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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. 

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.  

mandorla_black.jpg

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.  

octomotron_black_bg.jpg

 

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?

 

nonconnah-new-years-eve1.jpg

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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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!