I’m a bit of an octave pedal geek. One octave down, two octaves down, one octave up. Analog, digital… my pedalboard always has at least some manner of octave-tweaking gadget. Sometimes it’s been a Whammy Pedal, sometimes a Boss OC-2, sometimes a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz, sometimes a Boss HS-2 Harmonist, sometimes a Boss GT-8… point being, I loves me some octave action. So I was psyched when the Aguilar Octamizer drifted across my desk. Aguilar best known for their bass amplification, but they produce a pedal range consisting of three models: the Tone Hammer preamp/direct box; the TLC Compressor, and the Octamizer Analog Octave.
Housed in a distinctive metal oblong case (a little longer than you’d expect such a narrow pedal to be), the Octamizer features include a clever sliding battery door which pops out at the bottom of the pedal; the standard ins, outs and power adapter jack; and controls for Clean Level, Clean Tone, Octave Level and Octave Filter. The latter is a multipole low-pass filter, and it’s one of two key features that set the Octamizer aside from other octave pedals. The other is the Clean Tone control.
I started with with the Clean and Octave levels both on 10, then reeling one or the other back to find just the right ratio. The Clean Tone control is a full spectrum tilt EQ, which boosts treble while cutting bass, or boosts bass while cutting treble. You can get a great idea of what this control does by turning the octave all the way down for a minute and experimenting, and it’s tempting to use the pedal just as a preamp for this feature alone. Turn up the Octave Level again though and you’ll remember what it’s all about. The Octave Filter gives you control over how smooth or furry the octave sound is. By the way, turn the clean level all the way down and you’ll hear just the pure octave tone, which is great for weird synth sounds and Muse-like fuzzy drones.
Using my Fernandes Jazz Bass copy with DiMarzio Area J pickups, I really dug the range of detail afforded by the Clean Tone control. It allows the original note to either rise above the octave signal, or to step back and let the synthy octave sound take the lead. You can also increase the bass frequencies, very handy on my Jazz Bass which is voiced more towards the midrange. The Octave Filter control usually works best when you set it to roughly the mirror image of whatever the Clean Tone is doing. This way you can increase the fuzziness of the octave while taming the clean tone’s treble, or boost the deepness of the octave while cutting through on the top end. Of course you can also max out both controls for wild electronic textures, or turn them both down for a molar-rattling rumble.
I also couldn’t help trying it out with guitar, plugging in my Ibanez Jem and having at it with the main riff to Vai’s ‘Blowfish.’ The tone was huge, and the added control provided by the Octave Filter and Clean Tone pots allowed me to dial in the perfect overweight yet defined octave voicing. If guitarists discover this little monster they’re probably going to be fighting bass players over who gets dibs on it. Next I plugged in my Ibanez UV777BK Universe 7-string and laid on some fat octave madness on top of a low B string riff. I was pretty freaking amazed not only by how good the pedal sounded, but also how well it tracked, even when using the bridge pickup. That’s a rarity for octave pedals, in my experience. Usually, whether they’re octave-up or octave-down, they prefer to receive a neck pickup signal, sometimes even with the tone control rolled back, before they’ll track accurately. Not so with the Octamizer. In fact, I dare say that it’ll be as popular with guitarists as with bass players once people hear it.
This is a great pedal for funk and jazz players who want to explore higher ranges on the neck while still holding down the low end, as well as for rock and metal players who want to add a subsonic rumble to their tone – be they bassis or guitarist. It’s super tough, super quiet, and sounds incredible.
Picks (or plectra to those of us who like to use big words) are all too often overlooked when it comes to grear, but dude, that’s where your sound starts, so you really owe it to yourself to make your pick your own! And there’s no better way to make a pick your own than to have it printed by a company like Grover Allman, who have been printing quality picks for years, and more recently have made huge waves in the industry for their revolutionary photo picks (not to mention being very active and entertaining twitterers!). As you probably know if you’ve been reading the site for a while, I’m a Grover Allman user myself (pick up some I Heart Guitar picks by Grover Allman here). My latest batch reads ‘My other pick is my fingers.’
Grover Allman’s Kevin Grover talked me through the company’s history and its products.
When did you start the company?
The company started in 1990, there were no Australian made guitar picks back then. We invested a small amount of money and had an amazing response from our Australian retailers, as they say – the rest is history. Grover Allman now exports to over 25 countries and has sold in excess of 30 million guitar picks.
