FRANCIS ROBERTS / KING GORM, OLD MAN WIZARD, YAGA-SHURA

Gear & Loathing is proud to present the brand-new Yaga-Shura track “The Sky Is Blue” for your listening pleasure. Be sure to buy it via Bandcamp if you can.

Francis Roberts: Bandcamp / King Gorm / Old Man Wizard / Yaga-Shura / Instagram / Twitter

1. In your last Gear & Loathing feature, we mostly focused on your Old Man Wizard gear but you’ve got more (and different) irons in the fire right now. Tell me about your new projects and what you’re working on. What’s inspiring you these days, musically?

Funny you mention that. I’m actually listening through my second mix of a new Old Man Wizard album while I answer these questions. As far as new stuff goes, I’m doing a lot of more cinematic music, mostly with synthesizers. I recently scored a couple of short films that will hopefully be out soon, and I’m releasing a lot of dark ambient/dungeon synth type stuff over at my Bandcamp page.

Aside from that, I have an album coming out for my sorta throwback Rainbow/Uriah Heep worship-type of project King Gorm at the end of July. Behind all of that I have a fairly experimental synth-pop/electronic project called Yaga-Shura that I’m periodically releasing stuff for. That’s the only project I’ve got right now where I’ll listen to stuff I made and think to myself, “How did I make that sound?” or “How did I make time to make that sound?” Lots of fine detail work and sequencing of hardware.

Francis Roberts Guitars

2. In your last Gear & Loathing feature, you showed us your silver High Spirit Strat. It’s been awhile since then: why/how has it remained your #1 after all this time? Is there a challenger perhaps?

No challenger really. On the new Old Man Wizard album, we did some takes with my other guitars but in the final edits I only ended up using takes where I played the High Spirit one. I play better on it and it sounds better. Same deal with the upcoming King Gorm album and the Yaga-Shura tracks that have guitar in them. I play a lot of guitars that feel like toys, even when they play and sound great. The guitars Connor from High Spirit builds feel more like high quality tools. I actually almost bought a second one so I could have a backup at gigs in case I changed a string, but I can’t really afford to (because of reasons that will become obvious in the next question).

Francis Roberts Synths

3. I’m gonna need all the details on this synth rig. When/how/why did you get the Mellotron M4000D and the Model D? What are you uses for both? Favorite settings or sounds?

I’ve owned a ton of synths at this point and none of them ever sounded good enough. I probably spent the better part of a year trying to find a synth that could sound like a Model D without costing as much as a Model D, and, well, there aren’t any. I sold all of them within a year of buying them. Not even a Moog Voyager will do it (but those do come really close and are better at other things). I’ve tried the Behringer clones and they’ll sound pretty close if you have twice as much time to dial them in, but if you put them side by side with a Moog, they give you the feeling that you’re going to push them off the table before you get them to sound right. I also can’t get them to shine through a mix the same way. Maybe some other people can. If you’re reading this and you can, please buy me food with the money you saved! Anyway, the Model D ends up on almost every recording I make these days, and the sounds I’ve gotten from it have gotten me hired to do session work and film scores, and it’s actually well on its way to paying for itself, somehow.

The Mellotron is another story. I’ve known I needed a Mellotron for years, and went through a ton of Mellotron plugins and samples. They were great (and still are), and then I found out that this Swedish guy named Markus Resch bought the company and the original tapes and stuff and does a great job maintaining (and honoring) the legacy of the brand. [Check out his website here] He also makes digital sampling synths that use the Mellotron layout and samples the original sounds in a way that is pure magic. I emailed him and asked if he’d sell me one and he was super nice and told me about all the different models he has. I ended up getting his Micro version, loving it (it’s on a ton of my solo stuff, the first Yaga-Shura EP, and the King Gorm album). Then I found out that Markus’s M4000D model has the same type of keybed as an actual Mellotron, which has a sort of bizarre version of polyphonic aftertouch. It’s one of the most expressive instruments I’ve ever played, an absolute masterpiece. I decided to sell my Micro and shop around for an M4000D. I found a used one online and noticed the guy selling it was from San Diego. Small world. Anyway, I ended up giving him my Micro as part of the sale of his M4000D, and I think it made both of us feel a lot better about the transaction. You probably know him: Pall Jenkins from Three Mile Pilot and Black Heart Procession!

