ADAM GRIMM of Satellite Amplifiers

Recently, whenever I to ask another musician about their favorite gear, Satellite always seems to come up. I had a awesome time chatting with founder, and straight-talking great guy, Adam Grimm.

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CORDTANGLER: Let’s start with a bit of background. Tell me about the Hawaiian band you were in.

Adam: I was raised in Los Angeles and I’m a California native except when I was very small child in Indiana, but that doesn’t count because I didn’t have a choice.

Anyway, when I was younger my friend Adrian Demain, a pro skateboarder and local musician, called me up and told me he was going to do a Hawaiian band and asked me if I wanted to be in it. He said he needed a uke player. I told him I didn’t play the uke, but he didn’t seem to care. So I said, “Okay, I’m in!”

We were called The Cheap Leis. It was Adrian, me, a guy named Otis Bartholomew (some people call him O), who does a bunch of stuff; he’s actually played shows opening for King Buzzo and he does a bunch of live stuff with Jay Mascis. He’s also a photographer of musicians and has been with Satellite as sort of an unofficial tester. He’s a good friend.

So, in the Hawaiian band, Adrian, who played steel, decided that he wanted an Epiphone Console Grande, which they didn’t maybe make more than 4 or 5 of in about 1939. It was an Epiphone device where the legs formed the case for a lap steel, the center section was the amplifier. You basically open up the case and take the legs apart, and then use them as a side stand to hold up the lap steel. The amplifier is built in.

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We didn’t really know what we were doing, we had only seen pictures of it and I’d never built an amplifier before. Our guitar player, Greg Prince, did all of the woodwork. I talked to a friend of mine that worked at an antique radio shop about building the amplifier, and he said he’d help us figure it out.

I loved the process, I loved doing it. It was a blast. Fine tuning it, tweaking it, finding out about the parts and how to do it. I’m someone who really likes to get his hands dirty. I like to figure out how things work and not have someone tell me how to do it.

Around that time, I also had a vintage clothing store. I was in the antique business and occasionally was involved in buying and selling high-end instruments. I had a lot of contacts in the music industry but wasn’t really manufacturing or involved in music as a full-time gig. I started doing some work in a recording studio with a wonderful guy, Mark Neill, who taught me all kinds of things about listening to things properly. Really listening to what it is you’re trying to hear. He was a huge influence on me, and a great help.

With the vintage clothing store, my partner and I decided to go our separate ways and shut it down. I took some time off after that to figure things out, but I kept buying and selling instruments. I ended up talking to a local repair guy, now a good friend, about building amps. He said, “Let’s try and do this for real.”

So, we got enough parts to build 25 amplifiers and went for broke!

The name came from the fact I used to be into cars, building hot rods, and once rebuilt an old Plymouth Satellite. So when we were building the first amp prototype, I came across the old Satellite logo and stuck it on the front of the amp. Satellite amps was born.

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CT: Nice! How did you start reproducing the White Higher Fidelity Amps? That was an old Fender Amp that was discontinued, wasn’t it?

A: Yeah, the White story. So, as we all know, Leo Fender owned Fender Amplifiers. He had several people that worked for him and he had a guy by the name of Forest White, who was the Production Manager. He was basically the guy that had to be the asshole to all the people that worked there (laughs).

Leo decided to make a lap steel and an amp that said “White Higher Fidelity” on it – with no indication of Fender. They put them out and it was a tribute to Forest, the guy who cracked the whip.

I remember seeing a tiny blurb about Fender making the White Amplifier in books about amps, long before I started making them myself. They only ever made about 1000 of them, I guess. It was this underground thing that not many people knew about, but I did. And I started collecting them.

One of the guys from Los Lobos has a couple too. I love those guys. I have six of them now. Between myself and the guys in the shop, we have about 11 or 12 total. What’s cool is that we opened them up to compare and realized they’re all different! The circuit boards are different than the schematics indicate. There are different transformers, different cabinet sizes and different coverings. Despite all the variations, they all sound similar and really awesome.

At the time, we didn’t know how to do this but we decided to make our own version, a White clone. We called it the Niveus. (Niveus is Latin for white.)

