For this installment of Gear and Beer, I sat down with Chris Charles and Craig Smoot of Bizarre Noir at Tow Yard Brewing over flights and pints of Hook Up, to discuss creating musical experiences with their latest album Bedtime Stories and during live shows.
NUVO: Tell us about your current guitar setup.
Craig SMOOT: We don't really have a preference for gear. We just get what we can afford. I love playing through Marshalls. I play a Marshall DSL40C, which is kind of a mid-range amp, but I like it.
Chris Charles: We try to keep our setup as compact as possible.
Smoot: Definitely. You see those bands with the big, huge amps and things. It's like why?
Charles: Nine times out of ten it's going through the PA anyway, so for us it's all about the tone. The right sized amp, that's easy to carry around, yet still has the sound is pretty much what we're shopping around for.
Smoot: I play a Fender Toronado. I've been playing that for the whole time we've been playing. It's a nice complement between the Fender and the Marshall amp. It's not overly distorted; not that Gibson sound.
Charles: We constantly get comments about the tone of it. It's not heavy-heavy or too twangy. It's like right in that mid-range. I think [the combination] definitely gives us a distinct sound.
Smoot: I write everything on an Ovation Celebrity acoustic electric. I have other guitars, but it's hard enough to keep one up and ready. Six dollars for another pack of strings? Who do you think I am, Bon Jovi?
NUVO: What tuning are you using for your instruments?
Smoot: It’s all C# drop tuning.
NUVO: Do you need to use heavy strings for that tuning?
Smoot: No, I use light strings, the Ernie Ball Slinkys, either the pink or green pack.
NUVO: What about effects?
Smoot: I have a few effects pedals that I use. I play through an old Crybaby wah pedal, Boss Noise Suppressor and occasionally I’ll use an MXR Fullbore pedal to get more, over the top distortion. I use that on outros.
NUVO: What’s your vocal setup right now?
Charles: I have a Shure Beta, a 55 Deluxe and a Green Bullet [harmonica microphone]. The 55 Deluxe is super warm. I use a TC Helicon effects processor and it runs the gamut of effects. It’s always working, but it’s usually a slave pedal instead of an immediate effect. We use that live, at practice and recording in the studio.
NUVO: Any favorite patches?
Charles: None that I’d like to give away, [laughs]. I haven’t done much with customizing anything; mainly I just try to make sure the levels are right. The go-to is a doubling effect, to give it that high and low sound. It has reverbs, delays and flanges. There are some specialty things we’ll put on to pop out parts.
NUVO: Where do you record?
Charles: We go to Arkbarn Recording. That’s where we did our latest album [with Ryan Koch]. We were very happy with that. He’s phenomenal. He was very helpful, especially with the post-production.
Smoot: He was really open to our ideas. We didn’t use a click. We recorded everything live and then went back and did vocals. We wanted to do some stuff with infrasound, sub-sonic sounds.
Charles: That was almost like a science project. You basically can’t even hear it. It’s kind of meant to antagonize the listener.
Smoot: You talk to certain people and they say they can feel it more than hear it. It’s all probably bullshit, but it’s still fun to work with.
NUVO: Besides that have there been any other experiments in the studio?
Charles: We used Snake Mountain, Skeletor’s Palace – the classic He-Man toy. It has a snake with a microphone. We do a lot of vocal layering, so it was fun to not just use vocal effects from the Helicon and in post-production but also to have this entity from our childhood just in the most random places.
Smoot: At Chris’ insistence. “If we don’t use motherfuckin’ snake mountain, let’s just scrap the whole CD.”
Charles: Sam’s [Quebe] rig is an Ampeg with a Jaguar bass. [In the studio] he went direct in and then we used amp modeling. We also used sub-sonic triggers.
Smoot: Keyboard triggers – to beef things up. We didn’t want to oversaturate, because “where’s that keyboard” [during a live show].
Charles: You’d love our drum kit because it’s a Frankenstein kit.
Smoot: It’s mostly Mapex, not all Mapex. He has like three floor toms. It’s got holes in the cymbals, and cracks …
Charles: He [Elias Sanchez] has literally had to stop drill the cracks to get them to stay together.
NUVO: Are there any drastic differences with the way you set up in the studio versus a live show?
Charles: There’s no way we could recreate our live show on an album. They’re energetic, theatric – you can’t bottle it. We want everything to be an experience. That’s why we incorporate the girls [Angel Burlesque], why we dress up in costumes.
Smoot: We want it to be entertaining. Some bands get too focused on sound. They get too far up their own ass. We just want to have fun and let other people have fun, too.
NUVO: What do you think of the beer?
Smoot: I like this place [Tow Yard] and it’s open on Monday. I’ve totally been on the scavenger hunt looking for a brewery on a Monday. They have good food, too.
Charles: I think the beer is very good. I don’t normally drink red ales, but [Oatis Redding Imperial Red Ale] is very smooth. I’m probably gonna have to get a growler from [Tow Yard] today. That’s a smart thing [to do].
Smoot: You can’t really say no to Horsepower [Tow Yard’s Double Pale Ale].
Gear and Beer is an occasional feature spotlighting local brew and equipment.