Tag: Strymon

Steven Wilson: “I’m Just a Nerd Who Fell in Love with the Magic of Making Records”

In 2010, Steven Wilson was standing onstage at the Royal Albert Hall in London with his band Porcupine Tree before a sold-out crowd. He hadn’t yet told his bandmates that it would be their last show—at least for a while. The band had been engaged in what felt like a relentless cycle of recording and touring for the 17 years leading up to that point. Despite having gained a dedicated following, they’d never had a hit nor the support of mainstream radio and television—yet they were constantly being told their next record would be the one to break through. But with 10 albums to their name, that still hadn’t happened. Wilson was tired.


The band went on hiatus after that show, and Wilson furthered the pursuit of his solo career (which began in 2008 with the release of his debut, Insurgentes). After a while, fans began to assume that waiting around for a Porcupine Tree reunion was a lost cause.

“I was quite a big contributor to that, too,” Wilson admits. “I would say to people, ‘No, forget it, we’re not coming back.’” But it wasn’t true. “I was telling a white lie just to get them to focus on what I was doing at that point. But actually, behind the scenes, we were working toward something that would eventually herald the return of the band.”

Porcupine Tree – Harridan (Official Lyric Video)

Porcupine Tree’s 11th full-length studio album, Closure/Continuation, marks that return. With the 65-minute, 10-track record, Wilson, drummer Gavin Harrison, and keyboardist Richard Barbieri offer a new collection of compositions that build on the band’s classic sound with a reinvigorated, visceral pulse.

Opening with the guttural, aggressively percussive bass line on “Harridan,” the album navigates through a series of kinetic musical worlds that are, in balance, both pensive and turbulent. The second track, “Of the New Day,” has a plaintive refrain taken from its title, and later on in the album, the haunting, subtly shapeshifting “Chimera’s Wreck” moves through tones of disquiet to create a nearly 10-minute narrative that’s both cerebral and emotive. Other standout tracks include the ominous “Herd Culling,” and the sinister “Rats Return.”

It’s elusive what exactly makes the record something that moves the band forward. It might be the amorphous arrangements, which stay accessible as they seem to breathe even more freely than past works, or the seamless concatenation of foreboding, hopeful, and furious overtones, or the strength in the voice that ties together each of the self-contained, emotionally complex, often dystopian scenes. But in their time away, what Wilson calls the band’s “creative core” seems to have evolved.

“I would say to people, ‘No, forget it, we’re not coming back.’”

Although Porcupine Tree never actually disbanded, there was a gap between 2010 and 2012 where they weren’t seeing much of each other, at least not for composing purposes. Then in 2012, they began a 10-year gestation of material that would end up becoming Closure/Continutation. Their writing sessions were sporadic, says Wilson: In the beginning, they would get together for just a few weeks at a time every other year.

“Part of the reason for that, I think, was that we didn’t want to feel any pressure in making a Porcupine Tree record,” he shares. “A lot of people assumed that we didn’t exist anymore, and I kind of liked that because it meant that we could work on the record in a complete vacuum with no pressure, no expectation, no deadlines.”

The 2020 lockdown motivated them to finally knuckle down and bring the record to completion, but they wouldn’t have gone through with releasing it if they didn’t feel as though they were doing something new. Part of Wilson’s jadedness at the end of that 2010 tour was because he felt, despite its relative chart success, that their last record, The Incident, was largely uninspired. “I felt like we were on a creatively downward trajectory where the music was no longer getting better,” he says. “In fact, it was beginning to sound a bit same-y. And it’s always been very important to me and the band that every record has a sense of evolution from the previous record.”

With the new album, he feels they’ve succeeded in that respect. “I’m very proud of the music, and I think it’s some of the best I’ve ever made,” he says. “Time will tell how the album fits into the catalog—it’s not something you can judge in such a close proximity. But right now, I’m fairly confident this will become one of the more popular and successful things I’ve ever done in my career.”

The band’s followers might notice that longtime bassist Colin Edwin doesn’t appear on the album. Rather, Wilson plays bass througout. He says filling that role wasn’t at all meant as a slight to Edwin but was a result of how the music came together. “It was just a very natural thing for me to try something different rather than picking up a guitar,” Wilson says. “And we ended up writing so much of the record in that way.”

“A lot of people assumed that we didn’t exist anymore, and I personally kind of liked that because it meant we could work on the record in a complete vacuum with no pressure, no expectation, no deadlines.”

