Double-Rad Dad: Tim of McNelly Custom Pickups

I recently had a great late-night chat with Tim McNelly, a new dad and impeccable craftsman from Ontario, Canada. Tim makes solid pickups, which are really worth checking out. I can’t say enough about the McNelly split coils that I recently installed into my Jazz bass.

Cordtangler: Let’s start with how you got into building pickups.

Tim McNelly: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how things work, so I used to take things apart and put them back together. I guess I got into guitars at about age 10.

In high school, I had an idea to build guitars, but I didn’t get around to doing that until about five years ago, when I was doing construction work in this guy’s guitar shop. Being in the shop felt amazing. It totally ignited a passion in me, so I asked the owner if he could teach me. He loaned me a bunch of books, which I devoured. And then I just really went for it. A lot of guesswork at first, tons of reading, and of course trial and error.

Once I started making guitars, I also explored pickups. I knew what I wanted so I reached out to a company about some of my ideas. They weren’t interested, so I decided to do it on my own. I made a winder and a few months later I started selling them. It took off fast. A year into it, I stopped taking guitar orders altogether and just focused on pickups.

CT: Do you think you’ll ever go back to making full-on guitars?

TM: As a hobby, yes. Or for friends or a special project. But other than that, full-on guitars aren’t part of the plan for the business.

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CT: First guitar you owned?

TM: I still have it. It’s the Yamaha Pacifica 721.

CT: Nice.

TM: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s a bit of a shredder. But it was my only guitar for 10 years and it’s actually quite nice. I got it about 23 years ago, used, so I’m not sure how old it is. I think it has DiMarzios in it, humbuckers in the neck and bridge, and a stacked single coil in the middle. It’s very “strat-like” but also kind of “Ibanezy.” I have a real connection with it. As uncool as it may be to some, I still love that guitar.

CT: That’s awesome. What kind of music first inspired you?

TM: I know this sounds strange, but I’ve never been a huge music listener. I’m still not. I enjoy some stuff for sure but I have a hard time pinning down a specific artist who’s been inspirational to me. I like John Mayer’s style… I was never a classic rock fan.

CT: Aside from the Pacifica, what’s your Holy Grail guitar?

TM: I don’t need anything too crazy. Generally, I’d say a Tele. I don’t like how they sound, but I really like the feel of them. They’re comfortable to play with the right set up. I think that’s what led me to want to change things.

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CT: Do you have a pickup you’re most proud of?

TM: I’d have to say the Stagger Swagger. I like how it sounds, especially the neck pickup, which is quite popular.

I started making the Stagger Swagger in reaction to a cease and desist order I received related to a single coil I was making in a Humbucker size. (I guess this rather large guitar company had a patent on a design they felt I was infringing on…)

So I needed a replacement, and the Stagger Swagger became my focus. I had an idea for it, made a prototype, and it ended up being better than the original. In hindsight, the cease and desist was good because it pushed me to make it versus always having that idea on the back burner. I don’t know if proud is the right word but I’m glad that people like it. It’s a nod, like “Good job.” (Laughs)

CT: What inspires a new idea for a pickup?

TM: So many different things.

I do a lot of custom work so sometimes someone will make a request and it sparks an idea. They’ll describe a tone or a combination of things that don’t currently exist and I try to think it through and then come back with an offer.

I’m not very nostalgic. Even if something has a revered design, I’m okay changing it if it doesn’t work for me. I think it’s okay to step out of the box and tweak a classic if need be.

I also come up with ideas late at night. I don’t know if our brains work differently then but things will come to me and I’ll start experimenting in the shop. I’ve made a lot of prototypes – some things suck, and other things turn out to be gold!

CT: How do you know when you’ve got a good idea?

TM: I don’t! Not until I try them out a bit. I’ve had some ideas that I thought were great, but then when I tried them out, they weren’t.

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CT: Are there products you’ve always wanted to make or develop?

TM: In fact, yeah. I think 2016 might be the year that I develop some new products. One is an acoustic pickup, which I posted on Instagram last summer.

CT: Amazing! Can you say more?

TM: I’m still working on it. Ideally, I’ll be able to offer it as its own as a standard acoustic pickup, with the option of buying a pedal separately to split the signal. If I can get it to work right, the pedal will be an option or if someone just wants to use the pickup in a more standard way – I don’t want them to have to buy both.

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CT: Very cool. Any other ideas you’re developing?

TM: Yeah, I call it “The Bean.” It’s another pickup I’ve posted on Instagram. It’s oval-shaped and has offset 3 and 3 poles, kind of like the Stagger Swagger.

I haven’t created the finished version of it yet but it’s a cool design that won’t fit into a standard vintage guitar model, so I have to get traction with builders. My fingers are crossed. I’m hoping to develop it with uncoated brass covers. If I can pull these off, they’ll look super unique.

The Bean will still have single coil tone, and I think it will meet the needs of what many people tend to want. It sounds a little bit like a Smokey Strat pickup, but more ballsy. It’s instantly recognizable and I find people tend to like that.

CT: Have you approached a builder?

TM: I approached Walsh Guitars with it and made several custom versions but without the brass covers. I’ve also talked to Nick from Prisma Guitars. I’m not pushing it too hard until I can fully have the look I’m going for. It always seems like production and design take 10 times longer than I think going into it.

CT: Have you ever thought about developing a stereo pickup? I have an old Ovation Preacher with stereo pickups. I know other models were floating around in the 70s but they never seemed to take off.

TM: I’m not sure why they never took off. I’m not sure if it was the players or the guitar companies? It’s funny, in talking about staggered poles, those could easily be wired to be stereo. So if someone wanted to try it, they could do so with some of my pickups.

CT: Would you ever think of offering it?

TM: It’s a cool idea but it comes down to marketing it right. You could send the different signals to different pedals and have a lot of possibilities.

CT: Well, there you go.

TM: (Laughs) See! This is where the ideas come from.

CT: By the way, how did you hook-up with Nick from Prisma guitars?

[Note: Nick has helped create Prisma versions of McNelly pickups and also offers them in his guitars.]

TM: I saw his stuff on Instagram. His guitars are really unique. The second you see one, you know it’s his. There are other skateboard guitars out there but he does it on another level; his craftsmanship is amazing. His stuff really got my mind going. I had already been making some pickups with wood tops and reached out to him immediately. We hit it off and we’ve been working together ever since.

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CT: Any other guitar builders out there catching your attention?

TM: Off the top of my head, David Ayers. I think his real passion is acoustics but he ends up building more electrics because of demand. He was one of the first guys to jump on board when I put out the Stagger Swagger. I really connect with his aesthetic. He used my pickups in his guitars and made them look amazing.

CT: How about any “best kept secret” Canadian guitar builders?

TM: Jordan McConnell of McConnell Guitars in Winnepeg. His acoustics are at another level and his inlay work is pure art. He’s one of those guys I felt honored by when he bought my pickups.

CT: Any pedal builders?

TM: Actually, the guy I’m working with on the acoustic pickup is Jeremy Spencley from Tribute Audio Design. He’s great guy to design with. He has good ideas and knows how to make them happen.

I probably shouldn’t admit this but I don’t use pedals that often. I just got a pedal board last year mainly for use in demos. I’m most comfortable plugging straight into an amp… it’s just what I grew up doing. Most of the time, I don’t even know what pedals people are using. (Laughs)

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CT: Do you have an all-time favorite amp?

TM: I’d say a Fender Princeton, but only if it gets sent to a 12-inch speaker. I don’t think Fender ever made that combination but I love how “chimey” they sound. And when you push them, I love the way they break up. It’s beautiful. I wish I had one!

CT: Aside from me (hilarious joke…), are there musicians using your pickups that you’re excited about?

TM: When I first started, the idea of a famous musician playing my stuff was exciting, but I don’t find that as fulfilling these days. The non-celebrity person-to-person interaction gives me the most satisfaction – the people who’ve saved up their money, talked through details with me, and end up being really happy and appreciative in the end: that’s why I do what I do.

CT: Have you had the chance to meet any famous musicians?

TM: Do you know the band Hawk Nelson? They’re a pretty big Christian band. Daniel, the bass player, lives in town and is a friend of mine. He helps me in the shop sometimes, when he’s not on tour.

CT: You know, I have to ask, it seems like in the boutique builder world Christian players seem to be a big part of the scene? Am I crazy?

TM: You’re not crazy. I can’t figure it out. I don’t deliberately market myself as a Christian company or use it as some kind of an angle for sales. I just want people to use my stuff because they like it or they like to work with me. That said, the Christian community is a big part of my customer base.

CT: I find that so interesting.

TM: It is, I agree. I don’t think Christian players have more disposable income necessarily, but often with really big churches there can be available funds for purchasing gear, which might be a part of it. I’ve had long conversations with people about this. I still don’t know the answer.

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CT: Have you ever injured yourself doing something completely stupid?

TM: When I did construction, I left a drill a couple levels up on some scaffolding. We were moving windows and knocked into the scaffolding and it came down and went through my toe. It was bad but thankfully didn’t hit bone, so it could have been worse.

CT: Ouch! Thanks so much Tim, I really appreciate your time!


 

Paul Leary Is No Artificial Satellite

Paul Leary is best known as a founding member and guitarist for the Butthole Surfers. He’s also had an impressive career as a producer for bands like Sublime, Meat Puppets, Daniel Johnston, and Bad Livers, to name a few. Recently, he contributed to Melvins’ release “Hold It In” with his band mate Jeff Pinkus.

Although accomplished and a brilliant guitar player, Paul is way too modest. It was a lot of fun talking to him and getting the scoop on his upcoming projects.  

CT: As a guitar player, who’ve been your biggest influences?

Paul: A couple, hmm, probably George Harrison and Greg Ginn.

CT: When did you start playing?

P: My dad bought me a little toy guitar in Mexico for five dollars. I played that enough, so when I turned six, I got a real acoustic guitar. When I was seven, I got an electric guitar. I played in front of my elementary school in ’65.

CT: What was your first fancy guitar?

P: It depends on what you call fancy, but my first electric guitar was a Kalamazoo: baby blue with a white pick guard. It was actually a pretty shitty guitar, but it looked real pretty.

When I was in high school, I didn’t want to march, so I joined stage band. I bought myself a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. That was probably the first “fancy guitar.”

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CT: Is it true that you gave John Paul Jones a titty twister?

P: A Texas titty twister.

CT: [laughing] What makes it a Texas titty twister?

P: [laughs] I grew up in Texas; that’s what they always called it. You’d go up to someone and say, “What’s worse than a white tornado?” They’d say, “What?” And you’d say, “A Texas titty twister!” Then you’d pinch their titty. I think he’s still really mad at me. He doesn’t talk to me anymore.

John Paul Jones was taking his shirt off backstage, and he was telling me to leave. I see John Paul Jones’s boob sticking out there, and I just had to do it. My fingers were real sticky, and I’m sitting there with all these titty hairs stuck to my fingers—he took a swing at me with a fist and called me a bastard.

CT: What is your normal approach to songwriting?

P: The more I approach it, the more difficult it is. I tend to not approach it at all— and it just kind of comes to me.

There are a couple different ways that it happens. I remember the Butthole Surfers song, “Lady Sniff”: I was on my way somewhere in a car and it came to my head. I ended up turning around to get home real quick, then called Gibby and played it to him over the phone so I wouldn’t forget.

I also like to sit around and jam. With my home studio, I can just record hours and hours of bullshit. If there is five seconds in there worth using, then I pick it out and build from it. Lots of stuff just comes from jamming.

CT: Do you have current people that you jam with?

P: No, not really—just [play] by myself. And I’m not doing that much anymore. My fingers have become terribly soft. I don’t even have a callous right now. Probably the first time in 50 years.

I’ve been doing a lot of producing and mixing for people. I’m trying to clear that off my plate. After that, I’m going to spend a bunch of time in my studio just farting around, hoping to start another Butthole Surfers album or something along that line. 

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CT: Tell me about your band Cocky Bitches?

P: Oh, those are my good friends: Sam McCandless, who’s the drummer for a band called Cold, and Formica Iglesia, who’s the singer. We’ve got an album in the can, and I’ve been too busy to really find a home for it. Hopefully, it will be out before summer.

CT: Right on! So I know you don’t really like to play live anymore, are you planning on doing any shows?

P: Probably not. If I had my way, I’d probably never play live again.

CT: Why?

