Matt Carter is not a shredder. The Emery guitarist reiterated that statement multiple times during a recent interview with Ultimate Guitar, but it’s a bit modest for someone who worked with producer Ryan Boesch at orchestrating everything - from drums to bass to his own guitar work - on his band’s latest album I’m Only A Man. Taking charge was not all some elaborate plan to showcase his own riffs, particularly considering there was only about one guitar track per song on the record. Carter is all about making the best song possible, and if that means sacrificing a chance in the spotlight, so be it.
When asked who inspired him as a guitarist today, the primary name that popped up was an unexpected one: Billy Howerdel
of A Perfect Circle. Carter said the guitar lines that Howerdel played could not necessarily be considered chords or even soloing, and that enigmatic guitar style has helped him think outside the box. While Emery’s latest album does feature some similar mood-driven soundscapes, Carter specifically chose the Fender Telecaster to ensure that his own songs didn’t sound like any of the other rock bands out on the scene. Carter
recently talked with Ultimate Guitar
writer Amy Kelly
about his trusted Telecaster, Emery’s summer acoustic tour, and his admiration for the “real shredders
” out there.
UG: You spent much of the summer playing acoustic shows. What made you decide to go unplugged?
Matt: We’ve always really liked seeing other bands go acoustic. It’s something different to do, which is the main reason we did it. A lot of people see the acoustics and think, “Oh, this is just lazy or an in-store. There’s nothing to it.” We wanted to do something like that, but put some time into it and play with a whole band. Use a bunch of keyboards and other instruments so that it would be different.
For instance, all of our fans like really loud and heavy and screamy things like that. But there are a lot of people that like our music that like the songs, the lyrics, and the singing, too. My parents, for instance! They say, “Why don’t you just play quieter so that you can sing and hear your voices.” That’s another reason why it’s great to do because you can really feature the singing more. Singing quiet and under control can really make everything come across. You hear different things other than just the loudness.
Did you have to write out completely new arrangements for the acoustic versions?
There are definitely new arrangements. Almost none of the songs we do exactly the same way, and some of them are really different. It depends on the song and how much rearranging it needs. But it definitely requires a lot of work and practice, just to try different things to see what works. We also put out an acoustic section of our last CD, the re-release of it, with a bunch of redone, different versions of the songs, too. So that was part of what we wanted to do, play it the way we did it on the acoustic DVD thing. A couple of them are just piano only, singing. Some of them were just different instruments and stuff like that.
Some guitarists feel a little bit more pressure playing acoustic during the live performance because there’s more room for error and no effects to cover it up. How do you feel about it?
Totally honestly, I really like playing it. I like everything about acoustic better. I know that’s a wild thing to say, but it may just be because we do electric so much. When we do acoustic, it’s just so fun. It feels so good. I think it’s different, too, because you don’t cover up stuff with moving around or jumping around onstage. You actually need to sit there. At the same time, you don’t have your amps and you’re totally focused on the notes you play. You don’t worry about your moves onstage like some people. You kind of have to really perform when you’re up onstage in a normal case. With the acoustics, you can really do things the way you want to do and take the time to really nail the playing. That’s all that really matters, the notes and the singing and the playing. So I kind of like it better.
What acoustics do you usually use for the stage show?
We play Ovations when we play live acoustic. Ovation is actually a really awesome company that supports us with their gear and stuff. They’ve been super-good to us and we really like their guitars a lot.
Do you write most of your songs with the Ovations as well?
We probably write most of our music on the acoustic guitars anyway. Very rarely do I write something on the electric guitars. It doesn’t really happen. It’s kind of like we arrange the songs in the first place for the electric set, so sometimes they just exist acoustic already. The main melody in something may have come from somebody singing with an acoustic guitar. You strip that down and it’s still there.
Did you come up with a lot of the primary riffs on the new album or did the songwriting happen every which way?
