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The Shrine’s Josh Landau: Psycho Thriller

Going forward in reverse is the Shrine’s specialty, thanks to guitarist/bandleader Josh Landau’s love for old-school fuzz, analog sounds, and unfettered, punk-fueled psychedelic wailing.
Photo by Debi Del Grande

A hallucinogenic and heavy 6-string strangler plumbs the past and blends punk, metal, and classic fuzz tones to define the future of psychedelic rock.

After being taught “Norwegian Wood” on a nylon-string acoustic in his first guitar lesson, the Shrine’s Josh Landau quit.

“At that point I was interested in learning punk songs, Black Flag songs,” says Landau, who went on to pick up the tools of the trade from his guitar-playing father.

Right now, cynical readers are possibly snickering at this “sacrilege.” After all, what musician in his or her right mind would have the nerve to diss the Beatles? Well, like it or not, it seems things have worked out quite well for Landau. The Shrine has arrived, and this summer they’re on some major bills—with Iron Maiden and Megadeth at the Download Festival in Leicestershire, England, and with Anthrax, Black Sabbath, and Rammstein at Hellfest in Clisson, France.

Formed in Venice, California, in 2008, the Shrine features bassist Court Murphy, drummer Jeff Murray, and Landau on double duty as guitarist and singer. En route to the release of their 2012 debut album, Primitive Blast—which was followed in 2014 by Bless Off—they ascended via gigs with punk outfits, including Black Flag co-founder Chuck Dukowski’s band, and stoner-rock staples, like Kyuss, up the echelons of the contemporary psychedelic scene. But their music is really a mash-up of punk, pop, hard rock, metal, and mind-bending sonics they’ve labeled “psychedelic violence.” The Shrine cite Black Flag and Thin Lizzy as major influences in the interviews they do for skateboard and motorcycle mags. And they have a deal as “brand ambassadors” with Converse sneakers, which—along with their upcoming major festival appearances—gives them a rubber-tipped toehold on the heavy rock mainstream.

“I play pentatonic and blues scale stuff most of the time, but I like when I get excited and play outside of that. Greg Ginn, the guitar player from Black Flag, was a big influence on me and plays all sorts of crazy wrong notes.”

But free-Chuck Taylors-for-life aside, the Shrine is all about the music. And their new, third album, Rare Breed, features the band’s signature blend of punk-fueled chaos and acid-drenched psych-metal, along with nods to saxophone giant John Coltrane. Black Flag frontman Keith Morris even guests on a bonus track called “Never More than Now.” Premier Guitar caught up with Landau to discuss how he came up with some of Rare Breed’s ear-twisting tones, the origin of the Shrine Fuzz—the magic ingredient behind Landau’s sound, the trio’s addiction to analog, and how Lemmy’s sonic DNA will be imprinted in future music from the Shrine.

Did you road test the songs on Rare Breed before recording them?
Yeah, we did. Some songs I had written two years ago and demoed, or we played them all the time. Some come easy and we can figure them out in one day, others I’ve had for a while and we end up playing with the riffs back and forth. We play them a while and try to figure out if the bass player should be playing some harmony under me or not. One song that was pretty different for us from the new album is [the power-ballad-like] “Dusted and Busted.” It was almost an acoustic song that I had forever. It gets a pretty decent response, because it’s so different from everything else we do. Even some friends we toured with, who are, like, doom metal dudes, were like, “Yo, you gotta play that song every night. It’s such a different dynamic from your set.”

In “Dusted and Busted,” there’s a transition at around 3:15 that leads to the outro solo, which is really thrashing and melodic. Was that part of the original version?
That part at the end of the song, where it speeds up, is totally Thin Lizzy inspired. It felt like the right thing to do. It was totally created after, because that song was initially acoustic.

The Shrine are young, backyard pool-shredding, acid-dropping Californians who released their 3rd album, Rare Breed—first on Century Media—which according to producer David Jerden: "It sounds like war, it sounds like evil, it sounds like bombs going off."

That part sounds hard to do cleanly in one take. Did you do the whole track live?
That was, actually. The basic tracks were cut together.