Do you remember your very first pick? I still have mine, and it makes me all nostalgic to drag it out and think about all the bad notes I must have played with it…
I do remember my first guitar pick; it came from one of our current competitors, however I don’t have it anymore. It was a brown medium celluloid.
The first guitar pick that our company made I still have. We made a small test production run to trial our tooling and the picks are now kept in a big glass jar. They were .85mm white nylons. We still sell them today as our performer series. Every time I look at the jar I reflect upon where it all started and where we are today.
Who are some of your star clients?
We have a lot of star clients on our books now. Please forgive me if I have left your band off my list as there are so many, there is no order of importance here, just what came to my head – Motley Crue, Bleeding Through, Klaxons, Extreme, Silverchair, Nuno Bettencourt, Nick Sterling, Suicide Silence, Living End, Cannibal Corpse, Slash, Joe Robinson, Bring Me The Horizon, Rammstein and many more.
You get lots of work from non-stars too: what are some of the more unique custom pick orders you’ve received?
We get requests for just about everything you could imagine on a guitar pick. We had a run of porn stars on picks, which was quite funny – maybe there are some discounts being applied for guitar lessons for porn stars? Haha. Weddings are very popular, so are album releases and tours.
Tell us about the licensed products you do.
We have a number of licenses currently. The Simpsons, Family Guy, Chicks on Picks, Drop Dead Sexy, Triple J and Beached Az ,all proving to be very popular. With these licenses we manufacture picks, straps, music manuscript bags and guitars. We are always on the lookout for new licensing opportunities.
The photo picks are a very bold step. Was it tricky to perfect the process?
Photo Picks have certainly opened up a great deal of possibilities for our clients now. We were the first in the world to print photographic picks; this was in the late 90’s. Unfortunately to produce photographic picks then was an extremely expensive process and you could only print picks cost effectively if they were large production runs. That situation has now changed, with our new processes and machinery we can now print guitar picks cost effectively, with print runs as low as 30 picks.
Grover Allman has invested over $1 million in specialised printing machinery and we have no doubt that we have the most revolutionised printing machinery in the world.
What other services does Grover Allman offer?
Grover Allman offers a number of different products and services and our range is continuously growing. The range now includes picks, straps, music bags, guitars, tuners, slides, jewellery, keyrings, and capos. We are getting a lot of our artists now asking for customised products for merchandise. This is an area that we are focusing on; a lot of bands gain their income through merchandise. If the merchandise range can be expanded upon this gives the fan a lot more choice at the merchandise booth. Our 5 packs of guitar picks have been very popular; bands are using these for tour memorabilia and CD launches. We have also had bands approach us for customised jewellery, another popular band merchandise line.
LINK: Grover Allman
Byron Stroud is a legend in the metal bass world. He was the man responsible for holding down the thunderous low end of Strapping Young Lad, as well as SYL offshoot Zimmer’s Hole. When Dino Cazares left Fear Factory and Christian Olde Wolbers switched over to guitar, Byron stepped into the bass slot. Then Christian and drummer Raymond Herrera were out of Fear Factory, Dino was back in, and SYL drummer Gene Hoglan joined, reuniting one of the most iconic rhythm sections in metal. You still keeping up? Well now Byron and Fear Factory singer Burton C Bell have another band on the side, called City of Fire. CoF is more melodic and traditional than FF and far less extreme than SYL, but that’s not to say they aren’t heavy. Their self-titled debut mixes metal and melody to great effect and allows Bryon to explore darker, moodier metal textures than he can in his other jobs.
When one hears of a band fronted by the singer from another popular band, the first thought is ‘I guess that’s something the singer put together.’ Not so with City of Fire – it all started with legendary underground thrash band Caustic Thought. “That was a band I started right out of high school with Ian White and Bob Wagner,” Byron says. “That was a band that Devin Townsend and Jed Simon both played in before we did Strapping Young Lad. I’ve always stayed in touch with the guys and we’d do the odd reunion show here and there. The last one we did a couple of years ago went really well, so we got together and started writing songs and we really liked the direction it was going. We brought in another player, Terry Murray, and once we did some demoing I thought Burton would be into it. Burton and I have a similar taste in music, and when I sent him the demos he freaked out. The only vision we really had was that we didn’t want any song to sound like any other song on the record. We’re happy with the way it turned out.”