P: I’m uncomfortable in front of people. The hour and half that you play in front of people is really fun, but the rest of the time it just sucks. Going on the road and being on a bus and eating at Denny’s, or staying in a fucking motel or whatever… I just hate that crap. I’ve got a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, and a wonderful studio, and that’s where I like to be. It’s hard to pry me out of my studio.

CT: Who’ve been some of your favorite people to record with?

P: That’s tough. I really love everybody that I work with in the studio. That’s why I’m working with them. Whoever I’m working with at the time is my favorite. There’ve been a lot of really cool people. There’s Eric from Sublime who I still work with from time to time. His band mates Rome and Josh Freeze are just awesome people.

I got to work with the band The Burning of Rome a couple years ago, and they’re also awesome.

I’m working with a band now named Ballyhoo! Everyone is a lot of fun.

CT: How was it working with Melvins and Jeff [Pinkus]?

P: A blast. It was like playing horseshoes or something.

CT: How did it all come together?

P: Some of the drums were recorded, and I had some songs put together before they approached me, so it all came together. We spent a couple of days here in town at the studio and then I did my work at home, just recording guitars and mixing a couple of songs—nothing hairy.

CT: Have you ever had a sexual fantasy that has involved Judge Judy?

P: Everyday. Is it four o’clock yet? No, it’s not. If it were, I wouldn’t be talking to you. [laughs]

CT: What do you thing of the analog versus digital debate?

P: I think a lot of it is really played out because it’s so blurred. Everything has to start out as analog; it’s just at what point you are going to go digital? Digital is getting a lot better at mimicking analog. Gosh darn it, I sure don’t miss working with tape machines.

CT: What’s your setup?

P: I’m dedicated to not having a board, so I have a little hybrid that’s in the box with analog stemming. I use Protools with a Burl Mothership interface and a Burl B32 summing device. As far as compressors go, I have a Dramastic Audio Obsidian. It’s like an SSL G compressor, but it doesn’t collapse the stereo image as much, at least to my ears. And I have a Tube Tech Multiband stereo compressor, a Retro Instruments 165, and a Retro Instruments prototype 670-style stereo tube Bompressor, sent to me by Phil Moore at Retro. So I guess I have a lot of tubes in the mix. I also have an ADL 670 on the mix bus, which has 14 tubes alone. Lastly, I use a couple of Pultec EQ’s and, for mastering, a Neve Portico II Master Bus Processor.

CT: What is your current live setup?

P: My amp is usually a Marshall JCM 800 with a Marshall 4-12 for my guitar. I’ve got a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster made by John Cruz that’s just incredible and never gets old. I also still have my ’78 Les Paul that I have painted pea soup green. And I have a pedal board with some distortions and some delays, but nothing too tricked out. I usually keep my setup compact, so if I’m traveling through Europe I can carry one guitar and one pedal board, and that’s it.

CT: Has there been an old standby pedal that you’ve always had?

P: A few. But one I’ve had for a while is one of those orange and blue Super-Fuzzes. It’s one of those things that always yields magic results. I’ve played it on a bunch of Butthole Surfers stuff, and it ended up on a Sublime record, on a version of “What I Got.”

CT: Have you ever had a close encounter with an alien?

P: I’ve seen a spaceship.

CT: Really?!

P: It was very dramatic. It’s haunted me for years since then.

CT: Where did it happen?

P: It’s when we were living in Driftwood, Texas, which is about 45 minutes southwest of Austin.

I was out in the yard one night, and it was really dark. I knew the sky really well because it was right outside my house. The ship looked like a sparkling star. It was gold and blue and green, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. When I was looking at it, it was just sitting there in the sky; then it moved over a little bit, and then it sat frozen for a little bit—and I was like What the hell? I couldn’t tell if it was over the trees or in space really far [away], so I started walking out in my yard. The thing would just move from time to time. It would just sit there, then move abruptly, and then stop.

Then it flew over my head. It was the size of a stadium, and it was shaped like a barbell. It went silently over my head; just about filling [the sky] from horizon to horizon, and then disappeared.

CT: Wow!

P: It freaked the fuck out of me!

CT: Holy shit.

P: So I called the sheriff, but no one else had seen anything that night—no weather balloons or any of that crap. It got me started on reading about UFOs and abductions and what the moon might possibly be, which I’m really fascinated about these days: that the moon is really a spaceship that was built and brought here.

CT: Where did this theory come from?

P: I think the Russians came up with it first. But if you look at all the stuff gleaned from the Apollo missions, it’s nothing the government wants you to know. The government is content with having you know it’s this lifeless, atmosphere-less, waterless void up there—this desolate thing. But the truth is that no other planet that we know of has a moon like that. It keeps one side facing us always. What a great observation point, right? Just keep one side facing us. It’s hollow and there are things sighted up there all the time. I could go on and on. There are a lot of books about it.

CT: Thanks man, it was a real pleasure to talk to you.

Interesting books on the topic from Paul:

For The Moon Is Hollow And Aliens Rule The Sky, by Rob Shelky

Alien Agenda, by Jim Marrs  

Twelfth Planet, by Zechariah Sitchin

Penetration, by Ingo Swann

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Artwork by Paul Leary


 

Glenn Mercer

I recently had the honor of chatting with Glenn Mercer, probably best known as a member of legendary band The Feelies, about his recent solo record Incidental Hum.

CT: I love your latest solo recording. How did the concept come together? Did you travel to all of the places your new songs are based on? Kodiak? 29 Palms? The Kara Sea?

H: No, actually it’s the opposite. I don’t think I’ve been to any of the places the songs were named after. It didn’t start with the idea of doing an instrumental record with locations in mind. I just found myself thinking back to the pre-Feelies days. Listening to Kraftwerk, David Bowie’s Low, Eno & Fripp and Philip Glass. That sort of stuff. So less performance-based and more recording-based. I was also thinking back on how Bill (Million) and I scored the movie Smithereens. In scoring, we didn’t really have any ideas upfront; we just watched the film and came up with music based on what we saw. Doing that score led us into starting the Willies, which was just the two of us and occasionally a neighbor would come over and join in. We experimented with slowing down tape speeds and just having fun with no plans.

I was also getting the urge to perform again. I just love to record and keep my skills up. In the past, I did cover songs, but this time I just sat down with a keyboard. I wanted to see what would happen. After I had worked out a few songs and listened to them, I thought they evoked a certain kind of landscape, or location. So I went with it and wrote to these imagined locations, which were revealed to me as I went along. I then came across a cassette that I had recorded five years before – with some instrumentals that included Warm Jets (Eno) and Third Stone From the Sun (Hendrix) – and I transferred those songs and developed them.

CT: Did you look at any visuals when you were writing?

G: No, I would think of what images were triggered by the music and find places to look up, like the Kara Sea. I thought the song reminded me of the ocean so I started looking at oceans on the map and came across the Kara Sea. I actually didn’t have any plans of releasing it but I shared it with my manager and he really got behind it and shopped it around. I initially gave it away and sold it a shows but it wasn’t initially meant to be a solo record.

CT: What was your approach to writing for the Feelies?

G: Those songs pretty much always start the same way: with chord progressions and rhythms.

CT: I know you co-wrote with Bill (Million) quite a bit.

G: It varied, I wrote on my own as well. These days, we’ve been sending demos back and forth and the band works from the demos. Unless we have shows, we don’t have too many opportunities to get together.

CT: Sounds like new Feelies stuff is in the works?

G: Yeah, the good part of this project is that it sparked a lot of creativity in me and I started writing and Bill had also been writing. We ended up with an album’s worth of stuff and we’ve started recording that in my home studio as well.

CT: When writing songs, do you have any little tricks to help you get out of a rut or block?

G: Not really. I like to take long walks, which is good for my mood. Momentum is a big part, sort of like waves. There are times where there aren’t any waves but you need to feel comfortable with that and not fight it. You can’t force songs at all so when you do get something going, you just need to follow through and use the momentum as much as you can.

CT: Is your home recording set-up digital or analog?

G: It’s really basic. It’s digital but it’s designed to replicate analog. I don’t have to go to a menu. For years, I recorded a Tascam cassette 4-track. I got a Roland digital machine and didn’t like that at all. It wasn’t intuitive enough. I then got an 8-track Tascam digital recorder because I like the way it looked and the layout was similar to the older 4-track. The only drawback is that you can’t record more than two tracks at a time. But that’s fine for me, as I think it can be hard to focus on the big picture when you have too much going on.

CT: Are you recording the new Feelies record on the Tascam?

G: No, we’ve brought in different equipment. But I did record my first solo record Wheels in Motion on the Tascam.

CT: Has there ever been another musician who you were really excited to meet?

G: Lou Reed is pretty high on the list, or Patti Smith, or the guys in REM.

CT: Wow, tell me about meeting Lou Reed.

G: The Feelies were asked to play a Christmas party for a radio station in Long Island. It’s not the normal kind of thing we would do so to entice us they were throwing out names of people who’d be there, like Joey Ramone, Joan Jett and Lou Reed. Bill kind of jokingly said, “Well, if Lou comes up and plays with us we’ll do it.” The station ended up running with it and contacted him. (That was around the time our Only Life record had come out with a cover of What Goes On.) He knew about us and said, “Sure.” We met five minutes before we played with him, so “surreal” is the best word to describe it. It was “Here’s Lou Reed and here’s the stage”. (laughs) We played a few songs and he came out as the special guest. The crowd was into it, so we ended up huddling backstage to come up with more songs. Later, Lou had us open up for him on his tour for the New York record.

CT: So you kept in touch?

G: He had a place up in Blairstown and asked us if we wanted to come up and fish sometime, but that never happened.

CT: What is the most memorable show you ever played?

G: There’ve been so many but I do remember having fun at the last night the Feelies played Maxwell’s, shortly before it was closed.

CT: What about any really big shows?

G: Celebrate Brooklyn was fun, but generally I don’t really like big shows or festivals. The sound is typically bad and playing during the day can have a weird vibe. We’re just not that kind of band.

CT: Worst show?

G: Wake Ooloo played with Speed The Plow at a place in NY called the Rodeo Bar. We started playing the second song and the owner said we were too loud so we turned it down, again and again. It didn’t work for him, or us, so we gave up and stormed out without getting paid. To top it off, when we got to the parking garage to grab our van, there was fire and we ended up getting blocked in for a couple of hours.

CT: What do you remember from the experience of performing in the movie “Something Wild?” 

G: Everyone was really nice to us. We had some reservations because we had some Yung Wu shows coming up that we had to rehearse for but they said, you can rehearse on the set. So on the Sunday they weren’t shooting they let us go in and rehearse on the set, which was pretty wild. They gave us a motor home as a dressing room. I remember when we looked through the front curtain Jeff Daniels was out there practicing the moonwalk. I also remember that I kept messing up when they were filming us playing. (I think it was just the pressure of the production with all the lights and the people and I kept reverting back to the live version we were used to playing.) We had to do a bunch of takes that I felt a little guilty about. Overall though it was a lot of fun.

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CT: Let’s talk about some of your guitars.

G: I have a lot of Fenders. I have a lot of Squiers that I’ve modified. The two that I use live with The Feelies are Squiers, where I replaced the tuners, the bridge and the pickups. On one of them I think I’m on my second neck. I went through about three fret jobs with one neck and now another three fret jobs on the new one. I like my action really high and I’m pretty tough on the neck.

CT: What kind of pickups did you use?

G: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails.

CT: Pedals?

G: I’ve stripped down. Live, I’ve been using a Boss Turbo Overdrive, Super Over Drive and a Chorus. Right now, I’m using a Vox Valvestate amp, which is programmed to the Vox top-boost sound. On a second channel, I have the same sound but set to be slightly louder, with more gain. So between the Vox settings and the Boss Over Drives, I have just about any amount of distortion or overdrive you’d ever want. Between the overdrive pedals and the channel options, I switch back and forth. Maybe once a night I’ll hit everything and take it over the top. A total assault (laughs). I usually back off a little bit on my volume with the hot rails. With many pickups I find that when you back off they can get muddy, but these pickups get a little more “trebley” and less muddy.

CT: Do you have favorite amp?

G: I’ll use anything, I’m not really tied to one amp. I ended up recording through a Digitech RP50 amp modeler on some of my recordings. On our latest recording, the amp modeler was too loud so we recorded using the headphone, out from a Fender Champ. I’ve also been doing overdubs on an old 60’s ampeg at our engineer’s house, which sounds pretty good: Marc Francia of Speed The Plow and The Trypes.

