INTERVIEW: Joe Satriani

Fresh from the success of his band Chickenfoot (with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony from Van Halen and Chad Smith from Red Hot Chilli Peppers), JoeSatriani recently hit the studio to record Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards with longtime drummer Jeff Campitelli, bass player Allen Whitman from The Mermen, and Frank Zappa/Steve Vai multi-instrumentalist and solo artist Mike Keneally on keys  It’s a different album for Satch, with the liveliness of The Extremeist minus the Led Zep stomp, and the melodicism of Super Colossal but with a more human element.

Hi Joe! This is our fourth interview together – I feel like I should put you on my Christmas card list.

Oh wow, please do!

First question: what prompted you to pursue such a live feel on the new album?

I guess I had these two extended live periods between the two records. We finished the Satchafunkilus tour, then went right into recording and touring with Chickenfoot, and right after doing a number of shows that spilled over into this year I also went out with the Experience Hendrix tour. So there was a lot of variety of live performances that were informing what I was trying to do. Initially I was just trying to figure out a way to get my music and performances to reach people more deeply, and I thought I needed to make sure we recorded a band playing real vital performances around me, and that I become part of that process, so the record would have that kind of feel to it. I wanted it to be a really nice-sounding studio project but I wanted the feel to be very lively. I brought this subject up to my co-producer and engineer, Mike Fraser, and he put together a plan about how we were going to do it that he didn’t really discuss with me, so he could surprise me when we got into the studio. I usually start the recording process at home. I do a lot of the guitars, bass, keyboards and solo material and home and I bring it into the studio with a band, and I add parts live as the rest of the band plays those performances. Some of the songs were done that way and some were done completely live. Mike made them all fit together very well, and it turned out really well. I’m really happy with it.

Mike Keneally is great on the album.

Mike is a genius. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging around with him when he’s been out playing with Steve Vai, and we’ve done a lot of touring together but this is the first time we’ve really worked together. I started thinking about getting a keyboard player when we were noticing a lot of the songs on this album had a very strong keyboard presence, and I was adding a lot of the keyboards in the home recordings. Some of them, because I don’t play very well, they take on a background or static quality to them. So I kept thinking, I’ve gotta find a keyboard player, but who’s going to understand the kind of guitar record I want to do? I generally do rock and roll instrumental things – they’re not fusion records or jazz records – and it’s hard to get other musicians to really understand the style of the record that I make. Mike’s name just popped into my head and I thought, if anyone can get it, it’ll be Mike, because he’s such a brilliant guitarist, he makes a lot of records, his solo work is great… so I just called him out of the blue and was very fortunate to find out that he was available. I was able to say ‘when we get to these 64 bars, that’s all you. Do whatever you want. Surprise me,’ y’know? It was all brilliant and it was all different, so we could just have fun picking the ones he liked.

Now, I’ve been a Joe Satriani fan for long enough that I know that when you call a song something simple like Dream Song, there’s probably a non-simple reason for it.

That one, I literally dreamt. I’ve never done that before. I had a dream that we me playing, writing and recording a song, and the sonic imagery was so strong that when I woke up abruptly that I remember turning to my wife and saying ‘I just dreamt an entire song! I’ve gotta go downstairs and record it!’ I just went right into the studio and before it evaporated from my memory, I recorded all the parts I had been dreaming, and in a few hours it was done. It was just incredible. After it was done I started to develop a lot of emotions about what I thought the song was about, but I thought it had to be called Dream Song because that’s as close to the truth as you could get.

What on earth are you doing in Wind In The Trees?

There are two things happening there. In the solo section I’m using a Sustainiac pickup on the guitar, with affords me the opportunity to play a little bit more like Coltrane or Jerry Mulligan or something like that, and less like a guitar player. And in the verses and chorus, I’m using this much-maligned piece of software called autotune. It’s a funny thing with me: when I get presented with something  that I dislike, I very often think, ‘what would be the contrarian approach?’ We had that process back in 2000 when I did the electronica record Engines Of Creation. We used autotune on a few songs to try to make the guitar sound more robotic, and what we found was that people really weren’t affected by it. They just thought it was either a keyboard or something else. So I never thought about it again. But I was having a conversation with my manager just about general music business and he had brought up the fact that he noticed that in the top 10, in every pop song a vocalist was featured using the autotune software to its most grotesque. He said ‘When was the last time you were playing with it?’ and I said, ‘Well yeah, back in 2000…’ But after the conversation I thought maybe I should revisit it in a different way. Because most of the time people record their performances and then they use the software afterwards and it’s sort of like a producer’s tool to get people to sound like they can actually sing in tune when they can’t, y’know? So I thought, ‘What if it was a pedal?’ Guitar players are always plugging into pedals – choruses, octave dividers – and when we do that our performance reacts to the pedal. And I thought maybe that was what was missing. I’m not reacting to the autotune software. So I’ve gotta figure out a way to set it up so I could play with it live. That wasn’t so hard to set up. And so I realised after programming the software to be in the proper key that if I played really bad, really out of tune, the software would react violently to get me in tune, but if I finished the phrase completely in tune, then the software would back off. So that’s what you hear: me purposely playing out of tune and then in tune. The end result is this sort of very vocal, throaty-sounding melody that is going through scalar movements, and then at the very end it does its own natural vibrato. It took a while to get used to it but I started to really dig it after a while.