Wilson’s guitar-minded approach to the bass produced a style that diverts from more predictable patterns. “I play bass like a guitar player,” he comments. “I play a lot of stuff high up, I play a lot of melodies, I play a lot of chords, and I don’t perhaps play like a traditional bass player would play.”

Writing on bass helped make the album more groove- and riff-oriented, and less polyphonic overall than past records. The newfound approach also gave Wilson a refreshed outlook on composing. “I’ve been writing on the guitar for the best part of 25 years. And frankly, when I pick it up now, I’m not sure what else I’ve got left to do!” he shares. “But when I pick up the bass, or I go to the keyboard, suddenly there’s so much more that I’ve never done before. I surprise myself more when I play them.”

Steven Wilson’s Gear

Guitars & Basses

  • Fender Custom Shop Telecaster
  • PRS Singlecut Gold Top
  • PRS Custom 22
  • Takamine acoustic
  • Ovation acoustic (Nashville tuning)
  • Babicz Steven Wilson signature model
  • Spector basses
Amps
  • Bad Cat Lynx
  • Supro ’64 Combo
  • Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5
  • Various software plug-ins for recording
Strings
  • D’Addario NYXLs

Effects

  • Strymon BigSky Reverb
  • Strymon TimeLine Delay
  • Diamond Vibrato
  • Moog Minifooger MF Tremolo
  • Origin Effects Cali 76 Compressor
  • Source Audio Programmable EQ
  • Analog Man Prince of Tone
  • Amptweaker Tight Rock JR
  • Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phaser
  • Option 5 Rotary Pedal
  • Dunlop Cry Baby
  • Electro-Harmonix Micro POG x 2 (one octave up and one octave down)

Aside from acoustic strumming and fingerpicking on a few tracks, and edgy riff emphasis on others, the guitar mostly takes a backseat on the album. Wilson supports his arrangements with some solos that embody his quintessential feel for the instrument, but all in all, it’s apparent that the bass was truly the guiding force on Closure/Continuation.

In July, Wilson released another project: a 320-page autobiography entitled Limited Edition of One. Its subtitle, How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being a Part of the Mainstream, perhaps serves as its thesis. His story is that of someone who’s had success without ever having quite broken through, and that angle is exactly what helped him decide it was worth sharing.

“I always thought it would be a very boring book. I thought, ‘Well, there’s no book to be written because I don’t have any of those stories about being on the road and drugs and religion and groupies. I’m just a nerd that fell in love with the magic of making records.

“Then the guys at Hachette [the book’s publisher] pointed out to me, actually, that’s why a book on me would be interesting. Because that traditional rock ’n’ roll hedonistic thing … people are bored with that story because they’ve heard it so many times. At that point I became more convinced that maybe I did have a story to tell.”

In his book, he provides a detailed sketch of that aforementioned “nerd” who, in his formative years, was fascinated by records like the 1967 David Bowie single “The Laughing Gnome,” and especially the work of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. But before getting into his biography, he elaborates on the overall mood at the band’s last concert in 2010, then lists common misconceptions people have about him, the saddest songs he’s ever written, and 10 reasons why he’s not a “macho” rock star. He also talks about his love of lists.“I love making lists of things to do, and I take great satisfaction in ticking everything off my list. The satisfaction you get when you’ve done that is immense,” he enthuses in conversation. As a self-described control freak, he adds that when he writes emails, he will leave absolutely nothing up to the imagination of the recipient: “I can be paranoid about that as people sometimes can misinterpret things unless you’re very, very, very clear.”

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West is an incredibly innovative producer.”

He also writes that he doesn’t see himself as a guitar hero. “I always feel fake and slightly embarrassed when I’m being interviewed for guitar magazines,” he mentions at the beginning of our conversation. “I’ll be very boring if I talk about guitars, because I don’t know much about them, to be honest.”

While many consider Wilson exclusively a progressive rock artist, his latest solo record, The Future Bites (2021), is but one of his works that refutes that notion, as it sits comfortably in an electronic or synth-pop category. Given that, it may not come as a surprise that when asked which musicians he thinks are truly progressive today, he’s quick to praise modern hip-hop artists.

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West is an incredibly innovative producer,” he says. “Then there’s Kendrick Lamar. When you listen to the way they structure music and the way they make music, it’s so alien to the ear of people that grew up with rock music. I think that’s a really good thing, and that’s why we should listen to it.”