CT: Let’s talk about your influences. You started as a bass player?

G: Yeah, Bill as well. On bass, it was Jack Cassidy and Dennis Dunaway from the Alice Cooper group. On guitar, Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper, and Ron Asheton. Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, The Beatles, Buddy Holiday, Chuck Berry, Bo Didley, Sterling Morrison and the guys in MC5 were really big influences. I was really excited by the two guitar teams.

CT: What was your first guitar?

G: A Silvertone acoustic. The body was separated from the neck and I glued it back together. Then I had a Guild SG briefly, which sounded crappy, so I went back to bass and traded it for one of those acrylic Dan Armstrongs. I remember it was pretty heavy. My first good guitar was a 72 Stratocaster that I bought new in the shop. I used that for the early Feelies and played it on Crazy Rhythms. It never intonated right and I fell out of favor with the whammy. When I was in The Trypes I used Marc’s telecaster and got into those, so I switched over. I missed the Strat, so bought a few of those, but I switch back and forth.

CT: You seem to be pretty busy these days.

Yeah, Only Life, Time for Witness and Wheels of Motion are being re-released on vinyl, an EP of covers released for Record Store Day and this new Feelies stuff. East of Venus is putting out a record in honor of our friend and bandmate Michael Carlucci, who recently passed away. There’s also talk doing something around Incidental Hum.

CT: When was the last time you were in a fistfight?

G: I’ve usually avoided those. I think Legs McNeil once tried to pick a fight with me at Maxwell’s. (Laughs)


 

Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar

Mike Adams is one of the two Mikes who co-own Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar, a cool Seattle-based music boutique. I was excited to finally get the chance to chat with him about under-appreciated guitars, seeing ghosts, and Johnny B. Goode (as played by Michael J. Fox) in Back To The Future.

Cordtangler: Tell me about your background?

Mike: I grew up in York, Pennsylvania, and started playing guitar when I was eleven. I loved taking things apart—and anything that I could take apart and put back together to look like a robot was really attractive to me. I wanted to be an Artificial Intelligence engineer, but I didn’t have the grades.

The first guitar that I ever had was an Ibanez Silver Cadet. It broke all the time. I think I had to rewire it six or seven times when I was in high school. That’s how I got into guitar repair and modifications—because I was working on my stuff all the time. Where everyone else was afraid of breaking their guitars, I was like—“Well, mine is already broken.”

I played in bands and did the touring thing, which I truly miss. I love being crammed in a van with sweaty people for 18 hours and then playing for half an hour—and then driving 10 more hours. It was the most attractive part of it for some reason. I couldn’t tell you why (laughs).

CT: Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation?

M: Other than being mercilessly beaten for most of my formative years—not really. I was overweight, a redhead, and loved Star Trek—and those things did not go well in the school system. Nobody told me (laughs).

CT: How did you end up starting a guitar store in Seattle with another guy named Mike?

M: I met the other Mike through my wife, right when I moved to Seattle. We hit it off based on our love of cool, quirky vintage instruments. I remember the first time we went down to his practice place to play music together. We started talking about Back to the Future and our love of ES-345s and 355s. Then we got talking about Nels Cline. And after playing the solo from “Impossible Germany” for like three hours, we had become lifelong friends. We ended up working in a shop together—and realized the more we worked for someone else, the more we’d like to work for ourselves… three years later, it’s still working. And we are really proud of it.

CT: So as a music store owner, what is the riff that people come in and play that makes you the most crazy?

M: Well, for six months I worked at this big-box store that will remain nameless. I heard “Smoke on the Water” more than any human being should have to. I heard countless time signature–challenged versions of Metallica songs. Having played in a Weezer cover band in Seattle, something else that sticks out is hearing the opening of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” in a myriad of different ways. They are all beautiful in their own right. Some are played correctly and some are not.

I don’t want to give people the impression that they shouldn’t play in the shop. It goes with the territory. I do feel like it’s interesting when people go off the normal path and play something they’ve written or decide to make weird noises with a Fuzz Factory or something. I’m okay with that.

CT: Who was a musician that really inspired you when you were coming up?

M: Well Marty McFly is the reason I play guitar and the reason I went for a semi-hollow Gibson when I could finally afford one. I learned “Johnny B. Goode” from the watching the movie [Back to the Future].

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CT: How many guitars do you own?

M: Hmm, I think I’m in the eight range. It’s not very many and one is ornamental and another one is incidental. I’m not playing in a band right now, so I don’t need a bunch.

CT: Have you guys had any famous customers?

M: When we first opened the store, Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes were really supportive. When we started, they bought a bunch of stuff—and they sold a bunch of stuff through us. They are good people.

Bill Frisell has been such a great customer, and I would call him a friend. He usually comes by the shop when he is in town. He also does consignments with us, and jokes about how it’s the only shop that pays him when he walks in. He is a blast to be around—there is no ego or machismo with him. He’s absolutely a great person, and we enjoy getting to hear him play. He came in one day when I was doing a fret job for him and he asked what jazz I liked. The first thing that came to mind was Thelonious Monk, and he just launched into the most amazing rendition of “Monk’s Mood.” I couldn’t believe he was making those sounds on six strings—doing those piano parts. It was life altering! I will never forget that.

We’ve had a lot of cool customers. Oh, a Jaguar of mine that I absolutely loved is now owned by Win Butler of Arcade Fire. We haven’t sold anything to Joe Bonamassa or Eric Clapton yet (laughs), but we’ll get there.

CT: Can you name some other cool or like-minded stores that come to mind?

M: We are really good friends with Reverb.com and the Chicago Music Exchange. They are nice folks. Also, in Seattle there is a store called Thunder Road Guitars that is owned by a friend of ours named Frank. He has always been supportive of us. In Seattle overall, I feel like music stores have all been about camaraderie versus competition. Frank used to bring a bunch of stuff to me for repairs and that helped us.

Main Drag in New York—they are really like-minded and just good folks. I think we became friends due to our mutual love of Star Trek.

CT: So I understand that you moved down to Southern California?

M: Yes, I moved down to Long Beach, but the store is running fine. It’s still the other Mike and a guy name Matt—as well as James, who does stuff on the floor. Our buddy Ben has taken over the repairs from me.

I came down to CA with my extremely, talented actor wife, Charissa. I’ve been exploring other things as well—things like doing narration on a podcast called Seriocity. I want to be a touring musician again, so I’m seeing where I might fit in. I’m also doing the social media for the shop and writing. I get more questions than ever from people looking for consultations about their guitars. I recently did some stuff for Blake Mills, but overall I’m not doing as much stuff as a luthier right now.

CT: Have you ever seen a ghost?

M: I love the paranormal; I love the supernatural and ghost stories. The answer is yes. I’m pretty sure when I was 11—I always felt like I was never alone in our house—in my bunk bed, I remember waking up at 3 a.m. one night and seeing on the wall across from me, clear as day, a white figure hovering from one side of the room to the other. I was transfixed and terrified. I was too shaken to even lay back down and put my head under the covers. It finally vanished near my closet door. When it was gone, I asked, “Is anybody there?”—and my guitar strings started plucking on their own. In the morning, I saw my guitar pick in the middle of the floor. That was the most terrifying experience that I’ve ever had.

CT: So have you ever been doing a repair and completely screwed up?

M: Murphy’s Law means there are times when things go wrong. I haven’t met a tech or luthier who hasn’t had things happen. Years ago, I was working on a relatively new Taylor acoustic. The guy wanted a big chip in the finish repaired. You can do that several different ways, whether it’s doing a bunch of layers of nitro finish or—if it’s really small—you can sometimes use super glue, which will polish right out. I decided go with super glue and found the seal was glued shut. So when I squeezed the tube, the cap shot off and hit me in the face. I got the glue in my eyes and all over my glasses. Once I recovered, I noticed that there were miniature globs of glue across the finish of the guitar. That was horrible. I was able to scrape the areas flush, and it worked out in the end—but that sucked. I’m happy to report I was okay, but you just don’t want to make that phone call: “Oh hey, guess what?”

Hey, thanks a lot for making me relive that! (laughs).

CT: Anytime! I’m sorry I had to ask. I won’t touch a [guitar] neck. I’ve been doing electronics and little stuff for years, and I always screw up. Last week, when installing some new keys, I hard ran a screwdriver across the back of a headstock.

M: You just have to take a deep breath. I sometimes feel like it helps to say out loud to myself what I’m about to do—just be deliberate and know that stuff happens. But the good thing is that most things are repairable.

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CT: So I’ve noticed that you are a big offset fan. What is your holy grail guitar?

M: Mike and I used to take these little day trips down to Portland because we found that we could get slightly better deals than in the saturated Seattle market. We met this guy at his house and were buying his amazing old tweed Champ. As we always do, we asked if he had anything else for sale. So he went down to his basement and came back with a long brown Fender case that was caked in cigarette smoke. Before he opened, I knew in my heart that it was going to be great guitar. It ended up being a 1961 sunburst Fender Jazzmaster. It had been played to hell and was super dirty. The neck pickup didn’t work, but it was 100% original. I felt like I heard the angels singing! I plugged it in and got whatever sound I could and asked him what he wanted. The owner then said he wanted five grand. I pointed out the condition and tried to work out a more reasonable deal. I think we got it down a little—but I’m not a rich guy. I finally offered what I thought was reasonable. I think it was $2,250 (which three years ago and the condition it was in, didn’t seem that bad).

When he refused, I said no pressure but we are going to be on our way. If you change your mind before we leave Portland, give me a call and we’ll come back. So we go out to eat—and then as we are getting on the highway, I get a call from the guy. He says, “Okay, this is my final deal. I have this old original green Big Muff, so I’ll throw that in with the guitar and we do $2,500.” I was like, “Yeah!!” (laughs). I called my wife and said I was clearing out the bank account. She said okay. She knew (and I cannot thank her enough).

I put a ton of work into that guitar. I’ve never seen a guitar that dirty. I luckily didn’t have to get the pickup rewound. The neck shape—the feel of the body—I’ve never played a better guitar. I call it Pancake due to the strap that Paul Frank made for it. Paul did this strap that is made out of vinyl with a wood grain pattern. When he was making it, he emailed me and asked what my favorite word was—and Pancake is what I thought of. It fits.

CT: Outside of the main brand guitars everyone knows, whether it be ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s, what are some the more underrated guitars?

M: I’m glad that Tiesco guitars are being given the attention they deserve. They have their own sound; they have a different feel than the guitars from the U.S. I think they are fantastic instruments.

I like the Greco copies of Gibsons from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Greco, for my money, made a way better Thunderbird bass than you’ll get from a Gibson reissue these days. We had these Greco Thunderbird basses from the ‘90s that just killed. They have the right chrome-covered pickups—the body—those are just fantastic. They also made a great Firebird. I like that the Airlines have been getting their due. Overall, I’ll stick with the Grecos. Go buy them—make the prices go up; I don’t care. I’m playing it fast and loose right now (laughs). What would your answer be?

CT: Hmm, underrated and undervalued. I would say some of the Ovation electrics, like the Preacher, or the Mosrites that are not the Ventures version.

M: That reminds me, I also love the Micro-Frets guitars. Every time I have the chance to work on one of those, I am amazed. I don’t remember the model, but the one with the vibrato to adjust the pitch of each string is amazing. The way those guitars were designed is so cool.

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CT: I saw the Fender Marauder mentioned on the Mike & Mike’s site. I don’t think I had ever heard of it.

M: Yeah, I believe it was designed with Leo right before Fender was sold. They had a few prototypes. The first model was just a modified Jaguar with hidden pickups— the original idea was designed with a hidden vibrato arm that was routed through the body. That would have been a nightmare to repair. The main idea was to have these really hot hidden pickups under the [pick] guard with switches similar to a Jag or Fender 6.

There were originally four of them made. On the second prototype, they used a new body shape, including a headstock that we’d associate with a Starcaster. It had a Mustang-looking vibrato and a bevy of controls—but I’m not sure what they did. I can sort of see why it didn’t make it into production, but I wish they had. I think there were only eight made. So if you ever see one out there, you are a lucky person. They also made a later version with a slanted fret option.

CT: Crazy! If you ever start making guitars, you should re-create it.

M: You know, Paul Rhoney has made a Marauder in the past. There is a guy from Russia that made one with the hidden pickups.

CT: Who are some of the smaller builders you’d recommend.

M: As I mentioned, Paul Rhoney. He is a great guy. For his design, he took the Supro look but did an offset design with a full wood body. They used Mastery vibratos and bridge parts. I’m not a rich person—but if I was, I’d totally own one.

