Evan Stanley's dad is pretty well known, but The Dives have the songs and chops to stand on their own without a silver platform-booted leg up. Words by Peter Hodgson.
"So, what’s it like growing up with Paul Stanley as your dad?” Don’t worry, dear AG readers, that’s the last thing we’d think of asking Evan Stanley in our interview with him and The Dives’ lead singer/co-guitarist Mike Lefton. The fact that his dad is a rock legend who stands out front of KISS every night is cool trivia, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the catchy late ‘70s/ early ‘80s-inspired power pop of The Dives (think The Knack meets Cheap Trick). As the band’s debut EP, Everybody’s Talkin’, makes clear, this is a musical entity with its own sound and its own set of influences that have very little to do with the Starchild. And Stanley neither relies on the family connection for attention nor uses it as a crutch.
The first thing that really hits you about The Dives is the natural interplay between its two guitarists. “I don’t want to say it was a happy accident, but when we started jamming, we really hit it off as friends and as musicians,” Stanley says. “We both grew up on the same stuff, so we play off each other naturally rather than just repeat what the other is doing. We try to not copy ourselves, so if Mikey is playing one inversion of a chord, I’ll play a different inversion
or add a suspension. We’ve both been in enough musical situations that we understand that in a band with two guitarists, it’s usually counter-productive for them to both be playing the same part.”
“Totally,” Lefton agrees. “It’s about making sure that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes, and about moving the song along.
“Both of us are very Gibson oriented,” Stanley says. “When I first met Mikey, I had written some songs on a Rickenbacker 12-string. I’d always loved the sound of a 12-string – ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’... You can’t beat that. And this guy can rip on a Rickenbacker 12-string, for sure! We’ve both got Strats that we love, but we’re Gibson guys. You can’t beat a great Gibson.”
Lefton tends to lean towards a particular Gibson SG Custom. “I use that for most of the shows,” he says. Meanwhile, Stanley favours a late ‘88 or early ‘89 Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul – “Right when they were coming out of the Norlin era and starting to make great guitars again,” he tells us. “It is a prototype for the ’59 Les Paul reissue, and they only made a few of them to show around to artists and dealers. The specs are totally off for a ’59, but it plays like no other Les Paul I’ve owned or played. I’ve been lucky enough to play a number of ‘58s, ‘59s and ‘60s, and to me, this guitar is the perfect model. It fits in my hand in a way that none other has, and I adore it.”
Amp-wise, Stanley relies on a Marshall JTM45 and a Fender 1x12 cabinet, but the EP was recorded exclusively with 50-watt ENGL combos. “As soon as we started playing them, we were sure we had to use them on the recording because they could do everything,” Lefton says. “Everyone tends to think of them as high-gain amps, but they just sounded like us. They just sung, and they had the perfect amount of break-up.” Stanley is considering switching to an ENGL Artist 50 as his live amp as a result.
“My favourite pedal to use as a main source of overdrive is a Fulltone Plimsoul,” he continues. “I tend to go back and forth between a very clean sound from the amp and a somewhat dirty-to-fairly dirty sound for certain songs, and definitely for soloing. The Plimsoul has such a natural, broken- up Marshall quality, rather than sounding like that fake buzzsaw distortion of certain pedals that I try to stay away from. Both of us are gear nuts, but most of the time I think the best sound comes from the guitar plugged straight into amp, which isn’t always practical live.”
Lefton’s main drives are a Way Huge Red Llama and an Alexander Silver Jubilee. “The Llama has a bit more of a Fender Tweed flavour,” he says, “And the Jubilee is like a Marshall – it sounds so awesome. It really does sound like an amp in a box, and it’s one of those pedals that sounds great with a wide variety of amps.”
So given that Stanley grew up surrounded by music and guitars, what was the moment that made him realise the axe was something that fit his own identity and sense of self? “When the store ran out of trumpets,” he assures us.