Mary Lattimore

Mary Lattimore

Harpist Mary Lattimore makes music that sings like a memory. Melodies peer out over layers of water, soil, and stone, transporting you to places you’ve been or imagined. Earlier this year she released the stunning Hundreds of Days on Ghostly International. Her latest is a collaboration with songwriter Meg Baird. It’s called Ghost Forests, and it’s available now on Three Lobed Recordings. The album pairs Lattimore’s experimentation with Baird’s songcraft for an album of reflective and tangled musical exchanges. Their sounds live and breathe - you can hear the musician’s give and take, the act of creation itself.

Mary Lattimore spoke with Eddie Garcia (1970s Film Stock) after she and Baird made their live debut at the 2018 Hopscotch Music Festival.

 Credit: Rachael Pony Cassells

Credit: Rachael Pony Cassells

Pedal Fuzz: Tell me about your early days of playing the harp - when did you start, what kind of harp did you play, who did you play with?

Mary Lattimore: I started when I was 11, playing a small troubadour harp. In high school, I went on to play the pedal harp and played with my high school orchestra and the Charlotte Youth Orchestra. I then went on to study at the Eastman School of Music, only playing classical music for a long time.

PF: Do you come from a musical family?

ML: Yes, my Mom is a harpist and my grandpa played the piano and banjo.

PF: What musical experiences were you having leading up to the 2013 release of The Withdrawing Room? Were you playing in other configurations at that time before you went on the solo path?

ML: I was in Thurston Moore's band with Samara Lubelski, John Moloney and Keith Wood. Samara, Thurston, Beck and I made Thurston's record Demolished Thoughts together and then we all went on tour, minus Beck. The tour cycle lasted almost two years, I think, and then it was time for Thurston to work on a new record. He didn't really need harp on it, so I was encouraged by Kurt Vile and another Philly friend, Jeff Zeigler, to make something solo. I had never worked on anything alone like that, but went into Jeff's studio and improvised The Withdrawing Room. Jeff played synth on “You'll Be Fiiinnne” and the title came from KV saying I'd be alright even though I wasn't playing with that band anymore. Making something solo seemed daunting at the time but it all turned out alright and now it's my favorite thing to do, come up with my own solo compositions.  

PF: What can you tell me about your Lyon & Healy harp?

ML: It's about 50 years old and belonged to a student of my mom's. It was made in Chicago and sometimes I use a black Sharpie to fill in the bald spots.

PF: When did you get into pedals, and exploring ways to loop or change your sound?

ML: I was playing for fun with Tara Burke, who plays under the name Fursaxa and layers and loops her vocals and keyboard. We were also improvising with Helena Espvall, amazing cellist from Espers, and she was doing the same thing, so I was encouraged to see what the harp would sound like through pedals. I thought I could make something unique like they were doing with their instruments.

PF: The Line 6 DL4 has been a big part of your sound and performance. How do you feel about their reliability? I interviewed William Tyler and he said he had gone through quite a few. Have you ever gotten the DL4 modded?

ML: I haven't gotten it modded, but I certainly should. They break all the time. I even flew to Iceland with a brand new one and went to play the show and it didn't work, so I had to borrow a friend's looping pedal and learn how to use it during the set. I'm on my 4th one in just a couple of years. I really know the DL4 so well, though, so I'm gonna stick with it while adding other pedals too, but yeah, William is right. They break and you can't trust them, unfortunately.

PF: What pedals are you currently using?

ML: I just bought the Strymon Big Sky and I loooove it. I have a bunch of Moogerfoogers too and those sounds really interesting, like the Ring Modulator and Cluster Flux. The delay is beautiful.

PF: When you play live, are you using an amplifier, or going straight to the PA?

ML: Straight into the PA. An amp feeds back all the time.

PF: What kind of pickup system do you use?

ML: The Dusty Strings Pedal Harp Pickup. It's gorgeous and rich and I couldn't be happier with it.

PF: What role does improvisation play on records and in live performance?

ML: I like structured improvisation, where I write a general theme but there's room for happy accidents and layers.

PF: The new album Hundreds of Days has other sounds, like synth and voice - tell me about the choice to expand from the solo harp.

ML: I love adding textures and experimenting with instruments that I don't really know how to use, like the Moog Theremini and am learning how to play guitar now too. I like the period when you don't really know where you're doing and the primitive instinct of it.

PF: You have lots of collaborations, how does that inform your solo work?

ML: It's all body-of-work style - collaboration and improvisation, classical music, solo stuff - it all influences each other in melody and listening.

PF: What is your relationship with sound engineers at venues like - do they have certain expectations when they see the harp?

ML: They do but I think generally they're pleasantly surprised that it's not too hard to figure out!

PF: Where did you record Hundreds of Days?

ML: I recorded it at the Headlands residency in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco in a Redwood Barn. I just used GarageBand and had a lot of freedom, space and time - also a lot of inspiration from such a dramatic, gorgeous landscape.

 Credit: Rachael Pony Cassells

Credit: Rachael Pony Cassells

PF: How did you get your Headlands Center for the Arts residency, and what did you gain from the experience?

ML: It was through the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia. I received a fellowship in 2014 and that made it easier to get awarded the residency. I feel incredibly lucky that both happened to me. Both changed my life so much. The validation that I am on the right track with music has meant so much, and the trust from them that I'd make something cool with the experiences.

PF: You’re incredibly active, is it hard to organize your playing schedule?

ML:  Yeah, luckily I have a great manager and a great booking agent who keep me busy and organized and I wanna take advantage of all opportunities and weird experiences - I love saying yes and bringing the harp to people who have never seen one before.

PF: Do you visualize images in your mind while playing?

ML: Yes, always. Little movies.

PF: What soundtrack/scoring work have you done recently? Any coming up?

ML: I recently wrote a part for the documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor. I also play the parts written by talented film/tv composers like Heather McIntosh's killer score for Amy Scott's Hal Ashby documentary that was just released.

PF: How has your musical life changed moving from Philly to L.A.?

ML: I'm working more for film and TV and making a little more money, being more active professionally. Philly was great for warmth, support, improvising and community and LA is great for work and new creative opportunities. Both are terrific places.

PF: How long has Ghost Forests, your upcoming record with Meg Baird been in the making, and how did the project come about?

ML: It's coming out on Three Lobed Recordings, an old friend of mine and Meg's label (Cory Rayborn) and he encouraged us to make something together, as we are close friends. We recorded and wrote it in only a few days and the synergy was apparent. It was super fun. It was engineered, mixed and co-produced by Thom Monahan.

PF: What was working with Baird like, how was merging your songwriting approaches?

ML: I am more improvisational I think, and she writes beautiful lyrical structured songs, so it's a melding of our styles. I love how Meg's brain works!

PF: Your gig with Baird at Hopscotch was the live debut, were you happy with the show?

ML: It went fine! I was happy with it. We are about to embark on a 30-show opening slot tour with Kurt Vile and the Violators in Europe starting tomorrow, so the set will be really good by late November!

PF: Do you have any other upcoming tour plans?

ML: Solo tour after the KV tour in Europe and the UK!

PF: Last, I know a young harpist (17) who is beginning to experiment with pedals - he currently has an EHX Memory Man, and would like to play in a rock band. Would you have any pedal recommendations, or advice to him as he takes this less traditional musical path?

ML: I would love to hear what he's doing. I played through the Memory Man on Kurt's Smoke Ring for My Halo and it's a cool sound! I would say to just keep bringing our instrument into the modern world and advocating for it and experimenting with it. There's so much untapped potential.

EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS. 

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis’s craft is in full focus on the album Twerp Verse, released earlier this year on Carpark Records. Complex lead lines twist and careen alongside tightly crafted power-pop hooks that have the record already being counted amongst the year’s best.

After playing a catchy, caffeinated set at the 2018 Hopscotch Music Festival, Pedal Fuzz sat down in a cluttered greenroom with Sadie Dupuis, to talk pedals, songwriting, and fingernails. THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS HAVE BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED

 Sadie Dupuis. Credit: Em Grey

Sadie Dupuis. Credit: Em Grey

Pedal Fuzz: So first I would love to know about the guitar you were playing last night.

Sadie Dupuis: Yeah, I don't think they're making them anymore. The company was called Moniker, Austin-based—and they would do different custom guitars. That particular model is the Anastasia. It’s shell pink. It has like a like a crescent moon cutaway, and there are pearl details throughout it. And then the headstock has my Sad 13 logo on it.

PF: Cool, so it was made for you?

SD: Yeah!

PF: And do you move through the three pickups, or do you usually stay on one in particular?

SD:I put Strat pickups in the middle, but there are humbuckers on either side, so it's a little unusual. If I'm recording, I'll switch them, but for live I'm pretty much just in the middle.

PF: Is there a piece of gear—it could be an instrument or a device of some sort—that has changed the way you play, or changed something stylistically?

SD:I think every piece of gear has some impact in that sense. But I think the biggest thing for me over the past two or three years has been that I stopped playing with a pick. So, that's not so much adding a piece of gear as much as getting rid of a piece of gear. When we would record I would always have parts that I would need to fingerpick because I wouldn't be able to play them with a pick, and then live I was always playing with a pick. Going back and forth between the two felt kind of clumsy to me.

Or the things that I did have to fingerpick live wouldn't have the same presence or attack as the stuff that I would play with the pick. And so I would be modifying the parts to play it with a pick, and I kind of wasn't into that at all. I could never wear nail polish because—guitarists know—it just scrapes off. Especially the second fingers just get scraped off.

And we had a front of house engineer whose girlfriend was a nail artist who was like, “let me just do your nails. There's this kind of nail polish that won't come off. It makes your nails stronger.” And I was like, “Okay, I'll try it.”

And I sort of realized that I could just grow my nails out, have polish on them, and use these as picks [brandishes canary yellow fingernails]. So now I—Dolly Parton-style—have very long nails on my right hand, and I don't play with a pick at all anymore, because I don't have to - I’ve got five.

So that's been the biggest change in my style, I'd say, in the past couple years.

PF: You modded your hand! So, what pedals do you use now, or what are some ones that are important to you?

SD: I have a ton of pedals at home, and if I'm home-recording I tend to use totally different stuff then I use for the live setup. And that's partially in the same way that I don't want to eat hummus when I'm not on tour because I'm used to having it fed to me in greenrooms every day. Or I don't want to wear the clothes that I wear on tour when I'm home from tour.

The first thing on my chain is an Earthquaker Devices Monarch Overdrive, which is discontinued. It's just an overdrive pedal that's meant to model an Orange amp, and I use that basically as my clean tone, so that's on all the time. I have the gain turned up with not too much volume at 12 o'clock, bass at 9, treble at 12. I don't totally understand why they discontinued it. They do sell the Stew-Mac kits so people could theoretically build their own.

I got used to playing with that pedal because I was playing with certain Fender amps that just felt too common, you know what I mean? Like, a Deville is such a backline amp, which I like a lot, but I played it forever and I liked having this as part of my “clean tone” because it just made the clean a little bit different than the Fender stock sound.

Then I have a Catalinbread Callisto, which is a chorus/vibrato pedal. Again, it likes very mild settings.

And the Dispatch Master, which is another Earthquaker pedal. It’s a reverb/delay, but I'm using it to just give a little bit of reverb. Those are the three pedals that are on all the time. They make up my clean tone.

The second two that I mentioned kind of came onto my board later because I started playing with the Divided by 13 amp CJ 11, which I love, but the only knobs it has are master volume, volume, bass and treble. So, having played Fender amps forever, being used to having the vibrato and the reverb, I wanted to have a little bit of that so that’s what those two pedals kind of accommodate for me.

Beyond that, my overdrive, for when I want to do a cool solo or something, is Earthquaker stuff. I really like their tones. So I use The Dunes for when I'm playing a solo or I need to be loud. It’s another overdrive - I’m weirdly anti-fuzz.

Past that I have Earthquaker’s Pitch Bay, which is an octave plus overdrive pedal, so I'll use that if I want to make a solo a little weird and outerspacey, or sometimes to simulate a synth I played on the records, particularly older records. There would be a synth part that happens for eight seconds, and there was no reason for me to play a synth, so I would just learn the part and play it through that pedal.

PF: An octave up?

SD: Yeah, I have the tiniest amount of octave down that's basically inaudible but pitched off a little bit so it sounds like a weird synth, and then the octave up is pretty gainey.

I used to play a POG 2, but I could never make it not sound like an organ, which is why I like the Pitch Bay. I've always had an impossible time finding any kind of synth-emulating pedal that doesn't sound like it’s just an organ.

PF: I have an old Electro Harmonix Microsynth—one of the big ones—and it's pretty dirty and cool.

SD: Those are cool. I do have a Synth 9 on my board right now, also from Electro Harmonix. I use it on the Prophet-V setting for some of the songs from the new album that I didn’t even play guitar on during recording. The Pitch Bay is great, but it doesn’t really sound like a synth. It makes the guitar sound spacey and digital. So, I wanted something that could be a little more filtered and sound like the synth I play on songs from the new album.

I also have the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain delay on my chain. Beyond that I use an ISP Technologies Decimator G-String, which is a noise gate. All of these overdriving pedals give me some signal noise.

PF: Is it noisy all the time otherwise?

SD: It's not. It depends on the electricity of the room. It can get pretty bad when the electricity isn't up to snuff, so I have that [Decimator G-String] in case of emergencies, and that's why I play on the Strat pickup live because if I'm on anything that's humming at all, it’s just magnifying…

Oh, I also use the Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor, so obviously that's also propagating any kind of signal noise I get. So, there's a fair amount of a harm reduction that has to happen in this chain. [laughs]

PF: I was going to ask you if your setup changes when you're on the road versus recording.

SD: If I'm recording a record, and we're in a studio, anything is kind of fair game. I'll use what the studio has in addition to whatever I brought. But at home when I'm just making demos, I'm like, “I've accrued all these pedals that I don't get to use live so I'm just not interested in even opening my stage pedalboard.” I assemble a separate chain for whatever the song kind of wants. On a lot of the stuff that we've recorded, I didn't use any of the pedals I just mentioned. But it doesn't have to be the exact same sounds live, right?

PF: When you're thinking about your next record, writing songs and demoing at home, is there an ideal Speedy Ortiz song you’re reaching for out in the ether? And what does the ideal Speedy Ortiz song do?

SD: That’s a tough one, because I think it depends. I mean, not every song has the same goals or forms or changes, but there are things that I try to make happen with every song, and I don't really like when a song gets in, like, a groove, and it's too comfortable - I always want a weird surprise.

So whether that's in the lyrics, or whether that's in the time signature, or whether it’s just how many measures something repeats, I tend to change things. So even if a chorus happens three times in the song, it'll be slightly different every time.

So usually my goals are to get somewhere with the writing of it that surprises me, and that I think would be like a fun Easter Egg for the person who's heard it a few times, and then is like, “Oh, the chorus starts on the three this time rather than the one.” Or something like that.