My go-to sounds on each instrument depends on the project. A Mellotron is basically an orchestra in a box, so you really have to think like an arranger when you use it. Obviously the famous sounds are the strings and flutes, but I find myself using the tubular bells, woodwinds, vibraphone, and celeste sounds quite a bit. I use the Moog for bass, leads, and sound effects. I usually create a sound specifically for each track I make. It feels a lot like you’re mixing as you go.

4. Have you ever wanted to get a more expansive (perhaps digital) synth that could combine both of those worlds? Or is there really nothing out that could accomplish that?

Well, the Mellotron technically is a digital sampling synth. If Markus wanted to make Mellotron sounds for me out of my favorite Moog patches, I’d probably use that for something, but I’m not rich or famous enough to bug him to do that. [laughs] I also regularly daydream about adding a Black Corporation Deckard’s Dream to my setup, since it’s one of the only great synths out there that could take advantage of the Mellotron keybed’s ability to send polyphonic aftertouch.

Hans Zimmer Moog Modular

(A young Hans Zimmer standing next to his Moog Modular system)

5. If you were to upgrade, or move on from either the Mellotron or the Moog, what do you think you would get?

I’ve seriously considered buying a Synthesizers.com modular system, but every time I think about it, I realize that I would still want the Moog. If cost weren’t an issue, I’d get a Hans Zimmer-style wall of Moog Modular. I also really like the Moog One.

And this probably sounds crazy, but if I had a ton of money, I’d get two or three more Mellotrons. The little ones stack nicely on the big ones, and the tape ones work well as keyboard stands and are capable of a few fun things the digital ones can’t do.

6. Does it worry you to haul around and set these up for shows? I’d be riddled with anxiety. Why not use emulations live via a laptop or MIDI?

I have really great cases for everything, and the whole rig can essentially be one trip from the car. As far as theft, well, that happens sometimes. If it happens, it happens, and worrying about it will only make me unhappy and less likely to play well. I just sorta go for it. And as far as the laptop thing goes, nothing against laptops, I’ve heard people get great sound from them, but, well, I haven’t been able to. I’m sure I could spend some time figuring it out, but my stuff always works and always sounds right, and none of it can run out of batteries. I also think it looks pretty cool and intimidating up on stage!

7. I know you’ve been pretty focused on your synth-based music lately, why do you think that is? Is it more challenging to write/create than in a typical band format, or easier?

I really haven’t been more focused on it; I’ve just been recording it. I guess enough people told me that it sounded nice when I was “just messing around,” so I started hitting the record button before I messed around, and then I started putting it up on Bandcamp. People haven’t stopped being nice to me about it so I’ll keep sharing it. It’s also way easier than writing for a band, because I can stop whenever I want or add as much as I want without having to wonder whether or not it’ll work live. I think I have something like five hours of synth music up on Bandcamp now, so I think people will understand if I leave out a song or two. [laughs]

8. I see that Strymon Deco hiding next to the Moog. What are you using it for and what does it add to your overall sound?

I just got that, so it’s not on any recordings yet. It’s completely incredible. I bought it because the demos reminded me of the J37 plugin from Waves, which I use on almost everything lately. The Deco did not disappoint me, and I’m hoping to add some of the fake tape magic to my live shows soon (probably really soon, I’m hoping to do another livestream set maybe next month). Finding out that there’s a pedal that does a decent job at the tape saturation and tape speed tricks thing was a dream come true, and Strymon did a great job with it.

Francis Roberts Pedal

9. I’ve never seen the Correct Sound Eclipse pedal, or the SoloDallas Storm: gimme a rundown on what each of them do and how you’re using them?

I use the Correct Sound as a preamp for bass, mostly, but I used it on guitar for the two Yaga-Shura tracks that have electric guitar. It’s supposed to make your amp sound like a Sunn Concert Lead, which is one of my favorite solid state amps. I borrowed one (the Sunn) from my friend Lewis a few years ago for the bass guitar parts in “Blame It All On Sorcery,” and then at some point I saw the Correct Sound on Reverb. It doesn’t sound exactly like the Sunn but I love it and I really love what it does to DI bass.