I talked to his guy named Bruce Zinky, who owns the Supro amp name. (At one point, Zinky also owned the Park name; he did the little Smokey Amps, and he worked for Fender.) I asked him how he acquired the Supro and Park and he mentioned that a certain point trademarks get abandoned and there is a process that you can take to try and buy them. There were a bunch of little hurdles to overcome but we managed to buy the White amp name and started making White amps.

After the trademark search, we called Fender to ask if they minded. They said, “Yeah, we don’t care.” (laughs) We couldn’t find anyone who thought it would be a problem, in fact.

And since this was Leo Fender’s tribute to Forest White, we try to make the White amp as close to the original as possible. I didn’t want to bastardize it and use the name because I knew how good these amps were.

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CT: What a great story. What was the first amp that really blew you away?

 A: My amplifier chronology started with a Fender Sidekick Solid State piece of shit. It had a little distortion knob and you could make it sound really angry and pissed off, and for a 15-year-old kid who couldn’t play that was great!

After that, my first real amp was a Marshall JCM 800. For years, my rig was a Squier Strat, with humbuckers in it, a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal and the JCM 800. It was divine, but I only got one sound out of it. It was probably the least versatile rig I could have come up with. I turned everything up to 10 and played two finger power chords and that was all I could do with it.

As I got into the vintage and antique side of things, I discovered the old Gibson amplifiers from the ‘30s and a couple of the offshoots like the Kalamazoo and the Rickenbacker. The EH-100, the 125, 150,185 and all of their little counter parts were mind-blowing to me. Those early amps sounded so good.

Also, the Zephyr. And when Gibson was making the Nathan Daniel stuff (before he left to form Danelectro). This is where we got the inspiration for the first amplifiers that we made for the Hawaiian band. Actually right now, as part of the Satellite 10th Anniversary, we’re going to reproduce 10 of our originally designed amp, which uses all octal based tubes, similar to an EH-185 or Epiphone Zephyr. A few are going to come as combos with vintage coil speakers.

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CT: Here’s something I’ve always wanted to ask an amp maker: have you ever thought of remaking the Epiphone professional set concept – with the amp controls on the guitar itself?

A: I have. We’ve talked about it as part of one of our late night discussions. It’s one of those ideas where you also have to figure out if it’s a sellable item or not. There are many great ideas but once you start talking about it you have to be real about how many we can make and sell.

CT: That’s crazy that you’ve honestly even discussed it.

A: Yeah, we have a lot of discussions around 2am, when everything sounds like a great idea. We’ve talked about revisiting really obscure stuff, like the old Beltone label. I’ve only seen two in my life. I don’t know if it’d be worth it. We already did White, which was a giant labor of love. There’s a weird thing about doing re-creations that could “pigeon hole” us, I guess?

CT: That’s one thing that I’ve heard about your amps, that they have a vintage feel but are also very original. I do really like that because I think some people get into the vintage thing a little too heavily.

A: We do get labeled with the vintage-inspired thing. But we’re not doing vintage to do vintage. We’re taking inspiration from a time when things were made in a much better way. It’s a quality thing, not an old-time thing.

I’m standing around my shop right now and I have a bunch of old guitars and a bunch of new guitars. One is not better than the other. I like the hunt and the seeking out of vintage gear. It’s a pastime for me but I’ve probably got about 70 guitars here, 40 old and 30 new.

CT: Speaking of, who are some of the new guitar makers you like?

A: In no order of importance: I love Sam Evans, of Cardinal Instruments, out of Austin, TX. He uses this amazing wood and he’s always experimenting and trying to reach beyond the norm to make the best product possible.

Another builder is Saul Koll, of Koll guitars up in Portland. He’s a true craftsman and makes phenomenal stuff.

My friend Josh, from Protocaster Guitars. He makes Strats and Tele reissues but he’s probably one of the best “finishing guys” in the country. His work is amazing.

From the younger crowd, Doug Kauer, a friend of mine. He does a lot of really nice offset guitars.

Matt Proctor, an artist who owns M-Tone guitars, which is more of an art studio than a guitar factory. He makes true works of art.

Ken Parker, who did the Parker Fly, I think he ended up selling the company. He now makes these beautiful Archtops..

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CT: You’ve made amps for some heavy hitters. Anyone you were really excited about?

A: Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols. He got in touch with us through his tech, and came down to the shop. It was one of the most amazing things ever.

