Harrison plays one of his custom Fender Stratocasters onstage. His personal Strats start with the Eric Clapton signature model as a template, but feature a humbucker in the bridge position. Photo by Lindsey Best
You had a few other notable musicians on the album, like Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction.
Yes. Stephen Perkins came in to play some drums. So did my old drummer Frank Zummo, who’s now in Sum 41. Also, Davide [Rossi] was great, because I’d composed a lot of the strings myself. And then he came in and did a bit of ad libbing, orchestrated it, and then played the orchestra. He’s a one-man orchestra! When this record came up, he said, “I want to be on this.” Even though it was already mostly done, the freestyle violin that he brought, the Indian sounding stuff, was so great.
Like the violin, the guitars on the album have a very different texture. What did you use to get those super-processed sounds in the studio?
I didn’t really use any amplifiers in the making of this record. I work in the box, because there are such great amp simulators. I really get into processing guitar sounds backwards, but playing them forward while having the delay set to 100 percent backwards. A lot of those guitar solos were done like that. There’s definitely one of those on “Úlfur Resurrection.” And “London Water” definitely has that backward stuff.
What guitar amp software do you use?
I have always liked Native Instruments. But I use the Arturia and all the Universal Audio simulators, and stuff like that. The sounds that I use on the record are so dirty and distorted and bit-crushed anyway that it doesn’t really help playing them through an amplifier. It’s just that extra step that you don’t need. If I was doing a band album, and I wanted a really warm, nice tone, then obviously I’d go in and mic everything. But it’s a very cut-up tone. So I just use my pedalboard into the box.
“Admiral of Upside Down” is the most guitar-driven track on the album. Did you also record it straight into the box?
Straight into the box. It’s an old 1940s tenor Gibson. It’s a 4-string with a P-94. That’s all you need, really. That one pickup sounds so good, and that was a very clean sound. We had a little bit of reverb on it and a little bit of tremolo. And then the stuff at the end: That’s all a lot of ZVEX pedals that I use. I love the ZVEX pedals. And I still love using a Blues Driver—I’ve got a modded one.
Which ZVEX pedals are you using?
I like the gated distortion, the Box of Metal … I don’t want to give them all away, but that one is definitely good. When the gate kicks in, it really cuts everything off in a bit-crush kind of way. The sound of that signal dying can cause really great happy accidents when it’s going through other delays and other things.
Was there a selection of guitars that you gravitated toward for the album?
Definitely used a lot of that tenor guitar, which I’m really in love with. I can’t remember the model number. But I build a lot of stuff with Fender to be very custom for me. I have my own model of Stratocaster, which I’ve been working on for about 10 years now. I based it on the Eric Clapton model, because I always loved how he had that mid-boost and that extra gain from the Lace Sensor pickups. But I never really liked the bridge pickup on the Lace Sensors. So I put a dual-coil humbucker in that one. It’s just a lot of tinkering.
Most of my stuff is built by Paul Waller, the [Fender Custom Shop] master builder. Paul and I have been working on lots of George Harrison guitars. We did the rosewood Telecaster. The Custom Shop sent me the mass release one the other day, which just sold out. And he’s building me another Strat with a Floyd Rose in it. I’ve owned a million Strats, and I can’t really play the normal ones anymore. They just sound a bit clunky to me.
Watching you play a live version of “Summertime Police” on YouTube, it seems like you lean more on the organic sound of the guitar live.
It’s got to be bold. It’s got to be rude. You know what I mean? On the record, there’s Jon Bates playing a custom Charvel that was also built by Paul Waller. And Jon was saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to bring back some shredding on this record?” And it made the cut. And then I was like, “Oh, great. Now, I’ve got to get a Charvel or something with a locking nut, because I’m going to be playing all these songs with these huge bends in them.” My bass player Blas [Perez], my guitar player Noah [Harmon], and my keyboard player Josh [Giroux], and Jon Bates as well—they’re all classically trained, incredible shred guitarists. Way better than me. But the band is very metal. All of these guys play with such a metal-y kind of vibe. I feel it sounds good to be a bit heavier live.
Do you still use amp sims live?
Oh, no. I use my newer blackface Twin Reverb. I always use the Fender Twin, because it’s loud as fuck. And I got my pedalboard down to a fine art now. It’s like my 50th pedalboard that I’ve built.
What pedals made it onto the live board?
I really love the DigiTech Whammy. I’m not really that into the new models of them, because they break really easily. I’ve broken probably 20 of them. But it’s one of those pedals that’s just so good. I use a Memory Boy, because it’s got a great tape delay feel to it. Again, my favorite distortion is that Box of Metal. That’s mostly what I’m using.