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Shutt onstage with his green Paul, August 23, 2010. Photo by John Carrico
Some of the playing is quite economical on this album. Were you trying to create more space for the narrative?
Cronise: Maybe unconsciously. A simpler riff is easier to sing over and get the story over. So yeah, I was writing the songs to be more open. But there are still instrumentals, as well as a lot of aggressive riffs in those instrumental sections where the mood or the story called for something more high energy. I don’t really like to sing in an aggro fashion, so sometimes the instrumentals and the guitar playing have to carry that mood. Plus, sometimes I like to keep my head down and rock. That really was kind of the design—short, fast instrumentals and longer, more involved rock-song structures.
Shutt: When we started the band, I was 20 years old. So a lot of that [economy] is just getting better as a musician, getting more comfortable, and knowing when to go off or lay back. I’m less interested in getting too noodly—and I’ve really started to hate listening to a lot of that stuff anyway.
When it came to composing parts or songs, were you influenced by artists who don’t play heavy rock?
Cronise: Yeah, definitely. You can hear a ZZ Top influence in there. But there’s even some homage to the Meters hidden in there. We listen to all kinds of stuff and it seeps through.
You’re not afraid to upset metal purists and openly declare the influence of a New Orleans funk band. What inspires you to defy expectations?
Cronise: Well, I can’t imagine trying to write a third record that was a continuation of the first two. We’ve done that. The first two records don’t really sound like each other, either. They’re an evolution too. I’m not rejecting metal. Our next record could be all death metal. Who knows? But we tour a lot with bands like Clutch that are just really good hard-rock bands, and we relate to that—an approach to rock that’s really, really heavy, but isn’t quite so aggro.
Shutt: It definitely feels good to just make a great rock record. It had started to feel like I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard a kick-ass rock album, and that was in the back of my mind all the time. There was a time that bands were good and made good records without worrying what genre they were going to fit into or how they were going to be pigeonholed. The metal community can be pretty brutal—sitting around on message boards and criticizing anything that isn’t metal enough. And you get tired of all that. I don’t understand why something can’t just be heavy and different.
Cronise warps back to the ’70s with a B.C. Rich Mockingbird, a sweatband, and an Orange half-stack, August 23, 2010. Photo by John Carrico
When you recorded this album, what other players were you listening to?
Cronise: I was playing in a ZZ Top cover band over that time, and learning Gibbons’ stuff was a really good education. He’s one of the only players I feel comfortable trying to emulate in any way. Most professional players are beyond my ability, but I really relate to Gibbons—even though I can’t play anywhere near as well as him—and don’t mind trying to steal a few of his moves.
Shutt: I love Kiss and Ace Frehley’s playing. I love Jerry Cantrell. Pete Anderson [of Dwight Yoakam fame] is great. Redd Volkaert is just awesome too. He plays country stuff down in Austin all the time, and he’s just amazing. It’s crazy inspirational to watch that guy play. You just want to play better, you know? And there’s that sense of hearing the guitar in a new way every time you see him—which is huge when you’re just watching heavy players all the time. Watching Redd, you just get a feeling in the gut that you’re seeing a real guitar player. It kicks you in the ass.
So you relate more to feel or emotional players?
Cronise: I absolutely love watching shredders work, players who can make their guitar do anything. But I’m not a precision player, so the studio can be a headache, even when I like the sound I’m getting. Kyle makes up for that a little bit. But I definitely appreciate soul in a guitar player and it’s inspiring to hear where that takes people.