This episode of In the Head of the Artists is with Tommy Concrete of Psychotic Depression!
NHC''s resident guitar geek Martin McCann gets the lowdown on his set up and finds out what he has been using both in the studio and live recently.
WARNING - this article may be steeped in guitar geekiness, proceed with caution!
Tommy has been in some well known bands - the Exploited and Jackal headed guard of the dead for example. He also performs solo as Tommy Concrete and in his other band Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves. He's been around music for a while so let's see what pearls of wisdom we can extract.
Tommy - can you tell us about Psychotic Depression and a bit about how it came about. Also what got you started on guitar and a little about your music journeys this far.
Psychotic Depression was put together out of frustration September 2016 by me and Ewen Cameron from Atragon. At that time, Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves weren't doing very much, and neither was Atragon, so we decided to get a band together to have something to do whilst our main bands were treading water, we got Jason from Atragon on drums and just started getting stuff together. We are primarily a doom metal based band, we all like that, so that's what we did. I have been itching to do something slow and heavy since Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead broke up in 2014 and the final thing that kicked me into action and do something about it was listening to Wino's Live at Roadburn 2009 album and it was the inspirational boot in the arse I had been looking for. Wino is without doubt one of my favourite guitarists, and that album he just owns the gig all the way through, his tones and playing and just everything about it was telling me that I needed to get back onstage and play something slow and heavy again. When me and Ewen got together for the first time to have a chat about what we wanted to sound like, the consensus was 'a mixture of all the bands Wino has been in'. Basically anyone that is a fan of either Atragon or Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead should find something in us to like. Check it out here.
I got really into music when I was about nine, I was lucky that I got into good music from an early age. Some people have an initial pop or shite phase and then discover proper music in their teens, my elder Brother was in a goth band called Punctured Tough Guy, they had a single and album out which impressed me, but best of all they used to practice round the house and they would tell me what music to get into. So by the time I was eight I was going into town and spending my pocket money on albums by Killing Joke, Motorhead, The Dead Kennedys, GBH, AC/DC and all that. I got my first guitar when I was nine, it was an Audition 7002 Teisco and I spent a year or so trying to figure out how to play it, I got a few tips here and there from my brother and his pals, but didn't really get anywhere until I got Punks Not Dead by The Exploited, the music was easier for me to work out, so I started really making progress by attempting to play Blown to Bits, nearly thirty years later I was in the band playing them for real! So stick to your roots, it pays off in the end!
When my parents realised that guitar wasn't going to be a fad for me, they got me an Antoria Les Paul copy, which was/is badass and I still play today. I did a few false starts at bands, but played my first gig with Flib Ginis Dead Chimps at age fifteen in the dinner hall of school. First proper band was in the early 90's and called Warp Spasm and we were sort of a progressive thrash band, we had good reviews but didn't last more than a few years. Next up was Cosmic Juggernaut, very influenced by Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles as well as more standard hard rock, did loads of gigs with them and some really mad experimental stuff, check out the Cosmic Juggernaut & Gary Burroughs Live At The Blue Lamp live album on bandcamp to hear it to believe it. Did a band called Concrete Head, who's are best remembered for giving me my stage name which has stuck with me since 1995! The band that most people come up to me and talk about is Shitball, did loads with that band, sort of punk metal fusion. I then spent a lot of time singing in bands and not playing guitar at all, mainly with Man Of The Hour, an old school metal band from Edinburgh who did three albums. Got back on the guitar for Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead in 2008, then Exploited, Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves and now Psychotic Depression.
My musical history is best explored at https://howlinginvocations.bandcamp.com/ which is a label I put together to have my discography available. There are currently fifty six releases by fourteen bands I have been in on it, with another six or so releases to sample in from DAT tape to get put up there. The only band on the label I am not in is Vulturic Eye, the rest is all my musical history. Most of it is free to download so get onto it.
Tools of the trade - tell us about your favourite guitars, the one you go to first. What do you like about it above all others. And any close seconds, don't spare the details. And I'm sure there were some that got away, is there any you regret losing for whatever reason?
