SYMPHINITY isn’t just any, old rock n’ roll project. No, this is so much more. It’s an extravaganza of guitar perfection, classical music and cinema soundtrack. If you were looking for three chords and a bass, you’ve come to the wrong place! The brains behind SYMPHINITY lay in the head of Benny Goodman, who reached out to his twin brother and collaborator Brian to assist him in creating an ambitious musical venture like no other. Through much searching for the right collaborators and many connections made, SYMPHINITY was born, with a big assist going to All That Remains guitarist Oli Herbert who helped in arranging the featured set of collaborators which you hear on the self-titled SYMPHINITY album.
This roster includes Herbert himself, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Sons of Apollo, Guns N’ Roses), Jason Costa, Ethan Brosh, Satchel (Steel Panther), Angel Vivaldi, Conrad Simon, and Matthew LaPierre. With such a talented group assembled, we felt the need to reach out to Benny to learn more about SYMPHINITY, the self-titled new album, the influence of film scores, and working with some of the industry’s best.
Your new guitar-heavy instrumental project, SYMPHINITY has been described as one-part classical composition, one-part guitar virtuosity, and one-part cinematic drama. How would you personally describe the project in your own words?
Benny Goodman: It is the music I have always wanted to hear. That’s why I made it in the first place. I always loved good cinematic scores, but I also listened to Cacophony and Dream Theater. Add years of piano lessons and music production and you start to want to do your own thing. There is nothing marketable about an instrumental, shred, neo-classical band. Other than video games and movies, which is all knowing the right people, you don’t make music like SYMPHINITY to be commercially successful. So, it’s always been a proverbial “passion project.” It is literally me, geeking out in my own studio with my own friends saying, “wouldn’t this be sick” and then obsessing over scenarios and attempting to actualize them…for years.
Watch the recently-released music video for “Singularity” off the record SYMPHINITY. The song features guitar solos from Kerry Kereliuk, Bumblefoot, Oli Herbert, and Ethan Brosh:
Now the idea for SYMPHINITY actually came about years ago over a simple, heated debate of who the single best guitarist is in the world today. There can be many different things that make a guitarist great, whether it be their technical abilities, being influential to others, their ability to write and compose and so on. What parameters were you working with in terms of “best guitarist?”
Goodman: You know, saying something is the “best” is such a closed-minded thing to do because it is just an opinion, right? I’m from Boston and we are always saying this pizza is the best or this song is the best, well, we are just competitive natured in general. So, when I asked people that question I didn’t have exact parameters in mind because I wanted to see how each person interpreted what “the best” was for them. For some people, it was clearly speed or certain types of technique. Others it may be feel or just the “tastiness” in their note choice.
For me, after spending a long time working on this, I have found a new respect for composers versus just technicians. Some people can play literally anything you program for them, but for me, the guys who actually hear and compose the cool ideas are harder to find than the crazy beasts who oftentimes execute them. That said, a lot of the players on this record are a total mashup of different strengths, styles, and technique. I wanted that. No one wants to hear the same dude just sweep the floor for an entire record, or at least I don’t. I like the fact that you can go from some players who are super technical to others who are more feel based and everything in between. I love when people want to argue with me, it’s the only way you learn about anything new.
Kelly Kereliuk is a guitar instructor in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and a guitarist for several bands who led you to fellow Canadian guitarist Conrad Simon who Kelly described as being so good he was from space. What blew you away about Conrad specifically?
Goodman: Well… you’re just going to have to LISTEN to him. YouTube that dude. I’m not saying he’s the best in terms of anything other than that he is compositionally incredible and computer-level precise. We had questioned his existence as a mortal because when you solo his solos in a mix they are LITERALLY perfect. Apparently, he is also a very fastidious engineer, as well, because when he sends in his ideas it’s like he is trying to get extra points.
If you’re not into players who do insanely fast runs or really weird stuff, Conrad is by NO means the best for YOU, but as far as accuracy, speed, and just coming up with left-field stuff, Conrad seems to be made of the craziness only found in outer space. I have slowed his stuff down to realize he sometimes subdivides time signatures to add extra notes. Like, who does that? I certainly don’t but I’m glad I know Conrad because he NEVER ceases to fry my brain.
An older video of Conrad Simon shredding like hell at Fundy Studios in Fredericton, NB:
All anyone would have to do is listen to some of your music to hear the influence that film scores have played. What are your some of your all-time favorite film scores?
