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Howerdel leaving it out all onstage during A Perfect Circle's show at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle, WA, on November 12th, 2010. Photo by Jenny Jimenez
Was it time-consuming to program the Fractal units?
Howerdel: Trying to make all of the guitar sounds for 40 songs was just crazy. The APC sounds are really complex. Between what I’m trigerring in MIDI and how controllers work, it took a lot of time—and then I had to redo it again when the new Fractal came out! [Laughs.]
Iha: Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous, but that’s what happens when you try to get nuanced things that don’t sound like they’re straight out of the box. You really have to sit there with an amp, a laptop, and your guitar, and just tweak shit for a really long time.
Do you have a backup in case the Fractals go down?
Howerdel: There’s a backup unit right under it—just switch the cables and go. It would be back up and running in seconds.
Billy, has your experience as a tech changed the way you look at gear. For instance, is reliability as important as tone?
Howerdel: I definitely worry about the reliability factor. It comes down to budget also. Like, do you want to have an 18-space rack full of unique things? What if it goes down? My rack used to have 130 connections. Now it has five, and there’s very little compromise, if any. The new Fractal is really great, and it does most everything. The thing it doesn’t do so well is feedback. I do a lot of feedback stuff with APC, where I stand in certain spots to get the guitar to squeal. It’s tough to get the power amp to react that way.
“Weak and Powerless,” from APC’s second release, Thirteenth Step, was the band’s highest-charting single. Before embarking on their comeback tour, APC performed the hit on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Do you also use the Fractals for amp modeling?
Howerdel: The Fractal is mostly just for effects. I use the same Marshall amp I’ve always had, a 1978 Super Lead 100 with a modified preamp by Dave Friedman. I came to him with this other amp that I liked the sound of, and we used that as the preamp. I have started using the Fractal for clean sounds, though. I liked the clean sound on the Marshall, but it was definitely hard to tailor, so I just wound up using the Fractal’s Fender clean sounds. There’s one amp I can't get it to simulate: my Gibson. That thing is really cool. I’ve found other cool sounds in the Fractal, but that amp is just like a pirate’s guitar sound. It's the most aggressive thing. I mostly use that for Ashes Divide.
Billy, what effect are you using on that intervallic figure in the verse of “Hollow”?
Howerdel: The effect on that arpeggio thing? It was GRM Tools, a TDM plug-in for Pro Tools. I recorded it with four different settings and put them all together in four different passes. That riff evolves over time. Trying to duplicate that live has always been tricky. I used a bunch of things in the Fractal to simulate it. There’s a filter I’m sweeping, a ring mod, and a delay with an Octavia pedal in front.
Billy, was it hard make the transition from tech to performer?
Howerdel: We all have dreams, and we go for them. But you have to be realistic, too. If it doesn’t work, then you’ve got to have plan B. Plan B for me was being a tech. I really enjoyed it. I made a good living. I liked being around the circus of music. If having a band hadn’t worked out, I probably would have been happy. But in hindsight, if I could go back to age 19 again, I would go right into being in a band.