Tag: Guitarists

Rig Rundown: Def Leppard [2022]

rig rundown def leppard 2022

Nearly 40 years after Pyromania, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell are still setting the world afire with their hot-rod gear.


It’s been eight years since Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen met with PG while they were on the band’s arena-filling odyssey in 2014. Now they’re on the aptly titled Stadium Tour, playing packed mega-venues with openers Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Joan Jett, delivering songs from the 12 studio albums they’ve recorded over the past 45 years. It’s quite a legacy, with “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak,” “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Animal,” “Love Bites,” and plenty more classic hits. At their June 30 show at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, John Bohlinger talked with Collen, Campbell, and their techs, Scott Appleton and John Zocco, about the guitarists’ muscular live-show arsenal.

Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.

Expressionist Axe

For the 30th anniversary of Phil Collen’s Jackson PC-1 signature model, the guitarist painted a limited run of the instrument in this cool, Jackson Pollock-esque finish. He kept this one for himself. (Smart!) It features a mahogany body, quartersawn maple neck, reverse headstock, a Floyd Rose vibrato, a DiMarzio Super 3 humbucker in the bridge, and a Jackson Sustainer Driver in the neck spot. There’s also sustainer on/off and fundamental/harmonic/blend toggles in the control set. Collen uses D’Addario .013–.054 sets.

Paint Yer Noggin

Collen’s paint job also extends to this super-colorful headstock.

A Workhorse of a Different Color

This Jackson USA Signature Phil Collen PC-1 in satin natural features a quilted maple top and all the appointments of the splatter-finish model, but ups the tonal ante with a HS-2 DP116 single-coil DiMarzio in the middle. That setup requires a 5-way blade pickup switch, of course. The scale-length is 25.5″, and the neck has a 12″–16″ compound radius.

Lugosi Lives!

Jackson built Collen his guitar named “Bela” in 1986, tricking it out with glow-in-the-dark paint and Mr. Lugosi’s face—in Dracula get-up—on the front of the axe. Bela has DiMarzio Super 3 pickups, titanium saddles, a titanium block, a Floyd Rose vibrato, and an unquenchable thirst for blood. (“Listen to them. The children of the night! What music they make!”)

Phil and the Supreme

This black-finish Jackson Phil Collen PC Supreme has an impossibly thick U-shaped neck that the guitarist loves for its stability, sustain, and tone. The guitar also features a Floyd Rose, two beefy DiMarzio humbuckers, a DiMarzio/Collen-developed Sugar Chakra pickup (which puts humbucker depth in a single-coil size) in the middle, and a sustainer circuit.

Spooky Kabuki

Another cool touch on Collen’s Supreme is the kubuki-like mask inlay just under the headstock.

The Blue Axe

This prototype Jackson signature-model Supreme has a more conventionally sized neck as well as a Floyd Rose with classy blue titanium saddles, two hot DiMarzio pickups, a Sugar Chakra, and a sustainer circuit. Check out the super-ergonomic angled cutaways.

Mr. Big Neck, V. 2

This PC-1 also has a neck like John Cena, built from curly maple for a distinctive look. Other details: an in-your-face DiMarzio X2N, a Sugar Chakra, a sustainer, titanium saddles and block, and that omnipresent Floyd Rose. Same PC-1 electronics, too, with volume and tone controls, a 5-way selector, and double toggles for sustainer on/off and fundamental/harmonic/blend.

Class Actor

This brown PC-1—which features all the appointments of Collen’s 30th Anniversary model—looks more muted than it’s bright-hued pals, until you look closely. The tiger-stripe quality of the word makes the guitar striking and displays Collen’s pick scratches between the neck and middle pickups.

Speaking of Pick Wear

This road-weathered Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster is showing all its miles. The bridge has been updated with titanium pins. Collen uses not only the acoustic sounds in this guitar but goes full-rock-tone as well.

Search and X-Stroy

Jackson built its X-Stroyer model especially for Collen in 2014. It is modeled after the Ibanez Destroyer that he played in his 20s—seen onstage in the videos for “Photograph,” “Foolin’,” and other hits. It has DiMarzio X2N pickups, a sustainer, and a Floyd Rose. Look at the lower-front horn and you’ll see a killswitch, too.

Racked Up

Collen’s signal runs to a Shure Axient wireless system. Its four channels go into a Radial JX42 V2 switcher and out to a Fractal Axe-Fx III. (He also carries a spare Axe-Fx in the rack.) A digital output goes from the Fractal to the front-of-house speakers. Another pair of outputs runs to two Atomic CLR full-range powered reference monitors behind the video wall, for a bit of stage volume. It’s all controlled by an RJM Mastermind GT/22, operated by tech John Zocco.

Phil A Rig

Here’s a look at that Mastermind Zocco controls, with a bunch of uniquely named, programmed patches, including STFU, Mocha, and Cold Brew.

Vivian and Les

Vivian Campbell plays Les Pauls exclusively. His Una is an all-stock silverburst Custom, which will be auctioned off at the end to the tour with the proceeds going to Gibson Gives to support music education for kids. It’s strung with Dunlop .011–.050s and tuned down 1/2 step.

Tiger, Tiger

This Gibson Vivian Campbell Signature Les Paul Custom in antrim basalt burst was a limited-edition model. It has a 1970s-style C-shaped neck, a 2-piece figured maple top, and a solid mahogany body. The neck pickup is a DiMarzio Super 3 and the bridge is a DiMarzio Super Distortion. It has two 500k CTS volume pots, two 500k CTS tone pots, and orange drop caps. Same strings, same half-step-down tuning.

Ricky’s Ride

Another limited-edition instrument in Campbell’s line-up is this Gibson Custom Shop reissue of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen’s 1959 Les Paul Standard. Campbell replaced the frets with jumbos, but otherwise it’s all stock, which means a 1-piece mahogany body, pearl inlays, an Indian rosewood fretboard, and Custom Bucker pickups.

