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.