Considering the good and the bad and the saints and sinners of the world, songwriter, producer, and composer Kitt Wakeley fused both ends with an orchestra, a choir and a rock band in the epic storyline and orchestration of Symphony of Sinners and Saints.
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“I decided when I wrote this that everything is going to be fire and ice,” says Wakeley. “Everything’s going to be yin and yang. If you listen to the music, there’s these constant call and responses between instruments. There’s a really dark, sinister underlying bed, but then there’s this euphoric stuff over it. That’s the concept of the album.”
A follow up to Midnight in Macedonia in 2018, Wakeley’s first stab at orchestral rock, Symphony of Sinners and Saints features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dallas All Star Choir, and guitarists Joe Satriani and Andy Timmons (Danger Danger, Pink, Olivia Newton-John), along with Grammy-nominated pianist Paul Loomis, Paige Harwell, and Daniel Uribe, bassist Brent Berry, drummer Ryan Miller, the London Voices choir, and Dallas’ Gospel of Light Choir.
“Orchestras are more sophisticated, more cultured,” says Wakeley. “And then come in the guys with the torn jeans and Slayer T-shirts, and they’re cranking this loud music. At first it’s like oil and vinegar, but once they all realize it’s like ‘hey, we like this,” and because of how everything came together, I called it Symphony of Sinners and Saints.”
Initially recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, Symphony of Sinner and Saints was co-produced, engineered, and mixed by Tre Nagella (Lady Gaga, Blake Shelton, Snoop Dogg) at Luminous Sound Studios in Dallas. Recording remotely, Wakeley was able to tap into the musicians in London in real time to work on each composition.
“Modern technology allows you to tap into Abbey Road,” says Wakeley. “They have this ability for me to be able to push a button talk to the controller and push another button on the screen and I can talk to the conductor, or talk to everybody and hear everything in real time. It’s like I’m there.”
He adds, “It also gives cleaner tracks. When you record an orchestra, the violinist might be playing on their specific mic, but you can still hear the bleed from the French horns or other instruments.”
Symphony is a mysterious soundtrack spanning the imagination, and imaginings, of Wakeley’s mind—the good and the bad, the twisted pop culture references and earlier influences, from opening “Wicked Ways” and each chapter through “Echoes of Amadeus,” a track inspired by Falco’s 1985 hit “Rock Me Amadeus.”
Also centered around feeling and memory, sonically, Wakeley wanted an energy with an orchestral feel—and all the things, film, music, and other pop culture idiosyncrancies that Wakeley wants the listener to discover.
“Every song I made is predicated on one of my favorite songs or something that really impacted me,” share Wakeley. “There’s some ‘Creep’ [Radiohead]. There’s some Elf, which is one of my favorite movies. Every song has an Easter egg. My drummer Ryan Miller called me up said, ‘Hey, is this Tommy Lee’s little fill from ‘Wild Side’ [Motley Crue] and I was like ‘you nailed it,’ so I throw in those things all the time.”
The only song that isn’t part of Wakeley’s storyline and more of a “one-off,” is “Hello Again,” based on a real-life experience of finding his sister after 30 years. Being adopted, the siblings always looked for one another for three decades and later learned that they just lived within a mile from one another.
Along with “Conflicted” Satriani—also on board to return with Timmons and other surprise musicians on the next project—plays around “Forgive Me,” a track Wakeley says took his collaboration with the guitarist to another level.
“His playing was brilliant and he was able to feed off, not just the orchestra, but a 48-person choir,” says Wakelly. “As a result, we created an epic sound, in which his guitar playing was icing on the cake. I always walk away in awe of his magic.”
In sequencing, Wakeley wanted to grab the listener’s attention from “Wicked Ways.”
“Now that I have their attention, Sinners and Saints sets the tone for the rest of album with the big orchestra, big choir and powerful rock,” says Wakeley. “This is what you’re going to be listening to for the rest of the album.”
He adds, “At the center, you may be ‘Conflicted’ with being a sinner or saint, and then it comes right down to ‘End of My Journey,’ where you’ve done all you can do and it’s right there on the table.”
Moving from Midnight in Macedonia, through Symphony, Wakeley says his writing has matured. “The writing is so much more mature from string runs to better harmonies… I can just go on and on,” he says. “If I hear what really is a unique drumbeat, or progression I like that’s not the standard progression, it makes me want to try something different. It’s ear candy or what grabbed my attention right off the bat. Then, when I use that element in the song I better nail it.”
Throughout, Symphony is also somewhat of a spiritual experience for Wakely.
“I’m always confronted with what’s right and wrong,” says Wakeley. “There is some spiritual stuff, and the other part of that is, I look at social media and you would be surprised how many people say ‘man I wish I was you,’ but I’m not the saint you think I am. My life is not that perfect. These are purely snapshots. The third component of Symphony questions am I a good person or not. I don’t know. I’ve sure made a lot of mistakes.”