The Friendly Ghost

“Casper” is a Gibson Les Paul Studio that Campbell has owned for years. It features a DiMarzio SD 3 in the bridge along with its original humbucker.

More Gary Moore

Few players have had a greater influence on British rockers who came of age during the ’70s and ’80s than the late, great Gary Moore. This Gary Moore Les Paul Standard has its neck pickup flipped, to go for that Peter Green out-of-phase tone. (Moore was the longtime owner of Green’s famed Holy Grail Les Paul.) The mahogany neck has a rounded ’50s profile, the pickups are BurstBucker Pros, and, of course, the 6-string has a mahogany body with a figured maple top.

Covert Humbuckers

Campbell has replaced the standard P-90s in this Gibson reissue Les Paul goldtop with P-100s, which are stacked humbuckers, for a buzz-free playing experience.

Big Red

This colorful Gibson SJ-200 has a Fishman pickup, a soundhole block to avoid feedback, and high action for a clean-toned strum.

In the Box

Tech Scott Appleton dictates the flow of Campbell’s guitar with an RJM MIDI-controlled input switcher. First, the signal hits a Shure Axient wireless, and then there’s a Cry Baby Rock Module with a Lite-Time wah controller. The rest of the magic is courtesy of a Fractal Audio Axe-FX III. A Marshall 9200 Dual MonoBloc System provides the power for a pair of ENGL 4×12 cabs.

Look, Ma, No Wires!

Chad Zaemisch, longtime tech for Metallica’s James Hetfield, designed the first two-channel wireless expression pedal system that Vivian employed to handle wah-wah duties via his rackmount Dunlop Cry Baby Rack unit.

<aAddicted: Real Estate on Elliott Smith's "Condor Ave"

hooked real estate on elliott smiths condor ave

Martin Courtney clarifies how the acclaimed indie songwriter’s use major-7th chords, “Beatles-y tunes,” as well as fine-touch thumbing subtleties set out a narration plan.


That’s one of the things that Brian loves regarding the Aqua Puss analog hold-up. Brian was constantly drawing out an old Memory Man Delay to inspire performative, improvisational delay expressions. FTE – Wampler ‘Faux Tape Echo’This is one

of our most prominent hold-up pedals as well as for good reason. A great deal of tape emulation delays just include chorus to an existing electronic delay circuit. The Ethereal is Wampler’s popular ‘all-in-one’ electronic delay as well as reverb pedal.

Tunes We’re Spinning Over and Over Again This Summer

tunes were spinning over and over again this summer

Vanessa Wheeler joins us in naming the tracks we’re currently playing “on repeat.” Plus, our latest musical obsessions!


Q: What’s your “on repeat” song/album right now and what drew you to it?

Vanessa Wheeler — VAVÁ

A: I’ve been listening to the Tycho remix of MUNA and the Knocks’ song, “Bodies,” consistently since it was released back in September 2020. I don’t know if I can say that it’s so much an “obsession” at this point, but a tune that makes it onto most of my playlists because of how I used to be obsessed with it during a time when I was both sad and yet dancing. The original is a fun song to be sure, but the Tycho remix brings in these satisfying acoustic drum samples, smoother and more subdued synth samples, and extended breaks between verses that allow the listener to really sit within the mood. I’m not even sure what the song is about, but hearing words like “bodies in the basement” and “I’ve been thinking about home,” combined with the aforementioned, speaks to a certain kind of melancholy or longing for something that seems impossibly far away.

The Knocks & MUNA – Bodies (Tycho Remix) [Official Visualizer]

Vanessa Wheeler’s Current Obsession:

I’d been looking for a little, black acoustic guitar that wouldn’t break the bank —something I could travel with that sounded good and felt comfortable to my primarily electric-guitar-playing hands.

I was lucky enough to get a Taylor GTe Blacktop. I love how slack the short scale makes the strings feel, how compact the neck width is without feeling miniature, and the way it sounds particularly good with fingerstyle playing.

I recently played it unplugged in a beautiful 75-seat theater on the grounds of the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, and it performed beautifully. As a traveling musician, I know I can pop this “little” guitar in an overhead bin and take it everywhere I go.

Joseph Torres — Reader of the Month

A: “In the Nick of Time,” from Ken Burns’ The War documentary. Ken Burns always knows how to pick good music for a documentary series, and this is no exception.

In the Nick of Time

This song drew me in because it gives an adventurous feeling when listening to it, like you’re a fighter pilot in the middle of an epic dogfight.

Joseph Torres’ Current Obsession:

The bass guitar. While primarily a guitarist, I’ve been playing bass on and off for the past seven years now. Until a few months ago, I’d lost interest in it and wanted to focus more on being a guitar player. However, as I kept listening to Cream, I kept paying more attention to Jack Bruce’s bass parts. Jack Bruce has become a tremendous influence on me ever since. He, Geezer Butler, and James Jamerson have convinced me also to play more with my fingers. You get a more intimate connection with the instrument that way.

Tessa Jeffers — Managing Editor

A: Lord Huron’s “Your Other Life.” A friend included it on our road-trip playlist, and the instant it came on, I knew it was gonna be my track of the summer.

Lord Huron – Your Other Life (Official Music Video)

I’ve spun it every day for the last month. The swooning strings, terribly romantic bass line, and ohhh the singsong of a love gone wrong but still strong. Absolutely mesmerizing!

Tessa Jeffers’ Current Obsession:

Musician biographies and memoirs. I’ve read dozens and dozens, but last month I finally finished Slash’s bodacious (and ridiculous) larger-than-life tale. I just found Willie Nelson’s My Life and Alicia Keys’ More Myself at a used bookstore, so I’m set for a while.

Nick Millevoi — Associate Editor

A: “Synchro System” by King Sunny Adé. The sound on this track is so hip—it’s like musical sunshine. The interaction between the acoustic percussion and the interlocking guitar and steel riffs creates a hypnotic texture, and the ’80s production elevates the whole vibe.

