieve sonic superiority than to record using this methodology, and Sheffield recordings are still standards for component testing at high-end audio shops. However, very few musicians and record companies are willing to attempt this monumental task because of the "stress-o-masochism" involved.
"On the first record," recalls Pat, "I had written everything so a band could play it without sequencers or even a click for that matter. But on one tune, ['Roads Less Traveled'], I decided to use this really elaborate sequenced part that wove throughout the tune and make the band play to a click. We rehearsed it and it sounded fine so we started doing takes and the computer just locked up--nothing I tried worked. We only had an hour left because we had been rehearsing the first two hours of the three hour session. So I took the part and threw it at Dean Parks and said 'here, (laugh) you're the sequencer now.' Dean can do anything and came up with a strummed guitar part that just filled the hole beautifully and made it better then it was originally. It was almost like the gods were saying 'no machines Pat!'"
Because both of his solo records were recorded live and centered on the acoustic piano, Pat had to enlist the help of a few of his friends to cover the other keyboard parts. "For my first record, Steps, I used Mike Boddicker and Russell Ferrante because I knew that they would come up with wonderful sounds. All I did was give general descriptions of what I thought would work, adding, 'please, if you hear something that just has to be there that is better than what I described, feel free'--and most of the time they did." For Just Ahead, Pat called on the services of another synth great, John Beasley, who always adds a truly unique dimension to any work he is involved with. And on a future project, look for Pat to be working with Lyle Mays and Bill Meyers. How's that for a keyboard hoedown?
In case you were wondering, Pat's main compositional tools are a Kurzweil K2000 and a Macintosh running Performer--and, of coarse, spice racks-o-plenty of modular toys from the midi-hell chain. But how does he achieve such consistently great sounds? "I'm like most synth players," states Pat, "I just keep trying different combinations of things. I'm always tweaking analog sounds and samples to get the right combination that sounds right to my ears. I become sort of a chef--putting ingredients together. I try to think what the edge should sound like, what the body should sound like and what the end of it should sound like. In the past you would get out one synth and you did everything with it, but now, with an arsenal of 20 to 25 synthesizers there are a lot of possibilities. And when you find a sound you like, the trick is to try to remember it for the next time. After a while, people will start to identify you with certain sounds."
"There are very few digital samples, except for percussion and some woodwinds, that I use by themselves," continues Pat. "Percussion samples work well because of the hard attack and there's not a lot involved in the sound, like say a bell or a xylophone, which are pretty pure sounds. But when you get into more complex textures, like strings or brass, the samples need help, they need a lot of body underneath them. There are times when I like to use some of the older analog sounds, as low tech and as dirty as they are, because nothing else sounds quite as fat and grungy. That's why I never throw anything away (laugh) . . . I guess I'm kind of like Mike Boddicker in that respect."
And what's next for Pat? "My ambitions are not to become a star. The reason for doing the music and playing the music is not to gain, necessarily, a big audience or to become well known. What I really try to keep in focus is that music is an expression of the core of one's individuality. It express all of the feelings one is capable of feeling. To me, music is the closest you can come to a pure communication. It would be nice to get out and play live because that's the thing I've been missing the most. To have an audience react to what I'm playing is inspiring to me and I hope what I'm playing will inspire them. That's why I got into music in the first place."