Of Ennui: Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / SoundCloud

1. Tell me about your current rig.

So currently I have two setups. What you see on the left is an early 2000s Mexican Fender Stratocaster with a Line 6 Duoverb combo amp. The Stratocaster has been rewired with unshielded wiring so it’s great for getting really excessive feedback and the playability is incredible. At this point, I only use them occasionally for recording, mostly when I need a warm clean sound that other guitars can’t quite replicate. The pickups, even though they’re stock, have also been re-coiled so the output in the neck pickup is especially hot. It creates a fat, warm, clean sound that, when distorted, really reminds me of early Mudhoney or Melvins.

My main rig however has become what you see on the right. The amp is a Marshall AVT-275. The reverb is really nuanced on it and it really sort of layers itself in a beautiful way. That’s an Epiphone SG Pro 1966 reissue with the split-coil humbuckers instead of the P-90s. The sustain on it is what really sold me. It really allows my lead playing to shine and when paired with my E-Bow, it’s an intense combination. The E-Bow is a bit of the secret weapon of the band. Christian (my bandmate) and I share it because when you pair it with some delay and reverb over a brooding sort of melody, it really builds a landscape, and as we progress as a band, we pull farther and farther away from verse-chorus-verse and more towards movements. Compared to some of the other shoegaze players I’ve seen, my setup is pretty minimal: Boss Compression Sustainer, FV-50, CE-2, DD-3, Korg stompbox tuner, Big Muff Pi, a Crybaby wah, and the recently acquired Dwarfcraft Eau Claire Thunder Boris edition. I’ve got the Morley Fuzz/Wah purely for recording.

I like to keep things relatively simple. I think once I’ve got a reverb pedal, I’ll be pretty set for a while. As for now, however, all the pieces have their roles. The compression sustainer is great for pulling back the mids on my sound and letting me blend a bit more with Christian, since we have no bassist I’m usually handling the low ends. But when I need to, I switch it off and push the volume on the FV-50 and my leads cut through the mix, which is useful for all the sounds Christian has, and the volume changes that come with them. I’m constantly adjusting and compensating for the changes, which is great because it gives me constant room to experiment live. The Big Muff really pushed it over the edge. Before, I was using a Boss DS-1 which is a great pedal for how cheap and simple it is, but for what we’re playing I needed something more powerful and a little more concise of a sound. The Eau Claire Thunder is my crown jewel, just a harbinger of doom and sludge and that feedback loop is great for builds. I recently used it for a 45-minute noise song I recorded and the sound was so devastating just on its own, I was blown away. I’ve almost always got my chorus pedal on, coupled with the delay, so it adds a full shimmer to my sound and is more the ambiance of the songs, often serving as a mirror to what Christian plays. I usually build my guitar parts all around what he’s playing, so it’s really essential for me to fill all the cracks of our wave-lengths while adding some syncopation with Julio (bandmate).

2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?

We have a song called “Delta of Venus” which is a really pretty song, but it’s also deeply despairing. We are very much inspired by that sort of duality, but there’s always a long-worded sense of humor to it. I use most of my pedals throughout that song, but it never feels very far-removed which I think is good, it creates a tonal continuity and it’s fluid all while expressing a dynamic range of sound. My pedals are very nuanced in “Delta,” and it’s as simple as switching my delay on for a few seconds during a build or turning on the Big Muff during the song’s climax and leaving it on during the final two choruses. Small but impactful touches. Volume changes are my biggest friend and provide more of a dynamic than anything texturally. I think volume is really underutilized by many guitarists in that way. Our debut EP, recorded at Rarefied Recording and Studio West, includes “Delta of Venus.”

3. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object?

Holy grail would probably be a vintage Orange head from their OR series. I take a lot of inspiration from Wata of the band Boris, evidenced by my acquisition of the Eau Claire Thunder. Plus Tony Iommi plays Orange and they’re wonderful amps, but the price range leaves me stuck with solid-state amps for the time being. The E-Bow was actually a big purchase I had wanted for a long time, but never got around to getting until last year as it just didn’t seem viable for the music I had been playing before that.

4. Who is the musician you admire the most sound/gear-wise?

When it comes to gear, I’m usually thinking in categories of clean/distorted and loud/quiet and so I pull influences from pieces of different guitarists’ setups. Clean is hugely influenced by Johnny Marr and he’s probably the reason I own a Boss chorus pedal from before it technically became a Chorus Ensemble as they widened their line. Surprisingly cheap. I see a lot of guitar players knock Boss, but I’m in love. The simplicity of them and their durability coupled with that sound is revolutionary and Johnny Marr really utilized a simple setup because of it. Distortion, I’m usually influenced by Wata, as she’s just such a dynamic presence and her board really adds to that. Her board definitely influenced some key purchases I made including the E-Bow, the Korg tuner, and the Eau Claire Thunder.

5. What is your favorite piece of gear and why?

My favorite piece is my delay pedal. I get a huge array of sounds from the most subtle tweaks in the knobs and it really took my sound so much further. It became an essential companion piece to my playing and an invaluable component to what I have crafted as far as my sound goes as an individual guitar player. Above all, it added nuance and atmosphere that you just can’t capture purely with guitar playing. People knock guitar players like Tom Morello by saying that they rely on effects too much and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. Maybe it doesn’t make him the “greatest” guitar player, technically speaking, but it does make him a stronger musician by putting the overall sound above all else.

6. What was the first piece of gear you bought and what are your thoughts on it now? Do you have still have it?

First piece of gear I bought aside from my guitar and amp was a Boss DS-1 distortion and that little pedal went so far. I do still have it and it will always hold a special place in my heart, but I had to take it off rotation to make room for the Big Muff when I got that. But now Christian uses it as an overdrive so it still gets love. I’ve had it for about 10 years and aside from some paint chips, it still works like a dream.