Syncro System – King Sunny Ade & His African Beats – 1984

I keep watching live videos from this period, and “Synchro System” is always a set highlight, complete with dance instruction.

Nick Millevoi’s Current Obsession:

My Strat XII. After spending the early 2010s touring the U.S. and Europe with this guitar, I needed a long break. But now, I’m obsessed once again! It’s great for tight, clean riffs, and it keeps being the magic “something” that makes my recordings bloom.

Fantastic Negrito’s ‘White Jesus Black Problems’

fantastic negritos white jesus black problems

About two years ago, after finishing his third consecutive Grammy-winner (2020’s Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?), Xavier Dphrepaulezz—aka Fantastic Negrito—did some research on Ancestry.com. As with many of the site’s patrons, the results blew his mind.

“I was like, ‘Holy shit!” he says. “I didn’t know I was a seventh-generation descendent of a white Scottish indentured servant and a Black enslaved person. 1700s? How did they do that? How did they live? No one killed them?’”


On his mother’s side, his ancestor was a woman from Scotland sold to work in 1750s colonial Virginia. She lived, somehow, in a common-law marriage with her enslaved Black husband. For Fantastic Negrito, that discovery was transformative. “I felt like my ancestors were tapping me, like, ‘Hey man, we’ve got this amazing story. We’re not on the left. We’re not on the right. We’re not entrenched in some ideology. We’re just two people from the opposite sides of the spectrum who found love together at a time when that was impossible.’ I am the result of that, seven generations later. I didn’t know who I was, but I guess I am exactly who I need to be.”

Fantastic Negrito – White Jesus Black Problems (Full Film)

On record, Fantastic Negrito’s main guitar foil is Japan’s Masa Kohama. When Kohama auditioned for the band, he could barely speak English and Fantastic Negrito was skeptical. He thought, “‘This is going to be quick. Let’s audition.’ And he blew me away. I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I was being prejudiced?’”

That story and the accompanying awe that sprang from unearthing his roots permeate his latest release, White Jesus Black Problems. But it’s not just an audio album—it’s a visual work of art that combines many of the songs’ videos into a seamless, Broadway-like production that’s essentially a companion film for the 12-song record. Both are a rich, high-energy explorations of identity, race, love, determination, freedom, and history.

But there’s another level to Fantastic Negrito’s artistry—something he wrestles with, ironically, because of his fabulous success. Winning a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy for each of his last three albums left him with a conundrum: Should he give fans what they expect or forge ahead with his constantly evolving musical vision, wherever that may lead?

“I always start by myself. I have an $89 Rogue bass—it’s like an old violin bass. I start out on that a lot of times.”

He chose the latter. “I am going to answer to the music,” he says. “You can’t win three Grammys in a row and then not push to make something that’s outside the box, something that’s brave, outrageous, bombastic. It was like my grandparent’s story. That story’s real, and that meant the album had to be out there—as far as I could push—because my grandparents are obviously out there. You have to push the boundaries of your creativity and challenge yourself sonically, and that’s what’s exciting about this album: It’s how uncomfortable it is. The artists that I loved were always the ones that were a little uncomfortable. You hear the record and think, ‘Is it okay that this is happening?’ I always strive for that.”

White Jesus Black Problems oozes catchy melodies and is eminently singable, although it’s anything but conventional. It starts with “Venomous Dogma,” which eschews the standard verse/chorus formula and feels almost through-composed, morphing trippy psychedelia into a heavy, riff-centric romp.

“That song was fun,” Fantastic Negrito says. “I wrote that and thought, ‘My grandmother must have been a little girl in Scotland when, one day, boom, now you’re an indentured servant for seven years. What the hell?’ The tumultuous energy in that song—complete bliss turning to complete hardship, which must have been the same for my grandfather—I wanted to tell that story and capture that energy. It was very cathartic and that’s why it does what it does.”

Other songs on the album, like the funky “Highest Bidder,” or “Trudoo,” which owes something to classic P-Funk (or maybe Prince), go in a very different direction. The same is true for the doo-wop feel of “Nibbadip” and the ’70s-era riffage of “Oh Betty” and “Man with No Name.” Yet White Jesus Black Problems feels cohesive because its story has twists and turns of the sort we encounter in real life.

“With me, it’s completely organic,” he says. “A song could start out with a beat that I clap, or a groove, or a poem, or with a guitar or piano or bass. I have no routine. The routine is to let the song write itself, let it happen. Tune into this channel—this frequency of the universe—and let it happen. Maybe most of it’s not great, but 10 percent of it may be pretty good, and that’s when you tell the story.

“One of the most important things to me as an artist or songwriter, regardless of genre—roots, Americana, the blues, whatever—is the stories the songs are telling. That’s it. Really. That gets lost, the stories, but it’s about the stories. People needed those stories to keep making it through the generations, whether it was bondage, Jim Crow, segregation—they needed the story, the music was the medicine. There’s a reason why African-Americans created all this music—all these genres for the whole world to enjoy: They had to survive some of the most challenging situations in this country, and the music has all that feeling because people were trying to save themselves.”

“I can’t paint these pictures without these other musicians. They have completely different tastes than I do, too, which is good.”

Part of keeping it organic is making sure he’s always prepared for when the muse strikes. Fantastic sleeps with an Epiphone Masterbilt acoustic-electric next to his bed and always has an iPhone on hand to record ideas when they hit. “I am full of ideas,” he says. “I wake up in the middle of the night—I live on a farm—you walk out and clean out the chicken coop and then, ‘Oh no! I got something!’ I always have my guitar. That Epiphone is a good friend. It’s fed me and my tribe.”

When he gets to the studio, he scrolls through the audio files on his phone, picks out the gems, and presses record. “I always start by myself,” he says. “I have an $89 Rogue bass—it’s like an old violin bass [the instrument makes an appearance in the video for “Venomous Dogma”]. I start out on that a lot of times. I start tracking, lay down everything, and then I get the boys in, because I am really a songwriter first.”