So what other guitar gear did you use?

I had a relatively small stable of amps and guitars I used. I was primarily using the Marshall JVM at home and in the studio – the 410 and the 210. I also had some handwired Marshall 100 watts and a 50 watt as well that I used quite a bit. They were doing about 80% of the work. And then every once in a while we’d use something different like a Wizard amp. They wound up being pretty nice for some rhythms. I used a Two Rock amp that the guys at Two Rock made for me. That’s got a really great tone for Stratty kind of things. And I used some plugins, actually. I used SansAmp or Guitar Rig. It’s all about balance. If the songs have several guitars on them, that’s when you’re gonna find a Marshall amp on one side, a SansAmp on the other, a Wizard tucked away just for the bridge or something like that. I was using my very first Ibanez JS2400, I had of course my 1200s, and I had the prototype of the JS guitar that I brought out on the Hendrix tour, which is a three single coil-style guitar that we haven’t put into production yet, and my usual assortment of pedals and things like that.

Any chance of another G3 tour some time soon?

I certainly hope so. I’ve been talking to Steve Vai about that. I know he’s doing some touring next year and he’s starting to work on a solo album. We might be able to get that together again. But in the future for me is the world tour for Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, then I’m right in the studio with Chickenfoot recording the second album. Somewhere after all those tours we’ll try to put a G3 tour together.

Are you hitting Australia on the solo tour?

Y’know, I’m hoping that right after the recording of the Chickenfoot album and before we start any touring there might be time for me to hit the southern hemisphere.

LINK: Joe Satriani

 

INTERVIEW: Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins never did things quite like other bands, but when Billy Corgan and co announced plans for their latest album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, even die-hard fans probably spat coffee on their laptops. Picture it: a 44-track album, with songs recorded in batches of four and released one at a time for free online. Wha?

It’s early days yet but how is the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept being received by audiences?

It seems to be gathering momentum. I knew that the material I was releasing was strong material, but oftentimes music is so contextual and depending on what’s going on around what you’re doing. With Smashing Pumpkins over the last two or three years it’s been so much about ‘what does this mean?’ and not as much focus on the music. And I feel that just recently, maybe because of the strength of the band live, people are starting to focus on the music again, and a little less on the drama stuff. It seems like now there’s that healthy cyclical thing where people are going to the shows and then they’re going to listen to the songs again, and then they’re writing and they tell a friend in the next city. You start to see this kind of building momentum around the work.

What I really like about the idea is that in one way it’s a rejection of the traditional album concept, but in another way it’s a celebration of it because it forces the listener to give each track full consideration.

I like the idea that it’s my responsibility to deliver something that’s worth listening to. When I would make albums, I’d look at it like, ‘okay, I’ve got these four really catchy songs… well I want to do this really long song, and I don’t care if it takes somebody three months to figure out it’s a good song.’ Because I kinda assumed that they would listen to the album. But once I saw that people stopped listening to records – albums – in a normal fashion like we probably grew up to, then I also started seeing people not listening to that song that took two or three months to get into. As a record person, I actually found that they were some of the songs that I loved the most, at the end of the day. A song like Rain Song by Led Zeppelin comes to mind. You have those experiences where it’s like ‘This is so fucking epic.’ It describes everything you’re feeling. I realised I was really kinda back in the 1950s,  where you were really gonna be judged on your latest song. And rather than get bummed about it, I took it on as a challenge. Slowly it’s evolved into, ‘Can I keep upping the ante with each release?’ And that’s exciting.

Do you have everything written already in loose form or is it being composed as you go?

I have more than enough written but I would say probably half or less than half is worth recording, because I’m still evolving with the quality level and maybe what I’m trying to say. Now that the band has really come together as a unit, I’m looking at the material in a completely different way. We’re sort of back into a dynamic rock outfit. So that opens up my mind. It brings the musicianship back into the equation in a way that maybe it hasn’t been in a while.

It’s been pretty well established that you’ve played the majority of the instruments in the studio over the years…

That’s right.

Has that continued with the new material?

