When did you start playing the guitar?
I got really excited about playing guitar after I saw the video for Metallica’s “One.” I immediately told my mom I wanted to play. This was around the time that I was really into baseball and wanted to do that but I was so bad I never made a team. I wanted to be a pitcher and got the nickname “The Assasin” because I had no control and would throw super hard. Kids didn’t know if the ball was going to go behind their back, over their head or over the plate.
After not making the cut for every team I went out for, I thought, “Ok, let’s try something else” and that’s when I got obsessive about music.
There were other guitar based songs that got me going at a younger age too. Whenever Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothin’” came on I would do an air guitar freak out that I’m sure my family still gets a laugh out of.
As soon as I got that first acoustic guitar and learned a few riffs I was hooked for a lifetime.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a professional musician?
Being from Seattle (you know, the birthplace of grunge!) there was always a DIY (do-it-yourself) attitude about music. None of the guys in Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Melvins, etc seemed like virtuosos—they were guys that loved music and were inspired by the punk rock ethos that you can do whatever you want. There was an incredibly nurturing underground scene that it seemed like you could just show up and play. Granted I always looked up to the shredders and innovators that first inspired me, but having the punk rock you-can-do-anything angle as well was really empowering.
The first time I realized I could be a professional musician was when I quit my day job before a Minus the Bear tour. I was working at a good design firm in Seattle but we had so much touring coming up it didn’t make sense to even say I’d come back to freelance. I’m still interested in design and have continued to do work for the band (album covers, shirts, etc) but not in a design firm setting.
Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
Obviously Metallica were an enormous influence. They opened my eyes to a whole new world of music I didn’t know existed. Slayer, Anthrax, Sepultura, Morbid Angel and almost every other thrash band had an immediate impact on me. From there the Seattle bands, especially the incredibly unique and experimental guitar playing of Soundgarden had me hooked. This led me down the more punk rock DIY path where I started worshipping really noisy, angular and chaotic bands like Drive Like Jehu, Unwound, Angel Hair and Universal Order of Armageddon. There were definitely different phases of my guitar development but most of them had one thing in common—try anything and be different.
Even though I loved a lot of those thrash metal bands I was never as interested in the soloing as much as I was the badass riffs that were the foundation of the songs. That theme still exists in my playing to this day. I’d never say I consider myself a great or even good soloist, I’d rather write the riffs that make up the backbone of the song. I guess I like the meat of the composition more, not the sprinkles on top.
How did you develop your own style/sound?
My first band, Botch, was a crazy math-metal hardcore band where we tried to push things to the limit. Lots of weird time signatures, polyrhythms, crazy-ass screamed vocals, and tons of distortion. As that band evolved we got more and more progressive with our writing and arrangements. Not to mention there were parts of songs where I would play my pedals. Towards the end of the band I even used a KORG Chaoss Pad I would get crazy stereo effects out of and in general just use to create madness.
As Botch was winding down, I was really into Chicago math-rock stuff like Don Caballero and the Seattle indie-scene with bands like Built to Spill and Sunny Day Real Estate.
Most of the two-hand tapping influence for a lot of the early riffs came from Don Caballero. I loved the idea of doing something very technical (like two-hand tapping) but not using it for soloing, instead creating complex riffs with that technique. Fretting a chord with my left hand and tapping a melody with the right hand has been the trick to some of our most popular riffs/songs. Then throw in the tonal/chordal/arrangement influence of Built to Spill and other indie rock bands with everything that I was doing in Botch and all those elements combined to create the sound of the first few records.
As we were writing “Menos el Oso,” I was really into all the glitchy, sampled sounds coming out on electronic records by artists like Four Tet, Caribou, Amon Tobin, and the early Daft Punk stuff. One day at practice while screwing around with a DL4 I realized that I could make all those sounds using my guitar and a DL4—sample my own riffs, re-trigger them to the beginning, reverse them, make them go double time, make them glitchy—it opened up a whole new world of songwriting for that record and was a significant evolution for the band’s sound as well.
Now I consider my style or sound to be a combination of all these different techniques. New stuff we’re currently writing still uses those sounds along with some new tricks I’ve started experimenting with.
Do you prefer the stage or the studio?
As a lot of people say, they are totally different beasts. One is more nuanced and about tone, introspection and creativity while the other is about interaction, energy and craziness. I don’t necessarily prefer one to the other but you are definitely in different zones in each environment.
The thing I love about the studio is the experimentation. It’s exciting to be making something entirely new and trying everything possible until you run out of time. The studio can be arduous and cantankerous while dealing with your bandmates/engineer/producer/etc. Everyone is trying to make the song “better” but getting everyone on the same page is sometimes difficult. It’s a place where you can think too much and “get in the weeds” so to say. Sometimes overthinking a part can drive you crazy until you realize you need to take a step back and stop obsessing over a minute detail. Perspective is key.
When it all comes together though and everything just clicks, that’s the magic moment. Listening to the finished song or album definitely comes with an incredible sense of pride and satisfaction (hopefully!).
Playing live is always amazing. Feeding off the energy from the crowd and getting sweaty and physical is the complete opposite of the very controlled studio vibe. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to see people sing their hearts out to the lyrics, playing air drums along with Erin, or the look on people’s faces when they hear something new or you play their favorite tune.
Playability and tone are the reason I started playing PRS guitars. As Botch was ending and I was writing all these new, inspiring, finger-tapped riffs, I realized I needed a change from the Les Pauls I’d been playing for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Les Pauls and for what I was playing at the time, it couldn’t be beat. But along the way of trying to find a new guitar I was at Al’s Guitarville in North Seattle and took a gorgeous Goldtop McCarty off the wall. I was immediately hooked by the versatility of the tone and more importantly how the neck played. It was fast and quick and I was able to move around the fretboard with ease. After that I’ve never really looked back.
What attracted you to the guitar you currently play?
After playing that McCarty for a few years I started lusting after the Custom 24. Those extra two frets, the beautiful body and finish, and more importantly the sound (I started loving the coil-taps and ended up using them all the time) attracted me to that one. I can’t quite say which one is my favorite—the Goldtop or the Custom 24—they are both my go-to guitars of choice in pretty much any situation.
What’s been your coolest experience as a guitar player?
I mean it doesn’t get better than playing all over the world and seeing your fans sing along to every song. There’ve been some amazing festivals and some awesome awesome tours that I will remember forever.
I guess one of my favorite moments was when Kirk Hammett came out to our show in Honolulu. We had just finished a tour of Australia and Japan and the last show was in Honolulu so we could have our significant others come over and have a free post-tour vacation. He showed up to the venue right as we were starting and was watching from a little side-stage balcony. It was a crazy trip to see one of my oldest influences watching and enjoying MTB from the side of the stage. He was incredibly nice and funny. He came with his dad and few of his friends who were all great as well. We were supposed to rendezvous early the next morning to go surfing, but apparently the conditions weren’t good so it got called off. That’s the only bummer from that experience!
What’s on your iPod now?
I’ll always have my favorite 70s prog-rock records on there—King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, etc. In terms of modern music I’ve been loving the Tame Impala records and always enjoy Russian Circles. I just heard the new War on Drugs record and that is pretty awesome. Anything with Nels Cline playing guitar on it I will be into whether it’s Wilco or his solo material.
What advice would you give a wide-eyed teenager in a garage band?
Have fun. Be friends with your bandmates. Be humble. Learn about finances and budgets. Know how to change a van tire. Practice.
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