Thursday, July 26, 2012

Henry Clay People Interview: Part One

A few nights ago I spent some time on the phone with Joey Siara, lead singer and guitarist for the Henry Clay People. We talked about guitar gear, some of the tones on their new album (Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives), their live setup, and Joey's favorite guitarists and songwriters.

Here's part one of our interview:

P90Noir: Let’s start with the new album. What were your main guitars and amps for those sessions?
Joey Siara: I was splitting my signal between two amps - a 1975 silver face deluxe that I picked up on tour in Dallas, Texas for $550. It was one of my tour finds. I was using that and a hand-wired AC15. For pedals, I was using the Crowther Audio Hotcake and the Paul Cochrane Tim pedal. My main guitar is a Bill Nash tele (it’s been my main guitar for a few years). Although, I was surprised when I went back and listened to this record. Most of it was an early-90’s Japanese Jazzmaster with lollar pickups. Its brighter than the tele bridge, and I ended up using it more than the tele.

P90Noir: Are there any tones on the new album that you are especially proud of?

Joey Siara: Actually it’s my brother’s (Andy Siara) guitar. He was playing an SG classic with P90s into a little hand-made 15 watt that the guy who owned the studio built. It’s sort of an old Marshally tone. And Andy was using the Crowther Prunes and Custard pedal – that thing is awesome. Since then, I’ve started using one of those in my live setup. It’s one of my favorite pedals. Most of the lead guitar on the record has this broken guitar, really nasty sound. It’s that little home-made amp and the Prunes and Custard.

  P90Noir: I had a Hotcake for a long time and I loved it. But of course, something new caught my eye and I traded the Hotcake. And now I really miss it.

P90Noir: What’s your current live rig?

Joey Siara: Bringing two amps on tour is overkill for me. So now, I have the Top Hat Club Royale. I bought it just before the tour. It’s turned out to be the best amp purchase I’ve made. I really like having a 2x12. Using a 1x12 is tough on stage, because I move around a lot and need to be able to hear it. And I like that the Top Hat has a master volume on it which allows me to not be hated by every sound man out there. For pedals, it’s just the Hotcake and a Prunes and Custard.

P90Noir: Wow, so that’s it for pedals? I'm in a basement band that plays maybe three or four times a year and my board has probably eight pedals. It's a little ridiculous.

Joey Siara: Just those two, and a little Korg Pitchblack tuner. I tried to go simple. At different parts in the band’s history you would have come and seen different amounts of pedals. This is as bare bones as I have been in the history of the Henry Clay People. There’s something about the peace of mind of not having to worry about which pedal to hit. I think, when I play live, I get in my head sometimes in a song of making a choice of this distortion or that distortion. Having limited options helps me keep in the moment and focus on performing and singing.

P90Noir: I notice you use a lot of tremolo. Is that amp tremolo or a pedal? What is it that you like about tremolo as an effect? It always seems to really sync well with the songs. Are you using something with tap tempo?

Joey Siara: A lot of the tremolo is the Deluxe Reverb. There is one song on particular on the record, Those Who Know Better, where I tried to play in between the tremolo pulses so that you couldn’t really hear the attack. That was one of my favorite tones on the record. I played it on a Richenbacher 360 that I’ve since parted ways with. It was one of those guitars you lose in order to pay bills.

P90Noir: Let’s talk about some specific songs. The first of your songs that really jumped out at me was Slow Burn, from Somewhere on the Golden Coast. I love that lead slide part. Do you remember what guitar/effects/amp you used for that?

Joey Siara: It’s a slide part on the SG doubled with a Jazzmaster on the neck pickup. It’s a little Doug Martsch bit.

P90Noir: That answers that question then. The first time I heard you guys I thought “This is awesome, there’s like Pavement, Built to Spill, Replacements, maybe some Dinosaur Jr., but they’re still doing their own thing. I love it!”

Joey Siara: There’s all of those in there. I’m a fan – I’m an indie rock purist. All of those bands kind of inform our sound. I looked and listened and examined what all of my favorite guitarists have played and used to help me find the sounds I want to try to rip off (laughter).

P90Noir: I thought I was hearing a Big Muff on that part, but now I’m guessing maybe it’s a cranked Hotcake?

Joey Siara: That one isn’t, that’s Andy playing. He does most of the leads. At the same though, his setup is usually all the stuff that I’ve bought for myself that doesn’t really suit me. His guitar and most of his pedals I technically at one time in my life bought them. I’m not 100% sure on that. The lead might be a Turbo Rat. It’s one of those pedals that I actually purchased several times. I get one and I get sick of it and then I re-buy it again.

P90Noir: I got through that as well. I think I’ve bought and sold a Boss Blues Driver at least four times. I always think I’m going to like it, but it never works with my playing or my setup. And I’ve probably owned an MXR Dynacomp more times than that.

Joey Siara: You know I’ve had a similar experience with the Big Muff. I think part of my thing is that I love Teles and I love the bridge pickup and I feel like Big Muffs a lot of times, they want you to be hanging out on that neck pickup.

P90Noir: For me and Big Muffs, I always love them when I’m at home practicing. But whenever I take it into the band setting it just disappears in the mix. Finally, about a year ago, I picked up one of the Black Russian Sovtek (last version before they quit making them) Big Muffs and it’s the keeper. It has mids and it has a range of gain that none of the others had.

