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more... ArtistsGuitaristsAlternativeRockMarch 2010

Interview: The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd on Crazy Guitar Sounds and Vintage Gear

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Interview: The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd on Crazy Guitar Sounds and Vintage Gear

Did you use that 12-string a lot for Embryonic?


I used it all over the record. I just love its natural tone, but it’s a lot of fun running it with all sorts of effects—killer results. I find the 12-strings can create a lot of crazy and mysterious overtones when overdriven or pushed through a fuzz box. And that goes back to my love for Page. About two years ago I bought the Fender Electric XII, and I recently found out that on all those recordings Page used a Fender XII and not the double-neck Gibson that’s always attached to him during concerts. As soon as I was told that, I plugged that Fender XII in again and I was like “That’s the same sound!”

Did you approach the writing or recording any differently for the new record?

This time—more than ever before—we just jammed as a band. When Ronald was in the band, we didn’t really do much jamming as a unit. We would construct the song from scratch with individual parts. This time, the jamming fostered a fresh breath of creativity and movement to make our minds think differently. Another part was crafting the bass through rhythm instead of basing it on chord progressions. The majority of Embryonic was crafted through full-band jams and fooling around with stompboxes, trying to make crazy noises and tones.

Which amps did you use?

We used an Airline 10″ combo a lot more than I thought we ever would. We actually recorded some of the vocals through that piece of shit Airline. It’s so crappy looking, but it just sounds so cool. We used a Fender Super Twin that Wayne has had since he was probably a teenager. Also, we used a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus combo.

What were some of the fuzz boxes you used while recording?

I definitely used that Systech Harmonic Energizer just because it has that tone from a lot of Frank Zappa’s trippy, psychedelic solos. It’s basically this overdrive fuzz with a super-duper-filter-tweaker kind of control that gives you all sorts of grit but also a wah-wah tone, too. Also, we used an Ampeg Scrambler and a Roland Funny Cat, which is like taking a compressor, an early fuzz box and an auto wah…well it’s just like its name, Funny Cat. We use it quite a bit on the record. When you think you hear a wah-wah, it’s really just the Funny Cat.


Drozd does keyboard duty while his '67 Jazzmaster waits in the wings. Photo: J. Michelle Martin-Coyne
What’s the story behind your go-to guitar, the ’67 Jazzmaster?

The first time I really got a lot of money from the Lips, in ’93, I decided I needed to go out and buy a real guitar. There’s this place in Oklahoma City called Horn Trader that sold all this vintage gear and the moment I walked in the store that ’67 Jazzmaster just called to me. It’s weird to say, but there are times when you walk into a store and it just hits you—that urge or voice that says, “This is the one.” Just to make sure I wasn’t nuts, I picked it up and played it for a minute and all that did was confirm my subconscious urge. It is just one of those guitars that anyone who picked it up would comment on the neck and just how easy it is to play.

How did you get the idea to put a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup in it?

I was still the drummer when I bought that guitar, so I had left it over at Wayne’s for a few days and he tinkered with it. I think he got the idea he was going to use it for touring so he dropped a Hot Rails in it. I came over later and I was pissed because I had this idea of keeping it original and pristine. But the fact of the matter is that the Hot Rails was a saving grace. The original setup with P-90s would have just howled with all of our fuzz boxes.

What are some other vintage guitars you own?

I have a ’67 Gibson ES-330, which is just like an ES-335 but the neck goes farther into the body. It’s more of a true hollowbody than the ES-335 because of that construction. I bought that ’66 Fender Electric XII from Craigslist and it is one of my favorite guitars of all time. I also recently got a ’75 Telecaster Deluxe from eBay. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a new new guitar.

Can you tell me about your Supro guitar?

I love that beast! As far as plugging a guitar into an amp and just sounding good, that ’60s Supro has something special in the wood. It’s a really thick guitar with a chunky sound. I was just trolling eBay for some weird stuff—actually a Supro amp—and I found the guitar. I just had to do a little setup when I got it and put my usual .012-gauge strings on it. It just growls. It’s a workout playing that thing, but it is way too much fun.

Do you take your vintage stuff on tour or do you rely on newer equipment to get the job done?

For the most part, the stompboxes stay home. I use the Boss GT-8 and the guitar goes into that and then it goes stereo out, with one line going to a Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler and the other going to a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. And then it just goes into two amps—two Roland KC-550 Stereo Mixing Keyboard amps—and then I also have a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus combo, which isn’t mic’d, for stage sound.

One thing I may bring on tour—because I used it on the record—is this pedal I got last year from SubDecay, the Noise Box. It is this crazy little box that works as a ring modulator, guitar synthesizer and distortion, all in one small box. It’s insane! Also, I have a friend that is going to try and rebuild an updated version of the Mosrite Fuzzrite pedal that I think was used on the Ramones stuff and early Alice Cooper tracks. But really, I think the Line 6 and Roland stuff do what I need for the tours.

What’s in your plans for 2010?

One thing I could see happening this year is rocking out with a larger ensemble. We’re a band that could really take on some extra stage members to create a truly crazy experience of rock. Whether it’s something like Hendrix’s band during Woodstock or just some people up there making cohesive noise and polyrhythms, I think it’d be something we could tackle and successfully.

[This interview was conducted before the Lips tour plans had been announced. Sure enough, they pulled off the ensemble approach—they’re currently sharing the stage with Stardeath and White White Dwarfs and playing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. We asked Steven a follow-up question about this tour.]

By taking on the task of reproducing Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon during some upcoming dates, how will you prepare you guitar tones and keyboard parts?

We decided early on in the process that we didn't want to just faithfully redo The Dark Side of the Moon ... and in most ways we probably couldn't it anyway! A few songs were completely reinvented—“Breathe” and “Money”—and was a relief not having to completely mimic Gilmour's guitar sounds. I think we just sort of did what we always do—use whatever is lying around like a Roland Funny Cat, Systech Harmonic Energizer, a plug-in Ring Modulator and a bunch of other random stuff. For keyboards we used a lot of plug-in soft synths and Reason keyboards. When we play this live I'll just be using my trusty set up of a Boss GT-8, Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler and Line 6 DL4 Delay.

STEVEN DROZD'S GEARBOX

Guitars
1967 Fender Jazzmaster (with Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge pickup)
1966 Fender XII
1960s Supro
1967 Gibson ES-330
1975 Telecaster Deluxe

Amps
Roland KC-550 Stereo Mixing Keyboard Amplifier (two run in stereo)
Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus

Effects
Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler
Boss GT-8 Guitar Effects Processor
SubDecay Noise Box

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