/ Articles / Blog
Hello again, Goo Goo Dolls fans (and anyone else reading)! This is Richie English- composer and pianist. I first became affiliated with AbsoluteGoo when I was blessed to work alongside the Goo Goo Dolls during the “Magnetic” sessions. I composed the string orchestration and played piano for Robby Takac’s song “Happiest of Days.” I posted a “behind-the-scenes” description about the making of that track, and I’m so grateful for the feedback that post received, and the opportunity to share that story with so many people; it completely changed my approach to so many facets of my work, and thanks to Robby, I was introduced to the rest of the Goo Goo Dolls and their collaborators. The story I’d like to share with you now is an extension of that experience- the “experience” I’m referring to is having my expectations once again turned completely upside down. In the best ways possible…

Since this project marks the first time I’ve worked with a veritable “supergroup” of artists, I’ll do my best not to go overboard in describing how I came to know each person, which is difficult because there is so much to say about each of them, not to mention the song itself and the project’s purpose. The best way to keep this focused is probably to start at the beginning of my involvement-

In mid-August, I got an email from Armand Petri- producer/pre-producer of five Goo Goo Dolls albums (from Jed to Dizzy Up the Girl), producer/engineer of several 10,000 Maniacs’ albums, as well as numerous Sixpence None the Richer albums. To cite anywhere near a comprehensive list would make this into a dissertation! I had been working with Armand on a variety of ongoing projects, and the email he sent ambitiously outlined the specifics of working on a new release of a song called “Not So Different,” written by singer/songwriter Cassandra Kubinski.

The song was brilliantly written to address autism, and Armand immediately saw an opportunity to create a new version of the track and raise awareness and support of all kinds for autism research and services. The roster of artists Armand recruited for this track? Cassandra Kubinski- the composer/singer herself; Mary Ramsey- lead singer/violist/violinist/songwriter of 10,000 Maniacs; John Rzeznik- lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of Goo Goo Dolls. I met with Armand, and I was brought on-board to orchestrate the track and play piano- “Happiest of Days” déjà vu, in so many ways…

Armand and I work together often, so it was inevitable that I met Mary Ramsey quickly. I cannot say enough about Mary “The Maestro”- we became fast friends and she has often tracked and performed my scores at Armand’s studio as well as GCR Audio- she tracked viola for an overture I composed for an amazing new band, “The Nursery.” In March- in four hours- she tracked all violin and viola parts (Katie Weissman-cellist for “Happiest of Days,” performed as well) for five orchestrations I wrote for the newly-released EP (titled “ForE-V-E-R”) by an extraordinary band I’m working with- “Nikki’s Wives.” I mention these two bands because I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t tell you about how incredible they are, and because in working so extensively in such short time with Mary Ramsey, it became apparent that there isn’t a limit I’ve found yet to what she is capable of as a singer, instrumentalist, and musician.

Cassandra Kubinski is a powerful soprano- absolutely classic range. John Rzeznik is a classic baritone, and Mary Ramsey is an “alto” (I’m not sure about her, really, because I’ve worked more extensively with her and I’ve seen her cover all ranges). The original “Not So Different” is in the key of C-major, which suits Cassandra’s soaring soprano flawlessly. With a baritone and “alto” trading off lead vocals and harmonies verse by verse, that key…well…it would have been “unfair”...perhaps a more accurate term is “cruel” and/or “sadistic” for the other ranges.

I started to sweat a bit at this point: I had to transpose the song into a key that worked perfectly for all three singers- I kept hearing “Keep the Car Running” and “Notbroken” in my mind’s ear (along with several others) and determined that John could sing it in A-major with likely few or no problems whatsoever. I assumed that would be perfect for everyone and made the trek to Armand’s studio on a Sunday morning to track the piano.

This is the point where I need to clearly point out how much I admire Armand Petri, and how much of an impact he’s had on my life- Armand was uncompromising and would not allow me flashiness of any sort (very much like Robby- who was patched into my headphones while I was tracking “Happiest of Days”- who would suddenly burst out with “RICHIE! Keep. Your. Hands. RIGHT. THERE, man. DO NOT MOVE THEM!”). Because I’ve been performing as a concert pianist since I was very young, it’s built into me to “resolve my 7ths” and various other classically-based stylistic hallmarks, but Robby taught me how to play rock’n’roll- and I mean that. It’s one thing to simply hear “less is more.” It’s another thing to hear my piano playing NOT interfere with my string orchestration (or most importantly, Robby’s song!). Armand, during this Sunday session, reinforced Robby’s lesson.

The song Cassandra has written is one of the most difficult structures a composer could operate in. A vast amount of songs determine their structure by chord patterns changing from section to section (i.e., a verse has a set of chords and its own melodic pattern- the chorus has its own chords/melodic pattern, related to the verse perhaps, but still distinct enough to separate it from the verse). Cassandra wrote “Not So Different” with a relentless four-chord pattern that repeats itself (with very few deviations) from verse I, to chorus I, to verse II, chorus II, etc. Cassandra relies entirely on melodic shape, the song’s instrumental/performance arrangement, and constant attention to dramatic pace. Pulling off a song written in this structure is only possible if the writer is of truly high-order craftsmanship. Otherwise it’s monotony. And this song, I assure you, is anything but monotonous…

I can see why Armand and the Goo Goo Dolls made so much great music together- everything for them exists for the sake of the song. It is one thing to mime those words (as I often have), but it is quite another to track music with that mindset. I gritted my teeth and it was so frustrating, but with Armand at the console (and hearing him echo Robby’s words to me at GCR Audio during the Magnetic sessions), I was able to pull off a sparse piano track.

The key- A-major- didn’t work out. It was (understandably and 100% rightly) decided that B-flat would be the winning key, so my brilliant friend and colleague Anthony Kosobuki (a protégé of Armand’s as well) engineered the new piano session while I was half-conscious from bronchitis. He’ll downplay his role if asked, but he captured such a warm piano sound, and the previous Sunday’s session was a dress-rehearsal for tracking what Armand (as well as the singers) said was a really great piano part. I have to thank Anthony for his engineering work on that- just completely inspiring.

John tracked his vocals at GCR Audio the day before Music is Art- the Goo Goo Dolls headlined the event this year, it was pouring rain, and as always, they shook the stage that Saturday night. Mary went in right after John finished, and tracked her vocals. Cassandra’s vocals were done at Fredonia, I believe; at this point I was barely-conscious from the bronchitis and I stayed home and hibernated ‘til the promotional clip on YouTube that we all shot at Fredonia (September 13th). I’m still crafting my strings very carefully for this, and the track isn’t done just yet-

Forgive me if this was somewhat of a ramble; the major contributing factor is that the purpose of this project has a tremendous personal resonance for me. I am continuously inspired and touched by the amount of charitable things I see done by the artists the Lord has blessed me to work alongside; just a constant outpouring of help, never a scowl or complaints- just a great time with great people given great talents. I get choked up when I think about this particular project for a variety of reasons, but the Lord has given me an opportunity to dedicate my contributions on this wonderful song to my dear nephew, Tony, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Tony: I love you…

Thank you to whoever took the time to read this- unlike “Happiest of Days,” this track is still in-the-making, so I’ll keep whoever is interested in knowing more about this up-to-date!

God bless you all-

_Richie English_
Previous article
20th Anniversary of A Boy Named Goo & New Year of Inner Machine!
Next article
Unite To Face Addiction