There is no right or upside-down to wire a pedalboard. It’s actually a matter of individual taste as well as what our ears locate pleasing. Every artist has their own thing, and also our pedalboards are absolutely an expansion of that. For some, reconfiguring the pedalboard is a long-lasting procedure, as well as adding a new tool typically suggests something has got to go, because property is crucial!Whether you are a fan of results loops or not, they can be beneficial tools.
Among the best pedals in my collection isn’t a result. It’s a standalone results loophole order switcher, which is generally a pair of devoted results loopholes( An and also B) in an aluminum pedal unit. There are several companies that make a version of this sort of gadget. Some of these systems have several other options included as well as some are very basic, without any handles in all. I such as to have a rather easy one spending time, with an input, an output, and also 2 collections of send/return jacks. Each channel requires a volume handle, a foot button, and a bypass sign light. A loop switcher can be an especially beneficial device when creating a pedalboard, and even simply including a brand-new stompbox to the mix. Signal courses can be auditioned to see exactly how pedals will engage together prior to dedicating them to Velcro. I find it is likewise incredibly enjoyable as well as handy to make use of a switcher when doing audio explorations as well as, eventually, in my writing as well as recording procedures. There are a lot of even more alternatives sound-wise, relying on how effects are gotten. The rather basic device I made enables quick adjustments, which helps me economize my time. Actually, it’s so valuable that I have one living full time on my pedalboard, in
a truly obtainable area, so I can plug and unplug on the fly if something isn’t working out sound-wise. Fancier loop-switching tools can have true bypass changing, barriers, great deals of returns and sends, knobs, signal paths routed indifferently … The alternatives are almost endless. Plenty of pedal home builders out there can construct customized systems for a reasonable price, tailored to any person’s details preference. You may even go the rackmounted, pro-audio equipment route if you wish to obtain extra elegant!
There are numerous various industrial A/B loop switcher units available that are on the less complex end of the range, like the JHS Switchback A/B Effects Loop Switcher ($ 102 street) and also the MXR M196 A/B Box Pedal ($ 59 road). The EarthQuaker Devices Swiss Things Pedalboard Reconciler ($ 249 road) is an outstanding energy pedal with a few more valuable choices. My absolute preferred easy go-to is the Boss LS-2 Line Selector Pedal ($ 113 road). It’s obtained a little impact and does all the fundamentals. Plus, it’s Boss, so it’s developed like a container. Mine has actually endured 20 years of abuse so far.Whether you are a follower of
results loops or otherwise, they can be beneficial tools.Some pedals audio absolutely different when put into an effects loophole as opposed to being inserted directly in line. It’s actually insightful to be able to listen to those distinctions. When I started using the LS-2, I feel like an entire brand-new world opened up to me. Some of my preferred noises that I have been able to create originated from placing pedals in the loop that usually obtain chained up in line directly. Provide it a try! And for those who DIY, look into Beavis Audio Research’s outstanding website. There are several different models to develop.Whether you are a fan of effects loopholes or not, they can be beneficial tools.< img class=" rm-shortcode rm-lazyloadable-image "data-rm-shortcode-id=" 3c8d717bba9da1ec8d49ddc957d78f74 "data-rm-shortcode-name =" rebelmouse-image "data-runner-src =" https://onlineguitarlesson.biz/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/switching-it-up-with-an-effects-loop-box-5.jpg" elevation=" 3200" id=" 2b0ab" lazy-loadable= "true "src=" data: image/svg+ xml, %3Csvg xmlns=' http://www.w3.org/2000/svg' viewBox =' 0 0 1874 3200'% 3E% 3C/svg %3E" size="
1874″ >A loop switcher can be a particularly useful device when placing with each other a pedalboard, or even simply adding a new stompbox to the mix.There are a number of various industrial A/B loophole switcher devices available that are on the less complex end of the range, like the JHS Switchback A/B Effects Loop Switcher($ 102 road) as well as the MXR M196 A/B Box Pedal($ 59 street). Whether you are a fan of effects loops or not, they can be valuable tools.Some pedals audio entirely different when inserted right into a results loophole instead of being put directly in line.
On his new album Thisness, Miles Okazaki is credited as playing guitar, voice, and robots. If you imagine that the reference to robots is some sort of artsy kitsch—like trapping a Roomba Robot Vacuum into a tight space to sample its struggles as it percussively barrels into the four walls—you’re very far off the mark. Okazaki—who has an elite academic pedigree with degrees from Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Julliard, and currently holds a faculty position at Princeton University (after leaving a post at the University of Michigan, to which he commuted weekly from his home in Brooklyn for eight years)—wasn’t kidding.
“The robots are machines that I made in Max/MSP,” clarifies Okazaki. (Max/MSP is visual programming language for music and multimedia.) “It’s kind of a long story, but I’ve been doing this stuff on the side for 20 years or so. Some of the music theory, some of the conceptual stuff involved in the album, I programmed into these things that I built. These improvising machines can do things that humans can’t do. They’ll play faster than humans, but they’ll fit in because they’re playing the same type of material.”
I’ll Build a World, by Miles Okazaki
Okazaki explains that he creates parameters for the robots to improvise within: “I’m just telling this robot, ‘Play at this tempo and play this many subdivisions per beat—eight subdivisions or something like that—so that it’s linked up with the drums.” For pitches, he assigns a scale and can control the phrasing. “I’m saying for the pitch choices, ‘You’re going to use a chromatic scale and you’re going to play each note of that scale until you exhaust the scale without repeating a note,’ which makes a 12-tone row. It could be any scale, but that’s one of the settings that I have made in there. [After each 12-tone row is done] I tell it, ‘You’re going to take a little break, but I don’t want it to be the same break every time,’ so that it’s a phrase.”
To get a sound that convincingly blended in with the rest of the tracks, Okazaki had keyboardist Matt Mitchell run the robots through his Prophet Six analog synth. “I wrote a file of them improvising and ran that file through the synth,” explains Okazaki. “Matt would do the sounds for it,” so both the robots and Mitchell used the same Prophet Six in their own way.
“I’ve never been that interested in imitating anybody’s style.”
Okazaki, a family man with three children, seems busy in all parts of his life, but he must have learned to maximize his time because he’s incredibly productive. In 2018, he recorded his magnum opus, the critically acclaimed Work—a five-hour, 70-song marathon of the complete works of Thelonious Monk, all performed on solo guitar. It’s a project he’s wanted to do since his teen years. But in the process, he labored so relentlessly that he ignored his body’s warning signs and suffered a repetitive stress injury. That didn’t stop him from intensely preparing for and entering the New York City Marathon just a few months later. When that chapter was over, Okazaki again focused on his musical pursuits and proceeded to record several more albums, both as a leader and side musician.
Thisness is Okazaki’s fifth album in a three-year period and reflects his collaborative approach. It features his Trickster band, which includes Mitchell on keyboards, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Okazaki has worked with each of these musicians for years, both in his own group and in saxophonist Steve Coleman’s, and they’ve developed a creative relationship that made it possible to record complex music quickly. The entire album was recorded over a two-day span with the quartet recording live on day one and overdubs the following day.
And the music on Thisness is incredibly complex. Though Okazaki has studied Indian music seriously, his compositions are also somewhat reminiscent of contemporary Western classical music. You’ll see no shortage of odd note groupings, polyrhythms, and mixed meters carving out space for intricate atonal melodies throughout. Plenty of advanced jazz musicians that proudly boast about their ability to play John Coltrane’s “Countdown” in all 12 keys would cower in fear if they were asked to perform some of Okazaki’s works.
Despite the puzzling, esoteric nature of his compositions, Okazaki’s roots draw from the jazz tradition. After initially starting on classical guitar at age 6, he developed an interest in jazz at 12 and was doing solo guitar gigs at a local Italian restaurant by age 13. His first guitar teachers were Michael Townsend and Chuck Easton (a bebop-influenced Berklee grad), and he took music theory group classes in a cabin in the woods with a teacher named Alex Fowler.
Miles Okazaki’s Gear
• 1937 Gibson L-50
• 1940 Gibson ES-150 Charlie Christian (bought with matching EH-150 amp)
• 1963 Gibson C-O Classical
• 1978 Gibson ES-175 with Charlie Christian pickup
• 2018 Slaman “Pauletta” with Charlie Christian pickup modified with adjustable pole pieces drilled into the blade. A hum-canceling coil was recently added by Ilitch Electronics.
• 2002 Yamaha SA2200
• 2016 Kiesel HH2
• 2008 Caius quarter-tone guitar
• Quilter Aviator Cub
• Quilter Tone Block 200
• Raezer’s Edge Twin 8 cabinet
• Boss OC-2 Octave
• Boomerang III Phrase Sampler with Side Car controller
• One Control Mosquito Blender Expressio
• Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal
• Dunlop CBM95 Cry Baby Mini Wah
• Boss RV-5 Digital Reverb
• Analog Man Peppermint Fuzz
• MXR GT-OD
• Electro-Harmonix Micro POG
• Dunlop DVP4 Volume
• Sonic Research ST-300 tuner
Strings and Picks
• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .013s (Gibson ES-150 Charlie Christian and Slaman “Pauletta”)
• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .014s (Gibson ES-175 with Charlie Christian pickup and Caius)
• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .012s (Yamaha SA2200)
• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .011s (Kiesel HH2)
• D’Addario Roundwound .014s (Gibson L-50)
• D’Addario Pro-Arte high tension nylon (Gibson C-O)
• Fender .88 mm for .012 strings, 1.0 mm for .014 strings
• Homemade picks using Pick Punch (Preferred material is American Express Delta Sky Miles Credit Card)
• Ilitch Electronics Driftwood pick
• Knobby picks bought from an Instagram metal shredder
During his teens, Okazaki went through a jazz-snob phase, and although he hails from Port Townsend, Washington, he never got into the nearby Seattle scene. “The ’90s, Nirvana and Soundgarden.… No, I kind of missed all that,” he admits. “I was there, but I was into Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk. I was stuck in the ’60s and ’50s at that point.” He still cites those musicians, in addition to Grant Green, George Benson, and Charlie Christian (whom he hailed as “the greatest guitarist that ever lived” in a blog post) as influences.