There’s a new song and two more in the can, and those are still pretty much the traditional way, which is just me and the drummer, but the songs we’re gonna start recording probably in October, those are going to be contributed by the band as a whole. Not just who’s gonna play what but all of us working together as a team to make sure that what we’re putting out is representative of where the band is going. We’ve really come together as a unit. It’s been an organic process that’s grown on its own, and I never thought I’d be back in that situation. So it’s surprising for me that I’m actually in a place where I want to get to the ideas, because it feels good and healthy, not like I’m being forced because of an expectation that’s not realistic. It’s a really, really strong unit, and it’s weird, because if you look at – the Ramones come to mind – sometimes it’s that weird thing where it’s the sum of the parts that adds up, and you don’t necessarily know why because it’s not always about who’s the best bass player or something. It’s the way people play together, and it either clicks or it doesn’t. And for whatever reason, from the first gig we just had that thing together and people really seem to be responding. I’ll give you a small inside story. There are people who work on my crew – light, sound – that have worked with me since probably Siamese Dream. They come and go, they’re not always out on every tour, but I always have them back. So my light guy hadn’t worked with me in maybe ten years or something, and he came to a rehearsal and he was like, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe it!’ I said ‘What?’ and he goes ‘You’ve reinvented it!’ and he was shocked. And after six or seven shows he pulled me aside and said ‘This is better than the old band. I don’t know how you did it, but it’s better than the old band!’ And that’s the kinda guy who’s gonna tell you what he really thinks. He’s not gonna gloss it over, I’ve known him for 17 years, we go out to dinner together. He’s not going to yank my chain. It’s a really good feeling, y’know? And that’s been consistent. We see it more if the crowd is over 30, 35 years old. They come in with the crossed arms, like, ‘I love the Pumpkins and I want to see what Billy’s up to,’ but there’s that kind of skepticism. Like, ‘Hmm, I kinda miss the old band.’ But by the end of the show they’re shaking their head and going ‘Fuck yeah! You’re pulling this shit off! I can’t believe it!’ They’re happy because they get their band band. They didn’t get the band back that they wanted to get back, but they got their band back, if that makes sense. It’s a nice thing to see, and it happens almost every night. It’s like, ‘Cool! Let’s keep rocking!’

I have kind of an interesting take on Smashing Pumpkins because I didn’t listen to you guys during the first run. I’m 32 now and when I was a teenager I was all about the shred, so I kinda felt like I couldn’t listen to you guys until the hype had died down…

Hahaha. That’s awesome. Sorry to interrupt you, but that was me at, like, 20 or 17. I stopped listening to certain bands because, like, they didn’t shred fast enough, Clapton and all that. I wanted to listen to Yngwie!

Well that’s the thing, I wanted to listen to Yngwie and I wanted to listen to Yngwie and I wanted to avoid you guys until it’d died down a bit and I could get a bit of perspective on it. And when I did, it was like, ‘Man, there’s some awesome guitar playing here. I can’t deprive myself of this!’

Haha. No, it’s all about the guitar playing. I wish we played better, but we love it. All we do is sit around and talk about guitar players!

That takes me to my next question as a guitar geek. How did your signature Fender Stratocaster come about?

[Laughs] Here’s a great rock n’roll story. I actually approached Fender around 1993, 1994 and I wanted to do a guitar because the band was really popular, and obviously we were playing big concerts full of kids. And they basically told me to fuck off. I think they said ‘We’ll sell you guitars at cost.’ They had no interest in a signature guitar, nothing, and I was really bummed out. And so, through Ginger, the last Smashing Pumpkins bass player – who had a Fender endorsement deal – I had got to meet some of the current Fender people, and I told them the same story, and they said ‘Oh all those people are long gone – we would love to do something with you. We were under the impression you wouldn’t do anything with us. That would be amazing. We were under the impression that you wouldn’t do anything with us.’ So when we sat down to have the meeting, they said ‘Look, we’ll build you whatever you want, we’ve done that with people, but what we really want is something a normal person, any kid can walk in and buy off the wall.’ It really reminded me of when I was poor… I’d go to Guitar Center and I would stand there and look at the wall and think ‘I can’t afford this stuff.’ So they said ‘Can we build a guitar that is a reasonably-priced guitar that anyone can buy?’ And I said ‘I’ll do you one better. Lets’ build a guitar that’s not just for people who play like me. Let’s build a guitar that anybody who plays hard rock or loud alternative music will want to use because it’s a versatile instrument.’ And they said ‘That would be amazing.’ So we worked on that together. It’s not a radical redesign. My whole thing is, I want a heavy guitar that sounds like a Strat. I don’t want a Fender that sounds like a Gibson, with a humbucker dropped in it. So I worked with Steve Blucher from DiMarzio pickups and got my own custom-made pickups from him. He’s a brilliant guy. And nothing makes me happier than to have a musician walk up to me and go ‘Man, I got your guitar and I fuckin’ love it.’ And I’m really proud of it for that. We just had a meeting again and we’re gonna try to do a new-new version with some of the newer technologies that are coming out. We’re really excited about that. I’m actually right now waiting to get some prototypes of the new concepts.