7. What does your band have coming up that we should know about?

Of Ennui is playing The Merrow on Saturday with our buds The Filthy Violets and The Paragraphs. We also recently finished recording our EP. If there’s interest we’ll do a vinyl release down the road. Along with the EP, we’ll have additional merch and some videos coming.


The Gift Machine: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

1. Tell me about your current rig: for examples, brand(s)/makes/models? Best parts? Worst parts? Any funny/strange stories about how you came to use any of this stuff? 

I’m currently playing a early 2000 “Raw Power” Gibson Les Paul Standard equipped with a Fishman Triple Play MIDI pickup. I also have a custom Seymour Duncan SB pickup in the bridge position, which is cleaner sounding then the stock P-90, but I usually keep it turned up all the way in the middle position to shoot the gap between dirty and clean. From there, I run into an A/B switch with one output going into the new Electro-Harmonix Mel9 Mellotron Pedal into a little Vox keyboard amp (not pictured, new addition haha) and then the main guitar chain goes through an Electro-Harmonix B9 organ pedal, into a custom distortion pedal made by my friends Squarewave Industries in Seattle, then a Fulltone Fulldrive 2, Strymon Flint Tremolo/Reverb Pedal, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, Deluxe Memory Man, a EH Micro Pog octave pedal, then a Catalinbread Echorec delay, and sometimes an old Boss RC-20, depending on what’s in the set. This then goes into my 1970 Fender Super Reverb. I run a cable out of the external speaker jack of the Super Reverb into an early 2000’s 100 Watt solid state Fender Bassman. For the Fishman Triple Play MIDI pickup, it’s wirelessly connected to a laptop, which I route to a volume pedal and then to a little 20W Johnson tube amp.

The best part of this is it sounds really amazing and makes a lot a noise for one guy playing. The worst part is that it takes a bit to set up, but I’m getting it pretty dialed in!

The Gift Machine has been through a lot of lineups over the years, but when I originally started playing with my now-wife Andrea Gruber Matthies, it was just the two of us, so I started bringing in the POG and the chained bass amp to beef up the sound. A few years ago, we were playing as a 5-piece with Andrea on the drums, Dan Chambers on the guitar, Phil Benavides on bass, and Karl Blau on keyboards. Karl moved back to Washington state, Dan went away to college in San Francisco, and I work in Los Angeles a lot so we have had no time to get together and practice with Phil. We got used to making a lot of noise, but it’s just been Andrea and I again lately, so I had to get creative to fill up the space. Since our record Hard Facts Are Still Uncertain came out last year, I have written 30 songs, and being a two-piece also makes it lot quicker to put together new material. Once we get the new stuff down, I hope to bring some humans back into the mix.

2. Talk to me about this midi/synth pickup thingy you’ve got hooked up to your Les Paul – how does it work? What sounds do you use it for? Hard to hook up or put together?

My first acquisition in this direction was the Electro-Harmonix B9 organ pedal. You plug your guitar in, and it emulates 9 different organ sounds which you can mix in with your guitar tone. I was hoping that it would be like a fake keyboard player doubling my guitar parts. It’s OK, I still use it but somewhat subconsciously for sustain, but if you a play a full open chord on the guitar, it triggers every string that you are playing, so it can get a little toppy if you are doing a full strum. I thought that if I could figure out a way where only a few of the strings on the guitar triggered samples, it would be much more useful for what I was looking for.

Fishman started making the Triple Play pickup a few years ago. Basically it’s a little pickup that sits right in front of the bridge that has a little sensor for each string. The signal from the pickup is transferred wirelessly to a laptop where you can use it to trigger any sound you want! I have been using it mostly to trigger string, mellotron, and synth sounds, similar or the same as the type of stuff we use on our recordings. I can create a custom sound for each song in our set where only the guitar strings I want trigger the keyboard sounds. For example, I could be playing full chords on the guitar, but only the A string is triggering a cello sample. It’s fairly amazing, I can even load in custom sounds I’ve recorded, or layer multiple sounds, or switch between two different sounds mid-song. It’s a whole crazy area of research…I use a volume pedal to bring it in and out.

Though the manual and website say it will work on a Les Paul, there was not enough room between the pickguard and the bridge so I had to get in there with a razor blade and do a custom hack job on the pickguard to make it work. It also raised the action slightly so I had to bring it in and have the guitar reset as that kind of thing is not my forte. I asked around before I bought it at some local shops and no one was willing to take it on, as it’s a relatively new kind of setup. Worth the bloody knuckles and pain and suffering at this point…

3. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?

We are recording a new record that features this setup and I am really excited about it, but nothing has been released so far. There are a few tracks off our last record that feature the chained bass amp and POG octave pedal that Andrea and I used to do in our version 1.0 two-piece. The song “Muddy Water” is a good example.

4. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object and why?

I am also a recording geek and have a solid home studio where we record most of our stuff and I also do overdubs sessions with bands I am producing. I could talk even longer about that stuff. I would have to say my personal holy grail would be the Fairchild 660 compressor. At $50,000 it deserves that designation, right? I really enjoy the Universal Audio plug-in version and, of course, love the sound on all the old Beatles records. You can just crush stuff and it still sounds really smooth and natural. I have dreams about finding this and other strange analog gear at thrift stores in mysterious towns. I think it’s going to happen one of these days…

5. What was the first piece of gear you bought and what are your thoughts on it now? Do you have still have it?

The first “real” piece of gear I bought (or more accurately my mother bought) was a 1977 Yamaha SG2000 guitar when I was about 13.  It was in the local music store in Mount Vernon, WA where I grew up, and, in a sea of very hair-metal oriented guitars, I picked it out because it looked like something George Harrison would play. Though it was a really expensive guitar when it was brand new, it was so incredibly out of style at this point that we got it for really cheap. As we were making the purchase, the guys behind the counter got really excited and went on to tell me a story that a roadie for the band Heart had been given the guitar by Nancy Wilson and then he sold it to them cheap because he needed the money. At that point, Heart was in the middle of their late ‘80s fame, and not knowing their “Barracuda” Seattle rock and roll history, it almost dissuaded me from getting the guitar at all! I did keep it and it was my main guitar for years until the frets got really worn down and one of the pickups became microphonic and I got the Les Paul I’m still playing today. I still have it, it lives at my parents house in Washington state. I had a little work done on it, but I’m afraid to get it re-fretted or too tweaked. I still play it when we tour up there and we don’t have room to bring all of our gear.