But he’s also an arranger with a keen ear for orchestration and interwoven parts. Layers of guitars—and an occasional Minimoog—weave their way in and out of the various songs off White Jesus Black Problems. And once a song starts taking shape, his artistic vision is crystal clear. “That’s what makes the records go fast and easy,” he says. “But I can’t paint these pictures without these other musicians. Their contribution is massive and I give full credit to them, always. They have completely different tastes than I do, too, which is good.”

​Fantastic Negrito’s Gear

Guitars

  • Epiphone Masterbilt Zenith acoustic-electric
  • Gibson Les Paul Signature semi-hollow goldtop
  • Chapman ML3 Pro Traditional
  • Gibson Hummingbird
  • ESP 400 Series T-style
Strings
  • DR Strings .009 sets

Amps

  • Orange TremLord 30 combo
Effects
  • EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine V3 Chorus
  • EarthQuaker Devices Park Fuzz Sound

Masa Kohama plays lead guitar on almost every track on the album, while he and Fantastic cover rhythm-guitar chores together. They’ve been a guitar team for almost 25 years, since a young Xavier Dphrepaulezz first signed to Interscope Records (as simply Xavier) for his ill-fated first outing with a major label, 1996’s The X Factor.“

I was looking for a guitar player who could play all the different styles that I play and, boom, here comes this Japanese guy who can barely speak English,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘This is going to be quick. Let’s audition.’ But he blew me away. I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I was being prejudiced?’ I didn’t expect that from him. He’s such a great player, and I’ve never made a record without him.”

The pair gets together to write and bounce ideas off one another in the same room at least once a year—Kohama is still based in Japan—and they share files across continents the rest of the time. But after so long, their natural synergistic relationship is at a point where they know what to expect. “We can read each other’s minds. Absolutely. He knows and I know, and that’s how it goes.”

Kohama doesn’t tour with Fantastic, though. That job is filled by Tomas Salcedo, who’s been on the road with the group for years. He’s also the guitarist you see in most of the live clips and videos. He makes an appearance on White Jesus Black Problems, too.

“I always let Tomas get on the records, and he brings something different than Masa,” Fantastic Negrito says. “He’s on the song ‘Virginia Soil,’ and I needed him on that song because he does less a lot, and that’s amazing. That song is empty, open, beautiful, and a lot of it is breathing.”

Fantastic’s affinity for “less” applies to his tonal approach, as well. He primarily uses just a guitar, an amp, and mics. Pedals are not a big part of his sound—although he does have two EarthQuaker Devices units, a Sea Machine V3 Chorus and a Park Fuzz Sound, that sit on his mixing console for use in post-production. But for the most part, he records guitars clean.

“I tell Masa to play completely dry. No effects. I say, ‘Even play direct if you have to,’ because then you can reamp it. Or you can use board distortion. I love that—where you’re just pushing it from the board. I’ll use the mics that are in the piano to catch part of the guitar. I love reamping. You can be more creative and get more interesting sounds.”

But, again, those great sounds, those recording techniques, and that gear are just tools for conveying the all-important stories, whether they’re about reaching majestic heights or sinking to painful lows—like the debilitating car accident that put Fantastic in a coma for three weeks and cost him both his first record deal and much of the use of his right hand. That he rekindled his will, stormed back from career death, and can still lay down an infectious guitar groove makes him a bona fide inspiration. Perhaps it’s because he never ceases looking for inspiration from something he feels was always embedded within him.

“I hate to keep talking about my seventh-generation grandparents, but it’s from them,” he says. “You find a way. The most challenging situation, the most insurmountable odds were against me to play again, but I found a way. I figured out all this came from these people—these incredible people who lived in the 1700s. I feel there’s something about DNA and blood, and I always had this attitude that no matter what, we can do it. And that’s from them.”

Fantastic Negrito performs a short acoustic set and talks about the family history behind White Jesus Black Problems at South by Southwest 2022. Note the technique he has developed with his accident-damaged picking hand, which he calls “the claw.”


<aCrown Lands on Rush's "A Farewell to Kings"

crown lands on rushs a farewell to kings

Guitarist Kevin Comeau information how his mind was blown by Alex Lifeson’s having fun characteristics that were both middle ages and also melodious, while additionally revealing the peculiar chord he lifts from their stash.


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In the context of a complete band, the focus switch is additionally a handy option when you require to elude into the rhythm pocket.

With the Revstar out in front of an Orange OR50 and also a 4×12, extra contrasts with the SG classic were enlightening and also edifying.

Pulling up on the focus switch kicks maintain into high equipment. At simply a color under $ 800, the Yamaha Revstar is a great offer.

Miles Okazaki: Jazz with Robots

miles okazaki jazz with robots

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

Guitars

• 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

Amps

• Quilter Aviator Cub

• Quilter Tone Block 200

• Raezer’s Edge Twin 8 cabinet

Effects

• 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 Trickster band was scheduled to go on a six-week tour starting in May 2020 but got derailed by the Covid lockdowns. Instead, they created a video concert featuring music from Okazaki’s 2019 release, The Sky Below. This version of “The Lighthouse” is from those sessions and captures the band conjuring the energy and spirit of playing to a captive audience.


Fever Dreams of the Brilliant Mister Marr

fever dreams of the brilliant mister marr

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

Guitars

  • 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

Amps

  • 1969 Marshall plexi
  • HH Electronics transistor combo
  • Roland JC-120
  • 1965 Deluxe Reverb
  • Fender Twin Reverb (black panel)
  • Kemper Profiler
  • Fender Bassman
Effects
  • 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)

At the height of their creative and performa- tive powers, Johnny Marr and the Smiths could effortlessly span mutated folk-rock jangle and deep indie-dance funk, as Marr does here with his legendary 1959 ES-355—a gift from Sire Records boss Seymour Stein.

