A Static Lullaby
combines metal, strains of emo, and some Southern rock textures in a very unique way. On Rattlesnake!, their fourth CD, they bring together these elements as a newly-formed quartet. Guitarist Dan Arnold
now plays all six-strings and with Tyler Mahurin
in the fold and experiencing the studio for the first time with this Chino Hills, California, the band is producing the most creative of its career. Dan
is a twisted instrumentalist and brings some odd and charming textures to this new record.
UG: The new record is very cool. There's a lot of really intriguing, different sounding guitar stuff on there. Rattlesnake! was really born out of the ashes of some members departing and the band itself going through some personal conflicts and things. Do those kinds of day to day things translate into the music and fuel the music?
Yeah, well, this album was more of a letting loose, not trying to take ourselves too seriously type of album. The lyrics ended up being serious, but as far as like the musical aspect and what we were going for we just kind of wanted to have more fun with everything. I wanted to riff around a lot more, 'cause I like riffing. I just wanted to incorporate that more 'cause we have songs like that, but usually we have a wider variety of styles that go into our records, like softer stuff. We just wanted to keep this one upbeat and fun and heavy. As far as the lyrics, personal problems, divorces and stuff like that definitely fueled the lyrical part of the record.
Some of the record is like a fantasy that Joe (frontman Joe Brown) wrote like a story about a serial killer. Three of the songs are The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige. Those are the songs where the story takes place.
So he'd written a story about a serial killer and these songs are like the soundtrack for the story?
Yeah, it's like basically just three of the songs. And their out of order on the record, too, but I think there's something in the liner notes that put them in order if you read them. We just wanted to experiment with stuff. We'd never done anything like that before. It's a pretty experimental record for us; me playing guitar by myself was really strange.
Can you talk about that Dan? Obviously the approach must be a hundred and eighty degrees from having a second guitar player in there and not being responsible for all of the parts, envisioning where each thing is going to go. How did you approach and figure that out?
I dunno, it was good and it was bad. 'Cause I feel like when I'm just writing my stuff, like if I'm writing a song I really concentrate on my guitar parts mainly and make them really good and then whoever the other guitar player would be I'd take it to him and he would put his stuff over it. That was really cool 'cause I would have solid stuff to play. With this I felt like onstage where you kind of have to split up the parts, you know? Had to give away a lot of the cool stuff [laughs]. I had to sing on some stuff and I can't really play and do half the things. It was really fun. It was challenging, it was rough.
It was definitely rough in the studio. I was in the studio like for two months straight doing everything. It was insane. It was really hard but definitely made me better I guess, at guitar, I think [laughs].
Yeah, like I said there's some really interesting guitar stuff going on. Starting with the first track off the album, Rattlesnake!, there's several kinds of tonalities going on there. Some cleaner stuff that sounds like a phaser? I can't tell what that is?
A flange! (Flanger)
That's so cool. So where does that come from? In other words how do you start painting the guitar parts? Do you have in your head, Oh, a flange would sound cool here? Or do you have to go through several pedals before you find something? How does that happen? How do you orchestrate guitars?
Our producer, Steve Evetts, him and I work really well together. This is our third record with him. Him and I just get along so well, he's like another member of the band when we get in there. He is the pedal master, man. He knowshe'll hook up like seven pedals and screw around with them and he gets crazy stuff. 'Cause I'm not really an effects dude at all. I'll mess around with delay and whatnot, but I like just straight guitar. I was never the effects guys. That's why it was so rough to write both guitar parts, 'cause I've never experimented with any kind of pedals, really.
Steve's on point with all that. He's always been like that. It's just like his fun time in the studio. He has, like, a million pedals and he likes to just mess around with everything. So yeah that was him, he helped me a lot. It was really interesting.
Can you talk a little bit about the track Rattlesnake!, Dan? What is your kind of default amp setup? What is that sound?
Right now I have a '97 Dual Rectifier [Mesa Boogie]. It's a two channel, sounds great; trying to do a Marshall cab right now. I use a Z. Vex Super Hard-On just for like a little more gain. It sounds great. That's, like, all I pretty much have. And a Wah.
What kind of guitar?
I have a Les Paul '57 reissue.
Is it a pretty cool reissue? Gibson finally got that thing together right?
|"This album was more of a letting loose, not trying to take ourselves too seriously type of album."|
That's a really nice guitar. It sounds great. I use that in the studio. I love Les Paul's. That's all I play, really.
So you've been a Les Paul guy from the beginning then?
