DREW ANDREWS / BIT MAPS

Bit Maps: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloud / Bandcamp

1. Tell me about your primary rig – what do you use the most? And do you have a live rig vs. a studio rig?

My main live rig consists of two key components – a 1976 Mark 1 Fender Rhodes piano and a ‘65 Reissue Twin Reverb. After many years hacking Rhodes sounds off of computers/soft-synths, in 2013 I came across the opportunity to purchase a Rhodes that a buddy of mine was looking to unload. I think you can get a very decent Rhodes sound out of a Nord Stage/Electro, but nothing compares to the warm bell structure of a real Rhodes piano. You hear it – you feel it. It’s a great example of how analog sound structure most often just can’t be replicated in the box. Just sitting down and letting the tone take you away has been a part of writing many of these new songs, it’s a continually inspiring instrument to write at. My studio setup for the Rhodes is the same, I play with mics and placements, but the Twin Reverb is a must-have component to give my Rhodes the extra punch it needs. I blend one stock speaker with one Eminence Patriot Series Cannabis Rex speaker. Hemp-coned, killer ‘70s warmth. Other amps, like the Roland JC-120 we utilize, the modded Fender Blues Junior we use, or our MusicMan amp (all super cool in different, mostly guitar-based applications), don’t have the low end that I like to adequately get the full tone together out of the piano.

2. Bit Maps has a new album out – how would you characterize the differences between You & Me & Dystopia and the first record? Is there anything you’re doing differently, style-wise/gear-wise/songwriting-wise that you weren’t doing for the first album?

The first record, On-Demand Living, my presence was pretty heavy-handed. A lot of the arrangements, song structures and instrumentation were my own personal journey into finding a new sound while we were dismantling the acoustic guitar-driven (via my ol’ Blueridge dreadnought) remains of my solo project, playing with the same dudes. Recording On-Demand Living, we were ON to a new sound, but we were very much still finding what that sound/direction was during the first record – my approach for that album was to use the studio to tip the scales towards our new direction. After we finished that record, we had a major burst in song ideas, and they never stopped, up to the very days we had blocked out for recording to lay down the basic tracks for the new record (“I Keep Bringing It Up” was recorded live, on the spot, quickly arranging the song structure and pressing ‘Record’).

This new album is much more of a reflection of every member’s talent and style. We tracked bass, drums and Rhodes first, live, no click track, take after take until we felt good about each song’s vibe. Our bassist and gear whiz kid, Erik Norgaard, had bought a ‘busted’ Radar recording unit off of Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie for a steal – Erik fixed it up in 4 hours one afternoon (he may or may not have extracted buried demos from 3 major indie-rock bands, can’t confirm that). We tracked all main instruments on the Radar (which I didn’t even know how to turn on properly), so we couldn’t really even get into a standard DAW (Reaper is our preferred choice) to start cutting and pasting and treating tracks. Basically we worked with this idea: Come in, nail your take live, or keep playing it ’til you land a good one, no overdubs, no drop-in. It was more of an old-school approach than is popular today, it gave us great limitations, but it ultimately captured a unique, human vibe, sounding just like we do live as a band, cutting back on studio tricks. We may not do it again in the future, but it was really fun to push each other (I hope it was fun for the other dudes!).

3. What song on the new album do you think is a good representation of your favorite gear and why?

I really like the song, “Assault and Battery.” It’s clean, complex and layered, and shows each player’s styles in a song that is always really fun to play live.

4. I doubt you’re able to cart that old looking organ around for shows – how do incorporate it into your stuff? 

I have the great fortune of owning two antique pump organs, one built in 1876, and another from 1889. I scored the first one in a steal from an estate sale. It was way underpriced, bought it for $50. Needless to say, it’s worth much more. The other was a recent acquisition from a lady who had kept it in storage as a family heirloom since her father’s passing 20 years past. She just wanted to give it to someone who would value it. When we were loading it up, she had a wave of peaceful nostalgia wash across her face, and said:

“You know, I guess I got to fulfill one of my father’s last wishes.”

“Oh, that’s great….what was that exactly?”

“Well, he made me swear to him that after he was gone, no matter what I did with this, under no circumstances was my Mother supposed to have this. It was divorce payback.”

We almost dropped it out of the truck from laughing so much.

I use these organs to meditate. They are a portal to past lives.

5. You’ve got some cool looking synths (and of course that drool-worthy Rhodes) – a lot of folks are split between analog synths vs. digital synths, etc – do you fall into one camp, or does it not matter to you?

I love analog, I think you feel it more. But, more than that, I am an ‘end justifies the means’ guy when it comes to recording songs. I really don’t care if a dude made a whole electronic album using Reason, or Ableton, or Fruity Loops, or whatever. I just wanna like the songs. Personally, I do prefer utilizing analog gear to immediately get to a warmer tone – I just don’t often sit around and pick apart others’ gear – I wanna hear hooks and weird sounds and good rhythm way more!

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6. Are there any musicians local or otherwise that are particularly inspiring to you gear/sound-wise?

Certainly John Reis is a force of nature where tone is involved. Name a band, it sounds great. But, I do have to tip the hat here to Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf. After playing alongside him for 8 years, I really gained more of a blood lust to get my own Fender Rhodes. I’ve now stripped down my live setup to basically just the Rhodes for me, but I did originally steal his idea of putting little keyboards, samplers, etc. on top of the Rhodes, creating a sort of live workstation with more options. Watching him juggle instruments all those years was inspiring and laid a gauntlet down for musical ability, and I try to still keep that in mind always, to challenge yourself, find new plateaus of sound.

Another band I liked for many years was a little band out of Phoenix called Colorstore. The main dude in that band also had a Rhodes that he would lay a guitar across and then sort of play like a pedal steel. Really trippy sounds came out of their shows. This left an aesthetic impact on me that I brought into Bit Maps.

7. What’s coming up for you?

Bit Maps is like a light in the dark for me. Whenever things are too crazy around me, I can always count on the band to inspire and bring out the best parts. We are working on covers right now, which we never have done before, I have never done this in any band before. It’s super fun. Lots of ideas are around, but we will likely begin really writing soon and recording I’m sure by late summer, fall. We are playing out consistently, and we keep gaining new friends! 2016 was an awful year all around for everybody I know – but it made Bit Maps stronger, and we have a lot of piss and fight to use art for public good in 2017.

Well…if the world doesn’t blow up.

Bit Maps play the Casbah on Monday, Feb. 6 with Subtropics and Nite Lapse. Doors are 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $6.

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MATT RESOVICH / JOHN MEEKS, THE ALBUM LEAF & ROLL FILM

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.