Also, the guys from BilT. They are actually making a model based on the second Marauder that never went into production. That guitar is called is called the Relevator. That is an amazing guitar. I used to own one. It has built-in fuzz and delay, tons of pickup options, and comes in any color that you want. They are surprisingly light.

Also, Danocaster. He does great refinishing—classic Fender ‘60s colors all the way. His aging is really tasteful and that is hard to find in the guitar world these days.

Chris Benson from Benson amps is a miracle worker. Whenever I plug into one of his amps, I feel like I’m better than I am.

My buddy Brian from smallsound/bigsound makes some of the most exciting fuzz [boxes] and distortions that I’ve ever played. He has a Fuck Overdrive that is one of the best pedals I’ve ever played. It can do superwide OD to moderate crunch. It can do fuzz, and it even has a setting on it that is supposed to emulate a blown amp. You hit that switch and everything implodes; it’s just glorious.

There are so many exciting builders out there who make me feel excited. I can’t imagine being a kid coming onto the scene and trying to decide what to choose. There are so many options.

I can’t forget my buddy Gabriel from Guadalupe Custom Strings. They hand wind their strings in Los Angeles. They are amazing; they have such enhanced, balanced tension. He graciously made me a custom set of Jazzmaster strings. They are the most balanced strings that I have ever played on an offset guitar. You also never have to change them. I can’t believe how long they last. This summer I did 33 performances that were two hours long (with tons of rehearsals in between), and I didn’t have to change the strings. Everyone should check out Gabriel’s strings!

CT: Who is your favorite comedian of all time?

M: Mitch Hedberg. I really love him. It’s really sad that he is not with us anymore. His career would have just kept going and going. I have to add Robin Williams! His stand-up [comedy] really comforted me when I was a kid, even when I didn’t get it. There was something that was so warm and real about that man. I always remember a performance from the late ‘70s—I think it was filmed at the Roxy—suspenders, a couple of props, and famous icons in the crowd. When he died, the first thing that I did was watch that special. It dawned on me how much Robin I have in me. There are little turns of a phrase that I use that I had no idea that I’d gotten from him. I will miss his stand-up, his movies, and his kindness. Actually, I’m going to switch my answer to Robyn Williams.

CT: I can’t thank you enough Mike and I wish you all the luck in the world in SoCal.

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Studio images (gibson with plaid shirt and seafoam jazzmaster) by Audrey Matos of Truemoxie Image.

Accept no imitations, Mike and Cordtangler both officially support and endorse guitar straps from Park La Fun.


 

Robert Malta of HUGElarge

At long last, I’m happy to share an interview with Robert from HUGElarge. I had a great time spending most of the day in the band’s studio up in Santa Rosa, CA. I can’t say enough good things about their recently released self-titled album.

CORDTANGLER: Tell me about your background.

Robert: First there were the surf bands—those were the first “garage bands.” Then there was the whole British explosion, and surf bands started adding singers, and that’s when I started. I was in a couple bands: The Little Kings, which had been a surf band, and then The Gates of Eden as things got more psychedelic. We played Pandora’s Box right when the Sunset Strip riots were starting. I wasn’t old enough to play that club; so they would say if the cops come in, this is where you need to hide. It was a big yard, and it was the start of the cops arresting kids for curfew. We opened for a bunch of bands that you’d see in the Nuggets box sets.

It’s funny, you made the same amount of money then that you do now (laughs)—but it was worth more back then. There were also more places to play that weren’t clubs. I think it was to keep kids out of trouble. The City of Hawthorne or the City of Inglewood, every area had a place. Really good bands played at those places. That’s where we played with the Seeds or Steppenwolf. It would be 600 kids on a Friday or Saturday night—we were playing to big crowds.

CT: I know your band opened for Love. Did you ever get to hang out with Arthur Lee?

R: No. I was pretty young, so I’d give people their space. Before we played with Love, I did hang out in front of Bido Lido’s and listen to him from outside. Love was the band at that point. At the time, I even remember one of the Doors saying in an article that they just wanted to be as good as Love.

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CT: So would you consider yourself more of a guitar player or a bass player?

R: I definitely consider myself more of a bass player, I feel confident playing bass. Guitar, I’m just winging it.

CT: How good are you at chording?

R: Primitive. I’ve always liked to play bottleneck slide. You know, it’s just one finger (laughs). I love the sound of it. I remember really liking Ry Cooder and the whole Performance soundtrack. “Memo from Turner” was a great song.

I also cheat a lot. I play guitar like a bass, and I use the top string as a guide. I’m sure there are songs on the record where the guitar player was originally playing an A minor diminished or something. Because I’m singing, people recognize the song. There are no rules, really.

I think the right hand is the most important. It’s the rhythm that counts. Hitting the one with the drummer or whatever one it is. You can even be low volume. If you are connecting, it sounds pretty good. I’m lucky I have a good right hand and an ear.

CT: When did you make the jump from singing to playing an instrument?

R: Well, I took a big break from music. I had just turned 30 and made the move up from LA to San Francisco. At that time, I was hanging out with Penn and Teller. They had a show on Broadway called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society with another partner that was doing really well. I had a cheap guitar, I think a knockoff Les Paul. So, Penn was over and he said, “Hey, let’s form a band and you can play my bass.” He’s a really good bass player. We got together at their theater and formed a band called The Dummy Heads with Penn and Teller’s friend, Elliot Freeman, on uke. So I played Penn’s Rickenbacker 4001 bass and he played my guitar and we had a blast. I realized that I loved playing bass. It had always been the main thing I heard when I listened to music. Teller played the theatre pipe organ and, believe it or not, sang.

At the time, all the bands I was digging, like the Nuns, were really young. At 30, I thought I was too old to really pursue it. A couple years later, I moved up to Sonoma County. After a while I got bored, stopped caring, and finally decided to learn bass. I got this great little Musicmaster bass, it was like the one that Ko [Melina] plays. I ended up meeting Rob Turner, who started EMG. I was telling him about my bass and he was like, “Oh, I’ll make you a custom pickup for that.”

CT: Wow!

R: It made that bass sound really good. I got into a band pretty quickly, just with some friends goofing around. I ended up forming pawpawblowtorch with a guy who had just moved to San Francisco from Chicago.

CT: Pawpawblowtorch, isn’t that a song?

R: Eno had a song, “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch.” We found the name in a book on circus freaks. He was David Bowie’s favorite freak—a fire-eater from Paw Paw, Michigan.

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CT: What was the most memorable show you have ever played?

R: That’s hard! Back in the day, my band played with the Seeds, the Standells, and Iron Butterfly.

When I was in Bermuda Triangle Service, we played a show at Penn’s house that he put on called Slamstock. He calls his house “The Slammer.” The show went from noon one day to midnight the next. Kind of a Woodstock. They had all these bands, including Extreme Elvis. If you haven’t heard of him, he’d really push the audience and get them to be pretty fearful. In the end, he’d eventually be completely naked. Penn really loved him. Extreme Elvis had a really good review, a great band. He was extremely overweight. On top of that, he had a micro penis.

CT: Whaa?

R: And he’d still get naked. He showed a lot of bravery, I respected that. That was a great show.

With HUGElarge, Matt and I have played some great shows. We opened up for Blowfly. We had a great show opening for the Supersuckers.

Overall, though, I’d have to say Slamstock [was the most memorable]. They flew us in, we played, and then we flew home without ever sleeping.

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CT: Do you have a guitar or bass that you really regret selling?

R: I regret not having some of my old basses, but I’m the opposite of most people. I like to settle on one instrument and then bond and play the heck out of it.

As I mentioned, I had that Musicmaster that I traded for a Steinberger because I saw Devo playing one. Tina Weymouth was also playing one, but I never warmed to it. I traded that for a ’70s P-bass with a jazz neck. That was traded for a Gibson EBO that I used for a long time. I then moved to a ’62 reissue P-bass that I used for pawpawblowtorch and Bermuda Triangle Service.

CT: Is there another musician you were really excited to meet?

R: I’d have to say Pete Townsend.

CT: Wow!

R: I met him through a friend in Oakland. Pete ended up putting out a generous invite that if I was ever in England, I could stay at their studio. I ended up staying at their Eel Pie studios for a week. They were on tour, but it was really nice. I remember calling a cab from his office while staring at the original painting from Tommy on the wall.

Another one was Mike Watt. He is the real thing. He is someone I would want next to me when WWIII happens. He is the guy. I saw him standing around before an early Firehose show. I mentioned that I hadn’t started playing bass until I was 36 years old and that he had been a huge inspiration to me. He just grabbed my hand in a soul shake and said, “BASS!” (laughs) That was all he said. After the show, as I was walking out, I noticed he was getting mobbed by all these kids. As I got to the door, I thought I heard his voice so I turned around. Then I heard him yell out “BASS!” as his fist was rising up from behind the sea of kids. (laughs).

CT: What do you remember most about the early San Francisco scene when you first moved up?

R: The Mabuhay [Gardens] started up fresh when I was in San Francisco. I saw the Talking Heads there, I saw Blondie. I missed the Ramones but saw the Dead Kennedys. My band played with Klaus Flouride and his band Five Year Plan. He was playing a Fender VI. He is really funny and supersmart.

CT: What part of your experience has influenced you the most?

R: That’s hard—probably the big British change. I experienced that change from adult culture to youth culture in the ’60s. Everything went upside down. It’s tough being older, but I had prime time for all that stuff. The first time I saw the Kinks on TV, one of the guys had hair to his shoulders and I remember how freaky that was. I was a little kid with my mouth hanging open.

I also have to say the Ramones. With HUGElarge, I think you hear that a little bit when we take a doo-wop song and go four to the floor.

CT: Tell me about how you met Matt.

R: I met him in Santa Rosa. At the time, he hadn’t played drums in a while. He was pretty burned out on touring with AMC [American Music Club] and had left the band. When I told him that pawpawblowtorch needed a drummer, he agreed to join. We got signed to a label and put out a 7-inch. But when we started to talk about touring, he said he was out. Our last show ended up being at the Hotel Utah—we just fell apart after that and our singer Scott moved back to Chicago.

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CT: How did HUGElarge start?

R: Well, I wanted to play something a little harder and I hadn’t talked to Matt in while. He lives about a half hour away from me and has become a winemaker. So I called him up and asked about getting together just to play.

He said he didn’t feel like carrying a bunch of drums around, so I suggested a cocktail kit. I had seen Treat Her Right, which was Mark Sandman’s [Morphine] first band. They had a cocktail kit. I thought Mark was pretty innovative. I tried playing slide bass once but struggled with all the strings. When I saw him playing with two strings, I thought, “Oh, that makes sense.”

Before we started playing, Matt said, “We need a guitar player” and I said, “I’ll play guitar.” When he started to laugh I said, “I’ll just play it open tuned, who cares.” Then we started playing shows and it went from there. We only like to play about six shows a year. We can’t play from August through November, usually, due to the wine making.

CT: What led to the recording?

R: Karl Derfler [Tom Waits and Roky Erickson, to name a few] is one of my best friends. He has been in music since he was a kid living in Europe. He has the wildest stories. He liked HUGElarge a lot and said he wanted to record us. He said he’d be down at the studio on Sunday doing some beta testing for the new Pro Tools. We are pretty fast, and Karl and I like to work together. We usually don’t do more than two takes—we record live and then I do vocal overdubs. Most of the time, I double the vocals. When we mix, sometimes we’ll think, this needs bass—so I’ll add bass going direct.

First we did a little five-song EP we would hand out at shows. We ended up doing three different sessions and have now put out a full-length on Highway 61.

I also have a side project with Karl called Paleophone. I play everything, but he triggers drums and stuff. He is quite a good drummer on the computer. We have a blast hanging out at his house and we’ll just record something.

CT: How do you pick your songs?

R: First off, I have to be able to play it or at least fake it. Second, we both have to like it and see if it fits with the HUGElarge sound. We’ve tried playing things we never played live, because they didn’t quite translate.

Matt is from the East Coast, Johnny Thunders era, and being a drummer is also into Zeppelin. I’m earlier; I’m into the Nuggets stuff.

CT: Let’s talk about your HUGElarge gear.

R: I’m playing an old Teisco Rodeo I bought from Fat Dog at Subway Guitars. I got it for like 250 bucks. I was so thrilled to have a guitar again and use the open tuning. The pickup sounded great, it’s a gold foil. I also found a Silvertone amp at a garage sale.