Goodman: The two guys that really stick out for me and are pretty much the soundtracks to my childhood are Danny Elfman and John Williams. Hans Zimmer is another really cool composer, but for me, Williams and Elfman take the cake. Elfman wrote such weird stuff. Anytime I pass a piano and play something evil on the lower octave I think of Elfman, namely Beetlejuice. Just weird, creepy, and cool.
Tales From The Crypt is pretty much just the minor version of the Simpsons theme and they both have so much craziness going on. Williams just wrote epic themes you can associate with some of the biggest characters in cinema. He created insane battle scenes and super drama with an orchestra. The Star Wars soundtrack was the first score I ever bought.
Was there ever an idea to find a vocalist for SYMPHINITY and turn it into a more conventional band or was an expansive instrumental project always what you were going for?
Goodman: Vocals are my least favorite thing to record. I say that as a guy who has been a lead singer and a vocalist forever. I did not want to write conventional music where it’s verse, chorus, verse, bridge. I wanted to just let things flow and go on a journey, whether it was linear or with recurring themes, vocals had no influence. Scott, one of my mentors and the guy who has helped take this to the next level, always asks me if I can add vocals. He loves Paul Simon and The Beatles so the idea that there wouldn’t be lyrics, nevertheless vocals is crazy to him, so he will call me at 2 am asking “but what if we did a version with a chorus?”
No! That defeats the point. Will I ever have vocals? If Rob Halford or Geoff Tate or someone were to say they’d be down I think I’d be a friggin’ idiot to say no, but as of now we play shred cinema music! I am always open to growing and collaborating with new people, so if a vocalist inspired me I would be open, but that’s down the road. Right now, we are working on the second half of these tunes and I’ve decided we are going to record a choir doing “ahhhs” and maybe chants. That’s about as vocal as I plan on getting.
The self-titled SYMPHINITY album is due out later this summer.
The SYMPHINITY album contains a staggering number of big-name guitarists. From All That Remains’ Oli Herbert to Angel Vivaldi to Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, there are so many to mention. How were you so successful in garnering so many contributions from other excellent guitarists out there?
Goodman: Man, I’d like to think it’s my charm? Just kidding, I have to give a lot of credit to Oli and for this thing just snowballing in general. It started with a good song that my brother Brian and I composed. That was legit enough to keep Kelly and Conrad interested. When we finished that tune, Conrad had programmed these brutal drums on the computer, and I was like… “who in that (world) is gonna play this?”
Then I remembered I’m friends with Jason Costa from All That Remains and anyone that knows Jason knows that he is one of the most incredible drummers on the planet. He plays insane blast beats and also rocks a traditional grip which you almost never see in metal. That said, I begged Jason one cold winter night, as the story goes, to come to my car and listen to a mix of what Conrad, Kelly, Brian and I had done. Jason is not one to collaborate. He’s more the guy that makes you drink Jager and listen to Slayer until you die. So, I had to really sell him on this tune.
He agreed that for a bottle of Crown Royale he would track the drums. He came down and absolutely killed it which helped complete the tune “Leave Well Enough Alone” which became the elevator pitch for other musicians for the next five years. It was Jason who said, “have you met Oli, he would be super into this music.” Jason recorded the drums because he was my friend, but Oli came down because he was also mesmerized by Kelly and Conrad. They gave me legitimacy because even to a guitar nerd like Oli, Kelly and Conrad rose above.
When Oli joined he had all these ideas, “what if we got this guy or that guy.” For me, it was just like pointing at a guitar magazine and wishing. For Oli, he had some pretty decent commercial success and many of my heroes not only knew Oli, but respected both him and his playing. So it was Oli that asked guys like Bumblefoot if they’d play because they had played together on Ship Rocked. It was Conrad and Kelly that made us cool. I was just the door to door dude going “wouldn’t it be sick if we got Satchel from Steel Panther, that guy wails!”
Since they’re both collaborators on the SYMPHINITY album, we felt like it’s a good time for the team-up song and music video from Angel Vivaldi, featuring Oli Herbert on guitar for “Dopamine.”
I can imagine once you had the rough finish product, it was very difficult to then assemble, mix and produce it all. Was this as large of a challenge as I would expect it was?
Goodman: Yes, yes and yes. I didn’t become a producer or assemble a recording studio because I wanted to. It was the only way I could get the sounds in my head out and be able to afford to work as much as I wanted to. Over five years we got so many different sounds, moved microphones, changed drum sets, went through real amps, used Dis, then reamped through Kempers, and all of this stuff. It was a passion project, so myself and my engineer and bass player Cory just did the best we could as we went along, constantly learning what not to do through endless trial and error.
