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What’s this so-called “Kubrick noise” all about?
Tournet: That was both Benny and I playing behind the bridge. He was playing his Jazzmaster, I think, and I was playing a ’64 Fender Jaguar that belongs to [engineer] Jim Scott. It was the same guitar that John Frusciante played for all the Chili Peppers’ big hits. Frusciante actually tried to buy it off of him during the sessions, and Jim wasn’t having it. I ended up tracking half of the album with that guitar. It’s like a Sonic Youth-inspired [approach] to get those harmonics behind the bridge, and those guitars are awesome for that. It just had something—certain guitars just do well in the studio. I got really comfortable with that.
Yurco: I play a 1962 Jazzmaster, sonic blue. I used to switch guitars but not anymore because it’s got all the sonic possibilities I need, the floating tremolo that I can’t live without—I’m a Jazzmaster guy for sure. But I also used a 1958 Gretsch Corvette, and Jim Scott’s ’64 Fender Jaguar on the album.
Grace, how did you go about designing your new Gibson signature Flying V?
Potter: I love that guitar so much. We were in Los Angeles a few days ago and I went into the Guitar Center just to see it because I hadn’t seen it actually for sale yet, and somebody was playing it. They had it off the wall and were testing it out right as I came in so that was a very exciting moment.
It’s definitely one of a kind. Who did you work with at Gibson in the designing process?
Potter: I worked with the team of guys in the finishing shop who do everything, from the selection of the wood, all the way to how they finish it, to the way they bind it. I spent an extensive amount of time in the factory watching them make everything. There are these women who actually hand-coil every single pickup and when it came to the finishes, there was a long discussion because I wanted the guitar to look black on first sight, and then you look a little deeper and there’s this depth to the color, I call it a “Tom Ford burgundy.” It’s a very classy, luscious blend of like a cabernet wine and a rich, brown mahogany and black all at once. I wanted that color to really glow from the inside out, so it took a little bit of work to get to the point where that was the color on the guitar, but I really love it, and I really love that we kept it natural wood on the back so that you can still see what the guitar is made of.
And the contrast of the cream binding, which is actually the first time a flying V has had binding around it, that is not typical in any way of a flying V. It’s a very art deco thing, and a lot of ways a flying V is a very art deco piece. No one ever draws that comparison since it’s associated with late-’60s bluesmen, or the annoying ’80s. It reminds me of skyscrapers being built in the ’20s and ’30s. I thought it was kind of an interesting way to take it. I took the pickguard design from a napkin, from a super art deco bar that I love going to in Los Angeles that has a very throwback, almost "Brown Derby" vibe to it.
Did you know exactly what kind of electronics and setups you wanted or was that also a long process?
Potter: We tried out a lot of ideas but at the end of the day I knew I wanted that single-coil, raw sound—that ratty, Ray Davies’ tone that I’ve had in some of my older guitars. My older, first one that Matty got me for my birthday was a ’71, and I wanted it to really hum like that one did. Some of the cleaner, newer guitars, I do love playing them especially in the studio when I’m looking to layer a lot of different textures, but Vs aren’t made to sound clean—they’re just not. I A-B’d a couple of ideas but at the end of the day those pickups were the right ones.
Do you play any other guitars?
Potter: I had a white V, I think it was a ’92, that was loaned to me by somebody at my record company because it looked good with some dress I was wearing for a TV appearance once. It’s so funny because I loved it so much, I ended up keeping it for like two years, and I just gave it back to him. And then I also had a black V, which is the loudest V that I’ve ever played, that’s probably from the hair metal era, I wanna say it’s an ’81 or an ’86 or something like that.
Really the Flying Grace is a culmination of the three flying V’s in my life: a white one, a natural wood one, and a black one. So that’s why there are so many different elements to the Flying Grace: the sort of black top, the cream binding, and wood back, to reflect all of the Vs that I’ve played over the years.
What was it like working with Dan Auerbach?
Potter: It was a thrill, he brought us to a different place we didn’t even mean to go to. It ended up fitting in with the sonic landscape we had already.
Tournet: He’s really good at what he does and works really, really fast. He’s got his studio and his sound and a good engineer that works really fast. That was cool to see. I thought he would stress more on the nuances, the small stuff, and he doesn’t. But the sounds are still great.