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CT: What model is the Silvertone?

R: It’s a 1482. You can still find them around for about 400 bucks, but I think I got it for a couple hundred. I used that one on our first recording and then got another one. For pedals, I bought a Boss DS-1, the cheapest possible distortion I could get. I then scraped the paint off of it and Karl modified it for me. I don’t know what he did to it, but I can get a Marshall-on-fire sound out of it.

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CT: I noticed you’re also playing an SG?

R: I know I mentioned the one-guitar thing, but that thing happened where I always wanted an SG Junior and it was relatively cheap. I love the pickup. I put a Wolfetone in it. The guy from Wolfetone is a great guy. He makes three P-90 versions. I have the middle one (the Meaner) as far as hotness goes. It sounds really good. The Teisco pickups are kind of like it—a really hot single coil.

For our third session, I bought an Eastwood H44. It’s a reissue of an old thick-neck Harmony Stratone. Some friends introduced me to Charlie Musslewhite, and he told me that the Stratone was a great guitar. I ended up finding the H44 for a great price on eBay. I didn’t really bond with it though.

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CT: What about any bass on the recording? What did you use?

R: I used a Danelectro. I bought it when they did the first reissue out of Korea.

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CT: What about Matt?

R: For the first recording, Matt used a Slingerland cocktail kit and then started playing a Peace kit. It’s a pretty inexpensive Korean kit. Actually, Matt is building a new kit. He said it’s costing him so much that he has to use it. He cut a big kick drum in half. It’s going to be this gigantic cocktail kit.

CT: Can I ask about some of the specific gear and where you recorded? I love the production.

R: Karl actually put together a little list:

The first two sessions were at Bayview Studios in Richmond, CA. Recorded on a ’69 Trident A Range board, #1 or 13 made, it’s an analog class-A console. Same board used by the Beatles on I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Mics: Room: Ghetto Blaster, no limiter, fed direct for ambient sound. Drums: Kick: Neuman U47 on top, AK8 D112 on bottom. Snare: SM56. Overhead/cymbals: KM84. Amps: SM56 (’60s) and Sony C37 (’50s). Vocals: SM7.

Amps: First session: Silvertone 1482. Second session: Two Silvertone 1482 amps (positioned on either side of the drums).

Cocktail drums: First session: ’50s Slingerland. Second and third sessions: Peace.

The third session was at Jackalope Studios in Santa Rosa, CA. Recorded through Karl’s portable unit, which includes: Two channel API 2020 preamps and four 1073s (secondary set with two 1083s).

Mics: Amps: Sony C37 and Royer 121.

Amps: Silvertone 1482 and Marshall solid-state combo.

Mixing: The Shack (Karl’s home studio) using a Melbourn Neve and Pro Tools.

CT: Thanks so much! It’s been great to meet you!


 

MIKE WATT SEEN WEARING POINTY SHOES

I’m excited to share a recent chat that I had with Mike Watt. As expected, I found him to be as funny as hell and really inspiring. 

CT: Really nice to speak with you. Tell me about the bass wrestlers who have influenced you.

W: I learned a lot from R & B records. Even with a shitty record player, you could hear the bass more. So, James Jamerson, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, and Jim Brown. As far as rock goes, there was Dennis Dunaway from Alice Cooper or Joe Bouchard from the Blue Oyster Cult. Where I could really hear rock ’n’ roll bass was overseas. There was the Scottish guy, Jack Bruce—I probably owe him the most. I remember I had an 8-track from the anthology Fresh Cream; I listened to that over and over. Eight-tracks were funny, they would loop but then they would cut off in the middle of tunes and shit. I think this later had an effect on my playing as a Minuteman. There were four spaces of music, so they would just clip off. I also liked John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Andy Fraser, Trevor Bolder, Chas Chandler, and Pete Quaife. You could hear these guys. Most of those guys were not afraid to hide the bass. On the Beatles, you can hear Paul McCartney rocking out there. Those guys were huge influences on me.

Until there was punk, D. Boon and I had never been to clubs. We were 13 in 1970, and there was only arena rock. In those days, it was mainly vocals coming through the PA, and the place is built for sports and has bad acoustics. I didn’t really get to learn anything from live bass players until the [punk] movement. Then I could go to clubs and it was very easy to see and hear bass players up close. With the movement, you could see dudes starting for the first time, learning in front of people. Also, with everyone starting at the same time, it made things more equal. It’s not like, the best guy is on guitar—there was more of a level playing field. In a lot of those bands, the guitar was just a texture and the bass was really driving it. Also, Richard Hell. He was another real hero. In my first band, I put a picture of him on my bass. There were also a lot of ladies in the bands, like Lorna Doom or Dianne from the Alley Cats.

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CT: What is your approach to the bass?

W: The longer humans do stuff, the more stuff they want to do because of where our frequencies live. You get really teeny if you play too many notes. So it’s always the search for the right notes, not the most notes. That can give someone who has just started on the bass the chance to write a really good bass line. It’s got to be the feel—they still don’t know all the scales and all the shit yet. Bass players get punished if we try to do too much based on where our thing lives. Even the 5-, 6-, and 7-string thing gets ridiculous.

When I was asked by Bass Player magazine about where the future was, I said it was about composition—and someone that was really good with composition was Carol Kaye. She could read the changes, the chords, and the harmonies. She was incredible. Carol was balls out: She put a sponge under the bridge cover so there were no blurry notes or mysteries. If she clams, you’re going to hear it.

I’m also not into the fingers versus pick thing. I’ve seen finger, pick, and slapping all work in the same tune. Whatever it takes to get the job done. All that stuff is stupid and macho like sports. At the end of the day, it’s the sound and aiding and abetting of the tune. Bass is about feel. That’s why you hear good things coming from women bass players. I think they feel a little more than they overthink.  

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CT: Tell me about your writing process.

W: I start with a title—I need the focus. It’s a device to help you get something across. It doesn’t mean the words are going to come first or the music is going to come first. It’s means this is what we are going to help realize. Then I try to find something that comes out naturally. They are like little plays, little lives. I usually start out with too much and then have to cut. Cut down, cut down.

On this last opera I wrote, Hyphenated-Man, I wrote on one of D. Boon’s guitars. I did that on purpose so I would have to write the bass second.

Usually, I like to write on the bass. I think for people who are playing with me, it serves as a springboard, a launchpad. I can put in the chord changes and the rhythm stuff but still leave enough room, as opposed to guitar or piano that have a bunch of harmonic content. Some people bum on it and think it’s not enough direction, but then there are people like Nels Cline who love it. Some people are like, what? You might as well write on the cymbals and the kick drum (laughs). A lot of people pick up on it even though it’s weird at first. I kind of leave it open for the people I’m playing with. I might give them thematic words, but I don’t want to give them so much direction that they lose their point of view. I’m also trying to say I’m grateful you’re playing, that you’re not a puppet with my hand up your fucking yang.

CT: How do you know when you have a good idea?

W: Good means something I can feel. Now, it doesn’t mean other people are going to feel it (laughs). In the early days of the movement, people would really let you know it and say fuck you. Like when I put a picture of Richard Hell on my bass, the Pedro dudes would say I figured you’d get into something like that, and I’d say “Fuck you.” This gave me a thick skin, so I don’t really worry about getting people’s permission. I just want to know when I play it I don’t feel jive. Or feel like I’m doing finger exercises or something cliché.

I ended up doing three operas, something I never thought I’d do. I just couldn’t get enough in by doing one smaller song, so I had to make a big one with lots of parts. I got the idea from “Happy Jack.” D. Boon and I liked that—we liked Sell Out as well but we didn’t like Tommy.

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CT: I have to agree! (laughs)

 W: Even the way they recorded Tommy was kind of tiny sounding. I don’t know if I have a fourth opera in me. There’s this one record I’m writing for Secondmen, the band I put together for my second opera. They are both Longshoremen, Pedro guys. I’m writing songs you can whistle to. I never tried to do that before. They are kind of like work songs. I picked up these books on sea shanties. I’m going to call it “Pick it up, put it over there.” It ain’t opera, it’s a collection of these work tunes. It’s a bass, drums, and an organ. The organ can go lower than my bass, and that’s the reason I picked it for my second opera. I’m using the songwriting to explore. The drummer just hits the floor tom and the kick drum, and the organ guy is way on the left hand on the bass key, which goes way to down to C. It’s a low-end, kidney punch kind of a thing. It’s the first time I’ve used this big holistic sound as part of my writing.

CT: What’s your home recording setup?

W: I have a setup where I can do everything but the drums. My organ man, Pete Mazich (The Secondmen), has a setup where we can do the drums. Casa Hanzo, in fact. I just recorded recently with Devin Hoff. He’s a stand-up bass player who played with the Nels Cline singers. Joe Berardi on drums, who is an incredible cat. I can now record with anybody, anytime. I can do the thing in my pad. I call it Thunder Pants, but it’s just me recording into Pro Tools. I use the Omni into Pro Tools HD 11. For hardware, I use a Burl ADC with an 1176 compressor and two LA-610 preamps. For recording, for basses, I use the big ones. I use little basses for gigs.

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CT: Why did you move to short scale basses anyway?

W: I wonder why! My fucking hands hurt. I’m not going to use that “O” word, but I am less younger. You do 53 gigs in 53 days, you feel it! I made the switch to short scale in ’98 when I couldn’t hold the fucking steering wheel. I think it was the fucking Thunderbird.

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CT: I feel like people know your EBs, but what about the big basses? That Moon bass looks cool.

W: I wanted to get a good recording bass and was pretty into Larry Graham, so I thought I’d check out the Moon. I first played one in Chicago and then I ordered it through the mail. It’s pretty much Jazz style and intonates really well. I really only use the front pickup. It had single coils that hummed, so I put in these four coil pickups. I don’t remember how I got it, but they had a coil for each string. I put a balance control in, too, instead of two volumes. I also put in a preamp, but I haven’t used it in a long time.  

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I’ve got a ’56 Fender with Thunderbird pickups.

I also have a Thunderbird bass that I got a long time ago on tour. It said “Dee Dee Ramone” on the case. It’s a ’66 non-reverse that they only did a limited run on. I like it better than the reverse ones. It’s got a 9-inch headstock though. When I was using that bass for gigs, I remember my left hand got really big. The muscle under my little finger got really huge from holding that fucking headstock up. I had to move the bridge because the intonation was all out. Probably because back then, you weren’t supposed to go down beneath the fifth fret.

I just got a Chinese-made Hofner Beatle bass, and I put flat wounds on it. It was only 250 bucks. I bought it for the Tav Falco tour. I haven’t played flat wounds in years.

The first bass I owned was a Kay. It kind of looked like Jack Bruce’s, and it was a hundred dollars. Got it out of the LA Times. It had flat wounds. You could fit your head between the strings and the fret board. Terrible action but it built up my fingers. Before this Beatle bass that was the last time I played flats.

I also have a P-bass made in Mexico. It’s got a jazz neck with a P-body and a Dave Allen pickup.

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CT: What were some of the most memorable shows of your career?

W: Every one of those fucking Stooges shows.

CT: I bet!

W: I remember one Stooges show where I was out of tune for three songs. I was relying on a tuner and I’d never used a tuner in the sun. I couldn’t read the readout right. I remember Ig [Iggy Pop] turning around looking at me like, “What the fuck, Watt?” You see him going wild but he listens to every note.

Oh, and another one: Ig said, “I want you to do a 16-bar bass solo.” So when I was playing it, Ig comes up behind me and starts beating me on the ass with the mic, with the beat, doing quarter notes. So I guess I could feel it? After the gig, I took off my pants and he had beaten the shit out of my ass with that mike! (laughs)

All the Minutemen gigs were incredible. You get on stage with D. Boon . . . he wasn’t conceited, but when he got on stage he was like “I’m going to play now.” He’d get dancing and bunny-hopping and he’d put his heart out.

In January I got a call from friend about coming up to West Hollywood. I was like, man, what’s it going to be—blues jamming in E minor? (laughs) I get up there and it’s Doug Wimbish, Blackbyrd McKnight, and Michael Hampton, and then George Clinton shows up and we do the whole fucking Maggot Brain album. It meant a lot to me. Maggot Brain with three of the Parliament/Funkadelic guys and the Sugarhill guy was a mindblow for me.

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CT: Speaking of the Stooges, I have to ask: I always wonder what it must have been like to be at the very first practice for the reunited Stooges?

