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How does improvisation figure in your recordings and performances?
SB: I’ve always been into improvisation. It’s how I learned to play the guitar, and throughout the years it has always helped keep things fresh. It probably happens more on our recordings than live these days. A lot of my guitar parts on the new record were improvised—mainly through ill preparation! [Laughs.] Every single note on “Simon Ferocious,” for instance, was made up on the spot, and it worked out quite well.
JC: Not so much for me. I might improvise a bit during sessions when recording a rough part, but there’s not really too much of a jamming aspect to my style. Even in some of our longer pieces, I pretty much play each part the same way every time.
Recording has evolved considerably since you started out. Has digital technology impacted your writing process?
SB: It’s made it easier in some ways. Early on, of course, we weren’t able to record on our phones at home—we used cassette 4-tracks, which were obviously much less flexible than the software we use today. Using Logic and Native Instruments on my iMac, it’s easy for me to record demos on my own that sound almost as good as the finished products will.
JC: It’s indeed easier for us these days to work things out on our own in advance. The accessibility and availability of equipment is obviously nice, and it’s just much more efficient to record and edit music. But just as we did with 4-tracks, we still make compositions by layering sound upon sound, so the writing process itself hasn’t really changed.
Talk about the axes and amps you used on the record.
SB: I mostly used a ’67 Coronado, a great and underrated Fender thinline—that and my main Telecaster. I’m not entirely sure what year it is—it was made sometime in the early ’80s. It has a Seymour Duncan mini-humbucker added in the middle, and an on-off switch that I sometimes use to make a sort of harsh, stuttering sound. I plugged into a bunch of amps including some nice Fender silverfaces like the Super and Twin Reverbs, as well as my Orange.
JC: I mostly played a mid-’90s Telecaster Custom, a 1985 Les Paul, and a 1965 Fender XII, plugged into the Marshall Super Bass I’ve had since I was a teenager, as well as a Joe Satriani signature model.
What about the effects?
SB: In the studio we had so many different pedals—quite a lot of Boss, Electro-Harmonix, and more boutique things for distortions and for delays—that it’s hard to remember what I used. One thing that sticks out, though, is a really cool pedal called the [Sonuus] Wahoo, an analog filter that I used for a lot of the sweepy sounds.
JC: I also used mostly distortion and delay, through various Boss, Electro-Harmonix, MXR, and boutique pedals.
There’s a bit of modular synth on the new record. Are there any special considerations you keep in mind when playing alongside electronic instruments?
SB: If there are, I’m not overly conscious of them. In terms of timbre, guitar and synth are quite an easy fit—they tend to complement each other quite well, so I don’t really need to adjust my playing at all.
JC: Just don’t play the wrong notes! An out-of-tune guitar is much more noticeable when heard next to a synth.
What about tips for sharing space with a second guitarist?
SB: The best thing is to try not to play the same exact part unless you’re really trying to reinforce an idea. It’s best to augment rather than copy, which is something that John and I do naturally.
JC: Yes—just try not to step on the other guy’s toes, and really try to listen to each other.
You’re known to play very loud in concert. What’s the appeal of volume?
SB: No matter the context, a guitar amp turned up loud sounds a lot better than one set at a low volume, even when playing quiet music. It’s important for us that our music be a physical experience, as well as an aural one.
JC: We want the experience of listening to our music to be a powerful sensation that envelops the listener, and this is something that generally can’t be enjoyed at lower volumes. Some great bands—Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and Spacemen 3—have tended to agree!