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Guthrie, did any discoveries from the pedalboard you created for the Steven Wilson tour migrate over to your Aristocrats rig?
Bassist Bryan Beller played two basses on the new Aristocrats album, one of which is the Mike Lull Custom P/J 5 shown here. Photo by Sean Molin
Govan: Not really. It would be interesting to take that pedalboard on this tour to see what would happen, but I simply can't lift it. Also, it melted in Italy. We were doing an outdoor gig and all the Velcro melted. It was just this heap of pedals. In front of the Fender I used a couple of different pedals. Sometimes it was the Analog Man Sun Face, which is such a cool, quirky sounding fuzz. It's one of those pedals that once you turn it on, it's hard to turn it off. For a couple of tunes it was a Wampler Euphoria, which is meant to be a Dumble-in-a-box I don't know if that's true since I play music for a living and can't afford a Dumble. [laughs]. The idea was just to have two contrasting tones. Whatever frequencies are scooped on one of the amps, you can overcompensate the frequencies on the other.
So your pedalboard hasn't changed much?
Govan: It's exactly the way it was for the last tour, with two exceptions. The Dunlop volume pedal is smaller. I'm using the Volume X now, which is not quite as ridiculously oversized as its predecessor. That seems to be working out well. The other thing that I've put on the board, I haven't tried it yet, is a TC Electronic Mini Spark Booster. It's very tiny, so even if I don't end up using it, I'm not wasting too much space on the board. I have that running through my effects loop after all my reverb and delay and the idea is that since I'm using a single-channel amp, if I ever want to roll the volume level down on the guitar and get a nice, shimmering clean tone but it isn't loud enough, I can kick in this clean boost pedal and artificially raise the level. Yesterday, I was too scared with everything else going on, so I didn't actually step on that pedal once. I tried it at home and discovered it does add a certain kind of sparkle, or extra life on the top end, which is perfect if you are trying to make a clean tone pop out.
The tone and vibe on "Louisville Stomp" is pretty unique for this band. How did that one evolve in the studio?
Beller: Marco and I were just screwing around at a soundcheck for a gig we had in Louisville and there wasn't many people there. It was kind of a rough gig. Somehow, we just started playing that really fast riff [sings riff] and it reminded us of the theme to Ren and Stimpy. We were laughing about that and I swear to you, I was standing there and the whole song just popped right into my head. I didn't have every note of the melody together, but I thought, "Oh yeah, the form will be AABA, the melody will go like this, the chords will be like that." I didn't have to give Guthrie too much direction on that song. It's pretty obvious what that song is supposed to be. I didn't even have to say anything and somehow he shows up with this hollowbodied Gretsch and starts wailing on it, and that's not an easy guitar to play. I would have never gone up to him and said, "Hey Guthrie, you really should play this on a Gretsch," because that would make the song twice as hard and it was hard already. But leave it to Guthrie to actually take it upon himself to do that, which is exactly what he did. There he was, hammering this really difficult song out on a Gretsch, which he’d never played before.
Govan: "Louisville" told me to use a Gretsch. If you listen to the demo, it's so clear to me what types of things are being referenced, stylistically. How could you not play this on a Gretsch? I was fortunate enough to hire one on very short notice from the friendly Fender place in Nashville. It all seemed like a good idea: "All I'll have to do is hire a Gretsch, and I'll play the song on that!" I would imagine that playing a Gretsch, if you aren't used to it, is like being eight months pregnant. Everything about the guitar is in a different place. It's completely unfamiliar. I can deal with hollowbody guitars and some changes in string height, but then you have the Bigsby as well, which you have to use. And of course, I was throwing that guitar out of tune on a very regular basis.
Beller: When I wrote it I knew I wanted it to be that whole “hell-billy” kind of thing. When I was done, I realized it was pretty pure guitar porn. I love writing for guitar—that's like my favorite thing to do. Even though I’m a bass player, the guitar is my writing instrument of choice when it comes to trying to convey what I’m trying to say.
Guthrie, you've split time this year between the Aristocrats and Steven Wilson. What are some differences in playing in each group?
Govan: Playing with Steven is great, but for me playing with Steven's band is very much the "other" thing. That's where I'm out of my comfort zone—playing on a bigger stage than I’m accustomed to and in-ear monitors, click tracks, and synchronized video and stuff like that. That to me is something unique and different to explore but what we’re doing right now—a grubby trio getting sweaty in an unassumingly sized venue—is what I've always done. So it feels good to be back in a world that I understand. We're all excited about the new album, so it's a good period for us to go romping around America, seeing if the public agrees with us.
With a trio of virtuoso musicians where each member is really pushing the boundaries of their instrument, do you ever bring in something that is just a little too tough to play?
Govan: A lot of it was challenging. I went into the studio ready to record those songs and I really didn't know how to play them that well. So I was learning how to play stuff and recording the album at the same time. But it was more of an exciting kind of difficult rather than the depressing kind. Everything becomes easy once you play it enough times.
Beller: To be honest, the only one that ever runs into that kind of situation is me. Guthrie can play anything, truly. He will be the first one to tell you that if he can remember it, his hands will do whatever he wants them to do. And Marco is the same way. I'm kind of the opposite: I can remember anything, but my brain is ahead of my hands. Guthrie brought in this tune, "And Finally" for this album and there's this harmonic section that is very, very difficult to play accurately and cleanly. I won't go into the huge whole story, but Guthrie is a really good bass player as well, so life is just not fair.