That’s gotta be fun.

Yeah! I’m really happy because it makes me feel good that I’m giving some people the options I wanted from Fender guitars in the 90s. Fender was putting out guitars that were very specificly for certain things, and I’d have to do all sorts of crazy stuff, or buy vintage guitars, to try to get the sound I was looking for. I felt like they didn’t think about people who were playing like me at the time. They kind of missed the boat on that whole alt-rock generation, which is why a lot of us played vintage guitars, because the current ones [in the 90s] weren’t doing it. Anyway, I’m happy, I’m really happy with my relationship with them.

REVIEW: PRS SE Paul Allender signature model

Cradle of Filth’s Paul Allender has been a PRS user for a long time, and his signature SE model has undergone a few changes over the years, especially in the finish department. This latest model is in a spooky green (called Emerald Green Burst) and is also available in Scarlet Red Burst, whereas the previous iteration was purple. The body is made of mahogany with a flame maple veneer – not thick enough to have a noticeable impact on the tone, but certainly glitzy enough to have a cool effect visually. It’s not the most out-there piece of flamed maple you’ll come across, so if you’re a flamed-maple fence-sitter like me, you’ll like the look.

Scale length is a nicely in-between 25″, and the fretboard is ebony with jumbo frets. The neck shape is wide and thin, and it reminds me more than a little of the necks on John Petrucci’s Ernie Ball Music Man signature models. This neck is definitely built for speed and comfort, and will appeal just as much to players who have no particular affinity for Cradle of Filth as those who are Allender fans. What might not be so appealing to some, though others will love it is the fretboard inlay: a series of bats flying from the headstock towards the body. It’s a sinister twist on the famous PRS bird motif. They’re well executed and as far as I’m concerned they look freaking awesome, but if you’re not into the whole goth thing you might be a little put off by them.

The first incarnation of the Allender SE model had PRS-designed pickups. This time around Paul has chosen an EMG 89 in the bridge position and an 81TW in the neck, each of which can be split into single coils via the push-pull master tone control. There’s also a master volume and a 3-way pickup selector switch. The tremolo is the SE version of PRS’s distinctive 6-screw non-locking unit, which bares some similarities to the classic 6-screw vintage unit but with more stable saddles and a tension-adjustable arm.

The PRS Allender is a loud, powerful guitar with lots of sonic detail. With every note you play, you can hear and feel that you’re using top-shelf pickups. The EMG 89 in the bridge has stunningly articulate pick attack followed by a thick, crunchy body and almost endless headroom. This makes it famously great for heavy metal rhythms and leads but it’s surprisingly adept at low gain tones too, where you really get the most out of the dynamic range. It tracks very well for high-speed licks, and because the response is so even no matter where you’re playing on the neck, it sounds great when you’re performing wide-interval licks such as string skipping and tapping.

The neck pickup is your classic metal neck tone (think Fade To Black) – almost flute-like, with stooped midrange, full bass and a powerfully clear treble. Again, it’s great for string-skipping licks, and it really seems to sing when you apply vibrato or dig into a screaming bend.

In single coil mode, the EMGs are bright and hi-fi, with that great 80s-era David Gilmour hollow twang. It’s here that the subtler beauty of the guitar comes through, as the pickups transfer even more of the string’s detail through to the amp. The addition of the coil splitting ability makes this guitar a great studio guitarists’ tool, no matter what genre you play.

It’s great that each of the pickups has such finely honed detail, because the neck really lets you shred. The big frets make hyperspeed fretting a snap, while the neck shape itself will allow you to reach even the low E as easily as the higher strings.

The PRS SE Paul Allender model is a great choice for hard rock, prog and metal players looking for a fast, high quality guitar with killer pickups and an unstoppably fast neck. Not being particularly into CoF these days (unlike my goth days back in the late 90s – yes I wore eyeliner and black nail polish, no there aren’t photos), I wasn’t prepared to be so taken with this axe, but it really brings everything to the table that you could want in a rock or metal axe – provided you dig the bats.

LINK: Paul Reed Smith

Though well executed (and decidedly awesome to this reviewer), the bat inlays may not be for everyone.

EMG 89 and 81TW pickups, and PRS's legendarily stable non-locking bridge.