W: That was a trip. I got a phone call in Tallahassee on tour with the Secondmen and it was Ig. He said, “Hey Mike, Ronnie says you’re the man.” I’m looking at the phone like I can’t believe this call. “Will you do me a favor and wear a T-shirt instead of flannel?” I said, “What about Levi’s and Converse?” And he said, “That’s strong.” Ig said he’d been having all these nightmares about the drummer wearing lime green and the bass player wearing all orange. He also said that when it gets to the end of the songs, however we end the songs, that’s how we are going to end them. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I then realized that on their first album there were lots of fade-outs.

So, I flew out to LA from the Secondmen tour and got sick on the flight. So I’m at the prac in Hollywood, before the gig, and it’s just me, the Asheton brothers, and Ig.

CT: Hold up, you guys did one practice before your first Stooges reunion show at Coachella!?

W: I had already played with Ronnie (Asheton) and J Mascis on a tour. I think J was a big part of those guys getting back together. He is just shy and doesn’t tell anybody.

Ig ran the practice like a gig, and you could tell how much he loved the Asheton brothers. I screwed up a few things in “Dirt.” I had gotten used to putting some Mike Watt parts into it. Iggy stopped the practice and told Ronnie to show me. I think I was adding an extra note.

It was the Stooges doing Stooges songs, and it was a mindblow for me. It was like talking to the cops. Don’t give up any information; don’t do anything embarrassing. Just hold the tunes and hold the course. The sickness just compounded it.

CT: Then the gig?

It was the next day. I remember the wind blew over Ronnie’s amps and I had a chill from a big fever. I was in another tent so the Stooges wouldn’t see me. I didn’t want them to know how sick I was, I felt like I was letting them down. Ian MacKaye and Flea put their arms around me to keep me warm.

I also remember playing “Dirt” and Ig came over and said, “Are we playing this in the right key?” I said yes, and he said, “Well, let’s start it again.” I was playing my Thunderbird and before the gig, I put “Minutemen,” in Letraset letters, on the bass.

Oh, and Steve (Mackay) didn’t even practice. He just came in and did it.

Ig and D. Boon were the same: Every gig is played like it’s their last one, and their work ethic is really strong. With Ig, it’s like he is playing for every single person in a huge gig.

CT: What was the transition like after the heartbreaking passing of Ronnie?

W: That was heavy. I still have a picture of him on my bass. James Williamson was always nice to me but it was different. When I played with James on Raw Power, the bass man was Ronnie. Ronnie was still with us. When they were mixing a Stooges live DVD, I remember Ig saying “Good job, Mike.” That meant a lot because those were Ronnie’s bass parts. He said I did them justice.

The Stooges were like big brothers to me. Who would have thought, in my late 40s, the brothers I never had. At the time, I didn’t realize it. But looking back, I can really see that. Being around them, my ears turned to elephant ears—I wanted to hear every word they had to say.

CT: I have to ask, what was it like doing a Stooges record?

W: That was hard on me. I felt like I could have done better. I took direction, the parts weren’t really mine, maybe one part in one tune. I want to be buried at sea, but I was having these nightmares that my tombstone said “The guy who fucked up the Stooges album.” (laughs)  

It was interesting being the sideman. I think musicians should experience all three roles—sidemouse, rudderman, and collaborator. All three experiences, in my case, have been important. If people ask me for advice, I would say do this too. If you go too far, you miss out on the big picture. To be a good leader, you’ve got to know how to take direction.

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CT: You do really work your ass off!

Check this out: I just did this tour with Tav Falco where I wore the pointy shoes and a shirt with cuff links. They were some pointy motherfuckers!

CT: That’s cool. I was going to say earlier that Tav Falco is awesome!

W: Yeah, that’s another one. Some of the people I’ve gotten calls from . . . it has been pretty cool.

CT: Best Mexican in the country?

W: La Cumbre in the city (San Francisco). Enchilada House in Pedro, it’s got the good taste. On Wednesdays, Guanajuato has carnitas burritos for $3.50 and those are righteous. Once you leave the West, there’s a lack of [burritos]. Wraps are like hippy burritos with no good taste.

CT: Do you believe in ghosts?

W: Sometimes. D. Boon’s brother gave me two of his guitars. One I kept closed for years; and when I opened it up, it had his smell on the leather and I saw him for a second. That smell hit me in the face and I saw him.

CT: Near death experience?

W: When I was 22, the weekend Darby [Crash] and John Lennon died, I got pneumonia and nearly died. I then gave it to D. Boon.

CT: Watt, I can’t thank you enough.

W: No, problem. You’re doing a good thing, keep it going.

Watt will be jumping around the West Coast this winter with the Missingmen and the Secondmen.  Show info: http://mikewatt.com

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Chris Young of Union Tube & Transistor, Exile and Spoon River

I’ve been curious about Chris Young, and his co-owned pedal company Union Tube & Transistor for a long time, and finally got around to talking with him. Based in Vancouver, Chris is also the co-owner of Exile music store and contributes the low-end in the awesome band Spoon River

CT: Tell me about your background playing music.

C: I grew up in Vancouver and started playing music in my early 20s. I was touring with bands, involved in music and wondered, “Why am I not playing?” And I started playing right afterwards. To name a few, I was in Lashback, Formula 977, Slowmobile, The Rentalmen and Bocephus King (me and everyone else).

CT: Has bass always been your primary instrument?

C: No, when I was in my second band, The Rosenbergs, I started playing bass. About month before our first gig, they had booted their bass player and said, “You’re the new bass player,” That was that.

CT: Growing up, what music most influenced you?

C: In high school there was a lot of hard rock and punk. In my teen years, I worked in a big chain music store with people who were keen to turn me onto different things. I remember my boss at the time told me about The Replacements coming to town and that I needed to see them. I was like, “Who?” It ended up being their final tour until their recent reunion. That blew me away.

Canadian bands like the Rheostatics (self-described as “Canadian Shield art rock”) and Copyright were really big inspirations to me too. I remember buying a guitar really similar to what one of the Rheostatics guys was playing. I also can’t say enough about artists like Art Bergmann, who I used to go see religiously, and Huevos Rancheros – I even drove from Vancouver to Winnipeg to see them one time! Look up that drive. They were hugely influential as well and are now using Union pedals, which is quite humbling.

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CT: Let’s talk about your company Union Tube & Transistor? I know you have a partner named Kirk Elliot how did you guys get started?

C: I worked at a shop in Vancouver for about 12 years called Not Just Another Music Shop. It was the cool independent shop. We ran some build-your-own-pedal workshops together there, and we really hit it off and realized we had something together. My background is industrial design, and he studied electrical engineering.

Kirk is really the driving force behind how things work, where I’m more about what we’re going to do. I’ll come up with an idea and he’ll design it. I’m aesthetics, assembly and sales and he’s the mad genius behind the curtain. He’s really on the next level; he can listen to someone’s sound and then draw the circuit based on how he hears it.

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CT: Wow, that’s crazy. Your pedals are gorgeous, tell me a little bit about the design?

C: Initially, we were just taking Hammond enclosures and having them engraved at trophy shops. I like the way that they looked but I wanted to create something with a little bit more of an emotional connection.

CT: How has the business developed over time?

Our initial idea was to build the name without investing a ton of money, so we started making t-shirts and dropping them off at thrift shops. At one point, we had made and sold more t-shirts than pedals. But eventually word got out and orders came in, despite the fact we experimented with not being online. (That lasted about four years.)

When we changed our brand and moved away from the engraved stuff, we started sending pedals to people we really admired. But since we were superstitious about the number 13, we made a 13th model and replaced the serial number with an artist’s name and then tried to get that pedal to the artist. And we were pretty successful! There’ve only been one or two who got our pedals and didn’t try it out. And some artists we just couldn’t reach – the secretive ones with passionate fans.

Like Jack White. But, lucky for us, he got our More Pedal and used it on Blunderbuss. He even mentioned our name in a magazine article. That was the moment we knew we had finally had to get online because I got a new customer call on my cell phone, so I knew it was going to get wacky. So, yeah, two years ago, the same week that we launched the product with Third Man records, we went online to let people know we existed.

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CT: What was your Third Man experience like?

C: Early on, they just asked us to do a bit of work here and there. Then we finally said, “We can just make you guys something.” So, we went down to Nashville and brought some stuff we had in production, as well as a couple of things that we didn’t have in production. In a very quick meeting they told us, “We like the sound of that one and we like the look of that one but we want to make one with our own branding.” We agreed and two years later our collaborative end product hit the streets.

We worked with Third Man’s interior graphics design company and designer Rob Jones for the limited edition run. It was a couple years of secrecy and pretending we didn’t know what was going on, when we really knew what was going on. They sold about 200 in the first three days on the market. It was insane.

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CT: What has inspired some of your other pedals?

C: I started thinking about wanting my own product on my pedal board and the three classics you’d want to have: an overdrive, a distortion and a fuzz. From there, we looked at ‘60s fuzz pedals to find “the one.” We listened to early Jimmy Page stuff, where – to me – it sounds like he’s running a fuzz pedal the whole time. We looked at what he was using and wondered how we could improve it. We looked at the similarities between and fuzz face circuit and a tone bender circuit; we liked the sweet spot in between the two. I mean, everybody loves a fuzz face but… everybody loves a tone bender… “Let’s make it a perfect meld of both, and fix the issues.” We also thought about how much extra gain would be enough to make someone go, “Oh shit.” We wanted to give it the wow factor that we like. I pulled adding 20db of gain out of my hat. This became the Sone Bender.

Then we told with Adam of War on Drugs that we were making a germanium pedal, and asked if him if he wanted to check it out. He said, “I don’t use germanium fuzzes, they’re not stable enough for the road.” We asked, “Well, what do you like?” And he said he liked silicon pedals. A light bulb went off for me! Why not do a silicon fuzz? That’s the Tour Bender. A pedal that’s made for touring. It can put up with all the heat and stuff.

The Swindle is our little tip of the hat to the Sex Pistols. The distortion had to be a little bit unnatural – an overdrive that’s not a fuzz, but it cleans up when you roll off your volume. (Which all 3 of these pedals will do if you play with the guitar dynamics; you’re going to get different characters.)

The Tone Druid came from two things: first, someone trash-talking us in a forum after the Third Man product released, asking “Why is it so expensive? Is it made by Canadian tone druids?” (laughs). So the name came first. And second, we modified the More circuit, and a simulated 12AX7 circuit, which I don’t think anyone has ever done like this before. (The More pedal for me is the ultimate overdrive but some people don’t get it because the sound is clean. It won’t distort but it’ll make your amp distort.)

With a master volume after it, The Tone Druid sounds very, very amp like. It’s really, really, really, really smooth. It was a two-year process from the Tone Druid being just a sparkle in our eye to getting it out the door. Each Tone Druid is custom so it’s got a specified part set for each pedal that involves a bit of measuring. I don’t think anything really compares to it. 

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CT: By the way, what reminded me to reach out was I recently picked up a Sub Buzz and I have to say it’s pretty solid.

C: I made a fuzz for a bass player friend of mine and he was saying when he kicks in a fuzz it takes away the low end. I told him about this studio trick where you run a fuzz in parallel and boost the clean signal. I was thinking, “Well, if you just put that in one pedal it would probably be a real homerun for bass players.”

CT: Are there any other pedals that you’d recommend for bass players?

C: For my personal set-up, I use a tuner and a Sub Buzz. I also have to say that when we were developing the Tone Druid, we tested it on bass, guitar, keyboards and a drum machine, and it sounds pretty good for all of them. Another cool trick for bass players is to use the Boss Line Selector. You take one of those and throw any guitar pedal that you want into its loop. Basically, it becomes a parallel mixer, similar to what we did when we were developing the Sub Buzz. Just a parallel clean part where you can re-introduce your original bass tone so you don’t completely lose it. Using the Line Selector with any pedal is the best and cheapest trick that I know.

Hmm, I don’t know what else? An old Garnet amp (laughs).

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CT: You recently mentioned the randomatic pedal in an article, which I’d never heard of. Anything else that has caught your attention?

C: I like the Moog Clusterflux and Delay, which they just discontinued. Those both had a hidden soft sample and hold waveform that you could only access via midi. That’s really interesting. It’s a shame that they didn’t put it on the front because it’s such an unusual thing.

Ibanez made a bunch of Autofilter stuff. It draws really heavily and people would try and use them on batteries and it would sound bad, but if you used an adaptor it would sound amazing. Those have always been interesting to me.