This record actually really helped us as producers because to not only mix and record a full metal band but add a whole orchestra on top of that and make it something that sonically makes sense is a daunting undertaking. Cory literally took endless tutorials online to learn how to mix orchestras and how to create sonic space. We both know a good amount about recording but to really get the level of sound that I think we achieved with SYMPHINITY required a meticulous amount of work. I spent five years on and off engineering these tunes out of sequence, sometimes with or without certain parts for months at a time, so to finally put it all together was a crazy undertaking and super satisfying.
I had thought about farming out the mix to others but Cory and I have really worked well together and I knew that he would be as hard on himself as my expectations, so we kept it in house with him compiling the final mixes from the endless iterations of sessions. He developed a pretty crazy methodology which made recording the second record a lot more streamlined. I’m an audiophile so we didn’t stop between the mixing and mastering until it sounded amazing to me (and everyone involved), so I really tip my hat to Cory and to Tom Waltz and Waltz’s mastering because those guys went back and forth to make this thing sound absolutely huge.
Sons of Apollo’ Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal shredding like a fiend:
Not to be forgotten, aside from guitarists and orchestral parts, the album also features bassist Cory Paza, drummer Paul Lorenco and Sioban Cronin on strings. Did you have to go to any extra effort to make the rhythm section not go unnoticed or underappreciated?
Goodman: As far as I’m concerned there are no weak links. I put this thing together with the hope of putting musicians I totally admired together and forcing them to musically interact. Paul Lourenco has always been one of my favorite drummers. I’ll start there. He’s just such a tight player with rhythm. He’s not a technical guy in the sense that he can break down everything he does, or he composes drum parts like Terry Bozzio. He’s just a guy you play a part to and he comes up with the right part for it.
I always joke that he never listened to a SINGLE demo I sent him. Every song he recorded he came down not knowing a thing and just working part by part until it was perfect and once it was done, he forgot all about it again until I would play him a mix. He’s just a super humble guy that loves playing music all the time whether its SYMPHINITY or Aerosmith, he just wants to be playing ALL THE TIME.
Cory is just the definition of the solid guy. He’s a great engineer. He’s a great guitarist. He’s a great bass player. Is he Victor Wooten? No. Is he Eddie Van Halen or even Eddie Kramer? Again, no. He is just the kind guy you know you want on your team that makes as many good ideas with arrangements of strings and percussion as he does notes on the bass.
Siobhan is probably the most underappreciated because there is no question that she’s the most technically proficient musician I have ever worked with. This album is actually part one of two and the songs that made it to part one were just the ones that were furthest along with production. Since we fired the gun on making SYMPHINITY a real thing, we have gotten a lot more time to record more strings with Siobhan, so where she is a lot of really cool layers on this record, her ability to be a lead player is going to shine.
I say this because she plays harmonies with some of the best guitarists in the world and I saw her compose, learn, and then record those harmonies in almost real time. That just blew my mind. She is truly a virtuoso and while its clear her impact on this record, I think moving forward you will know her for her chops as much as her ability to elevate a song.
Siobhan Cronin performing “A Wonderful World” live:
Let’s say you’re living your dream and you could have one, celebrated dead guitarist contribute to SYMPHINITY. Who would it be?
Goodman: There are two. Randy Rhodes and Dime (Dimebag Darrell). I was lucky enough to meet and see Dime. It would be really cool to have Randy because he is probably my biggest influence, but if Dime showed up I wouldn’t be upset… at all.
Now there are hopes to make SYMPHINITY more than just a one-off and work on this project further. Do you already have ideas or contributors you’re looking at for the next record?
Goodman: SYMPHINITY was kind of a joke for a long time that we were like Guns N’ Roses with Chinese Democracy. Even my own brother would say stuff like “it’s been five years, are we gonna release something?” Then Oli passed and this went from a passion project to a musical duty to get Oli’s genius to the world. We wrote so much stuff, much of which wasn’t fully baked, so when it came time to putting the record together, we realized we had more like two records if we actually had the time to do things right. Now we do.
So SYMPHINITY 1 is what we did when Oli was here, all of the songs were done, but we had so much music that was just in production so we have flown Siobhan to record layers and layers, we have so many more players who have graced us with their presence. I hope people hear this record and know where all the time and passion went, but I assure you if you stick with us it only gets better from here. I say that as a fan of the people who have been gracious enough to lend me their talents.