“Coming Down Quick” opens with some crazy dissonances. How did you get those notes? At the end, before resolving that G note over the C chord, it sounds like you go above and below to Ab and F#. Was that done by feel or using a theoretical approach?
It was a total accident when I hit the first dissonant note. I usually just hit the power chord when we play that part, and we decided to add some leads to it in the studio. The very first time I tried, I hit the wrong note. But the producer, David Jerden [Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains], was like, “This is perfect. It sounds like war, it sounds like evil, it sounds like bombs going off.”

But when you hit that first wrong note, you were in a lower octave. Later you go up high and continue with the dissonances, playing the “right” wrong notes—so it couldn’t have been just random all the way through.
It was one of those things where there is no wrong note. Once I realized I played a “wrong” note right off the bat, it made me free to laugh and not worry, and to see how wrong I could make it. Instead of maybe playing along in the key, I did something weirder and more interesting.

In “Space Stepping,” during the repeating riff starting around 5:16, you play Eastern-sounding licks. Was that derived from a specific scale or harmonic device, or just from moving a sinister-sounding shape across different strings?
I hardly know scales—I just know listening. That was almost like a little trick or exercise I made up sitting on the toilet or something. I thought it sounded cool and repeated it, and we had the bass player try to play a chord progression under it [sings riff]. And it ends on something that kind of rings out like “Third Stone from the Sun” or some kind of a weird major thing. So no scales that I know of or was intending to play.

Right at the end of “Acid Drop” you play an outside-sounding, ascending lick as your solo draws to its dramatic conclusion. What were you playing there?
I play pentatonic and blues scale stuff most of the time, but I like when I get excited and play outside of that. Greg Ginn, the guitar player from Black Flag, was a big influence on me and plays all sorts of crazy wrong notes. He was influenced by Ornette Coleman. I started listening to Ornette Coleman and shit like that. It’s way more exciting when you play something wrong.

The more outside stuff contrasts nicely against your primarily bluesy riffs.
Thanks. That’s the Black Flag, Black Sabbath, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra weird influence on my own retard level, creeping in.

The Shrine consists of (left to right) drummer Jeff Murphy, guitarist/vocalist Josh Landau, and bassist Courtland Murphy.

Is it hard to sing against some of the busier guitar parts, like in “Rare Breed” or “Acid Drop?”
It’s kind of hard for me to play the verse of “Rare Breed” and sing it. The rhythms between the vocal lines and the guitar lines are different. I usually come up with the guitar riff first and then figure out how to sing to it. I can usually figure it out, but there have been moments where I’ve been like, “Aw fuck, I wish I had someone else playing this part.”

Do you ever alter recorded parts to make them easier to play onstage?
Yeah, I’ve tried that. Then I decided I was just going to push myself. I look at the stuff my favorite musicians played, like what Hendrix played and sang, and I’m like, “Man, I’ve got no excuse. Figure it out.”

Sometimes keeping things simpler makes for a better live show.
I used to use a lot more guitar pedals and effects, and, for the same reason, I’ve cut it down to just what I feel is necessary for me—a wah, a fuzz pedal, and a delay. I don’t want to see somebody standing up there and looking at his feet the whole time.

“I don’t think there’s any album I like that wasn’t recorded on tape. I don’t really accept a lot of new technology, because my favorite music has already been made.”

Did you record Rare Breed with vintage gear?
The new album was recorded using a 2" 16-track tape deck. I don’t think there’s any album I like that wasn’t recorded on tape. I don’t really accept a lot of new technology because my favorite music has already been made. I don’t feel like there’s more of it ahead than there is behind us. If those dudes could do it with this, this, and this … I should be able to do it. I should just work on the song, work on my playing, work on my singing, work on tweaking what I’ve already got—my Marshalls and just a few pedals—instead of focusing on tap dancing.

“Pull the Trigger” is your solo feature. Is that a big delay behind you or did you double-track?
It’s just a copy of the track. You just copy it and move it over.

That track has elements of blues-rock fused with other influences.
It’s something that came about from us playing live and trying to do something a little different than our studio recordings. I made up a lot of that stuff off the cuff, jamming over the years, and I put all the exercises and workouts that I do into one performance. It’s stuff I’ve played a million times. And I put them together in an order that I’ve never done. There’s a John Coltrane “A Love Supreme” rip-off in there, too.