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
















Rick Holmstrom’s Bent Blues

rick holmstroms bent blues

Rick Holmstrom says he spends “a lot of time not listening to guitar. I like trying to imagine the guitar taking the place of saxophone, Ahmad Jamal’s piano, or Mose Allison’s piano. Like Billie Holiday, who does those weird little micro bends that the great singers do—how can you get a feeling like that on the guitar?”


For Holmstrom, the answer is a style that blurs the lines between traditional blues—the genre where he’s invested most of his nearly 40-year career—and a place on the edge of the envelope, where chromatic lines, finger-crafted imitations of slide, microtonal bends, and a devout belief in the unerring power of the groove telegraph his vision. Those elements plus his clean and spanky and typically Tele-driven tone have made him Mavis Staples’ music director since 2007 and caught the ear of Ry Cooder. His ability to conjure the spirit of Mavis’ late dad, Pops Staples, on her renditions of Staple Singers classics is uncanny, yet still retains Holmstrom’s distinctive flavor.

While his resume most certainly slants toward the old-school—he’s toured with harmonica aces William Clarke, Johnny Dyer, and Rod Piazza, and recorded with Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold, and Booker T. Jones—he’s also added spectral playing to the R.L. Burnside space-straddling classic Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down and recorded a solo album in 2002, Hydraulic Groove, that seamlessly wedded funk, trip-hop, ambient electronics, and roots music. In a less conservative place than the blues market, it would’ve been widely heralded as the masterpiece cognoscenti know it to be.

Bubbles – Rick Holmstrom

Now, he’s got a new instrumental album called Get It! that’s a funky and emotive showcase for his style; chasing down his passion for the almighty groove but doing so along his distinctive path where bends get weird (“Weeping Tana”), melodies swing hard (“Robyn’s Romp”), the great spirits of the genre are summoned (“King Freddie”), the strains of Morocco echo (“Taghazout”), and hip-hop-sample-worthy rhythm tracks (“Kronky Tonk”) do some heavy lifting.

Holmstrom’s journey started as a kid in Fairbanks, Alaska. His father, a local DJ, exposed Holmstrom to the blues, soul, and R&B that would define his career. No doubt the Staple Singers’ hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Freedom Highway,” both part of Mavis’ live sets today, were on heavy rotation.

“Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

Cooder played a role in his arrival as Mavis’ musical right hand. “My band opened up for Mavis on the Santa Monica Pier,” he relates. “We get off the stage, and the promotor says, ‘Her band is stuck at LAX, but Mavis is here. Can you back her for a few songs?’ We didn’t really know her songs, but we played three or four.

“As I was walking off the stage, a guy with yellow glasses tapped me on the shoulder, and it was Ry Cooder. Ry was producing a record of Mavis’, and he liked the way we played with her. He kept telling Mavis, I guess during the session, ‘I really dug that band that played with you.’ Then our first gig with her, unbelievably, was The Tonight Show. [Laughs.]”

Holmstrom’s individuality is even more surprising considering he cut his teeth during the 1980s blues explosion. While he was digging on Chicago, New Orleans, Stax, and Motown, everyone else was fixated on a particular player out of Austin, Texas. “I didn’t want anything to do with Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he says. “And that’s no diss at all. He’s a really great guitar player. But when he came out, I was like 12 years old. Playing was still an option for me. Then he came along, and it was almost enough to give up guitar.

“All you had to do was look around and see all these guys that were copying him. Everybody had a Strat, a hat, some boots, and a Super Reverb,” he explains. “So, I got a big hollowbody with a single P-90 and no cutaway and tried to learn saxophone and big band horn-section melodies.”

In forging his own way, Holmstrom sidestepped the blues-shred of those years. Preferring to let his parts breathe, he fills that space with … nothing. Check out his solo on “Looky Here” from Get It! The guy sometimes drops out for a full measure. He even ends the solo by basically not playing at all for the last two bars. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a guitarist who inspired this restraint.

Looky Here

When Rick Holmstrom was writing his new album, Get It!, the songs started with him developing melodies by singing them, then transposing them to guitar.

“Years ago, we were playing in Boston with Mavis,” Holmstrom recalls. “We got there a night early, and Ahmad Jamal was playing. He would break down a melody and only use two of the notes. It draws you in because you’re not hearing all the notes that could be there. Your brain is allowed to imagine the rest. That was a life-changing gig for me.”

Like his playing, Holmstrom’s songwriting is also decidedly non-guitar-centric. Instead of plugging in, turning up, and going for it, he says he listens. “When I’m making up songs or getting a groove going, I’ll hum or sing to myself,” he says. “Then I’ll think, ‘Where does this melody go next?’ I’m not playing the guitar at that point. I’m humming it and singing it to myself. ‘Does that flow? Okay, now let’s go back and learn that on guitar.’”

Of course, the contemporary zeitgeist—not just a quest for melody—also played a role on the creation of Get It!

Rick Holmstrom’s Gear

Guitars

  • 1953 Fender Telecaster with Ron Ellis neck pickup and ’50s Fender lap-steel bridge pickup
  • 1955 Les Paul Special with phase switching
  • 1940s Gibson ES-150
Effects
  • SIB Electronics Echodrive
  • ’60s Fender Reverb Tank
  • Milkman The Amp (used as a preamp for the rented AC15 when touring)

Amps

  • 1950s Valco-made 1×10 Bronson combo modded to tweed Tremolux specs (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Fender silver-panel Vibrolux (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Vox AC15 (rented backline when touring, with EL84 tubes)
Strings
  • D’Addario (.011–.050)

“It was January ’21 and my previous record, See That Light, hadn’t even come out. Then the insurrection happened, and it started to drive me nuts,” he says. “I’m watching MSNBC and reading The Times and stuff, and it was really bugging me. The only thing I could figure to do was get creative and get my mind off it. I booked a session and started making drum loops of grooves that I thought might work.”