It definitely happens every which way, but the main thing that I personally usually do is arrange everything from the singing down to the drums. Devin and I used to write and arrange the drums on the first 2 records. Dave came in right before the record, so we kind of had all the drums almost pre-arranged at that time. After we had been playing with him long enough, we kind of let him go on this. But from everything else, from the drums to the vocals, I usually just spend all day in the studio while the other guys are working on different things. Usually the producer and I just work together and just kind of build the whole internal part of the song.
Most of the guitar parts come very last. It’s usually the last thing done. I usually just like to just do the other stuff first. Then I wouldn’t call it improv on the track…Well, yeah. I guess I like to improvise to some degree. A song usually starts from strumming chords and singing, and then we just rearrange it. No matter what I decide on playing, if it’s too early, then I’ll want to change it. So I usually just kind of put off what the guitar is going to do until we’ve been working on the song. I usually have some ideas and stuff before, but it kind of comes together on tape. We just do a few takes, try some different things, and then I’ll have a totally different idea. “Okay, delete that. Start over.” Then I’ll get it right.
“Rock-N-Rule” has some very cool, unique sections throughout the course of the song. When you originally started writing it, could you see all of the different parts fitting together?
|"This record was actually produced by Ryan Boesch and Matt Carter."|
Devin wrote the foundation part of that song. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s a good guitar player. That really rock n’ roll feeling thing was one of the first things he had when we first started writing this record. It’s relatively simple in itself, but it was a neat, colorful guitar thing. We don’t usually do stuff like that. It was a little bit grittier and more of a just straight rock kind of thing. So we latched on to that early. The whole tonality of that goes through the whole song a lot.
That song went through the most changes and the most work of any song, as far as what the original idea was and what it turned out like. It just kept changing and we had new ideas. That heavy part was the very, very last thing. We were like, “Well, we can’t figure out what to do here. Let’s do this.” And the heavy thing came out.
There really isn’t hardly any guitar at all in that quieter bridge section. It’s just feedback and noise. There’s a little bit of feedback, but it’s totally ambient. I wouldn’t even consider it a guitar part. I could have made it with the keyboards just as easily.
There are actually several different parts on the CD where it’s hard to tell if it is a guitar or keyboard playing.
The trick on this album guitar-wise is we set out from the beginning to use the least guitar possible. Other than a couple places where we couldn’t get around it, there’s always only 1 guitar part. So there are never 2 guitars doing 2 different things. But basically at any point, you can barely hear the guitar and latch on to it like a vocal part. It’s not like arranged for 2 different guitars to harmonize, 1 low and 1 high. The whole idea is just 1 guitar part all the way through each song.
The rest is supposed to be keyboards. There are tons of keyboards and other instruments and stuff that we did, too. That’s another reason we did the guitar last. That way, you can try and fill up the section. If it doesn’t need guitar, don’t put it in.
Do you usually prefer a minimal guitar sound in general?
It’s what I wanted to do. I think there is more guitar that you can hear on this record than the other ones. On the others you hear sound that is generated by the guitar. On this record, I think all of the instruments and all of the guitar parts, if you listen to it, you can hear exactly what it’s doing. So it’s like being catchy on guitar instead of being complicated. I used to try and arrange guitar more with 1 low and 1 high. They complement each other, but it comes out sounding like it's just a guitar with a wall of sound.
There are tracks on the other albums where I’ll do it this way here and this way here on the other side, and you wind up hearing neither. You just hear this sound. You don’t hear what the guitar is actually doing, and you don’t hear as much of the articulation of certain strings, the touch. So on this one, there is a lot more feeling and touch to the guitar playing that should be identifiable to the listener - I hope!
The song “From Crib To Coffin” lasts into the 10-minute range, which a lot of people automatically begin to place in the “epic song” category. Did that song require the most time to write?
That one is the most different because Toby was just playing and singing that part in the beginning pretty much. There is a little bit where the band comes in and plays through the rest of the intro. It was supposed to be just an acoustic song, but then we were in the studio and we played those 2 parts. Then we were going to have an outro part. The whole end of the song just started with those 3 chords, and the progress we thought was just a neat tonality. We were just going to do it for a little while, then maybe just come back in heavy and do that for a few bars. That seemed like it was a little bit boring!
