We’ve just added a whole new collection of royalty free tunes by Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery, so it seemed like a good time for us to conduct an interview with this rather special musical duo. Through their “Fernwood” music project, Todd & Gayle writes and plays instrumental music 100% by hand – exclusively on instruments made out of wood!
As you can imagine, this gives their music a very “earthly” tone. It has something of the ancient, of the mysterious, of the true, natural and homely about it – that you could probably never reproduce with more modern instruments or electronics.
We are happy to be able to offer 9 brand new tracks by Gayle Ellett & Todd Montgomery (aka Fernwood) on our site this week, so we decided to speak to them about their music and their methods:
Can you tell us a little bit about your musical backgrounds? And how the two of you got together?
(Gayle): I started with piano lessons when I was about 5 years old, and then I learned electric guitar and joined a band when I was 13. For the past 35 years I’ve been playing and composing music for bands and ensembles, TV and film, corporate applications, and other uses. I met Todd a few years ago when we were in a 10-piece improvisational psychedelic band here in Topanga. Todd played sitar, and I played monophonic analog synth. Then the band imploded. But Todd and I remained friends, and awhile ago we started working together, and we formed Fernwood.
(Todd): I began with guitar lessons at age nine learning radio rock tunes of the 70’s. When I got an electric guitar I started performing in a band at school functions around age 12. In High School my focus drifted toward playing psychedelic rock covering songs by Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. My musical direction changed in college when I first came into contact with a mandolin. This began a long journey in which new instruments pulled me along into learning various cultural styles. The mandolin led me to bluegrass, the Irish bouzouki led me to traditional Irish music, and the sitar led me to classical Indian music. I wanted to work more with Gayle when I realized how much he was helping our large improvisational band by playing a supportive role on the synth- gluing all the chaos together. And then I learned that he had already recorded and released 16 or 17 records with another band. (At that point I didn’t even know he was a guitar hero!) I had never met another musician who was able to see so many projects through to the end. We were lucky because we both like to work hard. We both can play lots of instruments. And we enjoy hanging out and creating cool tunes!
How did you get the idea to license your music through Shockwave-Sound.com as stock music?
(Gayle): I’ve been composing traditional World music, and licensing it through Shockwave-Sound.com for many years. So it seemed like a great idea to submit it to Shockwave-Sound and see if it was right for the royalty-free music collection.
(Todd): I didn’t know anything about Shockwave-Sound or any other music libraries until I met Gayle!
The concept of playing only by hand on instruments made out of wood, is an original and interesting one. Are really all the instruments you use on all your recordings entirely made of wood?
(Gayle): Its not really an “original” idea, it’s more of a “tradtional” idea. For me, it is about coming full-circle, from learning on acoustic piano as a kid, then spending decades playing electrified music like Rock, Jazz and Electronic styles, and now finally coming back to our roots, with a huge appreciation of the natural goodness and warm sounds of real acoustic instruments. I believe that using modern technology to help you make better recordings is a great idea. But I think that using technology, such as computers and samplers, to play your music, is a bad idea. And no, not all of the instruments are made entirely out of wood…some have strings made of steel! Just kidding. Basically they are all made out of wood, except the Indian jaltarag which is a set of small clay bowls that are filled with water to tune, and then struck with felt-covered sticks. And there is a small amount of rhodes piano and B3 organ on some of the tunes (but even these have cabinets made out of wood!)
(Todd): My tenor banjo and Gayle’s dilruba also have goat skin, but otherwise everything I play is made of wood. In Fernwood, we are trying to stay out of the way of the instruments. We often let notes and strums ring for a long time in order allow the beautiful tones to shine. It’s a natural sound. Nature is good. This is the main pleasure for me with Fernwood. Listening to how all the various tones merge, meld and harmonize.
Where do you get all these cool instruments, and who made them? Do you actually make some instruments yourselves, or make modifications to them?
(Gayle): I’ve been composing and performing traditional World music for many decades. My brother gave me my Japanese koto thirty years ago. When we formed Fernwood, I knew I’d need a few more instruments to help fully realize our compositions, so I used the internet to help me find luthiers from around the world. My Indian dilruba was made for me by a nice guy in New Delhi, and then shipped to me here. I don’t make any of them, and I only rarely modify them.
(Todd): I had my Irish bouzouki made for me by an excellent maker from Canada named Lawrence Nyberg. My mandolin is an old Martin from 1922. My sitar was made by Hiren Roy who was during his lifetime (or so I hear) the best sitar maker in India. I am presently trying to make my first instrument, which will combine elements of an African Gimbri, banjo, and have sympathetic strings like a sarod.
