INTERVIEW: Cold Chisel’s Ian Moss

Cold Chisel are one of a kind. Their music is equally likely to appeal to the guitar nerd down the street as it is to the guy who fixes the hole in the roof, the lady who makes your coffee, your doctor. Yet somehow the band never seemed to make it big outside of Australia. Maybe it was just a case of wrong time, wrong place. But perhaps the democratisation of music will open new doors for the reformed band. Perhaps new album No Plans will be their big chance to show the rest of the world what they’re capable of: soul and blues-tinged rock with the powerful vocals of Jimmy Barnes [geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]- you might know him from the band Living Loud with Steve Morse, Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake – [/geo-out]and the brilliant guitar work of Ian Moss. Produced by Kevin Shirley, No Plans must be a difficult album for the band. It’s their first in 14 years, and the first without drummer Steve Prestwich, who died in January 2011. One of his compositions, “I Got Things To Do,” is on the album, along with some new tracks played on the band’s record-breaking Light the Nitro tour of 2011. “In late 2009 the five of us made plans to record together again and do a tour,” As Barnes says. “After lots of twists and turns that’s exactly what we’ve ended up doing but due to Steve’s passing those plans changed a lot along the way. The last two years have reminded all of us that sometimes life deals up things you don’t expect. You can’t take anything or anyone for granted. Sometimes it’s best to have no plans.”

I Heart Guitar: No Plans is a pretty diverse album. It goes through a lot of different moods. Was that the plan? 

Ian Moss: I guess it’s hard to be objective. I was kind of hoping it’d seem like more of a unified record, so it’s interesting to hear that there are lots of different styles. I guess over and above, we were trying to achieve raw power.

Well the title track, which starts the album, definitely does that. It kicks off very strongly.

Yeah! The distinctive tones of Barnes. The first thing you hear is Barnes. And hopefully that edge. Because there were really no overdubs. We went for it. We’re all in it together here and we played til  we got it right. That gave it a bit of oomph.

Especially for the kind of music you do, you can’t replace the sound of a real band playing real instruments. 

Yes, exactly. I’ve been through that. As soon as you get into overdub land it starts to fall apart.

“Dead and Laid To Rest” has a great guitar solo…

Oh okay, thanks!

What’s the story there? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you play that damn fast before!

Thanks Peter. Once again, I certainly haven’t given up on the guitar player thing – you’re always searching for new pedals to try to improve things. New amps and stuff. It’s a great track to play guitar over, and perhaps a little different for Cold Chisel. Because it’s great being in Cold Chisel but sometimes it can be a little bit of straight up and down, straight up and down. So I suppose this track his a little ‘funky’ and almost a bit of late 60s, what’s now probably called acid rock, but back then was just called prog rock.

How do you approach your solos? You’re usually a very off-the-cuff kind of player.

Yeah, But there’s a track called “Summer Moon” which has more of the slightly written kind of solo, with that definite, deliberate intention. I’m pretty sure that was done on a Gretsch White Falcon, to go for that almost Duane Eddy, early 60s, rockabilly kind of thing.

The solo in “The Horizon” starts off really low. You don’t hear many guitar solos down in that range. 

Yeah. That whole song was pretty much learned in the studio on the day. The challenge there was the fact that I was given charts that were not in the key we’d demoed the song in. The solo was done on a Danelectro baritone, hence that low, low sound.

The older I get and the worse my hearing gets, the more I find myself gravitating to the low notes!

Yeah! It’s a real good point. It seems to be that you’ve got that image of all the Satranis and the Steve Vais, etcetera, all these incredible technicians, but it’s always up so high!

I really like the intro to “I Gotta Get Back On The Road.” You seem to fit in with the keys without stepping all over them. How do you and Don Walker work out what to play together?

I don’t know, just rehearsal and going over and over it and getting screamed at by Don Walker if you tread on his parts!

You guys have been working together a long time. It must be fairly intuitive at this point.

Yes. There’s a lot of that and I think it just grows stronger, that kind of thing, and that’s why the band clicked in the first place. I don’t think you can ever lose that. Yeah.

So what guitars do you use these days?

I definitely strongly wanted to feature the Gretsch White Falcon with Dynasonic pickups in it. That’s in there pretty strongly. Then there’s the odd quirky thing. I think that Danelectro baritone is just on one track. The rest is a mixture, mainly the white Fryer Strat by Greg Fryer. That features fairly strongly as well. I don’t know how technical as you want to get in this interview…

As technical as you want to get. I’m a guitar nerd, so…

Yeah, okay! Ah, wll it’s got Fender Custom Shop ’69 pickups on it, which years ago a luthier in Sydney, Colin Bloxham, hotted up the back pickup a bit. He added a few more winds on it. It seemed to spec up and end up sounding almost Telecaster-like, which is interesting.

How do you set up your guitars? Do you want them to fight you a bit?

I think so. I like that in principle, but I’m probably in the middle there. Certainly some guys like to have their strings sitting on the fretboard and they’re .009 to .042. I’m certainly not like, say, Alex Schultz, who uses .013 to .056 in concert. I’m in the middle. I keep the action reasonably low, but I don’t like any buzzing going on. .011 to .50 is my gauge.

What are you using for amps? It’s a very pure sound – you’re obviously not using a huge effects rack or anything. 

No. Unfortunately I wish I had some of the gear that I ended up using on the Cold Chisel Light The Nitro tour, which was all Hiwatt amplifiers. But for the No Plans album it was a mixture of a Hiwatt Studio Stage 30 watt amp and an old Marshall 1974 Super Lead.

And what pedals do you use?

There are a few in there. I presume you’re referring to the album rather than live? Cos some of that’s changed since I went out on the Light the Nitro tour. But there’s …shit, I’ve forgotten, a little pink… More Louder by Cusack. A tiny little thing. The whole concept is that it’s not really distortion, it just bumps the amp a little bit. I run the amp pretty hard but keep it just on that edge of breaking up, then push it over the edge a bit with the pedal sometimes. It’s a funny beast. And it’s amazing how new pedals keep coming out!

What’s your wah wah of choice?

It was just a Chinese-built Vox. Hundred bucks. It did the job! Probably important for me, and one thing I’ve really been getting into – it’s really important – is guitar leads. I’m still discovering after all these years that leads ain’t leads! And there’s some amazing stuff coming out but lately I’ve been using Belden mic cable, and doing a Pete Cornish-style wiring where the earth is lifted on one end. And the other thing, even more important, is buffering, and that whole thing of a hardwire bypass. So I generally plug straight into a buffer first, and then start going through pedals after that. That ensures that you’ve got exactly the same signal going through. We’ve all had the same experience where you’re doing a gig and something breaks down in your pedalboard and you go, “Oh fuck, I’ve gotta go straight into the amp.” And you haven’t got your effects, and it’s a bit disappointing, but then you go, “Oh shit! There’s something really good about that!” It’s only because you’ve gotten so used to your pedals, and you end up finding that something isn’t quite working. You’re as strong as your weakest link, I guess.

No Plans is out now.