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Jon Greene's Rickenbacker and Vox combo.
Richling is as effusive in his praise of Greene’s voice as he is of his playing. “My initial impression was that Jon’s voice contains a lot of originality, strength, emotion, and loftiness that you rarely find. Then I realized he could write these incredibly poetic lyrics that fit seamlessly along with his very unique style of guitar playing.” Even so, Greene did have to revamp his vocal approach to the constantly shifting, oft-bombastic interplay in Arthur Channel’s rhythm section.
“I had to push my vocals to stay on top of everything,” says Greene. “I had an idea of what the drums would sound like, but literally, on every song that we did, Jack completely changed that. I had a really simple-minded approach to everything. And the way those guys play so dynamically together completely changed things. It brought everything from two-dimensional to three-dimensional for me.”
As for the guitar tracks—all of which were recorded live with Richling and Irons—Greene is frank: “I was really forced to step it up and learn that instrument well and get on the ride with these guys. They had a pretty high standard, and for a good while I was pretty intimidated by that.
“We were recording the demo of ‘We Are in It,’ and Jack was playing the backing guitar and was like, ‘See—your guitar is out right there. You've got to redo that part,’” Greene says. “I remember being so aggravated and confused, because I just didn't get what I was doing wrong. There were many humbling experiences like that.
I realized how to play well with a drummer and play in a pocket and listen to everything going on instead of kind of, as Greg would say, ‘high-schooling it,’ or speeding through the songs without paying attention to what everybody else is doing. I feel like I’ve learned 10 years of really great lessons in a very short period of time.But I got more comfortable and confident with it, and they were super supportive of me going through and figuring out my sound.”
To get the tones that are the framework for Arthur Channel, Greene favored a Telecaster and the aforementioned borrowed Rickenbacker—which he loved so much he purchased an identical model. His amps included a custom, Eminence Legend-equipped Aric Audio 18-watt combo made from 1960s Hammond organ parts, and a ’67 Fender Bandmaster head driving an Avatar cab loaded with two Celestions.
“When I was in sixth grade, my best friend at the time came back from Boston, where he’d been visiting his grandmother, and he had this giant cab with four 12s in it and this Fender Bandmaster head. They found it in Boston on the side of the road. Somebody was throwing it out because it wasn’t working right. I didn’t really know much about amps, but I was interested. So I saved up a little money and ended up buying the head and the cab off of him for $180.It sat in my bedroom for years, and then about five years ago I ended up having the whole thing rewired.A resistor was blown out, and one of the tubes was blown, and that was it.” Greene is also a big fan of the Vox AC15 Hand-Wired combo. His only effects for the album were a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, a Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer, and occasionally an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail.
Alain Johannes—whose 6-string and multi-instrumental prowess has been tapped by the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, Chris Cornell, and Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players—was the first name to come up for a supporting guitar role.
Jon Greene's custom amp.
To get the frenetic rotary-speaker effect that powers that tune, Johannes played his ’70s Fender Jazzmaster into an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar tremolo and a Homebrew Electronics Germania driving a Supro Tremolectric and a Fender Twin. He miked them with a Sontronics Sigma ribbon mic and a vintage Telefunken mic feeding a pair of Neve 1080 preamps. “I must admit, I’d been listening to a lot of Neil Young,” he says. “I love that slightly unhinged, on-the-edge feeling.” Johannes also sometimes used an EBow on a fretless guitar strung with flatwounds to simulate cello and violin sounds.
The remaining lead-guitar duties were handled by Lyle Workman, a prolific session player whose credits include stints with Sting, Beck, and Todd Rundgren, as well as soundtrack work for films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Him to the Greek, and Superbad.
“Greg and I went over to Lyle’s house, and a lot of the songs were done literally on the first or second take,” says Greene. “He just heard the song and said, ‘All right, let me take a couple of runs at it.’ It was just amazing. He started with [album-opener] ‘Vapor,’ and I remember Lyle asking, ‘So, what are you looking for on these?’ Greg was, like, ‘Frank Black and the Catholics,’ and then Lyle threw down these crazy-ass leads—I had no idea where they came from.”
Of the angular, Allan Holdsworth-like leads in the otherwise more accessible opening track “Vapor,” Greene says, “I appreciated it, but I didn't really know if it fit. I was a little concerned. Greg was like, ‘Dude, just trust me.
When we get this mixed and get it back, it’s going to be great.’ I had that first-album syndrome, where I was being overly precious about certain things. But then I remembered how much I love the Mars Volta and how out-there Omar [Rodríguez-López] can be with his guitar playing.
I totally appreciate that everybody got to do what they like to do and that the sound took form from everybody’s individual ability. It took a little while for me to come to that place, but I’m very glad that I did.”
Given the demand for Channel’s various players, it’s no surprise the band’s future is a little uncertain. “We’ve been discussing what to do,” says Greene. “We definitely want to start getting out and doing shows.”
All except Greene are highly sought-after studio and live performers, and Greene has already started another band. But he, Irons, and Richling agree Arthur shouldn’t die. “We’re going to do some recording soon.” And Johannes has signed on as lead guitarist for live dates and any future recordings. “We’re going to see what we come up with as a full band instead of me bringing in tunes,” Greene explains. Whatever happens, he’s got no regrets.
“My cousin—who was the drummer in my old band—called me up and said, ‘I just wanna let you know that you’re an asshole. You're not even a drummer, and you’re in Drum! magazine.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, man—you happy you didn't come out to L.A.?’”