After attending Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, Okazaki came to New York to pursue his master’s degree in guitar at Manhattan School of Music. There, he found a mentor in Rodney Jones, a jazz/R&B player with tremendous chops. “I studied with, and continue to study with, Rodney,” explains Okazaki. “He was my teacher from 1997. I worked pretty closely with him for about 10 years, rebuilding my technique. My technique wasn’t good. You know I didn’t really have a teacher before him that really talked about guitar so much. I had teachers, but it was more just sort of like other people from other instruments. His technique is based on a hybrid George Benson type of deal. It has to do with the picking, but also there are many, many things that have to do with micro movements of the right hand. So, I spent a long time studying that. I still don’t really play like that, but I play kind of like a hybrid version of his hybrid version. Now mine is mixed with some other stuff.”
Jones referred Okazaki to legendary saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and Okazaki did a few gigs with the soul-jazz master shortly before his passing in 2000. It was around this period that Okazaki made his mark on the NYC jazz scene. He worked with vocalist Jane Monheit and was initially cast as a straight-ahead guitarist. “For a long time, I was just a standards player. I was pigeonholed in that area,” he recalls. “I did this weird stuff on the side—well, I didn’t consider it to be weird—but it was hard for people in their mind to imagine that you do different things.”
The guitarist found he was able to fully explore other sides of his playing when he landed a gig with Steve Coleman, whose M-Base Collective created a new language of incredibly challenging, forward-thinking music. From 2008 until 2017, Okazaki’s artistry thrived as he played alongside Coleman.
”I don’t know how many people you know that can play in James Brown’s band. It’s harder than playing in my band, that’s for sure.“
Very few players can comfortably hang with both the down-to-earth, bluesy jazz sounds of George Benson and the futuristic, ultra-heady maze of Coleman’s music like Okazaki can. The guitarist sees the two approaches as sharing common heritage. “Benson’s language is blues and R&B, and Steve Coleman’s is, too. There’s different theories and stuff behind it, but it’s not technically different to me,” he explains.
“If it was language, I’m interested in the grammar, not so much what language I’m speaking about,” he explains. “Or if it was cooking, I might be interested in the principles of ‘how do you cook a piece of meat,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m doing French cooking.’ George Benson has a style for sure, and a lot of people, when they learn about George Benson, will also sort of imitate his style. I’ve never been that interested in imitating anybody’s style. I kind of want to have my own style.”
Okazaki’s style is radically different from both the sounds of his main guitar influences and other offerings in today’s jazz landscape. His abstruse music has been called academic, but that’s a label the guitarist isn’t particularly fond of. “I would push back a little on ‘academic’ because, first of all, I don’t like academic music,” he says. “I don’t like any type of art that has to be explained. When I go to an art museum, I don’t want to have to read the little blurb. I don’t want anybody to have to know anything about music to appreciate it. There are things involved in how it’s made that are interesting to me, but I don’t care if they’re interesting to anybody else, or I don’t want that to be a feature of it that’s really that important, unless people want to look for that.”
For Okazaki, his music might be also called academic, or complex, or cerebral, but that doesn’t explain his purpose, or set him apart. “James Brown is complex, or Robert Johnson is complex,” he says. “All these things are complex, meaning that they’re not easily explained. I don’t know how many people you know that can play in James Brown’s band. It’s harder than playing in my band, that’s for sure.”
“The test is: Does it sound good, or does it not sound good? That’s the only question for me.”
Complexity comes in many forms. Just because a piece of music happens to be based on one chord “that doesn’t mean that it’s simple,” Okazaki observes. He believes the opposite is true as well. “There are things that take a lot of work, and there’s a lot of machinations involved, and a lot of manipulation of materials and thought, and construction, and it still sounds like shit,” he laughs. “And there are things that are just one chord and amazing.”
As much as Okazaki is known as a musical thinker who can throw down some heavy information in his compositions and playing, what matters most is how it sounds. “It might look good on paper, but if it doesn’t sound like anything, then it’s not good,” he says. “The test is: Does it sound good, or does it not sound good? That’s the only question for me.”
Trickster’s Dream – “The Lighthouse”
The punk rock pioneer splits on nothing more than a Schecter S-1, a JCM2000, and a well-placed DL4.Punk rock is
concerning power, perspective, as well as message. It’s been the gateway medication for a great deal of guitar players and also music lovers. And also those forces are what guided East Bay Ray away from his bar-band gig in 1978.
” The little hairs on the back of my neck stood,” Ray bore in mind throughout a 2016 PG meeting. “I saw the Weirdos having fun. I stated, ‘This is what I wish to do.’ I phased myself out of bench band as well as placed an advertisement up in Aquarius Records and also Rather Ripped Records. Klaus Flouride (bassist Geoffrey Lyall) and Jello Biafra (vocalist Eric Boucher) answered the advertisement.”
And with the addition of drummer Ted (Bruce Slesinger), the Dead Kennedys were born. By the time they tape-recorded their 1981 EP In God We Trust, Inc. ( by themselves independent label, Alternative Tentacles), Ted was gone and D.H. Peligro (Darren Henley) became their solid skin slammer.Through the band’s first 8 years, four albums, and an EP, their subversive harpoon of jagged political commentary was tipped by Biafra’s verses. That obtained the country’s focus, yet what motivates musicians to today was the power triad’s natural combination of acquainted and strange aspects of punk and primitive rock. Certain, you’ve obtained the power chords and also the four-on-the-floor paces, yet deepness and subtlety under the biting messaging is essential to the DK’s chemistry. Their punk-rock bangers have modal tendencies as well as atonal flourishes, and several of their most thrilling tunes have odd-metered foundations. Their debut solitary, “California Über Alles,” is a take on author Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, no less. As well as no one else in the land of the 6-string shreds quite like East Bay Ray.
” One of the factors our tracks have lasted as long is the structure underneath has a whole lot in common with a Beatles song or a Motown song or perhaps a ’30s requirement,” he states. “There are standard building and constructions that make a track work. I actually had a hard time copying or figuring out solos off my favorite recordings when discovering to play, so I would certainly establish my own musical method to receive from one area to one more. It’s actually a lack of method that aided with the music.”
His creative thinking and resourcefulness do not stop there. East Bay Ray was the band’s co-producer/engineer on a lot of recordings, as well as he’s played with his very own tone tools, putting together partscasters that ideal matched his strategy. Ray has jammed humbuckers into the bridge of a T-style for a twangier bite that aids his speedy arpeggios sting a bit a lot more. He’s added short-scale Japanese F-style necks for slinkier playability. And, most significantly, he placed a Maestro Echoplex before his amp to create the trademark clanging sound listened to on his traditional recordings with the band. (” One of my favorite documents of perpetuity is Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions. That is just one of the records that inspired me to obtain an Echoplex, to get that slapback resemble.”)
” We just didn’t recognize the guidelines on what to play as well as how to play,” he connects. “That’s where not recognizing something pressures you to make your own remedy, developing something unique and also new, verifying that necessity is the mom of development. The absence of strategy as well as expertise helped produce our sound and the songs.”
Before the Dead Kennedys’ headlining show at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl on June 15th, PG hit the phase for a enlightening however quick tone talk. We covered Ray’s economically abundant arrangement that consists of a solitary Schecter doublecut as well as a simplified, solid-sounding Marshall, and also we were enlightened concerning why he puts his Line 6 delay in advance of the amp and what that does to repeats.
[Offered you by D’Addario Nexxus 360 Tuner.]
S-1 Is Good Food
East Bay Ray was known to make use of a variety of Fenders in the early days of the Dead Kennedys. In a PG article, he described that he chose Leo’s offspring (or duplicates) because the longer range length as well as string-through construction provided his noise extra twang as well as quality. He commonly modded out bridge single-coils for hotter humbuckers since that provided him a huskier tone that punched through the mix. He keeps in mind in this brand-new Rundown that the Japanese T-styles he utilized in the ’80s in fact had a 24.75″ scale size, regular of Gibson-style electrics.
” That’s how my noise started: I liked the twangy sound with the fatter humbucking pickup. Like on ‘Holiday in Cambodia,’ I play a bunch of arpeggios as well as they truly sound out.” (In the same short article, he does mention using Gibson models, yet really felt a “Les Paul benefits one-string type things, because it is really fat, yet when you start playing two strings, it’s not as verbalize as a Fender would be.”)
For this headlining run through the U.S., Ray brought a solitary Schecter S-1. He states in the Rundown that he still has all his japanese duplicates and old fenders however doesn’t want anything to happen to them. To soup up the doublecut, he commonly swaps in a Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 (neck) and also Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB (bridge) for the design’s common Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers. (Although the S-1 on this tour still has supply pickups.)
Ray’s guitar for the DK’s first singles,” Holiday in Cambodia” as well as “California Über Alles,” was videotaped via a Fender Super Reverb( with an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Power Booster in front of it ). Quickly after those recordings, the self-admitted “scientific research nerd” found schematics for Marshalls and also Boogie amps and hot-rodded his Fender Super Reverb to have an additional tube channel, overhauling it to, essentially, a master-volume Marshall. He finished to a real-deal JMP for the band’s later documents and live shows. Currently when on scenic tour, he carries a Marshall JCM 2000 since it has “a versatile sound with a great midrange, and it does not have a lot of handles like the TSLs [laughs] That point is annoying to take a look at.”