6. What do you have coming up that we should know about?

We are playing The Pour House in Oceanside with Mittens and Dirty Sidewalks on Friday, September 9th, and Soda Bar in San Diego on November 17th with our good friends from the Pacific Northwest, Karl Blau and LAKE. We are currently recording a new record that we hope to have out by the winter or early next year, but we will be doing a preliminary video or two this fall. We are also starting to book a European tour for next spring. I also just finished producing a great record for the North County San Diego band Sick Balloons which should be out in the next few months and I am also producing the next Trouble in the Wind record, which will come out sometime next year.


Pony Death Ride: Facebook / Website / Soundcloud

1. Tell me about your current rigs: Best parts? Worst parts?

[Joe MacAskill] I’m using a Gretsch Electromatic hollow body. Just got it a couple months ago online. It’s the most expensive guitar I’ve owned which isn’t saying much, but I love it. I’m playing through a Vox  Valvetronix Modeling amp which has way too many settings, and if you’re ADD, it just might make your head explode. I got it for next to nothing at our former pawn shop hookup which is no longer a thing. The amp really isn’t loud enough so it’s on it’s way out, for a bigger Vox. Pedal-wise, I have a Boss ME-50 which has too many settings also, and I don’t have the patience to get it to do what I think it can probably do. I use various pedals as well that do the same thing as the Boss pedal, but I’m not smart enough to combine them all. I also have a vintage Boss EQ that goes for a lot online. I have it in my rig to make people jealous. Jaye plays a neat Univox bass she got at a vintage guitar shop online a few years back.

2. What song of yours is the best representation of your sound/style?

The song that best reflects our style is “I Think My Boyfriend’s Gay For Morrissey.” Lots of delay and chorus and fun little guitar lines that Johnny Marr may have done in his teens. Most of our material is punk-rockish type stuff, or on a ukulele. It was nice to write something that made me remember how to play listenable guitar lines.

3. If money was no object, what would be your “holy grail” purchase?

My “Holy Grail” equipment would have to be a Gretsch Falcon, which I didn’t know existed until last week. You could drop it and it would sound nice. And it’s really big, so it may even have a slimming effect on me! And it’s only $12,000! I guess I’d settle for a 1966 Fender Jaguar. It’s only $2,500! Jaye is holding out for a Gretsch acoustic bass. And maybe a better wedding ring. And harkening back to my metal days, a Marshall stack would be nice and an interesting conversation piece for house visitors.

4. Any local musicians (or otherwise) you admire gear-wise?

For musician admiration, I’d have to go with Zach Condon of Beirut. He plays a Lanakai ukulele, and it’s a $100 ukulele. How punk rock is that?! He tours with it, records with it, everything. I bought one and it really is amazing. I bought the higher-priced model for touring but still use the cheapo model for recording. You’d think he’d be endorsed and only play the top of the line model, but nope! Jaye is a big Simon Gallup of The Cure fan as far as bass goes, but I just can’t sell her on Geddy Lee. And she’s Canadian!

5. What’s next for Pony Death Ride?

We just finished recording our new record, Cat Sounds. It’s all about cats! And we got new costumes and are making some videos. The release date will be Sept. 6. We will be taking our little musical comedy act to a couple different burlesque and comedy festivals as well this summer along with promoting the the album.

Head to Big Front Door (4135 Park Blvd.) tonight, Sept. 6, for the Pony Death Ride CD Listening Party for “Cat Sounds” from 8-10 p.m. [INFO]


Hills Like Elephants: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloud

Botanica Chango: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloudBandcamp

Brian Ellis Group: Facebook / Twitter / SoundCloud

1. You’re a drummer, what band(s) do you currently play in? 

Currently, I’m playing drums with Hills Like Elephants, Botanica Chango, and the Brian Ellis Group. I also do session work and pick-up gigs for a number of different musicians in town.

2. What’s the set up that you use most often?

I like to build my set to fit the sound of a specific engagement: for Hills and Chango, I love using my Premier kit with a Pearl snare; with the Brian Ellis Group, I typically use my ‘70s blue sparkle Slingerland kit. If I’m recording, then everything is an option, and I’m definitely a fan of the Frankenstein approach. As far as cymbals are concerned, I have a few Zildjians and Sabians, but my favorites are a bunch of Butterfly cymbals that my uncle, Michael Ranta, gave to me.

3. What’s the last piece of gear you acquired, and why did you want it?

Well, I’m always building something, or reworking something to fit the timbre I’m looking for, and don’t often find myself waiting in line to buy a piece of percussion. However, there are definitely items that are outside of my skill level in craftsmanship…one of those being my Premier set, which I bought last year. I knew I needed a bigger sound for certain gigs, and as much as I love my Slingerland kit, sometimes you just need the Beef, you know?

4. In terms of equipment, gear, or instruments, is there anyone you look up to or admire?

My first, and still my biggest inspiration is my uncle, Michael Ranta, who is a percussionist living in Koln, Germany. He actually lived here, in San Diego, back in the ‘60s, as a member of Harry Partch’s ensemble. Both of those two have been instrumental in my own journey through sound. I love composers and performers who are adventurous in the tonal spectrum: Hermeto Pascoal and Nana Vasconcelos from Brazil; Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist who is one of my musical heroes. Glenn Kotche, Joey Baron, Brian Blade. Locally, there is Nathan Hubbard; and now formerly local, David Hurley, who lives in Detroit.

