Queensland quartet Violent Soho are celebrating their tenth year as a band, and they’re a great example of what can happen when a local music community works together: they’re a bunch of mates who started playing in a band because they were friends, with local music store Tym Guitars serving as a central hub for their sonic development. In some ways the story of Violent Soho is also the story of Tym, whose custom pedals and guitars help power the band’s sound. Guitarist/vocalist Luke Boerdam explains…

Why do you play guitar?

My older brother played and I’d go into his room and steal his crappy $90 nylon-strings. Within a few months I learned six chords and I started writing straight away. I hated scales. I was never agreat technical player or anything but I always loved writing. I never showed anyone the songs or anything, I just wrote songs for my own enjoyment. It was only when I graduated that I showed anybody the songs, and that was the dudes I’m in the band with now. So I’d say guitar is purely for enjoyment, something that was a nice escape. In terms of setting out a plan for the band, that was never the idea. The idea was that we were bored after we graduated so we started a band, and we just played gigs locally. And it was a good way to party! So that’s what we did. I’ve never had one guitar lesson from anyone, and either has anyone in the band. We learned instruments for the band. We’ve had the same four members since high school and I think it’s because we started the other way around: we actually decided to start a band and then do the music rather than do it the other way around.

So what’s your main guitar?

Now it’s time to geek out! I call it a Tele Mongrel. It’s kind of ugly in a way, but it’s not. It’s been beaten to death and it continues to survive. It’s had like four necks. I really hated Tele necks but I loved Tele bodies, so Tym Guitars got a Strat neck and bolted it onto a Tele body, but then I hated the Tele pickups so I went for a P90. So it’s basically like a Les Paul Jr. but with a Fender body and neck and a wraparound bridge. If I had to buy something generic I’d probably end up with a Les Paul Jr. or a Tele with P90s. And the pickups are by this guy in Adelaide, Brierley. He makes three types of P90s and this one is really highly wound. You have to try pretty f**king hard to get a clean tone out of it. Like I’m using a Fender Twin right now and even then you get a bit of crackle. But what I love about it is that once you run it through some gain, you can’t match it. Once you match it up with a Marshall JCM800 or an MXR Distortion+ or something, hands down, I can’t possibly match it any other way. So I’ve ended up with the same pickup for years and years, and I’m scared to touch anything else. That guitar is on its fourth neck now and even that’s got cracks. I had a bit of a journey with it, like before we went to America a few years ago it actually got left at the Annandale Hotel! We went to America, came back and Sarah from The Red Sun Band saw it and knew – because it had Tym Guitars 4112 on it – she saw it and was like, “Oh my god, I know that guitar” so she grabbed it and brought it back up to Brisbane for me. This guitar is so important to me, I feel like I’ve had this kind of journey with it, like it’s a bit of a soulmate.

How do you get that big ‘wall-of-sound’ rhythm guitar tone in the studio?

It’s taken a few years but between James [Tidswell, guitar] and me we try and layer it nicely but still keep a lot of mids in. We used to stick with old ‘80s JCM800s and just use the nice natural gain on that lead channel. You still can’t match that, I reckon. I’ve been in the studio before and lined up an Orange Thunderverb with a JCM800 and they are matchless. The thing I’ve always noticed about JCM800s is there’s something evil and dark about it. There’s something going on, man! If you analyse the EQ waves you’d probably say, “Oh see that little spike there? That’s the evil.” So anyway, that’s what we used to use but we’ve kinda moved on now. I have the Fender Twin and then I have a JCM800 for when I boost in the choruses, because there are more clean parts on this record from the Twin, then when the chorus comes, I’ll hit that JCM800 on. And on top of that I’m running an MXR Distortion+, but I actually got one built by Tym – I grew up with Tym Guitars down the street – and he built an awesome copy of a Distortion+ but he put in two chip sets, a newer one and an older one. So I can switch to this older chip set which is just perfect. It’s not covering the strings up too much; you can still hear the separation. It feels like it’s distorting each string one at a time instead of the whole f**king signal. Then James is now running two Marshalls, a JMP and a JCM800. Y’know those little Valvetone amps? They’re like rebuilt-to-original-spec Marshall-style amps. He’ll run that, and I’m pretty sure he’s running the JMP for the clean stuff because it’s got that headroom, and then he’ll hit the 800 for the chorus and boom!