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.