Known for playing this T-style Ibanez Talman onstage, Jake Snider recently expanded his 6-string arsenal to include a 20-year-old Esquire-style parts guitar. Photo by Ryan Muir
Dave, how did you first come across those PRS guitars?
Knudson: Well, my old band Botch was done—we were about to play our last show—and Minus the Bear had just started. I was really only playing Les Pauls, but I knew I wanted to get a different guitar because I was writing all these intricate, tappy riffs where the rhythmic and melodic space were a basis for a lot of these songs that Minus the Bear was starting to write. I love my Les Pauls, and they’re great for heavy music, but I wanted something that would be easier to play.
I’d always thought Paul Reed Smiths were pretty cool, so I went guitar shopping at Al’s Guitarville in Seattle. They had this beautiful McCarty goldtop there—that was my first one, and it started my love affair with all their stuff. It was the playability. I love the sound, but the PRS just felt a lot more suited to what Minus the Bear was doing. Plus, on the Les Paul, it’s hard for me where the pickup selector is located—it’s right where my palm normally is [when tapping], so I needed a guitar where, logistically, my hand won’t be impeded by a switch.
Let’s talk a little more about specific new songs. The punches you guys are playing together on “Give & Take” make that song sound big.
Snider: I think Dave and I do the counterpoint thing pretty successfully on that one. He’s holding down this really heavy, octave-based, very full-sounding riff that just goes up—what is it, D, G and then another chord?—and with a pretty deep groove. Then when the vocals kick in, I’m playing that reedy little guitar with a lean little melody through an EarthQuaker [Devices] Organizer. Then Cory comes in [on bass] with his massive reinforcement. That’s just fun—to get that big sound. Everybody feels the force of it, where you get the space helping to create the weight of things. I think almost every tune like that had most of us in the room together while we were tracking.
Knudson: Kiefer would always play that beat at soundcheck, and I really liked it, so one day on tour I just played along—and all of a sudden the song was born. I have a DigiTech Whammy pedal on the verses and the solo. It adds a nice harmonic texture. I can’t recall exactly what interval it is, but sometimes I love using the Whammy on chords, even though the tracking can get weird. The way that it handles chords is really unique and odd, and I find myself attracted to those tones sometimes.
“Erase” is another song built on intricate, interlocking parts—at least three or four of them in some sections.
Knudson: That one just immediately clicked. It was fairly simple to write, and the arrangement’s nothing special. It’s more of a simple Minus the Bear song, but I love it. It’s a nice breath on the album. In terms of the guitar parts, there’s the regular electric guitar that has a really fast slapback echo on it. That’s one I absolutely love, and then I think it’s doubled with a different sound, and an acoustic guitar playing the same part. We did a lot of acoustic overdubs. Even on “Invisible,” you can’t really tell, but the tapping part at the beginning is an acoustic overdub, too. We do that for some tapping because it gives you more brightness and clarity, and even the percussiveness of the tapping on an acoustic adds a pretty cool element.With Jake’s part, there’s probably four different guitar parts happening on the verse. And then Sam did one other thing: He chopped up my guitar part in Logic, and that’s what you hear in the little buzzing section that goes on quietly over the bass, when technically the guitar isn’t playing. Sam made a lot of cool production moves like that.
“Last Kiss” is one of the catchiest riff-based songs you guys have written in a while.
Snider: There was actually a lot of jamming on that riff. I think we had some practice space recordings of it where it was just interminably slow. Somehow we’d got into this dirge-y version of it, which was one of the earlier versions, and then we just developed it over time. That tune’s been around for a while, so it took a long, slow road to itself. The riff itself didn’t change in terms of its melody. I think the biggest change was giving it a groove and trying to make it fun to listen to. Then Dave combined it with a big chorus. I think he really wanted to get more of these anthemic choruses on this record, and he did a good job on that. I really dig the chorus on that one.
It jumps off with some pretty psychedelic looping sounds.
Knudson: Yeah, that’s one of those riffs from the song, just looped backwards. I think it’s a modified version of the verse riff—something pretty close to it. A lot of times when we’re writing, even if I don’t think it’s gonna work, sometimes for shits and giggles it’s fun to just sample it, throw it backwards, and listen to see if it sparks any interest. And as soon as I did that, maybe it was Alex who looked at me and said, “Yeah, we gotta use that.” It was like, immediately, that sample is very engaging. It’s a little hook to get people into the song, and then ultimately when we sequenced the record, we knew it would be a great way to get people to jump into the album.
How do you usually work with your Line 6 DL4s when you play live?
Knudson: Actually, I just upgraded my pedalboard, and now people are giving me shit on my Instagram because I only have three DL4s, and I used to have four [laughs]. It’s like the world is ending! But yeah, I use one of them for standard delays, and then the two on the bottom are exclusively for sampling, looping, and re-triggering. Then I have a Boss RC-3 Loop Station where I can store samples. I prefer to do it live, but sometimes with the setlist it’s just not possible, logistically. So if there’s a sample that I can just store in there, I’ll do it. “Tame Beasts” is a perfect example of a sample that I get by playing the verse riff and looping it between verses so it’s ready for the pre-chorus. Then I hit it, stutter it, and go straight into the chorus.
Dave, you have such a unique repertoire of techniques and approaches. Are there particular players who have influenced you?
Knudson: Oh yeah. I mean, in terms of tapping, the first time I saw the guys in Don Caballero, my jaw hit the floor. I was like, what the fuck are they doing? And just the interplay between the drums and the guitars—that’s really where a lot of my inspiration came from. I won’t say I ripped it off from them, but I was heavily inspired by their tapping technique. Those guys might be more like “art-house” guitar players. I think I took more of a melodic route, using tapping to make riffs, rather than doing overblown solos. So for tapping, Don Caballero was a big thing.
And I’ve said this before, but in terms of the sampling, you’d hear stuff like that 10, 12 years ago from some of the cool IDM [intelligent dance music] bands, like Four Tet and Caribou. Those guys would do it in the computer, but then they’d take a sample and chop it up, re-trigger it to the beginning, loop it, and make it go backwards. When I was first futzing with the DL4, I’d sample something and realize, holy crap—I can mimic some of these sounds I love and make my guitar sound completely unlike a guitar, just by sampling and re-triggering, going double-time and all that! So that was not really so much guitar-inspired but more inspired by electronic music.
What were you trying to capture in the final mix for VOIDS? There are so many layers to it, it feels like you must have mixed a lot of these songs as you were writing them.
Snider: Absolutely. That comes back to Sam going through three different guitars to find the right texture that works. We did that with the snare drum too, trying to find the right frequency range through tuning it, rather than using EQ on the back end. It’s about committing to the sound first. That approach that Sam takes, of having the sound be a mix as you’re working, with the faders up and the EQ flat, that’s his deal. One part of his approach that he wanted to bring across was a sense of realism—not over-correcting things, not over-analyzing what we were playing, you know? That was nice.
Dave Knudson’s tapping skills are on full display here in “Invisible”—a song from Minus the Bear’s latest album, VOIDS.