The arrangements in City of Fire leave a lot more sonic space for Stroud to move around in. “It definitely gives me an opportunity to try different styles of bass. I do more fingerstyle playing. I started out as a finger player, and it was only when I joined bands like Strapping where I started playing with a pick to keep up with everybody. And when you’re playing finger style it’s one less thing you have to worry about: trying to find a pick!”
I suggest that I can hear a few psychedelic influences creeping into some of the riffs and melodies of City of Fire. “We hear that too in the songs, but it was just natural for us. And the songs we’ve written since we recorded the record are more of the same. We’ve definitely tapped into something we’re really into and feel we can pull off and make sound killer. That’s the great thing about Terry Murray – he’s a producer in Vancouver as well and he reminds me of a lot of things that Devin Townsend does. He has a similar production style that Devin has, so he’s really good at the layering and getting great performances out of people.”
Byron’s bass arsenal includes Fender and ESP instruments. “I have a couple of custom Fenders that I got made a few years ago when I joined Fear Factory. I’ve always been with ESP, then when I joined Fear Factory I started using Christian’s basses and I just loved them. They were a more rounded bass, whereas the ESPs were more cutting. I’m back with ESP now, so I use both. I have some ESP 6-strings and 5-strings, and I still have my trusty Fenders. For amps I was with Ashdown for a while but now I’m back to Ampeg again. I’ll use two separate tones: I’ll have one amp that’s strictly a sub tone – no mids or highs – and I’ll have another amp which is an extreme distortion tone. I can switch that from a distortion to a clean sound but I always keep the sub. But for City of Fire I just went with a basic old 1968 Ampeg SVT through an old 8X10 cabinet, cranked it up and got the classic tone.”
To partially quote Elton John, remember when rock was fun? When you could crank up the car stereo, hang out the window and scream the lyrics to ‘Loving You Is A Dirty Job’ with a smile on your face? Then the 90s happened and music got kinda depressing. Then the 00s happened and music got kinda homogenised and computerised and just, y’know, boring. Well the 21st century is in its teens now and has started sneakin’ out to parties, kissin’ girls, fighting boys and rockin’ out. Hard. And that can only mean one thing: Ratt’s back, baby. This classic Sunset Strip band is kicking all sorts of ass with their new CD Infestation, and I had a chat to guitarist Warren DeMartini about it.
The response to the new CD has been huge!
It’s really, really exciting, Peter. It really reminds me of the feeling we had when we started. It’s just been great.
Why the long wait?
That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer for it. It’s a really weird art form that just kinda falls together when the planets line up, I guess. It’s not something we really could have done any sooner or any other way.
It also seems like a really good time because, well, for me I was a teenager in the 90s and I loved 80s rock and you were not allowed to love 80s rock in the 90s! And now nobody cares about stuff like that any more, now you can like what you like.
Yeah, I absolutely know what you’re talking about. It’s like someone’s switched the light on.
I understand you recorded Infestation in a mansion?
We did, we’re really big fans of records that have the stories behind them, like the band will rent a villa in the south of France, live there for six months and cut some timeless piece. We always talked about doing it but it really didn’t merge with opportunity until this record.
Did you use the space in creative ways, like do the Led Zeppelin thing of putting the drums in the stairwell, or was it more of just an environment to be in?
What happened was, our producer Michael Baskette basically bought his family’s home on the Chessapeake Bay and turned it into a recording studio. So it was already set up for recording. It just kinda evolved. He was cutting records in his living room, the as he got more and more successful he had more and more modifications done to the place, then he finally totally redid it to be a studio. It worked out perfectly, having the remoteness of getting away and moving into a place for a while, and the technical aspects.
So it’d be a very different album if you recorded it in LA or something.
I think so. It was more of a wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and get to it, then take a few breaks, get back to it, go to sleep, wake up and do it again. It was a little different not having to drive somewhere, and not having the kind of distractions you typically get when you record in LA.
Well that’s kinda like me except it’s a laptop and a Pro Tools MBox in the corner of the lounge room.
Yeah! It gets easier and easier, doesn’t it! (laughs).
So were you trying to make a classic Ratt album or did it just happen?
