Before switching to his hollowbody Gretsch, Ben Guts was playing a Gibson Midtown Custom, but after breaking its headstock for a second time, he decided, “If I pay to get this fixed again, I’ve almost paid for a new guitar.”
Photo by Ian Coulson/IC Media
Do a lot of your songs start out as jams in rehearsal?
Ben: Yeah. We have the occasional song that is brought to practice, but the huge majority of our songwriting is done in practice with all five of us there. We’ll write a riff that has a vocal line attached to it—something kind of cool, edgy, and aggressive, something that has a real kick to it—and then we’ll spend two to four hours going to the next section. Our sections are never written to offend the section before. We never write sections that are specifically to fuck with whatever came before it. It’s just our progression of going from one section to the other and thinking, “What is going to work here?” It’s like when you’ve got Lego as a kid and you’re smushing the pieces together. You’ve got different bits stuck together and maybe it looks cool in the end.
The contrasts can be very extreme. You’ll go from something rhythmic and intense to something spacious and atmospheric.
Ben: Yeah, because we just find ourselves there. For me, writing music—especially with this group—as a band was always about guiding an atmosphere and creating a piece of artwork that has movements and cool bits in it. When we break into this huge open space, coming from this hectic hurricane of riffs and beats, it’s really, “What can we do that will then turn this into something else?”
That’s a very classical approach to writing. You’re not writing verse/chorus pop songs.
Ben: Escaping from verse/chorus/verse/chorus wasn’t completely intentional. It’s just a natural thing for us. We’re trying to write really fucking crazy, really hectic music, which is going to be an assault on the senses, but also a vibe that one can fuck with a bit but also keep interesting. It’s also important to me that there are always a few sections that are groovy, easy, and that you can bop to.
Dan: Between the Buried and Me sold me that concept very hard. That was a bit of a revelation. Maybe I was 17 or 18 when I first heard them. I thought, “Wow, these songs are more of a journey than a pop hit. I can go back to these and every time I listen it will be the same journey, but I’ll hear something different that will catch me off guard.” So from a young age, I brain-trained myself to hate…. What do they call it? The rondo? I think that’s the musical term for it. I thought, “Why does it have to be like that? Why can’t it be more fun all the time?” Sometimes we have to second-guess ourselves, like, “Is this a song anymore? Do you we need to repeat a section to make it sound like a song?” So we do have that battle. A lot of that also comes from playing the live show. We want to keep people on their toes. A lot of it is geared toward surprising people as much as possible.
How do you remember so many different sections? Do you practice at home on your own or just review it over and over again at rehearsals?
Dan: A bit of both. The second song we ever wrote took us about two months to write. It’s a track called “Necklace,” which is probably our punchiest one. Depending on how much we’re gigging, it still might take that long to write a song, but sometimes they just come out of the bag in one session. Not very often but sometimes. They’re a labor of love. We did a couple of songs that we had finished, but when it came to recording, we were a bit bored with them so we threw in some more stuff. By the time we’ve learned how it is the first time around, it’s not so hard to remember just a little tweak.
Ben, you were saying you try to make sure some sections groove as well.
Ben: I listen to a lot of beat-down music and I listen to a lot of house—music that one can naturally get the tempo of. It’s usually in 4/4. I like that kind of music because it makes me want to dance. At the same time, being in a mathcore band and writing complex music—I want it to make me move. That feeds into our writing a lot. We’ll write some really crazy sections that are hard to do, but then we’ll wind it back. The whole piece of artwork is important: to round it off and bring it somewhere. I’ve always been an artist before a musician. Not in the sense that I would regard other mediums as more important than music, but writing music for me is about creating something that I just like the idea of, as opposed to expressing myself as a guitarist. Dan is a much more technical player and is someone who’s really got his eye on the ball in terms of guitar. I’m more of an arranger and try to create a whole piece.
Talk about working with another guitar player. How do you distinguish your tones and keep from stepping on each other’s toes?
Dan: We kind of lucked out. Ben loves his dirge and his duuunngg and I really like my noodles and my trebly, high-pitched, standard-tuning, horrible dissonant things. I think it was a bit of a coincidence that we ended up balancing each other nicely. I have this Fender Strat that plays these bite-y chords and Ben has a big hollowbody that does all the lows. They both even each other out. I mean, if we were playing the same guitar in the same way, there really would be no point.