Deap Vally: Down with the Fuzz
Photo by Chris Kies
What if music had an odor? We asked Deap Vally frontwoman and guitarist Lindsey Troy to hypothesize what her band’s tunes might smell like. Her answer: “Peaches, patchouli, garlic, and dirty panties.”
On the Southern California duo’s debut, Sistrionix, sexy femininity underlies a whole lot of scuzzy, fuzzy, rocking blues jams. Troy’s vocals are equally biting. Her delivery possesses an unabashed and unwavering quality in both high and low registers. (“I love Nina Simone, Fiona Apple, John Lennon, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Courtney Love,” she says.)
But Troy wasn’t always an in-your-face player—she started on classical guitar and fingerpicking. Her father, a rock biographer, taught her “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” when she was 10. She didn’t get serious about guitar until age16, graduating from a “cheap, shitty child-size guitar” to a Baby Taylor, and borrowing her dad’s full-sized Taylor acoustic whenever she could get her hands on it.
Believe it or not, Troy only plugged in three years ago, when she met Deap Vally’s other half, drummer Julie Edwards. The first electric Troy played was a wood-finished 1976 Fender Mustang, which remains her No. 1 axe. At first she just liked it because it was free. “My dad bought it off of his friend who was hard up for money and living in his van,” she recalls. “First I just asked my dad for it because he wasn’t using it, I needed a guitar, and I was broke. But then I fell in love with it. I’m really protective of it. It’s old, it has its own sound, it’s light, and I'm just used to playing it.”
Photo by Chris Kies
Troy’s main guitar influence was her sister Anna, two years her senior. They had a family band. “She’s a fantastic guitar player,” says Lindsey. “She was always better than me, and I really looked up to her and admired her,” As a teenager Lindsey was into softer pickers like Elliott Smith, but now cites harder-edged influences: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Nick Zinner, Jack White, Joan Jett, and Black Sabbath.
Despite the fact that Deap Vally is often compared to other rock duos such as the White Stripes and the Black Keys, they didn’t set out to be a two-piece. “The first time we jammed together we played with a female bass player,” Troy says. The bassist, Ashley Dzerigian, was too busy with other commitments (she’s currently playing with Adam Lambert and Maximum Hedrum), so the band carried on without bass, and that format progressed naturally for Troy and Edwards.
“As a two-piece, you just get those comparisons,” Troy notes. “But those groups laid a lot of groundwork for two-pieces, showing that it’s possible to have a full, cool, original sound with two members. Being in a duo makes it easier to play in sync with each other. It’s kind of like having sex with one person versus having sex with three people.” The duo’s songwriting is collaborative—they conceptualize and develop ideas together, whether a song is born from a lyrical concept, a guitar riff, or a beat.
Photo by Chris Kies
Whether riffing or soloing, Troy tends to mix notes and chords. “I try to keep a chord in there every measure to ground the solo so it doesn't drift into the abyss,” she says. “But who knows? Maybe I'll experiment more with the abyss on the next record.”
Troy, who loves playing with sonic textures, admits she suffers from chronic pedal lust: “I bought a pedal and fell in love, then bought another pedal and fell in love. So on and so on. But I intentionally kept my pedalboard very minimal on this first album because I wanted to really hone our sound and lay the framework of what Deap Vally is.”
Yet some not-so-simple effects did make their way on the album. “Your Love,” for example, features Hendrix-flavored reverse echo. “We used a vintage analog [Roland] Space Echo for that bit,” Troy divulges. “That was one of our favorite toys on this record.”
But the one pedal Troy can’t live without is her Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. “It's hard to imagine using any other fuzz pedal,” she says. “I tend to be a believer in, ‘If it ain't broke don't fix it.’ I suppose something else could take my breath away. I played around with my friend's [Z. Vex] Woolly Mammoth, and that thing seemed pretty sick.” To cover more ground and fill the void of not having a bassist, Troy blasts her fuzz riffs through a Fender Deluxe and a Fender 1965 Bassman reissue, running simultaneously.
Troy is also branching out into slide playing, incorporating it on “Six Feet Under,” the closing track of Sistrionix and her favorite song to play live on tour opening for Arctic Monkeys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. “It's just so drippy and swampy and aching,” she says. “It adds a really nice dynamic shift to the set. It's like getting in a really hot Jacuzzi after going down some crazy water slides.”
At the end of the day, Troy just wants to make noise she digs. Her no-frills attitude helps her music stand out while giving her the confidence to be truly creative. Her advice to budding guitarists is to go for it on your own at the beginning, and really spend time with your instrument. “In his biography, Keith Richards talks about how every guitar player should start on acoustic because it’s muscularly much more challenging,” she says. “There’s a lot to be said for that, and I’m really glad to have had all those years playing acoustic to really get my chops. But when the time comes that you want to plug in, don’t be afraid to make noise and try shit out. You can’t really go wrong—it’s about having fun.”
Deap Vally’s Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards give an intimate performance during a live recording for Vevo (Troy’s beloved Big Muff makes a cameo at 0:48).