I notice a lot of location names in your track titles. Are these track titles mostly “random” or are the tracks actually written specifically for that location, i.e. “Helen Island”, “McKenna Beach”, etc?
(Todd): When I make up a new tune it’s often out somewhere either around my house in Malibu or while on a trip. For example, Makena was created when I was at Makena beach in Maui using a Hawaiian tuning on my guitar. Sometimes I feel like the tune came out of how I was feeling while being in these beautiful places. Other times we listen to how a tune sounds when it’s finished and then find a place or image that seems to match. Although, we must admit that a few titles are random.
Do you guys play this stuff live? And if so, how do you manage to cope with all these different instruments on stage, changing instruments all the time? It must be difficult if it’s only the two of you up there on stage?
(Gayle): When we play live, we perform as a 7-piece. I’d be even happier if we could perform as a 10 or 12 piece ensemble. Our first Fernwood release, “Almeria”, was the “#4 album of the year” on John Diliberto’s Echoes Radio, and we did a special performance for his show.
(Todd): Gayle lives in Topanga which is a town full of musicians, and we are lucky because many of our friends are excellent musicians. So, on the rare occasion when we do play live we gratefully get the help of our talented friends.
Can you tell us a little bit about your composition process/method? Is it based a lot on jamming and improvisation?
(Gayle): Not for me. My method is very deliberate. Before I start I usually think about what qualities I want the composition to have, what instruments will play, what key and rhythm I’ll use. And there are things I am trying to avoid in Fernwood, like playing fast solos over everything, or playing in too much of a Pop or Blues style. I try to write only about one half of a composition, so that there is room for Todd to contribute to the composition and arrangements. That way, we can work together to make music that is much better then we could write on our own.
(Todd): One of us will start a tune with a foundational picking or chord pattern, and then we build upon it. The only improvisational aspect is that I don’t know what Gayle is going to add, or how it will change through the recording process. However, our tunes always come out much better than I imagine they will be at the beginning. It’s also really fun to know that whatever part I come up with Gayle is going to add something amazing that I wouldn’t think of myself. The whole of Fernwood is greater than its parts.
What would you say is your most “different” or “unusual” instrument that you have in your arsenal?
(Gayle): My Indian dilruba is a very unusual instrument. It is somewhat like a sitar, but it is bowed like a cello, not plucked. The bulbul tarang is an odd little instrument, somewhat like a weird autoharp. And the jaltarang is also rather unusual. Basically, the Indians make a lot of unusual and interestin instruments!
(Todd): I would say that my sitar is the most unusual instrument that I have only because it’s rare. We can all identify it, but it’s hard to find a sitar player if you need one! In Fernwood, the way our instruments blend it can often sound like we are using a new and unidentifiable instrument, but it really is the result of layering sometimes up to 20 instruments at one time!
Are any of them particularly difficult to play?
(Gayle): The dilruba is, for me, a very difficult instrument to play. All of the rest are fairly easy.
(Todd): The sitar is by far the hardest to play for me due to the practice it takes to bend the string accurately to pitch and to play ornaments that are semi-authentic to the classical Indian style. Not to mention, it’s really hard to sit on the floor for long periods of time with your legs folded under you!
You are both still involved with other musical acts, besides Fernwood?
(Gayle): Yes, I just got back from performing in France with my progressive rock group Djam Karet where I played organ and synths. I also play electric guitar in a blues band, piano in an improvised jazz ensemble, Greek bouzouki in a Americana bluegrass band, and electric guitar & keyboards in an Electronic synth band.
(Todd): Other than Fernwood, I am often recording and arranging traditional Irish music in new ways.
What is your best selling track through Shockwave-Sound.com? Or do you even keep track of that kind of stuff?
(Gayle): I don’t follow it too closely. But I also think that, oddly, it changes over time.
(Todd): I don’t know, but I probably should pay more attention to that!
And with that, we thank this authentically acoustic musical duo for their time and recommend you all have a listen to some of their tunes! The best selling tracks here at Shockwave-Sound.com are probably McKenna Beach and Crane, whilst their 9 brand new tracks they have just added to our catalog are:
Jeremy Sherman was one of the first composers who joined up with the Shockwave-Sound.com team back in 2001 or so. We immediately took to his music because it was so acoustic, so natural, so real. In the world of online stock music, there is a lot of electronic and loop based music, but Jeremy’s music was all guitars, all played by hand – and it made his music stand out.
