Photo by Frank White.
When Kings toured with U2 back in 2005, did you get to interact with the Edge much?
We’d say hello and whatever, but we didn’t hang out and talk guitar or anything like that. But his guitar tech let me go onstage one day at soundcheck and look at all of his stuff, and it blew my mind. At that point, I just had a guitar, an amp, a reverb pedal for one song, and an overdrive pedal—for a 45-minute set. So when I went up there I was just, like, “God, he has to use five different pedals for one song. It creates one sound,and then that part’s over, and he doesn’t even use those pedals again!” A lot of people say we changed after that tour. I remember touring with Secret Machines, and their guitar player Benjamin Curtis has a crazy amount of pedals, too. That’s when I first thought, “Maybe we should make a change.”
Kind of like what you said earlier about taking synth parts and translating them to guitar.
Absolutely. On some songs I’ll put a delay on it with a reverse, and then I’ll put the guitar on the bass pickup and roll out all the treble and then do that kind of warbling thing where you go pick back and forth really fast so it sounds just like a sweeping synth. I did that on three or four songs this time, just to lay a background down. It’s a way to challenge yourself—like, “How can I make this song really good without playing a standard lead guitar part?” I always want people to go, “Is that a guitar? What is that?” On a couple of songs—like on “On the Chin”—I tried to make the guitar sound like a steel guitar using a Whammy pedal and reverbs and other octave pedals.
How did you play that intro lick on “Coming Back Again”? It sounds like you’re leaning on the tremolo arm or something.
There are actually a couple of things going on. I was playing an older Fender Thinline Telecaster with a Bigsby, and then I was using an Eventide Space pedal, which is probably my favorite pedal. It has that modulation where the reverb mods after it goes for a second. It goes down or it goes up, whichever way you choose. When you hit the note, it sustains and then drops slowly. It was a combination of me going for the Bigsby and the mod on the reverb. That’s probably my favorite tone on the whole album. That was Angelo [Petraglia] though, and we've got to talk about Angelo: He produced the album, and he brought in his collection of stuff, and it just sounds amazing. Every cool sound and every great guitar tone is from him. He has so many old amps that he’s redone. And he has so many old guitars—like 50 guitars that are all over $5,000 each—and he brings them in and we just go crazy.
You’ve been a Gibson and Epiphone guy for so many years. Was it weird to play Fenders for this record?
It was awesome. I used that Thinline on a lot of songs. It just fit in with everything, and I couldn’t get anything else to sound quite as good. I used it on “Beautiful War,” “Coming Back Again,” and “Tonight.” It’s just got that twang thing that sounded really good with that reverb I was talking about earlier. But for every record, I just use whatever sounds good. I’ve never been, like, “It’s gotta be Gibson.” I would play a $20 pawnshop guitar if it sounded cool. We also used a couple of Fender amps—a Princeton and a Bassman—on quite a few songs.
Have you been taking Fenders out on the road?
I don’t play the Fenders live, just because I have a thing going live that I feel comfortable with, and I would be a little nervous to change it. Maybe on a big tour I could do that, but right now we’re just in and out for festivals and stuff, so for me to put a new amp or a new guitar onstage for one or two songs would be kind of weird.
For many years your main amp has been an Ampeg Reverberocket. How did you get turned on to that?
I can’t really remember what got me into the Reverberocket, but it was that and an ’83 Epiphone Sheraton. It was all about how good I could get it to feed back. I could hold a note and it would just start humming, and I thought, “That’s so awesome!” I used that on an album to get a lot of feedback, and then I thought, “I have to be able to recreate that.” So I stuck with hollowbodies, and I’ve been too nervous to change.
You’ve been playing a Gibson ES-137 as your main gigging guitar. What about that instrument appeals to you?
I think that was originally a rental, or Gibson wanted me to try it out—that’s usually the way these things happen. I remember Nacho [Followill, guitar tech and cousin] came in to soundcheck and said, “You gotta try this out. It’s really tough.” So I put it on and it was really strong—a lot grittier than the Sheraton, and it was easy to play. Everything just felt great about it. I played it for one show and the rest is history.
When you play one instrument almost exclusively for so long, does it become something of a comfort blanket? Or is it more about the fact that you’ve figured out what you can and can’t do with it?
I know exactly where to stand in front of the amp to get this sound or to make it feed back. I’m comfortable with it and I know it so well that it’s like, “Why change?” I started out with a Les Paul and played that for about three years, then I went to the Epiphone Sheraton for about three or four years, and now I’ve been on this 137 for maybe five years, so I’m sure there’ll be a change soon. I’m just not sure what that will be.