How did you get involved with Collective Soul?

Photo by Joseph Guay
After I got out of high school, I was scratching and clawing around with local bands, rehearsing four or five nights a week in crappy warehouse rehearsal rooms and playing shows for no money. I needed to put gas in my car and have a little something to eat, so I started doing some paint and body work on cars and motorcycles. My dad’s a mechanic, so I’d always been around that stuff. I had my own little business for a few years and was always trying to get closer to music. Then one day around ’96 or ’97, a friend of mine introduced me to [Collective Soul vocalist/ guitarist/songwriter] Ed Roland. I told Ed I was trying to get out of the auto business and that I’d love to take any job that might be available in his organization. It happened that Collective Soul needed someone to work on their guitars, and I was a good fit because I’d always tinkered with mine and set them up myself.

How did you learn to work on guitars and amps?

My first electric guitar was a Japanese SG rip-off made of plywood that I bought for 10 dollars. Since it was so junky, it didn’t matter if I messed it up, so I used it to learn how to set things up as demonstrated in my little library of how-to books. Also, Eddie Van Halen was melting everyone’s face off when I was coming up, and everybody was copying him and building their own “super strats,” so naturally I had to make one, too. I bought the basic parts from Warmoth and took the body to my high-school shop class to route out the cavities for a bridge pickup and a volume knob. Later, I got into Steve Morse, so I routed out a neck pickup and a toggle switch. I put in a coil-tap switch and then took it out, painted the guitar about 10 different times, swapped out the neck—you name it—and learned a whole lot in the process. Later, when I was working with Collective Soul in the late 1990s, Ed had some old Vox AC30s that he brought out on the road. They were constantly blowing up, so that became the catalyst for me learning how to repair and modify tube-amp stuff.

How did you teach yourself that stuff?

Through trial and error and using books like Gerald Weber’s A Desktop Reference of Hip Guitar Amps and Aspen Pittman’s The Tube Amp Book. For me, those books were like finding the damn Dead Sea Scrolls or something! [Laughs.]

What was it like to transition from being the group’s tech to being their guitarist?

The band called me out of desperation in 2001 when they had parted ways with another guitarist. In less than two weeks, they were going to travel to Australia to play at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane, and then on to New Zealand for more shows. I had, like, 10 days to learn lead parts for the entire set and put together a touring rig. I was finally getting paid to play guitar, but it wasn’t all happy fun. After the tour, we came back to the US on September 10—the day before 9/11—and all our Northeast shows were cancelled. Things felt very unsettled for a while, but we finally got into a good groove and I permanently joined the band in ’03. Things have been pretty busy ever since.

While many Collective Soul songs come from the pen of Ed Roland, you wrote and sang lead vocals on “I Don’t Need Anymore Friends.”

Yeah, I recorded that one with a batch of songs that ended up on my solo record. When we made Afterwords, Ed asked if I’d like to contribute a song, so I picked one of mine that I felt would be most appropriate for a Collective Soul record—something somewhere between poppy and rock-guitar-riff oriented. It was pretty close to being finished when I brought it in—it just needed some bass lines and background vocals. Lyrically, it’s just a nice little song about how I felt at the moment. We were out on tour a few years ago, and we were at this party the promoter threw for us after the show and . . . what can I say? I just didn’t want to be there! I get sensory overload sometimes when there’s too much going on and too many people talking to me at the same time. It makes me withdraw. The lyrics are really supposed to be kind of sarcastic and are not to be taken literally—with the music business being what it is, I need all the friends I can get!

Some of the guitar parts on that song are so synth-like. What sorts of effects did you use to get that sound?

I’m a big fan of the old DigiTech Whammy pedal, and I always wind up stumbling on some cool new sounds when using it in conjunction with other pedals. For the second half of the first verse, I played a P-90-equipped MJ guitar and set my Whammy to an octave-up, octave-down sweep and ran that through a Leslie-type pedal—an Option 5 Destination Rotation—and a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. I set the amp fairly clean and then got those keyboard-sounding things by rocking the pedal back and forth between the octaves while I played the Bm–A–G– D–A chord progression.

Is the MJ your main guitar?

Yes. I have a few that I play both in Collective Soul and on my own. I own that one MJ Mirage outfitted with P-90s, and it’s become one of my very favorite guitars for recording, especially lead lines and melodic parts that I want to stick out a bit more. It’s an all-mahogany, chambered-body guitar with a rosewood fretboard. I own six humbucking- equipped MJs and another that’s more in the Tele style, as far as electronics go. They’re all great, and each one has its own personality, but my favorite is a beat-up black one that’s all mahogany with an ebony fretboard. I asked [MJ owner] Mark Johnson to do a thin, satin-black finish directly on top of the wood—without any clear-coat protection—so it’s taken some lumps out on the road.

What other guitars do you play?

I’ve got a few PRS McCartys and two Soloways. One is a 6-string Swan that has a cocobolo top on a swamp ash body. The other is a 7-string Swan with a swamp ash body and a black lacquer finish. Those Soloways are really cool for drop tunings because of their long 27" scale, and they hold together nicely under distortion. I think Jim [Soloway] is kind of a jazz guy, so it’s funny that I use his instruments for the big rock stuff.

Which songs do you use your Soloways on?

I used the 6-string with great results on “Sunrise” from my solo record. I used the 7-string on “Caterpillar,” “A Steel Cage to Ride,” and “New Song”— basically anywhere I could find an excuse to play it!