A Blast from the Past
Here’s a shot from our Forgotten Heroes piece of East Bay Ray( featured in the August 2016 problem) cutting tracks at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios playing a Coral S-style rather than his Tele. Furthermore, you see the JMP and mighty ‘Plex lurking on the table.A More Musical Way … Way … Way
In the band’s prime time, Ray took a trip all over with his beloved Maestro Echoplex. He comments in the Rundown that while it was a vital component to his noise, it was a pain to maintain with its tape cartridges and the requirement for a container of tape cleanser. Plus, in Europe power performs at 50 Hz so the system would certainly run slower. (The U.S. conventional power is 60 Hz.) Retiring the solid-state echo equipment years back, he arrived at the Line 6 DL4 as his now-long-running replacement. EBR likes it due to the fact that it has 3 presets as well as he constantly has it locked in the analog-with-modulation setting. The key to his kerrangingly music repeats is putting the DL4 (and the ‘Plex, prior to he acquired the Line 6 tool) in advance of the amp, making each echo a cleaner degeneration than the one prior to it.Taken from our
2016 meeting, we’ll allow East Bay Ray decode the technique to his chaos:” One of the tricks is to put the echo device prior to the amp. Recording engineers don’t like that. Due to the fact that they’re at much less quantity, the echoes clean up as they go through the amp. Recording designers or some guitar players stick it in the loop in the back of the amp. They make the sound, procedure it, and after that they add the echo– but that’s even more like a post-EQ result. I do it pre-EQ. Even when I’m maxed out– like with the compressor on, the amp up, as well as the guitar right up– if there is an item of silence, if you listen to the resemble, it cleans up. The last ones will be the tidy guitar. It’s a less technological means to do it, yet it’s a much more musical way. It’s bad design, yet a lot more music. For somebody that’s learnt design,’ Each resemble is different! ‘From an artistic side,’ Yeah. That’s what makes it more interesting– since they’re different.'” As for the one in charge CS-3 Compression Sustainer, he uses it much more as an increase than squeezebox. He maxes the level, reduces back the tone, dimes the attack, and pushes the maintain, resulting in a moderate quantity jump for solos as well as single-note ditties. It’s in the chain after the DL4 and in advance of the amp so it can boost the repeats when the CS-3 is involved in addition to the eco-friendly machine.
Knob Job Ray’s guitar for the DK’s initial songs,” Holiday in Cambodia” and” California Über Alles, “was tape-recorded via a Fender Super Reverb (with an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Power Booster in front of it). < div class=" rebellt-item col1" data-basename= "a-more-musical-way-way-way" data-href=" https://www.premierguitar.com/videos/rig-rundowns/dead-kennedys?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5" data-id= "5" data-is-image=" True" data-post-id =" 2657583973"
data-published-at=” 1656525573 “data-reload-ads=” false “data-use-pagination=” False” id =” rebelltitem5″ readability=” 41.534626038781″ > A More Musical Way … Way … Way In the band’s heyday, Ray took a trip everywhere with his cherished Maestro Echoplex., we’ll let East Bay Ray translate the method to his insanity:” One of the tricks is to put the resemble device before the amp. East Bay Ray was understood to use a variety of Fenders in the early days of the Dead Kennedys. Ray’s guitar for the DK’s initial singles,” Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Über Alles,” was recorded through a Fender Super Reverb( with an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Power Booster in front of it ).
When the great Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes passed away earlier this year, I thought a lot about Johnny Marr. Marr was moved deeply by the girl groups of the ’60s—their positivity, energy, and the convergence of ecstasy and melancholy in the music. He was even fired up by the audaciousness of their style: The impressive beehive hairdo worn by Spector’s bandmate Estelle Bennett famously inspired the jet-black pile Marr wore at the height of Smiths fame.
But the most lasting influence of the girl groups on Marr is probably the musical playground that Ronnie once made her own: the wall of sound. In the decades since Phil Spector concocted the wall of sound from an orchestra of guitars, strings, drums, pianos, chimes, castanets, and whatever else was gathering dust in the closets of Gold Star Studios, scores of musicians—from Brian Wilson to the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen—have chased its elusive, ineffable magic.
Johnny Marr – Spirit Power and Soul (Live)
Johnny Marr’s versions of the wall of sound, however, are highly original and distinctive. They are marked by deep resourcefulness and a gift for achieving wall-of-sound grandeur and scale through the humble medium of multitracked guitar. And from the Smiths’ first LPs to his latest release, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, Marr achieved this wizardry by mining a seemingly endless vein of riffs and through his penchant for guitar arrangement—talents cultivated through intuition, passionate listening, and a boundless, post-modern knack for tastefully blending influences.
As formidable as Marr’s arranging abilities, melodic instincts, and sense of musical recall are, they all find realization in hands driven by Swiss-watch timing, economy, and percussive potency. And though he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not a musical technician, he is, in many ways, as complete a musician as you could ever know.
I was really struck by the bigness of Fever Dreams Pts 1-4. I pictured you making this record, amid lockdown, making music for the clubs we hoped to return to again. Even the picture of you on the cover—you next to the Fender Showman—seemed like a totemic suggestion of longing for big sounds.
I think that was subconscious. I say subconscious because I started writing it before Covid and had this idea that I wanted to do a double LP, and because it was going to be a double, I thought it could be expansive. I just had this idea that (the double LP format) would give me a lot of space. But, of course, with the way things turned out, I ended up—and I must confess, illegally—going alone into my studio space, which is the top floor of an old factory, staring out at my Mini, which was the only car in this vast parking lot, and working like that for weeks.
So, I ended up very aware of all this idea of space, which is even why the sky is so blue on the cover. I took all the equipment in the space out for that shoot to signify the way I was feeling about all that. There were also these nocturnal themes that emerged. I think a lot of people were lying awake wondering if they still had a job and worrying about their businesses. So, a lot of the songs reference those feelings—like “Lightning People:” “I can’t sleep/static sheets/cries that put me on my knees”—that idea of a storm coming.
I made the assumption that the part of my audience that listens most closely and that I’ve built up over the last 40 years or whatever, that they are living similar lives to what I was talking about. So, I didn’t have a concept, but I did have a sort of nagging agenda—that the album would be expansive and that I would tackle feelings about the psychology and predicaments of being a modern person.
“You know that concept of work/life balance? I don’t really have that concept. I hear good things about it and maybe I should try it out.”
The rhythmic drive and dance feel of many of the tunes also struck me as nocturnal. Was that a conscious thing?
Well, it’s funny how some things turn out. I started writing the album and just a few weeks into it, got the call to work on the Bond film [No Time to Die]. There’s a lot of downtime in that kind of situation, so I started working on the song “Receiver.” And as you said, it sounded to me like the atmosphere of being in a nightclub—like those I used to go to in [London neighborhood] Euston at the end of the ’80s—finding myself, you know, still there at 5:40 in the morning. So that song is about transmitting and receiving erotic signals.
That’s the beauty of songwriting. Sometimes you mix and match images or sometimes a concept comes first. The same thing happened with “Lightning People.” I had that title, which to me sounded like a Staple Singers song or something, so it ended up with a sort of choir/gospel feel. Musically, you can still tell that it’s coming from an indie rocker from Manchester, but the whole idea started from just that title. Lots of stuff still comes via the way people probably expect I write songs, too, which is to just sit down with a guitar. The last song, “Human,” is like that.
All the way back to the Smiths, you’ve always evoked feelings vividly through purely instrumental means—particularly those feelings that that cross sadness and positivity. But you really went after it lyrically here.
Well, in working with lyricists and paying attention to the ones I haven’t worked with, I’ve noticed that as a lyricist you have to be very self-aware and ask yourself, “Well, what am I really saying?” And in the case of this album, I was asking myself how I was going to top an album that was really well-liked among my fans. I know what that feeling is like. I don’t like to call that “pressure,” but that’s what it is.
Johnny Marr’s Gear
- Signature Fender Jaguar
- 1973 Les Paul Custom
- Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck
- Yamaha SG-1000
- Yamaha SG-700
- 1963 Fender Jazzmaster
- Martin D12-28
- Auden acoustics, 6-string and 12-string
- 1984 or ’85 Gibson Les Paul with Bigsby
- Gretsch 6120
Strings & Picks
- Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings (.011–.048)
- D’Addario acoustic strings (.012–.053)
- Ernie Ball Medium picks
- 1969 Marshall plexi
- HH Electronics transistor combo
- Roland JC-120
- 1965 Deluxe Reverb
- Fender Twin Reverb (black panel)
- Kemper Profiler
- Fender Bassman
- MXR Flanger
- Carl Martin AC-Tone
- Carl Martin Plexitone
- Carl Martin HeadRoom Reverb
- Carl Martin Delayla
- Carl Martin Chorus XII
- Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble
You’ve experienced that pressure before: Trying to top Meat Is Murder with The Queen Is Dead.
Before The Queen Is Dead, I remember a moment where I was walking through my kitchen and stopped in my tracks, just literally frozen, realizing what it was going to take to do that. And when I was doing Dusk with The The, I remember the feeling when Matt Johnson and I realized the record was going to completely dominate our lives for two years. And with this record, in particular, I probably was feeling the pressure of following Call the Comet, because I was literally writing 48 hours after the last show to support that record.
Was the decision to background guitars in some cases on this album also a response to that record?
Deciding where guitars should sit in more electronic music is a balancing act. It’s very easy to get it wrong. One way I’ve done it wrong in the past is by not putting enough guitar on. Like with Electronic’s second album, I was trying to make my guitar sound like a synth. But at the time, that was part of my agenda—taking guitars out, seeing what filters did, things like that.
But honestly, I don’t really like a lot of music that blends electronic music and guitars. So, when I do it, it has to be appropriate and really capture a feeling. I think I know enough to do that well now. A song like “Ariel”—a lot of people hear that as very ’80s, and the riff is built on a sequencer. But I made the riff really loud and it’s a very ’80s, Roland Jazz Chorus riff. So, there I really doubled down on the contrast between the electronic and guitar elements. On “Spirit Power and Soul,” if you take the guitar out, it’s a totally different kind of track, and the guitar is backgrounded. So, I think I know how to find the right blend better these days.
Given that newfound freedom, did you write a lot more of these tracks from rhythmic underpinnings? It seems like working alone may have forced your hand in that respect.
Yeah. I don’t mean to take any credit away from my amazing band, which has been with me for more than 10 years now. But the entire record was demo’d and programmed with me playing everything on it. Then the band came in to make it sound more like “us” as a band. But things like “Spirit Power and Soul,” I was hearing that sequencer pattern in my head long before I wrote the song, and I knew I wanted very much for it to sound like Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, or Cabaret Voltaire but with guitars on it.
When I was in my teens, I had a tape player that I could overdub on—this was before I had a Portastudio—and I’d get into obsessively layering. This album is really the grown-up version of that. It’s that same guy, but he’s now been in The The, Modest Mouse, and all that stuff. And again, because I knew it was going to be a double album, I allowed myself to do whatever the hell I wanted. So, something like “Lightning People” and that gospel vibe—I never would’ve done that on The Messenger or Playland because on those records I had these very specific and deliberate parameters I was trying to work within. Which can be a very good thing.
