“I saw all the guys on Hee Haw playing these sparkly electric guitars and that’s the reason why I play a Telecaster. I just thought all electric guitars looked like that.” Photo by Tim Bugbee
Tell us about your new Telecaster made by Alex Perez at the Fender Custom Shop.
He just made me this guitar and you guys are the first to hear about it. It’s based around a Telecaster Deluxe—you know, those ones with the big pickguards? If you look at an old 1973 Telecaster Deluxe, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Is it going to have the headstock with the three tuners on each side, like your most recent signature Tele, or does it have the standard Telecaster headstock?
The standard Tele headstock. I threw everybody off [with the other one]. Just a gorgeous guitar, a real striking instrument. What else can I tell you about it? It’s black and gold, and it’s got the kill switch. I have the toggle switch up top and two humbuckers.
Yeah, the D Activators. I’m really psyched about this guitar—it’s a monster. I use it on the album.
Let’s talk about your tone. Do you get your distortion from your amp?
I have a little distortion from my amp, not too much. I never want it to sound—how do I explain it? It’s like trying to describe the color blue. I never want to have my guitar sound noisy and shitty. When I was a kid, I would go see AC/DC or Cheap Trick or Heart, and it was so clear. I asked my guitar teacher about it and he said, “It’s because they don’t turn their distortion up all the way. They have their distortion pretty low. When they do leads, they just press on this overdrive pedal.” I was like, “Okay,” and that is still what I do today. My distortion sound is coming from a Marshall with not a lot of gain. It is just enough. For the leads, I have my Boss Super Overdrive up.
And that’s it?
That’s it. My pedalboard … I think I pay my guitar tech way too much, because a child can run this thing. I’ll play through anything—just give me a guitar and a pick. We were on tour and playing at Irvine Meadows, a huge, massive amphitheater. It was sold out and everybody under the sun was there—and I had no amps. We were in Phoenix the night before and something happened. I don’t know if they got overheated or something. We were hours before we were going on and my tech was freaking out. I was like, “Dude, don’t freak out, just give me anything.” We borrowed amps from Korn.
And you sounded the same?
Yeah, it just sounded like me. No one knew the difference. Rob asked, “How was the show for you?” I said, “Fine. It was great.” I’ll play through anything.
How are you getting those heavy, crunchy rhythm sounds? Are you still not using much gain?
Yeah. Let’s say I’m playing a D. What I’ll do is I’ll play the low fifth, which is the A on the E string. You barre your finger over that A and you get that low fifth, and it really sounds chunky and heavy. Another trick I’ll do: I’ll tune the E string down to an A, so you will have a low A with the octave A. It sounds so heavy you won’t even believe it. But you can’t have a lot of distortion, because then it will sound messy.
So the less distortion, the heavier it sounds?
Yes, because it won’t sound noisy. If you attack the strings the right way, it will sound so good and heavy. Listen to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” It doesn’t sound noisy, it just sounds awesome. And there’s not a lot of gain on that.
Do you have specific guitars and amps you use in the studio?
I usually take my Marshall JCM900s and just play. It’s what I use live. I’ll have one head there and I’ll do most of my instrumental stuff on my gold Tele.
Do you stand in the room with your amps or have them isolated somewhere else?
I usually have them in the live room. Sometimes I’m in the live room, but most of the time I play in the control room with my pedalboard at my feet.
Do you track live as a band or is it one piece at a time?
Me and Rodger [Carter, drummer] will track together and then Ian [Ross] will come in and do his bass parts. We do it that way because you always have a problem with bleed.
The album is minimal in terms of overdubs. Do you just do a lead and a rhythm part and not many other overdubs?
There’s not that much rhythm, and the reason is I want the record to sound live. When you see us play live, it sounds exactly like the record. When I would go see bands, like Rush or the Police, I would be like, “It sounds just like the record.” And I loved that.
Roll over Joe Maphis, ’cause John 5’s movin’ in. In this live performance of “Blue Grass Plague,” a song from Season of the Witch that was inspired by the legendary country picker, John 5 absolutely rips on guitar, electric mandolin, and banjo-guitar.
On some songs, like “Black Grass Plague,” there are a few leads that are harmonized. Are those live, too?
No, I’ll overdub harmonies and things like that. “Season of the Witch” has a lot of overdubs. I made that song heavy and crazy with all the harmonies and all the weird sounds. All those sounds are made organically, too, and not with pedals.
It’s just guitar and amp?
Yeah. I put the toggle switch on the neck pickup and then hit my low E string against the pickup. You can hear that in the breakdown before the solo. It creates this very odd sound and I made a rhythm out of it.
On “Making Monsters” there’s something that sounds almost like a Theremin. How are you doing that?
That is a red analog Boss delay pedal. I have it cranked and I’m making it talk with the knob. With this record, I made a video for each song. Once a month I put one up online, so you can see me doing this stuff.
What inspired you do make all these videos?
Everybody is just watching music nowadays. People aren’t even downloading anymore, let alone buying CDs. I have a young son and I get my information from him and his friends. They’re like, “We don’t download. That is old time. We just stream.” They just watch everything on YouTube.
I like the “Hell Haw” video, your tribute to Hee Haw.
It is my dirty version of Hee Haw. It was so much fun. People who had watched that show really got it, with the, “Hey Grandpa, what’s for supper?” The whole bit. They really enjoyed it. And all the dirty jokes. Just great shit.