Tim Reynolds discusses how he approaches gear and playing for his various projects: Dave Matthews Band, Tim Reynolds Trio, and solo acoustic.
Some people just fly under the radar during collaboration. Jordan had Pippen, Simon had Garfunkel, and Dave Matthews has Tim Reynolds. Although he grabbed attention with Dave Matthews Band acoustic concert releases Live at Luther College and Live at Radio City Music Hall, Reynolds has been leaving audiences spellbound as a solo acoustic artist and melting faces with his electric trio, TR3, when he's not with Dave Matthews Band. We caught up with him in between a spring of touring with TR3 and a summer of hitting the road with DMB.
What led you to pick up guitar in the first place?
Probably my sister playing Beatles records in the sixties. And even before that, Elvis records, and everything after that just blew me away, up to James Brown... y'know, the whole late sixties to early seventies was basically when guitar rock came into its own and so I was just completely all into that. And it's still a fascination, I'm still checking out guitar players whose names I can't pronounce... it's an ongoing thing.
I'm into other instruments as well, because they can inform different ways of playing... dervish flute, oud, sitar. I'm really a fan of the sitar, I played that for a while, and it still moves me... I guess Indian music in general has so many cool inflections and ornamentations, the way a vocalist does. The mojo of that, the way it communicates such feeling, it can be dark or light, or into the microtonal stuff.
Then there's the way you play jazz guitar, where you don't bend any strings at all, but it's just like the way a piano is; what note comes after what, and the effect of that. It's just an endless search for new ways to approach the instrument. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. You feel like you need many more lifetimes to study this or that. It can be anything that has soul or communicates feeling. Vocalists, the way they sing. Sometimes I'll just put on a record and play along with the singers, try to emulate that, because it's a more interesting thing than just going crazy... but I also like to put on stuff and just jam and go apeshit. It's also just the technical things that I hear people do, that I kinda just go "Fuck, man," there's so many people at the cutting edge of technique on the guitar.
Who do you see on the cutting edge, and how do they influence your playing?
There's this guy, Yamandu Costa, and he plays an 8-string classical guitar—all this amazing uptempo stuff—and his technique is like a combination of extreme classical meets flamenco, but it doesn't sound like either because he's playing samba. It's just all these amazing syncopated rhythms.
And then there's Allan Holdsworth, who's been around forever, but he just keeps getting better and better. He's like John Coltrane on the guitar. That's one way of looking at guitar, and then there's the other extreme, like I was saying, with vocalists. I kind of draw from those things a little bit more now, but I go back and forth. I'm not going to sit around and just practice playing faster and faster, because I can do that a little bit naturally. I'm really kind of looking for the soul of stuff. Because I tend to go apeshit, I like to look at the slower, vocal things that have more ornamentation, because that's what I need to concentrate on more.
Your career is so varied—alternating between touring with Dave, solo acoustic, the trio—how do you prepare for each of those?
For me, whenever it gets to a week or two out, depending on how much time I have before each of those gigs, I just kinda shed on the tunes. The hardest for me is the acoustic solo tunes. It's a whole different repertoire and it takes a lot of focus, so I spend a lot of time doing that. I had two different gigs doing that, and I forgot how much fun they are. It's this whole different set of songs that i like to play, so I hope to do that more this year or next year.
So let's talk about Radiance a little bit... You started touring with TR3 again in 2007?
Yup! We started right about the end of the year, played a lot of local gigs to get to know each other.
And then what led to the new album?
It just kind of came about organically... I'd been working a lot of solo gigs and using drum machines. Then I just started playing with Dan [Martier, drums] and Mick [Vaughn, bass]. They came over to my house and we had a verbal rehearsal for our first gig, and then we played out and had a lot of jamming, and I realized "Let's all practice and get it really tight!" We learned songs I already had, older TR3 songs from the '80s, and in the process of doing that came up with some new songs. A lot of times, recording in New Mexico, I'd kind of pretend that I was a band, jam with myself—I'd play a drum track, improvise some bass, and try to think of it as a song. There'd be a moment during a three- or four-minute jam where I'd lock into something. I had a lot of recordings like that, so we started looking at some of those things and making songs out of those. That's about half the material from Radiance, and the other half is older TR3 material. Also, when we were in the studio I'd just learned this Chris Whitley song, "Wild Country." I didn't know that we'd record it, but we learned it and spent a day recording it, and I was really psyched because I love that song. It reminds me of coming from New Mexico.