PF: Something surprising.

SD: Yeah, and, by extension, even if the form stays the same, maybe the sounds will be different. One thing I love is to have a second verse in which a lot of stuff drops out, and maybe a weird sound is introduced. If I go back through all my songs, I can probably check that off happening a lot of the time. [laughs]

So there are certain tricks that I definitely pull from song to song, but I just like it to change throughout.

PF: Are you aware of things that you do habitually in the structure of your songs?

SD: I don't think about it when I'm writing a song, but when I show something to my bandmates, they're like, “Oh, of course it's a measure of six this time at the end of the chorus, sounds like you!”

So, I'm sort of aware that there are certainly compositional tools that I lean into more often than not, but I think also they're not super common, so I feel fine repeating them.

PF: So that's, like, your…

SD: Little signature.

PF: Yeah! It’s part of your architecture.

SD: [Laughs] You know all those condos that look the same? That's like the choruses of our songs.

*main photo courtesy of Hopscotch Music Festival / Garrett Poulos

TOM SOWDERS PIROUETTES ANGRILY THROUGH THE STREETS OF DOWNTOWN RALEIGH. LIKE REALLY AGGRESSIVELY, REALLY WINDMILLING HIS ARMS AROUND. HIS HOBBIES ARE NOT USING HIS PHD AND FRONTING THE BAND TOOTHSOME. 

W00dy

W00dy

She’s not a healer. But her music is medicinal. The revitalizing melodies and rhythms of Philly-based techno musician W00dy enter the personal and communal consciousness of her audience, targeting trauma through a sort of frenzied, dance-driven catharsis. Her live shows have created a kind of musical safe space, satisfying the hunger of the marginalized for an experience that is memorable, tangible, and genuine. Pedal Fuzz spoke with W00dy just before she travelled to Raleigh for Hopscotch 2018.

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Pedal Fuzz: You’ve evolved from mostly vocal solo performance to producing dance music. Do you prefer to disappear?

W00dy: Up until fall of 2016, I was making experimental pop music where I would sing during my performances. It was getting increasingly hard for me to write lyrics and I was becoming frustrated with performances being centered around me as a vocalist. I was listening to so much techno and dance music that I had an epiphany--why am I still making "pop"? It was clear that I was more passionate about dance music so I dove in full force. I hope to maybe incorporate vocals in my music again someday, but playing this style of dance music feels very genuine.

PF: How are marginalized groups responding to your work?

W: I'm always humbled and excited to see that people are connecting with my music, especially with movement...healing through dance. Creating space for marginalized folks is something that has always been extremely important to me as someone who struggled to find my own place in the electronic music community as a queer woman.

PF: Is the final mix in mind when you’re developing an idea?

W: I’ve realized that I can't really go in with any expectations. As of late, the goal is the same: making fucked up but danceable rhythms. One of the most exciting parts of exploring dance music is the rhythmic possibility. Growing up I was classically trained on melodic instruments, and I never felt that rhythm was my strong suit until I started using the computer to make music. I try to always challenge myself with complex sounds and rhythms that I wouldn't expect on the dance floor.

PF: How are you getting those sounds?

W: Some might laugh, but I'm still using Ableton Live 8. All my music starts in Ableton, and then I run ten channels from Ableton out of an audio interface and into a 16-channel mixer. I have three different delays and a distortion pedal as aux sends in the mixer, and a midi controller that controls Ableton. I also use an Korg ER-1 Electribe (she's moody and doesn't always work right) to transition between songs.

PF: Is touring through the South different from going other places?

W: I think right-wing conservative people in the south are more open about their backwards views because that rationale has been normalized in the South for centuries. Driving around there it's clear that racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia are alive and well--just based on the conservative propaganda all around the highways. It's important to note that I am a white cis-woman. The South is significantly less safe for a person of color or a trans person.

PF: How do you keep spontaneity on stage?

W: The music is very preset, but the way I perform the compositions and process the effects can be totally different each time. Each song has its own customized patterns in Ableton: 20-25 clips that I play through. I design my own effects racks, which completely transform the original sound. As a classically trained musician, it took me years to figure out how to play electronic music in a way that feels tangible--like a real instrument.

Dustin K. Britt is a Durham-based performing arts critic and award-winning theatre artist. He is the managing editor of Chatham Life & Style and provides content for IndyWeek and Carolina Parent. In your spare time, you can stalk him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Dusky Electronics: Chris Rossi

Dusky Electronics: Chris Rossi

I’ve known Chris Rossi for at least 18 years: He lived with several of my former bandmates in a large house in Durham, where he built a small recording studio and a workshop. From time to time, I would enter that house and hear strange sounds coming from his side of the house — he was always experimenting with noise.

In 2013, Chris decided to turn his hobby into a business, and Dusky Electronics was born. Amps were the first venture, but he has created a line of pedals that hold their own in the world of boutique tone. I talked to him after trying a few of them out, including the brand new fuzz pedal, Hypatia. I quickly became enamored. The following interview has been condensed and edited.

 

 Chris Rossi at work. CREDIT: Laura Busse

Chris Rossi at work. CREDIT: Laura Busse

Pedal Fuzz: I know you had been dabbling in recording and building electronics for a long time, but what made you decide to jump into the world of boutique pedals?

Chris Rossi: When I started Dusky Electronics, my focus was on amplifiers — specifically the D₂O Amplifier.  I also started designing pedals around this time; I designed the Toasted Drive and the Octomotron, but those were really just for my own use and edification. But, as soon as I built them, I showed them to our friend, Zeke [Graves], and he was like, “How much?” So then I got the idea that maybe I should sell pedals too. The R&D cycle on the pedals was much faster than on the amplifiers, so I could get a couple of pedal designs ready for production while waiting on other things to happen for the amplifiers. I figured having something I could offer at a lower price point than the amps couldn’t hurt, too. People are far more likely to take a chance on a $175 pedal than a $1500 amp. But, really, still, the impetus is I get interested in something for my own use. I get it to where I like it, and then I invite other people to use it.  

PF: What type of hurdles were there to getting your pedals heard in a fairly saturated market for sonic manipulation? Especially when you aren’t offering the type of things that a company like EarthQuaker is — was it a challenge to get your pedals into the hands of people who might help sell them?

CR: Yes, it still is. I think I’ve given myself an uphill battle for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m not offering pedals that do really wild things — they just sound good and are musically useful. So I can say, “Here’s this overdrive — it sounds really good,” and that’s a hard sell, because there are tons of overdrives. 2) I’m not basing designs on already known reference points. I’m not interested in making a tweaked Tubescreamer or a Klon clone, but when you can give people a familiar point of reference, it can be a lot easier to market. Add to this the fact that I got into this because I was good at designing circuits, not because I know anything about marketing a product, and yeah, it’s been difficult. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I’m getting better. I’ve done a much better job of launching the Mandorla, for example, than I have for any of my earlier pedals, and I’m seeing better sales as a result. At the end of the day it still has to sound really good and give people a tool they can actually use, but you have to figure out how to tell people about it as well, and that’s been a steep learning curve for me.

PF: How have you figured out how to tell people about it?

CR: Ha, well, that makes it sounds like I have it figured out. One thing that really helped, was Jon Levy, the publisher of Premier Guitar Magazine, called me out of the blue one day. I assume he does this to any new builder he notices. And what he did was he walked me through some things that in his world are very obvious: how and when to write a press release and send it out, how to solicit reviews, etc. It was an extremely kind gesture, to recognize someone who was making an interesting product but who probably didn’t have any idea what they were doing on the marketing side, and to reach out and have a conversation and lay down some knowledge.  

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One of the lessons learned is to coordinate a marketing push with the release of a product. When I started, I put up a website, started selling stuff, and then, very slowly, tried to figure out marketing. By the time I was reaching out to folks and asking for reviews, I’d been selling some of this stuff for a year, which in their world is way too old. Never mind that it would still be brand new to the vast majority of their audience — it was still old news. The Mandorla, in a way, has been my first opportunity to put some of these lessons into practice — I sent out a real press release, I submitted solicitations for reviews, I got them to video demo people, all right before actually putting the thing out for sale, so there was a much more coordinated effort that wound up having a much bigger impact. It’s still very much small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but it’s improvement and it’s growth, so I’m happy.  

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PF: Have you thought about making pedals that “do really wild things”? At least, beyond the Octomotron, which, in my experience using it, does some really wild things? (How does it do those wild things?)

CR: Yes, I do have some wild ideas, actually.  When and if they pan out, I’ll let you know what they are.

I actually made a video about how the Octomotron works. The short answer is, it rectifies the audio signal. This isn’t a new idea, and is the same basic principle as the Octavia of Jimi Hendrix fame, although the implementation is different.  

PF: Have you gone back into any of the designs you’ve made for these pedals and tweaked them, knowing what you know now about how people use them and how they sound? Or would you want to?

CR: I haven’t, yet, but it’s likely that in the near future I’ll look at updating the Toasted Drive and maybe the Octomotron. I do have some new ideas and a little more experience under my belt at this point.

PF: Are there any pedal companies around today that you are fond of or inspired by? Are there any musicians pushing sound forward that you feel the same about?

CR: When Electro-Harmonix came back in the early ‘00s and started doing new pedals again, that was pretty exciting. My next pedal company crush was Catalinbread. Before I ever designed anything of my own, I built a few Catalinbread clones from schematics I found online of reverse engineered pedals. I had a lot of respect for their tacit support of the DIY community around their pedals, which wasn’t something you saw a lot of universally. Recently, the people that used to work there all left, so I’m not sure what’s in store for the company. I have a definite nerd crush on their former chief designer, Howard Gee, though, and I look forward to seeing what he gets into next. Earthquaker is awe inspiring for the sheer number of really good sounding and innovative pedals they make.  Lately, Old Blood Noise Endeavours and Chase Bliss Audio are both really interesting companies doing really cool things.

As far as musicians, I’ve been a huge fan of everything Nels Cline for a long time. First saw him when he came through on a tour with Mike Watt, I don’t know, close to 20 years ago now, probably. I’ve been a big fan of Deerhoof for a long time, too. The common thread, there, I guess is taking the fabric of rock and roll and making something new out of it, something inspired, and something unexpected. Technology, like pedals, plays a role, but at the end of the day it’s their genius that’s really moving things forward, not the tools themselves they use to do it. I’ve also, more recently, been taken by Nick Reinhardt and his work in Tera Melos, not to mention Big Walnuts Yonder, just to bring everything full circle again, with Nels and Watt. Juan Alderete is an interesting figure--you don’t normally see people applying that much technology to the bass, but he takes it and runs with it.  I’m a big fan of most everything Dan the Automator does, and most of his collaborators. In terms of just blazing new trails with regards to the organization and manipulation of sound, I think the contribution of hip-hop is often underappreciated by the rockist crowd — some of the most innovative and forward-thinking people in music today are working in hip-hop. Adrian Younge is a more recent musical crush for me — like a lot of people, the Luke Cage series on Netflix introduced me to his work, but I just love what he’s doing with his amalgam of hip-hop, soul, funk, spaghetti western, etc. And all the elements sound great, too — I’d love to be a fly on the wall to see how he gets his drum, bass and guitar sounds.

 Dusky has just released the  Hypatia , a distortion box capable of blown out fuzz to ragged overdrive. This box has been making the rounds at trade shows and has already generated a bit of buzz for itself, with astonished players asking, "Wow, when does this come out?!" Well, the answer is - now!

Dusky has just released the Hypatia, a distortion box capable of blown out fuzz to ragged overdrive. This box has been making the rounds at trade shows and has already generated a bit of buzz for itself, with astonished players asking, "Wow, when does this come out?!" Well, the answer is - now!

PF: I agree with what you’re saying about technology vs. genius, but there’s also something to be said for the epic shifts in music just in the last decade as a result of technology. The tools do become an extension of the musician at a certain point, and sometimes genius doesn’t have the ability to think up the types of sonic worlds that effects can produce.

CR: Yep, true enough. Take Nick Reinhardt, for example. It’s not like he could compose a piece of music, then go, hey, the Earthquaker Rainbow Machine will let me do that. He had to already be using that pedal to even compose that music. By the same token, few people take these pedals and do something half as interesting with it. I guess we’re both right.

PF: How was Moogfest for you as a marketplace vendor?

CR: I’ve been to few enough of these trade shows so far, that it’s hard for me to compare. I think it went well.  I was sharing a booth with another Durham-based pedal builder, Rabbit Hole FX. For what was essentially a synth expo, there were a shocking a number of folks that came through and tried out our guitar focused gear, so that’s pretty cool, really. It was fun to get to know some of the other vendors — everyone I spoke to was very kind and it felt like a really supportive community. It was four eight hour days in a row on my feet and pretending to be an extrovert, so it was pretty exhausting, but fun exhausting.

FINN COHEN IS A WRITER AND MUSICIAN BASED IN RALEIGH, NC. HIS WORK HAS APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK TIMESTHE MOSCOW TIMESPITCHFORKVICE SPORTSCOMPLEXPIGEONS & PLANES, AND THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY. HIS MUSIC CAN BE FOUND HERE AND HERE

Horizontal Hold

Horizontal Hold

Horizontal Hold make enthusiastic off-kilter noise-pop that carries the flame of the great indie-rock outfits of North Carolina of the 1990s. Which makes sense when you consider the band is made up of NC music scene veterans of bands like Analogue, Shiny Beast, Wembley, In the Year of the Pig, and Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan.

Their new album The Silence was recently released on PotLuck. The Durham-based band sat down with Pedal Fuzz over a few beers before a show at Monstercade in Winston-Salem, NC. While a small dog nipped at their heels, they poked fun at each other in the way that only friends of many years can effortlessly pull off. The following excerpts have been condensed and edited.

Pedal Fuzz: Your music feels like part of that North Carolina indie rock lineage, but there are also a lot of different things going on. How did you arrive at your sound?

Dave Cantwell: We didn't have an aesthetic deliberately in mind. We just play the way that we know how to play. I play guitar in the band (ed.note Cantwell is known for playing drums), but I can only play in the way that I play in this band. We all come from rock bands and that background, so we kind of generally knew what it would be like. The band started because Kim Walker and I wanted to do something together musically and we weren't quite sure what. And I think that she wanted me to play the drums initially, but that's not what I wanted to do. So we started playing with me on guitar and her on bass, and then Kerry Cantwell (keyboards) came then Elizabeth Hammond (drums). We never said, “here's what it’s going to sound like,” we just kind of had some jams and they wound up sounding like we do.

PF: Your songs seem to be about really particular, very specific things. Another one of the unique things about you guys. No one really writes lyrics like Kerry does.

Kerry Cantwell: I write the lyrics after the whole song is finished. Our songwriting process is very, very organic. There's not a songwriter, so the way we kind of build the songs is Kim and/or Dave comes up with some kind of riff and brings it to the group and we all build upon it and then once we have it all set the way it's going to be then I'll write lyrics that fit into the individual pieces of the song. So the songs are not written to be sung over. The singing is more just frosting.