You can’t really try – the second you try it just doesn’t work. The only thing we were semi-conscious of going in was we wanted to recreate the energy, spark and colour of the stuff that was coming out around the time of 84, Out Of The Cellar meets Invasion of Privacy kind of thing. It was a kind of a ‘not spend too much time on any one thing,’ go-with-the-gut kind of approach to those records, that changed as we had more time to spend in the studio.
And it sounds like you guys are having fun.
Yeah, you can get great results with either approach, and on this one that almost through-and-go kind of approach really worked this time.
So what gear did you use on the CD?
There were two parts to the recording, because we were doing the 25th anniversary Out Of The Cellar tour in between the whole thing, so I cut the record with the reissue San Dimas-style Charvel, and I also had a Performance Koa and a Nashville Gretsch. Then we went back and did about a month’s worth of gigs, then we came back and that’s when I brought another Charvel, so I had the black French graphic, the white French graphic, a Performance Koa and a Gretsch Nashville.
It’s really cool to see Charvel coming back over the last few years since Fender bought them.
Yeah, they really got great again. Fender bought Charvel several years ago so it’s all assembled in Corona, which is a very similar result that they had with the San Dimas plant, so it’s something I like being involved in.
And Performance, how did you hook up with those guys back in the day?
I was at Frank Zappa’s studio and his guitar was sitting there on a guitar stand. I said ‘Can I try it out?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ and I played it and I was astounded how good it played. I was like, ‘What? What is this? Where did it come from?’ and he told me about their shop. At that time it was by the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I called them up and said ‘Do you still have the specs on the guitar you built for Frank Zappa?’ He said yes and I just ordered one right there. That was the beginning of many collaborations.
Is that the same neck shape you use today?
Yeah, the Koa necks were all more or less based on that neck they made for Frank. I have several of them, and the Koa was one of those lot, yeah.
You just don’t see them in Australia so I was really stoked to try out a bunch at NAMM.
Yeah, the skill and the extra time in them can be very impressive.
And what about amps?
On Infestation I did the basics with a Diesel, then when we went to overdubs we hooked a Soldano and a Diesel together. The Diesel filled out the bottom, the upper mids and highs, and we blended that with a Soldano which had taken most of the mids, and it was just a nice combination.
Did you talk about gear choices with Carlos Cavazo, or did he do his own thing?
There were many amps which were part of the studio, and I think Carlos used one of those, possibly with the Soldano, I can’t remember. I know Carlos used a Marshall that belongs to the studio, and I believe the Soldano.
You guys have some great twin-lead stuff on the album. It’s great to hear that again.
Thanks! Yeah, that was kind of another loose thing we were keeping in mind doing this record: keeping the twin lead stuff that Robbin Crosby and I crafted early in the band’s career.
So Australian tour plans. Are you coming back any time soon? Please?
Definitely! We were there a couple of years ago and it well, and basically the word was, when you come out with a new record, come on back! So I’m counting on that happening. So while there isn’t a definite plan at the moment, I know it’s in the works. There’s a festival in Tokyo that happens every year, and we got added to that last week, so it would make sense to take it to Australia.
And I hear you were recently added to Download.
Yeah! The Infestation tour, we’re doing some warm-up stuff here but we’re going to sort of officially launch the tour in Europe at Sweden Rockfest on June 10th, then Download’s on the 13th.
Cool, hit the ground running!
Yeah! That’ll get the blood pumpin’!
Photo from the Ratt website
George Lynch is one busy dude. Souls of We, Lynch Mob, his new album Orchestra Mayhem, not to mention various gear-designing and art projects. Lynch is heading to Australia soon for an Allans Music clinic tour, and I caught up with him via email for this quick chat:
You’re coming back to Australia soon for Allans Music. You’re quite a regular visitor here now! What can we expect to see and hear at the Allans clinics?
A little bit of everything. Plying along to tracks, improvising with other live musicians, meeting fans and signing my name a lot! lol
What can you tell us about Orchestral Mayhem (CLICK HERE to buy Orchestral Mayhem from Amazon.com)? How did you approach it?
Very casually. I didnt have to write the material and that takes a lot of pressure off. This record is basically just me blowing over a bunch of tracks over a two-day period
Can you tell us about the Morley Dragon 2 Wah? What do you look for in a wah pedal? The wah lock function is a great idea.
