Marketing and public relations manager/former Acid Rain and Big Bluff drummer Matiss Tazans (foreground) and other Gamechanger employees hard at work in the loft at company headquarters.
How long did you stay in London?
For three years. I even went to this music school. Matiss and the double-bass guy didn’t last as long. The bass guy left after a year. Matiss stuck around for a while, but we couldn’t find a replacement who was good with the double bass. I stayed to finish school.
Which school was it?
It used to be called Guitar Institute, but now it’s called ICMP—Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. It’s basically a London version of Berklee or Musician’s Institute.
Which program were you enrolled in?
It was called Creative Music or something like that. It had a bit of recording, a bit of technology, a bit of composition, and a bit of guitar. I had this really cool guitar teacher from Italy teaching me sweep-pick shredding on a 7-string prog-metal guitar.
That totally seems like your kind of thing.
[Laughs.] Trying to learn sweep picking on a Gretsch with .012-gauge strings! I was also working a day job, trying to get gigs, and going to concerts. I was not very focused on school. In my third year I had a cool day job, though: I was the night guy in a youth hostel. You’d sit there from 11 at night till 8 in the morning, so you’d get at least five hours of free time where you could just play guitar.
So you were in school for three years. Did you graduate?
Yeah. In the third year I started getting interested. We had this assignment where we had to present a technology-based business plan, and I somehow got obsessed with this theoretical music-software idea.
What was the concept?
I really hope we’ll build it at some point, so I don’t want to give it away! I got a pretty decent grade, though. I had a lot of compliments from teachers.
It sounds like that last year in school turned your mind from being a musician toward getting into the gear business.
Yeah, exactly. The band broke up and both of the guys moved away, so I was there on my own. Also, I broke my wrist and couldn’t play guitar during that third year. But I had the job where I was sitting there all night thinking about stuff. I had to find a new thing to get obsessed about. You know how, if you open this Pandora’s Box, newer and newer ideas start coming in before you’re even finished with the old one? I realized I had a new idea! The idea was … do you still see me—is my video on?
Yeah, I can see you.
This is the Gretsch I got when me and Matiss were 18 and busking in Helsinki, Finland. The idea was, what if I had some kind of thing that emits a magnetic force here [points to Bigsby B6 tailpiece]? When I flip the handle like this [positions vibrato bar over tailpiece], it enters the magnetic field and starts going up and down—and there are controls for depth and speed, too. I knew absolutely nothing about physics and exponential forces, so I spent a lot of time building this stupid idea.
It’s a cool idea!
I spent a year building it, so obviously I loved it. I had the energy and enthusiasm to attach a battery pack and a motor with a belt. But if you stepped back and took a good look, it was stupid. It was this massive contraption—it made no sense as a commercial product. But I had a lot of fun with it, and it was a practical lesson in making something from scratch.
When I finished the tremolo, I already had the idea for the Plus Pedal, but I didn’t have a team. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to build it on my own, so I started talking to some guys I knew from the rockabilly scene here, and it turned out they are electronics engineers. They are the co-founders of Gamechanger Audio.
The Motor Pedal prototype displayed at Winter NAMM 2019 is currently taking a backseat to development of Gamechanger’s ambitious Motor Synth, but based on how cool even the early version sounded, we’re hoping it’s not too much longer till it enters production. Photo by Shawn Hammond
There are four co-founders, right?
Right. Mārtiņš Meļķis and Kristaps Kalva—apart from being cool rockabilly musicians—are extremely talented and skilled engineers. Both were star students at Riga Technical University and got snatched up by the biggest electronics companies here right away. They aren’t the typical guitarist-gets-a-soldering-iron-and-learns-through-Google type of builders—they were both well-educated engineers with prestigious jobs working on very advanced technology-development and manufacturing assignments. I assumed they were full-time musicians, but as soon as I found out they were engineers I approached Kristaps and told him about the Plus Pedal idea. We talked for about an hour, shook hands, and made a deal to start a company and build this thing. Two days later, Mārtiņš came aboard, and about a week after that we converted my flat into a workshop.
Didzis Dubovskis came onboard three, four months later. At first only as a consultant, later—around our first Winter NAMM—as a full-timer. He spent six years at a charter airline called SmartLynx, where he worked as second-in-command sales manager. We were friends in high school, then he went off to study economics. Played bass for a while but then switched to suit and tie. He has always been the most advanced dude in my circle of friends. He was, and still is, a total Metallica, Rammstein, and Black Sabbath freak.
What happened after you assembled the founding team?
We started working on the Plus in October of 2015 and spent a year and a half developing it. Everybody finished their day job at about 6 o’clock, from 6 to 7 everybody got dinner, and at 7 everybody met at my apartment to work till 1 in the morning. Saturdays and Sundays, we worked all day. We naively thought it would take two or three months and that we’d have it ready by Christmas. We ended up having it ready for the next Christmas.
What inspired the idea for the Plus?
When we couldn’t find a bass player in London. I had some shows booked and we decided to do them White Stripes-style—drums and guitar. I tried to find delay pedals and shimmer reverbs to provide some kind of backdrop, but it didn’t sound great. We ended up rearranging all the songs, and I was playing riffs instead of solos. So the idea was living in me for a long time, but in some different part of the brain.
So it was inspired by wanting to fill out the sonic spectrum as a duo. Did you have exact ideas about how it would do that?
I had a full idea, but a very basic one: It’s going to select a loop, it’s going to be black, it’s going to be called Plus Pedal, and it’s going to have a brass piano thing on it. Then we started reading books and it was, like, Okay, we’re going to have to program this. Who knows programming? Nobody. Let’s start reading about that shit. We assessed what skills we were going to need, and then we learned a little bit and launched it.