PF: One song that really stands out from your first record is “All In A Day's Work,” where you're talking about a student asking to borrow a pencil. That's when I first noticed how unique your lyrics are.

Kerry Cantwell: I'm a community college instructor. And it is hard, poorly paid work. And so that song is just kind of about what my day is like. Oh there's so much content in the classroom. You could write really sad songs, really sweet funny songs, or really traumatic songs [about it].

PF: How important are particular instruments and pieces of gear to you in the writing process?

Dave Cantwell:  When I'm working on music it's always electric, and it's usually at my house. I just like the sound of my electric guitar amplified loudly. That's a way for me to test to see if things are going to sound cool at all. When songs are in their genesis it's often Kim and I bouncing ideas off each other. I don't think we pay a whole lot of mind to the instruments themselves; it's just more the parts and how they sound. And I think that we tend to write lines that kind of meander around each other and complement each other, but at the same time sort of crooked sometimes. And I guess that has something to do with the sound of them, but I don't know if it's that conscious. I mean, I put a lot of thought and time into how my guitar sounds. Like a lot of folks I am obsessed about that sort of thing. But once it comes time to actually play and write a song maybe not thinking about it quite as much.

 Horizontal Hold playing live. Also, dog. CREDIT: Mimi McLaughlin

Horizontal Hold playing live. Also, dog. CREDIT: Mimi McLaughlin

 

Horizontal Hold Gear

Dave --Brian-Haran-assembled "Frankencaster" Tele-style gutar with Mojotone pickups and Harmony neck.  (Pink!)

--mid-'60s Custom Kraft "Ambassador" (single DeArmond pickup, sorta-SG-looking)

--others as needed at live shows (mainly a Daisy Rock "Tom Boy" with TV Jones and Mojotone pickups--and another Haran-assembled Frankencaster based on the 1980 Fender "Bullet".)

--mid '60s Silvertone 1484 "Twin Twelve" piggyback (2x12) amp with Celestion speakers

--Custom Kraft "Fireball" combo (only for recording)

--Radial "Tone Bone"--always on (used as a pre-amp, really)

--MXR "Micro Amp"

--on-board tremolo (in the Silvertone amp)

Kim --early '80s Japanese-made Squier Precision Bass (These are in a weird "medium scale" that's longer than short scale but shorter than a standard P-Bass.)

--early '80s Fender "Bassman 135" tube head with homemade, EV-loaded 1x15 cab

(although she recorded The Silence with the Fidelitorium's Ampeg "SVT".)

--Boss "Bass Overdrive" pedal (the yellow one)

Kerry --Early '80s Crumar "Performer" (mostly used for recording since she got the Casio below)

--Modern Casio XW-P1 "Performance Synthesizer" (mostly used live)

--Kustom "Commander" 2x12 combo (solid state, tuck 'n' roll)

--Digitech "Turbo Flange"

--on-board amp reverb and tremolo+vibrato (the Kustom has both trem and vibrato...it's weird.)

Elizabeth --late-'60s Ludwig 4-piece kit in gold sparkle w/ ‘60s Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum

--various Zildjian cymbals.

PF: So when you're obsessing over it what are you adjusting, what are you changing?

Dave Cantwell: I have this sort of paradoxical notion of where I want it to be very simple on the one hand - I don't use a lot of effects, I don't have any tone knobs on my guitars, I want my guitars to have basically one sound - but then I want that sound to be adjustable by how I play. Basically the dynamics. So if I play harder it sounds more aggressive, if I play lighter it's quieter of course. And I spent a lot of time trying to get that sweet spot where I can sound a little bit overdriven if I need to and still be heard if I'm playing quietly. So I spend a lot time dealing with that. I like the sound of a Telecaster through a tube amp. I’m trying to find the definitive version of that. It's a good tool because I can control how I sound, but I don't use a lot of effects or anything really.

PF: What was working at The Fidelitorium with Missy Thangs like? Was she offering guidance during the recording process?

Elizabeth Hammond:  I would say that Missy was so good at just trying to make us feel comfortable there. And she's a really great manager of people, which I think is a huge job of anybody who's engineering in a studio. And also she was really good at giving us really graceful feedback.

Kim Walker: It was like the therapist model. As in, "Do you think that that was your best take? Well how do you feel about the take?" Rather than, "That take is great," or whatever. Her approach for giving her opinions was really more about facilitating. She was more concerned with us getting what we wanted out of the process, and letting us fix our own problems if there were any.

*Look & listen for our full and laugh-filled interview with Horizontal Hold in an upcoming episode of the Pedal Fuzz podcast.

EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS.

Nonconnah

Nonconnah

Nonconnah make music that crackles like a fire's beginnings and ends, with embers melting a Polaroid past. Led by Zachary Corsa on guitars, tapes, keys, machines, and other things.....the collective etches sonic notes in trees smeared in ash and reverb.  

The music of Nonconnah came to be after Zachary and Denny Wilkerson Corsa left North Carolina and dissolved their ambient project Lost Trail. They were an incredibly prolific duo, releasing dozens of collections of lo-fi shoegaze soundscapes, accented with field sounds and thrift-store cassette tape samples (think 1980s sermons...). It was a beautiful noise they made.

I shared some bills with the duo, and was even lucky enough to be an honorary member of Lost Trail once on a sun-drenched afternoon in Winston-Salem, NC - did anyone record it?

 

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Pedal Fuzz: What prompted you and Denny to relocate the band from NC to TN?

Zachary Corsa: The short answer is that Denny’s employers were relocating to Memphis for their own work reasons, and we felt connected enough with them that following them out here seemed like a worthwhile adventure. Additionally, though there are some extremely talented experimental musicians in North Carolina (and I’m talking to one, of course), I never felt we particularly belonged to, or were much welcomed in, the larger music scene in the area. There’s a lot I miss about North Carolina, but Memphis has been a much more friendly and receptive community for what we do. It was worth the hassle of relocating for a chance to find a more conducive scene, and I’m thrilled it worked out.

PF: In what ways is the music of Nonconnah different and similar to Lost Trail?

ZC: The basic bones of the projects are the same. It’s still home recording, rooted in guitar layers and field recordings with the occasional piano or synth piece, and the work still touches on the same ambient/shoegaze/drone/noise signifiers. The differences are apparent in what we’ve learned about the recording process and production while we were Lost Trail, and how the quality of the finished product has evolved largely from ‘very lo-fi’ to ‘mid-fi with lo-fi accents’. Also, Nonconnah is much more of an open collective of collaborators, as compared to Lost Trail, which was almost always restricted to Denny and myself. Live, we perform with anywhere from two to maybe seven other contributors - we have a bit of an open door policy with the Memphis weird music scene, whereby anyone who’s around that wants to help out and improvise at a show is welcome to do so.

PF: Can you explain your musical evolution, and what non-musical factors may have contributed or inspired you?

ZC: I began playing guitar at seven, and by the time I was in my mid-twenties I had played with all manner of indie and post-rock bands and was largely burned out on ‘band politics’. Around this time, through writing for music blogs, I began to uncover a lot more experimental artists than I had previously been exposed to, including very minimalist composers like David Wenngren from Library Tapes. Initially, Lost Trail was an experiment in tape recording via piano, an instrument I still don’t know how to properly play, in that dark early Library Tapes style. It was a nice break from guitar, but I eventually missed having the palette of sounds guitar offers. As time went on, some of the standard drone and ambient elements began to shift into more noisy shoegaze work, as we began to listen to a lot of heavier gaze bands like Astrobrite. I really fell in love with the process of recording and experimenting with different methods like a technician in a lab. It’s still my favorite part of making music, by far.

There’s definitely folk and rustic elements in what we do, buried beneath the haze. I listen to a great deal of old-time music, ballads, bluegrass, gospel, and Sacred Harp singing, and my college years living in the mountains of western NC had a profound impact on my sensibilities. I feel like I say this in every interview, but I really do consider us a very Southern band. That sense of a mysterious landscape that holds layers of the past beneath its surface is ingrained in what we do, a lot more than people may realize. Making original music also tends to bring out personal obsessions you didn’t know you had - in our case, passionate belief systems seem to come up often in the field recordings or in the general themes of the work. Passionate belief and the supernatural, a sense of dread or a sense of rapturous, awestruck transcendence, and also my fascination with suburban sprawl and its horrific brand of destructive beauty. It’d be naive to think the politics of our current hellscape administration don’t creep into our work, too, but I try to avoid direct addressing of politics. Our music is really emotionally-based, unapologetically sincere and epic and heartfelt. I don’t buy into the too-cool school of Stephen Malkmus irony and sarcasm very much, never have. It’s not how I live.

PF: Tell me about the nature of improvisation in your music - how important it is, what appeals/doesn’t appeal vs more rigidly constructed music.

ZC: My mind doesn’t function on the level of carefully planned-out, meticulous music. I work best on impulse. I sit down with no preconceived notions about what a piece is going to turn into, and let instinct take me where it leads. Almost nothing ends up sounding as planned in our world. We don’t overdub traditionally, we tend to collage until something just ‘sounds’ or ‘feels’ right. Live, improvisation is a necessity. It keeps things fresh. It’s impossible to replicate the layers of the recordings in a live setting, so the live entity really is entirely separate from the recorded works.

PF: How do you translate your music live?

ZC: It’s always a challenge, but we try to bring some of the spirit of the recordings to the live setting, even though we’re not performing specific pieces. We bring in taped elements and field recordings, interesting sounds. The live performances are usually variations on a single key for a long period of time, and I suppose in that way it’s closer to free jazz than merely ambient or shoegazey.

PF: What opportunities and challenges come with performing live?

ZC: Constant anxiety - not about performing, after all these years of playing, but that something technical will go wrong, which it often does. Working with old and often obsolete technology, the situation is always very precarious. The one ‘cheat’ with experimental music, I suppose, is that if you don’t visibly act dismayed by something unplanned, most people won’t take it as unplanned. The live show is a necessity because people enjoy seeing us live and meeting us, but it’s a far second to recording as far as priorities go for me. I’m pretty introverted - I like staying at my house out in the country and tinkering. The best part of touring is really meeting people and seeing new places, in my opinion.

PF: Lets talk about gear - what guitar(s) are you currently using?

ZC: My main guitar you know well, since I purchased it from you. That’s the Reverend Ron Asheton Signature, a really versatile V. I’m a very midrange-minded player - bright, trebly sounds hurt my ears and can ruin performances for me. The Asheton is a very warm and dark, rich-sounding guitar. It’s what I use for most recordings due to its quality. I must admit I’ve been half-seriously trying to sell or trade it, though, because as much as I love it, I fully believe in switching out your gear every so often to mix up your sound a bit. I adore that guitar, its been a trusted friend for a few years now, but it may be time to try something new. Otherwise, I tend to gather Teiscos, Kays, Silvertones, and Harmony equipment and the like. The sound and aesthetics of many of those guitars suit my sensibilities. My main backup is a Teisco K2L I found on the Raleigh Craigslist years ago for $80. It has a fondue knife repurposed for the tremolo. I have a Teisco Audition with a gold-foil pickup that I found at a junk shop in Burlington, NC - that one gets used for stuff like bow-work and weird tunings and such. I just picked up a Kay Effector from a friend in Chattanooga - it’s a Les Paul copy with some very strange built-in effects. Other than those, I also have an Ibanez Jet King that my Mom bought for me in 2008 and which was my main guitar for many years. Other than recording with it occasionally, it’s mostly retired now, but I’d never get rid of it. Those were the very best guitars Ibanez ever built, by miles.

 CREDIT: Zachary Corsa

CREDIT: Zachary Corsa

PF: Walk me through your pedalboard.

ZC: I have a fairly large and complicated setup, I’m afraid. My main pedalboard channel, currently

-Noisemaker Effects Arcade Fuzz

-Devi Ever Rocket Mangler (Soda Meiser + Vintage Fuzz Machine w/ gain joystick and noise options)

-ProCo RAT (my oldest pedal)

-Raygun FX Super Fuzz Boy (a fuzz housed in an old Game Boy console)

-Death By Audio Soundwave Breakdown

-Old Blood Noise Endeavors EQ/Buffer

-DigiTech Whammy Ricochet

-Dwarfcraft Wizard Of Pitch

-Strymon Mobius (modulation effects)

-pink label Boss PS-3 Pitch-Shifter/Delay

-MidFi Clari(not) (tape delay/modulation)

-Boss Tera Echo

-Empress Reverb

-DigiTech DigiDelay

-Ibanez FZ7 Fuzz

-Malekko Charlie Foxtrot (granulator)

-Earthquaker Devices Data Corruptor (synth/oscillator)

-TC Electronic Polytune Classic

-EHX 22500 looper

Also on the board but on a separate channel are -

-Korg Kaossilator

-CoPilot FX Arrow (white noise generator)

-TC Electronic Ditto looper

I also utilize an old Alesis Wedge desktop effects unit in my setup, as well as an XSPRO ABY switcher and a Pyle hum destroyer.

PF: Do you have any recent pedal discoveries?

ZC: The Midfi Clari(not) has become my favorite pedal by far. They’re handmade by Doug Tuttle, who’s played in tons of awesome psych bands and does incredible solo work now.  The Clari(not) is a really solid analog delay that goes nuts when you crank the controls - it gets the best ‘out of control warbling tape’ effect I’ve heard, out of all the pedals which attempt to replicate that specific sound.

PF: What pedals do you rely on or love?

ZC: I have a lot of love for my RAT, which I’ve had forever, and also my PS3, which is again a super versatile pedal, both a very reliable digital delay and something much weirder and fun on other settings. The Tera Echo is a deeply underrated pedal, as is the Ibanez FZ7 - those are getting a bit of a cult reputation, so I advise folks to grab them while they can still be found for thirty bucks. Same for the DigiDelay, where the looper can give you some really wild glitch sounds when used right.

PF: Are there pedals that you were once enamored with that have lost their charm?

ZC: I honestly think I’ve appreciated every pedal I’ve owned, even the cheap plastic Behringers I started out with. They’re fragile in how they’re constructed, but they sound pretty incredible.

PF: What amps are you playing with?

ZC: I’m a solid-state guy, pretty devoutly, because I think it sounds cleaner with the amount of pedals I use. I played a Hot Rod Deluxe for years and it always sounded like mush. I traded that one for a Roland JC-60, the single-speaker Jazz Chorus, and that’s been my main amp ever since. Very clean and clear sound reproduction, not too much color. I had a JC-120 briefly but it was just more amp than I needed for what I do. Lately I’ve been splitting my signal at the ABY box and running my pedalboard through the JC-60 and the Wedge through a Silvertone 40XL, which I’ve had around for awhile, a really fun vintage amp. Same as guitars, I tend to gather those old catalog amps. The only tube amp I own is a little mid-sixties’ Harmony H400A that Denny found at a free market and which amazingly worked fine. It sounds incredible but it isn’t grounded, so it tends to shock the user.

