After doing a special on Tera Melos and the pedals used by their guitarist, Nick Reinhart, I felt the need to make it into a series. Yes, the topic is close enough to my heart that I could probably talk all day about pedals. But my real reason for wanting to do this series is that sometimes you have the privilege of seeing a guitarist play live whose pedals are more than a cheap trick, or a simple tone enhancer. It becomes something else entirely: a truly indispensable part of the way the artist is able to express themselves. After Reinhart, the next person on my hit-list was (and it won’t come as a surprise) Rory Friers from And So I Watch You From Afar – a Belfast band with a more than mammoth sound. Thankfully he had a spare moment to talk to us at this year’s ever-brilliant ArcTanGent festival. This is what was learned.
FB: How did you go about choosing your pedals?
R: I think to begin with, I didn’t have any pedals and the first pedal I got that really made my ears and eyes prick up was just a delay pedal. I remember, I didn’t really know anything about effects, but a lot of the bands we were playing with at the time, like Adebisi, and a band from Belfast called Killing Spree, and a band called We Are Knives, they were playing this weird mathy instrumental stuff, and we didn’t really know what we were doing but we just knew that we enjoyed that kind of music and it was just kind of like “why is it that those bands sound different from my band?” and it was “oh they’re using these things in the ground”. So all I had was a distortion pedal; I don’t even think I had a tuner at the time, so buying pedals was kind of like going into a sweets shop and picking the one that looked cool to begin with; a delay and a reverb, and then gradually as you become a bit nerdier and a bit more obsessed about it all, you just start collecting things. I guess everyone’s done that trip to try and differentiate your band from another band.
And you just got into it all gradually?
Yeah, because like none of us are particularly good musicians in a way. Like none of us really learned how to play our instruments properly, and we were only as good as the last song we wrote, and we had to become better to write better songs. So pedals helped us feel like we were making noise that other people weren’t.
So using pedals is partly about helping you make a sound that’s more individual.
Yeah, absolutely! Because there’s only so much you can do with chords and notes you know? And when you can turn one small movement on a guitar into something vast or huge, or deep, or far away, you can dynamically change how people are perceiving what’s happening in front of them. And I guess that just starts with a pickup, and an amplifier. Because essentially you’re just playing this tiny little note, and it’s just a way of recycling that and making it into something exciting.
If you could only choose one pedal, would it be a delay?
That’s a tough one! Is your amp allowed to have distortion?
Yeah, your basic tone is mostly sorted already.
Yeah, then I guess a really awesome delay pedal. You know, it’s just cool how you can turn one note into many. It used to be back in the day, just something for making lots of extra noise, but once you get into the details and you can become selective over where extra notes are landing, you can create anything from like arpeggiated things to really long glitchy soundscapes. So I guess it would be one of the most versatile pedals.
And it can make some really simple riff just sound massive and complicated.
Yeah! Like what you said there pretty much sums up my entire attitude towards playing. Like I’m not a virtuoso on guitar so anything that makes it all sound cooler and better…
There’s like a smoke and mirrors element…
One hundred percent, yeah. Like I have this one pedal that makes a note go from its current pitch to like two octaves higher – like a pitch shifting thing. It does a really linear unnatural straight up. And whenever you play and there are kids in the front row who maybe aren’t into pedals, and I use this effect, all these kids are like, “fuck!” and it’s the most cheater basic thing, and I just use it all the time, and they’re like, “fuck yeah! That’s awesome”. So yeah, smoke and mirrors, completely.
What was your first pedal and where were you… and what year was it? Go back in time. Paint us a picture
It was many moons ago. Well I was very lucky and my Dad’s brother had passed down the Fender Telecaster I’m playing today, a twin reverb amplifier, and a box of some pedals, and in there was an auto-wah, which is, you know, really terrible; there was a chorus, which at the time I really hated – it just reminded me of Type O Negative or something; but then there was this MXR distortion pedal, and it was my first run in with a distortion pedal. And I would connect all these pedals together and turn the MXR up so that it was creating feedback, and I wouldn’t even play the guitar, I’d just sit the guitar at the amp and sit and twiddle knobs. And I just thought, “this is unbelievable, I don’t even have to do anything”, and I would just listen to how these soundscapes unfolded, which essentially was just feedback I guess, just terrible noise. And my mum really hated it, and she would switch the amp off and my ears would be ringing.
Actually, it was really weird, because other than the MXR, the other two pedals were Boss pedals, so I got in my head for some reason that these little Boss stomp pedals were good and that other pedals looked silly. So my other first pedals were a Boss delay and a Boss reverb, and a Boss octave, and I looked like I was a Boss demo guy. And I didn’t have a pedal board or anything, so I’d have them all in a line. It was terrible because they’d always get kicked and I’d turn around and there’d be these seven pedals scattered into the crowd, and it wasn’t like where you’d pull out a cable and put it in, it would be like stopping the songs and having to connect all the pedals together again. So that was when I was about sixteen or seventeen.
But since then we’ve been collecting and a new pedal would come along and make another one redundant. Some of the new pedals we’ve got recently, and some of the companies – especially smaller ones – are making stuff that’s incredible. We got some pedals given to us from a few different people for the new album we’re making at the moment. And they’re just incredible. It’s always a testament to a pedal, when you get a new one and you’ll write a song that day. Like you just switch it on and it’s like you’ve got a new song. That happened a few times on the last record.
Has there ever been a moment, maybe on stage, where you’ve just felt that the tap dance becomes too complicated?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. There was a point where – and this isn’t even a joke – there was a point where I was thinking about taping a ruler, like cello-taping a ruler across here [points under one shoe], so I would be able to do two pedals at once. Just one of those six inch rulers. And I started telling the guys and they were just like, “dude, that’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard”, and it would have been me with these paddles on my feet. Like you’ve just gotta figure out a better way to do things. But it just becomes like you’ve got your pallet of stuff and after a while you just know where they are. So your wee tap dance becomes your wee ritual, and your arsenal in a way. It does get too much sometimes, but it’s kind of a beautiful skill.
As a bonus addition to this Focus feature, our good friends at Small Pond Recordings have kindly provided this amazing live video of ASIWYFA at ArcTanGent festival. Stay in touch with what ASIWYFA are up to (including the making of their new album, which we in the Bahamas are more than excited about) through their Facebook and Tumblr.
Image credits: Main photo – Brendan Corey Benson; Side photo – Alive 87.