Josh Landau’s Gear

Gibson reissue 1957 Les Paul Custom 3 Pickup VOS with Bigsby

1971 Marshall 100-watt Super Lead
Custom Apache amp
Peavey Series 260 PA head
Marshall 4x12 cabinets

Shrine Fuzz
Line 6 Echo Park delay
Jen Cry Baby wah
Electro-Harmonix Small Stone

Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky (.010–.046)
Custom .73 mm

When I first really got into him, I was like, “Man, guitar is kind of wimpy. I need a 100-watt Marshall full stack to match what this guy does with just his mouth. Holy shit.” His riffs are just insane. It’s something I’ve gotten into more and more over the last couple of years. I actually have a couple of Coltrane riffs that we play in our set just because they’re so heavy. I couldn’t believe it when I heard them. We just had to use them.

Tell us about the Shrine Fuzz.
A friend who used to tour with us a lot when we first got going got way, way, way into making pedals. He was like, “Dude, I want to make you a fuzz pedal. I got this really cool old Big Muff, ram’s head-style fuzz—what do you want me to put on it?” We were like, “Easy, put ‘the Shrine’ on it.” Our buddy only made 50 of them and we sold them all, and that’s that. People still ask about buying them all the time, because our friend doesn’t make them anymore.

Did you A/B it against other fuzz pedals or did you know right away?
I knew right away. There’s a pretty wide range there. If you turn the tone knob up it becomes unbearably trebly, fizzling—sort of a stun gun. And if you turn it all the way to the bass side you get a creamy, Fuzz Face, sort of speaker sagging cool sound.

You played a Les Paul-shaped guitar with a bolt-on neck at your St. Vitus show in Brooklyn. Tell us about that one.
It’s a Univox, one of those lawsuit ones from the ’70s. I traded a Squier for it, like a $150 guitar. The back of the Univox was sanded, and it was super light, but played great. Everybody that played it was like, “Man, if you ever want to sell that guitar.” I played it so much, and it started to have a few problems with some dead notes and stuff. Recently a friend of our producer, Dave Jerden, worked at Gibson and went, “Man, I love your new album. Let me introduce you to Gibson.” I talked to the artist relations person and she was like, “Can you come in this week?” Walked in and it was mind-blowing. Walked out with a reissue of a ’50s-style Black Beauty with a Bigsby.

Is that your new main guitar?
That’s what I’ve been playing for the last six months. I played it on our last European tour every night. It’s the first time I’ve ever played with a Bigsby, and I save the Bigsby for the end of the set because it goes fuckin’ nuts.

What about amps?
A 1971 Marshall 100-watt Super Lead that I bring everywhere with us here in America. When we go somewhere like Europe, I try to get the same sort of thing. Sometimes I’ll use a JCM800, but always a Marshall. Even when we went to Japan, every venue’s got a Marshall. But when I come home, I always plug into mine and I feel great.

YouTube It

Front-and-center in Nürnberg, Germany, Josh Landau burns through “On the Grind,” from Shrine’s Bless Off. With his reissue 1957 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty, he kick-starts the song’s signature riff playing solo and stomping on his vintage Jen wah pedal. At 1:45 he tags the riff again, this time sans wah, and at 3:50 he takes the song out with another solo that climaxes in a feedback-laced pentatonic burst.

I got a weird thing on the way, too. Our buddy here in Venice fixes and builds amps, and has a little company called Apache amps. He called me, and goes, “I’ve been fixing Lemmy’s amps and he just wanted me to replace his amps with new shit so they last.” This is six months ago, before Lemmy died, and he pulled out this transformer and it’s totally good. He said, “Do you want me to build you an amp with it?” I just put the down payment on it. He’s building me an amp with the transformer from Lemmy’s 1974 Super Bass.

One last question: I understand that an old rock poster your dad owns inspired the band’s name?
The poster said, “The Who, Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Shrine.” By the way it was displayed on the poster it just seemed like it was another band, although the show was actually at the Shrine Auditorium [in Los Angeles]. I just turned, maybe, 18 when we picked the name, and at that point I had gone from listening to hardcore punk to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, and the MC5. So I totally expanded into other areas of rock ’n’ roll. Band of Gypsys is probably my favorite guitar album ever.

Actually, just the other day a friend of mine called me and said, “Do you want to be an extra in this B-movie horror film? Arthur Brown’s gonna be in it.” So I brought the poster and he signed it. It was so random and he was super cool.