Well, I don't have many regrets in life, but the main one is that I no longer have my Audition 7002, I got rid because it was shite.... but when I see photo's of them now I think they look amazing, and it probably played shite because I was only nine! Would've loved to still have my first guitar...
I have a 70's Antoria Les Paul copy which I got in 1982 and has been heavily modded. Over the years I have had a Kahler tremelo system fitted to it, a Dimarzio Super Distorion in the bridge, stainless steel re-fret and Grover tuners. The only thing I haven't changed is the neck pickup, don't know what it is but it's an awesome PAF style thing that gives you a phenomenal Slash tone. It's wired with push pull knobs that give me the option for single coil on the Dimarzio and in / out phase when both pickups are on. It's an amazing thing, that gives a whole load of tone options, I don't use it live anymore as it's sentimental value is just too high. Studio and home only now.
In 1985 I got a Seville semi acoustic guitar, I loved it and it sounded really cool, but unfortunately the neck was a bit warped and I was too inexperienced a player to notice at the time, it got steadily worse until it because essentially unplayable... I eventually sold it in the mid nineties, at least it got heavily gigged. Used to be funny playing heavy music with a semi acoustic.... folk couldn't handle it. Bizarre how some folk think that you can only use certain guitar shapes with particular genres.
In 1990 I got a B.C. Rich Bitch and modded it up with Gibson PAF's and a Kahler trem system. The Gibsons stayed for a while, but I had feedback problems so I stuck a Dimarzio Super Distortion & Air Norton in the bridge and neck respectively, which sounded amazing. I played this for years, it got absolutely battered and beaten, and the body heavily damaged. When the Kahler packed up in 2014, I figured that rather than repair it, I would just get a new body built for it, as the wood wasn't that great. So, as we speak, Hef from Ramage Inc is building me a telecaster style body out a big piece of mahogany which is getting a Matt Pike signature Lace Dirty Hesher pickup in it and a les paul style bridge. We are going to paint the body with a colour swirl so it looks like one of Steve Vai's minging 90's Jem's.... This will be mental when it is done, all we need is for Hef to do his bit and get on with it!
Shortly after getting the B.C. Rich, someone gave me a Marlin Sidewinder for nothing. It was rubbish but I figured that I would mod it with new hardware and paint job.... I spent about fifteen years polishing a turd. I used it live and in the studio a few times, but it never failed to disappoint, so I eventually just chucked it in the bin. It started of bad, but because I had no idea what I was doing I just made it go from rubbish to unplayable.
In 1994 I got an absolutely awesome Antoria Gold Top Les Paul, which was utterly immense! Unfortunately that got destroyed when I lived in London sometime in 2000...... I threw it across the room in a drunken rage and it went straight through the wall, shattering the bathroom mirror on the other side and losing me the deposit on the flat and my favourite guitar all in one idiotic moment.
Late 90's I achieved a life long ambition by owning an SG style guitar. I got an Antoria SG, in cherry red. I had always wanted an SG, some of my earliest influences such as Zal Cleminson, Angus Young, Captain Sensible, Frank Zappa and Toni Iommi were all SG players so I was over the moon to get one, 2nd hand for £80 no less! Imagine my horror when I discovered that they are the most unplayable guitar shape known to man! It didn't even last for one practice, before getting sold on. The best bit though, was the person who had it prior to me had put Dimarzio's in it, this started up my absolute love for Dimarzio pickups which I just cannot get enough of.
I was round a mates house in 2010, and was talking about my failed attempt to mod my Marlin Sidewinder and how it ended in disaster. He said he had started a similar project and did I want it, turns out he bought a fucked up Yahama Pacifica for £40, he got as far as putting a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom in it and then it got left to rot in a cupboard. So he gave me it for nothing, it took a lot of cleaning up and I needed to give it a stainless steel re-fret. I still had all the bits (Grover tuners, Khaler tremelo system) from the failed Marlin, so learning from my mistakes I handed it all over to a proper luthier to put toogether. That was George Corcoran, and he turned the thing into a fucking masterpiece. It ended up as a three humbucker thing, with added Iron Gear Steamhammer & Rolling Mill pickups in the middle and neck positions respectively. I hate plastic scratchplates so he made it a wooden one, which I am sure must affect the tone in some way. I eventually ended up using it for The Exploited in some of the biggest gigs I have ever done, 24,000 folk at the Cieszanów Rock Festiwal in Poland & 16,000 at Pod-Parou fest in the Czech Republic with The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, Demented Are Go, Madball, Sick Of It All and loads more. Those two gigs alone, just elevated it to being my favourite go-to guitar. It did me proud on those gigs and what more can you really want from a Frankenstein guitar put together out of a bunch of bits and bobs worth less than £200!
When I joined The Exploited I had a bit of a guitar predicament. At that point in time my guitars were all setup really inappropriately for playing in standard E and had trem systems and stuff. Also, The Exploited had a set sort of sound that I had to more or less play by the rules by. So until I got one of my guitars setup Exploited style, I decided to borrow a mates for my first gig who had an absolutely filthy Marlique Deluxe, which was an Indonesian PRS copy. I'd had a thing for it for a few years as I used to jam about on it when I went around his house. First time I touched it, I knew I loved it. When I was a kid I read this fantasy book called Elidor, and in it these kids had some magic weapons from another dimension, when in this dimension they took on the image of broken bits of wood or railing and that, but when held they felt and had the weight of immensely well crafted magical swords. I loved that idea as a kid and when I first held the fucked up, dirty rusty stringed Marlique I thought 'THE SWORD OF ELIDOR!' because it looked garbage but felt and played unreal. So I cleaned it up and it looked beautiful, got some new strings on it and it was outstanding. When I took it out of it's case at the hotel in Poland, the bastard was still perfectly in tune even after being in the hold on the plane! It played a dream on the night and I have never bonded so hard with a guitar as I did that gig, so I decided to buy it. The pickups were some cool Tesla PAF style things, but they weren't really cutting it for The Exploited so I put a Dimarzio Super Distortion in the bridge and an Dimarzio Air Norton in the neck (that used to be in my B.C. Rich). The guitar is absolutely fantastic and almost plays itself. Unlike a lot of my guitars, it sounds equally good playing in standard E or standard B. It's got a set neck, which along with the body is nyatoh wood, the fingerboard is sonokeling rosewood.
For my 40th birthday a bunch of my mates got together and chipped in to pay George Corcoran to build me a totally unique guitar, hence my flying v which has some pretty nice specifics. It's got an Indian rosewood fingerboard, maple neck, alder body, koa trim and redwood top. I have three Bill Lawrence railed humbuckers in it and a Khaler trem system. The humbuckers are pretty intense, really loud, but sort of quite brash and unruly, which can be cool sometimes. They sound phenomenal as single coils, but they are a bit bright so I find I have the tone down when playing heavy. The plan is to swap out the one in the bridge for a Dimarzio Super Distortion. I spent ages online researching a different option, I quite fancied a Bareknuckle Holy Diver or a Lace Wino Signature... but at the end of the day, Wino uses a Super Distortion in real life and the Holy Diver is built to replicate the sound of any era of players who predominantly used Super Distortions... so it's a no brainer really.
I used to know a guy that made stupid sculptures out of odd instruments, such as banjos with violin necks and weird crap like that. He made this guitar, and the body was cut from an absolutely huge chunk of a table. The shape was a really unnerving, horrible thing which he said was based upon a portal into another dimension that he had seen whilst tripping, it was painted silver and looked and felt horrible. He was going to chuck it but asked me if I wanted it first, I noticed that the neck on it was a Kramer so I took it. I used it on the Doomlord album Futuristic Witchraft, and it sounded great, but eventually I got fed up of it and got George Corcoran to build me a body out of mahogany based on a Gretsch Billy Bo Jupiter as played by Bo Diddley, with the Tesla pickups that used to be in my Marlique, I call it the Warbird and it is amazing, sounds phenomenal, plays brilliant but unfortunately the weight is cripplingly heavy, so it only gets played live at special occasions.
These go to 11 - what's your choice for amplification and given the chance what would be your ideal rig for live shows or playing at home. Do you need a specific type (heads or combos) or can you make anything work for you?
I used to be specific, but my time with The Exploited beat that out of me! I didn't play a single gig with that band where I had any idea what amp setup I would be using, sometimes even until I walked onstage to start the gig (and that includes headlining festivals), backline was always the promoters job to provide and quite often (always) it wasn't what I asked for. To be fair I wasn't very specific as that could just cause problems, I had a Marshall (any) as first choice and a Mesa Boogie (any) as second. So I used to bring my guitar, Ibanez turbo tube screamer, Boss tuner & Boss noise gate. That way I knew that if the amp had too little gain, the turbo tube screamer would sort it and if it was too noisy the noise gate would sort that. Also, because there was so many stage invasions and chaos throughout the gig, my pedals were just set up at the back of the stage next to my amp out of the way. I used the Marlique at first but I started using my modified Yamaha Pacifica instead. This was because the Pacifica had a much less dominant sound than the Marlique, so when I use it, the sound you get it much more the amp than the guitar. I figured that rather than fight against whatever random amp I ended up with, it would be better to just let the amp do it's thing and get on with it. Here's a very wee video of my Setup for The Exploited at the Cieszanów Rock Festiwal Poland 2012.
I would always prefer to use Fender gear. From 1995-2016 I used a 135watt Fender Dual Showman head for every band I played with, using pedals through the clean channel. I sold it last year and got a Fender Mustang IV 150watt combo instead, this has worked out amazing for live. practice and recording. The classic deep and bassy Fender clean tone is the perfect way to stick a bunch of distortion pedals through. In Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead, & Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves I would use my Guyatone Hard Rocker and Turbo Tube Screamer, the combination of either or both gives me all the different ranges of distortion that I need.
As previously mentioned, I am not really specific about gear and can sort of make anything work, which is quite often a challenge I really enjoy. However, an ideal live setup, would almost definitely include a Fender Twin Reverb Combo and a Selmer 50watt Treble and Bass head through either a Hiwatt or Laney 4x12, there would be some complicated combination of distortions and delays going into each amp..... I would love it for about two gigs and then it would get progressively simpler until it was just a Turbo Tube Screamer and whatever amp was nearest to me.
When playing at home, I just use the Fender Mustang IV mainly, but I do have an amazing anomaly of a combo that a mate who ran a studio gave me. He bought a job lot of old 60's gear from an old woman. Her husband had been a guitar and amp tech, but he had dementia and sold all his stuff off. My pal gave me this weird old home made 1x12 combo that didn't work, I gave it to Martin at Axe Management and he brought it to life.... turns out it was made out of old bits of Vox & Selmer amps and it sounds completely amazing!
What's your thoughts on the latest amp modelling options - do you think it will retire the old classics?
Well,.... I played a Fender Dual showman for twenty years and sold it to buy a Mustang IV that models it, so yes they are retiring the old classics. I was not remotely a fan of modelling until maybe two years ago, they just sound so good now it's amazing. At the end of the day, you can't beat a good old monster of a valve amp, but for me who has two ruptured discs in my back, I really like the fact that I don't have to cart about such massive, heavy gear any more. I used my Mustang IV to do all the guitars on my next solo album and I noticed that the less you use it the more realistic it sounds... As in, if you use one track, it's indistinguishable from the real thing, when you add a second guitar track it starts to become less authentic and the minute you add a third overdub the entire mix sounds like cardboard. For me, modelling really gets the tones and sounds right, but what they lack is 'authentic space', the way around that is to simply put a mic on it rather than rely on a direct tone. The basic tone on the Psychotic Depression EP is modeled, yet it's mic'd up to get the reality of actual air particles moving about chaotically. But at the end of the day, what is the point in using a modelled Marshall JCM 800 & SM57 when you could just use an actual Marshall JCM 800 & SM57?
Everything on this here is modelled through my Mustang IV...
The main issue with modelling, which is something that I don't ever see getting rectified is that it is very difficult to abuse them. Some of the greatest and influential tones throughout history have come about by people not using their equipment properly. For example, Jimi Hendrix deciding that his speakers sounded better after he had ripped them with a screwdriver. Or Varg Vikernes deciding to use a pair of broken headphones instead of a microphone to record his guitars for Burzum. I once read that some of the guitar tones Zakk Wylde used on the Ozzy Osbourne No Rest For The Wicked album came about by plugging the speaker out of a Marshall 100watt head into the line in of a combo, which gave an insane tone for a very short period of time before the entire thing caught fire. These sort of mad ideas are based on breaking the rules and it is almost impossible to do the equivalent with modelling technology. Even if someone came op with the algorithm for a screwdriver ripped speaker or exploding combo, it wouldn't be the same, because it would be unified and constant. It's like, ancient fucked up pickups sound better than new ones, where is the algorithm for that? You simply can't do it, because the cool bit is that slowly throughout the gig, Jimi's speakers would slowly become progressively more torn, and this would affect the tone which he would react to in real time and adjust his vibrato and feel accordingly, you just cannot fake this sort of thing.
Effects and pedals - the fairy dust sprinkled on the top of most good guitar sounds. What are your current little boxes of tricks?
Well, I just this morning got a new setup sorted out which I am enormously chuffed with, so here it goes... I am using a Boss BCB-60 powered pedal board as a base, and in it I have...
CBC-95 Jim Dunlop Mini Crybaby. This is the absolute business, it's the size of a regular pedal, which is great for fitting on a board, it took a bit of getting used to because of it's size, but not that much. It has three voicing settings, which took me a while to figure out which one I liked best, anyway I have settled on the lowest setting, which is unusual for me as I usually just like to max everything out.
TU-3 Boss Chromatic Tuner. I love Boss gear, their pedals are built like tanks, simple and effective. Can't do without a tuner, most important pedal on the board. Even when, not using it as a tuner, it comes in really handy as a kill switch.
SFL-1 Arion Stereo Flanger. Minging, cheap and nasty plastic flanger. Absolutely amazing, I have tried a bunch over the years and this is my absolute favourite. I got one in 1986 and used it constantly. I tried a few different more fancy ones, but none of them have the utterly intense tactless roar of this! It's all the way through Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead's album Exaanum.... No other Flanger quite gives the 'Dalek Diahorrea Tsunami' sound like the SFL-1 Arion Stereo Flanger.
TS9DX Ibanez Turbo Tube Screamer. This is the most amazing pedal I have ever owned, I will never be without one and have not recorded anything without it since getting it. Aside from adding boost and a wee bit of gain, it really focuses the tone and makes everything just sound better. It's quite difficult to describe it really, as what usually happens is I will plug into an amp then I turn on the TS9DX and it sounds maybe 2% better, then I turn it off and it's 50% worse!?!? It's weird, like a club you can join but never leave, once turned on it has to always stay on. Sometimes I have it set at the absolute minimum level, and it just sprinkles magic tone perfection dust all over the sound. I don't have a standard setting on it, mainly I adjust it to compensate for different tones across my different guitars. It is just the 'make better button'. Regular TS9 Tube Screamers are awesome, but this is a 'turbo' one, as in it 'goes up to eleven'. To be fair I rarely ever use the Turbo function, as that is only for if you are using the pedal as your main source of gain as opposed to something which enhances and boosts whatever you are using as your primary gain/overdrive/distortion.
AMT-P1 Pre-amp Legend Amps. Got this yesterday, wowee! It's a clone of the Peavey 5150 pre amp, Russian made beast monster. This is completely intense beyond belief! For a while I was using a Blackstar tube pre amp, but I got rid of it because it was too fucking massive and took up too much room. This is wee'er than a Boss. It's completely crazy that something so small and cheap (£63) could sound so nonsensically amazing. What was really hard was choosing which one to get as they have pre amp clones of Marshall JCM 800, Soldano, Engl, Mesa Boogie etc etc and all sound fantastic... I went for the P1 and am chuffed to bits.
NS-2 Boss Noise Suppressor. Great basic noise gate, essential piece of kit. Stops unnecessary amp his and hum blaring through the PA and making you seem shoddy and unprofessional.
In my gig bag I carry a HR-2 Guyatone Hard Rocker, PQ-4 Boss Parametric Equaliser & TU-80 Boss Tuner / Metronome. These are spares in the event of something going wrong. The TU-80 comes in handy for it's metronome function when warming up, I always practice to a metronome to develop a sense of timing and also to push myself by increasing the speed. The PQ-4 appears on the board in the rare instance I need a solo boost. I am not a fan of solo boosts unless I am playing in a two guitar line up. To me a solo boost just emphasises the fact that you are not playing at full volume for the whole of the set, which you should be for heavy music.
Is there any effects that have survived on your board over the years?
Well, I have been using an SFL-1 Arion Stereo Flanger for thirty years, so that's pretty much the 'me' effect if ever there was one, back then I was all paisley shirt as fuck and digging Siousxie and the Banshees, The Cult and all the goth rock so a flanger was essential, since then it has always found it's place in heavier psychedelic music that I have made, it'll never leave my pedal board that's for certain. I have had a HR-2 Guyatone Hard Rocker since 1995, really simple distortion pedal which just has a level and gain. When you set the distortion beyond 6 it starts to compress and gunge up intensely, and unlike most distortions it actually seems to get bassier the more you push it. If you set it to past 8 then it just turns your guitar tone into an almost unusable mess of chaotic compression. Which is a nice difference, as it doesn't have that ultra saturated digital square wave feel to it that some really high gain distortions have, such as Boss Metal zones etc. It gives a totally warlike and unreasonable buzzing growl, in Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead we used to refer to it as 'The Devils Bee'. I am not using it right now, as I have my AMT P1 pre amp for gain, but it is still in my gig bag as an emergency spare. Also, I have a Boss PQ-4 Parametric Equaliser which has been in my gig bag since 1992. That is a fantastic problem solver pedal. Sometimes in the unfortunate circumstance of having to use someone else's guitar and or amp and the tone not being right, I whip out the EQ to boost or cut whatever is wrong. I last used it a month or so ago, when my I couldn't find my Turbo Tube Screamer, it came in handy to boost the appropriate frequencies in it's place. It's funny, because I have had loads of pedals in my time, but the ones that tend to stick around are either cheap or boring. Boring pedals are most useful, tuners, eq's and gates... another boring pedal is a compressor, which I plan to get after my next payday.
Do you struggle to keep guitars clear in the mix both live and in the studio?
I predominantly play in bands where I am the only guitarist, which is easier to keep my guitar clear in the mix live. Now, one of the most important things to do is to make sure that your guitar tone fits with the bass tone. You two have to work together on that. In Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead, me and Chris spent ages getting our sounds to work in unison with each other and the results paid off. In Psychotic Depression I have a very different tone to Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead, even though to the punter out front it might sound the same. Chris had more of a Lemmy tone, very distorted with some gnarly high mids, whereas Ewen's is still distorted but his is way bassier and doesn't have the Lemmy style mid blast. So I compensate my guitar tones accordingly, I have more mids in Psychotic Depression, whereas my Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead live tone was way more bassy. Something that is really really important in terms of getting your guitar to stand out clear in the mix is to pay attention to the sound guy and follow their instructions. If they suggest to turn down, then you probably should.
In terms of a getting the guitars to sound clear in the mix in the studio I like to know what is going to happen before going in to record, have a battle plan. Personally, I try to not get too much out of an instrument or amp, by making it be everything all at once. For example, I like to overlay a few guitars or amps, to create a variety of tones, so that that when it comes to the mix the engineer can get the required sound by blending the various recorded tones as opposed to using loads of EQ on the guitars. This can get complicated pretty quick, so I tend to either use one amp and loads of guitars or one guitar and loads of amps. If you start doing loads of amp and loads of guitars then the whole thing can just get out of control pretty quick, and it is harder to focus on what it is you want to achieve. Ok, so here is a rundown of what was done on the Psychotic Depression EP which was recorded at Wall of Sound Studios in Edinburgh by Stu Gordon (who played drums in Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead)
Rhythm guitar track one: George Corcoran Warbird with both pickups selected into a Fender Mustang IV combo, panned in the middle.
Rhythm guitar track two: George Corcoran Warbird with neck pickup selected into a Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Drive which is a clone of a Fulltone OCD pedal, that then went into A Marshall JCM 900 & 2x12 cab (don't know the cab make, some home made thing) panned hard left.
Rhythm guitar track three: George Corcoran Warbird with bridge pickup selected into a BCB 108 Fuzz Face clone that was built into a Golden Virginia tobacco tin, that went into a Jet City 50watt head and the same 2x12 as before. Panned hard right
Lead guitar track: Antoria Les Paul with a different pickup setting for each solo (neck, bridge, both, in/out phase, single coil/humbucker, tone up/down etc etc) this went into a TC Electronics Dark Matter, Jim Dunlop Crybaby and then a Laney Pro Tube Lead 2x12 combo
All set-ups, had two microphones on them, one was an sm57 and the other I don't know, sorry.
Now my battle plan and concept here, was the consistency throughout the guitar tone is the Warbird which utilises it's full tonal range by having a different pickup selection for each track. Now I chose the neck pickup for the Marshall as that was a brighter tone to the Jet City which had the bridge pick up. I think all in all the end resulting guitar tone is really thick and meaty. As for the lead sound, I used a different guitar as I always do for solos, this helps it stand out in the mix from the rhythm guitars. Also I went through every conceivable pickup, tone and phase combination the guitar can offer, so each solo had it's own unique character. I didn't want to use pedals for the guitar tracks, I wanted to use each amps gain, but Stu suggested to use pedals, basically so it gives each track a further stage or originality and uniqueness.
The most complicated and ultimately immensely satisfying studio setup was for Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead's Exaanum album, also engineered by Stu Gordon. The battle plan there was to have an every changing never repeating array of tones and effects throughout the album. This was, because as an instrumental band, I felt it is important to present an interesting a varied soundscape of tones. Also, a month or so before going in to record I listened to a top 20 doom metal playlist on some blog, every band had more or less the exact same guitar tone all the way through every song for every band and I just thought, that I had to do the complete opposite, which I am really glad I did. Now, this had it's down points as it was really difficult to make the guitars stand out clearly in the mix, as there were nearly twenty different pedals and three guitars with as many different pickup configurations that you could think of. So we decided to stick a third rhythm guitar using the same sound throughout the album, and just to be as opposite as possible to the boring neck beard amp snob doom bores who think a good tone comes out of an early 80's Carlsboro vocal PA, I used two Marshall Valvestate 50watt combos in stereo with built in flange and chorus on to get as close to something like Judas Priest Ram it Down as I could. This worked better than I could have ever dreamed! Check it out here.
For the Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves album, 'This Can't Get Any Worse' also engineered by Stu Gordon at Wall of Sound studios Edinburgh, it was a single guitar and amp for the whole thing, my Marlique Deluxe through a Fender 135watt dual showman, with no pedals. However we did use millions of different microphones to get different tones, which worked really well in the end but was a totally confusing and nightmarish experience when mixing. Check it out here.
The concept for recording guitars on the Psychotic Depression EP was largely influenced by mistakes learned from the Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead & Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves albums. The things that are consistent are the first and last things in the chain, namely the guitars and microphones, what was swapped about was the amps. That way, the original tone and how it is recorded is the same, how that tone gets shaped and amplified is the variance. Probably / definitely do the same concept for the next Psychotic Depression EP this October.
Bits and pieces - when on tour or playing local is there anything specific you can't do without?
Spare strings & plectrums! Holy, shit I go utterly overkill on both of those, especially plectrums. Plectrums and strings are the only things I am really specific about. Now I know I have said a few times I am not specific about my gear, and then gone on to say loads of things to indicate the opposite, well I like my stuff, but I can and have played gigs with gear I have never seen or heard before, it doesn't matter that much, it's still me. Plectrums however, I NEED green tortex picks or I am in trouble, the pick is the main point of contact between me and the instrument, it is the truest form of the extension of my body. The next most important point of contact is the strings.... I really have issues if it isn't Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom, or Hybrid Slinky (depending on the tunings) so I carry spares of all string I may need. As for plectrums, one in each back pocket, a few taped to the guitar and one in the pedal board. I am almost paranoid about strings and plectrums. That and 9volt batteries, I don't use batteries, but I always have a couple in my gig bag, in case shit goes wrong with my power supply. Be prepared!
From picks to strings, cables and capos - the little things can mean a lot. Any pro tricks you've pick up along the way you'd like to share with us?
No matter how big you are, or how long you have been playing, you are going to play gigs where you cannot hear yourself onstage at all. Here is a tip to help you get used to playing along with folk you can't hear. If you have your music recorded, then when playing along, turn it down so you can barely hear it over the sound of your guitar. If you don't have your songs pre-recorded, then use a metronome. This gets you used to playing and straining to hear something at the same time, so when you find yourself onstage with a poor monitor mix, you have honed the skills of straining to hear and playing at the same time. To make it even harder, put the tv on loud as well, so you have to concentrate on your playing, straining to hear the metronome and blotting out the tv all at once. Might sound excessive, but sometimes it's these daft practice ideas that will put you ahead of all the other knobbers.
Take the time to really get to know your gear. When playing live you should know your songs inside out, but you should also know your equipment. Don't be the dickhead that takes 40 minutes to set their gear up when they are only playing for 30 minutes. If you are not sure, practice setting up and packing down your gear at home. Before playing live you should be able to get your gear setup and tuned in under 5 minutes, same goes for packing down. Promoters remember and are impressed by stuff like this way more than how cool your tone was.
Always hook your guitar cable around your guitar strap, that way if you step on it you won't pull it out. At the amp end, wrap the cable through the handle on your cab before plugging it in, that way it will stop it getting pulled out of your amp.
Warm up! Learn some finger and hand stretches and do them! Carry all the tools necessary for maintenance on your gear, correct screwdrivers, allen keys etc. Have a spare everything. Most important of all is..... Don't be a cunt. Don't be the twat arguing that he needs a guestlist on a Monday night three band bill.
And finally, which guitarist has caught your ear recently. What inspires you to keep playing and who was your first guitar hero?
Most recently I am getting quite into a guy called Dani Rabin, who plays in a progressive jazz band called Marbin. The guy is absolutely off the chart as a soloist, he's got tonnes of really interesting videos on youtube, not just of playing but a fair few discussing some musical concepts. Check out the video of them playing the track Redline at Kingsize Studios in Chicago, and then his 'Tips Noodles and Shreddin' videos, especially episode 14! I also, just recently really started getting into Frank Gambale who is a fusion monster guitar player. I reckon that's where I see myself headed as a musician, in terms of self development and progression. I have achieved way more than the average player in my thirty years of playing, and I managed it all with virtually no musical theory. However, I feel it is time to push the boundaries on myself and I aim to get my musical grades and become a jazz jedi because I don't ever want to get complacent and stagnate. Pretty much really inspired by a friend of mine I have known for years, goes by the name of Half Deaf Clatch. He has about twenty or so years experience playing in heavy doom and hardcore bands, but seven years or so ago he decided to learn banjo and slide and now he is a really successful acoustic blues and roots artist with tonnes of albums out and constantly touring. My jazz re-launch is coming, but at the moment I am still enjoying playing heavy, so it's not going to be right now.
First ever guitar hero was definitely Zal Cleminson from The Sensational Alex Harvey band, as a kid I really loved all the SAHB albums and Zal's tone and vibrato are just so expressive and communicative on them all. I learned an essential lesson from his playing, and that is that excellent tone and a personal expressive vibrato are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other, and both of those underpin all excellent players. Vibrato changes and shapes tone and communicates the players identity into each note, tone is your sound, who you are as a musician. Zal has that shit on tap, and the better I get as a musician, the better those old 70's albums he played on sound to me. For the absolute master class in tone/vibrato watch the AC/DC 'Let There Be Rock' concert, Angus Young has superhuman control of his tone and feedback through vibrato all the way through that. Absolutely blinding,
Thanks for the interview, really enjoyed talking about gear and stuff, way more interesting than the usual stuff.