5. What do you have in the works? 

I recently released my own solo album, Knockout Bell, at Verbatim Books in North Park (I’ll be releasing it online too). The album is the audio version of a story I’ve been writing for awhile, but…music comes quicker to me than fiction, so I’m not rushing that version of it. I’m almost done with the first draft, though (just a few more pages…), and plan on obsessing over it for at least a few months, haha…it’s getting close, but still needs a pretty thorough editing. I’m moving to New York in a couple days, and am very excited to get into the jazz scene there, as well as the more modern, avant-garde music that has such a strong presence on the east coast. I have about a dozen stories and film ideas that I plan on exploring, it’ll be interesting to see how location plays into that process. I’ve also been writing a series of percussion music, both structured and improv, that I will be finishing once I get to Brooklyn, and then hopefully I will find the musicians there that can help bring it to life.

Hills Like Elephants play their final show — and release their last record, “Tacet” — on Friday, August 26th at the Whistle Stop, with Botanica Chango. The show is free. Get more info here.

Many thanks to J. Smith (of NBC SoundDiego and Parker & The Numberman) for this interview.



Blackout Party: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Website / Bandcamp / SoundCloud

1.Tell me about your current rig: How does the individual parts help you achieve the sound you’re after? Best parts? Worst parts? Anything still a work in progress?

Ah, the never-ending quest. I was bad for a while with Craigslist buying and selling pedals and amps. I would read different forums and think, “Oooh if I can just get this one piece of gear, I will be happy.” I horse-traded probably 10 different amps and way too many pedals. Then my buddy O told me one time that no matter what gear I was playing, I always sound like me. He was basically saying it’s in our hands and in our gut. Not that I don’t geek out on gear anymore, but I’ve thinned the collection significantly since then and choose to take a much more utilitarian approach.

I always come back to small amps that sound like they are about to blow up. They sound huge in the studio and they don’t hurt my back. With Blackout Party, I always needed a bit more clean headroom and jangle so I like using a Bassman or something in the 40 watt range, but for everything else I use a 15-22 watt amp. Running different tube combinations in stereo is fun when you can, like a Vox and Fender. I sold my Blues Jr. to Jesse LaMonaca a few years ago and begged for it back, so finally he sold it back to me before we moved to Nashville. That’s my main right now — it’s cheap but sounds awesome and is such an easy load-in. One time the road case wasn’t latched when I lifted it up and it crashed onto the street and tubes were bouncing everywhere. I plugged them back in and it still works fine. I do see an old Deluxe Reverb in my future, though. 6V6’s are my favorite tubes!

My board changes a bit depending on what I’m doing, but I always go right into the Greer Lightspeed and it stays on. I use it as a slight boost to account for any signal loss and to act as a preamp. If I’m playing a smaller room and can’t turn up my amp to where it sounds best, I like being able to bump up the gain on the Lightspeed. It sounds open, natural, and makes the guitar just “feel” better. I like a slightly pushed sound and use my volume knob on the guitar for cleaner sounds. I’ve seen the Lightspeed on tons of boards lately, and for good reason. Also, Nick Greer and his team are good people and I like supporting good people!

After that, I use any number of fuzzes, but always on super low gain as more of a boost or second level. I try to keep things musical and most times I’m not a fan of having the gain past 10 o’clock. I’ve used a lot of Black Arts Toneworks fuzz, and the Pharaoh and Black Forest are my go-to. I will leave them set a little different and occasionally stack them when things need to go into full warp. Mark from BAT has become a good buddy since we started drinking beers together at NAMM, and he lives in Tennessee as well. I love his mentality and humility, and he will be the first to tell you that tone comes from the fingers, not pedals. The Pharaoh is a classic and was the first BAT I got into. I use the Pharaoh Supreme now on Germanium clipping, lo-output mode with minimal gain. It’s interesting to hear a pedal associated with metal used in different applications, I just love it. The Black Forest is set dirtier to take things over the top. My next BAT will be the Quantum Mystic — it uses the germanium clipping that I dig and has a 3-band EQ so it can be dialed in a bit more. Anyone out there looking for some new fuzz should look at the Black Arts stuff!

After my dirt is a Boss EQ that I use for a slight boost when I want a plain old volume bump, then a EHX Nano Grail that I keep set to a washy spring reverb for a spaghetti Western sound. I used that a lot when I was playing with John Meeks for a real spooky sound. I’m looking to replace the EHX reverb with a Strymon Flint, which does the reverb and a tremolo in one pedal. My friend Erik Olson turned me on to the Flint and now I need one bad.

Last is an old MXR Phase 90 that I got from my buddy Andrew McKeag. He is such a cool dude and badass ripper, so I feel like this one has a little extra something special in it. He told me he used this one with Presidents of the United States of America, which I love! I just use it for that slow Waylon-style country thing, very sparingly. Phaser is like cumin, it’s great but if you sprinkle too much in the pot you are in serious trouble. 1-2 phaser moments per album or set, max.

For guitars, I always used Telecasters until I got the Gretsch White Falcon. I am a huge Neil Young and Stephen Still nut, so to me the Creamy Pigeon is it, quest over. Listen to the intro of “Wooden Ships” by CSN, or “Alabama” by Neil — that’s what this thing sounds like. I’ve got the deluxe top-of-the-line model with the TV Jones pickups, which to me sound a lot better than what comes stock. I’m usually in bridge pickup with a small bit of neck rolled in. At first, it was a little flashy for me, but I took the pickguard off and now it looks perfect. I was worried about taking it out of the house but my Mom and Dad actually encouraged me to look at it as a tool, like a hammer. It has a job. Now she has a few small blemishes and probably some dried sweat and beer, but plays better that way.

