Guitarist Andy Williams puts down the barbells to talk Australian Guitar through the making of From Parts Unknown. by Lachlan Marks.
Where do you think this sits in the canon of Every Time I Die albums?
It’s really weird because it’s so fresh and every band says, “This is the record”. I think a lot of times, it’s the pride of the work that went into it instead of what came out. There are some records that you’ll hear and you hear the band talking about it, and you’re like, “Wow, these dudes aren’t hearing the same thing…” Honestly, Ex Lives, I listened to a little bit after we recorded it, but then, probably like a month later I stopped listening to it. Not because I didn’t like it, but I put so much work into it and I’ve gotta listen to these songs every night for the next two years, so I’m gonna give it a break. With this one, I listen to it all the time. It’s pretty bad because I’ll listen to “Thirst”, and we’ve played that prior to the record, and I know I’m gonna play it probably for the next two years, but I still can’t get enough, I still listen to it all the time.
It seems like Kurt’s production just lent so much more extra heaviness to it. Would you say this is the heaviest sounding record you’ve done so far?
I think so, and I think the thing that I like about Kurt is like, nowadays, when you listen to a Led Zeppelin record or something, there’s an ambience to it, you can hear a kick pedal squeak, or notes aren’t always quantised perfectly to bend at the exact same time, because there’s an ambience. Kurt gets that, he understands ambience. One of the coolest things I liked is that you work with dudes who make you do take after take, again and again. Kurt’s like, three times, move on. It sounds good. I think out of all the records we’ve recorded this is the one that captures the live aspect of the band.
Does that give you back some faith in your own guitar playing when you don’t have someone getting you to do every 10 second part over and over?
Kind of, but kind of not. I mean, I love Kurt to death, I loved every part of recording this record, but there would be times when me and Jordan [Buckley, guitar], we just have it in our heads to keep going, ‘cos it didn’t feel great. So we would be playing and Kurt would be like, “Let’s move on”, and we’re going, “No, I think I can do that better”. And then there would be parts where he’d say, quote for quote: “This is seriously moving into the most amount of times I’ve ever tracked a part in my whole life”, and you’d be like, erh, uh, OK, I guess it’s OK… So I guess he had a little more confidence in us than we did in ourselves.
What was it like recording guitars with him? Because he does have that reputation for getting amazing guitar sounds.
I liked it ‘cos we weren’t spending a huge amount of time. Like you said, there’s nothing that beats you down more than when a dude is saying, “Go again, another time, again” over and over, and then finally you get in this groove when you kind of start questioning him, and in your head you’re going, “That was great” and he’s telling you you could do better. So you have to say, “OK, I got a little too confident there”. But my biggest thing with him is that he automatically comes from outside the box.
I know dudes, I don’t wanna name names, but when you show up there’s a 5150 plugged into a Marshall cab that he’s used on 40 different records and that’s what you do. And that guy is completely fine and the bands are completely fine with having the stock guitar tone, and there’s no personality at all. But Kurt’s on the outside of the box, he doesn’t think like that. The dude doesn’t own a Marshall JCM800, he doesn’t own a 5150, he doesn’t own the amps that you continually see in studios. So when you roll in, you have to kind of invent the guitar sound that goes with the part you’re thinking about. You might be thinking of a 5150, but he’s gonna pull out some other amp and a pedal and go, “Let’s try this” and you’ll hear it and go, “Oh wow that’s actually better than what I was thinking in my head”.
So how will you go replicating some of these songs live, given the kind of gear you would have been recording with?
Well we got some publishing money when we handed the record in, and I took the money and bought the shit that we used on the record, I bought those pedals. So I’m gonna have my rig live, and then I can have the pedals. Then I got home, instantly plugged it in, played the parts, and it was close enough. So obviously we’re not gonna be able to get the exact sound, but it’s close enough. On Warped Tour there’s no kids who are gonna be in the crowd going, “Is he using an Earthquaker?” you know? He’ll be wearing a shirt that says, “Hug me and tug me” or something, he’s not gonna care. But as soon as we go on a headliner there will be kids who are specific amp kids who come out like, “Wait a second”; they wanna look at the pedalboard and they kind of respect that.
The centrepiece of the album, the song “Moor”, that’s a truly disturbing piece of work. Can you talk about how you wrote that and the recording process? It’s got some really crazy tunings in it.
We wrote this record in 18 days, we only had a little bit of time. We had eight days before the A Day To Remember tour, and then 10 days after. So on the ADTR tour, we had one of those Line 6 Pod things and we would literally just plug it into a computer and jot down ideas, and then Legs [Ryan Leger, drums] would program drums behind it and we would develop it all on a computer. That song, I’m not kidding you, I went to bed one night and I woke up and said, “Legs, is there a piano thing on that software?” So I’m sitting there, I’d watched this documentary on Harry Nilsson, and he was talking about writing the song “One Is The Loneliest Number”, and he got the idea from a dial-tone, you know, “ding, ding”. And I thought how sick would it be if I used a low A and did a similar thing, and I found the key on the computer and started hitting it. I had a guitar there tuned to a low A and I was hitting the little bridge part, and it just kind of all came from that. So I fell asleep watching that Harry Nilsson thing, and woke up with this idea to do our version of “One Is The Loneliest Number”, standard tuning with a low drop A. It was a real weird song!