Early on, my first Lexicon 8 seconds Jam Man opened up a lot of doors. I remember thinking, “Oh wow, I can record for 8 seconds. This is huge.” I’ve been collecting loopers ever since because I think they’re very unusual.

The Whammy pedal. They could’ve created that pedal using a really complex set-up but they did it with a simple pedal form, which was unexpected.

Molten Voltage. What he’s doing is super interesting: adding arpeggiators in the midi control.

For sequenced effects, the Seek Trem and Seek Wah from Zvex. I thought those were both really great when they came out.

The TC Electronics D2 was an inexpensive rack delay, but you could tap rhythm into it.

When I tried the first Empress Tremolo I thought, “This guy Steve is a genius.” They’re on a whole other level.

I don’t know who the guy is… but there’s someone programming stuff for Electro- Harmonix. Apparently a bunch of the stuff is programmed around a single chip. With the Super Ego and those types of pedals, there’s some next level stuff going on there for sure.

CT: I’ve always had such a soft spot for Electro-Harmonix, I had an early Small Stone and Muff Fuzz, that hung off the guitar jack. Those got a ton of 7th grade basement jam time.

C: Even some of the reissue stuff they have been doing like the 16 second delay. I also do some ambient stuff and using their pedals on that front is just fantastic.

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CT: Are you impressed by any of the younger builders?

C: I don’t know how old he is but Joel from Chase Bliss is a mad genius. The Warped Vinyl and the Wombtone, the Gravitas and the Flanger too. I think everything he does is spectacular. The workmanship and what he’s cramming into those boxes. Our tendency is to go the opposite route, where we like to give ourselves lots or room. People get down on us for making big boxes with one knob. What he’s cramming into something barely larger than a boss footprint, with 122 presets and full midi integration…. yeah, he’s someone to watch!

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CT: Let’s talk about Exile.

C: Whenever someone I know is headed to Seattle, Portland or even New York, I recommend a few good places to check out. But locally, we didn’t have a shop. So we imagined a place where you could see all of the weird stuff: the Third Man stylophones or old Harmophones. Any oddball kind of thing that other stores don’t want, we wanted to carry it. We also have a good pedal selection and guitars from local makers. For me, Exile is a joy. I love to hang out and shoot the shit about gear. It’s been good for us, too. We just passed one year and it’s feeling like we’ve turned the corner a bit.

We’ve also started getting into Eurorack stuff. There’s a company here in Vancouver called Intellijel, and they’re doing amazing stuff including a very unusual sequencer called the Metropolis. We’re also stoked about the Moog Mother 32 and Roland stuff.

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CT: When customers come in to test guitars, what riff makes you cringe the most?

C: I’ve thrown shit at people for “Stairway” (laughs), mostly because no one does the solo! That’s bullshit. I mean, you just do the opening riff. You don’t play the solo, c’mon. I’m pretty patient though.

At a store I used to work at, this kid came in, scratched his chin, picked up a guitar, and played “Sunshine of your Love.” [hums the tune] Then he put the guitar back on the wall, scratched his chin again, picked up the next guitar… [hums the tune] I swear to god, he picked up every guitar in the store and played that riff over and over. It was amazing. You kept thinking, “He’s not going to do it again,” and he did it again and again and again! Every guitar in the store is getting that riff. It was more funny than anything else.

CT: What is your favorite guitar?

C: Telecaster in any of its variations. Humbucker, Single Coil, Bigsby. I’ve got a weak spot for a black Telecaster. It’s hard for me to walk by one without picking it up.

CT: Has there ever been a musician you were really excited to meet?

C: I’ve met a lot of different people that I think highly of, but the one that caught me off guard was Tom Waits. It was when I worked at the (now closed) Not Just Another Music Shop. A driver came in one day and said, “I’m working for…” and flashed me a sign that said Tom Waits. He said, “I’m wondering if there’s anything here that he might be interested in?” I was like, “How the fuck could I pretend to know what Tom Waits is into?” So I thought of a few things and wrote down a list. The driver asked if Tom, if he wanted to come in, could enter from the back door. I wasn’t sure if he was serious and said, “If you bring him back with you, he can come through the roof if he wants to!” Anyways, he ended up coming in and we chatted briefly. I think he was in Vancouver doing the Terry Gilliam film.

CT: What stuff did he check out?

C: The owner used to have this amazing collection up on the wall that wasn’t for sale. People constantly came in and asked about it, which was a point of contention obviously, since it wasn’t for sale. Tom asked about one of those pieces and I said we sometimes rent them out and he said, [Chris imitating Waits], “Well, can I rent that out for a few years?” (laughs) He also looked at some of the old resonators.

 

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CT: Let’s talk about your band Spoon River. I heard it started in Montreal by a couple named Tavis and Rachel?

C: They actually lived in Vancouver, moved to Montreal, and moved back. While they were in Montreal, Tavis was in a band without Rachel. Tavis is probably one of the most prolific songwriters I’ve ever met. When I first met him we were talking about music we liked and he mentioned that he had this record, which he gave to me. I thought it was really good. It almost got to the point where I had to play it for other people just to see if I was wrong. Tavis had never released any his recorded music. He had three other records, including new material. He’d write songs, form a band, record, and then he was done. He didn’t put anything out.

When he moved back to Vancouver, I helped him form a band (in which I play bass) and find a label. I even helped him finance the record. He’s had various people playing on the last two records: Kingdom of the Burned is compared to The Band and the latest one, New Sun Ahhhh Hotel, is more on the psych-garage tip. One even got shortlisted for an award in B.C., but we didn’t end up winning. Regardless, we’re all very excited to have the vinyl in hand for the first time.

CT: Have you ever had a near-death experience?

C: In the late ‘90s, while I was on tour as a guitar tech, I contracted a very rare, viral bacterial blood infection. The chances, they said, were 0.5 in a million! Before antibiotics, you’d just die, but after antibiotics you’re just very, very sick for a long time. I was hospitalized for about a month and then on antibiotics for months thereafter. While lying there, thinking I could die, I reflected on all the things I hadn’t done in my life that I wish I had done. I’d never gone to post-secondary, and wondered about what I might like to do if I did. That’s how I decided to study industrial design.

CT: My wife is Canadian so I asked her to provide a special list of Canadiana questions. Here goes:

Bob or Doug? Bob

Pancakes or Shreddies? Shreddies

Coffee Crisp or Caramilk? Coffee Crisp

Moose or Beaver? Beaver

Lobster or Salmon? Salmon

French or English? English

C: Okay so best burrito in SF?

CT: El Toro.

C: I’m a Cancún man. 

CT: Man, the guys I’ve interviewed from the south (Pinkus, Brad, Nick) talk shit about our burritos.

C: Oh man, why?

CT: “Too many ingredients.”

C: That’s crazy.

CT: I knew I liked you Chris.

C: That reminds me. I was in San Francisco in the early ‘90s, when I was on tour with Huevos Rancheros. We stayed with a friend who gave us a house key when we went out for burritos. When we got back, the keys didn’t work on the lock, so we ended up sleeping in the van. Later in the night, we heard sirens. It turned out, we were parked outside of an antique store and one of the lamps inside caught on fire. The whole place went up in flames! We couldn’t get out in time and ended up getting boxed in by police cars and fire engines. We were so worried they’d blame the whole thing on us. (laughs)

CT: Mr. Chris, thanks a million!


 

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.


 

PAUL FRANK!!!

Over the years, Paul Frank has been on my radar. He’s an amazing designer, as most everyone knows, but he also happens to be a fellow music geek. Thanks to Instagram, we connected recently through a mutual friend. Enjoy!

Cordtangler: Like so many others, I’m familiar with your career as a popular designer. But in addition, you’re a musician and huge music fan!

Paul: The design career was an accident, actually, when all I wanted to do was play music.

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CT: I heard that you also were part of an amp business?

P: In the early 90’s, my friend Matt from high school started getting into tube amps. He was teaching himself how to wire amps and wanted to cover the amps with something interesting. We were sitting at a Mexican restaurant noticing the tapestry on the seats. We figured if you had a Fender tweed amp, like a ‘56 deluxe, why couldn’t you use the same stuff. We went to the fabric store and that stuff was like 40 bucks a yard. We then found these warehouses that had these crazy Brady Bunch-patterned fabrics. Searching for fabric to cover speaker cabinets and amps was really inspiring.

I donated some of my money and we started the company Fire Melon. Matt would do the wiring and I would cover the amps. He first started modifying Fender champs because you could get them cheap back then. We’d do stuff like remove the tone knob and other stuff where you’d see sparking, but it sounded really cool. Then we found where you could get the transformers wound and went from there. We did what you’d do now, like take a Supro and a Fender and mate them together. Matt ended up working at the company that created World of Warcraft. But this whole experience got me interested in finding fabrics, which then led me to making wallets and things for my band and beyond.

CT: When did you start playing?

P: I started playing the summer before high school, which is pretty late in the game. When I was a kid, my sister had a cheap acoustic but I never understood it. I didn’t know that you had to push the strings down, so when I put my fingers on the strings, I was like, “This doesn’t do anything.” So I guess I would’ve started at a much younger age, if someone had hipped me to that. (laughs)

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CT: Tell me about the guitars you had as a kid.

P: My first was a JCPenney Teisco guitar that my friend got from the “druggie” down the street. It was probably a stoner just getting rid of his guitar for 25 bucks. Then, for Christmas that year, I got a Hondo Strat copy from my mom. It was red with a maple neck. The strings were like half an inch high off the fret board, but it was still a major improvement.

The Teisco was still fun to experiment with. Whether it was painting it with a British flag or using spray paint that was on hand. I actually spent a few years just taking that guitar apart and adding different pick-ups from other guitars I found at the swap meet. I had more fun customizing it than playing it.

It was fun playing the Hondo but that was all you could get at that point. They didn’t start to reissue cool guitars until ‘85. You could get a Strat but it was $800, which was like a million dollars back then. (My dad drove a truck so I was lucky to get any guitar.)

When the Squier came out, I was finally able to get a real Fender. Even though it was a Squier, it was pretty legit. I thought, “Wow, I’m in business!” Over the next few Christmases, I kept getting Squires. I had a true collection!

CT: Did you finally get a full-blown Fender?

P: Yes, when Fender came out with the American-made re-issue Stratocasters. I remember finding one in the Recycler at a store in Costa Mesa. The store had a second from Fender where the neck was horribly orange. I remember the wires to the pick-ups had the wax, and it felt solid, different from a Squier. I spent all summer sweating away, printing t-shirts to buy that one… I also remember seeing a Jazzmaster that was $225 that same summer. You couldn’t give those away back then; nobody cared about them at that point.

CT: Man, The good old days!

P: I remember reading about the Bel Aires in Guitar Player magazine and writing to their guitarist Paul Johnson. I asked him what I needed to do to get the surf sound, and he actually wrote me back and told me that I needed a Fender Showman and a Reverb Unit. (Remember, there wasn’t Google back then.)

My mom was really cool and she would go out of her way to find stuff.

I used to go to the Community College Swap Meet with my mom and we came across a Reverb Unit in ‘84, for $150, but my mom said we couldn’t afford it. That Christmas, I opened up a box and there it was. So she went back and found the guy for me. My mom also got me a Fender Twin Reverb. I knew enough that I had to get a tube amp. That was horribly loud. I can’t believe my parents put up with that.

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CT: What kind of music do you remember first being excited about?

P: My cousin lived in Whittier, California, and he’d always find great records. I remember he said he wanted to give me a record, and held up two for me to choose from. One was the first Devo record and the other was the first B-52’s record. There was something cool about the B-52’s record cover and they sounded like surf music, so I went for that one. I remember just staring at the inside of the record cover, reading the lyrics… and that Blue Mosrite. You never saw a Mosrite in those days.

That album inspired me to check out older music at the Swap Meet, like the Beach Boys and Dick Dale. I would always buy those old Beach Boys records and they would have those Pendletons and those white guitars. I remember we used to bleach out our Levi’s so we could look like the Beach Boys. Those records really influenced how we dressed and the guitars we liked. We lived by the beach and it just seemed cool.

I also remember one Christmas eve, one of my uncles was playing Duane Eddy. I was thinking this guy sounds like Brian Setzer? At that time, you thought the Stray Cats invented that music. He was like, “No son, this is Duane Eddy” and I was like a dog tilting his head, “Huh!?” It was a whole new world that I needed to discover. I also remember buying Elvis’ record “Louisiana Hayride” on a TV commercial. So my taste went back and forth: rockabilly, surf music, my uncle’s old records. It was much more fun than A-ha or Flock of Seagulls.