PF: What other sound making devices do you utilize?

ZC: E-Bow, glass slide, flathead screwdriver, violin bow. Anything that can make sound through pickups - toy laser guns, shortwave radios, cassette and micro-cassette machines. I have a Kaito computer speaker that makes incredibly awful sounds when you plug the cable into itself, and I’ve used that at shows for years now. I usually run an iPod Classic into the PA for the samples/field recordings.

PF: Are you collaborating with other musicians live or on recordings? If so, who?

ZC: Since Nonconnah was partially founded on the idea of being more openly collaborative, we’ve been lucky to team up on tracks with many incredible musicians. One album we finished recently was the end product of about three years of work, and it features a number of names folks will probably be familiar with. For example, Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Kenneth William (White Lung), Archie Moore (Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl), Lori Goldston (Earth, Nirvana), Jim Schoenecker (Collections of Colonies of Bees, Volcano Choir), Eric Craven (Hangedup, A Silver Mt. Zion), Stuart Dahlquist (Sunn O))), Burning Witch), Dustin Wong (Ponytail), Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing), Alyse Lamb (Parlor Walls), AJ Annunziata (Sannhet), Dan Friel (Upper Wilds), Robert Poss (Band of Susans), Paul Baker (Skywave, Ceremony, Static Daydream), Neil Jendon (Kwaidan, Catherine), Scott Cortez (Astrobrite, Lovesliescrushing), Jett Brando (All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors), and lots of other folks that aren’t as well known but damn well should be. Right now, I’m actually waiting to get a track back for a collaboration with Charles Bissell from The Wrens. It’s very humbling to work with so many folks whom I greatly admire, and whom in many cases I grew up admiring. It’s beyond flattering.

PF: What changes through collaboration?

ZC: Well, you have to let go of some of your control over what you expect the end result of the work to be, but that’s what makes it fun and exciting. Getting a track back from someone with their contributions and clicking ‘play’ is a very Christmas-morning kind of moment. I know it’s going to add something to the piece, because if I thought for a second it wouldn’t, I wouldn’t ask that particular musician. I tend to let them do as they wish because I trust them to interpret the work as they see it. It’s their vision.

PF: How do you feel about the music scene in Memphis, TN?

ZC: We have one of the most exciting music scenes in the country for weird music right now, and even for a number of bands that aren’t so weird but are just damn good bands. I just finished helping out with the second Memphis Concrète festival over the past weekend, which my friend and occasional bandmate Robert Traxler organizes. What he’s built here for this scene is a real gift to all of us, and to the entire city. This year we had performances from some incredible folks like Wolf Eyes, Alex Zhang Hungtai, Spookstina, Linda Heck, Circuit Des Yeux, Gavin from Cities Aviv…just three days of incredible and envelope-pushing work. It’s rewarding to feel like these folks will go back to their respective scenes and tell everyone what we’re building here with the community in Memphis. This is really becoming an experimental/noise music town in a way that’s very rad and satisfying.

Here’s some local Memphis folks’ projects to check out - Robert Traxler, Revenge Body, Ihcilon, Aster, The Family Ghost, Mystic Light Casino, Alyssa Moore, Sweaters Together, Avery Vaughn, Disco Volante, Starfighter Yellow Superoverdrive, Jack The Giant Killer, Aural Cavalcade, Crystal Shrines, Dinosauria, Negro Terror, Jack Alberson, Mike Honeycutt, Jeremy Scott, Noiserpuss, Spaceface, Glorious Abhor, Mike Doughty, Tape Deck, The Ellie Badge…also, Julien Baker is from here and she’s deservedly blowing up right now. Nearby in Mississippi there’s also Ben Ricketts and Argiflex, both very worth your time. These people need and deserve to be famous and heard.

PF: Do you think there are specific challenges for instrumental musicians vs those making vocal based music?

ZC: You’ll often meet people who seem to treat instrumental musicians who use ‘rock’ instruments as some strange anomaly, which I always find a bit amusing. People love lyrics, they love to have words to identify with and wail along with. That’s totally cool. I listen to a huge swath of music outside of instrumental and experimental stuff, so I get it. But we’re providing a different experience, where you have to draw in some of those lines yourself and decide what it’s making you feel. The nice thing about instrumental music is that open context - it can make a trip to the DMV feel epic and emotional. It’s for those turning-point moments of life, really. I think that’s why we use the field recordings we do - it’s a way to underline the emotion of the music without relying on lyrics to spell some ‘message out for you. People are slowly becoming more accepting of instrumental music again, and I would advise any skeptics to remember that instrumental music as entertainment is of course MUCH older than vocal music. It’s always worth getting out of your comfort zone as a listener to try something new.

EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS. 

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The Sea And Cake

The Sea And Cake

The Sea And Cake have been making elegant, assured, and singularly unique music for over two decades. The band is made up of a who’s who of Chicago experimental/indie/jazz/post-everything musicians that include Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, and John Mcentire.


Their latest album on Thrill Jockey Records is Any Day. Sam Prekop (singer, guitarist) sat down to talk with Pedal Fuzz about writing and recording the record, just after a soundcheck in Durham, NC, ahead of their performance at The Pinhook. THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS HAVE BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.

 

Pedal Fuzz: Your Last album Runner came out in 2012. When did you start working on the songs that would make up Any Day?

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Sam Prekop: So it was probably February 2017. Got a bit of a slow start I guess. I started actively playing guitar for that mainly on my acoustic, roaming around my house cooking dinner for the kids. Strumming the guitar, getting it together kind of. And then Archer Prewitt (guitar) and I spent a fair amount of time together before John McEntire (drums) showed up. And then the three of us rehearsed at the practice space for probably about a week with the new material. And then we went into the studio to record the basic tracks.

PF: Is that generally how it's worked in the past, you starting just with the guitar then bringing everyone else in?

SP: So Archer and I spend a lot of time without drums to work out the intricacies of the arrangements. Of course John contributes as well, but to get the ball rolling usually I start, get the basic gist of it, and then I have Archer come in. There's a few songs on the new record that Archer and I came up with just sort of messing around improvising and stuff. So it happens that way as well. "Any Day," the title track comes out of that, and also the last song "These Falling Arms."

PF: Did you record in John’s studio, Soma Studios?

SP: His studio in flux now because he moved to California. So it was different in that regard, so we used a different studio in Chicago. He had already moved right around the time I started working on the guitar stuff.

PF: So did you track in two locations, or just go out there to L.A. and track?

SP: We never made it to L.A. actually. The original plan was to go and mix it and finish it in L.A. And John moved to L.A. but then he bought a house more northern, east of San Francisco. So that kind of threw our plans for a loop a little bit. So John would mix, and then he would send us the files and we would give input on it.

PF: As far as the songwriting. how collaborative does it get once everybody else joins in? By that point do you already have the structure set, or is there room for change?

SP: So when we have the basic tracks, it can still change because I haven't done any singing yet. So I get the basic tracks into my home studio - and I have been doing it this way for a while where I record the vocals at home and mix them later with John. So I spent quite a bit of time writing and singing and recording the vocals on my own basically. I spent more time doing that this time around than other records I would say. I'm not sure why, I think I just found myself with more time.

There were a few setbacks. One was how we thought the studio would be ready in time, so we were kind of waiting for it. Things were hinging on different factors as we were working, so I wound up like, “OK, I have another month to do other stuff,” and so I ended up redoing a lot of things this time around which was good. I think because I got a little bit of time away from what I had done, I got a slight amount of perspective. I could discover that it could be better if I tried to rewrite certain lines or words.

PF: Was it mostly lyrics and vocals you were changing, or other elements?

SP: Sometimes it was just the delivery of it, like I can sort of get more out of the performance. Other times it might be some slight adjustments to the words, or rhythm things, but usually it was that I felt like I could inhabit these vocals more...not intense exactly, but just be more familiar with them. Just to be able to really perform the song.

PF: That's something striking about the record too, it kicks right off with the vocals.

SP: I know - this is the most vocal-centric record of all, and when rehearsing for this tour and playing some older stuff I'm like, "Oh my god I hardly sing at all in long spots." And I have to say the shows have been quite the vocal workout. It's an hour and a half show and I'm singing the whole time. I'm quite burnt by the end.

PF: Are you having to come up with like a honey/lemon regimen?

SP: I should maybe! It's getting better, you know. So this will be maybe our seventh show tonight, and each night it's getting a little easier. It depends on if the monitoring is good and if the sound is good on stage. If I have to over-sing, that's a problem, and sometimes that's the case if I don't hear it properly.

PF: It seems that on this album, compared to some older songs like "The Argument" or even "Harps" from the last record, there's less electronic elements. It has much more of a band feel. How did you decide that was going to be the vibe this time?

SP: Well, usually with these things the project tells you what it wants as you're working on it. I feel like my job is to pay attention as much as possible to what the material is leading you towards. So I didn't start out like, "Oh this should be a super vocal-heavy record and it should be all about that." So as it was leaning in that direction, it seemed like there was just less room for electronic stuff. And I think I think there would have been more of that if we had been in the studio together during the overdub process - which we had planned, but didn't quite happen because of logistics. So that's also part of the reason I think.

 Sam Prekop's pedals in Durham, NC. CREDIT: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

Sam Prekop's pedals in Durham, NC. CREDIT: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

PF: Let's talk about gear a little bit. What guitar and amp are you using on the record?

SP: So I started writing on my acoustic. It's a pretty old beat up Martin 000-17. It's a Mahogany, small body kind of deal. And so I write a lot on that. I've never played it live and I don't plan on it - too many problems involved with drums and stuff.

And my main guitar is not actually a Fender Telecaster, though it looks like one. I got it maybe 15 years ago. It was built by Greenwich Village Custom Guitars (GVCG). It's sort of a legendary builder (Jonathan Wilson) which I didn't know at the time. But as soon as I tried it I'm like, "This is my guitar." So that's been my main guitar for a while.

And I use a Fender Bassman amp - but it's not actually a Fender. It's made by Victoria Amp Company out of Chicago (Victoria 45410 Tweed, modeled after a 1959 Bassman). And I've been using that for a long time as well, at least 10 or so years.

PF: What do you like about the Victoria?

SP: It sounds very acoustic. Not like an acoustic guitar, but the sound of the wooden box is very forward in a way. It feels very lively and unveiled in a way that feels very direct. It's very responsive to the way you play, very quick and responsive. There's no reverb or anything, it's a very direct, classic amp design. I imagine it's probably pretty simple. It's designed originally for bass players but it works really well as a guitar amp.

PF: And are you putting anything between the guitar and the amp?

SP: Yeah, I have a few BJFEE pedals, from Norway. Björn Juhl made them, he went on to design Mad Professor pedals. I have one that’s a very subtle overdrive I use all the time called the Honey Bee. And a BJFE EQ pedal (Sea Blue EQ) that’s amazing. I also have a Mad Professor Deep Blue delay pedal I use for a little color – I’m not big on changing my sound per song very much.

PF: You have a very crisp, but full, clean sound.

SP: On the song “Color The Mountain,” I play some pretty distorted guitar. On that I use this Swedish Himmelstrutz Fetto Nord 70 distortion pedal I’ve had a long time. But I don’t use it much.

PF: You’re in a band with people that are in so many other bands, and so many different collaborations. Does that become difficult for everyone to juggle what they have going on?

SP: There’s no real difficulty. That’s why there’s sometimes longer breaks in-between records. So Tortoise had a record in-between, so that was about two years of the lag time. I also make solo records and usually tour on those. No problems really, it’s just a matter of making the plan and it works out.

EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS. 

Helen Money

Helen Money

Helen Money is the musical nom de plume of cellist Alison Chesley. She plays her instrument with an unrivaled ferocity, and through her technique and an armada of effects pedals, she creates a wall of sound that’s both heavy and haunting.

She has toured extensively and collaborated with an incredible array of musicians, including Bob Mould, Shellac, Neurosis, Sleep, Russian Circles, Magma, Agalloch, and Earth. 

Her latest album Become Zero, released on Thrill Jockey Records, was written after the death of both of her parents. The eight tracks that make up the album are startling in their rawness, and captivating in their grace. She called on drummer Jason Roeder (Sleep, Neurosis), Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s) and co-producer Will Thomas to help realize the vision for the record.

Pedal Fuzz spoke with her at Moogfest 2018, where she not only performed a blistering set, but also led a workshop where she shared her story, and explained the technical details of her unique stage setup. The following excerpts have been condensed and edited.

 Helen Money. Credit: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

Helen Money. Credit: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

Pedal Fuzz: I read that you were classically trained, and only listened to classical music until your early 20's. So what turned on your ear and made you want to go into the rock realm with what you were doing?

Helen Money: Well, my brother and my sister were both listening to a lot of rock music. And my brother kept playing stuff for me, but I never really got it. And then one day he dragged me into his room and he had Who's Next on his record player. I remember him dropping the needle, and I heard the music for the first time, and I thought, "Oh, I get why he loves this stuff!" Then that's all I wanted to do is listen to rock music for like the next 10 years.

PF: Do you think it was the visceral impact?

HM: Yeah, it was visceral, and epic, and very 'heart on your sleeve' you know? And just big. Those big guitars, the whole sound. It just all really spoke to me.

PF: So after that what did you get into? I guess that was kind of like a gateway drug into other music.

HM: Totally. I grew up in L.A., and had a friend who was hooked into this scene around this record store out there, and we would go see a lot of punk rock shows. We saw Minutemen a lot, and Meat Puppets, and we'd see Henry Rollins do poetry readings. So I was kind of in that scene. It was still loud, visceral, guitar-driven music.

PF: So when did that affect your playing and when did you want to start manipulating the natural sound of the cello?

HM: Well I never made the connection between playing my cello and playing music that I liked until I went to grad school. And I met a friend who was covering Bob Mould's Workbook. So he wanted a cellist to play with. And he was also doing his own stuff. So Jason Narducy and I got together (ed. note - as Jason & Alison, then Verbow). I was in grad school, I was going to get a doctorate in teaching cello somewhere. And we just started to play - we had no idea what we were doing. I just had a pickup on my cello and I had a little Peavey amp that sounded awful, but it was just the two of us playing as hard as we could. I had no idea I could play the music that I really liked. So once I realized I could, then that was just what I wanted to do.

PF: When did you start incorporating pedals? Do you remember the first pedal you got?

HM: Yeah I had a Rat distortion pedal, and then I had a digital delay. Then I tried a chorus, and I didn't like it. I didn't really like envelope filters. So I pretty much decided delays and distortion is where it was at for my instrument. Because of the nature of the cello,  it doesn't always sound good with certain guitar pedals. I kind of stuck to that and I've just experimented with different delays and distortions since then.

PF: Then you started looping.

HM: Right, and the way I do the looping is very structured. It's not the typical layering, and building a song horizontally. When I use the loopers it's more like "this is going to help me play this part of this song, this looper’s going to bring in this part." So that's kind of how I've always used them. They've helped me to just play solo and not have other members. Not that I don't want to,  but that's just kind of how it happened.