 

INTERVIEW: Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares

When Dino Cazares left Fear Factory in 2002, the band carried on without him. It was a messy split and it seemed nobody could ever imagine him returning to the fold. Even less likely was the prospect of Fear Factory carrying on with an entirely new rhythm section, especially given the respect given Raymond Herrera in metal drumming circles. Yet in the spirit of the band’s whole cyber-techno-deconstructionalist ethos, in 2009 Fear Factory tore itself down and built itself back up. This year’s Mechanize is a brutal return to form that sees Dino and vocalist Burton C Bell join forces with Strapping Young Lad rhythm section Gene Hoglan and Byron Stroud. Fear Factory are returning to Australia this month to perform some shows with Metallica, so I started my chat with Dino by asking about Fear Factory’s association with metals’ most high-profile ambassadors.

 

Have you played with Metallica before?

Yeah, we did about ten shows with them in Europe, and that was earlier this year. They turned out to be really, really cool guys, very down to earth, and they really know how to treat their support bands, y’know? They treated us really well and it’s an honour they asked us to come back.

Did you get a chance to sit down and talk rhythm guitar with James or anything like that?

Yeah! Definitely! I actually let James jam on one of my guitars. He was interested because I have seven and eight string guitars. He was like, ‘Wow, look at this guitar!’ and he started playing it. He would come into our dressing room pretty much every day and shoot the shit. We went out partying with Lars one night, and Robert Trujillio. They took us out to dinner and stuff like that. Really nice guys. You wouldn’t expected them to treat bands like that, but they treat them really well.”

You guys were just out here earlier this year. You seem to be pretty regular visitors, you should rent a shack or something.

Hey, yeah mean, trust me, I wouldn’t mind! But yeah, we’ve definitely been there quite a lot over our career. Australia was one of the first countries that really embraced Fear Factory back in the Demanufacture days, back in early 95, 96, when we did our first Big Day Out. It’s been really successful over there. We love Australia, we love going there – it’s like our second home.

And the reception to Mechanize has been huge.

It’s been very positive. Everywhere we’ve been, all around the world. It feels great. Y’know, I was a little nervous at first because I was first coming back into the band, I wasn’t sure how it was gonna be received, you know what I mean? The typical stuff when you put a record out, you’re a little bit nervous about it, but I was a little bit more nervous because it’s my first time back in so many years. But it’s been great. The response has been really, really good. We’re all stoked.

When you came back to the band, I guess everyone wondered if you would all get along, but I saw you guys all hanging out at the Baked Potato in LA earlier this year when Mike Keneally played a gig with Brendon Small and Gene Hoglan, and I thought ‘Fear Factory are hanging out together for fun – everything’s gonna be alright!’

Yeah! You were there? Yeah, we all hang out, we all go to gigs and support each other. That was a cool little gig that Gene did. Gene’s one of those kinds of drummers that can adapt, and if you remember that was, what, 70s music?

Yeah, it was half a Stevie Wonder album, some Jeff Beck songs, Steely Dan…

Yeah, yeah! That was one of the cool, exciting parts about me coming back to Fear Factory, was actually getting to jam with Gene. The guy is such a very talented musician. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, he’s a big fat guy,’ but dude, that guy can play! Doesn’t matter how big you are, man, the guy has the heart, the soul and the knowledge! He can play everything. When he came into Fear Factory he was like, ‘What do you want me to play? I can do it all.’ We felt limitless.

I remember when I first heard that you guys were playing together, and it wasn’t announced that you’d be called Fear Factory yet.

Yeah, at that time we were still in a lawsuit and when we played the Big Day Out this year, we could use the name Fear Factory but if we used the name Fear Factory we’d have to give the other Fear Factory some money. So we didn’t use the name at that time. We were called Fear Campaign on that tour. But everybody knew it was Fear Factory!

Let’s switch to guitar talk: what was it like to switch to Ibanez eight strings?

It was very natural. I remember when they first made it: it was 2005 and they made the first prototype. They actually called me and a few other musicians to come down and try it. When I went there and picked it up and started jamming on it, they were like, ‘Wow, you’re the first guy who actually knew what to do with it.’ Well yeah, I’ve been playing seven strings for so long that switching to eight was exciting and fun, and it came natural to me.

Do you have many of them? What are they like?

I have four eight strings. I have two that are the RGA8 – one of them I’ll be bringing with me – and I have two of them that are the regular RG.

How do you tune them?

They’re tuned standard F#, so the first six strings are standard tuning, then the next lower string is B, still standard, and the F# is the low one. I’m one of the lucky guys that gets his guitars custom made, so I get the necks a little thinner. We’re talking millimetres, but millimetres make a big difference. So I can make it a little thinner, I can make it neck-thru. A lot of people don’t have neck-thrus. I can experiment with different types of woods, lighter woods, heavier woods, maple, basswood, bubinga, rosewood, ebony, things like that. And every piece of wood, you’re going to get something different about it. I believe I’ve found what I like, but I love my eight strings. I do have quite a lot of seven strings.