Wilson is less certain on how to make those kinds of innovations in songwriting, or how creative inspiration works: “I’ve no fucking clue.” He draws inspiration from all sorts of things, but also often goes into the studio and just bangs his head against the wall with nothing to show for it. “Yeah, [creative droughts] are really depressing. I get really down when I go through a period where I can’t create anything,” he shares. “I always come to the conclusion that, ‘Oh shit, I’ve written the last song I’m ever going to write. I’ve got nothing left. The well is dry.’ But I also manage, touch wood, to prove myself wrong. What I do is I carry on going to the studio, and I carry on hitting my head against the wall. I have a very strong work ethic.”

“It’s, of course, almost impossible to crystallize something in words that is beyond words,” he continues, reflecting on the ethereality of songwriting. “I think the combination of music and words is so much more powerful than simply the written word. If you can get those two things in balance, it can almost make you understand what is beyond understanding.”

Rig Rundown – Steven Wilson [2019]

See the differences and similarities between Steven’s solo setup in 2019 and his current rig with Porcupine Tree for Closure/Continuation.

Talking to Wilson, his affability stands in contrast to the frequently dark and lachrymose themes heard in Porcupine Tree’s music. He explains that, for him, writing sad songs is like an exorcism or an unburdening of his own sadness.

“Miserabilism and melancholy … I’ve always found such a beautiful thing. It’s a profoundly magical thing if you can create empathy through focusing on some of the more negative feelings that we all share. And that’s why I still think that music, where on the surface it might be sad or melancholic or depressing, has the potential to be something incredibly uplifting and beautiful for the person who experiences it.”

YouTube It

Wilson leads Porcupine Tree in a performance of “Lazarus” from the 2005 album Deadwing, illustrating his penchant for introspective, melancholic ballads that find their place among the band’s heavier material.







Strymon Announces Updated Line of Six Popular Pedals

Updated versions of six of their most well-known pedals packed with new features like a powerful new ARM processor.


The new pedals – DIG, Flint, El Capistan, Deco, Lex and blueSky – are updated versions of some of Strymon’s most popular models, and now feature a USB-C connection for updating firmware and MIDI communication, a TRS MIDI jack for bidirectional MIDI communication, full stereo inputs and outputs with a rear-panel Mono/Stereo switch, a premium JFET input circuit for the ultimate in tone and touch response, robust MIDI implementation allowing MIDI clock sync and onboard storage for up to 300 presets, and a powerful new ARM processor that has more power and consumes less energy than previous iterations. The user interface for each pedal has also been updated to provide easier and deeper control of important parameters, designed for users to get to their favorite (and undiscovered) sounds faster and easier than ever before.

“We know that all of these pedals have a large and dedicated fan base”, said Dave Freuhling,Strymon co-founder and chief firmware guru. “So it was important that the improvements andupdates we worked on didn’t take away from what made them so popular in the first place”.Strymon’s Head of Marketing Sean Halley continues, “everything we changed was done for areason, because the goal was not only to add some modern features that customers havebeen repeatedly asking for, but also to make sure that all six pedals are much easier to use. Atthe end of the day these pedals can recreate all of the sounds that were previously available inthe original versions, but now they sound and feel better, are far more powerful and flexible, and are ultimately easier to use than we could have hoped when each model was originally re-leased.”

DIG, Deco, El Capistan and blueSky have a new street price of $379.00 US, and Lex and Flint now street for $349.00. The pedals are available directly from Strymon and a select group of dealers worldwide. More info at: www.strymon.net.

Rig Rundown: The War on Drugs [2022]

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.

Story Time

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.

Checked Past

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.

Ol’ Reliable

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.

Hummingbird Season

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.

Alembic Ace

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.

Fender Firepower

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.

User Input

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.

Bradshaw’s Boardroom

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.

Ampeg Assault

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.

Rig Rundown: Old Crow Medicine Show’s Mike Harris

Inside the band’s East Nashville studio, we zoom in on the multi-instrumentalist’s string-driven things.


Mike Harris says he “Forrest Gump-ed” his way into the Grammy-winning Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show when he was drafted to join in January 2021. But rather than picking his spot in the group from life’s box of chocolates, Harris’ initial connection was his friendship with drummer Jerry Pentecost. He quickly proved himself an important member of the Nashville-based outfit of “Wagon Wheel” fame, thanks to his flexible guitar, mandolin, banjo, resonator, and vocal abilities.