Joey Siara: Oh yeah, that’s totally been my problem with them too. Being a J. Mascis fan, I ended up getting the green one that was made in Russia. It’s like made out of tank parts (laughter). It’s awesome. I had this guy mod it so it’s true bypass and it has a little more headroom and doesn’t get as lost in the mix. But it takes up such a huge chunk of real estate in my little pedal case that I ended up giving it to our bass player and it has ended up being a huge part of our bass sound, especially on the new record. We split the signal, and on some of the songs it’s mostly the dry signal. But you really hear it on The Fakers and Anymore/Any Less.

Part two of the interview will be posted next week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Little Bit of Everything - The P90's First Family Concert Experience

Dawes, at Long's Park in Lancaster, PA

I wrote a few months ago about how Mrs. P90 bought Newport Folk Fest tickets for my birthday and how we were going to take the whole family and how it would be an amazing first concert experience for the P90 girls. Well, about three weeks ago, we got cold feet and sold the tickets.

I was sad to sell the tickets. But considering the weekend would have cost us $2,000+ all said and done, I consoled myself by repeating “I’d rather regret not going, than regret going.”

A second consolation prize was that Dawes (one of the bands we were most excited to see), was playing a free show at a park about 1.5 hours away from our house.

Random – Dawes playing a free show at a park in Lancaster, PA. How did this happen? For my local readers, imagine Centennial Park. That’s pretty much about the size of this park, and the stage wasn’t a whole lot bigger. Either way, I give mad props to the Long’s Park Amphitheater Foundation.

So yesterday, we packed up the blue whale (pet name for the light blue Toyota Sienna that replaced the Arctic Blue Sport Wagon) and headed to Lancaster, PA. We got there about two hours before the show and were surprised to see a crowd had already gathered. We claimed a space near the stage and set off to find food and shade.

We killed some time at a playground and with 30 minutes till show time returned to our spot on the lawn. At this point, the three year-old turns to Mrs. P90 and asks “Is this almost over? I’m ready to go home.” The concept of a live band seems to have been lost on her and since there were roadies on stage and music playing, she though that was “the band.”

A few moments later, Dawes came on and the girls handled it well. They danced, they played, the three year-old climbed on Mrs. P90 and did what looked like a toddler version of crowd surfing. The eldest was bothered by the volume, but this is the girl that is afraid of the intercom in a store.  And she eventually rallied and even spent one song (Coming Back to a Man) on my shoulders up near the front of the stage.

But by the ninth or tenth song in the set the girls were losing their interest and their patience. Like the 21st century parents we are, we handed them our phones and they played with the Easy Bake Oven app.

Were we sickened that our daughters were playing with smart phones while one of the best bands around was playing in front of them? Yes. Were we doing everything we could to catch as many songs as possible? Yes. We have a new credo. We’re reclaiming our lives. We’ve bent to our children’s wills for long enough. They are now old enough to be agreeable and do some things we want to do.

As the band kicked into Peace in the Valley, the three-year old began climbing on Mrs. P90 and doing something which looked not unlike toddler moshing. And at this point, I saw what we refer to as “belligerEmy” flash across her face. I realized that while there may be Peace in the Valley, there would be no more peace on the lawn. We quickly gathered up our belongings and raced back to the blue whale as she cried because she wasn’t holding her blankie. A woman in the crowd even offered her a balloon animal dog to ease her pain. She would have none of it. A threshold had been crossed. We were in the downward spiral of a full on meltdown.

We pulled out of the lot as the band broke into “A Little Bit of Everything.” It would have been nice to hear the last few songs, but being a parent is priority one over being a music fan. And all things considered, I saw one of my favorite bands play eleven songs in the company of my three favorite people. I’d say that accounts for a little bit of everything.

Mojo Hand One Ton Bee Review

A few weeks ago, I picked up the new Mojo Hand FX One Ton Bee fuzz. It’s their take on the Mosrite Fuzzrite circuit – a fuzz I’ve always wanted to try. I’ve been really happy with prior Mojo Hand fuzzes (the Huckleberry and Colossus are my favorite Fuzz Face and Big Muff), so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Aesthetically speaking, the Bee is one of the best looking pedals I’ve seen this year. It has a great yellow anodized aluminum case with a surfing bee.  Really, you can’t go wrong with a surfing bee. And while the name and graphic are clearly an ode to 1000 Lb. Bee by the Ventures, they are also indicative of the furious buzzing fuzz tone generated from within.

Plugging into the Bee, it’s not a smooth or friendly fuzz. It’s gritty, nasally, and jagged. But that’s the point. I hit the low E string and enjoyed the gritty overtones and slow decay. I immediately had to play the riff to Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum. The One Ton Bee nailed it. The other song the Bee makes me think of is Wheels by Gram Parsons. It sounds just like the nasty fuzz on the chorus that plays the single notes at the end of each line. It’s almost like a baritone sax tone on the low notes. It’s such a cool sound that other fuzzes can’t do.

Hitting the Bee with a Tele bridge pickup makes for a slicing tone that could cut through any mix. It reminded me of those old Ennio Morricone spaghetti western tones. It’s not a sound that’s going to fit on every song, but it’s just perfect for some parts. For my own preferences, with the tele, I backed my tone knob back about 30% which provided a perfect balance of thickness and cut.
With humbuckers, the Bee is thick but still piercing. Single notes jump out and chords have ring mod-like buzzy overtones. Rolling back the volume on the guitar makes things a little less fuzzy and reduces the overtones, but it certainly doesn’t clean things up. Rolling back on the tone and volume and playing single notes provides a synthy square wave tone

I wouldn’t recommend the One Ton Bee for a first fuzz pedal. And if you want smooth fuzz, I’d recommend a Muff or Fuzz Face clone. But if you’re ready to broaden your horizons and explore the grittier side of fuzz, I welcome you to feel the sting of the One Ton Bee.