I remember when I got “Never Mind the Bollocks” – it was life changing for me. I still have the original copy. So meeting him in person and having him buy a couple of our amps means so much, especially when he gets stuff for free all the time.

That’s one thing we never do, by the way. We don’t give amps away. If we did that, I’d have to take it out of my child’s food money or factor those costs into the price I charge for general consumers, and neither of those options is fair.

Another one that blows me away is Walter Becker from Steely Dan. I was in Nashville at the time and I got a call from their tour manager, Night Bob, one of the best people in the world. He called to tell me sound check was at 4pm, so come on down with an amp.

So we grabbed a display amp and ran down. Walter tested the amp while they ran through sound check and I’m sitting there getting a private Steely Dan concert thinking this is pretty awesome. His manager pulled me aside and said, “Look, we’re not looking for a deal here. Walter has money and buys what he likes and supports people like you.”

That was a proud moment for me. He ended up buying that amp and I think he has 7 or 8 of them now with more on order.

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CT: Considering the boutique amp world, I think Satellite is reasonably priced. Are you going to raise your prices?

A: We’re going to raise them again, yeah. The one thing in the amplifier world that’s difficult: vintage gear is now competing with boutique gear. There’s a $2000 ceiling, which for some reason is a magical number to the consumer. For $2000 and under, you can sell stuff all day long. Anything above sits and takes forever to sell. So you can sell fewer things at a higher price or cut your margin and make a living.

For the first couple of years, we lost money but supplemented our earnings with a repair shop and rented out a recording studio in our space. Coming out with a new product in a market that was already flooded wasn’t easy, but my dealers really believed in me.

One of my first dealers, Jessie, who owns Cowtown Guitars, both he and his wife are delightful people with awesome kids. One of his kids has the middle name of Satellite, which was an honor. I love Jessie like a brother and we’d do anything for each other. That’s what you want from a dealer.

I don’t know how many amp people you’ve talked to but there are secrets in this world… there’s a company that makes some of the most visually pleasing stuff, with gorgeous woodwork, and their amps start at $3500. But I met one of the guys at an amp show and he told me he hadn’t sold an amp in three years. So there are a lot of guys with expensive stuff that doesn’t sell.

We sold 35 amplifiers in one year and discovered we were doing better than most, but we found that hard to believe. Apparently, most boutique sellers do 25 amps a year, and that’s good.

You have to realize that it might only take me five hours to build an amplifier, but there’s so much more to running a business, like ordering, entering invoices, making calls, packing and unpacking. There’s always a lot to do.

Our last two years, and likely this year again, we’ve done 100 amps, which for us is doing great. I have a team helping me make this happen, so we could even hit 300 this year, if all goes well.

Very few people have $1500 or more just sitting around to buy a luxury item in this economy. This has taken years for me to figure out. So we created a product that we can put out to our consumers for under $500, which we just announced. It’s the 2 Watt Gammatron and it sounds phenomenal.

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CT: Have you thought about expanding your pedals?

A: We put out the My Pal Fuzz Fuzz, something I had in my head for a while. We were talking around the shop and finally decided to make 50 of them. “Let’s just do it for fun, for ourselves and do a run. Let’s see what it takes to produce a pedal.” We have a couple more pedals that will be coming out soon: a clear boost that I’m really happy with and a tube wah pedal, with a tube pre-amp. (We’ll have the church key reverb unit that’s coming out that also has a tube pre-amp.)

We only have so many guys in the shop now, and it’s not easy to find new people who fit the bill. We have a guy named Josh Elmore, who’s in a band called Cattle Decapitation, who comes in to help. He’s great. He knew we were swamped so he stepped in and built probably 20 of the My Pal Fuzz Fuzz pedals. I should also mention Matt Gorney, from Gerard Way and the Hormones, our original cabinet guy. Phil Gorney is one of our wiring guys who’s been here for about eight years. And our current cabinet guy, Tom Garcia, from Mrs. Magician.

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CT: How did your Paul Frank amp partnership come about?

A: I met Paul once in Las Vegas, like 10 years ago, through my friend Otis (from the Hawaiian band). Spring 10 years forward and I was in the shop and O was talking to Paul on the phone. O leaned over and said, “You want to do a collaboration with Paul Frank?” I said, “Yes, in fact, yes I do!” (laughs) And that’s how it happened.