Today, many years later, we have a lot of acoustic and played-by-hand music in our catalogue, but Jeremy’s tunes still have that special sound. He can do Americana, folk, country, blues, retro rock, jazz and more. He is completely self-taught on guitar and other stringed instruments, and he lives near Brighton on the south coast of England.
Jeremy Sherman is a “signed-on” composer here at Shockwave-Sound.com, which means that his tracks are always exclusive to Shockwave-Sound.com for a minimum period of one year, before they are made available on any other sites.
This week we’ve had the pleasure of adding 19 new tracks by Jeremy Sherman to our catalogue, and we thought it would be a good idea to conduct an interview with Jeremy for the benefit of our visitors — so we gave him a call…:
You’ve been a musician for a while. What made you decide to start composing for library music / stock music?
I had been writing material for years but I realised that I was hopeless at lyrics and because I like so many different types of music the material was too diverse. So, library music seemed the ideal solution… no lyrics and I could do whatever style I liked.
Your music has a very earthly, acoustic tone, heavily based on stringed instruments. Which ones are your favourites among these instruments?
An acoustic guitar with a new set of strings is hard to beat but my favourite stringed instrument is the pedal steel or the non-pedal steel guitar. I love the harmony of chords and a lot of steel playing is just that.
How many different stringed instruments have you got? Any of them particularly interesting or unique sounding?
2 Fender Strats (one for slide), Fender Tele, Ibanez AR300, pedal steel, 2 acoustics (one for slide), dobro, classical guitar, 5 String banjo, mandolin and an ESP bass.
Do you ever compose music “to order”, i.e. get hired by a company to produce bespoke music especially for their project?
Apart from a few requests for a particular style to fill a niche in a library I have’nt had any commissions yet.
Would you take a commission for bespoke music composition, if it was offered to you?
Certainly… I think it would be good sometimes to see If I could successfully write to a client’s brief and deadline.
Can you tell us, in short terms, a little bit about your recording setup and techniques?
I use Sonar Studio 7 on a PC with another slave PC handling the VST’s – BFD Drums & Percussion, Native Instruments Classic Keyboard bundle & Sample Modelling’s Trumpet and Mr Sax. I use an M-Audio Pro 88 controller keyboard and my trusty old Korg X3 synth. Microphone wise I use a Rode K2 tube mic and an Audio Technica AT4033. The various electric guitars and pedal steel go through a Line 6 Pod. Everything goes to Sonar via a Yamaha 01v96 VCM mixer and 24 Channels of ADAT and comes back to be mixed on the Yamaha. I know one can mix on the PC but being old school I wanted to have the hands on feeling of real faders rather than mix with a mouse. It’s all monitored on a pair of Alesis MK II active speakers.
As far as techniques go I know there’s a hell of a lot of features on Sonar and the Yamaha that I haven’t used. Basically I just treat it like an old tape recorder with the added benefits of cut and paste and settings memory. I usually start with an idea on guitar or keyboard and record a guide track then add drums which I play in real time with seperate passes for kick , hi hat and then snare and toms. I never use grooves or patterns as doing it in real time accidents/mistakes happen on fills etc that turn out be great, and besides I haven’t the patience to write or program in step time. Given the type of stuff I do a fairly loose, haphazard approach to the drums is probably best.
Then it’s just a case of bass and other overdubs and sometimes going back and changing the feel on the drums as the track progresses.
Do you ever experiment with mixing down different versions of your tracks, say, a “bass and guitar only” version or “version with banjo instead of guitar”, something like that?
Occassionally. I should do it more to perhaps give tracks a different slant or take them off in a different direction to that originally intended but I have a tendency to impatience so as soon as the main mix is done I’m raring to go on the next composition. I should slow down a bit and make sure I’ve got as much out of a track as I can.
How many tracks have you composed in your lifetime?
Around 400, I guess
Listening to your music, I’ve always felt that your music has something quintessentially American to it – even though you’re in fact British yourself. It kind of makes me think about when the British director Sam Mendes directed “American Beauty” to such critic and public acclaim. Any idea where this comes from? Why the “All-American” sound from a British composer such as yourself?