Overall was the studio time pretty fun then?
Potter: You know, I did not enjoy the full experience of the studio because I was torturing myself the whole time, but the guys made it fun. That’s really the heart of this band, it’s what brings me back to center. If the guys are enjoying themselves and creating music with me, and it’s not just me pulling my hair out, it’s an amazing experience. Any time I’ve been in the studio without them, it’s hard. They make it fun, so at the end of the day, it was a beautiful experience making this record but there were definitely days where it was just racking my brain for the best decisions to make.
What about as far as logistics like mic’ing the amps—did you make those decisions or did Jim Scott help with that?
Tournet: It was a combination, but first and foremost we try to get comfortable in the studio. So for me, I ended up in an iso booth with my amps because I always have to feel the amps. I hate being in the studio with headphones and having my amps in another room—that freaks me out. I cannot deal with that, I was kind of a prima donna about being next to my amps, I start to get fussy. I had a baffle so if I wanted to get a little more volume or feedback, I would adjust the baffle between the amps and push my guitar into the amps a little more. At one point I think I had three amps going simultaneously in the room for “The Lion The Beast The Beat” so I could get the dirtiest tone of all time. It was quite a thing.
Since this interview coincides with our annual pedal issue, are there any other pedals you love?
Potter: Pedals are the boys’ life! But I actually don’t use any pedals, I go directly into the amp. Benny and Scott have such unbelievable hold on their tones, I just want to be the meat and potatoes in the middle of it. You can’t compete with those two accomplished guitarists. The way they play individually and then the way that they play together, the firepower between the two of them going for it is a pretty unbelievable thing to hear. I don’t even try to compete, and I have a feeling if I ever did dip into the pedal world, I’d be in trouble. Because my guitar would be as loud as theirs, and I’d be trying to do screaming eagle solos, and that’s just one too many screaming eagles in the band. But have Scottie elaborate on his new spaceship pedalboard [laughs].
OK Scott, what’s going on with this pedalboard of yours?
Tournet: It’s gotten a little out of control. It doesn’t have more pedals than a lot of pro boards, but most guys have their pedals in the racks. I like to mess with shit. I never play a part the same every night and the rooms never sound the same so I’m constantly tweaking and changing knobs. We showed up for tour, and my tech is a sweetheart and loves to get involved with complex things. He’s like, “Dude, look at your board.” And I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” It’s so big, it doesn’t even fit on certain stages. I’m almost embarrassed by it; it’s so funny … It’s just turned into a monster.
What about your pedalboard, Benny?
Yurco: I use analog delays and a modded Keeley. Robert Keeley makes this old Ibanez A-D9, where the on/off switch he makes is an expression pedal, so it’s hands-on and I can control the feedback from it and it gives it that swirling, analog delay sound, that tape echo sound. And I also use the Boss Space Echo. The Keeley one is definitely my favorite, I can’t go anywhere without it, it’s a big part of me. The Boss is temperamental, but it gets the job done.
Do you and Scott exchange tips and talk gear a lot?
Yurco: That’s all we do. Yeah, we’re freaks. We’re always on that sonic quest.
Any guitar discoveries or new techniques that have been inspiring you in your playing lately?
Tournet: My whole thing is using two amps because we’ve been on this big-ass stadium tour. You can finally do all the macho, guitar-hero stuff you’ve ever wanted to do. You can basically play as loud as you’ve ever wanted, and it’s kind of fun to play through two amps and just crank the shit out of them. I just have two Supers going right now, so it’s nothing crazy. But mostly that one kind of delay trick has ended up being kind of a signature move.
Yurco: I’m always searching, so anything that I find is super inspiring. Every time I get a new piece of gear I just get inspired and want to write with that piece of gear. I like space echoes, I like tape delays. When I get an Echoplex I sit down with that and all of the sudden the blood starts flowing and my brain starts working and I’m coming up with parts and new ways to manipulate my craft.
Are you going to play today?
Yurco: I already have played today. You ought to see my house—I’m back in Burlington for first time in two-and-a-half months and I’ve got my Silvertone amp, some crazy keyboards, and I’ve got my Space Echo out and I’m getting crazy. We’re having a dance party here!