Paul had experience building amps and we got to talking. I think he was surprised to find someone like me, who said, “Yes, we can build whatever you want.” So we built a prototype and sent it to him. He tried it and liked it but we decided to make a few tweaks and made a second prototype. I think the naugahyde he used was from 1973 and his wife Suzy had drawn up a character called Taco Cat. She did a beautiful job on the artwork, so Paul used that and silkscreened it and cut out the cats by hand and stitched them onto the vinyl and then covered the amplifier with it. It came out looking absolutely beautiful.

Since then, we’ve made more. Paul is always a great inspiration because he’s always thinking and wanting more. We’ll do even more amps I’m sure, and we have a few secret projects coming out too. I love working with the guy, he’s amazing.

CT: Nice! I did an interview with Paul. He has great energy and so many great stories.

A: He’s a sweetheart of a person, not a bad bone in his body. He sees the positive in stuff and wants to do things. It’s a great kick in the ass sometimes when you’re like, “I just want to go to bed.” And he’s like, “We should do this!” And he’s right.

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CT: Have you ever had a near death experience?

A: Yes, many! Once, when I was about 13, my dad, myself and a friend were driving quads up in the hills outside of LA, and I drove off a 400-foot cliff.

CT: What? Jesus!

A: I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t follow every safety precaution. I ended up flipping upside down and getting pinned to a tree on the side of this cliff, all four wheels on top of both legs and both arms.

CT: Man.

A: Another time, when I was 10, I went through a sliding glass door at my uncle’s house. I walked right through it and cut myself pretty bad, including all the tendons and main artery. 33 years later, I remember seeing those shards of glass coming out of different parts of my body. I was pretty sure I was going to die.

CT: Any memories of playing good practical jokes on people?

A: How much time do you have left on that recorder? (Laughs)

Okay, there was a guy I went to high school with by then name of Joe Gill. It started off when his father bought him an old Mercedes to drive around in. And I had this idea to start stealing his hubcaps. His dad got really mad because it cost like $500 to match the color of the caps to the color of the car, so Joe was getting in a bunch of trouble. I would put two back on and later take them off. It went on for months. Joe was furious, of course, and wanted to seek revenge, but he didn’t know who was behind it all… until one of our buddies finally told him it was me all along.

To this day, we’re still in a prank war over this. We’ve even gotten each other fired from jobs. Last summer, I got the tailgate stolen off the back of my old Dodge Ram pick-up and I was pissed. Then I get this voicemail from Joe and he says, “Oh hey, I’m coming down this weekend. I’m wondering if you want to get some food? I also want to give you that tailgate back.” I wanted to ring his neck but it was a good joke. So, I decided to send him the full $1400 bill. The funny part, in the end, was that he actually didn’t steal it.

CT: What other pranks have you pulled on him?

A: There so are many but I’m not sure he’d want me to talk about them. Let’s just say we’ve had a lot of fun.

CT: Thank you for the interview. It’s been great talking with you.

A: Thank you, Dan!


 

TACOS WITH PINKUS

I recently caught-up with my old friend Jeff (J.D.) Pinkus, who’s best known as the bass player for both Honky and Butthole Surfers. In recent times, he’s also played on and off with Melvins, including their latest release Hold It In.

One of my favorite memories with Jeff was when I stepped out of his van with a wicked hangover into an intense ray of sunshine, and then slipped off the edge of the door jam. As I went tumbling down onto the pavement, I took Jeff’s sideboard with me. That’s why I used to be known as Capt’n Sideboard.

Cordtangler: Hey man, long time. How’re ya doing? Ready for a few questions?

J: Hey, yeah. I’m going to walk and talk if that’s cool. I need to get some fish tacos to go with my iced coffee.

CT: No problem. So I know you’re originally from Atlanta and joined Butthole Surfers pretty young. How did you end up in the band?

J: The guys in the band spun a globe around and it landed on Athens, Georgia, so they moved there. From Athens, they ended up in Atlanta to regroup, literally. They had just fired their 12th bass player and then I became number 13!

Someone suggested me, and they called me up. I remember waiting for their call at a pay phone, and later jamming some Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer with them. I also knew some of their songs like “Mexican Caravan,” which was easy for me. They invited me to join them in Europe and I said sure. Then they said, “Well actually, you can just be in the band for as long as you want.” I said okay and that was it.