While the world’s events have led some artists to exercise their struggles via dark, introspective works, Holmstrom went the other way. Get It! is all about having a good time, feeling free, and reminding us of a simpler, joyful way of looking at the world. “I wanted this record to be something you might put on when you get your friends together or when you’re having a barbecue,” he says. “Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals.”

While the album is crammed with great blues, songs like “Surfer Chuck” and “Taghazout” play with ’60s surf rock, sultry Middle Eastern motifs, and whatever else caught Holmstrom’s fancy. “FunkE3,“ in particular, with its percolating Meters-style groove and stylistic shifts, shows how far Holmstrom and crew can go.

That one had been hanging around a while. “We did a tour years ago with Mavis, where Joan Osborne opened, and we also backed Joan,” Holmstrom relates. “One of our background vocalists said, ‘Man, why don’t you walk her off with an instrumental, and then, boom, go right into the Mavis set?’ So ‘FunkE3’ is the song I started working on and ended it up being that [transitional] song a lot of nights.”

Even with a wide breadth of styles on Get It!, the album’s sound and production are the secret behind its gleefully old-school character. Inspired by classic ’50s and ’60s blues albums, the musicians tracked together, in the moment, without overthinking. “I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing,” Holmstrom says. “You can tell it’s three instruments really close to each other, with some bleed.” The other two musicians in the room were Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass.

Holmstrom’s commitment to tradition also permeates his guitar sound. From beginning to end, he smothers the album with vintage-style amp tones from a small combo with a split pedigree. “I used a very tiny guitar amp called a Bronson. It’s a weird Valco-made amp from the ’50s. I had a buddy of mine turn it into, like, a mid-’50s tweed Tremolux. It’s a great-sounding, magical little amp.”

Despite the wide range of gain used throughout the new album, the Bronson’s onboard tremolo, a tube-driven SIB Electronics Echodrive delay, and a 1960s Fender Reverb Tank are all the effects Holmstrom used. Even that may have bordered on too much for him.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals,” he says. “I absolutely hate them. Ideally, I would love to plug straight into an amp. No 9-volt power, no wall warts, no skinny little power cables that are going to break right before the gig. I would rather use my hands.”

“I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing.”

So how does he get all his sounds? Like everything else, the old-school way. “I turn the volume of my guitar down and pick a lot with my fingers. Then, if I turn the volume on the guitar all the way up and pick with a pick, it’s pretty gain-y.”

Not surprisingly, Holmstrom also prefers vintage guitars. Save for a couple of tunes, the entire album was recorded with only one of them. “The album is all my ’53 Tele except for two songs,” he says. “It’s the variety of sounds you can get out of them. ‘All About My Girl’—that’s the neck pickup. It sounds like it could be a hollowbody. The middle is pure Stax or Motown, and then the bridge is whatever you want.”

As versatile as the Fender Tele is, the songs “King Freddie” and “Pour One Out” begged for something different. And though that something else—a 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special—is also a drool-worthy vintage piece, this one was different. “It has an out-of-phase, push-pull tone knob on the bridge pickup,” Holmstrom says. “I can blend the amount of out-of-phase so that it’s not completely nasally thin. It’s what Peter Green did, I’m sure, with his Les Paul. All points lead back to the blues, really.”

Erlee Time – Rick Holmstrom

In this live performance video of “Erlee Time,” from Get It!, Rick Holmstrom demonstrates his playful bends, joyful sense of melody, and the vintage Tele tone that’s part of his signature.



How Many Amps Do You Use?

how many amps do you use

Kevin Morby joins the discussion of what we’re plugging our guitars into these days. Plus, musical obsessions!


Q: Do you own or use more than one amp—why or why not?

Kevin Morby — Guest Picker

Kevin Morby

A: I technically own four different amps. Two different Orange 15-watt practice amps that are great for recording and running vocals through in my living room. I also own a Supro and Fender Vibrolux. The Fender Vibrolux is my most used amp, and the Supro is good if I ever want a lot of overdrive.

Kevin Morby’s Current Obsession:

My current musical obsession is MJ Lenderman, a young artist from Asheville, North Carolina, who is making incredible music. If I didn’t know his backstory, I would maybe think I was listening to a lost demo from the early ’90s Drag City submissions bin. But it’s not from then, it’s from now, and it’s amazing. I listened to it while mowing the lawn recently and it was perfect lawn-mowing music. He is also incredible at guitar. Go listen!

Joseph Müs Contento — Reader of the Month

A: Yep, and I use them both at the same time. Got a Vox Night Train combo set clean and a Marshall Class 5 set dirty, and the resulting sound is a sparkly, gritty mix. Chimey and articulate, while warm and meaty. Best of both worlds.

Eventually I want a Fender ’65 Princeton Reissue and a Marshall Silver Jubilee 20-watt combo to really accentuate those qualities. I also use stereo delay and ping-pong the signal between the two amps. The further I physically keep the amps away from each other, the more dramatic the effect. It’s trippy and atmospheric AF, fills out the space between notes, and I love it.

Joseph Müs Contento Current Obsession:

Continuing to build the coolest guitars I can. I’ve settled into my job at Gibson Custom and have slowly built up a woodshop of my very own. The inaugural build that I just started this spring is my entry to this year’s Great Guitar Build-Off. I’m excited to dig my teeth into my new tools and techniques and to see how far I’ve come as a luthier in the past two years!

Shawn Hammond — Chief Content Officer

A: Yes! I love the variety of tones and textures imparted by different types of power tubes—and that you can further tweak responsiveness with preamp-tube swaps.

My ’76 Fender Vibrolux Reverb (6L6 tubes) is a killer pedal platform and pairing it with a Fender Rumble 200 bass amp adds massive oomph. An old Fender Vibro Champ (6V6) is great for middle-of-the-night playing that still sounds nice (I hate headphones).

A Sound City SC30 (KT66s) yields a huge array of British tones with killer reverb, a Goodsell Valpreux 21 (6973s) is great for soulful, old-school tones at a reasonable volume, while a Jaguar HC50 (EL34s) combo has big, brawny sounds, thanks to its Hiwatt-esque circuit and oversized cab.

