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INTERVIEW: All Them Witches talk gear, shops vs the web and recording in the mountains

Daniel Gumble
INTERVIEW: All Them Witches talk gear, shops vs the web and recording in the mountains

Last month, US blues rock four-piece All Them Witches released their brilliantly titled third studio album Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Recorded in a remote, purpose-built studio in the East Tennessee mountains - Pigeon Forge, to be precise - the album builds upon their signature fusion of psychedelia and blues rock, taking inspiration from the likes of Jerry Garcia, Led Zeppelin and The Black Angels.

To find out more about the album, MI Pro editor, Daniel Gumble, caught up with Charles Parks Jr (bass, vocal, guitar), Robby Staebler (drums), Ben McLeod (guitar) and Allan Van Cleave (keys/violin) to talk gear, shops, influences and the future of music retail…

Daniel Gumble: Tell us about the making of Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. I hear you built a cabin in the mountains in Tennessee to record the album.

Ben McLeod: “Well, we couldn’t have done it without the help of our friend Mikey Allred. He’s an amazing engineer and was willing to pick up his entire studio and drive two and a half hours to east Tennesse...that was a must for us – somebody who could engineer the album in a crazy location.
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“We didn't bring that much stuff, as far as the recording was concerned, but we brought a lot of amps, gear, stuff like that, but it was all to digital, so we didn't have to bring reels of tape or anything.”


DG: So did you write the material for the album up in the mountains, or was everything written before hand?

Charles Parks Jr: “We usually do about half and half. We’ll come in with about five songs done and write another five in the studio, but none of it was really rehearsed, we didn't really practice that much, we just went for it.”


DG: Did the isolation and the remote setting influence the sound of the album?

CPJ: “Yeah, I imagine it did. It would be different if we’d recorded it in the desert or in Texas or Wyoming. And, of course, the mountain played a part, because we were isolated out there; we didn’t go down into town or anything, hardly at all. We were just there by ourselves for a few days.”


DG: Location aside, was there anything else unusual or different about the recording and mixing process?

Allan Van Cleave: “I think it was a pretty similar process, in terms of just going into the studio and having some idea of how the songs were going to sound and then making some stuff up as well.”

CPJ: “It was a pretty similar experience, except we couldn’t go home at night. There was nowhere else to be.”


DG: Did the seclusion cause any tempers to fray or instigate any unusual experiences?

Robby Staebler: “We’re used to living on top of each other and having tight schedules and things not being very well planned out sometimes, so it wasn’t really a change of pace, as far as being together in the same area was concerned; it was easy. Although, there was a little bit of stress because we only gave ourselves a few days to get it done, and we had planned it for sometime, but some outside factors were trying to change what we had already planned. But with each other there were no problems."


DG: Can you elaborate on what those outside factors were?

RS: “It was just that things came up last-minute from other people – doing the album differently, recording in different places with different people. Those things came up – it was other people wanting us to do things another way. But we had already planned it and executed it, so we couldn't stop or change things. Nor did we want to.”

CPJ: “Our recordings are our business. We like to keep it in-house and have our hands on all those kinds of things.”


DG: Talk us through each of your personal set-ups – instruments, amps, pedals etc.

BM: “I play a Gibson Les Paul, traditional model. It’s a reissue. I like it because it’s got a really beefy neck and I put a bone nut on it and a new saddle and customised it a little bit. I put a DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup on it.

“I run it through Fender Twin Reverb, fairly clean. Generally I’ll either have an overdrive or a fuzz pedal, depending on what mood I’m in, and a delay. On the record I used a Deluxe Memory Man and live I use a Boss DD-5.”

RS: “I play a four-piece drum set made by this guy Marcus and his brother who are out in Washington – they are called Allegro Drums. They make anything you want.

“Shell sizes: my snare is 14” x 8”, rack tom 12” x 9”, floor tom 14” x 11” and bass drum is 24” x 10”. They are super punchy, really lightweight, they pack really well, so are easy to tour with, and they sound better than any other drum set I’ve played. 

“I play Dream cymbals - they are awesome. I’ve been playing the same hi-hat and 24” ride for seven or eight years now. They’re thin, washed out, crisp but not super bright. I hate really bright cymbals. These are kind of dull and they blend in real well and they don’t blow your eardrums out.”

CPJ: “For my bass rig I have an old Rickenbacker 4001. The body has been modified but all the pickups are stock. I run a fuzz pedal called a Tomkat Bender, of which there were only 100 made. He makes really great pedals. I also use a Phase 100 sometimes, but that’s about it.

