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Sullivan’s session pedalboard: Ernie Ball VP Jr. volume pedal, TC Electronic PolyTune Mini tuner, Mesa/Boogie Tone-Burst and Flux Drive, Fulltone Secret Freq, Maxon CS-9 Chorus, Xotic Effects BB Preamp and BB Preamp Mid Boost, custom effects-loop pedal, Strymon El Capistan and Flint, Z.Vex Fuzz Factory, Reaper Deceived Delay/Reverb, Akai E2 Headrush, DigiTech JamMan.
Cook plays his massive bass lines on a Gibson Grabber II, but for even thicker textures, he’ll often augment the lows with a custom First Act baritone guitar and a Moog Taurus bass synth. After watching Nick Sadler (Daughters) play a First Act Delgada baritone, Cook decided to order a custom baritone and set about designing the “Bearitone.” It features a silverburst finish, Kent Armstrong pickups, and two fat, bearded guys in a “mudflap girl” motif inlayed on the fretboard. The baritone’s ferocious sound was effective for thickening the album’s guitar-heavy sections, and Cook often used it to add contrast to his unorthodox, fuzz-drenched tones.
The pedal collection Sullivan and Cook had at their disposal was mindboggling, to say the least. Many of the pedals Sullivan used for his core sound—an Ernie Ball VP Jr. volume pedal for swells, a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini, a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory (with a custom paint job depicting the hockey routine the band is named after), and a Fulltone Secret Freq, to name a few—were from his own personal stash. Much of the guitar’s immense reverb on Memorial was tracked using his Reaper Deceived Delay/Reverb and Strymon Flint.
The Flint has become one of Sullivan’s favorite pedals. “They’re sonically remarkable and they don’t take up a lot of room on my pedalboard,” Sullivan explains, adding that he also has an affinity for his Strymon El Capistan delay. “Just today, I was comparing the El Capistan to my vintage Memory Man. It can nail every delay tone you could possibly think of. The Flint’s tremolo is very useful, the reverb’s decay is so natural, and the tap tempo makes them great for live playing. Compared to other digital pedals I’ve tried, they sound absolutely perfect to me.”
Cook tracking parts in the Alcatraz Room with his custom First Act “Bearitone.”
Many bassists shy away from effects, but Cook wholeheartedly embraces them for both subtle and drastic timbral changes. His studio pedalboard was loaded with eight fuzz and distortion devices from the likes of Fuzzrocious, Verellen, Dwarfcraft, Tone Butcher, and Way Huge.To retain his rumbling lows, Cook also used a Big Bottom pedal from Tym Guitars, an Australian outfit. While keeping the bass frequencies intact, the device splits the mid and high frequencies from the bass signal and sends them to a onboard effects loop. This lets Cook insert whatever effect he wants into the loop without having to worry about pedals robbing his bass frequencies.
On many of the tracks, Cook’s skilled use of fuzz and industrial-tinged distortion gave his baritone and bass tones a distinct presence. With his Dwarfcraft Pitchgrinder, for instance, he generated the robot-like wail during the drum breakdown and outro on “1777.” Cook manually cycled through the pedal’s arpeggiator while increasing the amount of steps until the sound swelled into oscillating chaos.
Another standout moment in “1777” occurs during the second half of the piece. While watching a hockey game on his iPad, Turncratz inadvertently recorded the sounds of hockey players’ skates cutting across the ice. Seeing an opportunity for sonic experimentation, the band had Norman layer these scraping sounds below the track. This moment illustrates the kind of free-form thinking that allowed Russian Circles and their studio partners to break free of rock’s rulebook and explore exciting new textures. With its massive layering and extreme contrasts between ethereal cleans and vicious overdrive, Memorial documents the band’s creative evolution.