I have three Boss RC-30 Loop Stations actually that I play with. I'll run one of them direct to the PA system with drums or piano on it. So one moment during the song I'll kick that in, or I'll have noise on it and I'll kick that in. So it's like part of the whole sound. Then I'll have two loopers, with parts that comes in during the verse or chorus. So I'm playing along with them. None of those loopers go through the same channel as my cello, so I can't even layer over them. 

PF: Let's talk about your recording process, which has changed in the past couple of years. You've done lots of recording with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio - what was it like working in that studio?

HM: It was great. It's a beautiful building with great acoustics. And Steve's a great guy. The thing that's a challenge there, is that you're recording to tape. So you really have to focus on getting a performance from Point A to Point B, and not doing what Greg Norman calls 'a cloud of tracks' that you have to filter through. So that was a challenge and I really enjoyed that.

But then when I moved to L.A. briefly I met Will Thomas, a guy who's doing more kind of ambient stuff, and he was also an engineer. I decided with this record that I was just going to get the sounds that I wanted and worry about how I was going to perform it. So that was a totally different approach for me. It was all digital, but I really ended up loving how it sounded. I did record the drums in a regular studio, but otherwise it was just just me at at Will's studio on a computer.

The thing that was cool is Will does a lot of stuff with sequencers, and he's also got a modular synthesizer, so he would take sounds from my cello and treat them and then we'd make a background bed for them. It was really fun, we had like a little laboratory to experiment. It was really intimate and really fun. I still felt the pressure to perform well, but we could kind of have a little more fun and make up sounds.

 Helen Money live at Motorco in Durham, NC. Credit: Stephanie Leathers/Moogfest

Helen Money live at Motorco in Durham, NC. Credit: Stephanie Leathers/Moogfest

PF: So when you translate those pieces live, does that present any new challenges, or do you restructure songs?

HM: I kind of just pare stuff down. There's a couple of songs where I've downloaded the drum track that my friend Jason Roeder played onto a looper. And so I kick that in at one point. I always worry it doesn't sound authentic, but I think it fits in with my overall sound ok. Also some sounds that Will created with my cello are loaded onto a looper, and I can bring those in. They kind of creep in and provide an ambience behind what I'm doing. So that's kind of how I managed translating the record to playing live.

PF: So the new record Become Zero is a deeply personal record. I'm curious in the writing of that - how do you translate emotions to your instrument? Are you thinking about something, then pick up the cello? Or is it more like you're playing, then threads start connecting?

HM: Well, when I write I look for a sound, and a sound will evoke a feeling in me. So I don't set out thinking, "I want to write a song about my dad, or my parents." I'll just start writing, and then something might remind me of them, so it's really more about looking for a sound. And for me that's often in my pedals, or maybe from the piano, and sometimes drums.

 Helen Money's pedalboard. CREDIT: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

Helen Money's pedalboard. CREDIT: Eddie Garcia/Pedal Fuzz

PF: What are some of the pedals that you're using now?

HM: For distortion I've got a Way Huge Swollen Pickle, which is a big fuzz pedal. I also have a Fulltone PlimSoul Overdrive, which has more of a boosty kind of deep sound. And I often use those together. I've got an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG that I like to use, and I've got two delays now - a Strymon Timeline delay and an Empress Superdelay.

PF: Do you use any extended technique when playing cello?

HM: Yeah, the one thing I started to do that I really like is playing with a guitar pick. So I can do a tremolo with the guitar pick on the cello, and then also just strumming with guitar pick is a really powerful sound.

PF: I played your music for my 14-year-old daughter, and she said, “She sounds like the Batman of the cello.”

HM: (Laughs) Batwoman!

PF: Yes, Batwoman! But it made me think - you could be doing anything with the instrument, but you’re steeped in minor, dense music. What is it about that kind of sound?

HM: Yeah I just like that dark, emotional stuff that takes you somewhere. I've always liked Shostakovich, Dvorak, Bach. I just like stuff that makes me feel something, and I just find it more interesting, the colors are more interesting than something that's happy. And the cello lends itself to that, it's kind of a dark instrument. 

EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS. 

Wes Borland

Wes Borland

A world away from the burlesque costumes, jet-black contact lenses, and jagged riffs that defined his role in the multi-platinum-selling rap-rock band Limp Bizkit, Wes Borland spent last Friday afternoon tucked into a small, dark room in downtown Durham, N.C., surrounded by a wild collection of instruments. As part of Moogfest 2018’s programming, Borland was tasked with filling four hours of semi-improvised music (with the drummer Alex Rosson), and he brought a small studio’s worth of gear: loopers, lap steel, a tape deck, an armada of effects pedals, e-bows, and a real bow, which he drew across his guitar to produce deep, reverberating groans.

As festivalgoers trickled in and out — a few spent all four hours immersed in the experience — Borland and Rosson shuffled through multiple elements of chance: drone, noise, found sounds, beats, sparkling arpeggios. It was a challenge Borland seemed excited to accept, a step outside the comfort zone that his career has come to be known for. We caught up with him after the set to get a sense of how it came together. The following excerpts have been condensed and edited.

 

Pedal Fuzz: When you were told you needed to fill four hours, did you already have material that you were working on that you thought would fit it, or did you have to start from scratch?

Wes Borland: Since I was very young, probably around the age of 15 or 16, my brother and one of my best friends have had a project called Goatslayer, where we would spend a night making a record that was totally improvised. We made, like over the years, probably from the age of 16 to when I was 30, we made like 22 records. It was all similar to what I did tonight, but probably less politically correct and a little wilder. But we had rules, like there couldn’t be any planning. More than anything, I think that prepared me for doing what I did today: These years of doing this joke band that we just sort of did in our bedrooms, and then in our houses, and then at each other’s houses when we got older. When we were younger, we were fermenting our own alcohol in the closet in milk jugs, and we were drinking it and smoking terrible weed, and in the middle we were taking acid and doing it, and towards the end of when we were doing it, we were just having a couple of beers, and owning our equipment and doing it really well. But we were able to do it better, we added a fourth element to the band, an obstacle course that we didn’t see coming, where we would just drop beats and things that would come in that we couldn’t see in the timeline. We would make a session in Pro Tools or Logic, for a program that was like two hours long, and just drop things that would just come in at times we didn’t know. We couldn’t see where they were — we would just turn the screen off and hit record. So we were playing something, and then all of a sudden some horrible thing would come in — it was like an obstacle course that we would have to adjust to.

PF: For this performance, did you create an obstacle?

WB: I always like to have an obstacle, and the four-hour marathon of time is the obstacle. Right off the bat I was like, “no way, man, there’s no obstacles in this because the obstacle is already presented: get from here to here.” For me, preparing for this was just stockpiling stuff, like samples and loops and tapes, and keeping notes. And I’m happy to say that I used only about half of what I planned tonight. A lot of what I planned I just threw away and didn’t use at all. I was just reading where we were and just going “no, not gonna do that.”

PF: I imagine that because of the process, there’s certain unknown variables that can create a third presence — effects, and feedback, and loops. When you have those things, they are unpredictable, and you build in that time to respond or listen to that.

WB: They’re unpredictable, but it’s sort of like the clutch on a car: I know how to tame them if they start to get too crazy. Most of the time, I’m using three loopers that don’t line up, so it’s sort of like when you’re sitting at a stoplight and you’re listening to your blinker to turn, going ‘click-click-click-click,’ and you start zoning out to the car in front of you, and you see how they get off time and they start syncing and they get off time again. That’s how I think about loopers, and that’s why I chose to use three that weren’t synced together in any way. I knew I would try to sync them, but they would naturally get off and create new things that were sort of chaotic, that would inspire where things were going to go next.

PF: And those types of accidents, for a 4-hour set, are sometimes gifts.

WB: They’re welcome, I think, and part of the process. Reading the terrain, and following the accidents — that’s part of improvisation and just trying to be clear and present.

PF: Did you have any moments that were particularly shocking in a good way?

WB: I think we did, probably from 45 minutes in to an hour and 30, we went along a track that was completely unplanned. I was like, “great, we had something hit early, where we don’t have to go to the next thing that we are sure of yet.” I was looking for things that we could spend a long time on so we wouldn’t have go on to something that was planned. I had a list of things, like “do this, then this then this,” and little notes made to myself. And if something happened that kept me from going to that note, I was like “great.”

PF: Did you get stuck at any point?

WB: I practiced getting stuck the whole time I was preparing for this. I was always setting myself up with things on the samplers, like “if I run out of ideas, or I run out of things to do, what can I go to?” There was a bunch of stuff that I brought that I never used. I learned a lot – I learned what I don’t need and more of what I do need, if I’m going to do this again.

PF: Do you want to do it again?

WB: I would do it again tomorrow.

PF: How long have you been working on it?

WB: I’ve known about it for almost a year, but I’ve only been working on it for a few months. And I worked really hard on it for the last three weeks. I’d been getting ideas and themes, and the last three weeks, I really pulled the rig together.

PF:When you’re working on things and you make demos, you can listen to them critically, but the context of a song, something 4 or 5 minutes, the commitment to re-listening is pretty small compared to a 4-hour set. Were you recording yourself through the process of preparing for this?

WB: I was, and I listened back to some of the things, and I was like, “no, that’s not gonna work.” And there were some things that I had planned for today that I was totally committed to do, that I just went, “nope — gone.” Reading the terrain, and listening the pulse of what’s going on, you all of a sudden go, “I don’t know why I was thinking that. That’s gone.” It’s hard to express what improvisation is like, and what being in the flow of things was like. I think in order to do it, I had to look at no one. I think I looked out three times at what people were doing, and then I had to get right back into what I was doing to stay on track. The second time I looked up, I made eye contact with my wife, and she wanted to tell me something, and I just totally shut her down, like, “Whatever she wants to tell me, it can wait.” After the show, she was like, “I was trying to tell you that the stuff you were doing at the beginning, you should do now, in the middle of the set, because there’s more people in here and they should hear that again. When a bunch of people were in, you were just making noise and doing crazy shit.” I’m glad that I didn’t hear that, because I would have gotten all self-conscious. I needed to be in a wormhole

PF: Being asked to do a 4-hour set is certainly a challenge to an audience, but as an artist I would imagine that it’s a gift to you — you get to do something you like for 4 hours.

WB: Yeah, I feel that way at the end of this. I feel like I’ve really grown a lot today, as an artist and a performer. I think there are things that for a long time will sink in, that haven’t yet, about today. I’m still processing all the data from what happened and what I felt during the set today.

 Wes Borland bowing his bass during a 4-hour performance. Credit: Carlos Gonzalez/Moogfest

Wes Borland bowing his bass during a 4-hour performance. Credit: Carlos Gonzalez/Moogfest

PF: Do you think this will change at all the way you compose?

WB: I think so. I’m a huge fan of the band Swans, and they’re notorious for holding things for a long time. So a lot of my preparation for this was analyzing the last few Swans albums. And I’ve also seen Swans three times in the last five years. They hold things for so long live — the second time I saw them, there wasn’t a vocal until 25 minutes into the show. I’m really trying to adapt that into my DNA, to be able to hold. And I think that I failed holding as long as I wanted to today. I had that thing, because I’ve got that pop sensibility in me, where I’m just like “I want to go to the next thing; I want to go to the hook, or have this pay off now, because it’s been this many bars.” I feel like doing this today is sort of reconfiguring and expanding the prism of how I look at things.

PF: I noticed there was a tape deck: Were you using tapes that you found, or tapes that you made?

WB: Tapes that I acquired in lots on eBay. Most of the tapes, I would say 80 percent of the tapes are sermons from the 1980s that are just like random, and some of the tapes I put in tonight I’d never heard before. I’d never previewed, I just threw ‘em in. And then 20 percent of the tapes are nature sounds, self-help tapes — mostly from Zig Ziglar, the self-help guru — and then I have some African drumbeats. I like the chaos of that, and I like how you can put a tape in and instantly get excited about whatever’s happening, or be bummed-out, like “this tape sucks.” It’s all low-quality, it’s all wub-wub-wub, the guy’s boring, but then all of a sudden you put in this pastor with this really amazing sermon — I don’t even care what he’s saying — then I start running that through my tape delay, and it gets all exciting. It’s like inviting someone to the party. I think religion is the most dangerous thing in the world, and to use it as an element of chaos in what I’m doing is correct to me.

PF: Well, using a tape can add this texture. With volume and effects, that doesn’t sound like anything else.

WB: It becomes the lead singer, or the presence, the thing that you’re like, “oh, I’m supporting this now,” trying to keep that character up. I really like that. I had a little section of tapes, where I was like “these are all great, I’ve listened to these, they’re all amazing.” And then I had all these variables, like, “these could all be bad, I’m not sure, but I want to have them and be ready to put them in and react to them for the first time live, with that feeling of being in the moment.”

PF: You’re setting a lot of variables and roadblocks; it’s sort of like the rules in Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” where performers pull from a stack of cards and have to follow what is written there, like “Do it backwards,” or “What’s the loudest element? Now remove that.” Rules for mixing and recording and composing that are really similar to the elements you are talking about. An oblique strategy could be, “you have to play it for four hours.” And especially with the effects you are using, the potential to manipulate sound is endless, but when you put limits on things, that reins it in.

WB: Well, it brings you back home. You go, “Why am I here, why am I doing this?” When you put constraints on yourself, it makes the other areas where there are no constraints bloom – you put all your effort into this one place. I put out a record under my own name in 2016 called “Crystal Machete,” and just put out two of the songs from my new record as a single about a week ago, and the rules for that are, no one can help me, I can’t have any vocals that aren’t treated, and I can’t have any distorted guitar every. Those rules limit what I’m good at: Collaboration with other people? That’s gone, so if I’ve got to figure something out, I have to learn it myself. No distorted guitar? That’s what I’m known for, so I wanted to take my ability to create a riff completely away. You have to get a song big some other way. And with the vocal thing I just really wanted to have no way to do real vocals; I wanted to have really androgynous vocals. I really like the chain I have now, it’s very feminine sounding but sort of wild and delayed. I feel comfortable doing vocals through that over the stuff that I’m doing now.

Finn Cohen is a writer and musician based in Raleigh, NC. His work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Moscow TimesPitchforkVice SportsComplexPigeons & Planes, and The Independent Weekly. His music can be found here and here

 

 Credit:Justin Eisner

Credit:Justin Eisner

Shane Parish: Part Two

Shane Parish: Part Two

Asheville, North Carolina based guitarist Shane Parish is the Jazzmaster wielding half of the rock band Ahleuchatistas. The duo is not bound by genre, mixing jazz/prog/post/Eastern-and-Western music traditions into a tightly wound whole. At once precise and improvisatory, grounded and space-bound. 

On his recent solo album Undertaker Please Drive Slowreleased on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Parish wrings new life out of traditional song. Themes emerge reversed, in fragments, in extension, with vigor, or with delicate intricacies. It is a truly masterful album, and that mastery translates effortlessly to the stage.

