CD REVIEW: Mike Keneally – Scambot 1

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.

CLICK HERE to buy Scambot 1.


INTERVIEW: Periphery’s Misha Mansoor

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!

Huge thanks to Roadrunner Australia. Visit Periphery’s page on the Roadrunner site here.

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