When you’re a writer, and particularly when you’re very young, things often become very much about what you’re not. But in this day and age, when you have a universe of plug-ins, instruments, and directions at your fingertips—not only can you get option fatigue, but your music can become a stylistic hodgepodge. So usually, with the band I impose some restrictions that limit that. On this LP, though, I just stripped them away.
What did that feel like to embrace that freedom?
Honestly, I didn’t even know I was doing it until much later. Because of the lockdown I was usually alone in the studio, so I thought, “Well, let’s see what all these virtual keyboards and synths and machines that I’ve been buying for the past five years do.” First, I had to spend a week getting really frustrated doing all the updates to the point where I don’t even really want to make music. But then I’d wake up after three hours of sleep with a song in my head and be ready to go.
You’re a writer that famously goes on hot streaks and creative runs. Do you still experience that zombie-like sense of creative possession? And how readily are you able to tap into it? What tools do you use when you can’t tap into it?
This thing you’re talking about—finding inspiration and hopefully, some otherworldly place—finding that place is something that has driven me since I was a kid. But you know that concept of work/life balance? I don’t really have that concept. I hear good things about it and maybe I should try it out.
But without mythologizing things too much, when I make records, I tend to lock myself out of the house, or forget where I’ve left the car. I develop very odd sleeping patterns if I sleep at all. I decided many years ago that drugs, particularly cocaine, don’t do any good, and alcohol isn’t really good for my creative process—maybe when you’re younger.
So, it gets back to that quote of Picasso’s: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” In my own process, that means I’ll work on a song—and for it to snag me, the initial feeling has to be something like, “This is the greatest thing that no one has ever heard.” That’s entirely subjective, but that energy will keep you locked in for a couple hours and if you’re really lucky you’ll get on a real roll and you’ll end up with something inspired. Sometimes you do something for a couple hours and you realize, “Ah, this isn’t so great,” and you have to drop it. Emotionally, that can take you down. Especially when you work with a band and spend a few weeks on something and decide, “Nope, this isn’t cutting it.” But things don’t always have to start out as esoteric to become esoteric. And as my friend Nick Cave says, “Just do the fucking work.”
“You still have to get in and do the work. This idea that a songwriter is walking in a supermarket one day, and someone in the next aisle says something and it instantly turns into a whole song…well, yeah, well that might work if you’re Smokey Robinson!”
And alchemy can come from any stage of the creative process—writing, mixing….
Yeah. One of the positive things that comes of being around and doing this for so long is you can look back and say, “Oh, okay, that’s a song people still really like that I’m still playing in my set.” And I’ll realize that it came about from fucking about on a bass line for 20 minutes. But then there are songs like “The Headmaster Ritual” where I carried around a bit of it for a couple years, and then one day we needed a song, and I sped the fucking thing up and I heard it in a totally different way.
Neil Finn, who is a masterful songwriter, nailed it when he said: “There is no formula for writing a song. It’s a mystery. Embrace the mystery.” But you still have to get in and do the work. This idea that a songwriter is walking in a supermarket one day, and someone in the next aisle says something and it instantly turns into a whole song … well, yeah, that might work if you’re Smokey Robinson!
But in my case, and certainly in the case of something like “Spirit Power and Soul,” I really had to craft that one over weeks and weeks. So that one is an example of tenacity and staying true to a vision. If you get caught up too much in divine intervention, you’ll wander around forever waiting for some melody that no one’s ever heard before. It’s in doing the work that you get there. Loads of great artists just write and write. I mentioned Nick Cave, he does it. Thom Yorke, he does it. Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse—he would write an amazing string of lyrics and then just rinse it and start again.
We’ve talked a lot about how your songs have been part hard work, and part unexpected sources of inspiration. Do you find you have to sometimes pull away from the guitar to reignite your relationship with the instrument? Do you ever get alienated from the guitar?
No. If anything, if for some reason I was going to move to Bali and retire, it would be to play for eight or nine hours a day and really expand my vocabulary. Generally, I’ll put a guitar [on a record] wherever I can. Because y’know, when I was a kid, if you bought a Thin Lizzy record, when you dropped the needle on that record, you expected to hear guitar. But because I’m also a producer, I have to find where that guitar fits appropriately. I learned guitar at the same time that I was learning about production. I also learned how to play guitar by playing along with 45s. I never had a lesson and never bought books. So I think of myself as someone who makes records, and the way I make records is to write songs. But I love guitar records. So while I’ll try other things, I’ve also been known to turn to my band while we’re working on something and say, “This needs a new intro, because we’re a guitar band.”
The Smiths – Live The Tube Studio 1984 HD (Full Show)
Do you think the idiosyncrasies and individuality in your playing comes from being self-taught? What about your natural proclivities as an arranger?
As a boy, a few of my pals were into playing guitar. They were really focused on “Voodoo Chile” or on what Steve Howe was doing. But I would listen to, say, the Patti Smith Group’s Radio Ethiopia, something like “Ask the Angels,” a song that’s really simple and straightforward—just an A minor and an F—and I’d think: “That’s a really cool song, it starts with power chords, okay, that’s a little like the Who. Cool I get that.” But all of the sudden I’d notice there’s a piano playing eighth-notes that sounds like the Velvet Underground or the Stooges, so I’d end up trying to play the whole record—the guitar sand the piano—rather than just the guitar part.
I was also very into Sparks, which isn’t guitar music per se, but the way the guitar is integrated is very, “Okay, now were going to use a fucking guitar!” I was just really into the sound of records as a whole. So I thought a lot about layering and when I got a machine I could overdub on, I started layering 18 guitars. By the time I got the Smiths together I had it down to 15 while trying to make it sound like just eight.
Part of that ability to layer and not create a complete mess seems related to your acute sense of rhythm and timing. That’s especially apparent in some of the Smiths’ licks—in a single part I can sometimes hear not only Keith Richards, but Keith Richards and Brian Jones, with some Steve Cropper sixths on top and Leo Nocentelli’s right hand in the same song. Was that skill cultivated from the intellectual process of breaking down how a record works?
I found around 14 that the Rolling Stones records from the ’60s, in particular, really blew my mind. Back then, that was unusual. Because my friends were jumping around to the British pop groups—things like the English Beat. But I’d hear records like “The Last Time,” and even though I knew it was old, I just thought, “Wow, this sounds better than anything around now.” So I really studied that—really getting into those singles, how they were put together, and the sound of them. I realized that Keith and Brian were doing this meshing thing. “The Last Time” is a good example; so is “It’s All Over Now.” I really picked up the soul stuff from those guys. But a lot of the rhythmic drive you’re talking about is just my personality and plain exuberance—hyperactivity really. There’s a song on The Messenger, “Generate, Generate.” I mean, that’s really a tribute to my hyperactivity (laughs). I was quite into being hyper!
You’ve always valued art and seem to have derived a lot of your energy from the notion of a bohemian life. I was always moved by your relationship and loyalty to Manchester and what that place meant as sort of a creative organism and catalyst to your development.
If you’ve got an artistic temperament, you can find inspiration in almost any place. But yeah, Manchester being so urban and musically orientated—there was a lot to rally around. When my kids were teens, me and their mother brainwashed them into having weekend jobs in Manchester, so they knew what it was to finish their shift in the city on a summer’s night, just before the clubs were opening, when all the shop workers are starting to go to the bars and exchange ideas, and all the fashionistas are lurking around. It’s really magical. Urban life is changing and subterranean life is changing. But young eyes—they don’t know different. They don’t know that a place isn’t Cleveland in the ’70s or New York in the ’60s. They’ll make the best of it. There are always great bands coming out. Right now, as we speak, there’s some band of girls and boys getting together in Williamsburg, finding their voice—and it will be great.
The Deep Cuts: Johnny Marr’s Gear in His Own Words
Anyone that’s followed Johnny Marr’s career knows the man is a certifiable guitar addict, with a Fort Knox worth of killer vintage instruments to utilize at the turn of a whim. Marr rather religiously used his signature Fender Jaguar over the last several years, but he reached deeper into his collection for the many less quintessentially Marr sounds on Fever Dreams Pts 1-4. Marr explains what he used in great detail below.
“A lot of my gear for this record was really deliberately selected, and I really honed in on a few things. I’ve got two 1973 Les Paul Customs I used for some of the darker sounds. You hear that on ‘Receiver.’ I ran those through my old MXR Flanger and either my Marshall Plexi or my HH transistor combo. Those things were part of the stylistic structure I wanted to maintain.
I played my signature Jaguar quite a lot. But since I got more into the movie soundtrack work, I’ve used a lot more 12-string, and for that I’ve been playing a Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck because it’s the best 12-string sound. With all that mass, and the humbuckers—and if you can get it together right—all the extra resonance from the 6-string pickups, you get all kinds of overtones. There’s a couple Yamaha SG-1000s and an SG-700 on the record, which all have the Spinex pickups but sound pretty different. I used my ’63 Jazzmaster, too.
For acoustics, I played a few guitars by Auden, a company here in the UK—a 12- and 6-string—as well as the Martin D12-28 I’ve used since the Smiths. I also used the guitar that I’ve probably played more than any guitar in my life—the red 1984 or ’85 Les Paul with a Bigsby that I played a lot with the Smiths. I got that around the Meat Is Murder album. It’s great for clean stuff. A lot of stuff that folks think is a Rickenbacker is the Les Paul tracked with my Jaguar or tracked with itself in coil (split) mode. If I want to get a little natural chorus, that guitar is perfect because I’ll put a part down with both pickups on one side of the stereo image then put a split-coil track on the other side. The effect of the same guitar with these slightly different tones helps create that sound. For whammy-stuff and dive bombs, I’ll often use a Gretsch 6120 from the Smiths days. Another big part of this album, and the movie stuff, is one of my signature Jags with a Fernandes sustainer pickup in it.