I remember seeing you guys in 99, you had the Ibanez UV777BK Universe with an EMG humbucker in the bridge position.

Yeah, what was that, the Obsolete tour?

Yeah.

Back then when you saw us, they got stolen. All my Universes got stolen. All of them. I didn’t have one left.

Have you ever got anything back?

Nothing. When I first was out of Fear Factory I was a little upset – okay, I was a lot upset – and I got rid of some of my guitars. I made a mistake I sold some of my LA Custom Shop guitars. And there have been a couple of them that you see that collectors keep buying and selling. I was recently in Poland and there was a collector out there who had a couple of my guitars and I tried to get a hold of him to sell them back to me because it’s a bit of sentimental value, but the guy never responded to me. They’re really nice necks. I have double truss rods because when you’re touring, every country’s different and the necks have a tendency to move a little bit. You have to constantly keep adjusting the necks, especially when you go from extreme cold to extreme hot, so I have double truss rods to keep them solid.

How did you initially get into metal? For me it was around 91, I was 13, Megadeth had just released Rust In Peace, Metallica put out the Black Album…

For me it was before that, back in the late 70s, I would say. I was definitely very much influenced by what my older brothers and sisters listened to. Everybody liked something different. I came from a big family, but one of my sisters was more into rock, borderline metal stuff. I first heard AC/DC when I was nine, and I saw them on TV and I was like, ‘Wow, I wanna be like that guy,’ and I was Angus Young. ‘I wanna be that dude,’ y’know what I mean? That first got me into it, then I heard Black Sabbath, and then Judas Priest, and then all of a sudden, in the 80s all the newer-school metal bands came out like the Metallicas and the Slayers and stuff like that, and it just got heavier.

One of the cool things about metal is going back and finding the bands that influenced your favourite bands.

I’m influenced by all of it. I’m influenced by the music, not just the player but the whole sound. I don’t look at what I do just as the guitar, I look at it as the whole. When I’m playing guitar I’m thinking of the drums as well. I’m thinking of a cool melody line that’s going to go along with it. I’m thinking of a cool keyboard sound or some sort of sample, y’know what I mean? I think of it like that. I might start with a guitar but it doesn’t finish with a guitar.

That’s something Fear Factory captures so well – the band’s sound is much more than just the guitar sound.

Well we definitely wear our influences on our sleeves. For Fear Factory, a lot of the stuff that influenced us was the early speed and death metal, grindcore, mixed in with the industrial, stuff like Killing Joke, Godflesh, stuff like that. But me and Burt were also fans of other music that was really big, the alternative stuff, so that’s where a lot of the melodic vocals come from. We decided to put the melodic vocals into our heavy music and we were able to create our own style that other artists could be influenced by, positively.

LINK: Fear Factory

INTERVIEW: Birds Of Tokyo’s Adam Spark

The new self-titled album by Birds of Tokyo – Ian Kenny (Karnivool), Adam Spark, Anthonny Jackson and Adam Weston – is a melodic, atmospheric, at times rocking, at times psychedelic affair which balances pop and indie song craft with ambient experimentation and a sombre edge. It’s a real light-and-shade album, with more melodically upbeat tracks like Plans balanced out by darker tracks like The Gap and The Saddest Thing I Know. I caught up with guitarist Adam Spark to talk about his role in the band.

 

What’s your background as a player?
Nothing fantastical, really, I just sort of learned to play at a late age. I didn’t pick it up until I was in year 12 in high school. Most of my friends played, but I wasn’t interested until that point in life. I was surfing until then! But I started there then I played and played and played, and I tried various things at uni, then ended up doing audio engineering and studying music. The only formal training I’ve had was doing WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), all the while just learning and playing.

What’s your approach to guitar, having started so late?
I guess I came from a funny perspective on it. I first picked up guitar when I was about 13 because a lot of my cousins would try to get me to play Metallica songs, but I never really took an interest until I was 17. But after about six months of playing I thought ‘I don’t really see the point of learning other peoples’ music.’ Of course, now I see the point in it! Because I probably would have developed a hell of a lot more finesse and technique. But I just started writing straight away. I don’t really approach guitar as a guitar player, to be truthful. We have a lot of guitars and a lot of gear, but …I’m really not that interested in it! And I don’t say that to be condescending of anything to people who are, but just for me, I see it as a songwriting tool. If I could carry around a piano I probably would! But guitar is the instrument that helps me express what we do.” That’s not to put down the guitar, but it’s kind of more about guitar being a supportive thing in our band. We have an ethos of ‘as little as necessary to get the point across.’ I never like people hearing what’s going on with the guitar, not that there’s nothing good going on but we’re a songwriting band. Even though we’re kind of like a pop band, it’s incorporating that sort of element into it.