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SoloDallas is known for creating their Schaffer replica, which is a gain stage circuit used famously by like, everyone important in the late ’70s to the present. The Storm is sort of their entry-level version of it, and it sounds great (only slightly worse than the real deal, for something like a 10th of the cost). I found out about them when my friend started working for them. They’re based in San Diego! Anyway, people are starting to catch on to the fact that somebody is actually making a clone of this important piece of gear nerd history. If you don’t believe me, take a look at their artist roster. It’s kinda intimidating.

Francis Roberts DAW

10. I’ve never used Reaper and don’t know much about it. How does it stand up to other DAWs? Do you find it to be limited at all? Do you mix with Reaper, or have your music mixed and mastered elsewhere by someone else?

I switched from Pro Tools to Reaper because I hate paying for software updates and subscriptions. Every time I find myself wishing it would do something that Pro Tools did, I find out that it actually does. There are very few things it can’t do, and it’s become my favorite DAW by far. I’ve never felt limited by it. I mix with Reaper, I try to avoid mastering because I’m not great at it (but when I have to, I also do it in Reaper). I track in Reaper, I even do a lot of simple video editing with it. It’s incredibly easy to customize it to fit your workflow, and it plays nice with all the hardware I use. I even know some people who use it live in their laptop rigs.

11. Give me your review of the Behringer VC340! Haven’t heard much about those and I’m already intrigued by a vocoder synth that actually works well. You finding it useful?

Don’t buy it unless you know exactly what it does. I cannot stress this enough: It does nothing else. It’s really good at being a vocoder/string machine but it literally does nothing else. Anyway, I love it. I don’t use it a ton, but I was getting sick of trying to get the sound I wanted with software, and I’m not about to pay $5,000 for a Moog Vocoder (as much as I really really want to be able to afford to do that). I’m using it pretty sparsely on the new Old Man Wizard album, and it’s on one of the Yaga-Shura tracks so far. I’m planning to do a few Yaga-Shura tracks with a Daft Punk-style lead vocal, so that’ll probably be the first time you hear it front and center in any of my tracks. [Listen to it featured on the track below]

12. What’s the lunchbox preamp-lookin’ thing on your desk next to the Behringer? Compressor? Preamp? 

Oh that’s the preamp for my Chameleon Labs TS-2 microphone. It’s a really incredible large diaphragm condenser for the price. I usually just use it for lead vocals but sometimes I’ll mic a bass cab or an acoustic guitar with it.

Francis Roberts amp

13. That Valco amp is somethin’ else. I’ve seen you perform with different amps before though. Didn’t you use an old Marshall at some point? What has drawn you to the Valco?

I still have that Marshall (it’s a copy of a JTM45, so not Marshall brand but all new old stock parts and really high build quality) but I’ve never recorded with it. It’s really just too loud for anything but shows. The Valco is my recording amp because it does “loud” amp sounds at a much lower volume. I used to borrow my friend’s Supro for that sound but this one is even quieter so it’s easier to record with. All those old ’60s amps sound great when my friends Connor and Chris tell me what tubes to put in them.

14. If you could buy any piece of gear right now (money was no issue), what would you get and why?

Probably a Moog IIIP with a few of the sequencer compliments, a couple of Space Echos or Echorecs, a good Rhodes electric piano, and I’d also probably replace my entire recording setup with a no-computer setup. I think I’d still mix digitally on a computer, but I tend to get better results tracking when I don’t have that “that’s an easy edit in a DAW” bug whispering in my ear.

Francis Roberts Gong

15. I don’t see many gongs on Gear & Loathing, might be the first actually. Is a gong the secret ingredient to your music?

This also belongs to my friend Connor. It goes on a lot of my stuff. You can’t really put it anywhere, but it’s one of those things that can’t be replaced by anything. If you need a gong, you’ve gotta use a gong.

 

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JOAQUIN TORRES / FUTURE HUMAN

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Future Human: Facebook / Bandcamp

1) Tell me about the stuff in these photos: Are you using all this stuff live, or is this for recording too? Is there anything you might be replacing, or adding soon? Anything that will always be a fixture in your rig?

My main guitar that I’m using is a white Fender Hendrix Stratocaster made in Mexico.  And I run that into a Vox AC30 and run the preamp section into a Marshall 4×12″ cabinet (depending on the size of the show).