“For guitar I play another old Rickenbacker eight-string into an Xotic Effects SP Compressor, a Red Panda Raster, which is my favourite pedal. It’s like it’s own instrument and I would recommend it to anybody who has any sort of musical sensibilities. I also run a T-Rex Tone Bug reverb into an old Bassman 10 combo.”

AVC: “I play a Fender Rhodes, which is crucial for me because its got 73 copperwound pickups and I don’t like digital keyboards. That goes through two delay pedals and a Rat distortion pedal.”


DG: Which bands and musicians inspired you as kids to pick up an instrument?

BM: “Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman. Jerry Garcia is probably number one, just because of my dad being a big Dead Head and I grew up listening to Jerry Garcia all the time. Now, it’s probably more like Peter Green, Roy Buchanan…it’s always blues-based for me. As much as I love all kinds of music, the only guitar I’ve truly been passionate about is blues stuff.”

RS: “When I started playing drums I didn’t know much about music. I was playing with my brother who was on guitar, but he played guitar and made me feel stupid when he played in front of me, so I just decided to play drums. But I would watch Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin videos and play along to that, so Nick Mason and John Bonham really got me going. Then I get into jazz – Jack DeJohnette really blew my mind, and Buddy Rich. Currently my favourites are Buddy Rich and John Bonham.”

CPJ: “I grew up in Louisiana so I started out listening to a lot of old blues music, so Skip James and Leadbelly. Paul Simon was a huge influence to me. Then a lot of world music, so I started with some Celtic music, then on to this and that, like Russian, Afghani, Hindu; world music plays a huge part in my music tastes.”

AVC: “My parents made me pick an instrument when I turned four and my uncle played violin, and I thought he was cool, so I had violin lessons for along time. But then at high school I figured out that you could just get some software on your computer and a $100 microphone and make your own songs, and that’s when I started messing around with all kinds of different instruments."


DG: Is there anyone contemporary inspiring future generations of musicians?

RS: “I’m really into Tool; Danny Carey is an awesome drummer. We just played a show in Israel with this band called The Great Machine. They are unbelievable and their drummer is absolutely insane.”

CPJ: “They are fucking awesome. Also this band called American Sharks, they’re amazing. And Wild Honey.”

BM: “I like a band called Broncho. My favourite current bands right now are probably them and Thee Oh Sees.”


DG: How important were physical music stores to you when you were growing up? And do you still purchase gear from bricks and mortar stores, or do you prefer to buy online?

BM: “There was one music store in my home town and it was like, whatever they had was what you would get. Then you’d go to Nashville and have a seizure when you saw how much stuff there was!”

RS: “Most of my things I’ve gotten online because I’ve never been able to afford them in person, so I have to find deals. I’m really, really god at finding deals! Finding things on the Internet and finding individuals selling things has always worked out better for me. But I love shops and I love the idea of them and I hope they keep thriving Of course, they will, because that kind of thing can’t ever go away – a physical place to go and get things.”

CVP: “I think a lot of shops have been forced to become nicer to people, because most of the time music shops [staff] are all dicks. I worked for a music shop when I was in high school and the owner was a dick; he didn't know what he was doing and he ran it into the ground. I don’t know where he is now, but hopefully he’s OK.”

AVC: “When I was taking violin lessons it was out of a store and I would always get there half an hour early so I had time to pick up every instrument in the store. Every week I would be playing something new; I guess I didn't realise that until just now but that’s how I got playing other instruments.”


DG: What do you make of the evolving capabilities of tech within the music making process; things like FX apps for iPhone and iPad and software such as Garage Band? Do you rely on this kind of technology and software at all?

CVP: “You mean stuff where you can send an effect from your phone to your pedal? That shit’s crazy. People are doing a lot of cool stuff but it’s not really something I’m interested in exploring.”

BM: “One day it’s going to be in your brain and your effects will just come out that way.

“One thing I don’t understand is this thing called LANDR. You upload your song to this website and it masters it for you, but I don’t see how that’s possible because mastering is like wizardry, that only a human can do.”

AVC: “Have you tried it?”

BM: “Yeah, it just compresses it and adds some high frequencies but…I don’t know. Maybe it’s the future.” 

Dying Surfer Meets His Maker by All Them Witches is out now.

Tags: Retail , interview , Interviews , all them witches

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