It was actually in the studio maybe 2 days before we tracked the drums, and we were all talking about it with the producer. We just thought we would speed it up and build that section. Until we went in to track drums, we didn’t even do it or play it. Dave, the drummer, he had basically no idea what we were talking about. I was trying to explain to him, “Okay, we’re going to start here and build from here.” He didn’t seem to totally understand it the same way I was envisioning it in my head.
So we sat there, and after we got done tracking drums one night, I had him go in and we played to the tempo of each part. I had him play the toms and the snare for a little while. I’d say, “Okay, build it up. Play that louder.” He would do that for a few measures until he got tired and stop. I’d say, “Okay, let’s do it with just toms, then add the bass drums.” He would do that for however long and then add the next thing. I said, “Just improvise a little bit and add a bit of feel to it.” He kept changing the drum parts to more and more intense things. The producer and I went in and edited all of the drums. We put the drums together until the whole drum track was there. Then we started building it, one instrument at a time.
It sounds like your role is pretty much one of a producer.
|"I like everything about acoustic better."|
Yeah. I don’t ever really say that a lot, but this record was actually produced by Ryan Boesch and Matt Carter. I don’t really mention it because I feel silly. But yeah, Ryan and I produced it and did the whole record together, from the editing all of the way through.
Did you personally select most of the instruments used during recording?
I guess everything was different. Everybody is open-minded and it’s not like anybody says, “Okay, well this person does this.” For the bass, we didn’t really do anything. Devin tracked almost all of it and he does not care about what the amp is, the pedals. He’s the opposite of a gearhead. He does not care at all, so we just got him a basic tone. We had a direct line into the amp, and we had a distortion thing up so we could play them between him. It did not take a long time at all because he’s really just a solid, straightforward musician. He did the whole thing real quick.
Are you a gearhead?
Yeah, more so. The rest of it was just keyboards and guitar. I did the rest of it basically. Josh helped with a lot of the programming and some electronics stuff. But the rest of it, I basically did. It wasn’t so much telling this person to do that or whatever. Devin and Toby would come in and sing, and they’re not particular about that stuff at all. Nobody is too particular about stuff like that except me, so it usually just works out!
What guitars did you use on the album?
Devin has a really awesome Telecaster that is like a custom-shop ’62. He used that on every song except for maybe one. I had tons of guitars lying around the studio. I thought, “I’m going to have so many, I’ve got to pick the right one for each song.” I tried every song to use something different, but that was the best guitar. So I used that single-coil pickup in the Telecaster for the whole record except for “Rock-N-Rule” and maybe “The Party Song.” Then I used just a Gibson guitar with a P-90 single-coil in it, so it was really similar. That was almost all of the guitars I used.
What was it about the Telecaster that stood out above all the rest?
For one thing, it’s a lot different than a lot of the heavier-type bands like us use, which would be like some Mesa Boogie and a humbucker Gibson or something. That just sounds too much like everybody else. So I’ve really been searching and looking to sound different than that. The single-coil pickups, if you’re gain isn’t that high and ours really isn’t, they just have more bite and character and feeling. If you get them medium to hard, they sound different. On a humbucker, everything sounds the same, just louder or softer. There is more character to that kind of pickup. It has more bite. It’s twangier and has more personality. So what you play kind of comes out a little bit more.
Are there any contemporary guitarists who have a playing style that stands out to you?
I think the best overall guitar player, from a standpoint of what his arrangements are like, is the guy from A Perfect Circle. Like on the first record, when I heard that record I thought, “He’s never playing rhythm and chords, but he’s not really soloing, either.” He’s always playing something melodic, but just taking up a certain amount of space in the mix. You don’t need to have low chords here and then play lead on top.
I really like the way Billy Corgan and Rivers Cuomo play the guitar, which is like super-melodic notes. It has a touch of some kind of flashy guitar at the end of a section or solo to show they can do more, but they don’t. And I can’t do more! That’s the problem! I can’t do that shreddy guitar stuff. I just can’t. I wish I could. That’s what I like about those guys. They’re playing melodic and they obviously can do way more.
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