Occasionally new saviors rise to restore rock’s soul and give it the kick in the ass it needs. In 2021, those saviors are Nova Twins' Amy Love and Georgia South and their two monstrous secret pedalboards.
Bassist Georgia South and vocalist/guitarist Amy Love embody everything right about rock, and they fly in the face of what's wrong with it. As two women of color—Love is half Iranian and half Nigerian, South is half Jamaican and half English—they're sick of being told who they should be, what kind of music they should play, or how to play it. They're sick of being asked how they do it (more on that in a minute). And most of all, they're tired of feeling out of place in the male-dominated rock world.
“We love the rock scene," South says. “But it needs a shakeup in diversity, especially with women in the scene and people who don't identify as men. I mean, we played [France's] Hellfest and were the only women on that stage for that day."
“And there are some exciting things in the underground," Love says. “There are new artists that are hinting toward where we could go. But I think the gatekeepers and the promoters need to make an effort to find these new bands. Right now, we regurgitate the same headliners that have been going for years and years. But we need to make sure we build for the future, so that rock can survive."
In a case of serendipity, these two like-minded creatives found each other, aimed their sights on these issues, and created a savage new sound with an immediate sonic impact. It's loud, bold, and abrasive. It's like a million sawtooth synthesizers locked in a relentless groove and hell-bent on taking your head off.
So what does this have to do with guitar? Glad you asked.
This musically militant duo creates their grating grooves with a bass, a guitar, and two closely guarded pedalboards. (They also have a deftly skilled live drummer, Tim Nugent.)
“We like to create a world out of the bass and guitar," South says. “We were influenced by electronica, R&B, and even pop, to some extent. And they were all combined into our sound. We also love the production of certain hip-hop tracks. So we thought, 'How can we bring out that sound, but do it on our instruments?'"
“And we didn't need to add anything else," adds Love. “There's something quite special about musicianship. But what was nice and challenging was, 'How do we create this thing as a three-piece?'"
From the moment the Twins began writing together, they knew they had struck something original. And that they had something to say. What initially emerged was their debut single, 2015's “Bassline Bitch."
Even a cursory listen to the track reveals two souls throwing caution to the winds with an already fully realized sound, defined by South's locomotive bass and Love's go-for-the-throat vocal style. The guitar weaves in and out, completing the picture.
On their debut album, Who Are the Girls?, Nova Twins explore issues of race and sexuality, set against aggressive grooves and an intense electronica energy that has gained them comparison to U.K's the Prodigy.
“The guitar was always there," Love says. “But the way we fundamentally think about things is a bass and a vocal. At heart, that's what we bring to the table. The guitar has to be conscious of what the bass is doing because it is, sonically, the driving force of the track."
The recipe works, and “Bassline Bitch" caught the ear of the industry. One EP and three singles later, the Nova Twins were hard at work on their recent full-length debut, Who Are the Girls? While Many bands choose to play it safe for their first album, the Nova Twins aren't most bands. The new releasefinds them abrasive, boundary pushing, and more focused on their message than ever.
The aptly titled Who Are the Girls? tackles issues like race, sexuality, and misogyny. Much like Rage Against the Machine did in the '90s, their lyrics offer an uncomfortable look at the state of our world. You might agree, or you might disagree. But as soon as Nova Twins' roar pierces your eardrums, you're definitely paying attention.
The album explodes with the aggressive beats and attitude of '90s-era electronic music, in the vein of the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. (“The good ones," according to Love.) You'll even find the groove and power of hip-hop and nu metal. From the first bass drop of “Vortex" to the chaotic conclusion of the album's closer, “Athena," the whole album is relentless, and it's all done with thoroughly modern musical expression.
Though always driving and always massive, Nova Twins' music is surprisingly straightforward. It sounds riddled with synthesizers, but there aren't any. There are no plug-in virtual instruments, no vintage analog pieces, no backing tracks....
“They asked when we went into the studio, 'Do you guys want to use synths?' We said, 'No, we don't. We want to be able to do it [our way] and see if we can,'" says South. “And being women of color, we feel like we have to prove ourselves 10 times harder. So doing it in that raw form, playing all the pedals at once, and being able to play it all live was the way we needed to do it, especially on the debut album. We're not saying we might not use synths in the future. We don't know. But the debut is special, and we wanted to be able to prove that to everybody."
“It's really heavy," says bassist Georgia South of her Westone Thunder 1. “I love that it's passive. When you have loads of pedals, it's good to have something neutral like that. I got it from my friend's dad and have played it ever since." Photo by Arthur René Walwin
Without synths, Love's and South's choice of effects pedals play a vital role. Each musician performs behind crowded pedalboards full of carefully tuned effects—sound-sculpting devices, manipulated on the fly, that help Nova Twins redefine the power trio. We're not talking about MIDI-triggered multi-effects or a loaded laptop, either. There are no typical, always-on tone sweeteners.
However, don't ask them what pedals they use. When I did, I saw the disappointed look of artists with more important things to talk about. Namely, why their pedals aren't the point.
