It has been said that a musician is only as good as his producer. Truer words would be hard to find. Jimmy Wilgus is without question one of only a handful of producers with the musical skills and directorial sensibility to succeed with a project of this kind and magnitude. Theatre of the Mind is, by design, stylistically eclectic. The variety of genres it employs (classical, rock, pop, spoken word, electronica, folk and jazz) are fundamental to character development and storytelling. How Jimmy works so comfortably with such a wide variety of styles and sounds is beyond me.
Throughout the long and arduous recording process Jimmy’s unswerving belief in the project kept me going, and his musical brilliance inspired every session. I remember exactly what Jimmy said to me after our very first session five years ago. I had just finished auditioning the music and explaining the concept to him. Jimmy looked at me with genuine excitement in his eyes and said, “That’s ambitious. But don’t worry, it’s cake.” Throughout the recording process, a thousand ideas came from Jimmy, and he made an equal number of make-or-break decisions. He was masterful in directing the thirty players who performed on the recording, and his own performance as Charlie Childs, the lead character, was perfect. Sonic Boom was entirely Jimmy’s composition. I had written a very simple, dissonant riff and handed it to Jimmy with the most ambiguous instruction. “Jimmy”, I said, “here is what I’m thinking. We need an instrumental piece to tell the story of the gun being born, and like all births it is a struggle.” The rest is all Jimmy. The opera’s finale is Jimmy’s composition as well. He understood exactly what was needed, and he delivered a jaw dropping orchestral crescendo that dissolves into a heartbreaking reprise of The First Kiss. I could go on and on. Jimmy, I have said thank you a thousand times. Let me say it once more. Thank you. I would not have done this without you as a creative partner.
The nature of this project made the mastering stage hugely important and equally challenging. Rich Haddad, who also played bass guitar for all of Act II, added more polish to the project than I could have ever asked for. Rich worked tirelessly; he listened critically to the thousands of tracks we had recorded, fine-tuned them, and insured that there was a sonic “oneness” to the entire piece. No small feat. Rich, thank you for being such a pleasure to work with. You are an amazing listener, and I mean as both musician and human being. You were the fresh set of ears Jimmy and I needed just when we needed them most.
I apologize if this is rapidly becoming (or has already become) more tedious than an Academy Award acceptance speech, but there are a few additional thanks I must convey. Amy Ward, for bringing Cindy to life with one amazing vocal performance after another. Amy you are the heart of the opera. Zak Rizvi, for your masterful engineering during the initial recording sessions, your virtuosity on guitar, your rock-solid bass playing, and that incredible arrangement of Tyranny of Technology. Leo McClusky, for your tasty lead guitar work and vocal performance on Freedom, and the countless number of hours you spent at the Den making sure Jimmy and I didn’t lose our minds, or screw up the recording. Corey Pensa, for the inspired guitar playing in Act II. Thad Ward, for your otherworldly vocal performance as the Dealer. My brother Joshua Rich, for playing the perfect Stay At Home Dad, and for always being there for me. Maria Brock for her perfectly chilling performance as Maggie. Maria I must say this part had me a bit worried - that was until you stepped up to the microphone. Hilary Broas for her sultry performance as the Regular Girl. Hilary your voice is like butter. John Fellas, the Narrator, for using those pious pipes to lead us through the story. John, you stepped in at the last minute and took the part (along with the opera) to a new level. Mary Hanan, for her brilliantly portrayal of Marla, and also to Mary’s husband Eric, who recorded his wife and John Fellas in his home studio. Dave Tutin, the original Narrator, for inspiring us early on - helping Jimmy and I visualize what the opera could become. The band members from The Fakers and Street hassle, for the appropriately inebriated gang vocals in Slacker and Thank God It’s Tuesday. Chris Grant, for directing the filmic elements for the stage presentation. Andrew Tedesco, for directing the artwork and creating Theatre of the Mind’s enduring visual identity. And last, but certainly not least, Indiana and Lucas Rich, for their roles as child Cindy and Charlie. Your dialogue touches everyone lucky enough to hear it, and you turned Before It’s Too Late into a very special song.
Recording Theatre of the Mind was an immense undertaking, and at times a logistical nightmare. During many of the sessions it felt more like we were directing an independent film than producing a CD. Fortunately for the opera, Jimmy Wilgus, among his many talents, possesses a multi-track recording device instead of the normal human brain, and he can hear and edit arrangements in his head with beguiling clarity and accuracy. Jimmy was able to direct intricate performances before the songs were remotely recognizable, and he recorded complex duets between cast members who never spent a minute together in the studio. I will never forget Amy Ward’s reaction the first time she heard the final mix of The First Kiss: “I have no idea how he (Jimmy) took what I sang and turned it into something so amazing.”
Recording Theatre of the Mind was an iterative process, and we used a lot of tracks - upwards of sixty per song. With twenty-five songs in the opera, we recorded almost fifteen hundred tracks in total. Many of these tracks were organized into something I called “the toolbox.” The toolbox was a simple folder into which we organized and stored the many improvisational riffs, samples and special effects that emerged from each session. Once the basics tracks of a song were in place (drum loops, piano, rhythm guitar, scratch vocals), we went to the toolbox for enhancing elements. The toolbox offered two significant advantages: first, it kept us organized – providing a central repository so good ideas didn’t get lost over time; and second, reusing “tools” helped to tie songs together; ensuring a more singular sonic palate and cohesive whole.
Technical strategies aside, the performances are what drive Theatre of the Mind. New Jersey is an incredible talent pool, and I was fortunate enough to tap into it. Theatre of the Mind is a story about chance, and improvisation is essential to its musical interpretation. I can’t think of a single performer who didn’t arrived at to the studio with an open mind; ready, willing and able to experiment and push their own boundaries. And so, to everyone who played a part (large or small) in Chris Rich’s Theatre of the Mind, I raise my glass. Here’s to you cast.