So which players have influenced you?
It’s more music in general, to be honest. I’ve never really been interested in terms of guitar players with technical prowess. My interest is more in growing up watching people like Billy Corgan or My Bloody Valentine, where there doesn’t seem to be a massive emphasis on the playing itself but what’s coming out of the rig. I think My Bloody Valentine, with these crazy bent chords, delays on top of delays… or The Edge, hitting three notes, but what comes out is marvellous. I love the texture that comes out of guitar, rather than playing full-on solos.

How do you approach your tone live?
I’m always changing my setup. I tried a rack system and that didn’t work for me, and now I have a pedalboard with a switching system. I always have all these pedals but then I look down and think ‘Wow, all I’m really using is a distortion and a delay.’ Just a couple of cool little delays like maybe an old Electro-Harmonix thing and maybe a newer kind of one, and a couple of distortions. I find it really interesting and fascinating that people can pull off having so many different and unique pedals. I can never get it to sound good live. It’s a real funny one. As for amps, we’ve got this cool Reeves head. It’s kind of like a Hiwatt. I really like the sound of it. Everywhere we’ve travelled recently I’ve been hunting and hunting for new distortion pedals. I always find myself attracted to ones no-one else uses, and I think, ‘Am I on the right path here?’ For the record we had a little Expandora pedal going into the Reeves head, and we also had a mid-80s ProCo Rat held together by pliers! But they don’t work live, so I’ve got this Radial pedal – I think it’s the Trimode. It’s got stickers and shit all over it now for all the tech stuff and it’s covered up the title for a while! But they’re really cool. My big thing with distortion pedals is getting that midrange and the balance of all the bands in a way that you like them. It’s easy to turn it on and you’ve got tone or volume, but sometimes if you’re stepping on your biggest channel – and I generally run a clean, a lightly dirty, a dirty and one which is called ‘Boom’ on the pedal switcher – and to have it so those gain stages all work and sound relative to each other. If you have all different distortion pedals, sometimes you’ll find one of them that sounds really good but the bottom end’s completely gone in it. With the Radial you can really tailor it because you can screw around with it so much that it really creamily bites your head off.

And guitars?
I’ve been travelling with a few Fender Telecasters at the moment. We’ve tried a lot of guitars but I’ve found myself coming back to these ’72 Tele reissues all the time. So mostly those, but I’m going to bring out a Gibson 335, a Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster. I just bought a Fender Stratocaster just the other day – I wanted to get something with a bit more of a modern feel but there’s a certain type of body and neck I like. So I bought the Billy Corgan signature model, which for me is perfect. You’ve got the fixed bridge on there and more modern DiMarzio pickups. I’m really excited about that, actually.

Birds Of Tokyo’s new self-titled album is out now on EMI.

LINK: Birds Of Tokyo

 

REVIEW: Ashdown Little Bastard 30 bass amp

You know this is not your grandpa’s bass amp when the first thing you read on the Ashdown wesbite about it is “Rebellious, uncompromising and cool as f***, James Dean – and the car he nicknamed the Little Bastard – are the inspiration for this iconic, all-tube mini bass amp head.” Even a quick glance at the amp is enough to tell you it’s probably not going to sound overly polite, and that’s before you even see what’s written on it. It looks like something you’d find on the dashboard of a vampire punk’s hot rod in an alternate universe futuristic 1950s. Check out all that chrome. All the vinyl. The cool illuminated VU meter. Chunky-ass switches. This is an amp that means business.

The Little Bastard preamp stage includes both ECC83 and ECC82 tubes, while the 30 watt power section packs quartet of EL 84s. Preamp controls include and features High and Low gain inputs (active or passive if you want to read it that way), front panel-mounted Effects Send and Return jacks, Bass, Middle and Treble pots with Mid Shift, Bass Shift and Bright switches (which kinda remind me of hardcore chunky versions of the switches on the old Atari 2600 – ask your great grandparents what that is), Mute switch, and Volume pot. The VU meter gives you a visual indication of the amp’s output, rather than the input gain as you might somewhat reasonably expect if you were worried about things like distortion. Don’t worry, if you’re playing the Little Bastard we know you’re looking for a little grit.

Around the back you’ll find the power switch and the fuse, as well as the speaker outputs (dedicated 1/4″ jack connectors for 4 and 8Ω load speaker cabinet configurations) and an XLR DI output. This DI output, which can be connected to a low impedance, balanced input on a PA system or recording mixer, is taken from a separate winding on the output transformer, allowing the full character of the valve tone to be sent to the PA or recording console.

