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It’s a pleasure to have Wayne Merdinger today for a chat, the Arizona born and raised artist…

We experienced your latest album “Hidden Gems” and we have a lot we want to know about this experience you gave us, it’s absolutely mesmerizing…so let’s get into it right away, I can’t wait…

  • How long was “Hidden Gems” in the making? How much effort did it take to create all of these uniquely diverse songs?

First, let me express my sincere appreciation to Rock Era Magazine for providing this forum.  In today’s environment, with tens of thousands of songs being uploaded to digital platforms daily, obscure artists like me value any attention we can garner for the work we do.  Thank you for this interview!

Hidden Gems’ initially materialized as an EP when I reconnected, after over 20 years, with British producer, Danny Saxon.  He and I had worked together in the late 90’s on a few songs that he had written or co-written but that had never ended up getting recorded for release.  My 2022 EP, Troubadour, was a nostalgic ride back to the 70’s for me, and that experience inspired me to reach out to Danny to resurrect yet another piece of my musical history.  I wanted to know whatever became of those songs we worked on together, and so we arranged to meet in London at which time I played for him several demos of those same songs which I had recorded in my home studio.  He was blown away with what I had done with them and suggested that I not only record them professionally, but that he, along with his production partner, Mark Jaimes, would produce me.  The project began with three of those original songs (“Lose To Gain,” Missing You,” and “American Dream”), after which we added another Danny Saxon/Mark Jaimes composition (“One More Memory”), “All My Life,” written by my dear friend, Carl Wilkenfeld (he’s the “Carl” mentioned in my song, “Nebraska Bay” from my Troubadour EP), and the title track, “Hidden Gems,” which I wrote with Danny and Mark.  From there, the project evolved into a full album when I decided to include a remastered version of my 2017 title from my “Behold the Invisible Man” album, “Abbey Road,” along with remastered versions of each of the six original singles I had released in 2020 and 2021. So, to answer your question, the album itself was in the making for nearly three years and some of the songs were written decades ago.  As for the effort, aside from the intense production and recording process for each of the seven previously recorded tracks, all recorded at Brick Road Studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, we began work on the six new tracks in September 2023 and wrapped the project at the end of March, for the April 1, 2023 release.  The new songs were recorded in four different studios, two in the U.K. and two in the U.S., so it was quite an ambitious undertaking.

  • What was the motivation behind that album?

The chance to resurrect what I considered to be several “Hidden Gems” that never before had gotten to see the light of day is what really inspired this project.  If you listen to the words of the title track, I think it will tell you all you need to know about the origins of this album.  It also depicts the very real state of the music business where so many great songs never get to reach critical mass.

  • Tell us about the recording experience of this album…any funny stories there?

As an avid Beatles’ aficionado, the opportunity to record a good portion of this album in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios was the thrill of a lifetime.  That is not an exaggeration!  In 2014, I had the unique opportunity to take a private tour of this famed studio, hosted by Colette Barber, then the Studio Manager for 36 years (she has since retired).  I thought that experience was one of the highlights of my musical journey and I never imagined that nine years later, I would get to record there myself.  Walking into Studio 2 was captivating!  I had reserved the Mrs. Mills Piano which was the very same piano the Beatles used on “Lady Madonna,” “Penny Lane,” and several other famous tracks to use on “American Dream” and, though this 100-year-old Steinway relic had certainly seen better days, the thrill of playing it on one of my songs was awe-inspiring.  When I first set foot in the studio, Gordon Davison, the Abbey Road engineer assigned for my session, was setting up the room.  I saw that they had wheeled in the Mrs. Mills piano and I immediately asked Gordon if it would be at all possible for me to use one of the actual microphones the Beatles had used to record my vocals with.  He responded, “I anticipated that request and already have you covered.”  He then pointed out the mic I would be using and said, “there you go.”  I actually didn’t believe him.  I figured the real Beatles’ microphones were locked away in some vault, never to be touched again by human hands.  I went about my business utilizing mics that looked authentic but, in my mind probably were not the originals.  Then… as I was preparing to record “American Dream,” they set up the microphone at the Mrs. Mills Piano and I began to rehearse the song.  They had the mic on an extended boom, and it was so heavy that, as I was going through the song, it was dipping lower and lower, and I had to keep raising it back up.  I finally got so frustrated that I stopped playing and began to fiddle with the microphone and stand, to try and tighten it up so it would stay in one place.  Suddenly, Gordon came running down the famous stairs from the Studio 2 control room, yelling for me to stop touching the microphone.  He said the mic was priceless, that he could get in big trouble if anything were to happen to it, and that clients were never permitted to handle it.  It was then that I realized that he may have told me the absolute truth and that this could truly be one of the original Beatles’ microphones that I was singing into.

  • We loved everything about the album, but we also noticed that you must’ve worked with great musicians…tell us more about the musicians you worked with…how did you have these amazing talents join the efforts for the album? Have you already worked with any of them on previous projects?

