Interview: The Music Worlds of Pat Strawser

Composer and keyboardist Pat Strawser was born and raised in Athens, Georgia. Music education began for him in 1985 with classical piano lessons. In 1993, he formed Volaré, a band that became well-known for their mix of jazz, progressive rock, and fusion, and for their critically acclaimed album, The Uncertainty Principle, released by The Laser’s Edge in 1997. Currently, Pat tours the country with the Elton John tribute band "Remember When Rock Was Young," and when off tour, he works with various groups in Atlanta/Athens area, including the fusion guitarist Bill Hart.

We first discovered Pat's "Time Warp" track last year, which extensively used GX-80. That track was followed up by his brilliant album, A Very Synthy Christmas, which he aptly described as "a cross between Vangelis, Pat Metheny, Miami Vice, Steve Winwood, and Stranger Things." 

This May 5th (Bandcamp Friday) is the debut of Pat's new album, "Vignettes," which prominently features Cherry Audio synthesizers. We had the opportunity to virtually sit down with Pat to discuss his music, new release, and his appreciation for our instruments.

Q: We're curious if there was a single performer or release that first made you take notice of the synthesizer and decide, “Hey, I want to do that!”

A: Hard to narrow it down to a single performance or release. There are so many! For me, it was mostly prog rock stuff, so the synths on the 70's and 80's Rush records (Moving Pictures and Signals in particular), Rick Wakeman on Fragile and Close to the Edge, or Karn Evil 9 by ELP, Lyle Mays on As Falls Wichita and First Circle… and tons of others. A lot of that stuff, though, was less about synths and more about cool, intricate music.

But I do remember when the wide world of synthesizers really entered into my consciousness in a really concrete way: in July of 1993 (I had just turned 18), Keyboard Magazine ran an issue with a cover story on vintage keyboards and synthesizers. It included a breakdown on a who’s who of classic old school keyboards: Rhodes, Hammonds, Clavinets… and of course Minimoogs, Oberheims, Prophets and all the rest. They even had a fairly comprehensive pricing list with the estimated street value for a lot of these instruments (man, they were insanely cheap back then!). I remember committing some of those models and prices to memory at the time, and I'd scour local pawn shops to see if I could find anything cheap enough to take home!

Within a year or two, I ended up with a Farfisa Mini Compact, a Roland Juno 6, a Korg Poly 800, a Yamaha CS15, and a Fender Rhodes. These all played an integral role in the sound of the band I was in at the time, and thus my love for synths began, and has continued unabated ever since!

Q: Your education and day profession seem quite different than one might expect from such a prolific musician! Do the two worlds mix that much, and how difficult do you find it to balance time between the two professions of instructional designer and composer?

It can be tricky at times. My career trajectory as an instructional designer/technologist and content developer is fairly separate and unrelated to the music world. I’m fortunate to work completely remote, so I have a lot of flexibility in that area, which is great!

From about 2009 until recently, I focused most of my musical energies into live gigging and travel (mostly tribute bands and wedding/corporate bands). However, in 2021 I moved my family from Athens, Georgia (which has a fantastic music scene) out to a fairly rural part of the state. That along with the fact that I have two very young kids (2 and 4 at the moment), I’ve slowed my travel schedule down, leaving me a lot of time to work on music projects at home.

Q: Tell us about this latest release, Vignettes, and how did it come to feature so many Cherry Audio instruments alongside other plugins and some of your great hardware?

So, I'm always writing and recording something. I started working on some of the Vignettes material in 2021, but I have tons of other songs just sitting in the hopper waiting to be mixed, organized into an album, and released. One big issue I have is curating all of my material for a release, because I have so much of it. It's easier for me to write and record stuff than it is to finish, release, and promote it!