Shawn Hammond’s Current Obsession: 

Current obsession: Fontaines D.C.’s new album, Skinty Fia.

Ted Drozdowski — Senior Editor

A: I’ve curated my amps for a wide variety of tones, and I love having Marshall, Fender, Carr, Supro, Orange, and Quilter sounds at ready for the stage—where I run in stereo—and studio.

After many years, I’ve found a voice as a guitarist that’s my own, and blending a variety of amps, guitars, and effects is part of it.

Ted Drozdowski’s Current Obsession:

Germanium fuzz and octave fuzz pedals. Over the past year I’ve gone deep into fuzzworld and acquired a pile of stomps, including three custom builds (my one-off Burns Buzzaround clone with four germanium chips is satanically heavenly), and they’ve expanded my sonic vocabulary even more. I want to keep it expanding, like the universe.

The Bros. Landreth: “Guitar Playing Wasn’t a Priority”

the bros landreth guitar playing wasnt a priority

One of the core ingredients that is essential to any Bros. Landreth album is also the most dreaded: abject fear and panic. It doesn’t sprout up from any particular insecurity about the end result, but rather where to start. “We always say we’re going to write 30 tunes and pick our 10 favorites,” says Joey Landreth. “But we usually write 12 and pick 11.” At first, the fear was unsettling, but Joey and his bassist brother, David, have not only thrived under the self-imposed pressure but relished it. Factor in a world-changing pandemic, the experience of being new dads, and a soul-crushing session gone wrong, it’s amazing that Come Morning even saw the light of day.


Back in March of 2020 the band had finished two legs of touring behind ‘87, their tuneful return to form after a pair of solo albums from Joey and some time away from the band for David, who had just become a father for the first time. Joey had plans to tour behind his Lowell George tribute album. Naturally, all that went away. Tour dates were canceled, and bins of merch collected dust on the shelf. Once the duo came to terms with the uncertainty of their touring future, they immediately went to work on writing new tunes. But would it be for a solo record or another Bros. album?

The Bros. Landreth • Come Morning (Visualizer)

“I had this idea of making a solo record in my apartment,” remembers Joey. He lived in a 100-year-old building in Winnipeg where he converted the dining room into a home studio. After starting that project, mostly in isolation, with programmed drums, he played the songs for David and thought the material might better be suited from a Bros. album. “We asked ourselves what it would sound like if we merged my solo stuff with the Bros,” says Joey. “There weren’t any timelines, we weren’t career planning or writing with intent,” mentions David. “We were just making things because there was nothing else to do.”

The first two demos that they tracked were “Drive All Night” and “Corduroy.” On Come Morning, both songs feature sparse arrangements and touches of R&B influences, all mixed in with swirling sonics. “The demo for ‘Drive All Night’ was basically fully formed with programmed drums and weird stuff,” says Joey. “It was quite a departure for us.” Naturally, the next step was to start recording drums. The band found a window where travel was permitted and flew in a drummer from Edmonton to begin tracking the first half of the album. It soon became apparent that the result of the session wasn’t matching the Landreths’ vision. “When we didn’t get there, we were fucking gutted,” says David. “It was devastating. It almost killed us.” A few of the tunes were recorded at the wrong tempo, the bass lines didn’t sound like David, and it was the first Bros. album without drummer Ryan Voth. “You write these songs, you make a plan to record the best album you’ve ever made, you get through seven tracks, and you didn’t get it.” Heavy vibes.

“We’re always trying to put mics in stupid places.” — Joey Landreth

After making the tough decision to scrap the sessions, Joey and David sat down and made a dream list of drummers they would want on the record. The two names at the top of the list were Aaron Sterling and Matt Chamberlain, two studio veterans whose combined credits include David Bowie, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and countless others. “We sent an email to both of them, and they both said yes,” says Joey. “Fuck, how do we choose between them?” According to the brothers, it simply came down to Aaron’s enthusiastic response. Once Sterling was in place, the band sent him a demo for “Stay,” a grooving, mid-tempo tune that features some inventive open-tuned rhythm parts. “The demo had programmed drums and we outlined what we wanted him to play,” says David. “When we got the tracks back, they were wickedly inspiring and took the song in a completely different direction.”

As the long-distance sessions progressed, Sterling meshed well into the creative process and even pushed the limits of what would typically be acceptable on a Bros. Landreth record. “I remember getting the Dropbox folder and seeing the files for bongos and was like, ‘Well, that’s a hard no on the bongos,’” laughs Joey. “Then I realized the song was nothing without the bongos.” The demo for “Drive All Night” was sent off with the idea that they would strip back some of the more modern production elements and replace them with organic instruments. “We learned over the course of this project to send Aaron just the core of the song and then have us play off that, rather than the other way around,” says David.

One thing that fans of the Bros. might be missing on Come Morning is an abundance of Joey’s down-tuned slide riffs. “Guitar playing wasn’t really a priority for me on this album,” says Joey. There are incredibly melodic moments with big, roomy sounds on Come Morning, but Joey’s focus was more on vibe and sound then trying to get his licks in. “I would go for my usual super-fuzzy solo and it just wasn’t as inspiring,” he remembers. “I found myself wanting different things and needing to change the approach.”

On his solo album Hindsight, a majority of the guitar tones were inspired by a very particular room reverb that Joey added pre-delay to in order to create a slapback effect. An early influence on this technique was Jimmie Vaughan’s 1998 album, Out There. “Jimmie’s tone is incredible, and that sound has an identity that’s congruent with the record. I’ve always tried to emulate that,” says Joey. That thirst for experimentation revealed itself when Joey looked to emulate the sound of his recording booth at Sandbox Recording, a studio that serves as the brothers’ musical headquarters. Their particular recording booth at the studio sounded so good, they wanted to use it on far more than just guitar and bass tones. “What wound up kind of being more of an identity on the record is that you can hear the booth on more instruments. You can hear it on the B-3, you can hear it on the vocal,” says Joey. He points to the acoustic guitar intro on “Back to Thee” as the best example of the sound. “It’s kinda like the Jimmie Vaughan thing. It’s not super in your face, but it’s a big part of the guitar sound,” says Joey. For the washed-out baritone guitar on “Corduroy,” they placed a mic in the airlock and left the door open just a crack. The resulting tone gave the illusion that it was recorded in a much bigger space. “We’re always trying to put mics in stupid places,” laughs Joey.