I always liked the idea of having a notched wah selector incorporated into a wah pedal. You can get that Schenker throaty EQ by hitting the switch every time. You don’t have to search around for the sweet spot.
A few questions about Lynch Mob’s Smoke & Mirrors: The album sounds so powerful and earthy, and it seems to me that there’s a lot of blues or blues-rock influence. Is that what you set out to do, or did it evolve naturally?
Thats just the natural chemistry between Oni and I. I know where he lives melodically and I just naturally gravitate to that place when I’m writing the music.
There’s some very cool slide playing on the title track. Do you play a lot of slide? Who are your slide influences?
I love slide, pedal steel, slack-key …I’m not an accomplished slide player by any stretch of the imagination but i enjoy dabbling. I actually used a 9v battery on the record because I didn’t have a slide. Derek trucks and Duane Allman are two of my faves.
What gear did you use to record the album?
Guitars: ESP Super V and ESP custom Tele for rythms, Tiger and Tele for solos.
Amps: Randall Lynch Box with various modules, 68 Marshall plexi, 65 Fender super reverb, WEM Domintator, Lynch Box cab with super speakers, 71 Hiwatt cab with Fanes
Effects: I used many differant OD pedals; Cusack Screamer, Japanese Boss DS-1, Ting of Tone, Tube Screamers, DOD 250… Lots of vintage MXR Phase 90, morley Dragon Wah and Tripler pedal, Zoom G2G for various fill-in sounds, Fulltone Deja Vibe (old).
Last time I interviewed you, you said you had a guitar design you hoped ESP would build: you described it as “a Lexan body with a carbon fibre exoskeleton and a throbbing rose coloured LED embedded in the body.” Any luck convincing them to do that yet?
No! lol.. I get wacky ideas that are not practical. They’re polite enough to listen to my insane ramblings for awhile then usually tell me no. They learned their lesson when they built the 7-string motorized pickup guitar called the Aardvark which didn’t work very well and went over like a lead balloon.
Any other new guitar designs in the pipeline, either for your own use or available to the public?
I’ve got a signature guitar model I share with a Japanese artist that’s a camo Strat, 24 fret, invader pickups, not for the faint of heart. I’m also working with ESP on a Tele design and I’m working in collaboration with them and hand making Mr Scary guitars as well. You can chek them out atwww.mrscaryguitars.com
You’ve recently started building/modifying guitars and selling them online. What’s your philosophy regarding these guitars?
The heart of the guitars are the woods that we pick, the radical designs that are very organic, and achieving incredible tone and effortless playability, all in a package that looks 100 years old and feels like you’ve been playing it for 40 years
I was interested to read that you were making your own pickups. Any plans to make pickups available to the public? I think it’d be a very cool limited edition thing.
Seymour Duncan has taken me under his wing and given me hands-on experience building unique pickup designs from scratch.. I’m also recreating the prototype Distortion and Screamin’ Demon models.
You’ve also started selling art online. Is this something you’ve always been into or is it a more recent development? And do you see it influencing designs for your ESP guitar line?
This last year I dived into creating these art pieces which led to carving the guitars. I’ll actually be doing some gallery art showings where well be performing with acoustic instrumentation, banjos, mandolins, percussion … real laid back.
Finally: how on earth are you balancing Souls Of We, Lynch Mob and projects like Orchestral Mayhem?
Thats not even the tip of the iceberg, my friend! But I love playing and being creative, and I promise you it will all make sense when we look back a few years from now.
GEORGE LYNCH AUSTRALIAN CLINIC DATES AT ALLANS:
May 25 – Allans Music – Melbourne
May 26 – Allans Music – Sydney
May 27 – Allans Music – Brisbane
May 28 – Allans Music – Adelaide
Some of this music has been floating around in various forms for years, with Periphery mastermind Misha Mansoor proving himself quite the rightly popular lad on various web forums and Soundclick, and not being afraid to put his demos out there for everyone to check out. It’s taken a loooong time for Periphery’s debut album, but here it is, so crank it!
The first thing that jumps out about this molten slab of prog metal is how freaking aggressive it is – but in that calculated, ‘I could kill you eight different ways before you hit the ground, without even leaving a mark’ way. It’s brutal but it’s precise, heavy yet intricate, and the shredding is intense. There are many moments where you could almost consider the vocals another texture, with Misha’s rhythm guitar as the lead instrument.
