Mastodon’s Crack The Skye is a hard album to top. Heavy, progressive, psychedelic, multilayered, complex – any concept album that knits together such disparate elements as Rasputin and astral travel has gotta be followed up by something pretty big. Just like Crack The Skye, The Hunter finds Mastodon doing what they do best – combining lyrical and musical creativity – yet the approach is different, the songs are shorter, the themes less interwoven and the results more eclectic. The Hunter is a crucial album for the band. After the strength and influence of Crack The Skye, The Hunter has to prove it wasn’t a fluke – it just has to. Guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds are one of the most interesting and creative duos in modern metal, and I spoke with Kelliher a week before the album’s release. But first we have even more important matters to discuss, about a shared interest…
(Oh, and, uh, language alert.)
Before we get into talking abut the album, there’s something I wanted to ask you because we both have this in common: what do you think about the new Star Wars Blu-ray and all the changes they’ve made?
Y’know, I’m a fuckin’ Star Wars fanatic. I’ve got all the tattoos, all the toys… It’s like Beyond Thunderdome with the fuckin’ toy collection. I didn’t really know what was going on with the Blu-rays until I paid attention. I don’t really watch too much TV. And I turned the TV on and saw a commercial for it. My buddy had just told me about the spoiler – Darth Vader saying ‘Noooooo!’ as he’s throwing the emperor off the fuckin’ thing, and he was like ‘Fuck all that, it’s a bunch of bullshit. Can’t they just leave it alone? But I’m gonna buy it anyway.’ And after I saw the fuckin’ commercials, the advertising for it on television, I was like, ‘Man, it looks so awesome!’ I’m not gonna lie, I was completely sucked in by George Lucas once again. Just the little scenes that they showed on television, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to watch the whole thing.’ I’ve already seen the movies like fifty trillion times. I’ve got them on every format – Beta, VHS, LaserDisk – you name it. I’ve got every version. And it’s a shame that they had to fuck with the originals. They should have a Blu-ray of just the original movies separately if you want to watch those. Don’t fuck with it, man. Don’t put fuckin’ Hayden Christensen in where Darth Vader’s ghost was at the end of Jedi! What the fuck is that? Everybody aged except for him? What the fuck does that mean? Why? That’s just a sell-out. It makes me mad! I can go off on that shit. I was like, ‘What is that, a Walmart fuckin’ special?’ Maybe they should have done a young Yoda. Maybe Phyllis Diller or somebody could have done that. I don’t know. It’s ridiculous! But the thing is, when people always ask me, ‘What do you think of the new movies,’ well, they’re fuckin’ horrible, but then again I’m not an 8-year-old boy any more. And when I was an 8-year-old boy – my kids are young, my son’s name is Harrison, for god’s sake – my other son’s name is Cohen, so I’m a little nerdy with the sci fi stuff. But the thing about Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, they’re still cool to me when I’m 40 years old. The new movies to me, they’re horrible. The fuckin’ fart scenes, where one of the creates farts, the whole Jar Jar thing, it’s fuckin’ retarded. But my kids, they think it’s awesome. They’re like, ‘Wow, this is the coolest thing ever.’ And when they watch Star Wars they think it’s kind of boring. They know the characters and they’re interested, but movies have changed so much since when we were kids. I tried to watch that movie Transformers when it came out a couple of years ago, on a small television on our tour bus, and I could not even watch it, because a) there’s way too much shit going on, because kids these days need to see like 50 bazillion laser beams and explosions happening on a TV screen at once rather than an actual story, and, like, feelings and script going on. It’s just all about the action and something happening on the screen. And I couldn’t watch it. I was like, ‘I’ve got to turn this off. This is shit.’ Everything’s in focus, everything’s CGI, it doesn’t look real, I just can’t stand it. So who am I to say anything about movies these days? Let them release it. I don’t have a Blu-ray player but I’ll probably buy one just so I can watch the movies again and boo at the parts they redid.
Just received an email about this cool article on GalacticBinder.com about Star Wars/guitar crossovers. As something of a Star Wars geek myself (at least, I was before I got a girlfriend, became a dad, began writing for a bunch of guitar magazines and writing a blog), I’m far too amused by this sort of stuff.
The good news is that Gibson has set a December 15 on-sale date for the Dark Fire, the latest incarnation of the Robot Guitar. The bad news is that they will be produced in a limited run of 2,000 and will only be sold at 400 stores worldwide, with each store getting 5 guitars. I guess that’s still slightly better odds than, say, the 1,987 Ibanez RG550MXX guitars produced a few years ago (I have one in Roadflare Red, woo!!!) but it’s still not a lot. So as of today you have 12 days to be very, very good so Santa will call in a few favours for you on the 15th. Failing that, get a blanket and thermos and be prepared to camp outside your local guitar store overnight like a Star Wars fan on opening weekend.
Here’s the press release:
Gibson Guitar announced today the limited availability of the Gibson Dark Fire guitar. Embracing the spirit of innovation and technical advancement that inspired the original Gibson Digital guitar in 2006 and Robot guitar in 2007, Gibson’s Dark Fire guitar is poised to change the music industry overnight.