Amp-wise, apart from the HH, I used a lot of the same amps I’ve had since the Smiths: my Roland JC-120, a ’65 Deluxe Reverb, a black-panel Fender Twin Reverb that I use with the Gretsch. Occasionally I’ll use the Kemper for overdubs or a Bassman or the ’69 Marshall Plexi and Super Reverb amps I used with Modest Mouse. Effects-wise, I use a lot of Carl Martin stuff: The AC-Tone, Plexitone, HeadRoom Reverb, Delayla, and Chorus XII are all great. And I’ll use the Boss RT-20 Rotary Sound a lot, too.
I’ve gone down the weird road before. But if I can’t use all this stuff and my fingers to squeeze out the right sound, I’m either not trying hard enough, or what I’m looking for is wrong. Someday I’d like to find something that will replicate the weirdness of Johnny Thunders’ 2-string bends. But I’m always looking for something that will walk the line between musical and radical.” —Johnny Marr
Bandleader Adam Granduciel on how single-coils, the Dead’s Wall of Sound, and cascades of chorus build his live tones. Plus, bassist David Hartley gets weird, wild, and wonky.
For nearly two decades and across five albums, The War on Drugs’ founder and frontman Adam Granduciel has narrated our complex modern lives while his band has scored our dreams.
The captivating moods of their music, much like us, morph from dense melancholy to saturated, swirling madness and everywhere in between. Granduciel often layers his Springsteen-meets-Young proletariat prose atop a post-rock soundscape, but the heartbeat of their impressive, expansive live shows is their gear and how it is implemented.
“I could play the whole tour with two or maybe three guitars—a White Falcon, Strat, and maybe a Jazzmaster—but I bring all these out just for fun,” he says with a laugh as he considers his trove of axes.
So, let’s have some fun already! Before a full evening of The War on Drugs’ jams in support of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, PG was invited to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. We covered Granduciel’s growing guitar collection, got the skinny on how Jerry Garcia’s monstrous setup played into the bandleader’s theatre rig, and we took in a cockpit view of his stompbox squadron full of tone ticklers, sizzlers, and wigglers. In addition, bassist David Hartley showed off a trio of Ps, an armada of Ampegs, and demo’d a fuzz that has ended his quest for razing tones.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Keeping It in the Family
If you’re a fan of Rig Rundowns or Kurt Vile & the Violators, you’ve already seen this Strat. The above Fender American Vintage ’57 reissue was once owned by Jesse Trbovich, who’s flanked Vile for years. Trbovich landed a true-blue ’70s Olympic white Strat and needed to unload this to make room. Granduciel quickly raised his hand as a landing spot because he really enjoyed how comfortably the neck played. And since bonding with it, he likes its low-output single-coils because he can “juice it with pedals.” (It’s worth noting that Trbovich put in a Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Strat Surfer Series in the middle position, allowing him to have hum-canceling operation in the second and fourth position.) All of Granduciel’s electrics take Ernie Ball 2220 Power Slinkys (.011–.048).
It’s the One
“When this thing is in my hands, I can react with it, and it becomes this whole other animal. It can be unwieldy, but this guitar plugged into a cranked Princeton or small tweed sounds incredible,” allows Granduciel. So, as you can imagine, this 1969 Gibson SG is Adam’s right-hand when it comes to recording, but, as he explains later in the video, it doesn’t coexist pleasantly with his live setup. He scooped this gem at Rivington Guitars in New York City.
Flip a Coin
Granduciel had lusted after this vintage offset for weeks when seeing it listed on Reverb by Chelsea Guitars. The listing was removed and he thought that it was gone forever. A few months later, he was in NYC and decided to stop into the shop and, low and behold, the sunburst Jazzmaster was on their bench in pieces. Apparently, the original buyer from the Reverb listing was after a birth-year model (1964, as listed on the Reverb page), but when he removed the neck its pocket revealed a 1963 date. He traded in the guitar for a proper ’64 and, fatefully, Granduciel didn’t let a second pass before offering to buy it. Alongside the SG, this is another heavy hitter for recording.
Down Under with Terry
During a 2018 tour of Australia, Granduciel scored this 1966 Fender Jazzmaster that looks swanky with a matching black headstock. He claims the rhythm circuit in this one “sounds killer,” while the lead circuit is “super bright and used on ‘Occasional Rain.’” In addition to being a remarkable instrument, he loves that it reminds him of a short span of time that included a wonderful tour of Down Under, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl.
Cracks aren’t meant to be beautiful, especially on guitars, but looking at the ’66’s backside reveals a twisted thumbprint.
Fly, Firebird Fly
This 1965 non-reverse Firebird was upgraded by its previous owner with a set of Lollar P-90s. If you recall the last Rundown with TWOD, Granduciel added a Bigsby, but that has since been removed.
This Fender American Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster has been a dependable dynamo for Adam. He prefers it because he knows what he’s going to get sonically and he can throw it around without worry. The newer pickups offer a snarlier tone, so it gets used for songs like “Pain,” and the top-end sear helps him cut through the seven-piece live band.
This new-ish Gibson Hummingbird gets busted out for C# tunes and features a LR Baggs M1 soundhole pickup.
Bastion of Tone
Not quite the famed Wall of Sound procured by the Dead and audio engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley, but Granduciel’s evolving setup is heading in that direction.
Since our last Rundown, Adam has ditched the Hiwatts (although he admits to enjoying that era of TWOD) for the Alembic F-2B Stereo Preamp that was used by Jerry Garcia and David Gilmour. He describes its circuity as mimicking the front end of a Fender Dual Showman. “There’s just so much clean headroom and they’re so creamy. And I don’t know what it is, but single-coils and P-90s just come to life here in a way that other amps don’t, so maybe that’s why Jerry and David used them so much.” The Mesa/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 295 powers the Alembic. He does run a direct line signal from the F-2B to FOH for a clean DI option.
Take a Guess
In the video, Granduciel challenged me to guess how many speakers are in the oversized cab, and I said four. Seemed logical but, as he quickly pointed out, the Marshall 2041 Lead Organ has only a pair of Celestion (pre-rola) 12″ speakers. The Alembic runs through this pillar of power.
The other side of Adam’s grand equation is a 1960s Fender Bandmaster head that hits a Marshall 1960BV 4×12.
The Swart Solution
As we alluded earlier, his beloved 1969 SG doesn’t jive with his Alembic-Fender setup, so he incorporates its humbuckers into his live rig by plugging into the 5W Swart STR-Tremolo. The SG and Swart typically dance for “Thinking of a Place,” but Granduciel admits to kicking it on with the Fenders during the heat of battle and treating it like a tremolo pedal for parts of “Pressure” and other jams. To the right of the Swart you’ll notice a pair of Rockman Tom Scholz (yeah, the Boston legend) Power Soak attenuators throttling the Alembic and Fender.
Keeping Time in the Loop
The band uses this AKAI Professional MPC Live II for additional drum machines for the show.
They are harnessed by four Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedals controlled by Adam that allow him to bring the samples into the room mix. Additionally, the band syncs their modulation to it, so everyone is locked in. (The MPC clocks or syncs the pulsing of the tremolo for the band. Adam uses a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, while bassist David Hartley uses a Malekko Goatkeeper.)
Horseshoe of Madness
Here’s a crow’s-nest view of Adam Granduciel’s massive pedal playground.
Most of what Adam does with his feet is simplified by this Custom Audio Electronics R-ST 24 + 2x PSS MIDI controller.
The Fun Begins
Here’s one of the sections of Granduciel’s expanding pedalboard that includes a Wren and Cuff Tri Pie 70, a MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, an Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo, anElectro-Harmonix 1440 Stereo Looper, a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, a Strymon TimeLine, a Boss DC-3 Digital Dimension, and a Morley ABC Pro (for switching amps). A Boss TU-3s Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check.
To the Moon, Adam, to the Moon!
Here’s the meat and potatoes of Granduciel’s spreading stomp setup: (top left) a Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter, another MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Stereo Reverb, ADA Flanger, JHS Bun Runner, J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer, MXR Flanger, Moutainking Electronics Loud Box, Crowther Audio Prunes & Custard, a Fulltone OCD, and a trifecta of Eventides that rest on the right side—a Space, TimeFactor, and H9. Everything gets current by either a MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC403 Power System or the Eventide PowerMax.
Clovis the Rough Rider
At first glance, you’d probably mistake this for a ’60s or ’70s Fender P, but as bassist David Hartley attests, this is a 2002 Fender Precision named Clovis that he acquired brand new almost two decades ago. Part of Clovis’ charm for Hartley is that it’s the lightest P he’s ever held, making their “Evening With” shows a little easier on the back. It’s stock aside from him swapping out the standard anodized gold pickguard for the tortoiseshell. He uses La Bella 760FS Deep Talkin’ Bass Flats (.045–.105).
Jam Like Jamerson
Another 4-string that does a lot of heavy lifting for Hartley is this 1983 Fender Fullerton ’62 Reissue Precision Bass. While this one isn’t as light as the previous P, he does love how much it sustains.
Find the Note
And occasionally you’ll see Hartley put down all the guardrails and dance with this Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass. The connection with this one came through when he heard how much vocal tonality it has. It’s a highly expressive instrument.
The Ps come to life thanks to this boulder of bass tone: a pair of Ampeg Heritage 50th Anniversary SVT amps that hit an Ampeg Heritage SVT-810AV. The SVT on the left is a backup and Hartley plugs into the normal channels.
Simple but Not
Prior to this run, Hartley toyed with the idea of just plugging his Ps into a DI and his Ampeg. Clearly, that plan changed and he’s probably having more fun because of it. His stomp station contains a pair of Boss GE-7 Equalizers (one to help Clovis pop a bit more and the other helps brighten up the ambient drone of the Gamechanger), an Eventide H9, a Gamechanger Audio Plus Sustain Pedal, a Mountainking Electronics Megalith, a Malekko Goatkeeper, a Keeley Super Mod Workstation, and a MXR Phase 90. A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his Ps sounding right.
Eric Johnson knows that excessive pride gets in the way of true progress, and that having extraordinary talent doesn’t beget personality or, simply put, make you better than anyone else. “I’ve spent so long being involved in [playing music] that, at one point, you take a break and go, ‘Yeah, but that’s not me—that’s just something I do. Who am I?’” he shares. “Regardless of how well you do it and how appreciated you are, it’s not like a carte blanche calling card that gives you any kind of real entitlement in life. If you think it does, then you don’t know who you are.”