On the converse end of that, what was it like writing the track that you did with Brian Fallon? ‘Cos that’s much more of a pop type
There’s been a couple of times where we have those songs that the band consider to be my version of what in my head would be a pop band. Like when I listen to The Jesus Lizard, that’s in my head what a pop band would be, not like Madonna or something. So when I write those songs I’m thinking of The Beach Boys, but I’m coming from Norwegian black metal or something, so it’s kind of the shitty version of what pop would be in my head, like if there was a radio station, that song would be the number 1 hit. It was just a weird random thing, we called it Alice In Chains, we had the opening riff written, and in my head I wanted it to be a different drum beat. Then once we started jamming it and started to fuck around with tempos and stuff, it turned into this kind of sleazy pop song. And then Brian really wanted to do something on the record, and when it turned out that the harmony that Keith [Buckley, vocals] wrote under that part, when Brian heard it he was like, “Yo this is it, I wanna do this”. So it ended up working out perfectly. When I hear it, I get chills, because I’ve never heard that, I’ve never heard a guy like Brian sing under one of our songs, so it turned out really cool.
What’s your relationship with your guitar and with guitar-focused music like these days, given that you spend so much of your
on time with it?
The thing is, I really love playing guitar, but it’s really weird because I don’t come from a guitar player background. I don’t care about
virtuoso shit, you know what I mean? I really look up to guys like Keith Richards and stuff like that, and Malcolm Young, and dudes who can write a killer song, and if I’m playing fucking gymnastics on a guitar, or playing something like the third song on the new record where my hands are going everywhere, I’m only playing those notes because that’s what sounds right. There’s nothing worse than when someone’s squeezing a sweep arpeggio into a song to show off. In that world, I bet Yngwie Malmsteen is probably shitting on Kirk Hammett, but at the end of the day, I can hum every Kirk Hammett solo from every song, because they’re fucking memorable and they made the song way better, but when it comes to Yngwie Malmsteen I can’t fucking hum a section of one of his songs. So that’s what I want, I want people to listen to Every Time I Die and I want them to take it away and be able to hum it at 10 o’clock that night, you know what I mean?
In an Australian guitar exclusive Kurt Ballou gives us his insight into working with Every Time I Die at his famous God City Studios.
So you have a pretty solid knowledge of the Every Time I Die back catalogue and the sound that they’ve cultivated – what were
you hoping to bring to the recording process this time?
Well my hope was two-fold – number one was that they’ve always had an incredible reservoir of great ideas, and my hope was to streamline those into really well-crafted songs. A lot of the riffs that they write are pretty harsh and inaccessible, so I wanted to take all that loud and obnoxious
stuff and make it… I don’t want to say accessible, but make the song formats more thematic and memorable. I think I did achieve that, and the other thing was that people generally say that they like Every Time I Die shows better than they like ETID records, and the band is a total powerhouse live band, so one of my other goals was to capture the feeling of one of their live shows. Some of the records they’ve done in the past have been a little too precise for what the band sounds like live, so I guess I wanted to stress the emotional element more than the precision element. They are certainly capable of playing very precisely, but to play to their strengths would mean to emphasise the dynamic of their playing and the emotion rather than the precision, so I think my approach was a little different to some of the producers they’ve had in the past.
It seems like it’s probably the most exciting sounding record from a guitar perspective. Is that something you were conscious of?
Yeah, well I think I’m just not good at making stuff that’s that streamlined anyway, so if a band wants to do that then I’m not the person to call! I think what I try to do and I think they’re on the same page as me, is this idea that I’d rather make a really unique record that doesn’t even sound good, than make a really good sounding run of the mill record. I do think this record sounds good, but I also think it doesn’t sound like anything else. I think that’s what they were trying to achieve. We really spent a lot of time, particularly in the overdub phase, coming up with a lot of ear-candy, a big variety of guitar sounds and overdubs that would be interesting, basically spending a whole day with a giant pile of pedals on the floor, plugging different things in, experimenting and having fun and making some wacky noises.
The song “Moor” starts with piano and then just gets creepier and creepier. What was it like to record that?
As the song opens, obviously there’s the piano and the vocals, but in the background there’s something that sounds like a synth pad, and that was a guitar that I tuned to the key of the song and just used a slide on the twelfth fret and just wiggled the slide around to generate some tone. And I think there was probably a Boss PS2 or a PS3, like a pitch shifter delay, an outdated pedal now, and maybe another delay or reverb in there too. Sometimes when I do that I’ll even play left handed, or I’ll cross my hands over, so I’ll hold the slide with my right hands and wave it back and forth like I’m tremolo picking, and I’ll ride the volume control with my left hand. The other thing in there that is in the mix only very faintly was we wanted this sort of ascending sound or a crescendo like a bit of a marching tone, if you can imagine a battalion of troops marching into battle, and the way I achieved that was we had a Jazzmaster tuned pretty much as low as it will go. I don’t think I even tuned it to a pitch, I think I just brought it down til the strings were on the pickups and then tuned it back up, and I used the chorus echo again there, with a delay tempo of eighth notes, and then did a quarter note, or maybe eight note chugs. But it created this very scratchy fuzzy kind of thing and the delay was at the same tempo I was picking, so it just kind of multiplied itself.
It must be trying to a degree being surrounded by very heavy bands and heavy guitars almost 24/7. How do you maintain that interest and love for that instrument and that sound?
I guess it’s in my blood, and I think I’ll always love it. But when you do it every day, it becomes a job, and anything you do, no matter how great and how fun it is, eventually if you do it enough it does sometimes feel like a chore. So I really try whenever possible to work with different types of bands or to do other things. Personally I don’t really listen to much music in my downtime anymore, and that’s really too bad, but after spending 10 or 12 hours in the studio with a band every day and doing that for the past nearly 20 years, it makes you want to not listen to music so much, but it helps to not bombard myself with music when I’m not actually working