For any songwriter, it is extraordinary to watch your creation come to life in the studio with extremely talented, professional musicians.  I’ve been very blessed to have been introduced to the best of them by the various producers I have had the opportunity to work with.  Scott Leader, who plays keyboards and produced my previous four albums and did some of the engineering on the new tracks for “Hidden Gems,” produced my song, “Abbey Road,” and gave me access to Adam Armijo, arguably one of the very best session guitarists in the Southwest U.S., if not in the world, John Hayden, a terrific bass player, and Joe Costello, an amazing drummer who has played on every one of my albums, including “Hidden Gems.”  Mark DeCozio is a multi-talented musician, who played piano, keyboards, guitar, and bass, while producing my six single releases (all remastered for “Hidden Gems”), introduced me to drummer Dan Tomlinson who has played and toured with top acts like Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffett, Sting, Alison Krause, and Willie Nelson, just to name a few, and several other talented musicians and backing vocalists that were a privilege to work with.  For the new songs on “Hidden Gems” I had the distinct honor of having Danny Saxon and Mark Jaimes as producers, and with that came their immense musical talents.  Danny and Mark have previously produced Simply Red, UB40, Jeff Beck Luciano Pavarotti, among many others.  Danny, who is currently on tour as the keyboardist with UB40 is a professionally schooled percussionist and keyboardist, has perfect pitch and a soothing voice that permeates right to the very soul of a song, provided incredible musical and vocal depth to all six new tracks, not to mention his songwriting contributions.  Mark is perhaps one of the best guitarists in the world.  He is best known for his decades of work as lead session and touring guitarist for Simply Red but is also currently enjoying success as a solo jazz artist, playing alongside superstars such as Dave Koz and Oli Silk.  Mark played acoustic and electric guitar, as well as bass on the six new tracks on “Hidden Gems.”  I am always happy when some of my own acoustic guitar or piano/keyboard playing survives from the demo stage through the final mix, but it is the remarkable abilities of the wonderful musicians I surround myself with that allow me to bring the very best possible performance to all my music.

  • We’d love to get a quick tour of your creative workflow…how does Wayne find inspiration and create music?

Wow, I wish I could tell you I have a magic formula or consistent process that I employ.  I do not.  I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and so my songs often develop from whatever idea I may have for the subject matter of a story.  Once I know what I want to write about, the words usually come quite easily.  As a perfectionist, however, my editing process never ends until I’ve finished laying down the vocals in the studio.  Seldom do my original lyrics match the finished product.  Sometimes I compose a musical riff and let the mood of that passage steer me to the subject matter.  In other instances, I might come up with an opening line or catchy phrase and let that dictate the direction of the song.  There is just no single methodology that I use.  Some examples of my process from the “Hidden Gems album are, “It’s Raining Somewhere,” which was inspired by a health crisis that hit my immediate family in 2020 and was my way of compartmentalizing what we were going through. “Abbey Road, of course, was the sharing of my personal experience of touring the studio in 2014.  If you listen to the lyrics, you may notice there are eight Beatles’ titles imbedded within.  “Don’t Even Think It’s Be Alright” expresses what is probably a very familiar sentiment among aging married couples when they inevitably discuss the inevitable.  “Stranger” tells the story of a very real dream I had of John Lennon popping in for a visit.  “One Day at a Time” is obviously about the pandemic, and “Time of Our Lives” I wrote when I was having a particularly good day, and reflecting on how my life was going.  That song prominently features my daughter, Ali Welbourn, on backing vocals.  Singing with Ali is one of my all-time favorite things to do.

  • I felt like “Hidden Gems” would suit the stage extremely well, any plans to bring the album to the stage?

Since my day job involves leading a multi-national company, I seldom have the time for performing.  I have done some solo gigs in my local area, and I never shy away from playing for folks at a moment’s notice in my home studio when they are visiting.  Still, one of my last remaining “bucket list” items is to play my own material with my own band in front of a live audience.  I can’t say when that might happen, but I certainly hope it comes to pass.

  • What’s your plan for the coming couple of years…is it going to be more in the recording room or more on stage?

My music is never planned anymore.  When I first started recording professionally in 2016, at the request of my four children, I put a lot of pressure on myself to compose enough material to fill an album.  I have learned that that process does not necessarily yield the best results.  I never sit down at the piano or with a guitar with the intent to write a song.  My songs now begin to develop in my head before I sit down to play them, often when I least expect it.  It can happen while I’m taking a walk, taking a shower or, much to my chagrin, while I’m trying to sleep.  My standards have risen dramatically as one can probably tell by listening to the evolution of my material.  Nowadays, unless I have a good sense that something I’ve written is truly worth the intense effort (and expense) that I put into the recording process, it doesn’t get produced.  I can’t say if or when I might compose such worthy material but whenever I do craft a song that I think deserves to be heard, I will surely give it the attention it deserves.  As I get closer to retirement from my day job, I suspect I will start thinking about performing more but we shall see.

  • In one sentence, could you tell us and everyone reading right now, why do we need to experience “Hidden Gems”?

Hidden Gems” is a collection of uniquely different songs, each with its own relevant message, that share a classic folk-rock vibe and impassioned musical/vocal delivery that will resonate with all who appreciate inspired storytelling that is strongly influenced by legendary artists of the past.

…Wayne, we didn’t want this interview to end…but you have your life, and we have your music to go and re-experience all over again, that’s how much we enjoyed it.

We wish you all the best in your professional and personal lives, you surely deserve that and a lot more. Looking forward to your next musical adventures, we’ll be waiting here.

Cheers!

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Born in the 80s, attracted by the beats and feeds on music, the "Hamza Sharkas" is a musical-carnivore that uses guitars, piano and drums as his weapons of choice in hunting down and composing music, mainly for short movies, solo work and his other musical projects. The "Sharkas" also records, mixes and masters music. One of the goals of the "Sharkas" is to spread musical knowledge and music technology education as much as possible through workshops and online articles. Beware the "Sharkas"....for he won't shut up about music and will go on and on and on and on….