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CT: What was it like to work with John Paul Jones [producer of Butthole Surfers’ Independent Worm Hole Saloon album]

J: The first thing he did when he showed up at our warehouse practice space was set-up his keyboard, while we were getting our sound up, and we didn’t know whether to just listen to him play, or play along with him. It was so bizarre. He was playing “Kashmir” on a Casio! (laughs)

When we were done with the record, we went down to see him play with Diamanda Galas. After the show at the Four Seasons, I said, “Let me get you a Laphroaig,” because I knew he liked his scotch. But he said, “I’ll have a Shirley Temple.” I started laughing and he said, “No, you people drove me to quit drinking!” So the whole time we worked with him we wouldn’t start drinking until after 8pm. Except for Gibby (Haynes), he’d drink whenever. Capitol later said we went way over budget. They were like, “What is this $5000 of whiskey?!?”

CT: How was John Paul Jones as a producer?

J: He worked well with Paul and was pretty involved. I was a little disappointed myself because he spent so much time on the other instrument sounds. I remember setting up and starting to play and not even hearing my sound in the room. He was like, “Hey, I’m good,” but it didn’t feel good to me. So I was disappointed, but overall I ended up liking my bass sound on that record. At certain points though, it was a little over-compressed. He rented two Fairchilds, and they heated up the control room really well, so I’m sure he felt like he had to use them.

From that recording, we also released a 4-song EP on vinyl, in a limited run of 10,000. These were the songs John Paul Jones didn’t get.

CT: Have you ever found yourself in a life-threating situation?

J: I was almost killed skydiving once. It was my 12th jump and I was a really bad skydiver, but it’s more exciting the worse you are! (Laughs) I have the jump on video somewhere.

After we jumped, I tumbled for 3,000 feet, which is like taking water out from beneath a boat. Growing up in Georgia, I was a swimmer, so I tried to swim out of the tumble: you’re supposed to shape your body like a leaf, which is really hard for a guy to do, and it’s the reason why women are great skydivers. I ended up pulling my chute 1,500 feet lower than I should have, so I was lucky. I’m sure I’ve been close to death a bunch of times, but that’s the one that comes to mind.

CT: Which musician has most influenced your playing style?

J: Blue Cheer, Dickie Peterson, was a huge hero of mine when I was growing up. He was a singer, bass player and I really love Blue Cheer. I remember hearing that Jimi Hendrix didn’t like Blue Cheer. He thought they were ripping him off… so I decided not to like Jimi Hendrix.

CT: I know you play guitar, bass and banjo. Did you start as a bass player?

J: The first time I heard bass being played, I felt it in my belly and I said that’s what I want to play! I had played acoustic guitar but I took one lesson and the guy wanted me to learn “Puff the magic dragon,” so I told my mom I didn’t like him. I like the song now though. I like puffing the magic dragon.

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CT: The most memorable show you remember playing?

J: Butthole Surfers at the Danceteria, which was filmed. We took acid to stay awake and drove from California to New York. When we arrived, they told us they were going to cancel one of our shows and we weren’t too happy. Our dancer peed into a plastic baseball bat and sprinkled it around. Our female drummer was peeing backstage in the coatroom and it was coming out from under the door, and Gibby was naked onstage playing with himself using a drumstick.

And at the end of the show, Paul got on his knees and stabbed all the monitors with a screwdriver. Dancetaria said, “Fuck you, you’ll never play this town again!” But we played the following Wednesday at the Cat Club.

Oh yeah, and there was this show at City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey, where they cut the PA off. I think John Stewart said he was bartending for that show. Paul got on the riser that we used for our dancer, pulled his pants down and starting yelling through our megaphone.

There was another show at the Variety Arts Center. Everyone always breaks their guitars, or sets them on fire at the end of the set, but this time we decided that it was better to break a bunch of guitars during the first song. I ended up busting my old Ibanez bass guitar. And then a riot broke out and people starting grabbing all of our merch and throwing it all around. Unfortunately, our guy brought in all of our merch for the entire tour!