The Tele was built by my friend Mark in Crest, CA, and painted by Mike Maxwell who has done a lot of art with the Silent Comedy. It’s an old Civil War general, so we call it “The General.” It’s got a custom hammered copper arrowhead over the truss rod and it’s a total Frankenstein model. We aged the body by dragging it behind a car and throwing it up in the air on the driveway. It was my #1 before the Falcon and I still use it a lot. The pickups are Seymour Duncans, and I only use the bridge.

I love playing banjo too, and am happy to call the Deering family friends. They are such good peeps! It was good to see Jamie, Greg, and the crew recently in Nashville, and it was cool being involved in their ad campaign for their “Solana 6” nylon 6-string model. It’s definitely my go-to back porch and/or travel instrument at our house. The other banjo with the crazy ninja unicorn inlays was given to me by one of my best friends Jeff. I guess he found it in South Carolina and thought I needed it! It’s still one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me, so thanks again, Jeff! It’s got a Deering head but the rest is totally custom woodwork and insane abalone inlay.

2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?

I have to pick “All My Friends” off the newest recording. It’s a song that we’ve been playing since we started out, and even recorded previously. It’s so much fun to go into the extended jam at the end, you can really lose yourself on stage. Tim and Daniel have some neat guitar bits and Jesse and Hoth are just pumping. It feels good. On this tune, I used an old Silvertone acoustic with a P90 plugged into a Black Arts Pharaoh fuzz on germanium clipping and low gain, then layered that track with a baritone guitar into an AC30 and a Bassman in stereo. Really fun recording this one with the guys!

3. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object?

Man, hard one because for so long I drooled over the White Falcon and now it’s sitting here. I have to say I’m pretty happy with my current lineup, but an old Martin acoustic would be real nice. There’s a store here in Nashville called Gruhn’s, and they have rows of old Martins STARTING at $10k. Some of them feel ok, but a few of them just sound like they are plugged in when you hit a G chord. An old D-28 or D-35 would be real nice!

4. What is your favorite piece of gear and why?

This ties into my favorite musician as well, which would have to be my Dad Jim and his 1966 Guild D-50. He put the love of all kinds of music in our house, and taught us to appreciate jazz and classical as well as rock and folk. I remember wanting to learn some Metallica riffs when I was a kid, but he sat me down and made me play James Taylor licks or the intro to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” to a metronome. At one point, he told me he’d buy me an electric guitar if I could play the riff in “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody at any speed to a metronome. I must’ve sat there for months playing it so slow, but I finally got it — and a Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar. He passed on his prized Guild to me a few years back and it is the one thing besides my wife and dogs I’d grab if the house were on fire. It’s the guitar my Dad serenaded my Mom with at camp before they were married, and has always been real special to our family. Plus it sounds amazing! Turns out Guild gave it to the Serendipity Singers as a promo model just before my Dad bought it in ’66, and we have a clip of them using it on Hullabaloo earlier that year. It’s one of the 2 in the back middle:

5. Blackout Party has a new record coming out — how would you say it stacks up against the your guys’ last one? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?

It stacks up great to the last one, and feels like the natural next step to us. Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed had a twangy Americana sound and influence, where the newest record is heavier and has more texture. The constant is songwriting and focusing on themes everyone can relate to. We were able to do more on this one and experiment with some different sounds and ideas, where on the last one we literally plugged in and cut it all live in 3 days, even most of the vocals. We cut everything live again on the new one, but went in and layered a lot more fun ear candy on this one. For example, on “Grape and the Grain,” I’m singing vocals through a distorted guitar amp that was plugged into a rotating Leslie speaker to get a really warbly sound. We layered that in below the main vocal, but it added a really neat texture and we took the time to do stuff like that all over the record.

Also we have some cool guests, like Maureen Murphy who sings her butt off on “Smart Too Late.” She sings in Zac Brown’s band and was passing through the studio one night when the engineer asked if she wanted to sing a bit. It was all very random and lucky, but we all had goosebumps the second she started singing.

6. You guys also took a strange route of going all the way to Nashville to record the thing, then did an Indiegogo for vinyl, and then either went on hiatus or broke up (while you moved away) before actually playing a release show — which you guys are getting around to now. What happened and why the weird chain of events?

Yeah it’s been wild, and totally weird! A couple of my buddies were in Nashville working at Zac Brown’s place as engineers, and they invited us out to track here at Southern Ground. It appealed to me to get the guys out of San Diego and our comfort zones. I like being able to unplug from everyday responsibilities and focus on making noise together. The pre-sale thing on Indiegogo was a natural next step, and a big success for us. I see those platforms as a way to let friends and fans be directly involved in the process, and offer a new experience rather than simply buying a CD at a show. We went over our funding goal and did almost $10k in sales before the release, and it’s cool to know that many of the people who supported this project have their names listed on the vinyl as “Executive Producers.” After the pre-orders shipped, I got a great opportunity in Nashville and had to make some moves pretty quick. Tim [Lowman] had a similar situation so now 2/5 of the band is in Tennessee. We never broke up, but just said hey we are going to step back and re-address this later this year. In the meantime, my wife and I were able to buy a little house out here, I love my job, and I’m graduating with a business degree on the same night of our Casbah show! Been very busy, but excited to finally be putting on a proper release for our San Diego friends and fans.

7. What can fans expect at the release show on Aug. 27?

The whole bill is solid, so come early and stay late! The New Kinetics, The Slashes, and Mrs. Henry all will be badass, and then we are going to tie a nice big black bow on the evening. We partnered with Jameson to offer some cheap whiskey specials all night, so hopefully everyone takes advantage of that. It will all be fun, no power ballads! We’ve got a couple covers to sprinkle in there, and we are mostly excited to be back in that room and just feed off everyone’s energy!