Arrangements violently crash between Meshuggah-like rhythmic chugging and the kind of hyper-speed single-note lines John Petrucci is so good at, while song sections whip by with a kind of Between The Buried & Me energy. Vocalist Spencer Sotelo does a great job technically, with a thick roar and a strong clean vocal style, but although he nails his parts, I’m sure he’s about an album or so away from perfecting a more distinctive style.
Check out Jetpacks Was Yes, which in some parts almost reminds me of something from Bowie’s Heathen album if Bowie was a prog metal guy; Buttersnips, which recalls the multitracked speedy headfuck of Devin Townsend’s Ants, Icarus Lives, which stomps along with a killer groove, Ow My Feelings, which features some killer vocals; Zyglrox (more of the Ants vibe to these ears, interspersed with Zakk-like pinch harmonics from hell); and Racecar, a somewhat Dream Theaterish 15-minute epic which carries many moods and some tasty blues soloing. Nice Petrucci-esque clean tones too.
The album is pretty long and I’m sure Misha just wanted to get as much stuff out there as possible, but maybe it could have done with a little trimming. It’s like, relax dude, you and your music are gonna be around a long time so it’s ok to hold some things back for release #2!
CLICK HERE for my interview with Misha Mansoor.
I’ve found it really hard to write about Scambot. I really should have done so months and months ago when the album was released. But man, this album hit me so personally and deeply that to talk about it almost feels like opening up to a stranger about a relationship or something. But ok, here goes.
Scambot 1, as the name may imply, is the first in a series of albums about a chap called SCAMBOT (Serial Consciousness Agent [Military division] – Bringer Of Truth). The story still has much to play out (although the CD booklet is an invaluable part of the experience), and when the whole project is done there will be a graphic novel to fill out more of the narrative. At the moment I think of the music as snippets from the soundtrack of a movie I haven’t heard.
This film analogy extends beyond such a literal interpretation of the music’s rightful place in the world though. For me Scambot evokes that feeling of channel surfing late at night and finding something exotic and bizarre yet highly emotional and fulfilling. Llistening to Scambot 1 reminds me of watching the Zagreb Films retrospective at the Melbourne International Animation Festival last year. It’s hard to pin down, but the music and even lyrics feel like they speak to me in another language I don’t understand, yet break through this imaginary language barrier to communicate via feelings instead (regardless of the lyrical content which I of course do understand). Obviously I’ve been emotionally affected by music before or I wouldn’t have an entire blog, if not life, devoted to it, but man, Scambot grabs me good.
So what does the music sound like? Well for me it’s kind of like an amalgam of some of the more contemplative moments of Keneally’s Boil That Dust Speck, Sluggo and Nonkertomph albums – that kind of Radiohead-meets-Zappa blend of emotion and complexity that Keneally always does so well (and listen for some deliciously subtle playing by longtime Keneally cohorts such as Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Marco Minnemann, all of whom turn in spectacular performances). One of the charms of Scambot, and it can be said of Nonkertomph too, is that it can become hard to pin down exactly what is the main instrument of the song, to the point where you suddenly have the stunning revelation that, duh, the entire song is the main instrument. This ain’t no straight guitar-bass-drums-vocal thing. The orchestration is deep, real deep, and if you’re used to listening to a standard band format it can be kinda hard to find your ‘in’ with Scambot. But once you do, you’re gonna wanna curl up in there like a warm kitten.
Personal highlights for me are in the little details. The melody from Life’s Too Small playing under the opening snippet of a cooking show about how to prepare rectangles in Big Screen Boboli. The ‘My arm is doing that wiggly wiggly beckoning finger thingie at me’ section of Tomorrow, which has the power to instantly lift my day. The ‘If I get ambitious I’ll work on the dishes’ bit from Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 1. The Berlin-era-Bowie-esque urgency of Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 2. The gentle wah wah touches in Hallmark. The push-pull interplay of the guitar overdubs in Saturate. The CSNY-ish harmonies of ‘Cold Hands’ (a song my 3-year-old loves to bits). And Gita. My god, Gita!
Mike Keneally’s music can be an acquired taste so if you’ve never checked out his particular and peculiar talents, maybe you should start with Sluggo! or Guitar Therapy Live. But if you’re tuned in to where Mike’s taking us on this incredible journey, or if you have an affinity for music that taps into something a little deeper than 4/4, you need to make room in your life for Scambot.