“You must know that it's a secret?" asked South. “We don't say. We have them all taped up. Getting into it, we didn't look at anyone else's pedalboard. That's not really important. We just encourage people to find their own sound."
“We do have a Boss tuner," Love added, with a sly laugh.
“I recommend to new bass players that they don't need to idolize someone," South continued. “If you idolize someone too much, you lose track of who you could be. So don't idolize anyone. Listen to your bare self, and whatever comes out will be your sound."
Putting their art before their tools is a noble trait. Lord knows we sometimes spend too much time reversing those priorities. But luckily for the gearheads out there, Love and South were eager to dig in on their guitars, basses, amps, and playing techniques.
South, who started on piano, moved to bass when searching for something more powerful. She found it in her beloved 1980s Westone Thunder 1.
“That bass is my absolute baby," she says. “It's really heavy. And I love that it's passive. When you have loads of pedals, it's good to have something neutral like that. I got it from my friend's dad and have played it ever since. I'm just obsessed with Westone. I even have a Westone jacket with Westone on the back, from a Facebook group." [Laughs.]
Channeling her 4-string obsession, South crafts lines that hit as hard as many five-piece metal bands. And we're not talking about riding eighth notes, either. From melodic flourishes to devastating riffs, each song covers her entire fretboard. Listen to the filtered, staccato stabs and manipulated metal explosions in the new album's “Bullet" and you'll understand. She pushes it all through a surprisingly small, multi-amp setup of a Gallien-Krueger MB 212 bass combo and an old Marshall Valvestate guitar combo, which packs a 12AX7 preamp tube into an otherwise solid-state circuit.
“The Gallien-Krueger combo is so small and so light," South says. “It's perfect when traveling in a car to all the venues, which we did in the past. We even did huge shows, and it still filled the room. And the Marshall Valvestate was cool because I couldn't blow any valves up. And I've blown up Ampegs!"
Love, on the other hand, is a lesson in restraint—though not tonally. Her guitar cuts an equally savage path through their tracks. But as a songwriter first, her style is all about serving Nova Twins.
“I love Annie Clark," Love shares. “She's quite interesting with St. Vincent. And the way that Jack White made guitars scream, they were quite angular. I really enjoyed that as well. But I never looked to guitar players that I admired. We developed in our own band, in a bubble. I mean, the guitar doesn't have to be busy. It can be like little hip-hop lines here and there or tiny color counterparts. It's there to support the bass and add nuance."
“It roars, and I love it," says Amy Loves about her Fender Player Mustang 90. “It has P-90 pickups, so it's not as tweedy as a normal Mustang. And it's short scale, so it's great to play. I like the way it fits my curves and body shape as a woman. And it works really well with my pedals. It just fits, you know?" Photo by Arthur René Walwin
However she came to her unique style, she knows when to play, when to fall out, and how to give every note maximum impact. There are thousands of lead guitarists claiming they're striving for the same thing, but every one of them can take a lesson from Love and her Fender Player Mustang 90.
“It roars, and I love it," Loves says of her Mustang. “It has P-90 pickups, so it's not as tweedy as a normal Mustang. And it's short scale, so it's great to play. I like the way it fits my curves and body shape as a woman. And it works really well with my pedals. It just fits, you know?"
With no shows currently on the books, the Nova Twins live rigs are a bit of a question mark. Creating new music is the current priority, so it's all about gear experimentation now.
“We are in a transitional period. We're writing new stuff, which will require more and more shit," Love says. “I use my [Fender] Hot Rod [Deluxe], which packs a punch. It's great. It's classic. And Marshall gave me an Origin ORI50C amp, which is designed for pedals. It's really clear and true sounding. It's also great when you want to play clean, pretty guitar. I want to try splitting the tones."
South's live rig is at a similar crossroads. “For the album, I had the Valvestate," South says. “And we haven't been able to play them live yet, but in rehearsals I have a Marshall JCM800 [Studio Classic]. It's super loud and small, which is great. And it's a lot more gnarly and hotter in tone compared to the [Valvestate]. So I'm still trying to decide which one I prefer."
As you can imagine, executing their energetic performances—with dynamic vocals, intricate playing, and on-the-fly pedalboard manipulation—is a mammoth task.
“We started writing to these sounds. Then we were trying to play and sing at the same time, while also trying to set off this pedal," explains Love. “We ended up thinking, 'Fuck, this is really difficult!' But we didn't think about not doing it. We just thought, 'How can we make this happen?'"
“It's a lot," South agrees. “In between every song, there's a routine where you have to change every setting on a lot of the pedals. So you learn every song, and you have to learn the pedal set to go with it. And it has a whole foot routine to go with it. So it takes a while to figure out how to play it."
“The pedals and stuff will never die," South continues. “I think we want to hold onto the [new album's] sound to a certain extent. But I think we also don't want to get complacent, be comfortable, or sit still. So we'll stay true to our roots. But we also know that we'll grow and experiment."
“Yeah. We're not going to suddenly bring out a drum 'n' bass album for the second record," Love says. “We're just going to bring what we've learned from the first record and put it into the second. It will just be more of what we do."