Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters performed several shows in New York City this fall, including a midnight show at a bowling alley—the Brooklyn Bowl—on October 9, 2014. Questlove opened the show with a DJ set.
What guitars, amps, and effects from your live show [see sidebar “Robert Plant Live”] made it onto the album?
Adams: My ’52 goldtop is No. 1. It’s got that Memphis mojo about it, with the P-90s and the trapeze tailpiece. It’s also the model that people say you can’t play, and the one that apparently Les Paul said was crap. All I can say is people don’t get it. It’s an incredible guitar. If I want to sound bright and cutting, it’s there. If I want to have a really open sound, or a mellow sound, it’s all there. And it’s equally lovely when it’s clean or really driving—not far off a Neil Young sound. On “Turn It Up,” I can really hear it, and for “Pocketful of Golden,” we did some processing on one of the parts. I played it straight, and then [engineer] Tim Oliver figured out how to give it a pulsing tremolo, which was the sound that Robert wanted.
I didn’t have the Harding amps that I use onstage now. In the studio it was basically a Vox AC30 and my Selmer Truvoice Twin—I used that on “Turn It Up.” It’s got these push-button tone controls that really accentuate some odd and unusual frequencies. The amp has a great dry sound, just straight out of the ’60s.
For effects, it’s really just the EBow. Robert is really into the sound of that, and both Skin and I use it on different tracks. I’m playing it on “Rainbow” and “House of Love,” and Skin used it on “A Stolen Kiss”—just a great ballad. I tend to run it through my [Electro-Harmonix Micro] POG, but apart from that, it’s more about a dry sound for me. It’s cranking up amps, and then the reverbs and delays are often added later. So I tend to go more for a pretty much straight amp sound.
Tyson: I’ve got a beat-up ’70s Strat and the ’70 Telecaster onstage. There’s a lot more, but really the Telecaster is my favorite and ended up on the album. I’ve probably had it since the ’90s with Cast. You just pick it up and you get a riff. I bought that one in London, I think, back in the days when you were signed to a record company and you could get a guitar whenever you wanted!
I’ve been gigging with Hiwatts for over 20 years—two old ’80s heads with the 15s—but in the studio, it was a Hiwatt 50-watt combo [model SA112] and a modded Vox AC30 anniversary amp from the early ’90s. I just turn the volume up full on that one, and it acts like a master gain control. So the more you turn the cut up, the volume comes down slightly but it just gets massive, without having to shred your ears off.
And then for effects, I used the [TC Electronic] G-System, just because it’s a small board, a good controller, and you can roll in and out with it. It’s great for backwards reverb sounds, and the compression is always good with the slide parts. “Somebody There” has a bit of reverb delay off the G-System—it’s part of the intro sound—and then the solo is heavily effected with a sort of Leslie sound over it.
Skin, you’re also using at least a few Gibson acoustics, right?
Tyson: For the set we’ve been playing, we use two. Sometimes we’ll be using four different Gibsons with four different tunings. But in this current set, I have a new J-35, and then occasionally the Songwriter comes out, but other than that, it’s my J-45, which is a ’90s guitar that really plays well for me. I’m used to it, and it’s the guitar I’ve played the longest, of all my equipment.
Speaking of open tunings, “Up on the Hollow Hill” sounds like it’s tuned down to D, which really fits with the dark ambience of that song.
Tyson: That’s a DADGAD tuning—and again, that’s recorded on the Gibson Robot guitar, with that sparkly, gritty sound. I’ll go with DADGAD on the ’70 Telecaster too. It’s got mediums on it—.011 to .052—so it’s already quite hard to play. At other times, I’ve tuned it half a tone down, and then it plays as a different guitar again, because you’re getting all the bends, but still with the thick strings on. But the Tele just holds its place really well with different tunings.
I keep coming back to “Pocketful of Golden.” Robert has even said in interviews that he was looking back on his Zep days in that song. How did that one come together?
Adams: I agree with you—on the record, it sends shivers down my spine. It’s so beautiful, but there’s something about that mesh of really distorted looped drums, and the guitar with the pulsing effect. John had the original loop, and Juldeh played the riti over it for like 15 minutes. Robert listened to that whole bloody thing, and he chose a four-bar riff right from the end of it, and said, “That riff, with that loop, that’s it.”
And then Robert and me just sat in the studio and came up with the guitar parts together, but with him very much just singing them until I got close to what he heard, you know? I think Skin and I are both playing the main guitar melody on that. It tends to be either me or Skin who brings the base, and then the other one figures out how to back it up solidly. We have a really good working relationship that way, and I certainly can say I’m a massive fan of his playing. We don’t tread on each other’s toes, you know?
Tyson: That song is just very filmic and movie-like as soon as you hear it. In the studio, I think Justin played the guitars and the chords, and then I played the higher version of the chords, and they’re really just blended into one. Then there’s a melody line underneath—Justin played one, and I played along to it in harmony. Very basic, very simple guitar parts with an underlying melody.It’s great playing together. And a lot of that feeling comes from the style of music and the scene you’re creating, as well. If it’s an out-and-out rock-blues band, it doesn’t really happen in the same way. You want to keep going and keep ramping it up, but with this type of music, it’s different. It’s something that you have to learn and feel, I think.