8. What’s next for you specifically, and also the band? Any more shows coming up? 

I’m excited to be in Nashville and continue writing with a few specific people. My vision for this year is to focus on the publishing side of things, where I can be home at night with the wife and dogs, drinking a few beers in the yard, not in a sweaty van. I’d love to get the BOP guys out here for a few shows — I know we’d do real well in this market, but will ultimately depend on boring stuff like schedules and budgets. My next project is recording an EP with my neighbor Larry, who is a cool old cowboy. He heard me picking one day and showed up on my porch with a bottle of Jack and 2 vintage Martins! He’s an amazing songwriter and we have become buddies so I want to be involved with documenting the songs he’s written. I’m hoping to have it tracked in a few months, so when the time comes we will keep everyone posted on that.

Besides the Casbah show, there’s nothing booked, but we are hoping to play some more in San Diego. There’s even talk of re-releasing Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed on vinyl with the original alternate art at some point, which would be badass. I’d love to come back to San Diego to play Oktoberfest or another festival soon, or maybe just to play Tim Mays’ backyard! We shall see.

Blackout Party headline the Casbah on Aug. 27 for their “Float On Towards Our Doom” record release. Get info here.


John Meeks: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube / BandCamp / Website / SoundCloud
The Album Leaf: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Roll Film (Matt’s solo project): Facebook / Bandcamp / YouTube

1. Tell me about the stuff in your photos: How does it all work together? What’s routed through what? What is each thing used for? Especially tell me about those nondescript pedals! What do those do!?!

Probably easiest to start at the amp. It’s a Musicman Sixty-Five; a little 2×10 that looks like a ‘baby Fender Twin’. I need this because the two channels allow me to run my chain to either clean or effect channel plus the spring reverb really does the Teisco justice.

On the pedalboard, I have a Boss A/B switch for each of these amp channels. The effect line switches between channel 1 of my mixer and the guitar/violin line which has a Boss tuner and a modified Linear Power Booster pedal I built. It has a switch to engage a passive tone pot based on the Big Muff tone pot and is just there to make the violin a little louder and deeper. The clean line switches between channel 2 of my mixer and the lapsteel line which has a modified Deluxe BazzFuss pedal for making the lapsteel growl. Between this A/B switch and the amp is a loaner Ditto looper just because and my favorite pedal PT the Fool. It’s a really fun delay pedal I made using the PT2399 delay chip. It’s an easy circuit to experiment with but what is fun about mine is the speed(rate) and repeat(feedback) can be ramped up together or separately using two separate momentary switches. It’s stupid fun.

Up top in the box/workstation I built just for the Meeks band, the lapsteel lives with plastic toys all arranged so I can play it and port it. It’s an old Gibson BR6; not a glamour model but a sweet sounding slide guitar. I chose C6 tuning and just stuck with it for years now. It’s on The Album Leaf’s “Tied Knots”.

Everything else in the box goes though a little mixer I made just for this rig. It’s a 4-channel, 2-bus, mono line mixer which is only cool because I can switch between sending to the clean or effect chains. Changing your mind is cool. Channels one and two are from DS8 Drumsynths 1 and 2. They are drumsynth clones built from kits by Synthrotek, one of which I sort of play by ear and the other I set to a drum tone to be triggered by our drummer Tom. I built 2 triggers for him but as of now there is one drum hit in the set. Channel three is essentially a spare currently occupied by a Korg Kaossilator which hasn’t got much use yet. Channel four is my Casio chain. Its a Casio VL5 keyboard though a Korg Monotron through a Korg MiniKP through a Nose volume knob. I know the VL1 is the standard little white toy keyboard but I love the VL5. It’s ‘polyphonic’ but gets really messy when you play chords which could be a drag or, in my case, a thrill. Only thing better would be to actively filter that sound so that’s why it goes through both Monotron and MiniKP. Sometimes I use the Monotron or the MiniKP to generate sounds and because of differing output levels I use the Nose volume knob at the end to compensate for songs which contain more than one level.

There’s also an old 36-key Hohner Melodica for reedy spookiness. At the end of the violin/guitar chain is either an inexpensive Chinese violin with a Barcus-Berry 3100 clamp-on pickup or my Teisco.

2. Your setup is one of the strangest and coolest I’ve seen in recent memory, and incorporates a lot of cool gadgets: What’s your favorite piece of gear and why? What do you use most? What do you wish you could use more?

This is one of the harder questions actually. Being a multi-instrumentalist, it is hard to pick favorites when you could just have more options. In a way, my favorite instrument is the one I’m playing at the moment and then it’s the next one. In this rig, I guess it would be my delay pedal PT the Fool because I made something that works and is fun to mess with.  My most used gear has to be the violin because I use it in so many different projects but on this latest Meeks record I use a lot of lapsteel. Frankly, I wish I could play all of them more. Any time I get to play live or record with a new piece of gear, it vindicates my purchasing or building it. I’ve been using samplers more recently and really hope to get more into that.

3. Are there any musicians that you particularly admire gear/tone/style-wise?

I guess picking one of anything is hard for me. But since its a question of gear, tone and style, I’d have to say Jaga Jazzist. They have the most evolved sound, naturally combining old and new styles and instrumentation.

4. What song of John’s do you think your sound/style comes through the best?

I totally don’t know but I’ll say “Night Sea Waltz.” In it, I jump back and forth from Teisco to Casio to Monotron, which gives a good idea of my role in the band.

5. How would you explain the difference between what you do with John vs. what you do in The Album Leaf or what you’ve done in Blackheart Procession and Little White Teeth? Do you apply a unique approach to each musical outlet, or do these instruments work well in your other projects too?

In some ways the approach is the same for all these projects. I listen. I rarely, if ever, start any songs so my role is sort of like a catalyst. If I’m listening to a work in progress, it’s a bit like a chemical reaction that needs help to finish. So I specialize in counter-melodies, harmonies and atmospherics. If I’m good, I’ll help the song go in a good direction. The big difference is in the various projects themselves. I’m reacting to them so what I bring to each project might be very different. Most projects, I’ve mainly tried to stretch the sonic possibilities of the violin which is a lot of fun. As far as instrumentation, I currently use the largest amount of toys for the Meeks band mainly because he’s been experimenting with different genres and I have a lot of random instruments.