When I started off I was listening to all the UK bands around at that time (and here I’m showing my age!). Cream, Led Zeppelin, Free etc. But then I heard the brilliant Steely Dan and that pointed me across the Atlantic. Whilst they were mostly sophisticated “pop jazz” they sometimes used pedal steel and the sound of that took me off in search off other bands who used it and that lead me into Western Swing & Country which lead onto Bluegrass, Appalachian, Cajun etc. Taking in the modern exponents on the way such as Ry Cooder and the Band. I love the complexities of jazz but equally I love the raw simplicity of the American “roots” music. I do like the UK’s and Ireland’s own roots music but it is mostly set tunes whereas the American music to me is looser and more open to improvisation.
Speaking about Ireland – I really love your Irish track “Lanagan’s Ball”, with Irish flute. I assume you got a chance to work with a flute player on that occasion, and did you ever consider doing more of that Irish, Celtic stuff? We’d love to feature some more of that in our catalogue.
Yes… we have intended to do more but never got around to it, but we shall put that right and get some more going. We do gigs together so we know plenty of tunes.
Apart from the obvious – royalty payments from Shockwave-Sound.com – what would you say that composing stock music for Shockwave-Sound.com has meant for you?
Having it accepted and appreciated in the first place was great… One is never sure at the start whether it’s good enough. And then to see it sell and get used all over the world , especially if it’s been on TV, is like a shot in the arm… a confidence booster.
Have you ever stumbled across your music playing in a TV program, unexpectedly?
Yes ..quite a few times and it’s a real buzz. It always takes a few seconds to sink in, I’ll think I know that from somewhere… oh yes, it’s one of mine.
If you had to pick only two tracks that you’ve composed for Shockwave-Sound.com that are your two favorites… which two tracks would that be?
Difficult question but I think it would have to be Lonesome Cowboy and Mayfly. both have that simple earthiness but coupled with wistful melodies
I’ve heard that you’re about to get married. Congratulations! Is she a fan of your music? Does she play any instruments herself?
Thank you… yes she is very encouraging but she doesn’t play herself which perhaps is just as well as she’d probably be telling me how to play something or do I need that much boost at 500 hz! (Laughing)
What are your plans for the future, with regards to your music? Just keep on producing more quality stuff and enjoying the ride?
Yep, just keep on going I reckon. I love recording… though having written so many tracks and delved into lots of styles it is sometimes difficult to come up with something new and not to go back one self too much, but if I am struggling I’ll usually leave it alone for a week and then when I pick up the guitar or sit at the keyboard something usually comes out. My ultimate hope is that the income from music allows me to give up the day job. We have to wait and see, but even if it doesn’t it is still so satisfying and allows me to buy nice equipment etc.
Ah yes, equipment shopping is nice, and can be very inspiring for making new tracks, too. What nice equipment is next on your shopping list?
From a practical viewpoint, a 12 string guitar and some lesser known instruments such as Bajo Sexto, Balalaika, Mandola, to add more colours to the pallette and open up new avenues of composition. On the luxury side, I have hankering for a Neumann mic and I can’t seem to get a cherry red Gibson 335 out of my mind!
And that’s where we left it off. We hope you’ll enjoy Jeremy’s music here on Shockwave-Sound.com. For your reference, here are Jeremy’s 5 most frequently licensed tracks from our stock music catalog:
We hope you enjoyed this special artist feature here on our blog. If you did, let us know. We’ll probably continue with more artist special features in the future.
Dan Gautreau is one of the most popular artists here at Shockwave-Sound.com. His crisp, open sound combined with touching melodies and catchy hooks make some of his tracks extremely suitable for use in film, tv, web, presentations and other media.
This week we have just added 11 new tracks of his to our catalog, so we thought it was a good time to showcase his tracks and point out some of the best of Dan Gautreau.
Dan has been with Shockwave-Sound.com for about 3 years since back in 2006 and we currently have 133 of his tracks in our catalog. He spends half his time writing library music for us, and the other half of the time writing, producing and recording pop, rock and R&B music with established pop artists in the UK and other countries. Among other things, Dan co-wrote a number 1 hit in Italy, for the winner of the Italian “Pop Idol”.
Dan is a Shockwave-Sound “Signed-on” composer, which means that his music is always exclusive to Shockwave-Sound.com for minimum 1 year before it can be found on any other websites.
Dan’s 5 best-selling royalty free music tracks:
This week we have added the following 11 new tracks by Dan:
Dan’s full name is Daniel Alan Gautreau (PRS) and he is published by Lynne Publishing (PRS) – the company that owns www.Shockwave-Sound.com
We love Dan’s music here and we’re looking forward to bringing you more of his music in the future.