Yeah. I just recently started playing some Schecter stuff. You know, it's different but you can make it sound really good. I like how they play, they play pretty nice. But it's kind of a departure from the Les Paul, little thinner necks. But it's nice.
Coming up where you a fan of Les Paul players as well?
The only one I really knew of when I was little was, like, Slash. I just thought Slash was the coolest dude ever when I was little [laughs], so that's when I wanted to start playing Les Pauls. That's what got me hooked on that.
Interesting. So sort of by default the band turned into sort of a three-piece with a singer. Obviously that works for you. I mean, you really like that configuration. I understand that live you'll have a second guy. But just the three of you and the singer, do you think if it had started there things might've been different, you know what I mean?
Yeah, it's nice but we still I think we are looking for a guitar player. I'm not sure? We're just trying to kind of feel it out. It was really easy to write by myself 'cause there's no one to argue with, you know, for me, 'cause that's always nice. But I do like writing with another person. I just like having that input. So we're not sure how it will go from here on out far as being a four-piece band.
I understand. Your touring guitar player, Phil, would he be considered for a position for the band or is it too early to talk about that?
He would be considered?
What is it that Phil brings? I mean, you're such a great guitar player with very defined ideas of what guitar should do. What is it that you're looking for in a second guitar player. Obviously the guy needs to be able to play, but is it a rhythm thing he needs to bring? An overall sense? Do you want a guy who can sing? What is it you would look for in a second guitar player?
You know, I'm not sure. I mean, basically, as of now we haven't really tried out anyone for the other guitar player. I don't really know what I'm looking for? It depends on what we're going to do for the next record. I think mainly they've just gotta have good rhythm, good timing. 'Cause I'm really big on, like, awkward strum patterns. Not necessarily off time stuff but just awkward strum patterns in four/four.
Oh yeah, I heard some of your stuff. It was really strange, really cool stuff.
Thanks, man. So yeah, basically just someone who can handle that, 'cause when we did try out guitar players to play live that was always the biggest issue. You know, could they do the riffage? It was like uhhh, no. I'd just get frustrated and be like, Alright, you're done. After two seconds it'd be like, Ok, next. [laughs]
Where did that weird kind of thing come from in you? The riff in The Pledge has kind of a pretty strange kind of time signature to it. Where does that side of you come from?
Honestly, I don't know? I'm not a metal guy at all, really. I don't really listen to too much heavy music and I never really have. When this band started it was like the first heavy project I'd ever done. I really didn't know what I was doing and I just started writing. I'd never played in drop-D before. That was something new for me. So I just started playing in drop-D and know, I dunno, it just comes natural.
I'm more schooled in blues than anything else, so I think that helps with the heavier stuff, like that twangy kind of riff, you know? I think it really transfers over well. Because the song Rattlesnake! is, like, a surf riff! I was joking around on guitar, playing on an acoustic, and it was a total surf song. Our bass player Dane [Poppin] was like, That's really cool, actually, and I was like, Really, you think so? Let's try it out. We plugged in and it sounded great. We were like, Damn, it sounds heavy. Just stuff like that; I just fiddle around all day on guitar and if something will catch my attention I'll just let my hands go where they will and then I'll build off of it.
So in preparing for the album, Dan, are you the kind of guy who stockpiles riffs Along the way. Like, you've got your little home recording thing, you're putting down ideas. Or is it of the moment, coming up with riffs and pieces in the studio? How does it work for you?
Basically, I'd never tried writing before. We were supposed to write, you know? I mean, I've written a couple of things but I've never written a whole song. And I kind of like it like that; I like to be in the moment, you know? See where we all are, see what everyone's thinking. Like what the feeling of the whole band is at that time and let that be what it's gonna be and let the album be that. You know, it just feels right to me.
Plus it's really hard for me to write on tour 'cause I'm so distracted. I do have a laptop setup where I can record but I haven't really busted it out on tour yet. I probably will on this tour 'cause everyone gets really worried when it comes time, you know? [laughs]. It's like, Oh, it's time to write, and we're like, Oh, crap, we've got like two months to write a record. What are we gonna do? But I feel like that's how we get things done.
Yeah, I understand the concept of writing under a deadline. I know people work best that way sometimes.
It's like you get a lot of angst when you've got a deadline or something? You're really stressing. I was so stressed writing this record but it was great; it was fun. Hanging out 'till all hours drinking coffee, writing riffs. It was so fun.
Morning Would Come, is another very cool intro. Kind of a boxy kind of sound going on.
My favorite effect, the only effect I really like to use, is a Wah. My favorite tone on a guitar is just kick on a wah and throw it all the way up.
All the way up, so the wah is off in other words?