By the way, if you can spare the $$$, check out the Special Edition, which includes Songs & Stories Inspired By Scambot 1, an entire second disc of music which goes deeper into the storyline while pursuing myriad musical tangents for your personal amusement. Already I couldn’t imagine Scambot 1 without the bonus disc and booklet – it makes the experience even more rewarding and immersive.
Periphery mastermind Misha Mansoor is probably like a lot of the dudes reading this article. He’s been working away for years in his home studio, uploading tracks online for everyone to hear, posting on geeky guitar forums, working on his chops. All that hard work and woodshedding is now paying off big-time, with his band Periphery releasing their long-awaited and extremely ass-kicking self-titled debut album. I caught up with Misha to talk Periphery, recording and, of course, guitars.
I understand the band is basically your baby?
Yes, that might be a very good way of putting it! I started the band in 2005 and I’ve been struggling to find the right members for it, and I think we’ve finally got it!
So how long have you been working on this CD?
Pretty much since then! Four or five years if you really take a look at it. Some of the songs that are on the album now were on the original version of the album that we had planned back in 2005, 2006. So it’s been a while, right?
So you always had an idea of where you wanted the band to go?
From the beginning I had sort of a sound I wanted to go for. One thing that was very important to me, and probably one of the big reasons we’ve been through so many vocalists, is I wanted to have really awesome singing vocals or really awesome screaming vocals, because I’m a fan of both. And I feel like with a lot of bands you’re picking either one or the other, or there’s definitely one that’s a lot better than the other, and I wanted to see if maybe, at least to my standards, we could get both of those being very good.
It’s tricky because Devin Townsend’s already taken!
Oh my god, if only we could clone him, right? That’s the perfect example, right there, of that mix I want: a guy that just rules. I’m not going to pretend we’ve got the next Devin Townsend in the band but we’ve got a guy I’m very happy with. At the same time, just developing over the last four or five years the album has become very different to what I originally expected but I think for the better, y’know? I think my tastes have changed, and hopefully that has played a role in how the band has changed. I really wanted it to cover as much ground as possible.
What gear did you use?
I used the only thing I could really get away with: I live in an apartment and I have to record silently for the most part. Fractal Audio Axe-FX Ultra saved the day. That piece of gear is the single most revolutionary thing ever. If there’s one single piece of gear that I’d take to a deserted island, other than a guitar because it’d be useless without a guitar, it’s that! Absolutely just saved our album, made sure that the guitar tones on there would fit the standard that I wanted, without going to a crazy studio, without having to mic amps. And the Axe-FX on the album has no processing on it whatsoever. You’re hearing exactly what’s coming out of it. There are a few parts that we quad-tracked for effect, but for the most part it’s just one track per side. It’s amazing how transparent the unit is.
Other than that, for the 7-string stuff I used my Ernie Ball Music Man JP7 with the stock pickups. It’s the pre-D Sonic version, so it has that custom Petrucci pickup that you can’t get any more, and I absolutely love it. That guitar is magical on recording. For all the 6-string stuff I use a small company called Blackmachine, made by a guy in the UK called Doug Campbell. It’s an absolutely amazing custom instrument called the B2. It’s my all-time favourite guitar ever, and it sounds ridiculous. It sounds so ridiculous in fact that I re-cut all the 7-string parts I could get away with on the 6-string, because of the clarity and how amazing it was at cutting through. That guitar is just phenomenal. All the solos on the album are that guitar as well.
I’m a big fan of John Petrucci’s DiMarzio Crunch Lab and LiquiFire pickups. Have you tried those?
I haven’t, but I will be trying them very soon because we’ve just signed a deal with Ibanez and those are the pickups that will be in my 6-string. I’m getting a stock Ibanez RGA420Z in Devil’s Shadow finish, and the only modification I asked for was to get those pickups in there. You can’t really go wrong with John. He’s a huge influence of mine, obviously known for being a tone guru, so I have to at least try everything he comes out with. That being said, I wasn’t absolutely crazy about the D Sonics for my purposes, but from what I’ve heard of the Crunch Lab I think that’s more in line with what the tones that I want. And his neck pickups have always been ridiculous. I’ve always liked that Air Norton kind of sound where you can really hear the pick attack coming through. I really like those pickups. On the album, the pickups in the Blackmachine are a Bareknuckle Cold Sweat for the bridge and a Painkiller for the neck, and the Cold Sweat in especially is a very medium output pickup but it has this clarity that’s just insane.
