Premier Guitar, Sep '06: Artist Profile  - Jim McGorman

Backstage at Rockstar: Supernova - Part 2

Musicians Hotline is proud to present part two of our continuing series on the latest - and certainly coolest - music reality show, Rockstar: Supernova. Our friend and fellow gearhead Jim McGorman of the Rockstar house band shares a behind-the-scenes look at a typically hectic week in the show. He covers details on how the band gears up for an episode, from learning the latest songs for artist selection to intense rehearsals and, ultimately, performance. It's all in a day's work for the Rockstar house band, a supremely talented ensemble: Paul Mirkovich, a veteran musical director, vocalist and killer keyboardist; Jim McGorman on rhythm guitar, keyboards and vocals; Rafael Moreira on lead guitar and vocals; Sasha Krivtsov on bass; and Nate Morton on drums. Collectively, the Rockstar: Supernova house band is diverse, experienced and downright tough. So, let's hear what McGorman has to say in the second installment of "Backstage at Rockstar: Supernova!"


Hi everyone, I'm back! In case you didn't catch last month's article, my name is Jim McGorman and I'm part of the Rockstar House Band.

Last month I discussed some of the gear I use on the show. So, this time I'd like to answer two of the most frequently asked questions about the show: "How do you guys learn all those songs?" "How does it all work?" Well, let me take you through a typical week on the Rockstar set. Keep in mind, there are many variations (and things are constantly being shifted around), but for the most part it works this way: First of all, there are technically three shows: the performance show, the elimination show and the reality show. For us - meaning the house band - it's a process of learning, rehearsing and performing. The schedule is kind of crazy, so stay with me and hopefully it'll make sense in the end.

We usually get the song choices for each week on Monday. (I know you're thinking, "The day before!?" Relax.) Actually, Sunday is when we tape the show for airing on Tuesday. Now, we don't know who will be singing each song until Thursday, because we don't know who will be eliminated. Moreover, we don't know what song they'll choose on Thursday, the day that songs are selected. On Monday, and on our own (usually at home in my studio, in my pajamas with a cup if tea - hey, I'm Irish), we learn all the songs for the performance and new elimination songs. This is where it gets a bit confusing.

At the beginning of the season, each "rocker" (meaning contestant) picks one elimination song that will be their song until he or she is in the bottom three. If the rocker hits the bottom, sings and survives, another song is chosen. So, we have to learn two new elimination songs each week for the contestants who make it through, in addition to the songs for the Sunday/Tuesday show. It's particularly difficult at the beginning of the season because there are so many contestants. That's thirty songs! Now, a lot of these are songs we all know (when I say know, I mean we've heard them on the radio or have been listening to them for a while. They've been in our consciousness, but we still have to learn the parts. Thankfully, we've already covered some of them in the previous season.

We remember those songs, sort of. First I learn the song (usually I learn the rhythm guitar part and harmonies, but if I think the song has more keyboard parts than Paul can do himself, I'll check that out too), I check out the "cut." By that I'm referring to the cut-down version of the song that we'll play on the show. Given the large number of contestants (especially at the start of the season) and the time constraints, we can only play shortened versions of the songs. They start at about a minute and a half and get longer as the season progresses, so "more weeks" equals "fewer rockers". Once we get down to the final few, we'll do the full song. Until then, we're learning the "cut." So, imagine a song that you've heard (and played) your whole life being cut into pieces. It can be a bit of a mind-f%#^, actually. Paul Mirkovich, our music director and keyboardist, does a phenomenal job of trimming the fat. Not to mention he's a badass on the piano. The guy knows every song in the world! He makes the cut versions on his computer and sends them to us online. Since he's gone through the process for roughly 200 songs, it's fair to say he has it down. If there are any odd transitions, we work them out as a band in rehearsal on Tuesday. Before we start rehearsing, the lead guitarist (Rafael Moreira) and I will usually discuss the songs before we play, just to be certain we're on the same page.

We'll play the same thing on many occasions, but usually we try to pick different parts. That's easy, though, because most of the songs we play have much more than two guitar parts. The other interesting thing about our playing is that we couldn't be at two more opposite ends of the spectrum.

Rafael is a much better lead player than I am. His technique is unbelievable. There is nothing he can't do on a guitar.

I usually stick to the rhythm parts. As a songwriter I'm drawn to the chords and melody. Plus, with all the singing I do, it helps to be strumming away underneath. This also helps appease my tone-freak side. I get to work with different guitars and pedals and amps, and get as close as possible to the original vibe of the song.

I actually prefer playing rhythm, because it makes me feel that I'm part of the foundation of the song.

Speaking of the foundation, our drummer Nate Morton and bassist Sasha Krivtsov are an absolutely amazing rhythm section. (We affectionately refer to them as "the Kitchen," but I'm not sure why). They're super-solid with every groove and style of music that we play. Working with musicians of this caliber makes my job that much easier.

So, once we've learned all the songs, we bring in the contestants. This is where it gets interesting. I'm not going to lie to you. Sometimes they make it hard. There are times when we've got a song sounding great, then the singer will want to change the key, the arrangement and the whole vibe of the thing. Now, I'm not suggesting that all of their ideas are bad, since they're obviously not. Sometimes we need them to take charge of a so-so song and make it into something. We only have so much time to get an arrangement together, and we usually do just what we get on the record. That being said, the way a song was originally written and recorded is part of what makes it a hit. Once you start changing things to a significant degree, it can drift away from the song you used to love. So, you have to be careful.We do the best we can to strike a middle ground between the contestant's vision and what we feel is the best way to approach the song. I'd say I'm happy with it about three-fourths of the time. Once the arrangement is decided, we just have to own it. So, the process of taking it from rehearsal to a show performance in one-and-ahalf days is a big part of the gig. Since I never really use a chart, I start to memorize the songs from the first time we play. That helps keep me from relying on anything but myself.We also run the songs on the day of the taping, just to tighten everything up. So, by the time we do the actual show we've probably played each song ten or fifteen times. Here's a recap of the process:

Monday: Get the cuts and learn at home. Tuesday: Rehearse with the house band for the performance show; rehearse with contestants for the Wednesday elimination show. Wednesday: Do the elimination show; rehearse with house band for the performance show. Thursday: This is the day off. Friday: Rehearse with contestants. Saturday: Rehearse with contestants. Sunday: Do the performance show.

Somehow, we seem to make it work. Well, now that you know how we do it, let's check out a show! Rockstar: Supernova airs Tuesday night at nine and Wednesday night at eight on CBS. Thanks for the support

Link to the article