1. Favourite knob or fader or switch on a piece of gear and why?
My amp goes up not to 10, not to 11, but all the way up to the hilariously arbitrary number of 16. It’s a Fender Ramparte, and although it looks like it belongs on the stage of a hushed, smoky, late-night show at an upscale 1950’s jazz club, it—well… as Music Radar puts it—”requires anti-social volume levels to avoid intrusive hum”. Honestly, it’s a bit of a gimmicky amp which I’m not particularly proud of, but I do genuinely love that its two volume knobs are its only knobs. No tone, no drive, no reverb. Keep it simple.
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
The Walrus Audio Slö reverb pedal is my baby. It’s whole thing is that it pitch-modulates the wet signal. I plug my acoustic guitar into it when playing live, and when subtly mixed in, it creates the subconscious sensation that everything is slightly moving, like a boat in an easy current. It’s a really musical pedal, and I like to adjust the mix while I’m playing to give the guitar an element of changing depth, but holy hell do I wish you could plug an expression pedal into it, because turning the tiny mix knob with my right foot while playing a difficult guitar part and singing requires way more concentration than is actually reasonable.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday or tour or commute etc.?
I’m one for bringing a guitar with me just about everywhere I go.
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
Well, the hardware of this software does already exist, but I don’t own one and sure, I wouldn’t mind if I did. That’d be the hardware version of the Minimoog iOS app.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
In October I had a really remarkable week in which I broke my Martin (like, I mean smashed it), computer, phone, bike (twice) and rain jacket. I panicked and sold my classical guitar, a really nice Takamine TH90. I wish I would have just taken a couple extra days to breathe before letting it go, because the world always has a way of coming through for you when you need it to.
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
Lately, my newest toy, a Korg Minilogue XD has been opening up a whole new world for me. I don’t know how to play anything on the keys except for the intro to “Roses” by Outkast, so it’s been an amazing exercise to sit down and write with no focus on melody, chords or structure, and instead get my head deep into exclusively texture, color, tone, and movement. And it’s been interesting to discover that, after years of writing songs only on guitar, a piece can feel complete without any of the former qualities, as long as it meaningfully explores the latter ones.
7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
One good microphone. I recorded most of my band’s album on one of those cheap Audio Technica mics. There’s a lot that I would do differently if starting over, but at the very least I wish I knew that as soon as that precious frequency spectrum enters that black hole of a microphone, much of it is never coming back.
8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
My Martin 00-15. Although I had already been playing guitar for almost fifteen years before getting it, it was my first ever really nice guitar. It’s warm, responsive, has subtle, nuanced overtones and overall is just a joy to play. But, what I didn’t expect when I got it, is that it shows me how much better I could play. On a shitty guitar, the difference in sound between playing something well and playing something poorly isn’t really that big. But on this one, a perfectly played chord or passage—with just the right fretting pressure and position, just the right picking contact point between fingernail and fingertip, just the right balance in emphasis of the bass, middle and treble lines, just the right transition between chords while the resonance from the last one lingers in the body for a moment… you get the idea—sounds and feels SO good that, while it has taught me to become a more sensitive player, it has also made it abundantly clear how much subtlety there is to the instrument, and how far there is to go.
9. Most surprising tip or trick or technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?
If you have a guitar, buy a gig bag and go for a bike ride. At some point during the ride, fall off your bike directly onto your back so your guitar catches your fall and smashes under your weight. Then find a luthier or repair person to fix it, and voila: your guitar will sound even better.
Jk. Def don’t do that. Maybe a more useful tip: I always wanted to play the sounds of nature on my analog instruments. This little set up gets pretty close to that. I take a cassette with the sound of running water, birds chirping, or wind in the trees, and merge the signal together with the signal of my guitar or synth. Then I run the merged signal into my Walrus Slö reverb pedal on auto-swell and with 100% wet mix. Since the auto-swell reverb tail is triggered by change of amplitude, it acts as a gate for the soft, ambient nature sounds. But when you play your instrument, it triggers the auto-swell, letting through the merged signal of the instrument plus the sound of running water.
Artist or Band name?
Anima & Ennui. Maybe future music will be under a different name… maybe not.
The released music is folk mixed with various other influences. Future music is yet to be categorized.
Where are you from?
Arlington, Massachusetts, USA
How did you get into music?
I was listening to Arnold Schoenberg in the womb. That’s to say through my parents 🙂
What still drives you to make music?
I feel like it would be almost criminal to not bring into the world the music that is in my head. Just as I don’t belong to myself, my music doesn’t belong to me—it belongs to the world.
How do you most often start a new track?
Songs seem to start when I’m not trying to do anything in particular. Non-doing. Fiddling around. Then when a certain fiddle or theme or accident suddenly catches my attention, suddenly feels like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard, that’s when it starts.
How do you know when a track is finished?
When it feels right. That’s it.
Show us your current studio
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
Mistakes don’t exist.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
2020 album is online. Anima & Ennui – An & En. For a taste of a different, more recent direction though:
[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw us a comment below…]