Peter Hayes carries his own literal wall of sound to the band’s concerts, and mostly plugs a fleet of ES-335s into it. He generates his core tone through a pair of Fender Bandmaster heads. Photo by Matt Condon
One of my favorite tones on the album is the synth-y bass on “King of Bones.” How did you get that tone and how did that song come to be?
Been: The Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail pedal had a lot to do with the sound on that one. Once the riff came to me, I realized I was kind of in Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets territory, and I really like that, and it’s been a really long time since we’ve done anything in that world.
The song kicked around for a long time while we tried to find that spirit and do our version of it, and after we recorded it in that style, it was very dry and boring, and probably the biggest disappointment on the whole album because I had such high expectations for it. It lost something in the initial recordings and I was about to throw it away, but then I started messing around with different synths and Moog melodies to go along with it, and give some counterpoint and movement, and I fell in love with it. It became a new song to me, and it had elements of what we were initially going for, but it was everything I had been wanting to push the band further towards doing.
Could you describe how your playing relationship with Peter has evolved over the years?
Been: Pete’s the best chance I have at being genuinely excited about a song in the way that you really can’t be when you’re the sole writer. A lot of people forget that we both bring our own things in, and while I might be playing a bass part on something that Pete wrote that belongs to the whole band, I’m also typically a nerdy superfan of his writing and obsessing over his songs. I love that half the record I get to just enjoy and be surprised by his writing, and that’s the best part about collaboration: You don’t have to spend so much time second-guessing yourself. Pete’s stuff moves me, and inspires me, and takes me to another place, which keeps my head in check in a lot of ways. My whole heart is fulfilled by writing music, but it’s so much better to experience it with that collaborative element, and especially so with someone like Peter, who I’m a true fan of.
Most of the time, the way we work is we’re such opposites—as people and in the way we approach music—that we typically fill in the spaces that are missing from each other’s approach. He comes from this hypnotic, tribal, simpler place, and I come from a more chord-based, traditional songwriter place, and he creates a very different musical space.
Peter, same question.
Hayes: It’s kind of a funny battle with that, because there’s a lot of stuff that he does that’s up in a guitar’s sonic range, and he’s also flying around with distortions and such, so it always comes into play when we mix things. It gets tricky trying to find our spaces and figure out who should take over when and where, and we kinda just flip a coin sometimes when it comes to figuring out those dynamics. But yeah, a lot of the stuff he does is in the guitar range and it really makes me sound like I’m doing a lot more than I really am.
It’s hard to describe, but there’s so much unspoken stuff when it comes to us in a room jamming—where it just works through body language. At the end of the day, we just trust in each other and know when we trade things off, it works. It’s sort of an intuition, now. It’s not something that comes along very often and we try to respect that thing that we have and not take it for granted.
Robert, what effects are on your board?
Been: I mainly use pedals made by Dave Archer under the name Vintage FX: the Colordrive and VFX Overdrive. I also use the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail and different delays like the Akai Headrush for looping stuff. I have a TC Electronic octave pedal that I use a lot, and I really like fucking around with just regular old Boss EQ pedals. People underestimate what those pedals can do when it comes to carving out tones on the fly when you’re playing, but also the extra little bit of drive you can get from one of those. I feel like when you use a Boss EQ to boost your signal, it sounds and feels more like driving a mixing board in the studio. I also need to use those EQs to run the archtop guitar into my Ampeg rig, because I’m changing between such drastic sounds, and I run my acoustic guitars through the Ampeg rig. If I don’t have an EQ pedal setup for each guitar, the whole thing roars and feeds back like crazy.
Peter, since your style relies heavily on stereo and big delays, do you write with effects in mind?
Hayes: It can be a little dangerous to rely too much on effects. That can kind of lie to you about how good a part is or if it’s actually a song. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes you’ve got something that sounds great through the effects and you break it down on an acoustic and you realize you haven’t got much of a song. A lot of our songs start on acoustic guitar and we either leave them there or trick them out afterward, depending on the feeling they inspire.