Eschewing the conventions of metal and guitar, Timothy McTague sticks to emotional shadows and light on tour and in the studio. “I do the leads,” he explains, “though I don’t like being called the ‘lead guitar player.’ Yuck.” Photo by Dan Newman
Tim, did you play bass on the album, too?
McTague: Yup. I did. Every stringed instrument was played by me.
What guitar tunings are you using?
Smith: On this record, we’re in four different tunings, which is going to add to the guitar vault, for sure. We’re playing baritone in B standard [B–E–A–D–F#–B], plus drop C [C–G–C–F–A–D], drop C#, and drop D.
McTague: We’ve ordered six new guitars since we got out of the studio. Trying to put together a set is mind numbing, because it is basically a guitar change every single song. In the studio, we had the same tuning problems—four tunings and one guitar—so before we got started, I had an EverTune bridge put onto the Les Paul and had it setup for drop C. If we needed C#, we just put a capo on the 1st fret. Drop D—capo the 2nd fret. We played the same guitar in one tuning for all of the tunings and hacked the system.
You don’t want to bring that guitar on the road?
McTague: No. That’s our studio guitar. EverTune is great for keeping things in tune. It has a reaction time. If you want to be bendy and vibey, it’s just a lot of work, and I have so many songs that I bend in and need human reaction. When you have time to readjust the tension in the studio, you can do that, but live, that’s just another thing I have to think about.
What are you using for amps? I saw a few pictures of a stack of heads ... a Matchless, a few Oranges.
Smith: That’s Tim’s Matchless. We both have Oranges. I have a Marshall JMP from the late ’70s.
Are you using those on tour?
Smith: Up until now. We just made the switch to Fractal. We’re in a whole new world of digital amp modeling. It’s been a weird transition, but we’re giving it a try. We can see the benefits and it’s sounding good so far.
Do you run into cabinets or straight to the board?
Smith: They’re going straight to the board.
So it’s a lot quieter onstage.
Smith: It has always been pretty quiet for us. We play with in-ears and we’ve always stripped the monitors off the stage. To give our front-of-house more control, our cabs have always faced the back of the stage, isolated.
McTague: It’s an interesting thing when you think about using something that is just a DI-out. The cool thing about it: It’s all about how it sounds when it comes out of a PA. If we’re using a weird PA and there is a funky midrange frequency, we can flick a filter on that Fractal and make sure it sounds the right way every night, which is cool. Now, even when we fly to Australia, we’re not fighting with crappy rented gear. It is just going to be the same every night. On top of that efficiency and consistency, the sound and overall tone is amazing. I’m really excited. We toured with Animals as Leaders 10 years ago, and Tosin [Abasi] had a Fractal. I was like, “That’s voodoo. I can’t even understand what that is.” But he sounded amazing every night! Sure enough, 10 years later I am, like, “What’s up with these things?”
I have been programming all of my footswitch changes through our stage computer. I have the Fractal connected to Ableton Live and it is sending MIDI notes to all of my patches. They are changing, in real time, automatically, directly on the millisecond that it should—rather than having to stand in front of an MFC-101 [switcher] and be tripping over it and hitting wrong buttons. I am not the most graceful onstage.
And no pedals? It’s all in the Fractal?
Smith: I’m trying everything in the Fractal and I haven’t been disappointed yet. I feel like I am at such a beginner stage, but at the same time I am getting everything accomplished that I want to. It’s not as easy as just plugging in that pedal that you saw your buddy playing and capturing that sound. Rather, it’s like, “What does Fractal call this pedal? What is that pedal trying to do? What is everything I have to change to emulate that?” It takes a lot more work, but I am happy with the results.
Did you still use pedals in the studio?
McTague: We did. We always had a Tube Screamer on. We had a piece-of-crap wah and a red DigiTech Whammy. It has a detune function, and in preproduction we were able to use it when discussing keys. That was it. I am an engineer myself, and a producer, and I’ve fallen so in love with Soundtoys, which is a plug-in suite. They have a delay pedal [plug-in] called EchoBoy, and it is one of the best sounding delays ever.
A lot of the effects, aside from pure crunch and tone, we were doing in the box. At this point it’s weird to say, but I’ve never cared about amps and I’ve never cared about guitars. Some people have amp collections. I’ve always had two crappy guitars. I swap out the pickups. I rip all the guts out. Now it is enabling my ability even more to not care about technical things both in terms of playing and with hardware. I know [Fractal’s] Axe-Edit. I know Ableton. I am going to do all the hard work in the background in my lab, so when I get onstage I can just go.
Doubling up on Telecasters, Timothy McTague and James Smith pack plenty of 6-string wail into this 2018 version of “Writing on the Walls” from Underøath’s 2006 album, Define the Great Line. The official studio video for the song was nominated for a Best Short Form Music Video Grammy.