I love that effect. That's my favorite thing.
That's a great vibe. Was Zeppelin anybody you listened to? Not that you play like Jimmy Page, but he messed with wahs in that fashion.
|"Some of the record is like a fantasy that Joe wrote like a story about a serial killer."|
Oh yeah, I love Zeppelin.
And then that tune goes intothe guitar's doing some harmonics and stuff. Like a cleaner thing. Then it goes into, is that a Leslie on there? Towards the end? Or maybe a Univibe?
Yeah, I think it is. I'm trying to remember 'cause we used so much crap [laughs].
Are these sounds getting changed over in real time? Is somebody sitting there stomping on a Leslie effect when it comes to that part or are all these parts kind of sliced together in a digital format? How does that work? 'Cause there's so many sounds going on in these sounds?
As far as the effects go, usually we'll just punch in the effect, just so we could get it just right and synched up if there's a timing issue with it. We'll just run through the rhythms, like, three times, and just fiddle around with the effects. That's the fun part of recording for me. Just, like, getting the basic meat down, you know, and then screwing around with everything.
And then laying over all the effects and stuff?
Yeah. That song Morning Would Come, that was actually trying to go back to more of our older sound just for that one.
I wanted to do something like And Don't Forget to Breathe, our first record. Kids really liked that record. I really liked that record, too. That was, like, my first real record I ever wrote. I just wanted to try and get a song like that. So it's kind of got thatlike, the harmonics is something I used to do in the old days. I used to do a lot of those and I wanted to bring that stuff back so I tried that out; it was really fun.
When you harken back to that first record, do you hear yourself kind of searching for your place in the band or who you were as a player?
I dunno, you know, it was just really experimental. What other people would say Is that we're one of the pioneers of the screamo sound with that record. So it kinda like, you know, that was our sound when we wrote it. We were like, Ok, this is what we are. We're gonna be this forever. That was the plan, to go for that sound for the rest of our career. But things change, people change. I think we still have the same vibe we used to far as the way we blend the screaming and singing and the heavy parts. But it's definitely a lot more mature record.
That record you can tell it's just, like, teenage angst. 'Cause we were young. I was nineteen and I'm the oldest in the band. We had a drummer that was sixteen, a bass player that was sixteen and everyone else was, like, eighteen. We were really little when we wrote that. But I'm personally impressed when I think back, like, how young we were and the stuff we were doing on that record and how advanced it sounds. I was really impressed when I listen back to it. I don't remember thinking I or anyone in our band being that good at any of their instruments? I don't remember that. 'Cause we were fresh out of high school. Yeah, it blows my mind sometimes. I like that record a lot.
So the screamo thing was something that just happened?
I dunno, there was a few bands out at the time and none of them really had all the screaming that we had. Like, there was a band called Open Hand that I'd heard. They were around for like a year before we started. They were just mainly singing and Then there was just a few scream parts, you know? Joe [Brown] and I had known each other forever, and I knew he was doing the whole hardcore scene and I was kinda doing the whole Emo/Pop/Punk kinda thing. He wanted to get together and do a fifty/fifty split with singing and screaming and I was like, That's kind of a cool idea, you know?
Basically, just mix all of our favorite bands together, that's what we tried to do. It was, like, us and Thursday and Under Oath. Those were like the godfathers of screamo I guess? [laughs]. It's really cool to be a part of that whole birth of this. It's taken off in a way that I would never have imagined.
I certainly understand the angst and the fury that goes into one of Joe's vocals and lyrics. What he's talking about and where that screaming would come from emotionally. I guess the part that I can't understand is without a lyric sheet, we don't know what's being said? So I find it to be sort of at odds with each other. You know, the fact that you would take the time to write these lyrics and then sing them in this style that obscures the lyric. The analogy that I would come up with, and you tell me if I'm right or wrong, is coming up with these great guitar parts but you can't tell what's going on because the guy's got distortion on ten and all this midrange and it's like you don't hear anything. I'm really trying to understand, I'm not trying to be facetious. 'Cause I dig the parts where Joe kind of sings clean. That's just me, I come from that school, and he's got such a great voice. So that's what I'm really trying to understand. If you could help me understand that a little bit, that'd be great.
Basically, after you're in a band for a while with a screamersame with kids who listen to that type of music, they can kind of pick out the words more than someone with fresh ears, see what I'm saying? They get used to reading the lyric books for these bands and knowing what the words are and they can kind of pick out I think Joe on this record has one of the most audible, pronunciation wise, with his scream.