The world’s most technically advanced guitar will rock the music industry to its core and will soon become the most sought after musical instrument of its time.
An Exceptional Look
Gibson’s flowerpot inlay graces the headstock of the Dark Fire as seen on other classic Gibson models such as the Byrdland and the 1911 F4 Mandolin. In addition to traditional touches, Gibson developed an entirely new look that required many changes in the manufacturing process.
The Dark Fire has a nitrocellulose finish created especially for this exclusive 1st run. The mahogany back and neck of the Dark Fire are given a satin finish, while the headstock face is sprayed with a gloss finish. The Dark Fire’s chambered mahogany body helps deliver an optimum combination of tone, balance and weight.” The result is a comfortable, lightweight guitar that is acoustically louder, with increased sustain and resonance.
Taking much of its inspiration from the 2008 Les Paul, this instrument features a super fast and comfortable ergonomic neck shape with asymmetrical carving and with Perfect SetupTM. This is made possible by a computerized PLEK system, a computer controlled device scans and dresses a guitar under actual playing conditions, strung and tuned to pitch.
The tune-o-matic piezo bridge has been redesigned. It is much sleeker and the bridge now locks to the studs with new technology and works better. The nut is made of a new high tech material which includes Teflon (allowing for the tuning action to be smoother and faster [without breaking strings] and has a higher density than bone.
The bridge lock and the new frictionless faux bone nut insure maximum tone and sustain. The locking tuners insure that tuning and string tension are maintained during lots of hard playing.
The instrument will feel like butter in your hand even after 4 or 5 hours into a gig.
Tone Monster With Chameleon Tone Technology
The Gibson Dark Fire combines two of the most popular pickups, the P90h in the neck position and a Burstbucker 3 in the bridge position. Both are capped with new carbon fiber-like pickup covers, designed to match the Dark Fire’s finish. There are 6 low noise relay switches giving you more than 20 separate combination of pickup coils leading to an incredible variety of tonal possibilities.
The resulting pickup combinations are directed through optimized traditional volume and tone controls and then through a studio grade 4 band parametric equalizer/preamplifier. This awesome Chameleon Tone Technology is a pure analog signal path preserving the authenticity of instruments tone while giving unimagined tonal possibilities.
Add A Little Acousticness Please
The Gibson Dark Fire gives you the ability to adjust and blend the acoustic sound from the piezo bridge pickup with the sound from the guitar’s traditional pickups using a revolutionary rotary potentiometer which is part of the pickup toggle selector. Twisting the toggle head blends the piezo acoustic sound from 0% acoustic sound [100% traditional pickups] to 100% acoustic sound [no traditional pickups].
The piezo bridge pickup consists of six individual piezo pickups, one for each saddle/string, which can be brought out as individual audio channels.
TV On Control Knob
The key to controlling the new functions of the Dark Fire is the Master Control Knob (MCK), which incorporates a sophisticated, full color matrix display (mini TV screen). The Dark Fire’s new MCK also controls the ability to change pickups, coils, EQ settings and tunings allowing the ability to adjust all quickly and simultaneously even several times during the same song.
There are 8 tone guitar settings that cover the most popular guitar, and 18 different guitar tunings. In addition, there are 24 user defined guitar setting. All can be accessed with a quick use of the MCK.
Robot Gets Steriods
The redesigned power head tuners on the Dark Fire are radically faster and significantly smaller, compared to the original Robot Guitar tuners. You can access any preset tuning in less than one second, so you can change tunings in the middle of a song.
The powerhead tuners are lighter than traditional tuners. The tuners can be used either by hand or automatically without the need to engage them. The battery uses new technology that results in exceptionally long life and light weight.
Computer Hardware And Software Included
The Robot II comes with a small box about the size of a pack of playing cards that acts as a high quality studio preamp and a full interface to a computer using a firewire port. We call it a Robot Interface Pack [or RIP for short]. RIP can be used live, in real time.
With a headphone out, you can carry RIP in you guitar case and set up your playing environment anywhere with or without your computer. The RIP’s front panel carries a single 1/4-inch stereo input for the Dark Fire, a 1/8-inch headphone out with level control and a pilot light, which changes from dim blue to bright blue when the Dark Fire input is detected.
The rear panel carries two balanced 1/4-inch line outs, a FireWire connector to link to your amplifier or sound system and a hex connector that carries the analog outputs of each string, which can drive Roland or Axon guitar-to-MIDI converters.
To make full use of your laptop or computer, Dark Fire comes with two of the most powerful and popular software packages being sold today; Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 (recognized as the industry’s most flexible amp and effects simulation software), and Ableton Live 7 Gibson Studio Edition (a multipurpose recording environment for everything from songwriting, to demos, to full-blown productions).
Both companies have collaborated with Gibson to ensure you can install all the software wand be using it in minutes (on any contemporary Microsoft or Apple operating system) and be harnessing the enormous music-making power of these studio tools. By working with the software developers, Gibson has fined tuned the software specifically for Dark Fire and included simple and powerful templates.
