The guitar work in the music of electro-rock-alternative-industrial-oh-screw-it-you-can’t-classify-them-so-don’t-even-try Sydney band MM9 occupies an interesting space, often riding right down the middle between rhythmic and atmospheric applications. The man responsible for maintaining this fine balance is Kerry Foulke. “That’s something that’s really cool about the sound, and it frees me up to do a lot of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise do,” he says. “Most of the music in MM9 is fairly guitar heavy, but none of it’s really guitar driven. It gives me freedom to try different things, do whatever the hell I want to do.”
Foulke says the complexity of the band’s sound often leaves little frequency space for the guitar to occupy. “There are some sections of songs where I’ve really got to lay right back, and that’s cool too. Faith No More are definitely a big influences on a couple of us and that’s true of them: they are not what you would describe as a guitar band, even though there are some brutally heavy guitar parts. The guitar is just another layer: it’s an important layer that adds a bit of colour and warmth and a bit of that organic element without being overpowering.”
MM9 started life as a specific concept dreamed up by drummer Ben Ellingworth, but one thing but very quickly became another. “It’s kind of a funny story how all of us got together,” Foulke says. “Ben had an idea of what he wanted to do, and set about finding the different players to match that vision. Since then it evolved into something completely different to what Ben intended – we took it in this new direction. We’ve played together for about eight years now, so in a very real way we’ve grown up together as musicians. We ended up with something very original compared to what the original idea was.” That sound involves elements of rock, synth pop, creepy atmospherics, post-punk angularity, even a little bit of disco. “We have a major problem with people knowing how to classify us,” Foulke says,” because everyone wants to pigeonhole. And with good reason sometimes: you’ve got to know which section of the store to put the fuckin’ CD in! With the album coming out we’ve had a bit of trouble with that. Record stores are saying they don’t know where to put it because it doesn’t belong in the metal category, it doesn’t belong in the dance category, and nobody really knows what alternative means any more, so where do you put it? Next time we’ll pop up in country and western… that’ll be the dream (laughs).
Ah yes, the album, The Air Between. Co-produced by the band’s vocalist/programmer/keys guy Dan Sutherland with Evan McHugh and mixed by the legendary Mike Barbario. “We got a list of all the artists he’s worked with and it’s basically a list of everybody who’s ever picked up an instrument: Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, Metallica, Guns N Roses… To us that was a real buzz. He was really into what we were doing. He wasn’t just trying to pay the bills, you know what I mean? He really took an active interest and he took our feedback on board quite a bit. When you’re working with somebody like that it’s pretty incredible. Dan and Evan were co-producing the album over here while he was mixing it over in the States. They’d be sending tracks over to him and he ‘s on New York time so we’d get up in the morning and there’d be mixes sitting in our email. We’ve have a listen to that, bounce our comments back, he’d wake up the next morning and find our comments. I’m sure it sent our bandwidths up quite a bit, but it was cool!”
Gearwise, Foulke mainly slings a Fender Telecaster (in drop-D, a Tom Morello influence) and an Epiphone Les Paul with Gibson Burstbucker pickups (in drop C). “As far as amps go I’ve got an Engl Ritchie Blackmore head, which is great for the high gain stuff, but I’m using the low gain channel a lot more now because it’s warmer, with more midrange. I used to use two amps on stage, because I do use a fair bit of effects, so I’d A/B the Engl for the dirty stuff and a Fender Pro185 solid state amp that was real fuckin’ loud, and I’d run that with separate effects to the dirty chain, which means my pedalboard gets kind of out of control… I ended up blowing up that Fender though, which I think was more to do with heavy use and poor maintenance on my part than any design flaw on the part of Fender. But after about the third time I blew it up on stage I started using a Line 6 Pod DI’d into the PA for the clean sound, and the Engl for the dirty stuff. For effects the DigiTech Whammy is probably my favourite. I wanted one for years, and the day I finally got one it was like, ‘YES!’”
The Air Between is out now on Red Recordings.