Joey Landreth’s Gear

Guitars

  • Sorokin Gold Top
  • Josh Williams Mockingbird
  • Duesenberg D6 Baritone
  • Suhr Classic S
  • Mule Resonators Mulecaster
  • Collings OM1
  • Waterloo WL-14 X
  • Yamaha LS16M
  • Yamaha Revstar
Amps & Cabinets
  • Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive
  • Two-Rock Joey Landreth Signature
  • Greer Mini Chief
  • 1960 Fender Super
  • 1966 Fender Deluxe
  • Two-Rock 212 Cab

Effects

  • Benson Studio Tall Bird Spring Reverb
  • Jackson Audio Golden Boy
  • Isle of Tone Haze Fuzz ’66
  • DanDrive Secret Weapon
  • Mythos Pedals Olympus
  • Ceriatone Centura
  • Chase Bliss Thermae
  • Chase Bliss Mood
  • Chase Bliss CXM 1978
Strings, Picks, Mics & Accessories
  • Stringjoy Custom Strings
  • Rock Slide Joey Landreth Signature Slide
  • The GigRig G3 Switcher and Power Supply•
  • Moody Leather Straps
  • Royer R-121
  • Shure SM57
  • Stager SR-2N
  • Warm Audio WA-47

Typically, no matter where the journey takes Joey, he does have a few tried-and-true starting points. Most notably, his Sorokin goldtop and Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive is where he begins. But Joey isn’t afraid to swap out a trusted piece of gear if the vibe isn’t right. “The Two-Rock is a big sounding amp. If I start to play something and it takes up a ton of space and the part doesn’t need that, then I’ll start to reach for smaller amps,” mentions Joey. Those smaller amps include a Benson Nathan Junior, or a mid-’60s Fender Deluxe, which saw plenty of action on Come Morning. As a foil to the Two-Rock, Joey also employed a brown-panel Fender Super. “It’s kind of the opposite of a black-panel circuit. It has a lot more midrange and creamy breakup,” describes Joey.

“I would go for my usual super-fuzzy solo, and it just wasn’t as inspiring.” — Joey Landreth

Joey has also become well-known for his very particular setup on his guitars. He counts Derek Trucks and Sonny Landreth (no relation) as prime influences for moving to an open tuning. Trucks hangs out in open E (E–B–E–G#–B–E), while Sonny plays in several tunings including open A (E–A–C#–A–C#–E). However, it was an incredible Toronto guitarist named “Champagne” James Robertson who inspired Joey to not only eschew standard tuning, but to tune down to C. Robertson had such a unique style that Joey even texted him after a jam session to “get permission” to move to open C (C–G–C–E–G–C) exclusively. “I had a friend call this setup the autoharp of the guitar once,” remembers Joey.

David Landreth’s Gear

Basses

  • Moollon P-bass style
  • Duesenberg Starplayer

Effects

  • Noble DI

Strings & Accessories
  • D’Addario Chrome XLs (.050—.105)
  • Moody Leather Straps

Setting up a guitar for slide goes far past simply deciding on a tuning—finding the right string gauges is just as important. After moving up to a set of .014s for a while, Joey still felt something just wasn’t feeling right. He ended up with a custom set of Stringjoys that clock in at a whopping .019–.068. That sentence alone might make a guitarist’s hand quake with fear, but with the tuning’s lowered tension, the strings aren’t as rigid as you might think. All the guitars on Come Morning were in open C with the exception of a few acoustic parts in open D (D­–A–D–F#–A–D), because Joey felt his Collings OM1 just really loves to live in that tuning. Every now and then when he’s working something out, Joey will hear a part that calls for standard-tuned voicings, “Sometimes I just need a few ‘cowboy chords,’ but then I tune it back to an open chord as soon as possible.”

Joey also favored a Josh Williams Mockingbird, which is a handmade 335-style guitar that’s loaded with Firebird pickups and is the “antithesis” of the Sorokin. “It has a bit of a mid-scoop, so it tucks in around a lot of the other guitar parts in a really beautiful way,” says Joey. “If I want something that’s not as mid-forward as the Sorokin and Two-Rock, but I don’t want it to be super scoopy, then I go with the Josh Williams into the brown-panel Super.”

As much as Joey micro-manages his guitar tone—he even went so far to subdivide the slide vibrato on his Lowell George tribute record, All That You Dream—he couldn’t really do that as much on this project since there were so many collaborators and nearly all the bed tracks were done remotely. “I learned an incredibly valuable lesson on this record,” says Joey. “Which is to get the fuck out of the way.” The duo brought on Greg Koller to mix the album and he nailed more than half the mixes on the first try. “This album really feels different,” says David. “Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the fact we made it in isolation and it being such a communal effort. There’s something about that I need to figure out.”

“Balance makes this whole thing feel a lot more sustainable and a lot less manic.” — David Landreth

So, is it a Bros. Landreth record if there isn’t a sense of fear and panic? “I think that’s the ultimate question,” says Joey. The brothers wear many hats including running their own record label, publishing company, and management company. “That balance makes this whole thing feel a lot more sustainable and a lot less manic,” mentions David. “Our creativity has many different outlets, so if I ever find myself with enough time to write more songs than I need, that probably means something bad has happened with the other things we do,” laughs Joey.

YouTube It

Featuring an expanded lineup that includes keyboardist Liam Duncan, the band tears through a handful of tunes from their sophomore album, ‘87.