The Guitar Hero series of games (for those too young to remember lo those many aeons ago) involved hitting buttons on a plastic guitar in time to music and matching the colors on the screen. If you biffed it, the guitar would cut out while the other instruments continued. This meant that if the makers of the game couldn’t get ahold of the original recordings and stems, then they’d have to make new, dead on versions of the original tunes. To do that, they called on one man – Marcus Henderson.
He painstakingly recreated every note from each and every guitar part on every song, with the same inflection and expression as the original, for hundreds of songs across many games. Now he’s decided to try something new, something original. So he’s recorded a solo album Embers, using his signature Epiphone Apparition guitar, and he sounds like he’s ready for the big leagues. He is releasing the first six tracks, one at a time, eight weeks apart, which will ultimately culminate with the full album release and bonus tracks in the Summer of 2015.
Gear Gods: How did you get involved with Guitar Hero?
Marcus Henderson: I had known a friend of one of the engineers at Wavegroup Sound, the Oscar nominated studio responsible for the music behind some of the biggest music games ever created. I was introduced to him at a party and was asked if I was open to possibly coming in sometime to track some metal guitar for them on a variety of applications. I came in, signed the nondisclosure agreement and was tasked with pounding out “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth as my first tune for an E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) build of a game called Guitar Hero. After that they kept giving me harder and harder songs until I somehow ended up doing 20 of the 30 tracks for the first game!
How did that experience help you improve as a guitar player?
For me personally and professionally it was by leaps and bounds. It was almost like a hyper-challenging six month video game recording GIT of sorts. No charts were ever given to me to learn so I’d pick things apart off of an MP3. My critical listening skills improved as well and that’s a serious kung-fu that always stays with you, good or bad. Mostly good because I can analyze music at a seemingly molecular level, but also bad because it ruins the beauty of organic construct of music if you’re not careful.
What did you look towards as inspiration while writing “Embers” and what message do you want the song to portray?
My son Orion was my biggest inspiration on “Embers” for sure. As a solo artist, I was going down this road where, for better or worse, I didn’t have a collaborative partner and I really didn’t have anybody else to rely on to bounce ideas off of. I would just gauge the response of the people around me to see how anyone would react to my music, and every time I put on “Embers” my son’s face would light up and he’d start dancing like crazy. I suppose the message behind “Embers” is to stay positive, keep your head up and believe that better things are coming, even when you don’t have any tangible evidence to support it. I know it sounds corny or cliché but you honestly have to believe in the idea that things will improve no matter how crappy it may seem in the immediate. Believe me, we’ve all been there.
What kind of gear did you use on the recording of “Embers”?
The “Embers” sessions were embarrassingly simple, but complex in the way I tracked and developed the tones. For guitars, I used an Epiphone Apparition with Dean Markley Signature Series Nickel Steel 9-46 strings, into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, into my Macbook Pro. I have a larger external monitor for the sessions and mix windows and I use Logic for everything. The piano is pounded out by my unskilled hands using an M-Audio Keystation 49E and I use Amplitube 3 for all of my guitar and bass sounds. I have a bunch of great guitar equipment that takes 10 minutes to set-up, annoys the neighbors and sucks to record at home. I’ve found a bunch of warm sounding impulses that make mic’ing a hard argument to win in these circumstances, so I go with what sounds good. For you stat geeks, (like me) I used 67 tracks in Pro Tools to mix, and there is approximately 590 single guitar notes on “Embers”.
What advice do you have for musicians who are picking up a guitar for the first time?
Having a good attitude is everything. Fearlessly learn from those who know how, and give respect to those who have been where you want to go.