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MFTJ: Neoclassical prog experiments from Mike Keneally and Scott Schorr

The whole project was a long distance collaboration

MFTJ: “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”
MFTJ: “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”

“A lot of popular music in the last couple decades has been really vapid,” says Scott Schorr, one half of prog-rock duo MFTJ with former Frank Zappa/Joe Satriani guitarist Mike Keneally. “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”

The pair has crafted an album of adventurous neoclassical prog experiments akin to those pioneered by King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, two acts who share a bassist and Stick player in Tony Levin. “I was introduced to Mike’s work by Tony Levin during the recording of the Levin Torn White album back in 2011. I had heard rumblings of Mike prior to Tony turning me on to him, but I wasn’t familiar with his work. I reached out to Mike a few years after that, and we met up during a Satriani tour. We really hit it off personally, and I’ve been getting into his solo albums over the past few years.”

Schorr, who also appeared on Levin’s Stick Man album, found a way to get the busy bass star onto the Middle Eastern-influenced MFTJ song “Johnson Figleaf.” “Tony’s bass part is actually leftover from the Levin Torn White record. It never made it onto LTW, but I loved it so much that I kept it in the vault for all these years. We recorded Tony in New Zealand… for MFTJ, I added a drum beat to Tony’s part, and that was the genesis of the track.”

With Keneally in San Diego and Schorr in Australia, the whole project was a long distance collaboration. “I had all the drum parts and some bass lines and piano parts written. I sent them to Mike, and he would play a bunch of freestyle guitar parts, bass, piano, and keyboards, whatever he felt the song needed. I would then go through his tracks and pick what I found were the most exciting parts, and move them around wherever I thought they fit. Mike gave us so many incredible parts to select from, it was like a goldmine. I would then loop them in different sections if needed. I then sent them back to Mike, and he did overdubs.”

Despite the distance between collaborators, he says the album still has a San Diego-centric sound. “San Diego is probably my favorite city in America. It’s a place with so many interesting layers artistically and culturally, while at the same time being laid back and accessible. I hear a lot of that in Mike’s writing.” And, much like the local music scene, “It encapsulates a bunch of different genres, [with] rock, hard rock, prog, and hip-hop beats.”

Their most obvious sonic touchstone, however, remains King Crimson. “Every progressive band owes its existence in some way to Crimson. I mean, what prog act has reinvented itself more times than Crimson? Every lineup they’ve had is consistent with the incredible musicians, interesting songwriting, and mind-blowing live shows.”

In an age where non-musicians earn the bulk of record sales, what keeps virtuoso musicians from just joining the next Milli Vanilli? “Because it’s in their souls, it’s what they do. They don’t know how to be untalented. These types of artists and musicians have a different DNA than Milli Vanilli.”

He adds, “Do I dare say that these types of musicians and Milli Vanilli are not even in the same species? Yes, I’ll say it. There you go.”

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MFTJ: “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”
MFTJ: “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”

“A lot of popular music in the last couple decades has been really vapid,” says Scott Schorr, one half of prog-rock duo MFTJ with former Frank Zappa/Joe Satriani guitarist Mike Keneally. “I think people are craving music that has more authenticity and artistry.”

The pair has crafted an album of adventurous neoclassical prog experiments akin to those pioneered by King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, two acts who share a bassist and Stick player in Tony Levin. “I was introduced to Mike’s work by Tony Levin during the recording of the Levin Torn White album back in 2011. I had heard rumblings of Mike prior to Tony turning me on to him, but I wasn’t familiar with his work. I reached out to Mike a few years after that, and we met up during a Satriani tour. We really hit it off personally, and I’ve been getting into his solo albums over the past few years.”

Schorr, who also appeared on Levin’s Stick Man album, found a way to get the busy bass star onto the Middle Eastern-influenced MFTJ song “Johnson Figleaf.” “Tony’s bass part is actually leftover from the Levin Torn White record. It never made it onto LTW, but I loved it so much that I kept it in the vault for all these years. We recorded Tony in New Zealand… for MFTJ, I added a drum beat to Tony’s part, and that was the genesis of the track.”

With Keneally in San Diego and Schorr in Australia, the whole project was a long distance collaboration. “I had all the drum parts and some bass lines and piano parts written. I sent them to Mike, and he would play a bunch of freestyle guitar parts, bass, piano, and keyboards, whatever he felt the song needed. I would then go through his tracks and pick what I found were the most exciting parts, and move them around wherever I thought they fit. Mike gave us so many incredible parts to select from, it was like a goldmine. I would then loop them in different sections if needed. I then sent them back to Mike, and he did overdubs.”

Despite the distance between collaborators, he says the album still has a San Diego-centric sound. “San Diego is probably my favorite city in America. It’s a place with so many interesting layers artistically and culturally, while at the same time being laid back and accessible. I hear a lot of that in Mike’s writing.” And, much like the local music scene, “It encapsulates a bunch of different genres, [with] rock, hard rock, prog, and hip-hop beats.”

Their most obvious sonic touchstone, however, remains King Crimson. “Every progressive band owes its existence in some way to Crimson. I mean, what prog act has reinvented itself more times than Crimson? Every lineup they’ve had is consistent with the incredible musicians, interesting songwriting, and mind-blowing live shows.”

In an age where non-musicians earn the bulk of record sales, what keeps virtuoso musicians from just joining the next Milli Vanilli? “Because it’s in their souls, it’s what they do. They don’t know how to be untalented. These types of artists and musicians have a different DNA than Milli Vanilli.”

He adds, “Do I dare say that these types of musicians and Milli Vanilli are not even in the same species? Yes, I’ll say it. There you go.”

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