The gear I was using at the time was just my little Marshall, and I had a little Fender amp I used on a couple tunes for cleaner sounds. And it turns out we had another amp just like mine there, so we kinda double-amped it—one in the closet, one in another room. I didn't really have to double any parts because we already had them doubled. I wanted to keep that to a minimum because on the album I did before that, Parallel Universe, I kind of went apeshit with overdubbing and production. But when we did Radiance, it was more like "Let's get the live sound of this band." Also, Dan and Mick are great singers, so we had these cool vocals which we didn't have in previous incarnations of TR3. We spent a week at Haunted Hollow in Charlottesville, and that was like being in heaven because we just worked on this music in this simplified studio. Rob Evans, the engineer, also helped us produce it, and he just has such a great ear. It was just an easy-going great experience.
Back to the gear—I noticed that you were using a Mesa/Boogie [Dual Rectifier] most of the time on this tour, right?
Yeah, that was my first big amp. I got it back in '98 when I lived in Santa Fe, and it sounds really great. Then I just got this big Marshall amp [JCM2000], and I was really stoked about that too. I mean, the Marshall sounds great, they're both the best at what they do, so you can't really say one is better than the other. I mean, it's like comparing a Martin and Gibson acoustic, they're both just great! It's a matter of maybe one fits a song better than the other. So I started using it on this last tour. I felt bad that it just sat in my house, so I decided just to take it out on tour. When I first worked with the Mesa, it took a little while to get used to it, because my Marshall has three channels, but then I realized it makes you work a little harder, which is good, so on the songs I need more distortion I just turn around and crank up. The great thing about the Mesa is that it sounds great at any volume, whereas the Marshalls, you have to turn them up to get that optimum volume.
Tim and his Strat. Photo: Chris Kies
Yeah, Flying V and Strat. On the album I played a Les Paul for the C tunings, but the truss rod became disconnected—I'm not sure if it's broken or what—and I still have to get it fixed. I didn't want to take it out on the tour, so I used an SG I'd gotten a couple years ago that I used on Chaos View. I'm a fan of all great guitars. It's easy to imagine just using one, but once you get a taste of different ones you kind of get addicted to the way they sound on certain songs. When I play acoustic, I usually stick to one or two. Electric guitars, they're almost like a different effect; the tone of a Flying V and a Strat are really different, and they have different ways of bending strings, and I just enjoy all that.
So, let's talk about effects... what's your approach? You do a lot of weird stuff, like using a ring modulator for a bar or two here and there. What led you to that?
The ring modulator is the quickest way to get the most "out" sound. After a few years with it, I learned how to manipulate it. I had to write down different settings, and now I understand the frequencies, and the waveform settings, and the mix control. I kind of feel like it's an instrument unto itself. So I just like sneaking it in randomly, or as part of the song. It's just a different thing—it's otherworldly.
My other effects are pretty normal: Leslie simulator, Jimi Hendrix Uni-Vibe sound, delay. Those are pretty normal. I got some new effects recently, but I haven't really felt like I've learned to use them. My newest is a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory. I use that as a third channel, it's got such a different sound—uber-sustain. You can actually turn one knob and just make it squeal, like it's out of control. Sometimes I'll use that when I want the ring modulator to speak a little louder. Turn that up and it's just kind of BLAUGH!!! It's kind of fun to have that option.
The main effect I associate with you is delay, but you didn't seem to be using it as much this time out.
With the band and this kind of music, it's more about the interplay between the band. I'm probably known for using it more with the acoustic, not so much with looping, but to do transitions between a 6- and a 12-string. I'll just write a random title, something silly, and that'll be an improvising section with the delay. And I guess in the end, I do it less and less. I started out in the '80s playing at Miller's every Monday, I really got into the science of that. And I notice now that you can buy a giant loop station and have everything timed, and that's really cool, but it's like so many people are doing that now. I'm still trying to learn how to play guitar. With the power trio, I just kind of get back to the basic thing, the ring modulator is the detour effect for that. I still love the delay, and I depend on it for a lot of those songs, but it's just more subtle.
So what gear are you going to be taking out with Dave this summer?