Harris invited PG to Old Crow Medicine Show’s East Nashville studio, where they recorded their latest album, Paint This Town, for some show-and-tell about his favorite traveling and recording instruments.

Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.

Tale-Telling Tele

Mike Harris’ main electric instrument in Old Crow Medicine Show is his well-loved 1968 Fender Telecaster with a maple-cap fretboard. The guitar has had a few changes over the past 54 years—the biggest is its Lollar neck pickup—but is mostly stock.

From Fessler’s Lane

Famed Fender luthier Greg Fessler, who’s made guitars for Robben Ford and many others, created this Custom Shop ’62 Tele in 2017. The speed dials and saddles are by notable vintage-style parts maker (and builder) Glendale Guitars of Arlington, Texas.

Gift Jag

This stripped 1964 Fender Jaguar was a gift from Chris Stapleton. The tuners and bridge have been upgraded, which is common for pro-player Jags.

Harris’ Martin

For a guitarist in Old Crow Medicine show, a classic Martin seems like a requirement. Harris’ 1960 D-28 features a Brazilian rosewood back and sides. The headstock has been repaired and a bridge plate saver installed.

Mondo Mando

This Collings MF Mandolin features an Adirondack spruce top and an Eastern flamed maple back and sides. It has a V-shaped neck and wide string spacing, for easy finger placement. Harris has a Fishman pickup installed.

Barking Banjo

Amplifying a banjo can be tricky, so Harris has a microphone installed behind the head of this Deering Sierra model.

A “Handy” Les Paul

This 2012 Gibson R7 Les Paul has a mahogany top, Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups, and a Bigsby BP-15 palm-pedal tailpiece installed with a Vibramate V5 bridge plate. The R, by the way, stands for reissue, and the 7 designates 1957 as the year of origin for the guitar that inspired this goldtop.

Here’s Pearly!

The Rev. William F. Gibbons’ very own monster ’59, dubbed Pearly Gates, is the inspiration for this Gibson reissue. Of course, it also sports a pair of Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Pickups. Only 350 of these came out of the Gibson Custom Shop in 2009.

Meteor Shower

This mid-1960s Harmony Meteor actually belongs to Harris’ great uncle, Howard. True to its birth-era, the guitar stays strung with flatwounds. It also possesses its original D’Armond-made gold-foil pickups, which were introduced with this model back in the day.

I’ll Have a PBR

This Gold Tone PBR Paul Beard Signature-Series Roundneck Resonator with a cutaway gets carried to the PA via a Fishman Nashville Series spider-style resonator pickup. Harris always plays the guitar through a Fishman Jerry Douglas Signature Aura Acoustic Imaging pedal.

Reso-Whammy

And now for something unusual: Harris has his PBR resonator tricked out with a Bigsby BP-12 palm pedal tailpiece.

Stompin’ Rompin’

Harris’ pedalboard starts with a XTS custom pedalboard interface and routes to a Fancy Boy Klon clone, an Origin Effects Cali76 Compact compressor, a Walrus Audio 385 overdrive, a Demonfx King of Drive, a Shnobel Tone-modded Ernie Ball VP Jr. with a built-in TC Electronic PolyTune, a EHX Micro POG, an MXR Phase 95, a Moog MF Delay, and a Strymon Flint Tremolo & Reverb. All are powered by a Truetone 1Spot CS 12 and wired with Mogami cable with SP500 plugs. The board also houses a Magnatone reverb/tremolo controller.

Other elements of Harris’ gear include D’Addario American Stage Cables, BlueChip thumb picks, ProPik fingerpicks, Fender medium triangle plectrums, Dunlop .88 mm Flow picks, and Clayton thin triangles. He uses Dunlop slides: a 224 Heavy Wall Brass for resonator and a Derek Trucks signature for electric.

Sonic Vista

In the studio, Harris uses a lot of amps. On tour, however, he carries two, including this Magnatone Panoramic Stereo 2×10 combo. These come with Jensens, but Harris replaced those with a pair of Eminence Legends.

No. 2 for the Road

His other touring amp is a Fender Chris Stapleton Signature ’62 Princeton with an Eminence George Alessandro GA-64 12″ speaker.

Wall of Sound

Here’s a look at the studio amps he keeps on tap—mostly classic-style Fenders with a little assist from a Silvertone and that Magnatone.

