During a stop at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre on Quicksand’s 2013 reunion tour, Schreifels played his Gibson SG Custom. He also acquired a reissue 1962 Fender Telecaster during the same period. Photo by Debi Del Grande
You were forced to learn how to play lead guitar for the first time with your blues-rock band Dead Heavens, which started in 2013.
Oh, yeah! Playing with Dead Heavens got me into playing lead, and that’s also where I really got into using effects. I don’t have much technical prowess as a lead guitarist, but if you’ve got good feel and good ideas, you can do a lot with a single note. Obviously I’m not the first person to come to that conclusion, but when you get up there and do it and no one’s pointing and laughing and calling you a hack, it’s really validating after so many years of not playing lead. In Dead Heavens, being more in the blues realm, I’m aping people that are actually really awesome at guitar and just trying to capture some of that, but my deal with myself is that I don’t need to be that good. I just need to convey an emotion. To me, there are a lot of people who are technically proficient but aren’t really that great at guitar. They just don’t know the difference.
Kurt Ballou of Converge recently told me he believes the things that make his playing interesting stem more from his inabilities and how he incorporates them into songwriting. Would you say that holds true for yourself?
Totally—and then pushing through those inabilities. It’s in those wobbly places that you have the most opportunity to pull something great out of yourself as a guitarist. In most things in life, it’s when you’re unsure of whether you’re doing something right that you find something within you that needs to get out. Guitar definitely allows me to do that. When I’m down in the dumps, I always remember that I play guitar—and that’s really great! I can always get better at it. I can just kill some time with it. I can write songs with it and, via that piece of wood that I’m hanging out with, go somewhere and find something.
Do you have a favorite guitar moment on Interiors?
I love the first track, “Illuminant,” and I love the solo I pulled off on that. I think it’s really interesting and gives the sensation I was going for, and tells a story in this kind of interesting language, but it isn’t difficult to play or complicated in any way. I think my tones were much better than they have been in the past.
What gear played an important role in tracking Interiors?
I used a ’70s 50-watt Marshall JMP 2x12. That’s my compromise from using half-stacks these days—which I just can’t fuck with anymore, unfortunately. That combo was used on a lot of the album because it’s my workhorse amp and I really feel like it’s my sound, but we also used a lot of different things when we worked at Will’s [Yip, producer], because he has a really serious arsenal of amps. Will favored an amp made by Top Hat, which is like a modified Marshall plexi. I’m pretty easygoing when I work with someone like Will, who is very into what he’s doing when it comes to getting sounds and I feel has it covered. One thing I’ve learned over the years is if someone knows what they’re doing and you trust them, just let them do their thing. At the time, I was much more focused on what I was going to play than what the amp was.
As far as guitars went, I used a Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar, which has a pair of humbuckers in it. I also used a vintage Harmony Bobkat from the 1960s, which has those cool gold-foil pickups. Those two guitars saw the most use. Those gold-foil pickups are just so awesome. They’re a little muddy, but in a cool way, and with this gold-foil magic I can’t quite explain. For the more straightforward rock side of things, I used the Jag because I needed the power of humbuckers, but the more nuanced guitar sounds are the Harmony.
I also used this 1965 Japanese-made Akai that’s an offset style but is its own thing. It cost me $125. It has weird old pickups that aren’t like anything else I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t overdrive really hard, but if you dig in, it’ll push in a weird way that I dig a lot.
When and how did you start getting into effects?
When I was in Rival Schools, the guitar player decided to leave the band when we had a tour booked. I didn’t use pedals in that band before that, because the guitarist that left had this gigantic board of effects he used and he had it covered. So he left, and I had to cover those aspects of our sound. I set about getting the delay pedals I thought he was using, and a wah-wah and a few other things, and we went out as a three piece. While it wasn’t the same thing as what he was doing, I liked my version of it and I felt like I got really good at it. I really looked at it like playing a new instrument. I’ve come to really enjoy the dance of using effects, and when it clicks and your timing is on and it works right … it’s just the best. I’m much better at it now—especially after sort of taking the gloves off with Dead Heavens.
I’d wager that “Fire This Time” is now the heaviest thing in the band’s discography. Let’s talk about that track.
That song is in a weird version of A tuning, in which we drop our low E string down to a low A, which makes an octave with the regular A string. I copped it after seeing Baroness live because I really liked the super-low sound they get. One thing about Quicksand is that regardless of how we get there, Quicksand’s music is heavy, and that’s what our fans expect of us. So I feel like that song is a particularly good answer to that end of what we do, but in a new way.
When we decided to make a new album, we wondered “how can we possibly make an album that beats our old records people love?” Rather than try to compete with our past, we wanted to do something that is now and futuristic and represents where we’re at currently, but acknowledges our past, and why people liked us in the first place, and attempts to elaborate on it and strikes a balance with it. If we strike that balance well, there’s a lot of different musical places where we can go, and that gives this band a future.
In this 2017 performance, Walter Schreifels applies his lead guitar skills—as well as his Dunlop Cry Baby and some digital delay—to “Lie and Wait,” from Quicksand’s 1993 debut, Slip.