Pedal Fuzz's Eddie Garcia sat down with Parish at the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, TN in the spring of 2017. This is Part Two of the conversation. You can read Part One here.

Eddie Garcia: In your solo set you played older, traditional songs, but in your own way. Tell me about creating these reinterpretations.

Shane Parish: When I was recording that album of those folk songs, the engineer and producer David Allen that I was working with talked about how it's like trying to find this ‘third way.’ Trying to get this take that comes across as effortless, yet there's arranged elements to it. But I need the spontaneous aspect in order for it to feel alive and inspired. And so it's a matter of letting go. And I think I came to a place where I really did just that - I wasn't trying at all.

When I kind of stumbled into doing that project, it was like a moment of “destiny” (laughs). But it really felt like a moment, you know? Because you try so hard. I do - you know you try so hard for so long you know and there's so much self-criticism, and then I just really wasn't trying. And then it felt natural. It was really liberating in a way actually to let go of that. So like even before my solo set today I was like “OK, I’ve got to do an hour by myself and how’s that gonna be?” I would have been really stressed out over that a few years ago but now I’m really in that space of just following the breath, letting it breathe, trying not to try. As Pepe Romero says, “You must learn to do nothing.”

 

I wanted to mention that I have had a teacher who I've seen once a year or once every other year for the last few years. His name's Freddy Bryant, and he's a great educator. An amazing jazz, Brazilian, African and classical guitarist who's at Berklee. But he comes to Asheville to visit his daughters like once or twice a year. And so I started to catch up with him. And I'll do one lesson and it'll completely change my sense of what I'm doing. I could still reap fruit from the things that we discussed in a single lesson. It's nice to have someone like a master, a guru, you know? He was able to look at my hands and notice. You know like things at high tempos, or I wasn't being accurate or I wasn't planting quick enough. He was really just helpful and fine tuning what I was doing. 

EG: Something I’ve come across is musicians being either super technical/trained players, or living in fear of learning too much. Like their inspiration could be stifled if they knew how to define it. You seem to have figured out how to ride a line between both schools of thought.

SP: I know exactly you're talking about. It’s that “I don't want to lose the mystery. I don't want to lose the magic, I’ll lose my creativity. And I if I start learning theory or if I start to improve my technique and know too much of what I'm doing then I'm not going to be able to be creative.” And I get that. That’s part of the reason when I do a lot of free improv stuff I'll detune my guitar so that that I'm less familiar with it so that I'm not imposing my matrix of concepts onto it. Standard tuning can be limiting because it's “oh no I'm playing a diminished chord now I’m playing a C6,” that’s not where I want my head to be when I'm responding in the moment to someone.

But I also find that the more you learn, the more your technique improves, and the more effortless you can become, and the more you know, the deeper the mystery. It doesn't stop. I'm still completely mystified the more I learn. I think that the area of timbre is being under explored for guitar players. Not just through the use of FX pedals, but like, what is it  to touch the strings, like what I do with classical guitar and solo acoustic guitar.

I see the benefit and knowledge in Ahleuchatistas now, like how I can articulate a line differently, or I hear the same song differently from working on a fugue because you have to try to articulate both sides of the line. It just makes the music more expressive - you change the slightest thing about an accent in a different place and the whole thing changes, you know? And these are subtleties that you will never know. You're not going to exhaust your ignorance. Does that make sense? You'll never know at all. The abyss will just deepen on you. So I feel even more mystified and inspired to keep going because I think it's just endless.

 

EG: Let’s talk a little about your live setup. With Ahleuchatistas you’re splitting off to a bass amp, right?

SP: Right. I’m not really splitting - I’m just daisy chaining the amps. I just run out of the input of channel two of the guitar amp in to the bass amp I haven't gotten so hi-fi yet that I’m splitting signals, it might happen!

I just need more low end, more bass. If I hit the octaver, the guitar amp is gonna break up. And if I’m looping a bunch of stuff I’m gonna lose all the parts, it’s gonna get muddy. So I just started using a bass amp also.

EG: You maintain your clarity as you build parts. How is it you’re looping and building so much without it getting muddy?

SP: A lot of trial and error. So you can get in an organic-like action/reaction state with it. Because yeah, you can start looping and layering things and then the next thing you know it's just run away from you. You can have feedback, things out of sync. So my process with Ryan is we will record our shows while we're on tour and then we'll listen the next day on the car ride to the next gig - and we've done this a lot - and we criticize it. You know we say “well this could be improved upon by this,” or “you need to stop, don't loop that much there,”  or “can you play that quiet?” Constantly fine tuning. Most of our rehearsal is just conversation about how we can improve upon the last show. You have to go out there and play. You have to screw up in front of everybody in order to develop. So making enough mistakes, you kind of start to correct things if you criticize them and listen to them.

EG: You two are fused, impeccably. Do you do all the writing together, or do you come with some ideas?

SP: I come with some ideas. It depends on what period we're talking about or what songs, but some we’ve written together. Some of the more through composed things I've written out. But it's really important for us to play together and kind of bounce off of each other and see what it sounds like when we're both playing. Because it's just guitar and drums, so it could sound really empty or could sound too looped out and really muddy. And we've made all those mistakes where you just kind of lose the clarity or you can't hear the main thing and you get out of phase with the drums, all that kind of stuff. And we talk about it and try and correct it.

EG: What looper do you use?

I use the Boss loop station. Yeah I've had the same one forever I can't believe how these things hold up. I've had it for...I want to say 17 years. The same one. That's crazy. Because my friend gave it to me when I lived in Florida before I went to Asheville -  I've been all over the world with that thing. I can't.

I'm always like when traveling, especially if I was overseas “If this thing dies the band dies,” you know like, “what are we going to do!” (laughs)

I had a panic on the way to Big Ears where I was like “is my pedalboard in the back?” Like we're going to get there and it's just a guitar.  I mean surely we could do some kind of improv thing, but we actually have songs and we try to reproduce them as powerful as possible every time. You know, I admire that about seeing a really hi-fi bands like Radiohead where it's like “I want to see Paranoid Android executed perfectly,” you know what I mean? That's just amazing to me that you could do that. And so I kind of want to do that. But then we also have an organic kind of looseness so that we can have spontaneity about the performance every time. You know, the jam aspect. But you know in our way.

EG: Lets talk about pedals, take me through your signal chain.

So I start out with an EHX Freeze. Then to a Blackout Effectors reverb pedal called Cadavernous. They’re a great boutique pedal company out of Asheville. I did a demo for them a few years ago.

 

EG: Some of those guys are in Nest Egg, right?

Yeah that's right yeah. Kyle's in Nest Egg. And yeah they're awesome. And so then I go into their FUBAR fuzz pedal, which has some nice chaos elements. I like their pedals because they have like a certain chaos element to it. There's some parameters that you can get in the danger zone with, you could ruin everything! It's awesome. There's a learning curve but it's very wayward and strange.

And then that goes into the EHX Pog, just the basic one. I actually use two octave pedals. It goes into the Boss Super Octave. Sometimes I'll double up on them. I like the distortion on the Boss, so I'll combine that with the Pog. And then I'll put the higher octave in there too to get this kind of weird sounding thing that just cuts through, it's super fat.

And then that goes into the digital delay, into the volume, into the loop station into a Supa-Trem tremolo pedal. So the last thing is that tremolo because I have a couple of things where I like to cut up the signal. Like a wall of sound, it has a really hard trem on it. Like chok-chok-chok-chok-chok you know. So we use that rhythmically for a couple parts of the show.

If I'm playing with someone else I'll move that pedal. I'll move it to the front, first in the chain if I'm playing with more like a jazz kind of thing. In case I want to leave something like a loop or a nice Morricone-esque kind of thing.

EG: Can you change the rate with an expression pedal with that one?

SP: I think so but I just kind of bend over and do it. I actually etched a line for one of the songs that was on the last record that we played in our set. So that the tempo is right so Ryan can instantly hit that at tempo and it becomes this super hypnotic kind of weird zone of space jams.

EG: Do you do much recording of ideas at home?

SP: I've just recently started home recording - and I realize that I'm almost 40 and now I'm going to start recording like I haven't really done that before (laughs). I got the MOTU  MicroBook and run Logic Pro on my computer and put a SM57 on my amp. And it sounds great. That's all you need to record electric guitar. That's how we did all the post-production on the last record. We went to this studio in Chicago and recorded basic tracks, no loops because Ryan could play the drums and we could do it in real time. So there's an organic way of playing I'll just do the basic track in real time and then I'll go back and do all the looping so that you can also have a stereo image of all the loops, so it's not just a flat loop signal that you have no control over.

So I did all the post-production at my home direct I didn't even have the SM57 yet.

EG: Straight into the MOTU?

SP: Yeah, it sounded good. And then our producer David Allen you know he just kills, he did a good job putting that together. It was fun. It was great to do it. The luxury of convenience. You know I did a lot of writing in that process. I actually wrote a lot more of the music in that process and then re-learned it and that's how we kind of evolved to our current state of having much more counterpoint and melodic interest and intricacies, because I took two months in post-production in my home studio, writing more nuanced elements to the music and learning them and then we start playing them live.

Before we were working in a more block form improv format, where the songs would be slightly different every night. Now the challenge is to learn and try to execute the post-parts like the record - which we can't always do but you can do something powerful I think - and get close. There's certain things I probably could do that I would have to practice a lot because you'd need such fast looping and killing of loops. I just haven't pulled it off yet.

EG: You ever go back and listen to something and wonder “How did I do that?”

SP: For sure. Yeah for sure. Well the very first thing we ever recorded is our song. Israel was the first thing Ryan and I ever did together and that was what we opened our show last night and it's kind of our traditional opener and like that recording came out great we did that Ryan's bedroom. He had been living in Nashville for like three days and then that became like a song. Once we evolved into the duo and it's just it's a great indicator of our relationship is like because we had just met and that was the first thing we ever did and it's kind of like a mainstay for us and I think people like that song and it's just. But. But that production it's kind of like how we didn't know.

EG: Were you playing the Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster last night?

SP: Yeah yeah yeah. Love that guitar.

EG: Yeah it’s great, and it's inexpensive. What do you like about it?

SP: Well it's really beefy. You know it's got a super fat signal. I recently switched to a 10 gauge strings from Nines which helps. Last night was the first show I did on the tens. I finally got so strong I think from playing steel for the last year and a half so often. Now the nines felt like nothing but now the tens don't slow me down like they used to I try try to before. There's just a clarity to the Mascis guitar. Like you were talking about how everything was clear, I think that everything comes out on that guitar like that. And it has a robust sound. It’s a percussive guitar, you know, you could just smack it and it responds beautifully.

EG: Stock pickups? Did you change anything about it.

SP: All stock. I don't know what the hell that one switch does though. That top left switch, all it does is like prevent me from being able to use my volume knob and it drives me crazy if I accidentally hit it. I looked it up once but I didn't read too deep into it, so I just try not to touch it.

Since I've got it I've also started to use the “tremolo rod” as you Americans call it. Oh no wait - that's what the British call it (laughs). The vibrato, the whammy bar, the tremolo. But I use that a lot now. I don't use it in Ahleuchatistas yet, but I use it in other projects because it's really fun. I've never used one in my life. I just thought they were going to make the guitar go out of tune and I've never been interested. But now I'm like ‘this is awesome’. You know it does hold tuning.

EG: I have one too.

SP: Oh nice man! Yeah that's cool. It’s becoming a really popular guitar. I went on tour last year and everywhere I went people were like “I want one,” or “I have one,” you know and they're inexpensive and here's the thing. I was playing a Telecaster before and my house got robbed. It was a drag and they stole my Telecaster and a flat screen TV and I was super bummed out. And then I went to the music store you know and I was ready to just drop money that I didn't want to spend on a nice new telecaster. And the manager of the store who I know says “I think you’ll really like this Jazzmaster. You know, the J. Mascis.” And I just instantly fell in love with it. And he undersold me on this. I was going to spend like $1200 dollars or something and this guitar’s like 400 bucks and it's my favorite guitar I've had.

EG: What tuning do you start with in Ahlecuitistsas?

SP: I start in standard. I'm pretty standard in that band. Standard down to Drop D, one song I drop the b to an A. But I haven't done a lot of alternate tunings with that band just because of the cumbersomeness of changing tunings probably. I've written a lot of stuff that I think would sound good in Ahleuchatistas. Just like in my notebooks. Now that's that has a lot of alternate tunings that I might bring to the table. But it's funny all the stuff we're working on now still in standard tuning.

EG: Your solo set seemed like it was in open tunings.

SP: Yeah, open tunings, I’ll change the tuning more often in that set. In my duo with Tashi Dorji our songs - in quotes - are the tunings. So when we do a show he tunes the guitar a certain way, and I tune to him, then next he tunes to me, and it's pretty randomized. But that becomes the palette of the improvisation. And so that's been kind of a fun way to to work. That's how we've always worked and we don't talk about it or anything (laughs).

The thing about making an acoustic guitar resonate with open strings and playing in a tuning that’s the key of the song is cool. Notes ring in a certain way. It presents new perspectives and challenges, and breaks you out of your patterns. Or makes your patterns sound different. It’s limiting too, it’s a lot of fun.

EG: What kind of acoustic do you play?

SP: A Taylor. When I got it I was playing like this like old Harmony that was like really rich in character but like extremely difficult to play. And I didn't know it was difficult to play until I played my friend’s Taylor. I was at a friend’s house in France and he had this Taylor and I played it, and I think I literally wept. I was like “Oh my gosh, I didn't know that I could actually play at all.” I was fighting with this other guitar. The Taylors are so easy to play- work smarter not harder!

My nylon string guitar which I actually probably play the most but only mostly gig kind of for private gigs or you know society gigs and stuff and I teach on that guitar. The classical guitar is in Alhambra 5P. And that's a really nice guitar. A company from Spain. You ever check those out? It's a great guitar, cedar, it's an awesome guitar it's so beautiful. They're from Spain but they have a warehouse in Woodfin, which is outside of Asheville. It's their distribution point for the United States and there's a dealer in Asheville who  you have to go through called XGuitars.

EG: What’s coming up next for you?

SP: Retooling, and writing new music. I don’t want to be on the road too much, I like being with my family. I’ll do some touring, and some gigs in Asheville, but I wanna do things that are special. I’m not slowing down by any means; I’m retooling, preparing for the ‘evolution’ of everything, moving everything forward. And I feel like with pacing, I don’t feel the sense of urgency. I’d rather focus on the finest detail. Cause what I’ve come to realize is that’s the stuff that has the most impact. I want to work in a meticulous fashion so in a year or two the performances will be on a whole new level.

Eddie Garcia plays guitar and all the pedals as 1970s Film Stock. You can also hear him reporting on NPR affiliate 88.5 WFDD in Winston-Salem, NC. In the wee hours he runs Pedal Fuzz, which is a proud recipient of a grant from the Arts Enterprise Lab / Kenan Institute For The Arts. 

