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EARTHQUAKER DEVICES

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. 

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.