He does. I agree with you.
|"I'm not a metal guy at all."|
Especially on this record, 'cause he kinda changed up his scream for this. I think you just get used to it. After a while you can just kinda pick everything out.
Obviously you come from this and sort of created it, but does it ever get to be too much? I mean, if you're on the road with three other bands and they all kind of have a screamo approach, do you ever want to get away from that for a little bit? Or for you is it like I want more?
Like I said, I hardly listen to metal. I'm more of a musician/band type of guy. Like, I like John Mayer. I love John Mayer. I still love a lot of blues stuff. I listen to Radiohead, I listen to fun pop stuff like Weezer, the Rentals. Fun stuff like that. I think all of us, including Joe Joe has the most tame out of all our music tastes, I think. Which is weird 'cause he's the screamer [laughs]. He listens to, like, James Blunt, and like, the weirdest stuff, the Fray. So I think Joe hears himself screaming all the time and thinks, I need to chill out. I can't have this in my head anymore. It definitely gets much on tour with everyone screaming, 'cause that's the thing these days. I like to check out bands, like, I'll only check them out like once a week on tour and then I have to go do own thing 'cause I really can't just sit in a room and listen to guitar squeals and screams all day [laughs].
The Britney cover. Was that Joe's choice?
Joe's choice? [laughs]
Well, 'cause you said his tastes kind of run into the tamerI'm kidding.
[laughs] Nah, actually that was my thing. I'm big on, like, electronic female artists. Like, we did a cover of Frou Frou on our last record and I'm a big fan of that. We were actually gonna cover the Presidents of the United States of America's Lump. And then our producer made a good point when we brought it in. Like, it was cool, you know, it was fun it was all rocked out. It was basically the same song.
And he was like, Well, the thing that was cool about the last cover was that You took something so soft and beautiful and made it into something so hard and beautiful and kids really took to it. That was the Let Go cover, 'cause we totally changed that around. And he's like, We need something like that. If we're gonna put a cover on this record we need something like that. And then I was driving home and I heard Toxic. I didn't think about it 'till the song finished and then I thought, You know, that's a really good song. Then I was like, Wait a minute. Let's do that song! We took it home that night and just listened to it over and over again. Figured its' in C, so we could go to Drop C and give it like a heavier [sings the main riff] and get that all heavy if we go to Drop C. We did that for that song and it came out great. It came out better than I thought it would.
That's interesting. So the song is in C, which is not too surprising for one of Britney's songs. And then you use that Drop C tuning. That translates easiest into doing what you're talking about to get the low thing. It's just an intriguing thing as opposed to doing a Drop D tuning, but a Drop C tuning is interesting.
It was cool. It worked out really well. I was like, How we gonna make this song sound like us? How we gonna make it sound like us? 'Cause it's not that we needed to do a cover or that anyone was pushing it, but since we had such success with the last cover, which was kind of a last minute thing, we kind of wanted to do that again just to test ourselves. We like doing covers of girl songs 'cause it's fun. Like, we didn't change the lyrics at all. At the beginning it says, A guy like you should wear a warning, and I didn't change the lyrics at all, I still sing that just how it is. So yeah, it's pretty funny. We just play around with that kind of stuff. It's really fun and the kids enjoy it.
And you guys are on tour right now?
Yeah, we're mid-tour with a band called Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. They're kind of a Southern rock band along the lines of Klutz, like that. Just really riffy Southern rock, good stuff. They're very talented.
How are these new songs coming across live?
Great! We are only doing these songs live, which is a first for us, 'cause we have songs that kids are really attached to and they wanna hear when they come out. But the new songs are winning them over and they don't even care, which is great. It's working out perfect.
That's cool. And Phil, you're showing him parts and helping him transition into the band and all that stuff?
Oh, yeah. You know, Phil's kind of green as far as guitar. I've known him for years; he's a family friend. He was in my little brother's band and he wasn't doing anything at the time and we needed a guitar player so I was like, You know, let's call Phil and see what he's all about. He's a real fast learner. Teaching him the stuff'cause he's never really playedhe's more like a straight Metallica kind of guitar player, like that kind of metal stuff? He's never really, like, riffed a lot on bluesy, weird timing, odd finger placements and stuff. He took to it really well. He's getting a lot better at guitar now and kind of brought in, like, his knowledge of guitar. Not to say that whatever that is insane, but it's just something different for him and he's picking it up really well. We'll see how it all goes when we try writing with him and figure it out.
So conceivably the next record you might?
Oh yeah, we'll try him out and see how it goes. 'Cause we can't really pick a guitar player 'till we write with him. So we'll see how that all works out when we sit down and do that.
Interview by Steven Rosen