6. What was your first piece of musical gear, and do you still have it? What are your thoughts on it? If you could go back in time knowing what you know now, what would be your first purchase and why?

The first instrument that was technically mine was my first violin and I still have it although I use it rarely. It’s a 1902 Curatoli which is actually a German boutique instrument but is old and fragile and rarely gets used except for getting that really classical violin sound. My first purchase was a Gretsch Silver Anniversary guitar and a Kustom black tuck-and-roll naugahyde amp. Beautiful sounding on their own, they were just a feedback monster in a loud rock situation. I left the Gretsch with my brother years ago and I still have the amp. If I had a time machine I probably wouldn’t go gear shopping.

7. Tell me about that Teisco: Where’d you get it? Does it stay in tune well or no? What sets it apart?

So it’s a Teisco Del Rey Tulip guitar; like an E-200 (2-pickups) with a flowery body design and I scored it back in my eBaying days for like $78. Pretty cheap way to try out a guitar with a whammy bar and it has a really distinct surf-rock sound. It is in pretty good shape for a cheap eBay score and doesn’t drift out of tune very often but the whammy isn’t exactly a precision piece of equipment, doesn’t recenter consistently and has started squeaking. But stab it though a spring reverb and you can almost smell the ocean.

8. What have you got coming up?

Coming up is the record release show for the new John Meeks album On a Sea Darkly July 30th at the Soda Bar. It’s the second recording I’ve made for the band and we’re all excited to put it out there. [INFO] Then on August 26th, the new Album Leaf record drops followed by support tours. I’m very excited about this new record and can’t wait to hear people’s reactions. And I recently finished recording an album for local visual artist Perry Vasquez so I’m also curious how his music is going to be received. Exciting times.


The Lowland Drifters: Facebook / Instagram / SoundCloud

1. How would you describe your band’s sound.

We are trying to bridge spaghetti Western music with aggressive garage-rock and slight hints of surf. The lyrics all take place in some dying desert trailer-park town…our modern-day version of  ghost towns. It’s pretty dark, lyrically… almost pulp/noir. Imagine Breaking Bad meets The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We have experimented with calling it “Doom Western”… not settled on that yet.

2. Tell me about the stuff in your photos: Is there anything you’re not stoked on that you might be replacing soon? Anything that will always be a fixture in your rig? 

My ADINEKO from Catalinbread is not the most used effect I have, but it is my favorite… a beautiful soupy analog delay. It was modeled after the old oilcan delay tech from the ‘70s. It modulates in sync with the delay rate and has multiple “delay heads” that allow you to have a mix of reverb and delay in the same effect. Very unique sounding and I don’t think I could ever live without it.

The SPARK BOOST is a great all-purpose boost. Want a Tubescreamer? Flip the switch up and cut your bass and treble. Want just a straight boost? Switch in the middle, giant taste and it will sound just like your straight signal but louder. I have even gotten a setting or two that hint at Vox cleans. Stupid amounts of signal boost on tap and a nice light overdrive.

FENDER VIBRO KING: I wanted this amp for so long it isn’t even funny. I like 10-inch speakers. They just seem more focused in a multi-guitar band.
I used to have a Twin and it was too heavy and I never could get it past two on the volume. This amp is still ungodly loud, but it is manageable and has a nice tonal balance.

The Zoom ME-100 is a great little all-purpose noisemaker. I use it for tremolo, acoustic, and when I want to push the reverb over the top.

I have a homemade phaser from B.Y.O.C. – it sometimes is a little finicky…I need to get in there one day and reflow solder.

The Greenhouse NoBrainer is an interesting high gain pedal. Lots of control over shaping of the mids and highs, but it always felt not as tight in the bass as I’d like. I don’t use this much in the current material, so it is prolly going to leave the board soon.

3. I’ve gotta ask: What’s the little button on the Tele by the pickup?

A kill switch I put in from my ‘60s freakbeat phase.. I still use it on occasion. That guitar has taken 10 years of my obsession with tinkering and mods. Including a new neck from USA Custom guitars.

I also have a small switch by my volume that taps my custom-wound bridge pickup from Cavalier Pickups. He makes fantastic pickups at a very reasonable price and quick turnaround for a custom winder. It gives me the all-important twang.

4. If you had to point someone to a song of yours that showcased your sound/style the best, what would it be?

“Johnny Law,” an instrumental and “Left Behind,” a murder ballad about a town sheriff who’s lost his hope and sanity. We are currently finishing mixes on these and they should be up on our pages in a few weeks.

“Cowtown” is an early demo we have that also shows where we are headed. It’s about a midnight robbery gone horribly wrong.

5. If money was no object, what is the one “holy grail” piece of gear you’d get? 

Holy Grail… Hmm… I guess if we are talking big-ticket items, the only thing I’d really pine for is a  Fender “White Chicken”. It’s when you merge a Gretsch White Falcon and a Telecaster. Tele shape with a carved top. White paint, gold hardware, Bigsby Tremelo, etc. It’s not an official Fender thing, although the custom shop has made a few.

White Chicken

A 3×10 bandmaster wouldn’t suck either. And a pony…I want a pony.

6. What’s coming up for The Lowland Drifters?

We are finishing mixing work on a 5-song EP and gearing up for more gigs in the San Diego area.

The Lowland Drifters play The Merrow on Tuesday, July 26 with Bighorn Run and Corina Rose. RSVP here to get in for free.


Paper Forest: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / Website

Where The Fawn Grows: Bandcamp

1. What band/bands do you currently play with?

Within the past year or so I’ve been working on a handful of bedroom recording projects. I’ve put out some instrumental stuff under the names Get Off The Map and Where The Fawn Grows and two experimental/soundscape collections under my birth name. My main baby is Paper Forest, though with the recent (temporary?) death of my laptop, the Paper Forest full-length I’ve been working on for a while now is on hold again.