Shane Parish: Part One

Shane Parish: Part One

Asheville, North Carolina based guitarist Shane Parish is the Jazzmaster wielding half of the rock band Ahleuchatistas. The duo is not bound by genre, mixing jazz/prog/post/Eastern-and-Western music traditions into a tightly wound whole. At once precise and improvisatory, grounded and space-bound. 

On his recent solo album Undertaker Please Drive Slowreleased on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Parish wrings new life out of traditional song. Themes emerge reversed, in fragments, in extension, with vigor, or with delicate intricacies. It is a truly masterful album, and that mastery translates effortlessly to the stage.

You can see Shane Parish play solo during the 2017 Hopscotch Music Festival on Thursday 9/7 at 9:30pm at Fletcher Theater. And the mighty Ahleuchatistas will play at Slim's on Friday 9/8 at 11:30pm.

Pedal Fuzz's Eddie Garcia sat down with Parish at the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, TN in the Spring of 2017. This is Part One of the conversation.

Eddie Garcia: When did you first start playing guitar?

Shane Parish: I started playing when I was 14 years old.

EG: What was your first guitar?

SP: I think it was called a Striker or something like that, this white Fender Strat knockoff. (Made by Kramer)

striker.jpg

EG: Were you self-taught in the beginning?

SP: Yeah, for a long time. In a way I still feel self taught. I haven't had steady instruction or lessons with anyone. When I was a teenager my main thing was to really just write songs. I had a friend who would sing and so we had a band called Union Prayer Book. He wrote all the lyrics and did all the singing and I just wrote all the songs and I just kind of put together things that I thought sounded cool. I kind of mixed up chords and wiggled the fingers until things sounded cool and called that a song.

EG: Who were you listening to in those days?

SP: Pink Floyd was probably the biggest influence around that time, but also a lot of metal, bands like Megadeth. It's hard to say, it was such a such a blur of of music: Iron Maiden, The Beastie Boys, a lot of classic rock when I was first getting the ball rolling. Also folk singers, I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan.

EG: Did you start using pedals around that time?

SP: Not at first, cause I was playing an acoustic guitar with the singer, and we had our set of like 12 songs that we would play at open mic nights around South Florida, Fort Lauderdale area. And then I started getting into the more psychedelic music like Pink Floyd and then King Crimson. Once I got into Prog Rock I just started accumulating massive amount of pedals.

So I had a ton of pedals. And I had something like a revelation one day that I need to get rid of all of them. I had 12 pedals or so at this point, and then one day I realized I can't really play guitar. So I got rid of all the pedals.

EG: Then what did you do differently?

SP: I played guitar more. If you listen to the early Ahleuchatistas music it’s militantly dry tone electric guitar. On our first couple albums there's not even reverb on the guitar. I was trying to make sounds with the instrument without the pedals. Then gradually they kind of worked their way back into my palate. And I have quite a few now, but I really play them like instruments.

Each pedal has so many parameters to it, and if you see the show, I’m up and down a lot because I'm changing the delay speed, and using the pedal to manipulate the sound. 

EG: The band has changed too. It used to be a three-piece and went to a two-piece. So was it during that transition the pedal situation started to amp up? Were you trying to fill in the low end?

SP: Yeah, for sure. We needed some low-end cause we decided to move forward without a bass player and so I got the octaver going on, and started using the loop pedal more - which I had already been doing, just not in Ahleuchatistas. You know I've been kind of using loops and then started to explore more textural soundscape type of arrangements and recordings. I put out a solo album in 2010 The Vacancy of Every Verse that explored a lot of that stuff.

EG: During this time when the band started changing, did you do any musical study with anyone, formal or informal?

SP: Well when Sean Dail and Derek Poteat were still in the band I was at University of North Carolina-Asheville, and I ended up getting a philosophy degree from there. But I did take four semesters where I was also doing some jazz theory and took some lessons from the late Tim Hayden who was their jazz guitar instructor for a number of years. I don't know how much I really got out of that. Just because of where my head was at. It took me awhile to finally get centered and focused enough to think and absorb things about performing on the guitar. Things like optimum technique, or applying theory and things like that. I was too scattered and disassociated or out of my body to actually be present enough to do the real work that's involved. It's a very slow almost meditative kind of work.

EG: I’ve talked to a few players who said similar things, where it takes a while to find the subtleties. When you're playing when you're younger and really throwing everything in there, then some sort of shift happens, you step back and appreciate nuance a little more.

SP: Right. Well the guitar was like a real lifesaver for me. You know I had a very rocky childhood and when I started playing guitar at 14. I was like ‘this is it, this is all I’m gonna do, period. I dropped out of school, and I just ate a bunch of psychedelic drugs and listened to music. My family was somewhat alarmed at my choices at that time, but I think it was a real way for me to escape the harsh realities of the time. So I had a great time cause music is amazing. You can really just go into this sort of other realm of existence and consciousness.

The early Ahleuchatistas music that I started in my early-mid twenties I was really still in this very agitated state of, like you’re saying - throwing everything at it, without any kind of sense of embodiment. I wasn’t really in my body playing. I was playing so tensely - crazy things! Things executed so sloppily, and agitated. Which might be what was appealing to some people about it. It was an honest state of expression that resulted from a more visceral place.

Trying to convey feelings without the advantages of being able to play in an effortless way and know what I was actually doing.

EG: It sounds like maybe you found a certain inner peace in your music.

SP: Right, so like therapy. You start to look at it, like ‘what were those conditions?’ You know it was interesting I came to this discussion in talk therapy. Where it was like ‘you were actually operating remotely’ - it was as though I was playing the guitar from a distance, like I was faraway. In the last 10 years I've really got into classical guitar a lot. That's kind of my main focus for the most part, at least that type of technique. Where you’re very interested in what is it to touch the instrument? What is it to produce a sound on the instrument with your fingers and just be in that moment?

EG: Okay with the classical music, have you also been teaching yourself that, or have you had anyone to help you on that path?

SP: I'm self-taught, but you know what there's a number of books and methods that I think are really interesting. The Natural Classical Guitar by Lee Ryan is one. And then Eduardo Fernandez’ book Technique, Mechanism, Learning. Or Aaron Shearer’s method, he’s a Winston Salem University of North Carolina School of The Arts professor for decades.

But these are just methods of very gradual technique accumulation, in this kind of very present kind of way, very goal-oriented. I had a daughter two years ago, and my practice time now is limited, and that's great, I love my daughter, and I love being a family man.

But I actually accomplish a great deal more in a lot less time. I used to have wide-open time; I’d practice for eight hours and get nothing done.  Now I have an hour and a half, two hours in the morning, and I get so much done cause I know how to organize my time. And I think to be able to grow you really need to work in smaller increments anyway.

EG: Something I notice with both your sets - solo and with Ahleuchatistas - such intense precision. But yet, there seems to be a lot that's improvised. Where does that come from, and how do you merge those two seemingly disparate approaches to the instrument? Did you have a “here’s Derek Bailey for the first time, mind blown,” did you have a moment like that?

SP: I think I've always improvised. I think because I was self-taught that creativity came first and spontaneous composition came first because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I can tell you if I look back at some songs, like okay that’s a sus (suspended) chord, I can analyze it. But it was really an issue of having creativity first, having that as the emphasis. So I think that helped me to have a voice on the instrument. People have asked me “how do you avoid cliche, or how do you find your own voice,” because it's difficult. I think it's cause that was the first thing, it had primacy. Even in the classical guitar tradition there's certain educators that emphasize this.

Don't wait to insert your creativity into the work that you're doing. I teach a number of guitar students, 25 students or more and some of them for years it now. And there's a lot of song learning or lick learning or things that you learn from other musicians, and I think it's great. You're doing a master study right? You're just like a painter would do a master's study of a Rembrandt or something. But I think you have to really develop your own voice at the outset. Even if you're learning, you're never going to sound like Jimmy Page, I don't care how hard you try, you will never be that person. We need to have an emphasis on your own voice from the beginning, and combine it with all these other things. You can study those things, but they have to become a part of who you are.

For me it took a really long time to get to where I can kind of blend all my interests, because I have so many interests musically, and I’m talking decades. I’ve been playing for 25 years now. Within the last couple years I think I’ve come to place where there's a certain seamlessness about throwing those things together without trying. Do you know what I mean? All the interests - I like classical guitar, I like Brazilian music, I like noise music and punk rock and jazz. But I'm not genre hopping either. I’m not trying to do a post-modern thing where I'm going to jump from one style to another.

Eddie Garcia plays guitar and all the pedals as 1970s Film Stock. You can also hear him reporting on NPR affiliate 88.5 WFDD in Winston-Salem, NC. In the wee hours he runs Pedal Fuzz, which is a proud recipient of a grant from the Arts Enterprise Lab / Kenan Institute For The Arts. 

Look for Part Two of Shane Parish's Pedal Fuzz Interview in the coming weeks!

Earthquaker Devices: Ben Vehorn at Moogfest

Earthquaker Devices: Ben Vehorn at Moogfest

Earthquaker Devices make pedals one-at-a-time, by hand, in the "idyllic post-apocalyptic wasteland metropolis of Akron, Ohio." Their philosophy is that pedals should be "simple and user-friendly, with lots of practical, useable, and musical sounds, but should also be a launchpad for sonic exploration and aural innovation."

Moogfest's Modular Marketplace was home to a full range of Earthquaker pedals, all available to be demoed/played with via synth and guitar. One of the EQD employees running the booth was Ben Vehorn. Ben is a pedal builder, product specialist, and recorder of audio demos for Earthquaker Devices. 

Pedal Fuzz: How did you get into pedal building?

Ben Vehorn: I had done some DIY stuff before. My friend Jamie runs the company, and when he was starting to not have the bandwidth to build them all himself,  he started hiring his friends. So I started building pedals for him.

PF: What are some of the recent pedals you’ve been involved with?

BV: The newest one is the Erupter, which is what we call “the perfect fuzz.” It's a single knob fuzz - the knob controls the biasing. In the middle it’s what we consider to be the perfect position. As you turn it up it over-biases the circuit for more sustain and a smoother fuzz. As you turn it down below the middle position, it gets a little ruder, and gate-ier, and spittier. Before that we put out the Space Spiral, which is a vintage voice delay with a modulation section. And the modulation section has a continuously variable. Waveform that goes from a triangle wave to square wave or anything in between. It’s a very tapey-voiced delay. There's a really large sweet spot in the repeats where you can get it on the verge of self-isolation without going out of control. So it's kind of nice that you can dial that in without it being too fiddly. Although it will go into self oscillation if you turn it up all the way.

PF: There is a pedal here on display called Spatial Delivery. When I played through it, I liked what it did to my sound, but I’m not quite sure how to classify it. You have a few pedals like that!

BV: Right. Well it's a filter pedal. It's an envelope filter pedal. So it gives you a swept bandpass filter that is controlled by the dynamics of your playing. As you play harder the filter opens wider, or it closes down more depending on the mode setting. There's an up-sweep where as you hit it harder it sweeps the filter open. There's a down setting when you hit it harder it sweeps the filter down. But then in the middle there's a sample and hold setting which is a random step modulation. So it's good for making those robot speaking noises.

PF: Are EarthQuaker pedals undergoing some sort of redesign right now?

BV: Yes. So we used to use the manual clicky footswitches and about a year or two ago we started redesigning our pedals so that all the new ones have soft touch, relay-based foot switching. And we’re going through and redesigning all the old pedals to have the new relay-based footswitches. So far we've done probably about half of the old lineup. Every four to six months we do another four or five. So within the next couple of years we should have them all ported over to the new footswitches. They're less prone to failure. Since we do have a lifetime warranty on all our products that's really important to us to have less stuff coming back. We stand behind our product but we can't guarantee that a mechanical footswitch will last forever, because they just don't. But a relay based footswitch will.

PF: How has your Moogfest experience been so far?

BV: Moogfest is great, there’s a great bunch of people here. We love the Moog company, we're all synth heads - I’ve owned Moog synthesisers for 20 years. All the people that work for them are really great and they're very helpful. The show's been amazing. We've been very busy. A lot of people coming by, a lot of people that are interested in the pedals. We usually do guitar shows, but we really like being able to do the shows too where we show them off with synthesizers and drum machines because a lot of us do experimental music or recording or cross-platform type stuff. So it's a nice element to be in.

PF: Any musical acts you’re looking forward to seeing during the festival?

BV: I'm personally really looking forward to seeing Suzanne Ciani. She's one of my musical heroes and I'm excited to see her. I'm excited to see Container, he’s from Providence Rhode Island. He does really good dirty techno on the Spectrum Schools record label. I'm hoping tonight to be able to go see Simian Mobile Disco. I've never seen them before and I think they will be pretty good. There's so much good stuff going on it's just kind of a question of how much bandwidth I have left at the end of the day. But I'm excited about all of it, and I'm going to make it out to see as much as I can.

Tom Carter

 Tom Carter - photo  Martha Colburn

Tom Carter - photo Martha Colburn

Tom Carter's electric guitar work weaves strands of melody, drone, fuzz, and charged silence into intricately detailed instant compositions. He performs solo, and in various collaborations, most notably Charalambides, which he co-founded with Christina Carter in 1991. His Three Lobed Recordings album Long Time Underground was named Best Experimental Record of 2015 by Pitchfork. Pedal Fuzz spoke with Tom Carter backstage at Nash Hall during the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, NC, before he played an inspired set of solo guitar music.

 

Pedal Fuzz: Your most recent album on Three Lobed, “Longtime Underground” - is it completely improvisational based?

Tom Carter: About half of it is improvised, the other half is stuff I've been kicking around for years, writing and arranging as I would play them live. In fact I still work with those songs a lot and kind of change them around and rebuild them and tear them apart again.

PF: What is the appeal to you of improvisational music versus structured music?

TC:  I don't have anything against structural music per se, and sometimes I like to play it, but I like the structures to breathe. You know there's this thing where a band like The Velvet Underground, they would have a song, but they really played with the idea of what a song is, you know? They would kind of use it as a launch pad to go somewhere else. I think there's this attitude of ‘we wrote this thing we can do whatever we want to with this piece of music.’ And I just like that attitude. I like knowing that you can change whatever it is whether it's a song or whether you're making something up on the spot. It's like the structure that any given moment is totally up to you, and you might or might not fall into patterns of one sort or another. I'm not really that interested in straight non-idiomatic, non-melodic playing. For whatever reason I find it’s not an area I’m really that gifted in.

PF: While your music is free, compared to some other music that would get the “Free” association, you definitely tend towards the melodic, and it's more like you're searching out melodies.

TC: I guess it’s more similar to jazz or something like that. Obviously what I play is not jazz, but sometimes I approach the compositions in the same way.  I like a lot of early Impulse Records like Pharaoh Sanders, and certain Archie Shepp records and things like that. I like the way they're so expansive and they kind of of sprawl all over the place. And the way they just take a particular melodic phrase and kind of turn it inside out. That’s really interesting to me.

