Editor's Note: Gear and Beer is our equipment-focused Q&A series written by local writer and gearhead Brett Alderman. In each edition of this feature, Alderman will take a local band out for beers at a local brewery, and chat about their gear. The latest brings Alderman to Upland's Carmel Taphouse to sit down with rockers Blue Moon Revue.
Blue Moon Revue is Matt Marshall, Andy Salge, David Sullivan and John Gray. The whole gang met me at the Carmel Taphouse to share brews. The band is currently working on a new project, so our conversation focused a lot on what they used during their last album, Make It Reel and the importance of experimentation in the studio. The layering of sounds and instrumentation on Make It Reel is definitely worth strapping on some ear goggles for a closer listen. The Dragonfly IPAs were flowing for the band, while I enjoyed Upland's Bad Elmer Porter and the incredibly delicious Schwarz Black Lager. (Thanks for the recommendation, Nic.)
NUVO: Let's start with drums. What are you using, John?
John Gray: I play a standard Gretsch kit.
NUVO: Did you use anything different in the studio?
Gray: We used a couple different snare drums. I used Alex [Kercheval - Postal Recording]'s Supraphonic.
Andy Salge: Is that the Ludwig?
Gray: Yeah, it was the Ludwig Supraphonic and my Gretsch snare. My kit has a 12" rack, 14" floor and 22" kick. I used Evans heads, Vic Firth sticks and Sabian cymbals, too.
Salge: I bought this MIDI drum controller for John. I have an MPC 1000 and put a 300GB hard drive inside, and upped the RAM as much as it could take. I did that so I could use a bunch of Mellotron sounds on it and John can trigger some samples or hand claps or whatever we want.
Gray: 808 kick.
NUVO: Is that to replicate some of the sounds on Make It Reel?
Salge: It's actually gearing up for what we're about to do. We're in kind of a transitional phase and sometimes I think that what can push you to new places is adding a bunch of different gear. For a bass player, a different bass because of how it feels or adding a MOOG synth bass. I think the MPC is going to mix it up. Playing so many keyboards has made my bass playing really cool.
NUVO: You've been playing a synth live. What are you using?
Salge: MOOG Sub Phatty. And I made a Theremin and these little guys [hand — assembled Radio Shack synthesizers]. I bought a Korg CX3, which is a Hammond clone, and bought a Leslie [cabinet] for it.
David Sullivan: And he mortgaged his house.
Gray: His kids are eating saltines.
Salge: And I have a Juno 6 from like '76, which is sweet. Joe Walsh gave that to me. There are no presets.
Gray: What was the bass you...
Salge: The Scroll bass?
Gray: As soon as you started playing that — instantly, stylistically there was a change.
Salge: The new one is Matt's dad's old bass, which he inherited. It's a Guild Starfire 1968.
NUVO: Semi-hollow, right?
Matt Marshall: Yeah. It sounds amazing.
Salge: I think we're really experimental. So gear is pushing it into different, weird places. It's a real open vibe. It doesn't matter who plays what. I've been playing a shitload of keyboards right now and Matt's a great bass player and so is Dave. John can play all the instruments we play.
NUVO: What were you playing before in terms of basses?
Salge: I played a Fender 5 string Jazz forever, and then I switched to the Hagstrom because of Alex and Nick at Postal. Alex loves his Hags. German...
Salge: Swedish basses from the '60s. People are starting to realize that those old ones are better than new Fenders.
...With Postal Recording, we have this relationship. We helped build the place – did all the drywall work. We store a lot of gear there.
Marshall: Dave has a lot of guitars there.
Salge: My nicest preamps are in Alex's rack.
Sullivan: In exchange, we get a lot of consideration from Alex, who has all the gear you'd ever want.
Salge: We're starting this home recording; doing a lot of pre-production. I don't know if it's going to be an album or what, but we're recording a bunch of tunes over eight weeks at my friend Joe Walsh's house.
Sullivan: He's THE Joe Walsh, just not the one from The Eagles.
Salge: He's crazy enough to move gear into his space; put a drum set in his living room and leave it mic'd. So with Alex, we leave a lot of gear, but also, I called him yesterday and he came over to Joe's with eight preamps, a snake and wired up my Leslie so anything can get plugged in. He got the motor running on it. He took it apart, took the power amp out and showed me how the speaker works. Soldered everything up right there.
Alex is pretty hardcore analog. Last night he was telling me we should use a dynamic mic for overheads, something like a 57. I told him he was crazy and he said that every Beatles record was recorded with the equivalent of a Shure SM57 as an overhead. This is coming from a guy who owns a mic that's worth like 15 grand.
Sullivan: The last thing I recorded for him was for Chemical Bomb Police and he came out and asked me "What do you want on this?" I told him, "Give me your shittiest guitar," and he smiled so big. It was a Silvertone.
Marshall: I think that's the lesson; it doesn't matter. We've had the analog versus digital talk. How do we want to record? How do we want it to sound? Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for the song. I think taking the approach of using a lot of analog instrumentation and going directly to tape can pull a lot out of us. That's very exciting. At the same time you can't totally dismiss digital technology. There are so many things you can do with it that open the door to some pretty awesome things.
NUVO: Dave, what do you use besides your Gibson Les Paul?
Sullivan: On Make It Reel I was jumping all over the place. Alex brought his whole arsenal. I couldn't tell you all the amp setups because I was picking random gear and setting it up. I used an Orange amp. "Best of Luck" was with a 70's Strat.
Marshall: You used my [Fender] Twin.
Sullivan: But I also used [Alex's] vintage Jaguar.
Marshall: And a Gibson Hawk, also.
Sullivan: I was all over the map and that was the point; to just let go of my rig. In fact, my rig has been breaking down slowly over time. Now more than ever I'm not married to any certain gear. I'm down to play anything.
NUVO to Sullivan: You played the lap steel and mandolin parts, right?
Sullivan: Yes, I have two mandolins. They're both Webers. One is a normal mandolin the other is a mandola, which is the viola of the mandolin family.
NUVO: I've seen you play a Gibson hollow body. Is it the ES175?
Marshall: Yes, there is that one. And I also play a Telecaster, that I actually got off of [David Sullivan]. Lately what I've been using was my dad's guitar. It's a [Gibson] 345. It's a stereo guitar.
NUVO: With the project you're working on now do you have any certain goals?
Sullivan: That is the goal – that we have no goals.
Marshall: We're basically rehearsing and recording it.
Salge: We always wondered what it would be like sit down, put headphones on and play music. Lately we've had some prolific nights.
Marshall: We grew up listening to albums like Exile on Main Street, where the artist had the freedom to rent a house in France and do their thing. By happenstance there was recording equipment all around. With technology today, we don't have to be rich rockstars to do that in our own homes. It's an exciting prospect.
Salge: Writing has always been a group effort. When someone comes in and says "this is the chords, this is the song," you kind of box yourself in unnecessarily. It's a mental thing.
Gray: It's force of habit, really.