That philosophy, along with his passion for the instrument, has, over time, superseded any ego-inflating diversions that can come from fame. And rather than resting on his legacy, the guitarist is building on it with the release of two albums: The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The records came together in a process of creative reconnaissance, where Johnson dove into his vault of recordings to find forgotten song ideas that could be polished, fleshed out, and rejuvenated for release.
Eric Johnson – Soundtrack Life (Official Visualizer)
The 18 tracks that collectively make up both albums include those that fit into a classic Johnson style, such as the brightly textured lead single from The Book of Making, “Soundtrack Life,” along with ones that explore other territories, like that album’s gentle, piano-guided “To Be Alive,” co-written with singer/guitarist Arielle, and a cover of the blues classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World” by the Mississippi Sheiks (famously covered by Howlin’ Wolf). These new compositions range from panoramic instrumentals to lilting ballads, embroidered by the guitarist’s fluid, crystalline tone and uplifting vocals. And together, they offer a new look into Johnson’s characteristic finesse.
When the last few weeks of his tour got cancelled in March 2020, Johnson, amidst the societal standstill and isolated from his bandmates, decided that the best use of his time would be to revisit his old demos and musical sketches. As he navigated through the tiny snippets, little chord changes, and other bits and pieces, he discovered that he had far more material available than expected and set to arranging and recording.
“When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.”
I felt, well, if I’m going to be isolated, let me go try to find something to work on,” he says. “There’s a handful of songs that were written from scratch, and towards the end of the period I brought musicians in and we recorded new stuff. Then there’s a couple of tracks that I didn’t do anything to. They were just left over from outtakes from other records. But predominantly it was just stuff that was barely started, and I did a whole lot of work on my own.”
The songs done from scratch include “Floating Through This World” and “To Be Alive” from The Book of Making and “Hold on to Love” and “JVZ” (dedicated to Johnson’s late tour manager and guitar tech, Jeff Van Zandt) from Yesterday Meets Today. The original idea for the former album’s “My Faith in You” dates back 20 years, although its oldest song is “Love Will Never Say Goodbye,” which was built from a rough mix on a 25-year-old cassette. “That’s all I had,” Johnson says. “I couldn’t find the master take. It had synthesizer, bass, drums, and a vocal that was a little too low in level, but I just went with it. Then I added several guitars to it, and background vocals and percussion.”
Twenty-five years ago, Johnson was having an especially fertile creative period, despite his reputation as a painstaking studio craftsman. His albums Venus Isle and Seven Worlds sprang from that era, and his tenure on tour with fellow maestros Joe Satriani and Steve Vai was preserved on G3: Live in Concert. And while he’s more relaxed about record-making these days, he’s no less creative or prolific. The popular virtuoso says that every time he sets out to make an album, he usually ends up making two—and stashes the excess recordings in his vault. In this case, his efforts at rekindling his past inspirations resulted in 28 tracks that were pared down to the final 18, although he intends to eventually release five or six more of the original set on an upcoming EP.
Producer Kelly Donnelly, who has worked with Johnson on eight previous albums plus his 2014 collaboration with Mike Stern, Eclectic, helped with some of the engineering, but Johnson did most of it himself. In the process, he learned something interesting about the usefulness of low-fidelity recordings: If you pair them with recordings of a higher quality, the combination can create a compelling depth of field. This meant that he was able to salvage and build upon some of his more compromised cassette recordings. “I found that to be fascinating—it was like, ‘Wow, that kind of works.’ I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
“There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”
In 2020, Johnson worked with Fender to create a replica of his 1954 “Virginia” Stratocaster, which he played on many of the tracks from The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The guitar’s body is made with the less commonly seen sassafras wood and set up with a DiMarzio bridge pickup and ’57/’62 single-coil Strat middle and neck pickups. On the albums, he played a handful of other models, including a 1957 Strat with a maple neck, a 1965 Gibson ES-345 semi-hollowbody, and a late-’50s Les Paul. He also plays a National lap steel and Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral sitar on some tracks.
When it comes to songwriting, Johnson comments that his self-proclaimed perfectionist tendency to overthink things can work against him. “The songs where you’re really pushing and striving and stressing end up sounding like that,” he says, while the ones that just flow are the ones that are, for him, most worth working on. His creative process usually begins with making recordings of musical snapshots on his iPhone. He’ll capture a phrase on guitar or piano, or sometimes record himself singing a vocal or instrumental melody to later revisit. “They’re pretty embarrassing, if anybody ever found ’em,” he laughs, referring to the latter.
Eric Johnson’s Gear
- Eric Johnson Virginia Fender Stratocaster
- 1957 Fender Stratocaster
- 1965 Gibson ES-345
- 1950s Gibson Les Paul
- National lap steel
- Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral Sitar
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario EPN110 Pure Nickel sets
- Dunlop Jazz IIIs
- TC Electronic Stereo Chorus
- Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
- Vintage Echoplex (modded for use as preamp)
- ’60s Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face
- Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
- BK Butler Tube Driver
- Marshall plexi 50
- Two-Rock Classic Reverb
- Marshall 4×12
- Fender Bandmaster Reverb
- Electro-Voice speakers
Deciding which compositions to keep or toss can be a curious process. To better judge his own writing, Johnson says it’s important for him to detach and act like an audience member or listener—so not to give himself any favoritism. “You have to dispel all that,” he says. “When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.” While that can sound like a purely imaginative exercise, he has a rather practical way of getting to that perspective. Often, he’ll just crank up his studio monitors and walk into another room to listen.
“That helps you tell whether something’s really reaching you or not,” he elaborates, “because you’re not sitting there enveloping yourself and hyping yourself on something. There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”
“There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”
Johnson calls the evolution of his sound a “crazy process” that he says could go on forever, but he tries to let the music speak and will work to rise to the occasion to come up with a part that fits. “Sometimes that means I have to study a part that I can’t normally play.” Which means his self-labeled “perennial student” mentality has its benefits.
When asked if he experiences self-doubt, Johnson shares that he believes the habit of comparing yourself to others can be demoralizing, but he looks to practicing gratitude as a solution. “It’s just trying to be thankful for what you have and not compare yourself to other people. The more you’re in yourself and do your best.… There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”
Johnson was born into a musical family, with a father who was an enthusiastic music appreciator and three sisters who studied piano. His parents have said that he loved records when he was 3 years old. They listened to a lot of swing and showtunes, he says, which he developed a taste for as a child. He got his own record player when he was 5.
When Johnson got into playing music, he began to study piano at age 11, then took some lessons on guitar—though on guitar, he was mainly transposing what he learned on piano. His passion for wood and strings, however, quickly took over. “I loved it so much that I incessantly worked at it to get better, and it’s all I wanted to do,” he says.
“When I was a kid and saw all the cats playin’ guitar—Cream and the Yardbirds and all those people—I was like, ‘This is awesome,’” he shares. “Plus, it was kind of the first generation of overdriven guitar with fuzz tones. It was a sound that you’d just never heard before. That was really exciting.” He played in bands as a teenager, and tried going to college at the University of Texas at Austin but only earned three credits from taking an astronomy course, thinking it might be something he would want to pursue. But becoming a professional musician ended up being his clear choice.
Rig Rundown – Eric Johnson 
Despite his high profile and staggering proficiency, plus eight Grammy nominations and a win for his 1991 tune “Cliffs of Dover,” Johnson says he’s remained conscious of not letting things go to his head, saying, “It’s better to just let it flow, like when you were a kid just loving to play,” he says. “It’s best to let that happen naturally. Once you start becoming too aware of yourself and assimilating your legacy or living in your stature or fame or notoriety, you create a feedback loop where you’ll trip over yourself eventually.”
Fame, he says, can be stressful, but “right now I’m kind of taking a break from the whole thing. Just trying to work on myself and do other things. But it’s kind of always there a little bit because I live and breathe music.”
We all know how the Irish saved civilization—and if you don’t know the story, look for Thomas Cahill’s excellent tome on the subject—but what about rock ’n’ roll? From Van Morrison and Them to Rory Gallagher and Taste, or Thin Lizzy to the Pogues, U2 to the Cranberries, My Bloody Valentine to Snow Patrol, Irish rockers have given the British blues explosion a run for its silver, carving out an unbroken line from soul and blues-rock all the way to hardcore punk and ultramod art-rock, and they’ve done it in large measure while hewing close to the staunchly Irish traditions of myth, poetry, storytelling, rebel yells, and romantic longing.
It’s way too soon to refer to the five 20-something lads of Fontaines D.C. as rock saviors (they’d scoff at the prospect anyway), but Skinty Fia, the band’s third slab since their 2019 Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Dogrel, has rapidly turned up the critical heat, going straight to No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart upon release. The leadoff single “Jackie Down the Line,” a righteously gloomy but beat-driven rocker, sets the tone for the album, with frontman Grian Chatten transforming himself into the song’s dark narrator (“I will stone you, I’ll alone you”) as guitarists Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell mesh together in a jangly, echo-laced interplay of crafty three-note chords, 12-string acoustic filigrees, and tremolo-washed sheets of sound. Add the locked rhythm section of Conor “Deego” Deegan (bass) and Tom Coll (drums) behind them, and the band’s tightness, augmented by their dogged desire to keep experimenting, instantly permeates every song.
Fontaines D.C. – Jackie Down The Line (Official video)
“I think when we first met, we were mainly just songwriters,” observes Curley, reminiscing on their early moments together. “I mean, obviously I’m a guitar player, but I saw myself more as a songwriter, and I think the other lads did as well. So the first album was the culmination of trying to be aware of our abilities, and keep things raw and exciting. We were playing 100-cap venues in Dublin, so there was no point in trying to overextend ourselves.
“After that, we felt we had more strings to our bow, in terms of the songs that we knew we could do. We went down more of an introspective path, and definitely got into more psychedelic music with the second album [A Hero’s Death]. And now it’s just a combination of all that. I think something that defines us as a band is that we never want to sit still in a sound. We’re always trying to be inspired by different things.”