It's pretty similar to what I used [before]. It's a bigger rig, even though I probably don't need a bigger rig. No one uses an amp on stage except Stefan [Lessard, bassist for Dave Matthews Band]. There's so much air being moved... even with a 4x12 cabinet and a hundred-watt head, if I'm not standing right next to it, I can't hear it. I have a monitor, but I have everyone else's stuff too. Everyone else uses in-ear monitors, but I'd rather use the squishy old earplugs, it makes every place sound the same to me, because I have really bad tinnitus.
[The rig] is just a bigger version of my usual stuff. The first year, I used a Marshall, and for some reason, I couldn't get my usual tone out of it. So we switched to Mesa the next year, and seemed to alleviate that. We also figured out I was getting a lot of tone loss from the wiring into the amp, which I'd never experienced before, or maybe I'd just never put it under a microscope to check it out. So we used one of those tone boosters, and that totally fixed it. I remember the first year [DMB] released their live gigs on their own label hearing the tone of the Marshall and going "Oh god, that's not right!" And then the next year, it was totally better using the Mesa and the signal booster.
Next time I go to the studio, I'm going to have more amp options. When we did the Grux album [Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King], the producer was also a guitar player, and he had giant racks of all these different amp heads, and I kinda just went to school on all these different amps. I mean, some of them I didn't like, but the coolest was this Marshall amp that said "Fuckface" on it. Whenever we needed something that would work every time, we'd go to that.
So out of all the guitars that you've owned and played throughout your career, what's your "go-to," desert island guitar?
For desert island, it'd have to be a Martin D-35. You can just pick it up and play it. It's got a nice big, boomy, kind of bassy sound because of the three-piece back. A while ago I was doing a gig with this folk guy, John McCutcheon. We were doing this rock tune in his living room and he picked up this Martin and just started playing this song with an A chord and I just though, "What kind of guitar is this? That's what I want!" It just has a great tone, and I love the hell out of it. I love the D-28s, too. I have a 12-string D-28 that's right up there with the rest. That's another thing I really love, 12-strings. Then the next level would be a Strat, because whenever I want to play a solo with the band, and I really want it to express emotion, I go to that. I mean, I love Gibsons too, it's just a minor click away from that too. I've become addicted to all of them, especially the Flying V—it's just got a really nice tone.
Anything else on the horizon for you?
We're working on a TR3 live CD which we'll probably have come out the beginning of next year. At the end of last year, we recorded some gigs and there's a lot of stuff I'm really psyched to put on CD. It's live, so I guess there's more what you'd call shredding or guitar improv, a little more busy, funny stuff. There are some longer versions of songs, some stuff off of Radiance, some covers, and just having fun, the way a live album captures the feel of a gig.
I also have a CD I'm trying to get out by the end of this year that's a bunch of acoustic solos—a two-CD thing, one with all instrumentals and one that's vocal tunes. All that was recorded when I was still in New Mexico, the last summer that I spent any time there. Before I left, we had this small house that was like a studio space. Not necessarily like a hi-fi recording studio, it was an artist's studio that I adopted as my hangout, my man cave. I recorded a lot of stuff there. I didn't really have a big board and a recording room, but I could do what I needed to do.
Which covers? You mentioned "Wild Country" earlier.
Some James Brown, some Prince, Zeppelin, some Portishead, Golden Earring, "Hocus Pocus" by Focus, "Jesus is Just Alright" by the Doobie Brothers, "Matte Kudasai" by King Crimson... we're just all over the place. Sometimes we'll be joking with each other, and say "What about this song?" But then we'll play it and go "We almost know it. Let's learn it!" Last tour, I really wanted to learn this Portishead song I've been loving for years, so we just did it and it was really fun. It's almost like a Miles Davis song, you can improvise, but the head is so memorable, that's all you really need to play: just this vocal line and a harmonica sample—I'll use a slide to get the harmonica sound—but it's just so much fun to play!
- Gibson Flying V
- Fender American Deluxe HSS Stratocaster
- Gibson SG (Drop-C tuning)
- Schecter C-7 7-string
- Martin D-35
- Martin D12-28
- Jim Dunlop Univibe
- Moogerfooger Ring Modulator
- Boss DD-6 Digital Delay
- Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere
- Z.Vex Fuzz Factory
- Fishman Aura (for acoustic guitars)
- Marshall JCM-2000 with 1960A cabinet
- Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier with 2x12 cabinet