CT: Any famous musicians you were excited to meet? Any good stories?

P: I got to meet Dick Dale, go to his house and play his guitar!!

CT: Holy shit.

P: He knew this guy named George who owned a famous surf shop in Huntington Beach. So my mom wrote a letter to George saying, “My son listens to Dick Dale everyday. Do you think there’s any way he could meet him and would you send this letter to him?” Then after school one day, I was jamming with some friends and our drummer Chris shows up and starts banging on the garage door. Chris then pulled open the door, my boom box gets knocked off my amp and Chris says, “your mom just called me. She said Dick Dale called and wants you to come to his house!” (laughs) I was like “Is this a joke?” But no, it was him and he invited my cousin and me over to his house in Balboa. He showed us all these photo albums with naked girls on the beach (laughs) and he really trashed the Beatles. I think a lot of those guys were pretty bitter because they came in and pulled the rug out.

When I told him I had a Jazzmaster. He was like, “Those aren’t very good, you need a Stratocaster.” Then he let me play that gold guitar of his, which is strung upside down.

CT: I didn’t know that.

P: Yeah, Albert King did that as well. It’s cool. When you bend, you bend in a non-intuitive way. He also uses custom strings, from high to low, so the gauges go in this order: 14, 18, 18, 38, 48 and 58 or 60.

CT:  Cool, I never knew that.

P: Have you ever tried it?

CT: No, that sounds crazy!

P: Well, you’re obviously you’re not going to do that much bending but Dick Dale didn’t do that much bending. It’s physics, if you’ve got a magnet, like in the pick-up, and its job is to pick up the vibration of the metal strings and the bigger the strings, the more ballsy it’s going to be. That’s a big part of his sound.

CT: What was his guitar like?

P: It was seriously the most amazing guitar in the world. Dick said that Leo (as in Leo Freak’in Fender) made it for him. The neck was really thin and narrow at the nut. It fit your hand like butter. Or like ice cream, but not too cold or too melty and gross. It was perfect. So, I decided to take a swing at playing Misirlou with Dick Dale. He ended up teaching me how to play it right (Laughs).

CT: Speaking of Fender, did Dick have any good stories about Fender?

P: He said that Leo didn’t want to use the blonde tolex, on his amps, in case you’d spill your coffee on it and ruin it. But he told Leo that he had to use the blonde, that it was cool. He also told me that he didn’t like using Vox stuff because the speakers were too small. He said that he was always blowing speakers and went to Leo about talking to JBL about putting some sort of flexible ring on the speaker to keep it from blowing. So he was instrumental in that development. He was out there field-testing this stuff. No one played like that back then. Maybe Link Wray but he was playing a Supro in a different state.

CT: Embarrassingly, I’ve had the chance to see Dick Dale, but didn’t go.

P: You’re running out of chances! In high school, when I heard Dick Dale was playing I asked my mom to drop me off two hours before the show. I thought the place would be packed, so I sat on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway at night wearing shorts, waiting. I was the first one in the show. I remember crying tears of pure joy seeing him play.

In the early days, Dick Dale had a full revue, like James Brown. He had three female singers, a Farfisa player (crazy), a rhythm guitar player, a drummer and four horn players. They would start with Peter Gunn before he would come on stage. Like Elvis with his C.C. Rider intro.

These old dudes used to tell me about this place called the Rendez Vous in Newport (Beach) that was an old ballroom on the pier. Back then, that was as rockin’ as you could get. There was no Jimi Hendrix or Beatles, so you’d see Dick Dale if you wanted to see someone really wail. People would do the surfer stomp and the whole floor would be moving. Can you imagine?

CT: Did you ever see Link Wray?

P: I had the chance to see him at the Foothill in Long Beach. Link was pretty old, in his 70s, but he could still play really well. The other thing was his wife kept coming on stage and flipping his hair back. It was almost like the guy that would come up and bring James Brown a towel. He could play really well, almost better than his old records. He would incorporate stuff that sounded like Jimi Hendrix. He wasn’t just playing rumble with three chords, he could still rock in the 90’s and with one lung!

CT: It’s always amazing how those old school musicians just keep rolling.

P: Don’t get me started about how relatively unknown some of those guys still are. I feel like there are guitar nerds who know about them, but most people have no idea how great some of these guys really were.

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CT: Tell me about some of your favorite memories playing music?

P: When I was in my band, Blue Tiki, I found a Leslie speaker with the full-on oak cabinet and the speaker pointing at the floor. It was huge. At that point, another corporation (FMIC) owned Fender and there was a place you could go and order Fender parts. I ordered the black Tolex, the corners and the silver grill cloth. My uncle and I made a plywood box and with the emblem and I shoved the Leslie with the assembly into the back of it. So, we were playing the school talent show in 1986 with a Fender piggyback cabinet, Leslie. It was pretty cool.

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CT: What about your band The Moseley’s?

P: We were originally called the Birdhouse Four but after our bass player got married and moved, we switched things up in the band. We also had a falling out with our singer so our drummer Chris switched to bass and vocals. He is an amazing talent. We were modeling ourselves after the Ventures, doing stuff like Taste of Honey. It was like when you buzz off your hair for the first time: that invigorating feeling of not having to brush your hair! Everyone else was poppy, punky ska and we just wanted to have fun and not care about “making it.” You know what? It was the most fun I ever had!

We also discovered The Sonics and other cool bands through some Japanese friends. Stuff we had never heard before, like a compilation from Lux Interior of the Cramps. There was Grady Moseley, he was the singer bass player; I was Bunny Moseley on lead; there was Rex Moseley on rhythm guitar; and Palmsly Moseley, our drummer, who ended up in the Aquabats. We had various people come and go but they had to be a Moseley, just like the Ramones. The story was that our uncle was Semie Moseley.

In 1993, every Thursday night, we’d play Linda’s Doll Hut with Dave and Deke Dickerson’s Combo. We became big Deke heads. Watching him play was like Eddie Van Halen for us. You’d watch those guys and you’d be like, “What just happened!? How does anyone get to be that good?” It was still so inspiring. Deke had a double neck Mosrite and we said, “We have to get Mosrites!”

My friend happened to be up in Hollywood and he saw two Mosrites at a music store and asked the guy what he wanted for them. I had to sell my Fender Jazzmaster and my ‘59 reissue Tweed. And I finally got my first real Mosrite! That guitar was a real game changer for me. The Joe Maphis’ single neck. The neck is chambered and the pick-ups give out a really cool sound, like a motor winding up. It’s a very magical thing. When you listen to the Ventures, “Live in Japan” you can see how they got that sound.

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CT: I bet you have some amazing gear.

P: I’m a closet player now. I have a Rickenbacker 381 that I really like. I don’t perform anymore so I still don’t need all that gear. I had a 71’ Fender Telecaster Deluxe (with the humbucker). I ended up selling it so I could buy a car. It was so much fun to play, something about those old guitars and how they are all settled in. I used to also have an Electro lap steel with a horseshoe pick-up. Oh, man, I put the Dick Dale strings on that and the tone and the warmth was amazing. What I really remember loving was my 62’ reissue Strat.

Under pressure from my band, I eventually got a MXR distortion pedal. I was so against it that I wrote bad words all over it. Then I started to realize that it sounded cool if you played it during certain parts of the song. Overall though, I was never that into pedals and more into just turning the amp up to see what it could do. Give me that ‘71 Telecaster Deluxe through my old ‘62 Fender Bassman! With that open back cabinet, you don’t need a pedal. You are playing the room, I’m a big fan of the room.

When I had the Mosrite, I had two brown Fender concert amps. One of the first things that I got when I started to get a little more successful was a blonde Showman. I had to have it! The real deal. Even back then, in ‘96, it was going for $2500.

CT: Let’s talk more about how much of an influence music had on you and your brand?

P: Well, the whole reason behind my fashion was the inspiration from old records: the B-52s, The Beach Boys. The Stray Cats. I was one of the three people in high school that had creepers. I felt like you had to snap it up a bit and be an individual. That was being inspired through music. And the first stuff I made was my band merch. I made the belts that the Aquabats wear. I thought that if I made it for my band, I could make it for other bands. The guitar straps too.

We would also do music spoofs. We did a Mickey Mouse watch but it looked like Ted Nugent. We did Marshall amps and then did washing machines in the same style. Music was a huge part in the brand and people we hired were in bands. I met my first business partner because we both liked our friend’s band. Our first graphic artist was in a band. Our other graphic guy was is in the Aquabats. The original core group at Paul Frank was made up of artists and musicians. That was the culture: art and music. You start making flyers with clip art, and then before you know it, you realize you’ve become a graphic artist.

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CT: Agreed. I saw that you made a Paul Frank model guitar with Fender. What was that experience like for you?

P: Really cool! As I said, I worked an entire summer for my first Fender and I got to play Dick Dale’s Fender. So my whole life has been Fender, Fender, Fender. When I got the call to make one, how fast can you say yes?

The guitar was for Namm and I wanted to use my Scurvy character. At the time, I remember some of the bigger brands that I was doing partnerships with didn’t want to use that character because it’s the symbol for poison. Before Brittney Spears wore it, you have to remember that a skull and crossbones was what bikers wore. I also didn’t want the guitar to have a pick guard, which caused some controversy. And I wanted to paint the guitar all the way around like pirate socks. (They were concerned that the scurvy guitar design wouldn’t sell.)

But they went ahead and we produced a custom soft case and a strap and it actually sold. They presented me with my own custom copy of the guitar, which was super cool.

I also designed Warren’s (from the Vandals) orange guitar. I used my character Worry Bear on a toilet. Worry is looking very nervous sitting on a toilet on the body because the toilet paper is on the end of the headstock, taunting him.

Seventeen magazine gave away a Fender designed guitar. We designed it with red pickups, light blue with a pearly pick guard and my Julius character.

I also designed a guitar for Brian Baker in Bad Religion. It was a Les Paul so I felt like I should check with Fender because you have to pledge allegiance to the Fender vibe (laughs). They were okay with it.

I’m also excited to be working with Fender again on a new guitar for the Namm show and one for another project.

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CT: I recently saw a picture of you playing Neil Young’s Gretsch.

P: My friend O invited me up to lunch in Burbank to meet master builder Todd Cross and all the guys at Fender Artist Relations. I guess, Steven Still’s ended up owning Neil’s Gretsch and Nate, from Fender, bought it. They asked if I wanted to play Neil’s guitar. I couldn’t believe it. It was heavy and it had all these wires inside of it, like the wires that would be beneath a house. Every Neil Young song that I knew I instantly forgot in that moment. So we just imitated Neil from this famous picture with that guitar – that classic pose. It was pretty funny. I happened to be at the right place at the right time
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CT: Tell me about the amps you’re doing with Satellite.

P: I’m super excited about that project. First off, Adam (from Satellite) is an amazing guy and amp builder. Together, we designed an amp with an 8” speaker and made it sound like a mix of this and that old amp. He came up with this 4 watt amp that is amazing. I guess watts don’t always mean a lot. They sound amazing.

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CT: Nearly everyone I’ve interviewed has brought up Satellite Amps!

P: Yeah, I’m not that technical but when you play them they sound amazing. You almost don’t care that you’re not playing some vintage amp. Nothing against other people’s amps but you plug in a Satellite and it feels like an old friend.

CT: I also saw on Instragram that Satellite did a stereo amp. I think one of the amps was the one you helped design?

P: Yes, that was so awesome! Two amps in one cabinet. Each amp is angled in a slightly different direction. Instagram is great for turning people onto amps, actually. And I’ll have people direct messaging me for straps. I was also contacted about some new old gold vinyl stock that I’m giving someone to help cover their amp. I’m all about rolling up my sleeves and doing cool stuff.

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CT: Do you believe in ghosts?

P: Yes.

CT: Have you ever seen one?

P: No, but I smell them! (laughs) We bought our house from the kids of the original owners. Late at night, I can smell smoke and can tell from the tobacco stains in the sconce above my bed that the original owner must have smoked. I can also smell perfume that I think belongs to the original owner’s wife.

CT: Wow. Thank you, Paul. So great to meet you!

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*Paul is a really busy guy and has been super generous and supportive of this project. He is a straight-up nice guy and I can’t thank him enough for his patience and help!