When I broke my bass, a piece flew off and hit a guy in the head. The promoter told us that he was going to dock us the 500 bucks needed to keep the guy from suing. Later, the guy who was hit came backstage and said, “I’m not here to sue you, I just came back to see if you guys would sign this piece of bass?” Then Paul started breaking mirrors and all kinds of shit.

So, yeah. Lots of memorable shows even though I don’t remember much. (laughs)

CT: Any musician you’ve idolized and were really excited to meet?

[The sound of Jeff getting his tacos. I hear him say, “Thanks.”]

J: I got to meet Dusty from ZZ Top a couple of times. I don’t really get star struck by many people but I was by him. I told him, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” and he said, “I bet you didn’t think I was this small.” (He’s like 5’6”.) I actually had ZZ Top from A to Z in my bathroom. I’d read it whenever I was taking a shit, so yeah, I did know he was that small. But I wanted to leave the moment golden, so I didn’t say anything.

[Jeff breaks away to pay for his tacos.]

J: All right, I’ve got tacos and ready to travel. But this is the whitest taco place: they asked if I wanted a whole-wheat tortilla!? Nobody wants that. White people, so fucking stupid (laughs). Where were we?

CT: Let’s talk about your gear. Didn’t you have a Hondo flying V with a 100 dollar price tag still hanging on it?

J: I wanted it so badly to be a Hondo but it was a Harmony and I had an Arbor as a backup. The Arbor cost more than the Harmony. Yeah, I paid 100 bucks for the Harmony and $150 for the Arbor. I spent $400 for the case for the Harmony. It’s really hard to find a case for those things! I told the guy who made the case for me what I paid for the Harmony and he said, “If it makes you feel better the first case I ever made was for this guy with a hole in his guitar. That guy was Willie Nelson.”

CT: Do you still have them?

J: Yeah, but I’ve been playing Electrical Guitar Company basses. I had Kevin [Burkett] from Electrical build a bass to match the Harmony V and I also sent him the Arbor to match that one. Technically, Electrical hasn’t advertised it yet but since I’ve bought two, I now have a signature “J.D. Pinkus” model. If no one has had one before and there are two, then technically you have your own model. I’m pretty happy about it!

CT: I’ve played a few those Electrical guitars but never a bass. It must be pretty nice?

J: I like it a lot. My only problem is mine isn’t anodized so it scratches up and it’s hard to clean. I just ordered some Mother’s car wax to clean it up. I want the next one to be white and anodized. Kevin said they can’t anodize white so I don’t know what he’s going to do. I said, “you’re the man, you can figure it out.”

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CT: Tell me about your rig. I remember you always playing a Mesa Boogie head.

J: Yeah, they call it the 400+ but it’s like 600 watts so I don’t know why they don’t just call it the 600. I’ve hot-rodded mine a little bit. You can put cheaper tubes in the pre-amps so I put Sovteks in one of the channels. You can get a good crunch out of those tubes.

On the last Melvins tour I was using Trevor’s (Trevor Dunn) stand-up Emperor bass cabinet, which has 4-12’s. I actually ordered one for myself but now the company is called Tyrant. We had Brian change the nameplates to Blown, so Buzz and I would be playing Blown cabinets. (laughs)

I really like the Ampeg 8-10’s but I borrowed a cabinet from my friend Curt from Dixie Witch that sounded much better than mine. Curt said it was because it had 4-10’s and a 15. Ampeg made those for a while. I talked to them about getting me a new one but they don’t make them anymore.

For my set-up with Melvins, Dave (Curran) will mic with an RE20 (Electro-Voice), a 57 (Shure SM-57) and a Sansamp, with what they call the SVT tone to get my sound. People don’t hear what you hear on stage, which people don’t get. They want to put like 4 SVT’s up there and no one can hear that. The PA is what people hear.

CT: What kind of pedals are you using?

J: I like the HBE Hematoma a bunch. It’s like a gain pedal that you put at the end of your chain to boost the signal to your amp. It has a distortion side to it but I mainly use it for the gain. There’s a guy at our studio named Tim Allen and he built me a custom distortion pedal that I’ve added to the chain. So, I use the distortion from that pedal and the gain from the Hematoma and it crunches.

So my set-up, with Melvins, was the Sansamp parallel out, a POG, a Boss delay pedal, the small Ditto looper, and then the two gain buddies. (I also have a new Mutron but that doesn’t work with Melvins.)