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The effects I use from [left to right; top to bottom]: Stone Deaf Tremotron /// Eventide H9 /// Boss Cp1-x compressor /// Zvex Loop gate /// Boss TU3S Tuner /// Empress Echosystem /// Chase Bliss Brothers /// Black Arts Toneworks Pharoah Supreme /// Dr. Scientist Frazz Dazzler /// Meris Ottobit /// Ibanez De-7 Delay /// Boss ES-8 /// Digitech Freqout.

I’m always trying out new gear and new stuff that comes out. So while this is my board that I’ve used for recording and I’m using live, there’s some stuff that will probably change, yeah. I haven’t really been using the Z-Vex Loop Gate all that much so I might stick something else on there. I’ve been really interested in Rainger Effects’ new reverb or throwing my Deep Space Pulsar pedal on my board and use it for my synths. If there was one fixture on my board I’d probably say it’s the H9 just because it can do multiple effects in one algorithm. I’m pretty happy with it but one day I might just redo everything and not keep anything from this board’s build, I don’t know…

 

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2) Your pedalboard is fucking insanity. What are a couple of your particular favorite pedals that you can’t do without – and explain why? Do ever wish you had a smaller board? Do you think you’ll ever put a smaller, separate board together? 

If I had to pick my favorites at the moment, it would probably be the Empress Echosystem and the Digitech Freqout. The Echosystem is a delay machine. It’s got a bunch of different kinds of delays. It’s probably my go-to pedal when I’m just jamming because it’s one of those pedals that is very easy to use and I’m always finding new sounds that can come out of it. I think it could be nice to have a smaller board. I’ve never been able to actually do it though. I’ve always had about this size of a board. I used to have a board that was just ridiculous! (hahaha!) It was probably 2 1/2 times the size in length and was double-tiered in the back row. But I mean, the shit was ridiculous to gig with as you could probably imagine. If I did go smaller, I would just use my H9, Echosystem, and Chase Bliss Brothers or BAT Pharoah……if I had to.

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3) Talk to me about that H9 pedal — I don’t know much about them except that you can program a bunch of different pedals/sounds into it right? What do you use yours for?

It’s an everything box of effects. It can only run one algorithm at a time, but some of the algorithms contain multiple effects within one algorithm. I mostly use it for big reverbs, big walls of sound, modulation, and pitch shifting. There’s even a song I use it to make my guitar sound like a bass in a part of the song. I definitely will be digging deeper into this guy on our new material we’re writing.

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4) How do you like that Hendrix Strat? I’ve never been able to bond with a Strat (I’m more of a Gibson guy). What drew you to that guitar? 

I bought it slightly used for pretty cheap. No problems with it really. I first learned guitar on a Strat and then went to a Gibson Les Paul, that I still own. I like both, really. Strats are prone to a lot of noise issues and tuning problems but I just like the tone of the guitar especially with the reverse bridge pickup and the feel of the guitar. But like I said, I might want to change it up for a while and rock something else for a bit.

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5) Talk to me about that Organelle? It’s some type of synth or sampler, right? What do you use it for and what do you like most about it?

Yeah, it’s an Organelle. It’s such a deep piece of gear. Technically, it can pretty much do anything if programmed. I’m pretty sure it’s like a Linux computer that runs “pure data,” which is a computer language used to make algorithms for like a synth, a sampler, an effects engine, a lighting controller, whatever you want it to do. I’m not super knowledgeable about how to build pure data patches but there’s a huge community that do that share these patches. Anyways, I love it! I use it as a secondary instrument usually, and that’s why it’s awesome: you’re not limited to one instrument or one specific type of synthesis.

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6) I’ve gotta ask about the Deep Mind: Have you played any of the synths that are similar to it? What are some pros and cons (if any) about it? If you had a bunch of money to blow on a new synth — what would you get?