Fontaines D.C.’s Poetry in Commotion

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

Guitars

  • 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
Amps
  • Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
  • Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
  • 1975 Fender Deluxe Reverb (used only at Angelic Studio)
  • THD Electronics Hot Plate

Effects

  • 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

Guitars

  • 2019 Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
  • ’66 Fender Coronado II
  • Fylde 12-string (loan from Richard Hawley)
Amps
  • 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

Effects

  • 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.”

YouTube It

In this pandemic-era livestream, Fontaines D.C. plays a half dozen songs from their Grammy-nominated sophomore album, A Hero’s Death [2020].



Rig Rundown: Nir Felder and Will Lee

For the Band of Other Brothers, this dynamic duo carries a light load.


Nir Felder has been called “the next big jazz guitarist” by NPR and hailed by The New York Times as a “whiz kid.” Will Lee is the Grammy-winning Musician’s Hall of Fame member you’ve likely seen and heard playing bass as part of Paul Shaffer’s World’s Most Dangerous Band on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows.

Currently, Felder and Lee are touring together with drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Sting), Jeff Coffin on saxophones and woodwinds (Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones), and keyboardist Jeff Babko (James Taylor, Toto) as Band of Other Brothers. On April 20, the Other Brothers made a stop at Nashville’s City Winery, supporting their second album, Look Up. Lee and Felder took a break pre-soundcheck to usher PG’s John Bohlinger through their rigs.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XS Electric Strings]

First and Best

Although Nir Felder has plenty of guitars, he usually gigs with his stock 1995 Fender Tex-Mex Stratocaster—his first electric guitar. The Strat has high mileage and plenty of battle scars.

He plays with Dunlop Jazz III picks and keeps it strung with D’Addario NYXL strings. And no nets for this musical high-wire walker. Felder has been touring without a backup axe.

Deluxe Redux

Felder plays Fender Deluxe ’65 reissues on tour, speccing the model for backline amps. It’s a ubiquitous 1×12, so he can always get a consistent tone.

The Tenacious 10

Felder’s uptown sound—on the ground—includes a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer with a Keeley mod, and a Klon KTR. Those two overdrives usually stay on, and he rolls down the volume of his Strat to clean up the signal while giving it a warm, rich undercurrent of dirt. From there, it’s a King Tone Duellist, King Tone Octaland, Meris Ottobit, Line 6 DL4 MkII, Strymon BigSky, Boss DD-3, and a Neunaber Wet Reverb. Power comes from a Strymon Zuma. The board is by Stompin-Ground, and cables are from L.A. Sound Design and Nice Rack Canada.

Fab 4-String

Will Lee plays his signature 22-fret Sadowsky bass. This J-style features master volume, a pickup blender, a push/pull treble roll-off, a bass boost, treble boost, and a mid-boost on/off switch. There’s a push/pull pot that’s a preamp bypass switch for playing in passive mode, and the instrument is equipped with a Hipshot Bass Xtender that Lee tunes down to low C. Strings are Dean Markley SR2000s.

The Haunt of Eagles…

is what the Latin word aquilare means. And linquists believe Aguilar, a common town name in Spain, is derived from it. But Lee’s amp for this gig—an Aguilar DB 751 pumping through one of the company’s SL 210 400-watt, 8-ohm bass cabinets—was from SIR rentals.

The Rig for This Gig

Lee says he has a rig for every gig, and with Letterman he had to have enough pedalboard to cover every sound he might need to cover a wide variety of guest artists and genres. But for the Band of Other Brothers, Lee plugs into a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, an MXR Bass Envelope Filter, and a POG, a Mod 11 Modulator, and a Canyon—all by EHX. Juice comes from a Truetone 1 Spot Pro.

Strymon Zelzah Review

The Electro-Harmonix Small Stone was my first weird pedal. Initially I gravitated to the Small Stone because it seemed so utterly immodest, but I soon came to treasure its more subdued settings and its ability to communicate a strange, mysterious melancholy.

Strymon’s new Zelzah, with its ultra-flexible controls and combinable 4- and 6-stage phasing modes, can generate many nuanced variations on these extremes and thousands of colors in between. It also generates immersive chorus and flange tones that make this a very powerful little waveform manipulator.


