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Interview: Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan

Interview: Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan

Tell us about the pedal setup you’ve refined to replicate that Sunn crunch.

I’m giving up all of tone secrets here, but I use a Tube Screamer that’s modded by Keeley, so it has a little more low-end and more output. With the added bass in there, it sounds like a whole different pedal, and you can mix that in with some gain pedals or a boost—the more you add, the cooler it sounds.

You’re hiding it from us, aren’t you?

Alright, alright. [laughs] I use a Fulltone OCD for the full-blown distortion, and I have an MXR Micro Amp. So sometimes I’ll have all three pedals on at one time, and sometimes I’ll have different combinations of the three going. And that’s why I really prefer having a one-channel amp, because I’m in full control of each step of the process of going through the distorted tones. There’s no large jump; I can do that if I want to, but I can also step up, one pedal at a time.

Do you have any other pedals on your board?

I’ve come to like that MXR Carbon Copy a lot, and I use an AKAI Headrush for looping.

Looping would be pretty necessary to replicate your music in a live setting; is it tough to pull off?

Yeah, the difficulty during a set is looping. The songs aren’t that hard to play, frankly. I love playing them, but as far as when I’m concentrating, it’s getting the loops right. A set of bad loops is either going to be very apparent, or the drummer is going to have to play around the loop and make it sound like it resembles music.

Have you found the Headrush easy to use in a live setting?

It’s by far my favorite looper. I’ve tried all different types, and that one just seems to be the most responsive. The minute I step on the pedal, I’m aware that it’s recording—there’s no latency. Some of the other loopers, I hear a slight delay, and that makes live looping virtually impossible, unless you want to play with that mental note, where you start recording a half-second beforehand, but you’ll end up in a mental institution if you play a set like that.

Mike's Gear Box
Gibson Les Paul DC Pro w/Bare Knuckle Cold Sweats
Gibson Les Paul Customs
Amps & Cabs:
Sunn Model T Reissue (100W)
Emperor 4x12 cabinets w/Vintage 30s
Emperor 1x15” cabinet
Pedals & Effects:
Keeley-modified Tube Screamer
Fulltone OCD
MXR Micro Amp
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
MXR Carbon Copy
Akai Headrush
Before we go, tell us about your newest album.

It’s called Geneva, and I’m really happy about the way it came out. It’s a different record from the other two for sure. We did some more thinking about how this record should be, and mentally, we’re in a different place.

What will people hear differently?

It’s a lot less forgiving, a lot less optimistic. In some ways it’s a lot more mechanical and relentless; it still has a human quality to it, but it’s about cramming the idea down your throat. And not just metal riffs, but conveying an emotion, no matter what it is. We’re not worried about genre, or what’s going to be heavy, or what’s not going to be heavy, but just getting our point across without thinking about it too much. There are some songs that are more delicate and incorporate instruments that we haven’t worked with before—different horns and string parts—but at the same time, there are songs that are completely stripped down and leave you feeling miserable afterwards.
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