Double Naught Spy Car''s Paul Lacques and Marcus Watkins on their hilariously heady blend of surf-informed jazz-noir instrumentals.
LEFT: Paul Lacques wailing onstage with his 1953 Fender lap steel. RIGHT: Marcus Watkins’ main Spy guitar is a ’62 Strat reissue from 1986. Photos by Greg Allen
“Sometimes the audience at our shows is nearly half musicians,” laughs Double Naught Spy Car guitarist and lap-steel player Paul Lacques. “I mean, when someone starts laughing at something you snuck into the middle of a phrase, you know that’s gotta be a guitar player!”
The all-instrumental L.A. quartet’s exceptional new album, Western Violence, boasts amusing titles like “Halliburton Snowboard,” “Two Bones from Skeletor,” and the instant classic “Journey to the Center of Guitar Center”—a rollicking cacophony of spaghetti Western/surfabilly/spy-movie sounds that the band describes as “an interpretation of a Saturday afternoon noodle-fest at the Sherman Oaks Guitar Center, punctuated by tasteless simultaneous wanking by our guitarists.”
Double Naught’s jazz-noir artrock certainly contains enough harmonic in-jokes and snippets of old TV themes and “cheesy listening” references to keep any guitar nerd chuckling for hours. But that hardly diminishes (pun intended!) the seriousness of Lacques and co-guitarist Marcus Watkins’ inventive, richly seasoned playing and the coolness of their compositions—which evoke the angular licks and interplay of bands like Television, Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and King Crimson alongside nods to Ennio Morricone and Dick Dale. The two well-traveled guitarists have done stints with 311, the Dust Brothers, Bo Diddley and many more. These Spy Cars get around.
Double Naught Spy Car (left to right): Lacques, drummer Joe Berardi, bassist Marc Doten, and Watkins, who’s playing a Tele through a Top Hat combo. Photo by Greg Allen
Despite all those influences, perhaps the biggest throughline in the Double Naught sound is the mighty harmonic minor scale, which suffuses their tunes with its spirit of Eastern European intrigue. But Lacques’ and Watkins’ approaches to harmonic minor—essentially a natural minor scale with a raised seventh degree—come from very different perspectives.
“I’m a pretty self-taught, seat-of-your-pants player,” says Lacques, “and I got into it from playing with a group called the Aman Folk Ensemble, where I had to learn lots of Turkish and Eastern European material. But Marcus comes to it more from Gypsy jazz and from a background in theory and reading. But yeah, it’s really at the core of our music. I mean, we’ll lead with a major seventh over a minor chord!”
Another unifying principle is what Watkins calls the band’s “uncensored” creative process. “We spend a lot of time saying ‘Wouldn’t it be great if … ’ and since there’s no one telling us ‘No, you can’t,’ we do!”
Lacques—a righteous lapsteel and Telecaster player with a background in classic country, Afro-pop, and roots rock—agrees. “The spirit is that there are no rules, so you can be as atonal and avant-garde as you like.”
Watkins’ ’62 Strat reissue, Lacques’ ’53 Fender lap steel, and Watkins’ Johnson resonator.
According to Lacques, Double Naught Spy Car came to life in the mid ’90s under the influence of Chris Isaak guitarist Jimmy Wilsey, whose cavernous Fender clean tones and dreamy articulation cast a powerful neo-surf spell.
“It was in that approach to using the harmonic minor scale and the blues scale—with that gorgeous tone and reverb— and I thought, ‘I want to play like that.’” That set Lacques off into using Fender Super Reverb amps (though he uses a 1969 Fender Princeton Reverb with Double Naught), running them clean with ample spring reverb—a pretty big change for a guy whose “gurus” include country pickers like James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White.
“Clarence White is amazing because he pushed both acoustic bluegrass and electric country guitar so far forward,” Lacques notes. “It’s unusual to be that influential on both acoustic and electric music.” Lacques studied White’s trademark half- and wholestep bends in detail, though he attempted to approximate them on his ’68 Fender Telecaster without the aid of a B-Bender.
Ironically, Lacques’ technique on the lap steel comes more from trying to mimic the Nigerian Afro-pop sounds of King Sunny Ade than anything out of Nashville or the California country scene. He tunes his 1953 Fender lap steel to A–C–D G#–B–D (low to high), what he describes as a “D13 tuning,” one inspired by Hawaiian guitarist Sol Hoopii. “It’s not like those [resonator] tunings where you’ve got this big, fat major chord,” says Lacques. “But it’s really good at minor chords and 13 chords, and just puts all these dense jazz voicings at your fingertips. It’s a bit tricky to learn, but it’s a rich palette.” As a nod to the pickand- fingers technique of country, Lacques wears metal fingerpicks on his middle and ring fingers, and a plastic one on his thumb, when playing steel.
Watkins, who cut his teeth as a precocious teenager playing Randy Travis and ZZ Top in the bars of Northern California’s San Joaquin Valley, also plays Teles, but is more likely to be seen with his 1985 Fender ’62 Stratocaster reissue, which is loaded with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups and plugged into a Matchless Spitfire combo. “Perhaps [the DiMarzios] aren’t the purest Strat sound, in one sense, but I gotta say, when you’re playing in all these different clubs, with all their different wiring and grounding issues, it’s awful nice to show up and know you aren’t going to get any buzz at all from your guitar— benefits of a humbucker, sound of a Strat.”
As demonstrated by their choice of amps, both players find low-wattage amps key to their tones. “Low stage volume is the better way to go,” says Lacques. “When I first switched from my old ’55 Deluxe to the Princeton, I didn’t think it would be loud enough, but after a few gigs I got used to it, and now I can’t imagine going back to a bigger amp.” He says another secret is to not use monitors. “As soon as you start using the big drum wedge in the drummer’s face, you’re dead—because that thing floods the stage with extraneous sound. You’re doubling the onstage volume and getting all sorts of phasing and noise. The house guy can make you sound huge if he wants, but onstage it’s like you’re playing in your living room.”
One assumes that is worlds better than what it sounds like in the middle of Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon in Sherman Oaks.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.