Yuval Ron: I think that my music is kind of a puzzle of different influences, inspirations and sonic visions. The pieces are mostly made of my musical roots - progressive rock, metal, jazz rock fusion and some orchestral or film music. It's what I do with them though that might be interesting. To me it's important not to leave these elements separate, as in sounding too obvious, but rather to assemble them into a musical statement that stands on its own right and serves a theme or an agenda which is often larger than the music itself. It's a little like thematic music for a film or a show, but still it's not a soundtrack or background music - the actors in the front are the players themselves.
Yuval Ron: A lot actually. The album is a result of a long musical process I went through since my previous releases, which is why it took quite a long time to make. During that time I've immigrated from Israel to Germany, built my own studio, shifted from working in the band format of Residents Of The Future to being a solo artist under my own name, learned a great deal about audio production and had the rare opportunity to take the time and explore a lot of new musical ideas. Many of those ideas are present in the album, both on the guitar and in the music as a whole.
One important thing that these explorations led me to is the realization that my true musical power lies in the composition, the arrangement and the production of the music. Even though I'm a performer and will always play the guitar, I learned that I must write much more in order to get things to come out the way I want them to sound. In my earlier releases with Residents Of The Future it was more about the solos and the group improvisation, more like a jazz situation where you improvise extensively over themes. Because of that I always felt that so much of what I hear in my head has fallen out, especially the small details. So I concluded that I have to write more, come up with tighter arrangements and even pre-produce the music before it's being played in order to get there - even at the expense of spontaneity and group playing. That said, I still made sure to leave some room for the players to do their own thing and to add their great talents into the melting pot. I think the result turned out nicely balanced between these two ends, even if heavily leaning towards the compositional side.
In parallel to all that, I kept developing my two handed tapping, or 2HT as I abbreviate it, being my main lead guitar technique. Alongside the album I released a transcription book with all the album's guitar parts, for anyone who wishes to upgrade their tapping skills into a complete soloing technique (and also for myself to remember all those parts).
Yuval Ron: The way I write, I usually need a strong or engaging title that lights up my imagination. For me it rarely comes from noodling around with the guitar until I find something I like. I must have a defined subject and something to say about it. Since the theme of the album was spacey and futuristic (much like my previous works) I came up with titles like "I Believe in Astronauts", "Gravitational Lensing", "The Discovery of Phoebe" and the title tune of the album, which I actually had for many years before I started writing it.
Once a good title comes up, I usually start hearing music in my mind, often while visualizing the tune's subject matter. Then I record myself singing it, with or without accompanying myself on the guitar. I think that singing the melody almost guarantees that the tune will stay musical, no matter how complicated or odd the arrangement is going to end up being. To me the melody is the backbone of the entire tune, so if it doesn't work, nothing will save it, and if it does, then pretty much anything I'll do afterwards is going to embellish it, complement and work in its favor.
There's no doubt that this album is much more of a centralistic effort than a collaborative one. By the time I sent the music to Marco, Roberto and Matt it was pretty much all written through, with prepared charts and demos for their parts, although as I mentioned I did try to leave some room for them to add their own voice. I gave each of them relatively a lot of feedback so that things come out the way I hear them, but I think they understood that there was a good reason behind it, not to hinder their own playing but rather to make the music as cohesive and true to its vision as possible. I think that players like them who are so phenomenal on their instruments and often come from a more jazzy or improvisational musical background understandably prefer to be given more of a free hand, but in the end, we're all at the service of the music, which in this case called for the more architected "top-down" approach.
Yuval Ron: I honestly can't say. They were all a pain to learn, haha - I think that each of them has its own uniqueness and in many ways they also complete each other, so I can't really choose one.
Yuval Ron: Connecting with Marco was fairly easy - I just wrote to him, knowing that he'd be a great choice for this album. He then asked me to send some demos and fortunately he liked the music and agreed to take part. A couple of months later we went on to record the album. Simple as that.
Yuval Ron: Definitely! As I mentioned I was building my new studio so a lot of my gear changed around that time. I got myself an Ibanez Prestige S, which is one of the most comfortable and great sounding guitars I've ever played. I did customize it with a couple of DiMarzios, placing a DP161 Steve's Special pickup on the bridge, DP181 Fast Track 1 for the middle position and a Dominion Neck. I also got an Axe FX II XL, which was the latest model at that point and did a marvelous job, I could play around with so many constellations of amps, cabs and effects to find the exact tone I wanted.
My studio is equipped with my favorite monitors, the ADAM A7X, with which I also mixed the album. I'm quite an ITB kind of guy because there are so many great plugins these days. I used mainly iZotope Neutron, some FabFilter's as well as some analog EQs and compressors from Slate Digital. The album even got me into endorsements with some of those companies.
Yuval Ron: My favorite effect is actually a signal chain of various different effects on my Axe FX, but if I have to pick one, I'd say the most crucial element is the amp modeller, because it contributes the most to the overall tone. For my lead tone I use a Mesa IIC+ modeller, which sounds truly fantastic, has an amazing overdrive tone and so many different knobs to tweak it.
Yuval Ron: I'm fairly active, like many musicians, on the major platforms - Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the occasional newsletter. Because social media and promotion tends to be very time consuming I've decided to leave Twitter and TikTok aside for now. In addition to my own music, I often post short instructional videos for guitarists, videos about composition and production, memes and all kinds of funny little thoughts I'm having.
From my experience, what's even more important than choosing the platforms is being committed enough to the ongoing creation of content which engages your fans, which isn't necessarily just posting your own music but really anything that your audience might resonate with. Musician jokes are always welcome!
Yuval Ron: I've been living in Berlin, Germany for almost 10 years now. In general there's a great music scene here. While Berlin is renowned for its electronic music scene there's also pretty much of everything else, from rock and metal to jazz and classical. I think things could be better on the niches, especially for prog, fusion and such, but I guess that this kind of under-representation you'd find anywhere. Obviously the Covid pandemic made things even harder for everyone in the last couple of years, unfortunately Germany is one of the last countries to lift the restrictions. So it's happening slowly and we're still in the recovery process. This summer is going to be a blast because it's the first time after a very long while that everyone can finally go out and attend concerts without all these restrictions.
Yuval Ron: The Universe album is something I worked hard on and went through a significant process to achieve, so I'm very proud of the result, especially of not compromising until it sounded just like I intended. The great feedback I'm getting from fans and music media is another sign that the effort paid off. I learned a great deal on the way and I think I became a better musician thanks to it.
Yuval Ron: I miss touring and feel eager to play live again, so I'm working now on booking some shows for later this year. When we did Live Against The Virus during the lockdowns last year, I sorely felt how the audience vibe was missing. As a matter of fact, most of the album's tunes will be played on stage in front of a real audience for the first time!
Aside from that, new music is always cooking and now it's time to turn up the heat. The musical direction of Universe is to be continued and even enhanced, especially on the backing side - I'm learning a bit of virtual orchestration these days, using some epic orchestral libraries that will sooner or later find their way into the production of the new tunes, over which we'll keep playing live as we always do.