What was your learning curve like in your formative years?
Crobot’s guitarist, Chris Bishop, calls himself a “groove guitar player.” The band plays a half-step down in Hendrix tuning, and sometimes dropped C#. Photo by Michael Frey
I got really good really quick when I was really young. I remember going to music stores where I’d sit around and play Zeppelin solos note-for-note. I’d have crowds of people watching me play and I thought that was the coolest. And then I leveled off and I didn’t get any better until I was like 20 years old, which is pretty funny.
Do you think times have changed in terms of learning to play guitar?
If I was growing up with the resources kids have now, I feel like I would be the best guitar player in the world. YouTube is unreal. You have access to all these songs and to learn all this theory that, when I was growing up, we didn’t have.
One of the things that struck me immediately about Crobot’s music is the healthy relationship between bass and guitar. There’s dynamic interplay, rather than the bass simply supporting the guitar.
I think it’s just one of those things where Jake [Figueroa, bass] and I both write strong riffs, and those riffs just end up taking the direction of the song. We’re a riff-rock band and there’s something really powerful about keeping it simple, even when you can obviously overcomplicate it. To keep it three notes or two notes or one note and slam it with the drums is so much more powerful a lot of the time.
It’s cool how you guys toy with and manipulate riffs.
Some of my favorite riffs are simple, simple riffs that are written very creatively. That says more about your guitar playing and songwriting than just shredding up a crazy solo. If you can play the same riff the whole song, but put a spin on with just some sort of crazy drum beat and flip it on its head, that’s cool. It’s a very Queens of the Stone Age way to go about it.
You have a strong rhythmic sense to your guitar playing—even funky. How important is that to your style?
The way to describe my guitar playing is that I’m a groove guitar player. I do a lot of matching with the drums, almost like a bass player, and even when I’m not playing notes, like if there’s a verse where I’m just sort of chilling out, I’m always muting on strum patterns with Paul [Figueroa, drums]. The groove is the most important thing in the song and, being the only guitar player, my main focus is to make sure that’s there.
You incorporate some cool effects that pop in and out, creating a nice bit of tension in the song arrangements. “Welcome to Fat City,” right before the lyric “there’s no such thing as greed,” is a great example.
That’s become one of my signature things. I started doing it at the beginning of Crobot. I was doing it to build tension between parts and it just became one of those things that everyone would always ask me about, so I kept pushing it. That part is a delay pedal.
it down really slow or warp it really fast. It’s a four-quadrant knob, so you can
get a really harsh warp. It’s a Vox Time Machine. It’s broken and doesn’t have a tap on it anymore.
“Easy Money” sounds like an effect on the intro.
That’s an octave thing that starts on the 12th fret. I’m plucking that with my fingers. It does sound like an analog high-octave effect, but it’s only the neck pickup of the Tele.
What’s your philosophy on employing effects to enhance the music?
It always comes back to being able to do it live. If you can make your live experience unique, and if you can do that with your performance, then that’s the ultimate. It ties back into being a groove guitar player.
Do you have a secret weapon?
I have a cool, crappy Ibanez Airplane Flanger
[Paul Gilbert Signature]. It’s the cheesiest pedal in the world, but I used it a lot on the record, like on “Hold on for Dear Life,” in the bridge, there’s this Bozo-the-Clown-sounding, flanger-like dive-bomb—that’s that pedal.
Do you ever experiment with alternate tunings?
We’re a half-step down, the Hendrix tuning. Sometimes we’ll go dropped C# from there. We did some stuff with open tuning for a couple of different slide songs when we were writing and recording, but they didn’t make the record. I wrote an acoustic song in open D with the high E to a D as well, like “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” by Led Zep, that tuning, but that song didn’t make the album either.
Right now, I’m working on a side project with my buddy in ÆGES, Kemble Walters, their singer. They tune their E string to low A, so it’s A–A–D–G–B–E. I’ve been messing around with that with him, but I’m a half-step down so it’s G#, which is ridiculously low.
What is Crobot’s writing process like?
Everyone comes in with riffs or parts and we’ll jam it from there and see where it takes us. Sometimes we’ll jam it and forget about it, then listen back to an open-room recording of it and say, “What was that?!?!” and we’ll work on it some more.
Check out Crobot’s performance from the 2016 International Lille Tattoo Convention to get a taste of Chris Bishop’s finger-lickin’ chicken pickin’—and lots more—in this hour-long set.