Purple Waves of Phase

Strymon has remained crafty about maximizing the utility and user-friendliness of their compact stompboxes. On the Zelzah, they use their now-familiar formula of six knobs, two footswitches, and two small toggle switches allocated to two primary functions. Much like Boss pedals, this uniformity in design inspires a certain confidence (at least among players that have previously used small Strymon pedals) that you can dive in and find your way through the forest without first spending a week with a manual. Because this is a Strymon, quality time with the manual is a good idea. There is deeper functionality to consider—particularly if you embrace its MIDI potential. But players keen to get on with creation can dive headlong into the Zelzah’s pleasures and get fast results.

The Zelzah is divided into a 4- and a 6-stage phaser section. The 4-stage phaser side is ostensibly the more streamlined of the two, with knobs for speed, depth, and mix. But the toggle functions makes things interesting fast. The classic voice does nice approximations of old-school analog phasers. But the addition of a barber pole phaser, which gives the aural illusion of phase cycles unwinding endlessly, helix-like, into space, opens up cool compositional possibilities and rhythmic phase effects. The envelope mode is awesome too, not least because it can be set to sit subtly in a mix. The speed and depth knobs double as range and sensitivity controls, and the modest-to-quacky range of effects is impressive.

The 6-stage side of the Zelzah is also simultaneously streamlined and full of surprises. The main attraction here, apart from the thick 6-stage phaser, is a voice switch that morphs between phase, flange, and chorus modes—all of which are excellent. There’s also a 3-position resonance switch that gives all three voices great mellow-to-extreme range.

While Zelzah’s MIDI functionality technically enables hundreds of presets, and you can hook up an expression pedal to effectively move between two preset sounds, you cannot store and recall presets on the unit itself. You’ll either need to delve into MIDI or use an external footswitch with which you can save a single preset. You’ll also need an external switch if you rely on tap tempo. Personally, I find the Zelzah’s basic controls intuitive enough that I don’t need presets or tap tempo much. Some habitual deep divers will, no doubt, be bummed.

Players keen to get on with creation can dive headlong into the Zelzah’s pleasures and get fast results.

The USB jack that enables MIDI connectivity is situated on the crown of the pedal. But there are also true stereo outs as well as a switch that moves the pedal from mono to stereo. Stereo operation is another joy well worth exploring in the Strymon. Just be prepared to allocate a whole week for spelunking these modulation depths.

Motion for Many Moods

The Zelzah’s possible modulation textures start to feel pretty limitless once you get acquainted with the controls—particularly because you can combine the 4-stage phaser with the 6-stage phaser, chorus, and flange.

The 4-stage classic mode is easy to navigate and awash with nice phase colors. The slow and mellow tones are great. So are the fast and intense ones. You hear a lot of detail in these modulations, too, thanks to the pedal’s super-low noise. The potential of the barber pole phaser piqued my interest most. Most barber settings have a frequency-narrowing effect that lends the phase a little more focus, which in turn makes the phase cycle feel more intense. I found a bunch of cool ways to use the tick-tock sway of some of these patterns as rhythmic underpinnings for riffs. And when using the barber pole in compound 4- and 6-stage phaser sounds, you can tune in cool whistling overtones on top. Phasers may be almost intrinsically psychedelic, but the barber pole effect genuinely tweaks your sense of space and time a little more intensely.

The envelope mode, meanwhile, is a riff factory. It twists simple licks in the same way any envelope filter would. But here, the breadth of phase sounds, the ability to keep the effect subdued, and the contouring effect of the phase waveforms take the Zelzah’s version to more malleable and mellow places.

Six-stage phase sounds are generally more intense than 4-stage tones. And with the variable resonance switch available to ramp up the weirdness, you’ll probably want to stop here for your most freakish phase experiences. Even with the resonance switch off, most 6-stage voices feature a detectable whooshiness. And, at mild and high resonances and deeper depth settings, things get ultra-chewy.

The nice chorus and flange effects on the 6-stage side can be made very mellow with the resonance off, but can also assume weird and intense personalities at high resonance and depth settings. They are a fantastic addition to the killer phaser sounds that make Zelzah a practical one-stop modulation shop.

The Verdict

If you’re on the fence between keeping your phase classy and subtle and indulging your wildest modulation urges, Zelzah can accommodate wild fluctuations between those extremes. The compound modulations are an endless well of unusual sounds. And the very rich chorus tones and flanger—and the ease with which you can summon and shape them—make the Zelzah a very fair deal, even if the $349 price initially gives pause.

First Look: Strymon Zelzah Multidimensional Phaser