The band also stuck with producer Dan Carey (Black Midi, Geese, Wet Leg, and plenty more), graduating from Carey’s home studio in London, where they recorded their first two albums, to the larger Angelic Studio complex in the idyllic English countryside, near Oxfordshire. But before they even took up residence, each band member made the most of the prolonged pandemic lockdown to flesh out detailed demos, either working in Logic or with handheld recorded snippets of vocals and guitar. Armed with well-prepped songs and the prospect of working with Carey in entirely new surroundings, as O’Connell describes it, opened up possibilities that led to a bigger, more multi-layered sound.
“What I love about Dan is his process is in two stages,” O’Connell says. “We were in a bigger studio this time, so he wanted to take advantage of that. There’s the live guts of the recording [from the floor], and that’s just getting the sound right at the start. We spent a couple of days gaining up all the inputs, so when it hits the desk, it’s pretty much a very balanced mix. Then it’s just about playing well and having the songs arranged properly so they work.
“The first album was very much in a fighting mode, with the two guitars EQ’ed the same and just smashing off each other. On the second one, we learned to play together a little better.” —Conor Curley
“And then at the second stage, we do overdubs. We rarely add new parts, but we’ll redo the parts we have, either with a different instrument or treated differently.”
Both Curley and O’Connell also brought some of their earliest influences to bear, including the slashing surf guitar leads of the Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, along with the snakebitten Fender Mustang kick of Kurt Cobain. “We also played a bit more with a blend,” O’Connell says, “like what happened with rock and roll and electronic music in the ’90s, you know? Primal Scream, Death in Vegas, even U2 went through that phase, but they all used actual synthesizers and drum machines. Our idea was to make it sound like that with our own instruments.”
Carlos O’Connell’s Gear
- 2019 Johnny Marr Jaguar
- ’67 Fender Mustang 3/4 scale
- 50th Anniversary Fender Jazzmaster [prototype]
- Martin J12-15 with L.R. Baggs M80 active humbucker
- Seagull Artist Studio 12 Burst with L.R. Baggs Lyric acoustic microphone system
- Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
- Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
- 1975 Fender Deluxe Reverb (used only at Angelic Studio)
- THD Electronics Hot Plate
- MXR M133 Micro Amp
- Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
- Strymon Lex Rotary
- Moogerfooger MF Flange
- Moose Electronics Cosmic Tremorlo
- Moose Electronics Reverb
- Boss TR-2 Tremolo
- Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff Pi
- Electro-Harmonix POG
- Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer
- Dunlop Volume (X)
- EarthQuaker Devices Life Pedal
- Vein-Tap Murder One Killswitch
Strings & Picks
- Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys
- Dunlop Tortex .60 mm
The album’s title track “Skinty Fia” (roughly translated, “the damnation of the deer”) delivers on the idea. Wielding his trusty ’67 Mustang through Carey’s own ’75 Fender Deluxe Reverb, O’Connell avails himself of a chaotic wash of tremolo (aided by a reverb pedal from Dublin-based Moose Electronics, which he unconventionally places first in the effects chain, ahead of his overdrives) to propel the song’s relentless, hypnotic churn. Meanwhile, in the left channel—throughout the album, each guitarist occupies his own side of the stereo image—Curley knifes into the mix with an echo-drenched melody on his Johnny Marr Jaguar, routed into a Fender Twin Reverb, to accentuate Chatten’s menacing vocal, while Deego and Coll hammer out a beat that recalls Nine Inch Nails with a thick, dub-style low end.
“I think we’re trying to be more patient, and more conscious of the texture,” Curley says, describing how he and O’Connell have worked together to refine their sound. Like most bands with a two-guitar attack (the well-known Irish precedent of Thin Lizzy comes to mind), the symbiosis comes with time, practice, and subtle lines of communication. “The first album was very much in a fighting mode,” he continues, “with the two guitars EQ’d the same and just smashing off each other. On the second one, we learned to play together a little better. We’re still working on it, and sometimes we still try to become as one almost, when the song needs it, but I think now we’ve learned to fit in with how we’re EQing everything. It feels really good.”
Fontaines D.C. – Full Performance (Live on KEXP)
The confidence shines through on Skinty Fia, especially when the two axe-slingers choose to embrace a little sonic chaos. On the dark drum-and-bass-influenced opening track “In ár gCroíthe go deo” (“In Our Hearts Forever”), O’Connell tees up another locked tremolo effect, eventually morphing into an otherworldly chorus effect, mirrored by Curley, of what sounds like distant dogs howling. “It’s only at the end where my guitar comes in,” Curley clarifies. “I’m just following the bass with the chords, at a very high frequency, and with delays at the end of every phrase. I hit my [Industrialectric] Echo Degrader, and that’s what really sends it into a spin.”
On the Curley-penned “Nabokov,” the layers of noise lean heavily on classic shoegaze and dub, with Curley again availing himself of the Echo Degrader. “That pedal is so unpredictable, it’s almost like it doesn’t sound the same every time you use it. I’ve been using that and an RV-7 [by Digitech Hardwire] for gated and reverse reverb. There were definitely a lot more shoegazey elements that we were trying to get to, and, obviously, if you start talking about Kevin Shields or even Robin Guthrie from Cocteau Twins, the stuff they did, to me, is almost unreachable, but if you try, you might end up with something new anyway.”
Conor Curley’s Gear
- 2019 Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
- ’66 Fender Coronado II
- Fylde 12-string (loan from Richard Hawley)
- Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
- Lazy J (used only at Angelic Studio)
- THD Electronics Hot Plate
Strings & Picks
- Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys
- Dunlop Tortex .60 mm
- Industrialectric Echo Degrader
- DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Stereo Reverb
- Moose Electronics Reverb
- Moose Electronics Delay
- Strymon Sunset
- Strymon Deco
- ThorpyFX Chain Home
- Electro-Harmonix Nano POG
- Dunlop Volume (X)
By contrast, both guitarists reached for a 12-string acoustic on a pair of songs: Curley on the aforementioned “Jackie Down the Line,” and O’Connell on the smoldering groover “Roman Holiday.” Oddly enough, the Fontaines acquired the guitar, a beautifully finished Fylde custom 12-string, from British crooner and troubadour Richard Hawley, who met the band on a recent jaunt in Sheffield. “We were struggling to find a really nice sound on a 12-string,” O’Connell says, “so it was like, let me just text him. He was really excited about being a part of it and lending us the guitar, and it was magic. Just a beautiful guitar. Someday I’ll get one, but you can never play it live because it’s just too precious.”
And on tour, Fontaines comes across as anything but precious. Chatten often prowls the stage like a wounded animal between verses, wielding the mic stand like a cudgel and seeming to goad the band into wilder forays of sonic exploration. At a recent packed house in Brooklyn, Curley and O’Connell whipped “Too Real,” one of their earliest singles from Dogrel, into a feedback-laden, psych-rock deluge, while an encore of “Nabokov” made the most of the dueling washes of noise that each guitarist can deliver, with precision, from either side of the stage. As a unit, they’re brash, tough, and confident—typically young, and typically Irish.
“We’ve found refuge within each other, and within our identity,” O’Connell observes when asked about the band’s recent, and inevitable, move to London. Chatten in particular, as frontman and lyricist, has been outspoken in interviews about some of the prejudices he’s encountered, a sentiment that inspired the song “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” which pays tribute to an Irish woman in Coventry who was initially denied permission to bury her late mother with the Irish inscription on her gravestone.
“We also found that accumulated frustration with a very ignorant misunderstanding of Ireland from Britain’s point of view, which started to piss us off quite a bit,” O’Connell reveals. “But then we wrote this album, and ever since, it’s starting to open up a lot. It’s given me the dream of what I thought I would find in London: a place where we’re more anonymous and where there’s less expected from us, you know?”
“We were struggling to find a really nice sound on a 12-string, so it was like, let me just text him [Richard Hawley].” —Carlos O’Connell
Surely those expectations will grow in urgency as time goes on, but for now Fontaines D.C. seems content to ride the lightning. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery along the way,” Curley says. “There’s always inspiration to be found in Irish art and culture, and we’re also massively into Irish traditional music. Me and Tom got really into Paul Brady and Andy Irvine and Planxty, and we wrote a good few Irish ballads. At one point, we actually thought of doing Skinty Fia as a double album, which I guess might’ve seemed a little gratuitous. Hopefully those songs will see the light of day in a different context.
“But now that we’re back on tour, whatever happens, I think we’re definitely not gonna take any of it for granted. We’re just trying to enjoy all the things we see, and trying to put on really good shows.”
We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.
JHS Series 3 Overdrive
This OD is part of the company’s Series 3 line which offers affordable stomps with simple control setups. Along with volume and drive controls, it offers a body knob that tweaks the EQ and a gain switch that moves between more saturated and crunchier sounds.
Thanks to an extremely dedicated following among Nashville session cats, the other green stomp is now offered in a downsized setup. It can run up to 18V for increased headroom and sports glow-in-the-dark knobs for those extremely dark stages.
TC Electronic MojoMojo
This all-analog distortion offers classic, vintage-inspired tones with a familiar control setup of volume, gain, bass, and treble. The real secret sauce is in the voice switch, which allows you to move between a more natural sound and a bass cut.
Since 1978, the DS-1 has been a go-to for generations of guitarists. It offers a scooped sound that can take you from grunge to shred and has been affordable for decades.
EarthQuaker Devices Plumes
Although loosely based on a classic circuit, EQD has replaced the 4558 IC with a JFET op-amp for a more mid-focused sound. In addition to the standard controls, the toggle switch moves between two different clipping options or no clipping at all for a wide-open clean boost.
Electro-Harmonix East River Drive
A JRC4558 IC-loaded circuit that creates the classic symmetrical overdrive sound, this is an all-analog affair that is true bypass, housed in a rock-solid chassis, and can run on a 9-volt battery—which is included.
Fender Hammerstone Overdrive
One of the newest entries on this list is a retro-looking stomp that offers some interesting features under the hood. The original circuit allows you to control the mids before the gain stage, plus there’s an internal trim pot to wrangle the high end.