2. How would you describe your sound?

Where The Fawn Grows is stuff I wrote primarily on bass and sequenced beats. To me, it’s kind of uplifting and contemplative instrumentals — my friend says it reminds him of penguins walking around. Get Off The Map is a little more experimental. Still based on sequenced beats but with a little more of a sense of space, a little more headroom. Paper Forest is indie-songwriting stuff.

3. Do you remember the first piece of gear you owned?

The first piece of gear I owned was a white right-handed (I’m left-handed) Ibanez Roadstar II. I strung it lefty and taught myself how to play “Dammit” in 8th grade.

4. What’s piece of gear do you use most often?

Laptop/MIDI controller and my Fender Stratocaster.

5. What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been playing with Brandon Relf and Stephanie Martinez recently. We’ve been trying out a bunch of stuff, we’re all over the place. Noise, thrash, dance-punk, math rock, mellow moodscapes, experimental electronic drone jazz meets the sound of living under the flight path. We’re probably just going to end up making movies. We need cameras, though.

Many thanks to J. Smith (of NBC SoundDiego and Parker & The Numberman) for this interview.


Botanica Chango: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Website / Bandcamp

Members: Joshua “J.B.” Becker (percussion/vocals), Tyler J. French (guitar/keys), Carlos Vicente Jr. (vocals/guitar), Sean Davenport (keys), Michael Alan Hams (drums), Bobby Roquero (bass)

1. Tell me about your guys’ stuff.

Carlos: We are currently in the writing process, so our rigs are a bit different. We are experimenting with a lot of vintage synths, drum machines in addition our normal pedal setups. A lot of the sounds that are coming out of this pre-production are pretty indicative of the time period the gear was made. Finding sound that fits the song we write next is always a work in progress.

2. What Botanica Chango song do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?

Tyler: I/we get a lot of joy from finding new sounds, and we make a conscious effort not to get comfortable. One particular song in the new batch that we are all excited about, “Every knows,” is a pretty synth-heavy track that hopefully can make the girls in black move their hips.

3. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object?

JB: I’d probably say we could use some Quincy Jones brain, there’s nothing holy about our grails.

4. What was the first piece of gear you bought and what are your thoughts on it now? Do you have still have it?

Carlos: My first piece of gear besides a guitar and amp that really brings back memories was a DOD RP-6. It was my first foray into effects and it definitely influenced me quite a bit. I used it for about 6 months and started buying standalone pedals. The RP-6 is long gone, but it was an eye-opener for me.

5. What is your current favorite piece of equipment and why?

Tyler: My favorite piece of gear that we are writing on right now is the Moog Opus-3. It’s like a church organ you can play at Studio 54.

6. What’s coming up for you guys?

JB: The album we are currently working on is titled Action Park and is being written to be performed by professional figure skaters as Botanica Chango On Ice in LA. Our next show is SoundDiego’s Summer Splash Party at Harrah’s on July 16th, and we’ll be unveiling lots of new material from the album for the first time. [INFO]


Michael McGraw & The Butchers: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloud / Bandcamp

1. Tell me about your current rig.

When I’m in my studio, I try different guitars depending on the vibe but as a live setup I’ve always played through a similar pedal setup, only changing out the overdrive a few times. For the past few years, I tried a more traditional amp/guitar combo with the ’65 Reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb amp and the Epiphone Casino and what I found was that the tone was incredible but I lost a lot of the dynamic control I had in the past. I recently switched back to my early ’90s Bedrock 2-12 amp; it was boutique before boutique amps were cool! The Bedrock is all hand-wired and modeled after the Vox AC-30 with a 100-watts of power at my disposal. The rumor is Bedrock made great amps but they were lousy businessmen!! I also love the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb and lately I use the Electro Harmonix Soul Food overdrive for it’s great tone. I was using the BBE Boosta Grande for added volume but now I added my JHS Superbolt on top of everything instead for some extra chaos!

2. Why do you use the gear you’re currently using?

I have used some version of my current setup for years because of how I play. What I do that’s kept me going in music is write songs and sing… frankly I play so much guitar because I have to! I’d much rather have a great lead guitarist but bands are a tough long-term dynamic so if you want to keep going in music for as long as you can, you do what you have to!! I started on acoustic in college so I am a strummy guitarist with some accents here and there. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a lead guitarist regularly in awhile and I rarely solo so I find a nice reverb and some yummy overdrive help add character/dynamics to my guitar while allowing me to concentrate on singing.

3. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style?

When you’re writing and recording, sometimes you have no idea what songs people will grab onto or what sound will define them. As the years go by, certain songs stick around and tend to come up in conversation. For me, those songs are “Poorboy,” “Hillside” and “Closer Tonight.” “Hillside” was a song I wrote in a band called True Crime Authors with my buddy Lee Sammartino (drums) and I recorded it for my first EP in 2009. The song “Poorboy” really embodies the spirit and camaraderie I had with my close friends Chris Decatur (drums) and Mark Lane (bass) when we made the second EP in 2011. Lastly is “Closer Tonight,” which is a song that I carried around for years before releasing it last year on the full-length record.

4.Dream gig: What bands would you ask to play your all-time raddest show, and where would you play?

That’s easy…Stereophonics, Richard Ashcroft and Doves at Wembley Stadium!! I’m a Brit-rocker at heart.

5. What do you have coming up that we should know about? 

I put an album out last year [listen/buy it here] but I am currently switching gears and getting back to my garage-rock roots so we should have a new single soon, hopefully in August. We’ll be playing next at the Soda Bar on Sunday, July 10, with the talented Jimmy Ruelas and a great band from Athens, GA called New Madrid. [INFO]