I’ve got lots of different set-ups. I have one for psychedelic guitar and psychedelic banjo, it depends who I’m playing with but for bass those two gain pedals are the ticket. I can make it flop the way I want to make it flop.

CT: What kind of effects do you use for psychedelic banjo?

J: I use the big Ditto looper, it has reverse and half time, the Boss delay and a PS-2 (Boss pitch shifter/delay). I might add the Mutron, I haven’t used it yet but it could bring good things to the psychedelic banjo.

[Jeff passes out the tacos. He had the mariachi and scallop.]

J: Sorry.

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CT: When you’re working on new stuff do you jam with folks or do you show up with songs?

J: I’m getting better at jamming but I’m still more of a writer. I pretty much like to write a song and play it the same way every time, although I shouldn’t say that because if I fuck up then everyone will notice. I usually just steal someone’s melody and put my lyrics over it. Nothing’s original. If you can think of it, it’s already been done.

[Jeff breaks for a second to figure out the taco situation.]

CT: What are your thoughts on analog versus digital recording?

J: You should know how to drive any car that’s given to you. If you want to race, you need to be a driver and not worry what kind of car you’re in. If you’re serious about being an engineer, you need to know both. With the plug-ins you can get now, you can imitate tape bias any way that you want to. But you still need to know what you’re trying to imitate.

Analog is glorious. I used to have a tape machine, an Ampex mm1100. It was great when tape was more available. Now, most people can’t afford tape. If you record at 30 ips, you only get 15 minutes on a $350 dollar reel. Digital is also easier to transfer from one place to another and people are going to end-up hearing stuff in the worst possible formats available.

I went to school for recording and know the physics of it and bottom-line what sounds good is good.

CT: I remember you used to have a studio in your house. Are you still using it?

J: It’s kinda like having friends with boats. I have a friend with a really nice boat [Haasienda Studios] and that’s usually the boat I go to record at.

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CT: How do you think digital recording has changed the process?

J: I don’t think you can “Pro Tools” a good song. When you record a band and they say you have enough to make a track out of it, you know you’re not dealing with someone that makes a song. I still think you need to be able to play a song all the way through, maybe fix it up, but not overuse all the things you can do in Pro Tools. If you’re doing that you’re probably doing something wrong.

The one thing with analog tape is you’re not going to do as many punches. You’re also not going to do it to a click track or repeat a loop over and over again. When I was doing demos for the new Honky record, I recorded to an 8-track Tascam reel-to-reel. I would do the drums first on a kids’ drum set and then play stuff over it.

Sometimes, I get the drums wrong… if I’m “2am drunk” with the dog barking at me! I might add an extra measure here or there and it’ll change my songwriting. I play around, and do this and that. I like anything that messes me up and forces me to do something different.

CT: Let’s talk about the new Honky record you’re working on.

J: Dale (Crover) is on three songs. Michael Brueggen from a band called Syrup and Blacula, from New Orleans, plays on five tracks. Lance (Farley, original Honky drummer) is on one of the tracks and Trinidad Leal is on a track. So we have four different drummers on this record. Let the jokes begin!

Just like with the Melvins and their different line-ups, it changes everything when you’re writing with different drummers. Dale is really fantastic at what he does. He’s so experimental, and does crazy shit and he’s great with overdubs. Brueggen, who dances when he plays, is a really solid player and has the groove thing like no one else. Then you have Trinidad, who’s a power player with some groove. And then Lance has his own thing. Different drummers for different songs works out to be really cool.

CT: Do you believe in ghosts?

J: I don’t want to but I’ve been around a couple of places where I couldn’t deny that something was going on. I think it’s ridiculous that one could hurt you though. I’ve never been punched in the face by a ghost… but I have seen some weird stuff happen that could only be explained by spirits of some kind. That could’ve been the acid talking though.

CT: Jeff, I’ll let you eat your lunch. Thanks a million. Hope to talk to you again soon!

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Cover photo by Melina D. and Melvins photo by Otis Bperiod. Bath and Falcons shots by Camille Cline (with Photoshop work on Falcons by WanCalo). Weed image by Stephen Beaty. All photos provided by Jeff. If we’ve missed you and you’d like a credit, let us know.