Not many, no. I still have a lot to learn on this front. Coming from guitar, and the world of effects, and venturing into making electronic music, I became interested in synths and started getting into this type of sound design, even though I wish I was a better player. There’s a lot to like about the Deep Mind honestly.  The price, the voice count, the effects the semi-modular design. To me, it sits really nicely in a dense mix, and isn’t overbearing, especially when Matt, our synth player, has a Korg Minilogue and I think it sounds most similar to vintage Roland synths but it truly is a chameleon. I was surprised at how good you can make the thing sound for the price. I think it is super underrated.  Especially when you consider I’ve gotten tones that sound amazing that emulate vintage synths without even using the effects engine section or modulation matrix at all! If there is one con, I’d say that I wish it was multi-timbral out of the box without having to polychain it to another DeepMind, but that’s what I use the Organelle for usually.
Hmmm…That’s a tough one. There’s so many cool older synths I would love to mess around with and there’s always new stuff coming out.  But if money was no issue and neither was space, I’d love to get my hands on a Waldorf Quantum or Arturia’s Matrixbrute.

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7) What’s the shittiest piece of gear you’ve bought and why did it suck? On the flipside, what’s the raddest piece of gear you’ve bought and why is it so great?

I used to have a Line 6 Uber Metal pedal that was pretty bad. It was just too overbearing and it was really hard to find a place where it didn’t stick out in a bad way.  The most disappointing piece of gear I’ve had was when I was in a guitar-synth phase and I had a Roland GR20 and GR33. I could never get used to the feel of it. As much as I wanted it to sound good — and don’t get me wrong it was cool sometimes — it wouldn’t track very well and it would always happen at the worst times (hahahaha)! Other than that, over the years, there hasn’t been too many pieces of gear that I didn’t like. I’ve usually let go of stuff because they were either too one note, or my musical interests had changed.

8) What’s coming up for Future Human? 

I’m super excited to announce we will be entering the studio very soon to begin work on our debut EP! We also have a rad show coming up at The Merrow on Tuesday, June 5th (get info here) with Blacks Beach Boys and The Gorgeous Boyscouts — big thanks to you and 91X’s Tim Pyles for putting the show together!

JESSE GAWLIK / BROKEN STEMS

The Broken Stems: Facebook / Website / Instagram / Twitter / SoundCloud / Bandcamp

1. Lovin’ the pedal board. Lots of different brands — I’ve heard mixed reviews on Behringer pedals. What are your thoughts on them and the Octaver specifically? Are they good value for the money?

So I actually just purchased the Behringer Octaver, my first thought is that the materials are a little cheap. My second thought, after plugging it in for the first time, was that the sound quality comes out more distorted than I had anticipated. I took a chance on this one for $25 and I’m thinking of returning it. However, for about the same price, the Donner pedals are some of my favorites and much better quality.

2. Was there any trial and error putting this rig together? Have you gone through different guitars and pedals, etc, trying to find the stuff that work best?

Oh there has absolutely been trial and error! I probably have about 10 other pedals not on my board right now from over the years. Your needs change, and the sounds change, and sometimes the songs you’re playing live don’t use those pedals. However, the pedals I use the most are the Fulltone OCD distortion, Boss Digital Delay, and Crybaby Wah. These three combined with the tone of the Fender Twin Reverb and PRS are my favorite combination.

3. Is this the equipment you used on the new Broken Stems record, or did you use studio gear?

This is the equipment we used with the addition to a few plugins for extra sounds. Brad Sweet, our keyboardist and producer, actually recorded the entire album DIY in our garage and closet. We used a combination of the guitar from the amp, and direct-in, to get a full and comprehensive sound. But we used the OCD distortion pedal the most. We did our very best to record a true representation of what we sound like live, giving the album that “it sounds like they are in the next room” kinda feel.

4. That PRS sure is purty. If money was no object, what’s the one ‘holy grail’ piece of gear you would buy that you’ve always wanted?

Oh man, thats a tough question. If there was one piece of gear that I could pick up today it would be a PRS Super Eagle Private Collection. I love the hollow body PRS and this one is a mashup of both, giving it an extremely wide range of tones.

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5. What kind of amp are you using?

I’m using the Fender Twin Reverb XL. The tone and volume that comes from this amp is a thing of beauty. They’re clean at virtually any volume, and its a perfect canvas for my aforementioned pedals to do their work. Clean tone, powerful, and downright sexy if you ask me.

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6. What’s your favorite place to find new gear in town?

I mean, I kinda hate to say it because I will always support the local businesses first, however Guitar Center is just kind of the best place to experiment with different amps, pedals, guitars and more. If you are like me, you might get lost in there for a day. More and more, however, I find myself searching online, watching videos, and reading forums…but still nothing really allows you to get the full experience like the in-house setup that Guitar Center has.