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
One of the most popular stompboxes of all time has been shrunk down to a mini-sized wonder. With an oversized drive knob and two smaller tone and level controls, this green monster aims to cop all the classic midrange tones of the original.
Pro Co Rat 2
Is it a fuzz? Or a distortion? Or an overdrive? Well, thanks to the famous filter control, you can blur the lines between all the different flavors of dirt. It offers a totally analog signal path, glow-in-the-dark graphics, and the trademark heavy-duty enclosure.
There’s no mistaking that shade of yellow. This dead-simple setup offers output and distortion controls along with a vintage-sounding germanium clipping circuit that does everything in its power to blur the line between overdrive and fuzz.
For forward-thinking modern artists, experimentation across genres and generations is nothing new. Whether it’s layering acoustic and digital sounds, adding pop flavor to blues-rock, or blending funk, R&B, reggae, and hip-hop, it can seem like there’s no other option than to stir all the multicolor, variegated influences of the past into something that’s refreshingly not quite any of the above. But when it comes to psych-folk, Latin-rock, alt-country group Calexico, melding musical worlds is not as much an experiment as it is an instinct.
The band’s guitarist, vocalist, and co-founder, Joey Burns, remembers when he fell in love with Latin music. It’s a story that begins with his first exposure to the bolero rhythm in the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and weaves its way into a memory of one of his favorite films—a documentary from the ’90s called Latcho Drom (“Safe Journey” in Romani), which delves into a tale of global music history.
“We need more diversity; we need more language … however we can bring it in or just live by example and show everyone.”
“It’s about music from the Far East, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe. It picks up Gypsy jazz, then goes to Spain for flamenco, and it stops,” he shares, gesturing the abrupt cutoff. “I’m like, why didn’t you keep going? Where’s Mother Africa, the Canary Islands, Cuba, South America, New Mexico, New Orleans, fado music in Portugal, Egypt, Ethiopia, North Africa, Mali, Senegal?”
Burns shares his abundant passion for wide-ranging global musics with fellow Calexico co-founder, drummer John Convertino. Their bandmates are an international network of musicians, and together they meld the sounds of cumbia, mariachi, alternative rock, and Americana. Their 10th full-length release, El Mirador, is a sonic travelogue that includes the mystical “Cumbia del Polvo” (“Cumbia of the Dust”), the whimsical “The El Burro Song,” which is a tale of a hungover lover sleeping on a bar’s dancefloor, and “Liberada,” which was inspired by a party in Cuba, but feels like it’s being told under the desert’s night sky.
Calexico – El Mirador (Full Album) 2022
TIDBIT: When the band set out to record El Mirador, they gave themselves a three-month tracking deadline, which included sourcing contributions from a host of international collaborators.
Livin’ in the Rhythm Section
When the band began recording El Mirador in June 2021, they set a three-month deadline until they would begin mixing. Burns, who now lives in Boise, Idaho, flew back to Tuscon, Arizona—his home of 27 years—to record with Convertino and multi-instrumentalist Sergio Mendoza in Mendoza’s backyard home studio. They recorded in two-week and one-week intervals, improvising and fleshing out the album in the studio.
“We started off with like 30 or so ideas. Then we woodshedded for the first two sessions—so a month of just woodshedding. And then from those ideas we kind of narrowed down the selection,” Burns explains. He says it’s his preference to do things that way, which makes him a nuisance to his bandmates—but clearly the method works. “We tend to just capture songs as they’re happening in real time,” he adds. “And to capture that feel, especially those first or second takes … it’s always hard to replicate. We’re just doing it live, in the moment, and I think that subconsciously highlights what I like about playing music.”
Burns and Convertino stayed with Mendoza at his home, which Burns describes as tiny. “We cooked a lot,” he says, adding that Convertino brought along a 1958 La Pavoni espresso machine, which kept the band caffeinated as they wrote and recorded. Mendoza lives near Tumamoc Hill—a nature preserve in Tucson that has a sacred connection to the local Tohono O’odham tribe—where Burns would go on hikes in the cool early mornings, listening to rough takes, mixes, and ideas to gauge his impressions.
“Turn off your brain, just listen to your heart—feel the tone or taste the cooking. Be experimental.”
As Burns puts it, El Mirador “mainly lives in the rhythm section.” To hear an example, the guitarist points to the title track. “It started on a bass line,” he says, playing it on his Manuel Rodriguez e Hijos nylon-string. Mendoza put cumbia-style woodblocks on top, giving it an “immediate lift.”
With the song’s foundation established, they sent the tracks to Guatemalan singer/songwriter and long-time friend Gaby Moreno, who added vocals. Next was Italian guitarist Alessandro Stefana, who added a Marc Ribot-style electric guitar solo, followed by trumpet players Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk (Valenzuela currently lives in Tucson and Wenk lives in Leipzig, Germany). Lastly, they wanted some “really over-romantic violin playing,” so they sent it to DeVotchKa’s Tom Hagerman, in Denver, who added strings as well as some accordion.
“We’ve got what I call the Calexico orchestra,” Burns enthuses. “It’s Old World meets New World. It’s something that I’ve just been loving to assemble from time to time. It was like this swap-meet or thrift-store orchestra.”
Joey Burns’ Gear
- 1962 Airline 3P Res-O-Glas (white with three stock pickups and a Bigsby)
- 2000s Manuel Rodriguez e Hijos nylon string acoustic guitar
- 1960s Fender Jazzmaster
- 1950s Harmony single-cutaway archtop with one pickup
- Guild steel-string acoustic guitar
- 1970s Univox hollowbody bass with flatwounds
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster with Suhr V60LP single-coils and Suhr SSV humbucker
- Chris Schultz-built T-Style with Vintage Vibe P-90s
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario for electric and acoustic
- Dunlop .73 mm
- Carr Rambler
- Magnatone Twilighter
- Fender Blues Junior
- Red Panda Particle
- Way Huge Pork Loin
- Smallsound/Bigsound BUZZZ
- Diaz Amplifiers Texas Tremodillo
- Boss DM-2W Analog Delay
- Boss DD-5 Digital Delay
- J. Rockett Audio Overdrive
Burns’ two main guitars are his Manuel Rodriguez e Hijos and his 1962 Airline 3P Res-O-Glas electric. Burns owns two of the Valco-built fiberglass guitars and says he found the 1962 model in a shop in Memphis while Calexico was on tour with the Dirty Three in 1998. On his nylon-string, Burns proudly displays a printed-out graphic of Portuguese fado singer Amália Rodrigues. “She’s the patron saint of the minor blues,” he says, smiling. “I wanted to see her or talk to her or talk about her. And then there’s a stamp of Lydia Mendoza down there,” he gestures. “I’m a fan of female singers.”
He’s holding the acoustic guitar as he discusses the album and his influences, and frequently embellishes his stories with musical excerpts. Whether he’s playing “And I Love Her” or album tracks like “El Mirador,” “Turquoise,” or “Liberada,” his hands always go straight to the groove or bass line, a remnant of his past life as a bassist.
“I have two older brothers, John and Mike, and they said, ‘There’s enough guitarists in the world. Why don’t you just play bass? You’ll probably get to be in more bands or have more opportunities,’” he shares. He took their advice and studied electric bass, later joining the high school jazz band, where he gravitated more towards the Latin material they played, including samba and Afro-Cuban music. “I just loved anything where the bass was freed up,” he says, playing a syncopated bass line. “I love that push and pull. That, with minor chords and modes and melodies … I just love it. I’ve always been drawn to songs in minor modes. I’ve always loved Latin rhythms.”
One of his biggest influences is David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, who, he says “paved the way immensely in regards to what you can do with guitar, embracing so many different rhythms and genres, tone, technique, soulfulness.” Then there’s Andy Summers of the Police—who he once got to sign his guitar when he saw him at the airport—and Peter Buck of R.E.M., who he loves for his use of drone, adding, “That really connects with a lot of music from around the world.” He then begins to play the Smiths’ “Well I Wonder” as he mentions Johnny Marr, who he describes as both emotional and technical. And lastly, there’s D. Boon of the Minutemen, whose “fierce Tele jabs” he admires and likens to those of Joe Strummer. Burns sees a connection between all these artists, which he calls their “guitar duality.” “All those bands, whether it was two different guitarists or one, recorded parts that were complementary—that kind of push and pull to help with the vibe of a track or a song.”
Music Is the Connecting Force of the Universe
It’s no surprise that Burns sees music as one of the best ways to connect with other cultures. “And food,” he adds. “It’s like, turn off your brain, just listen to your heart—feel the tone or taste the cooking. Be experimental.” Naturally, he’s speaking from personal experience. “My instruments help me get to that meditative place, that poetic space. Getting immersed in tone is a good thing. Because at the end of the day, we are all just frequencies and sound waves and particles, and if we can help restore the connections between all things … I think that’s a good thing to do.”
And it’s one of the things he set out to do on El Mirador. “On this record,” he says, “it’s all about laying down the groove, laying down the foundation, and seeing what we can do to get people to move. Because if they can’t overcome fear with words, then maybe their body can help them overcome whatever difficulties or obstacles are in the way.”
Musing about music’s powerful role in connecting groups of people, Burns shares an anecdote from the ’90s, when he and Convertino were members of the group Giant Sand. They found themselves playing at a festival with Romani band Taraf de Haïdouks (which translates to “Band of Brigands”), and, at one point, the festival organizers had the two bands go onstage together to jam.
“We were so excited, and John was playing along and realized, ‘Oh shoot, the 1 is now the 2.’ It was flipped so many times that it didn’t even matter,” Burns recalls. “He realized, ‘Just don’t accent; play straight sixteenth or eighth notes.’ And it was super fun. But the band was thinking that we were trying to make fun of them and that this was an insult. They kept looking at us. They didn’t even have to motion—their look said everything. And at a certain point, one of the youngest musicians goes to the oldest member, ‘I think they’re trying to play along with us.’
“At the end I swapped sunglasses—my cheap Arizona truck-stop sunglasses for the cheap Romanian truck-stop sunglasses—with one of the accordion players. And we were best friends after that,” he laughs. “That’s one of those moments where you’re like, ‘How come politicians can’t do this? Why can’t there be peace talks with music?’
Calexico And Iron & Wine: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert