1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
My favorite knob has to be the sequence multiplier knob on my Meris OttoBit Jr. This pedal is a bit-crusher/video game/glitch/stutter machine and it has a full on 6-step sequencer built in (which can be used to sequence multiple things, but pitch is the most obvious and fun one). The sequence multiplier knob speeds up the rate of the sequence being played, so you can get pretty wild on-the-fly video game arpeggios if you manually turn the knob while sustaining a note. (You can also use an expression pedal to do this, but alas, I don’t have room on my board for one at the moment).
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
The DigiTech EX-7 Expression Factory pedal comes to mind. This big and heavy expression pedal looking box has a bunch of different sounds packed into it… It has overdrives/distortions, flangers/rotary modulation, a full on whammy pedal, and my favorite: the legendary space station. The idea is to let the user control all of these authentic sounds via the expression pedal (ie: controlling pitch on the whammy setting, or the swell of the space station). However, it kind of sucks that the actual feel of this expression pedal is so hard to use. It’s very “sticky” feeling and doesn’t move a lot, so you have to be very precise on how you use it. It also requires a bit of an extra “push” to turn it on, which involves stepping on the front or back of the pedal, and it always feels awkward. I give it 10/10 for the sounds it makes, but is very difficult to use in a live setting.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
I play guitar and keyboards in an instrumental progressive-rock band called Tortoise Forest. We all have fairly large pedal boards and try to implement weird electronic sounds into our music whenever possible. So my usual gear that I bring to shows consists of 1 or 2 guitars (90’s Yamaha SGV-300 and/or Squier Super-Sonic), a loaded pedal board (Pedaltrain Novo 24), my amp (a Quilter Tone Block 201 head and a 1×12 cab that I converted from an old broken Fender Stage Master), my keyboard (Nord Electro 3 73SW) and synth (Korg Prologue 8) and sometimes a powered speaker for the keys/synth (JBL EON615).
I’ve gotten pretty good at setting all of this up in a timely manner, although the keys/synths are still pretty new for me in the band. I still play about 70% of the time on guitar and about 30% I switch to pianos, organs, electric pianos or synth leads & pads. I have thought about down-sizing the board and what-not, but I use all of these tools at live shows and I really enjoy improvising with new sounds each night, even if it means cramming extra stuff into my tiny sedan!
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
Right away, I gotta say that I wish Serum was available as an actual synth and not just a plug-in. Serum is an extremely versatile synth plug-in that has a very intuitive user interface, even if you’re not a big synth person. I have used a lot of synth VSTs and other plug-ins and I wish a lot of them were available as hardware units, but I love Serum so much and use it to write/improv/record many projects. I went with the Korg Prologue for my live hardware synth because it still does a lot of things well (mono leads, pads, arp stuff, etc.) But to have Serum in an actual hardware synth would be a dream. I understand why it’s not really feasible to do this, as you can add so many voices and so many high-end effects with Serum, but maybe someday…
For hardware available as software, I’m just gonna be that guy and wish that my entire pedal board was available as one easy-to-use plug-in. There are certain products available to record your board into your DAW without an amp or any kind of cab emulation… But it would be rad if in the future, every new pedal you purchase came with a serial-code or something for a free plug-in version. Then you could design a board in your DAW and have it there for recording with actual effects that you’re used to using, instead of having to design reverbs with unfamiliar plug-ins.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
Well, I have to admit that when I first bought my Meris Enzo (synth pedal), I ended up selling it. I just had a hard time using it live and dialing in levels. Then after about a week of not having it, I missed it SO much and ordered another one. It is one of the most flexible pedals capable of so much other than just gorgeous “real” synth sounds. I especially missed it for it’s dry mode, which lets you use a plethora of effects including pitch shifting, portamento, modulation (with rotary vibes), filters, ring mod, delay.. It is the coolest!).
I don’t regret buying too many items, however I do own TWO 1983 Yamaha SBG-200 electric guitars, and I totally don’t need TWO of them. My friend had one when we were younger and I remember it being awesome, so I bought one on Reverb (and it was as awesome as I remember). Then I saw another one pop up, the same exact guitar in the same finish, and I bought that one… My thought process was that these are becoming rare and I want to have a backup, but now I have an extra guitar taking up valuable space in my tiny basement studio and I never play it. Also, it’s for sale if anyone is interested ;).
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
Hmm… A few pedals definitely come to mind. Any delay or reverb pedal with super long decay times are always inspirational. I got my Strymon TimeLine when I was just out of high-school back in 2010. That thing opened up a whole new world for me. It has infinite decay times with a bunch of different sounding delays, modulation, and a built-in looper… Ahh that looper is SO good. I know there are more options for loopers on the market now (I want a Blooper)… But the TimeLine looper can do similar things as the Line 6 DL-4 and being introduced to this when I was younger let me explore different sonic soundscapes that I didn’t know were possible to create.
I also have to give it up to Meris again, the Hedra is one of the craziest pedals I have ever used. I bought it the day it was released (because Meris is great at revealing mysterious new pedals) and it’s one of my favorites on my board today. I’m a huge fan of pitch delay and this thing has THREE separate pitch delays that you can dial in at different rhythmic patterns. It can also pitch glide as slow or fast as you want it to, giving every option you would want in the world of pitch shifting.
7. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
I mentioned it earlier, but again I have to say the Strymon TimeLine. It still sounds great compared to everything out there today, and I have been using the looper for so long that it’s become so natural to use compared to other loopers. BUT the foot switches are very worn out from a decade of use, (plus it’s annoying to have to click two switches at once to bank up/down). I have sold some gear recently so that I can afford to order a midi controller to control all of my midi pedals. This will allow me to access more presets on each pedal, explore new sonic territories, AND hopefully make it so I don’t have to ever use the footswitches on the TimeLine again (will be using the midi controller as a looper-controller as well). I’m very excited.
8. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of gear?
Using multiple loopers at once. I have performed solo sets where I will use two looper pedals that are not at all midi-synced or anything, and stacking them is surprisingly good sounding. What I do is loop/record a short melody into the first looper in my signal chain. Then, after auditioning different chord progressions and/or basslines to put under this melody, I will loop/record the new chord progression WITH the first looper also playing the melody INTO the second looper in my chain. I’m sure that some people reading this are like “why don’t you just use a single looper than can already do this?”, which is totally valid. Because that exists. Umm, they are more expensive and I like using cheaper loopers that I already have. Plus this setup usually takes up less space than larger loopers (had the Boss RC-300 and sold it for being so huge). Some of my favorite loopers I use for this are the Line 6 DL4, Hotone Wally, Boss RC-3, Strymon Timeline, and the new Dunlop Clone Looper. Side note: having a looper such as the DL4, Timeline or the Clone Looper with a “play once” function makes it easier to “sync” each stacked loop.
Artist or Band name?
Where are you from?
How did you get into music?
I started taking piano lessons when I was 5, then switched to drums and guitar when I was 13 and played in a bunch of bands. Being able to record myself on different instruments at a young age helped me to grow as a musician (thanks old school Tascam 8 Track :).
What still drives you to make music?
A bunch of things. Friends who post clips on Instagram of new pedal/instrument sounds are always super inspiring and make me want to explore new ideas in my studio. Writing new stuff with the band is always fun because it gives us the opportunity to take time to create something extremely technical/progressive/mathy in a private setting and then allows us to record this and play it live for our friends and fans to hear. Such a good feeling to have people enjoy what you’re creating.
How do you most often start a new track?
It depends on which project I’m working on. Tortoise Forest typically starts with one single melody, chord progression or “riff”. We try to explore every single possibility of different ways of playing that riff, whether it be backwards, faster, slower, in a random time signature, drowned in weird pedal effects, whatever. This makes writing songs in the progressive genre very satisfying.
I will also record myself on drums, guitar, bass, keys, and vocals from time to time and make solo ambient/math/post/prog rock stuff. Sometimes if I want to just record “something” I will lay down an improvised/on-the-spot drum part without knowing what I want on top of it. Then I grab a guitar and throw whatever comes to mind on it, then record the appropriate bass lines, keys and sometimes vocals. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t even come close, but it still lets me practice improvising and I think it’s important to create new music every single day.
How do you know when a track is finished?
You don’t! I mean, there have been songs where we just didn’t have any more parts to add on and we deemed it as being finished. On the other hand, we still have songs that have been in the writing phase for a while that feel like they need more of… “something”. I guess regardless of the traditional “verse/chorus/bridge” writing styles, if our songs have a beginning, a middle chunk and an ending that sounds like an ending, we are generally pretty happy.
Show us your current studio
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
Everyone has a different standard for what is considered good music. You can create whatever you want, just create something.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
I post pedal sounds and loops on my Instagram almost daily → @shoegazecity
[Editor: Do you have any tips, tricks or fun techniques with any of the gear mentioned in this interview? Leave a comment]