Anyway, in 2021 I bought my first couple of Cherry Audio synths (the Polymode and the DCO-106), and I immediately fell in love with them. So I thought, "hey, I'll just compose a whole piece out of nothing but the DCO-106." Then I picked up a few other Cherry products (the Eight Voice, the Memorymode, and Mercury-4) and before I knew it, I had three or four tunes, made up mainly of those synths, but including others as well. When Dreamsynth and Elka-X came along, those really struck a nerve with me, and I started getting into the sound design side of things a bit more. The Elka was so intuitive to me, and I felt like I could build some great sounds really quickly, while the Dreamsynth created these huge, magnificent, and complex patches....they both blew me away and just inspired another round of song experimentation. Then Sines, GX-80, and Mercury-6 hit, and I kept running with the concept of composing pieces out of nothing but one of these synths, or several of them together, but using nothing else.

At a certain point, I just thought it would be fun to collect all of these "Cherry Audio pieces" together, almost like a showcase of these synths. So this album is a bit like a science experiment, to see what I could come up with using just – or I should say mostly – Cherry Audio plugins.

Q: Looking at your resume and even just the past few years of releases on Bandcamp, you seem to have had a sudden burst of creativity these past few months. What’s up?!

I think the recent run of Cherry Audio releases has been pretty exciting and inspiring to me, and the concept of doing a record featuring those synths gave me something to focus on. That's kept me writing a lot of new material, which I always love to do. Also, I work well having multiple record projects on my desk at once (especially if I create deadlines for myself), so I can procrastinate and put off working on Project A by messing around with Projects B and C! In the end, if I'm careful, I'll end up with three records out of that. Plus, I have a backlog of material that I've been working on for over 20 years now, so I always have a deep well of ideas to draw from. I only really started releasing my own records about six years ago, so I still have some catching up to do.

And I usually prefer to just start new projects rather than finish old ones. In this way, the new always competes with the old, and I just end up with a ton of stuff to sift through. But I'm also getting better at focusing on trying to finish and release an album, and move on to the next project.

Q: Do you have a favorite Cherry Audio instrument, and is there another special piece of classic gear you’re hoping we might do someday?

Right now, I'd say it's between the Mercury-6, the GX-80, Dreamsynth, and the Elka-X. They each seem to occupy a slightly different sonic space in my ears, so I like them each for specific things (Dreamsynth is great for huge, chimey, DX7-type bells and pads, while I love using the GX-80 for strings and Vangelis-like pads, and even clavs and Wurlys).

As for classic gear that Cherry should do, that's a hard one. I do have a strange obsession with the Hammond Novachord, so I think that would make a pretty unique plugin. Such an eerie and other-worldly sound! Also, I wouldn't mind seeing a Korg DV800 or a Yamaha CS15....also, two very odd but fantastic sounding synths!

Q: After Vignettes, what do you think is next musically for Pat Strawser?

I have two other full-length solo releases about 95% complete, and a few others that are getting there! The next one, Waves, is a more overtly 80's-inspired synthwave-style release, with some light prog rock flourishes sprinkled here and there throughout. The other one, Memories of Roosterville, is a much more overt nod to my jazz/fusion and progressive rock leanings (Pat Metheny and English Canterbury-scene prog bands), with one track clocking in at over 17 minutes (a true epic!). Both are quite distinct from each other, and a departure from the sound of Vignettes, though you can hear some similarities threaded through all three I think.

I also work with a progressive rock group out of Louisville, KY, called French TV. We're finishing up what will be my fourth record with them, A Ghastly State of Affairs, which should be released in the next few months. I'm pretty proud of it as it features another fairly ambitious, epic-length piece that I wrote for the group.

Also, I'm mixing an old live concert from 1997 from a group I played with in the 90's called Volaré, an instrumental prog/fusion group based out of Athens, GA. It's a bit of a surprise return to this material, as I only recently got a hold of the multitrack masters. I'm really excited about releasing this, especially since I'm able to recut much of the keyboard parts which weren't captured very well in the recording. As it turns out, several Cherry Audio plugins are doing some pretty heavy lifting (the Miniverse and DCO-106 in particular)!

It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Pat about music and Cherry Audio instruments, and we gained some valuable insights about how he uses them to create his unique sound.