7. What track on the new record do you feel is the best representation of your playing/style/gear?

“What Are You Connected.” Track 2 and title-track to the new album, “What Are You Connected” is one of the more technical songs and definitely my favorite song to rock live because of how much intensity there is. The beginning riff is one I have always dabbled with throughout my playing days and one day it just exploded into this song. It gets full use of the OCD distortion, the solo of the song uses the Crybaby wah to give it that extra feel, and I use digital delay in some of the verses. Out of all the album songs, this one probably rocks the hardest and makes me want to go on a 32-bar solo..which if you ever see us live…we usually will do!

8. Tell me what you guys have coming up?

With the new album released to the world, our next big event will be our Album Release Show at The Irenic on Saturday, Dec. 3rd [get info here]! We have local holistic vendors, local artists doing live painting, an open bar courtyard party before the show and some really talented acts, Creature and the Woods, and King Taylor Project performing before us. It’s an exciting night for us, because not only do we have a new album, we have a brand new light show, new merchandise (hats, hoodies, shirts, stickers, posters, and more), live dancers during one of our songs, and even a couple new-new songs to throw into the set. After the album release party, we are already planning production for the next album. No name for it yet, but we do have a concept in mind…or should I say in our soul 😉

JOHN JOYCE / AJ FROMAN

AJ Froman: WebsiteFacebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

1. Tell me about your current rig – what are your likes and dislikes? I use a Fender Jazz Bass. I’ve got a Gallien Krueger RB 1001 head unit with a Gallien Krueger 4×10 cabinet running through an MXR Bass Compressor, an Electro Harmonix Big Muff overdrive, a Behringer Ultra Shifter/Harmonist, a Boss Super Chorus, and an MXR Bass Envelope Filter. I’ve always been more interested in analog pedals rather than digital and am still playing around with my tone. It’s most definitely still a work in progress as I’m planning on purchasing another 15” cabinet to secure the low end and utilize the 4×10 cabinet for the hi and mid ranges. The Ultra Shifter is a lot of fun to play around with before big drops in our songs, it’s fun to dive bomb and drive the octave down a whole step. There’s a knob to control the speed of the drop so it can be fast or slow and it’s a lot of fun playing with that live. The Envelope Filter has given me a lot of enjoyment, as well as frustration. The decay is extremely sensitive so getting that “perfect” swell is challenging at times. Not sure if that pedal is going to stick around much longer.

2. What AJ Froman song do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style? “Stranger’s Nod” off our new album, Phoenix Syndrome, has a lot of dynamic to it. I feel our sound shines through in a variety of sections in this tune. Swirling through time-signature changes, to heavy half-time buildups, to faster skate/punk sections, to melodic breakdowns is all very enjoyable and I feel we capture a lot of our diverse sound within all of these sections. In softer ambient sections, I’ll use the chorus pedal and during heavier fast sections, I’ll switch to the overdrive. I especially enjoy the contrast between these two tones.

3. If money was no object, what’s the ‘holy grail’ piece of gear you’d buy? A ’67 Fender Jazz Bass. I like Washburns too, but the Jazz Bass has such a beautiful tone I can’t really get away from it. I’d definitely stick with the GK amps. It’d be nice to have 3 Gallien Krueger 2001 RB amps. One would control the other 2 as slaves and I’d have those running into three 4×10 cabinets and three 1×15 cabinets. That’s what Flea’s been doing for quite some time and I really appreciate his style.

4. Who is the musician you admire the most sound/gear-wise? Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a musician I’ve admired since high school, when At the Drive-In was still together. He has a massive array of delays, trems, and expression pedals to control real-time rate adjustments and may I say, he’s quite good at it. The groups he’s put together have also influenced my rhythmic playing rather than just the sound and tonality he produces. Overall, he is a huge influence of mine in more ways than one.

5. What do you have coming up that we should know about? We are headlining the Belly Up for our first time on Thursday, March 10th. We just released our new album, Phoenix Syndrome, [listen/buy here] and we have a handful of new music we’re planning on recording very soon.

[Ed. note: I reviewed AJ Froman’s excellent new album for SoundDiego recently. Read it here.]