So how’s this little bastard sound? Well, it’s not a raging distorto-beast designed to sound like a crapped out fuzz box. Rather, it taps into that gloriously rich, sonorous, punchy, fat bass tone of days gone by. The kind of low-end grind that made vintage Van Halen rock as hard as they rolled, and which makes Steve Harris’s bass stand out so boldly in Iron Maiden. There’s a nice range of tonal variation available with the various switches (my favourite setting: Middle at 4, bass at 5, treble at 6, mid and bass shifts on, bright switch off, rocking my passive bass through the high channel). This little monster handled the full force of my Ibanez TR series 5-string bass’s low B string on only the neck pickup without a sweat. The FX loop came in very handy for adding a little bit of external reverb to play up the vintage vibe, and for adding chorus and compression for a more modern attack. And one special thing to note: the jacks themselves feel extremely solid and ‘grippy.’ Little things like that always give me a lot of confidence in an amp.

The Little Bastard is definitely loud enough for bar and club stages, and with the DI it will be loud enough for arenas too since you’ll be feeding it through the front of house. While it makes some effort to give you a lot of sound sculpting, it doesn’t overload you with options, and when you find your sound it’s a real ‘set and forget’ gem. I love this little bastard.

LINK: Ashdown

 

CD REVIEW: Stone Sour Audio Secrecy

Let’s get this out of the way. Yeah, two members of Stone Sour are in Slipknot. No, it’s not a Slipknot side project – Stone Sour dates back to 1992. And no, Audio Secrecy as an album isn’t as radio-friendly as a few of its lighter tracks would have you believe. Unlike Nickelback, the hard rock band that it’s okay for pop fans to like, Stone Sour is the hard rock band that it’s okay for dedicated metalheads to like.

That much is evident about two milliseconds into Mission Statement (which comes after the atmospheric, piano-driven 1:43 instrumental title track that opens the album). This track is worthy of Slipknot in quality and heaviness, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Corey Taylor’s voice surges from clean melodicism to raging Slipknot scowl and back, while the band explores all sorts of feels – double time, half time, from chugging riffs to big open chords. Check out the tag-team shredding guitar solos too. It’s a killer album opener and it leads perfectly into Digital (Did You Tell), which is all octave riffage and Devin Townsend-esque strumming. Actually it’s not a million miles removed from Devy’sAccelerated Evolution Devin Townsend Band album.

The first single, Say You’ll Haunt Me, is one of the album’s big highlights, heightened by a killer drum performance. It’s here that the magic touch of producer Nick Raskulinecz is revealed – dude couldn’t record a bad drum sound if he tried. The interplay between Jim Root and Josh Rand is really on display here, as is a cool wandering bass line. Check out the video below. (By the way, check out my interview with Jim Root here).

Dying is probably my least favourite track on the album, and the one most likely to draw comparisons to more straightforward FM radio rock. It’s not bad – in fact it’s really good, but it feels out of place after the crushing riffage of the previous three tracks. Let’s Be Honest features another killer octave-based riff and a cool stop-start drum/bass groove leading into a monster half-time chorus and a huge Sabbath-like middle section.Unfinished continues the minor key Sabbathy vibe – actually it reminds me of the band Heaven & Hell – while some carefully placed vocal harmonies keep it from sounding too heavy yet never quite become too pretty either.

Hesitate is another radio-friendly track with a nice droning guitar part and a big chorus. Nice melodic guitar solo too. Nylon 6/6 brings back the heavy, Slipknot vibe and some Perfect Circle-like vocal vibe. Miracles has some nice bright semi-clean guitar tones and atmospheric melody lines, while Pieces kinda reminds me of a heavy version of something from Eric Johnson’s Venus Isle album.

The Bitter End kicks off with another killer metal riff which will absolutely slay live, while some textural interludes add to the tension in a similar way to Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy. It’s a cool effect that you don’t hear in metal so often. Some great soloing here too.

Imperfect is another acoustic-based ballad, this time with a very restrained, sparse vocal performance in the first half which is augmented with overdubs and harmonies later on. Some great David Gilmour-ish guitar soloing too.

Finally the album closes with Threadbare (dig that great Geezer Butler style bass tone). This track is acoustic-based too but is much darker and heavier than Imperfect, and it kicks into a big melodic heavy chorus. Then everything gets all doomy and heavy in the middle, with some intense delay effects and overdubs before the chorus returns and lifts the whole freaking song into the stratosphere. It’s a show-stopping ending to a very diverse album, and the ideal way of tying together the heavier, lighter and moodier aspects of the band into a neat package.

Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia

 

COOL GEAR ALERT: Snark by Qwik Tune

Wow, check out this neat little gizmo by Qwik Tune. It looks like an angry robot dragon with a radar on its head! The Snark clip-on tuner is suitable for all instruments, including guitar and bass, brass, orchestral instruments and folk instruments. The display rotates 360 degrees; there’s a tap tempo metronome; and you can select between an internal mic or a high sensitivity vibration sensor. Cool!

LINK: JHS