Pat also generously shared his composition notes about Vignettes, providing a detailed account of how he utilizes Cherry Audio instruments to create his art (see below). It's always fascinating to learn about the thought process and techniques of talented musicians, and Pat's notes did not disappoint.

We are grateful to Pat for taking the time to participate in this interview and for sharing his expertise with us.

Pat Strawser online:

Vignettes Release Notes

  • Track 01: Into the Sun - 15 tracks of Mercury-6 - "Intended to showcase the Mercury-6 in a prog/fusion rocker that showcases its versatility"

  • Track 02: Time Warp - 12 tracks of GX-80 - "Using GX-80 for all synth parts for a smooth-jazz inspired jam."

  • Track 03: Falling Man - Lowdown, Memorymode , Polymode, Eight Voice, DCO-106, Dreamsynth, Elka-X, Miniverse, and GX-80, along with NI Kontakt - "Pensive piece inspired by September 11 footage of people falling out of the towers"

  • Track 04: Ethereal - GX-80 (x2), Mercury-6, Dreamsynth, Elka-X - "Showcase piece using only Cherry Audio plugins, and all original preset designs"

  • Track 05: Floating - DCO-106, Miniverse, Dreamsynth, Memorymode, along with sounds from NI Battery and Full Bucket - "Built around a demo of the arpeggio (first minute) using an original DCO-106 preset"

  • Track 06: Presets 1 - DCO-106 (x5), Miniverse (x6), Lowdown, Elka (x5), Dreamsynth (x3), Mercury-4, Eight Voice, Polymode, and Sines - "Using Cherry Audio plugins for all parts, including drums, and all original presets."

  • Track 07: Heading West - DCO-106 (x9), Dreamsynth, Mercury-6 (x2), along with along with NI Reaktor Monark, Arturia Solina V, and Full Bucket Bucket Pops - "Inspired by my recent move to west Georgia. Built around pads and other stock presets in the DCO-106."

  • Track 08: Mercury Rising - 23 instances of Mercury-6 - "Again showcasing the versatility of Mercury-6; an entire piece built out of this one plugin, including drum sounds."

  • Track 09: Wake Up - Miniverse (x2), Dreamsynth (x2), GX-80 (x3), Memorymode, DCO-106, Polymode, Sines, along with NI Battery and Superior Drums - "Moody piece experimenting with a variety of Cherry Audio synths, using 11 instances of 7 different Cherry instruments."

  • Track 10: Nebula - 8 instances of Mercury-6 - "Soundscape experiment using only Mercury-6"

  • Track 11: Presets 2 - Dreamsynth (x3), Sines (x4), DCO-106 (x3), Memorymode, Elka-X (x3) Miniverse, Polymode, along with a Moog Minimoog Model D, NI Battery, and Superior Drums - "Another Cherry Audio showcase using 16 instances of 7 distinct Cherry instruments. Most of the presets are original. Includes a real Minimoog solo!"

  • Track 12: Prophetic Juno - Lowdown, DCO-106 (x2), Polymode, Miniverse, Dreamsynth, Memorymode, along with Superior Drums, NI Battery and Reaktor Monark, IK Multimedia Hammond B-3x, Arturia Mini V, Prophet '08, Addictive Keys Electric Grand (CP70) - "Going for an early 80’s Genesis-inspired instrumental rocker"

  • Track 13: The Unknown - DCO-106 (x10), Polymode, Sines, Mercury-6, Elka-X, Lowdown, along with Logic Classic Electric Piano, Moog Model 15, and NI Battery - "One of the first pieces I wrote using Cherry Audio products. Started with the DCO-106, building out a drum kit, then slowly adding additional pads and effects."

  • Track 14: What is it Now? - GX-80 (x3), Elka-X )x2). Miniverse, along with Logic Metal Shaker, NI Kontakt - "Overt rocker using three Cherry Audio plugins, and all original design presets"

Photography by Pat Strawser and DeRevere Photography