The combination of Dark Fire’s on board Chameleon Tone Technology and the software tools, dozens of effects and emulations puts a truckload of sound and thousands of dollars of capability in the hands of the player simply and easily.
Dark Fire Gets An Internet Community Site
Gibson is setting up a Dark Fire community site to allow the lucky owners of this exceptional guitar to share tips, get new information, and discuss how to best use this state of the art instrument.
One amazing capability that comes with the guitar is software that allows you to use your computer to change user presets and store them. Users can then publish their personal favorite preset designs.
More Dark Fire Gear Being Designed
Gibson Guitar is already developing a range of audio equipment designed specifically to work with the new Dark Fire, some of which is already scheduled for release in early 2009, including a small transmitter module designed to work with Bluetooth wireless technology, allowing you the ability to connect wirelessly to your computer or laptop.
Limited Quantity 400 Stores World-Wide
The world’s 1st run limited edition Gibson Dark Fire guitar will go on sale on December 15, 2008 at 400 dealers throughout the world. Each store will be limited to carrying only 5 of the sought after guitars and no guitar can be sold before 5pm on Monday, December 15, 2008. Once the guitars are sold out they will not be reproduced.
This highly collectible guitar will be available in the Dark Fire finish only. To find the list of exclusive Gibson Dark Fire guitar dealers go to www.gibson.com/darkfire.
For more information, visit their web site at www.gibson.com.
1. Play it like you say it. Sometimes one might speak in a low, sexy Barry White voice, like “Heeeeeeeeey baby… how YOU doin’…” Other times, it’s more like ‘ohmygodyoutotallywon’tbelieveitIjustsawagiganticspidereatingachicken” Both are valid forms of communication but you don’t wanna be saying “heybabyhowyoudoinletsgobacktomyvanbythewayyougotrealprettyeyes” when “Heeeeeeeeeey baby…” would do.
2. Play the pick as much as you play the guitar. Experiment with different pick types and grips, and with picking in different areas of the string. Pinch harmonics, percussive clacks, faux-wah sounds, imitation 12-string textures and grinding metal sludge are all yours for the taking.
3. Put the pick down. After you’ve mastered the pick, chuck it into the audience, Yngwie-style, and learn to pick with your fingers. A frequent pick-misplacer in my younger days, I learned to pick with my fingers quite early and developed my own voice that way, much sooner than I developed my ‘pick’ voice. You can hear an example in my song ‘Mistral’ which is played 100% with the fingers (even what sounds like pinch harmonics, using the edge of the thumb and the thumb nail).
4. Train your ear by playing along with the TV. Whether it’s picking out the melody to the Flintstones, adding chords to the Seinfeld closing credits or breaking out of a rut with the Conan O’Brien theme, this is a great way of learning intervals, melody construction, and transcribing.
5. Practice in front of a mirror. No, not guitar hero poses, Johnny Bravo. Watching your hands in a mirror is a great way of checking if your vibrato is smooth and even: if it looks right, it will sound right. Mirrors also help to make the transition from staring at the fretboard to looking out into the audience by reducing reliance on looking directly down at the guitar.
6. Steal from singers. If you’re just starting out on this technique, Ozzy’s phrasing is easy to replicate on guitar, and the way he sings behind the beat and slides between notes is very useful when applied to guitar melodies. After you’ve done that, try to replicate the vibrato of your favourite singers. Extra points if you can nail that Alanis Morissette squealy thing at the end of each phrase.
7. Play with the band, not just at the same time as them. This sounds simple but it can take a while to learn. Lock in with the kick drum, the high hat, the bass player, whatever you need to do to make sure you’re fully aware of the song and your place within it. When I was younger, I found this kind of advice to be boring – why should I focus on the drums when I’m enjoying the sound of a raging guitar amp? But it only takes one good rehearsal or gig to realise that stuff like this makes you sound better.
8. Play your song with PRIDE (Phrasing, Rhythm, Introduction, Dynamics and Endings). This is a lesson my Aunty Barbi, a music teacher, instills in all her students and it’s great advice whether you play guitar, violin, piano or whatever. They’re all obvious, and yet it’s easy to forget one or even all of them in the heat of the moment. Catch the audience’s attention and imagination with the introduction, leave them with a clear sense of finality at the end, and make sure you do everything to keep them there in between.
9. Use gadgets as much as you like, but don’t NEED to use them. It’s all well and good to chain together a dozen pedals and try to replicate the sound of a unicorn belching through a megaphone into the third circle of hell, but a truly well-rounded player should be able to conjur up the same vibe (even though the sound itself might only be attainable through a few feet of transistors) with just their fingers.
10. Do. Or do not. There is no try. This immortal advice comes from Yoda, and whether you’re a whiny little bitch like Luke Skywalker or a seasoned guitar vetaran like Steve Lukather, Yoda’s message is clear, even though his syntax may be a little shaky. If you tell yourself that you can’t play something, you’re probably right. If you tell yourself you can play it, you’re probably right about that too. Check out the book The Inner Game of Music by Timothy Gallwey and Barry Green for advice on how to locate that little voice inside you that says “I can’t,” roll him up into a carpet, and throw him into the river.