Photo by Seldon Hunt.
How did it come about?
Stephen and I were huge fans of Scott’s work. Around 2008 we were making a record called Monoliths & Dimensions, and we were hoping to have him sing on one of the tracks. We reached out to people who worked with him, but never heard back. The legend of Scott is that he’s a recluse, and that he doesn’t have a computer or a phone. We were like, “Oh well, we tried.” But actually, once he’d received our music, he started listening to the band and developing music with us in mind. Years later we got an email from his label and management saying he was interested in working with us. We thought it was a joke at first.
What was the writing process like?
Scott demos all his music in a home studio. He’s known as a vocalist, but he doesn’t even sing on his demos—he uses a Fender Rhodes to represent his voice.
Did he bring a clear concept of what he wanted from the guitars?
He’d basically used guitar sounds to create drones where he wanted our guitars to come in. In the studio we did a lot of sound replacement with his demo ideas. We brought a lot of gear with us—many different pedals and amps. We spent a lot of time trying to get the sound in his head. But for the most part everything was written out, and Sunn O))) didn’t write at all. The music was actually charted—Scott has someone make scores from his demos.
He basically took our sound and incorporated it into his music, but you can hear the personality of Sunn O))). Usually when we collaborate with other artists—which we do a lot—you’re in a room together, and the chemistry of that moment comes onto the recording. But this was pre-meditated. He had everything mapped out and just needed our sound to replace the cheap sounds on his demo. [Laughs.]
Stephen lives in Paris now. How do you confer on musical ideas?
Well, when we play a live show, there’s usually no rehearsal. Most of what we do is improvisation. We’ve been playing together since 1994, so there’s a lot of subtle—and not so subtle—telepathy.
Without a clear beat or an obvious form, how do you signal to each other when things will happen?
There’s a loose, skeletal structure we often talk about before we play. Sometimes we even write notes on what’s going to happen. At this point, we’ve been working with the vocalist, Attila (Csihar), for five years or so, and when we perform live, we have a structure for when he enters. We start the show with 20 to 30 minutes of riffing and improvisation. Then the vocals enter, and another section of music develops around them. Then there’s a sort of solo section where Stephen and I leave the stage and let Attila do his thing.
Let’s talk gear. What’s your main axe?
It’s always been a Les Paul with P-90s. Currently I’m using DiMarzio Super Distortion P-90s in a goldtop Deluxe that originally came with mini-humbuckers. I got it in 2006, after I broke my other Les Paul, a Standard.
Are the long drones created through feedback?
It depends on what your definition of feedback is. When I think of feedback, I think of a high squeal. This is a lot lower. It’s more the interaction between the guitar and amp, plus manipulation.
How do you get that infinite sustain?
The third member of the band is the amplifiers! [Laughs.] We use vintage Sunn Model Ts from the early ’70s. They’re a crucial part of the show. I’ve got more amps than I have guitars. I collect old Sunn tube heads and solid-state ones too. The Model T was created as a guitar amp, but it’s a renowned bass amp as well. It’s just a loud, powerful, clean amp that takes pedals really well. We use bass gear as well—usually we each have two Ampeg SVT bass amps with 8x10 cabinets.
Does your distortion come from the amps or a pedal?
Both. If we plugged in directly without any pedals it wouldn’t have the same sustain. You have to push it. We use distortion for sure, and sometimes preamp pedals to push the tubes a bit harder.
What cabs do you use?
At home I’ve got so many cabinets that it’s insane. This might sound funny, but I actually prefer Carvin cabinets. Their speakers are great, and the cabinets cost like $300 a pop. Stephen is deeper into this than I am, and he’s had custom cabinets built. But for me, with the volume we play at and the number of cabinets we play through, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a great cabinet, because there’s so much volume that you can’t discern what one cabinet is doing versus the other five. It would be silly to have the super-nice cabinet there.