So are you going to be strictly an Ibanez guy now?
Yeah, at least in a live context I will be, because as much as these guitars excel in the studio I really wanted some guitars that could be built for me that would be great live guitars, and I really think Ibanez might be the perfect company for the job. They’re building me an RGA7 custom as we speak and the goal of the two guitars I’m getting from them is to stay in tune as well as possible! That’s my biggest problem: I pick really hard live, especially when I get into it, and nothing withstands it! So I’m getting the Edge Zero bridge on one guitar, and the other one is the more Lo Pro style, and they’re blocking them. The whole guitar is just going to be based around being a fixed bridge with fine tuners and a locking nut, and locking tuners for quick string changes, so hopefully I shouldn’t have to tune the guitars once during the set.
So last question: Have you started writing for a new CD yet, or is that way too far off?
That’s a very good question. We have this Soundclick site where I’ve been posting my demos for the last five years. There’s a lot of material on there that’s planned for use in the future. I’ve got the next three albums planned out to some degree. Obviously they’ll change especially as I keep writing new stuff, and I’m going to one day integrate really new stuff with some older ideas I want to flesh out, but there’s definitely no shortage of material on our end. Ideally if things work out and we have enough time I’d really like to get an EP done before the end of the year. I’d be really happy if I can get that done. Hopefully Sumerian and Roadrunner will be down with that! I just want to get more music out to the public. So there’s plenty of music on the way if the label will release it! We could put out a lot of material if we had the time!
You can catch Periphery live with the Dillinger Escape Plan and Sons Of Disaster. Dates are:
May 16 – The Capitol – Perth, Australia
May 18 – Fowlers – Adelaide, Australia
May 19 – The Palace – Melbourne, Australia
May 21 – The Metro – Sydney, Australia
May 22 – The Metro – Sydney, Australia
May 23 – The Hi-Fi – Brisbane, Australia
Man, I hate Richie Kotzen. Oh don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan. His guitar playing is awesome. His vocals are amazing (like, seriously, it’s utterly unfair for a guitar virtuoso to have such a big-league voice). I have most of his albums and I often daydream about owning one of his Fender signature Strats or Telecasters. I hear he’s a really nice guy, and he continues to release album after album of A-Grade material, all while lookin’ impossibly cool whether he tries to or not. And that’s just the problem. Dude can’t seem to put a foot wrong – don’t ya hate people like that! Kotzeeeeeen!
Kotzen’s latest cruel attempt to make me feel friggin’ miserable about myself is Peace Sign. One of the reasons I envy him so much for this record is because he played all of the instruments himself on most of the songs, yet somehow managed to capture a live band feel. I guess the secret is that the performances aren’t all tweezed and quantized – you can still hear the character behind every note. Another important key to this live feel is the orchestration: rarely do you hear multiple tracks of the same guitar part. Instead, the sonic landscape is quite bare, which of course means you can hear more of what’s going on because the nuance isn’t being smashed to smithereens.
One thing that really grabs me about this CD is the way it moves in cycles. The first five tracks have a bluesy rock edge reminiscent of Kotzen’s previous album, terrifyingly awesome Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion. The next four are funky and groovy, largely characterised by cleaner guitar tones and more fusiony guitar solos. The final three are more laid back, probably more reminiscent of something like ‘Give It Up’ from Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion.
My standout tracks are opener ‘My Messiah’ (a big, loud rocker with killer verse/chorus dynamics); ‘Paying Dues’ (check out that killer guitar solo – video below); the very LA-feeling ‘We’re All Famous,’ the celebratory ‘Your Entertainer’ and the groovy ‘You Got Me.’ But every song has a little highlight or gem somewhere, whether it’s a vocal hook, a guitar line, some cool interplay between instruments, or a lyric.
While I can’t wait to hear what Kotzen does next (after all, this CD follows the awesome ‘Return of the Mother Head’s Family Reunion,’ I hope he keeps promoting this album for quite a while yet so it gets the sustained attention it deserves.
Listen to tracks from Peace Sign for free on Richie’s site here.