PF: That being said, when you set out to record an album, like in the case of your last record, do you have certain themes or ideas in mind, then know that it's the time record it? Since you're doing this kind of hybrid approach of improv and working out things beforehand, how do you know that it's time to lay it down?

TC: Well with this particular record I knew it was time, and I knew I had three pieces that were going to stand on their own as the backbone of whatever record I came up with. And I was lucky enough to where the improvisations I came up with were equally structured and well plotted, I guess, for lack of a better word. It just seemed like it was definitely time to record that stuff. But as far as other recordings go, it's been all over the map. A lot of times it’s live recordings, or a rehearsal I recorded that I really liked, or it will be stuff I recorded at home. Probably the majority of stuff I record at home, whether it's improvised or not. This record is a bit of an anomaly because it's also the first time I had songs that I'd been working on for quite so long - usually it's just either created in the studio or it's a couple of ideas I brought.

PF:  Are you working on them at home, or are you taking them out live and seeing what comes of them?

TC: Almost always live. I don't play much at home with a full set up. I play acoustic, or I might play with different arrays of effects just to try and experiment with one aspect or another. But in general I don't play or practice the songs.

 

PF: Being a solo pursuit, do you have anyone you bounce ideas off of? Anybody in your circle that you let know what you're working on, or do you just trust your instincts?

TC: Of course the people I play with, they’re kind of always being sounded upon, although it's not often talked about. Otherwise my partner Rachel is often there when I'm playing. She has a good ear for when something sounds lazy, or productive…she can tell me when it was good basically. She's super supportive about it.

PF: How important are pedals or effects when you're writing something?

TC: A lot of times when I’m writing it’s on acoustic, and so that's a whole different story obviously. Those songs don’t often translate very well at all into the electric realm.

PF: But you attempt to though?

TC: I do, but the thing is, by the time I get to playing them all on electric they've changed so much – it also depends on if I’m bringing it to a group or playing it solo.

I would say if I had to get down to one set of tools that really work for me when I improvise with other people - probably just a volume pedal and a wah pedal. The amp should have reverb on it, maybe vibrato if I'm lucky.

PF: What kind of amp do you tend to use?

TC: I like to use anything with two channels that I can control the volume separately, which is often a Fender Twin if I'm borrowing an amp.

PF:  So are you splitting out to each channel?

TC: I run two different lines, split off from a stereo volume pedal. And at home I use an Ampeg with two separate channels but unfortunately I’m not often able to bring that out on the road.

PF: Is it bigger, heavy, like a V4?

TC: Yeah, and if any of my travels involve a plane at some point it's kind of inconvenient. If I’m just driving around the US and I don't have a ton of other stuff in the car I'll bring the amp.

 

PF: Do you travel with one guitar or multiple guitars?

TC: I've been playing the same guitar since probably 2000. I've played some other instruments since then, but that’s the main one I come back to.

PF:  So what is it?

TC: It's a 1978 Ibanez PF 200. It's a line of Les Paul copies they did. They were making Les Paul copies that were so good that there was this rumor that Gibson sent them a cease and desist letter, although I've never actually seen any evidence that ever happened. They were definitely never sued – the model I have is called the lawsuit model, but there was never actually a lawsuit.

PF: So it's a potential lawsuit model.

TC: Yeah exactly. The ironic thing is with the model I have they switched from the Les Paul headstock, which was getting them into trouble, to basically a Guild headstock copy. It’s got the original Maxon super 70 pickups in it, which I really love the sound of.

PF: Is there anything particular about the playability of the guitar that’s made you stick with it?

TC: It's pretty playable. But it's not the most playable guitar I even own. I have another Ibanez that’s actually way more playable than this one, but it doesn't sound as good. But I've played the PF 200 so long that I know the fretboard really well and all the nicks and things like that.

 

PF: Do you play in standard tuning?

TC: Sometimes. I usually play in DADGAD. I do a lot of different tunings actually, but that's probably the main one I use. Standard probably second I would say.

PF: So what kind of pedals are you using on the road?

TC: So this is a slightly stripped down version of what I usually use. Ordinarily there would be a tremolo pedal. I like to play through an amp that has one channel with tremolo on it so I can then have the other tremolo pedal to have two separate tremolo channels going, but I'm down to one for this trip (amp tremolo). I also took out a kill switch loop pedal, the Memento from Dwarfcraft Devices. Essentially you can use it as a kill switch and it remembers what you're punching in with the foot switch. Then you can loop and speed up or slow it down, so it becomes this really kind of glitch, choppy thing. But I'm leaving that out.

So what I have now is the stereo volume pedal, which my guitar goes directly into. I'm not running it in stereo, it's not being used to pan or anything like that. It controls the volume of both channels equally. So Channel 1 is a Fulltone Fulldrive 2 overdrive pedal.  Then that goes into an Electro Harmonix 16 Second Digital Delay. It’s been modded so that it starts recording immediately when you hit the record switch. When I play solo that’s the heart of the set up, the looping pedal.

PF: So is it engaging the delay function at the same time that it’s engaging the loop?

TC: Well, I basically use it like a four track. I'll record it and I'll play in it, and it starts looping, and you can overdub on it as it passes. You can also change the feedback so it sounds more like a tape delay.

PF: There are so many loopers out there, why did you choose this one?

TC: Ummm…I don't know. I mean a lot of people hate it! I like that it only has one loop, and there's no memory, you can't store anything. I like that all the controls are sliders and there's no menus or digital readouts.  As you can see it's pretty well worn. So the LEDs are actually taped onto the outside.

I like the way it sounds. Someone asked me to give them a lesson on how to use this thing recently, and I discovered as I gave the lesson that I actually knew very little. It has all these other functions where you can use a preset loop time, and count out the tempo with the lights, and I really knew nothing about how any of that stuff worked because I just use it in this one way

PF: You know how you use it.

TC: Yeah, exactly.

 

PF: So Channel 2?

TC: So line two goes to a ZVEX Fuzz Factory, into a wah pedal, into a MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay. The delay can be almost anything, it doesn't necessarily have to be the MXR, but I do like the MXR. So that's basically squealing germanium fuzz pedal through a wah, or it's just clean, either one of the channels can be totally clean any time as well.

PF: Do you use the Fuzz Factory more in it’s zippery type of buzzy setting, or go for more sustain?

TC: I do a lot of different stuff with it. I use it as a fairly squawky, Hendrix type of fuzz pedal, but it also self oscillates. And the oscillations depend a lot on the signal that's coming in from the input. So I can use the volume pedal to vary the amount of signal that's going in there. And that actually causes it to oscillate like a Theremin. So with the volume pedal I can actually bend the notes, that sort of thing. And I can also set the volume pedal at half and then that makes it where it starts oscillating as the sustain kind of breaks up a little, and oscillate some other pitch. So it creates these really weird kind of unpredictable melodic lines.

PF: But that's in the line that isn't looped, so you can't capture those necessarily.

TC: No, but maybe that's another line of exploration I could do. I like to work with this. I like to have the loop sort of intelligible most of the time.

PF: I will say it's a little surprising to me, having only heard you on record, that you have just the one loop element. I feel like when I'm listening to your music that sometimes there's something that's looped, and then as it re-emerges it’s transformed.

TC: I will loop something I like, and I'll kind of play around with it, harmonizing with it or whatever, but I'm always recording and I'll keep recording on top of it. So as the song progresses it gets stranger and it can change a lot, but the basic tempo will stay the same. And the other thing I like to do is I keep the volume of the loop sort of low sometimes. I like to be able to play over it so you can't hear it. I want to be able to just hit the guitar really hard and you can't hear the loop anymore. So then I can either unobtrusively turn it off, or be playing something completely different on top of it, and when I come out of that the loop is changed or gone.

PF: Do you change the sliders with your feet?

TC: No, no, I bend over and move everything with my hands. I'm also blind as a bat in the dark, so I’m definitely down there squinting at my knobs a lot.

PF: Is that a regular Dunlop Wah or Hendrix Wah?

TC: It’s a Dunlop Crybaby. I think it's an 80s model. A friend of mine who I used to play guitar with in high school gave me this. And at this point it's duct taped together. That's the only wah pedal I’ve really ever been able to use.

 

PF: Your album was well received last year, and Pitchfork named it the number one experimental record of 2015. What does that do for you personally?

TC: Well, a few more gig offers come in, and it makes it easier to book a tour in Europe. It’s really good publicity as far as that goes. It seems to have helped all around; I’m selling more records. But as an honor? I try not to pay too much attention to that sort of thing. Marc Masters and Grayson Currin like it, and I love that those guys like the record, and thought enough of it to make it number one, that's totally cool. But I try not to attach too much significance to numbers and things like that.

PF: So what are you doing next?

TC: I'm about to go on a two and a half month tour of Europe and after that I have no clue. Rachel and I are basically living out of the back of our car for the foreseeable future until we figure out where we want to settle down. So it could be anywhere. I'm hoping to spend some time down in Texas to do some Charalambides recordings, but otherwise there’s not much plans beyond that.  

ET Anderson

ET Anderson

ET Anderson hail from Columbia, SC. Led by guitarist/vocalist Tyler Morris, their music has many personalities, fusing garage rock, psychedelic, and r&b grooves into a maddening whole. Pedal Fuzz caught up with them during the 2016 Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, NC.

 

Pedal Fuzz: Do pedals/effects play an important role in your songwriting?

ET Anderson: Pedals definitely play an important role in the writing of about half the songs. I tend to write parts by creating loops. I'll have a variety of instruments set up because I tend to write alone. I like to maximize & minimize the highest highs and lowest lows and see how far you can go with a single part, or at least see how it feels. Because I'm alone, pedals allow me to do that, and then I'll hop on drums and feel it out. It's the give & take of trying to write band oriented songs by yourself. I work best alone, but it can limit me at times. 

PF: Can you cite a specific example, a song that developed around a sound?

ET: "Legs" is prime example. There's no bass in the recording. Just drums, vocals, and two guitars running through a Pog 2 Octave Pedal. That pedal has played a pivotal role in our sound while trying to create an identity for ET Anderson. It also has been the biggest influence live. Alex McCollum (other guitar player) uses it even more live than I do. The album "Et Tu, _____?" was pretty synth heavy (on record) but in the most moderate way possible. We're able to mimic a lot of those parts and sounds live because of the Pog 2.

PF: Conversely, can you give me an example of a song that started very minimally, but then transformed via experimentation with different sounds?

ET: "It's Not The Same" is another song on the album with zero bass guitar. It revolves around 2 droning synths & the chorus/bridge are intensified by two guitars that are ran through a Caroline Olympia Fuzz pedal & you guessed it, the Pog 2. Don't know if people interpret it this way, but sometimes with leads I try to mimic a strings section of an orchestra,  whereas with synths I'll try to mimic horns. 

PF: Are there any pedals you absolutely can’t live without?

ET: ALL OF MY PEDALS! Ha! I don't have much, but what I do have is essential to me. Maybe even just psychologically...Electro-Harmonix Pog 2 / Caroline Olympia / BOSS blues driver /  Line 6 DL4 / and a BOSS dd-5 delay for my vocals that I use a lot live. 

PF: What order are you running these pedals in?

ET: BOSS tuner -> BOSS blues driver -> Caroline Olympia -> Electro-Harmonix Pog 2 -> Line 6 DL-4 to Hot Rod Fender Deluxe amp.

PF: What is your most recent pedal/amp/guitar acquisition? 

ET: My Fender Jazzmaster almost 3 years ago. I've been exceptionally broke since then & can't afford anything more, though I'm thankful for what I have & feel like I haven't even reached some of these pedals' full potential. That guitar changed my life because I've always made poor guitar choices in my life until I bought this one at the age of 24.

PF: Are there any pedals that you use rarely, for a *special* moment?

ET: I'm most selective with the Caroline Olympia because Alex tends to play the more thicker leads/atmospheric stuff and I try to hold back but I use it live in a few of the nastier lead parts and more noisy riffs that need some attitude. 

Examples of Caroline Olympia in use:

End of live version of "Legs"

 

Leads on "Going Deaf"

 

Live version of "Exile, Again"

 

PF: How does your live rig differ from your studio recording setup?

ET: I use the same set-up but I tend to record cleaner sounds than what folks are more accustomed to hearing at an ET Live Show. When we play live, we're a rock n' roll band, but when I write & record, I try to approach the sounds & end result more universally. I like the separation of the two, recording vs. live 

PF: When did you start playing guitar?   

 ET: I played bass first from when I was 14 to 20 years old. I got tired of being on other people's schedules so I began writing & fronting my own music in a band called Calculator.

PF: What was your first guitar? 

ET: A Japanese Fender Telecaster I bought for $50 from a friend who was trying to find money to buy weed - that I ended up smoking with him. 

PF: What was your first pedal?

ET: Line 6 DL-4

PF: Do you operate as a band usually, or is this more of a solo project that gets fleshed out into a band live?

ET: It started off completely solo & has still kept that way in pieces of the songwriting with the  live band fleshing parts out separately. But with time, jamming ideas with the band has come into play with writing.  I'll go back & find moments from a 15 minutes jam & see if & how I can work that into a song. Happy accidents always make the best parts & that happens more commonly when you jam with people.

PF: Is there a song that defines the ET Anderson sound?

ET: It Don't Even and Acid Earlier. 

PF: What is the scene like in South Carolina, and where do you see ET Anderson in it?

ET: South Carolina's kinda like a cheeseburger and we like to think of ourselves as the cheese. Sure you've got a burger either way, but it's way fucking better with cheese. 

PF: Have you attended or played Hopscotch before?

ET: No, but I lived in Raleigh for two years. But I always missed it because I worked 6 nights a week serving. I was writing every night from midnight to 7 am, and was playing in a band with great friends, Octopus Jones. I honestly didn't do much while I was there, but I'm lucky to have met & hung out with the select people that I did. They greatly influenced me in ways that they couldn't imagine. 

PF: Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

ET: Erykah Badu, who I look up to so much. Her music does something to me that I can't explain. She's an icon. Palm is one of my favorite bands I've seen in the past few years. Stoked to see & play with Red Sea again. Big Freedia. I could go on for days.

PF: What upcoming show plans do you have post-Hopscotch?

ET: We are playing a few select dates regionally, but trying to chill out & commit to writing. We've not had a chance to write without practice & show commitments for 2 years & I think it's time we put full focus & energy into making the best album we can make, no matter how much time it takes.

PF: Do you have any sense of what direction the new music might take?

ET: We do have some concepts, ideas, & a title for the new record, but it's not even close to done. The album is called " Ascension 2." It's our follow-up to John Coltrane's legendary album. 

You can follow ET Anderson on FacebookInstagram / Tumblr / Soundcloud / Spotify

ET Anderson's album "Et Tu, ______?" was released by Hearts & Plugs