THE GUYS IN BLACK WATER RISING KNOW HOW
to party. As the recipients of a 2009 High Times
Doobie Award for Best Rock/Alternative Artist,
they’re one of the most promising exponents
in the current killer crop of heavy bands. The
band’s self-titled debut is a smoking showcase
of huge tones and brutal riffs dished up by
guitarists Rob Traynor and Johnny Fattoruso.
A hallmark of the BWR sound is the fact that
the guitarists’ brand of metal is informed by
their deep roots in classic rock. Where so
many bands rely on walls of angular power
chords played at break-neck speeds, Traynor
and Fattoruso mix in lots of space, funky
single-note lines, and low-string bends that
add a smoldering bluesiness to their riffs
and make their chords seem all the heavier
when they eventually drop.
You guys sound heavy without being metal.
Traynor: That sounds about right. We’re
just a hard-rocking band. Metal has become
much more extreme, so that’s what gets that
banner these days. Back when we were growing
up, Black Sabbath was metal.
Fattoruso: After my last band, Stereomud,
I knew I wanted to play something
heavy, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in a
metal band when there’s so much of that
going on. I love that metal’s all over the
charts, but if you want that style you’ve got
Slayer, Lamb of God, and Machine Head.
They’re all awesome—three of my favorite
bands—but I don’t want to sound like any
of them. We can play with any of those bands
and we won’t get booed off the stage. What
we do is not fake, and metal fans get that
and appreciate it.
Talk about what led to the making of this
Traynor: When I was a kid, I started out
playing bass. I was inspired by Steve Harris,
Sabbath, and Priest. I loved guitar players,
too, like Iommi, and later on Dimebag. Then
I started writing a lot of music and that led
me to picking up the guitar. That’s how I
transformed into a guitar player. That’s how
I became a vocalist, which I never wanted
to be. I just wanted to be a bass player. It’s
kind of strange how things happen. When
I sat down to write this stuff, I wanted to
go back to my roots. I wasn’t trying to break
any new ground, I was just playing music
that I enjoyed.
Johnny, what was it about Rob’s tunes that
made you want to join the band?
Fattoruso: I heard part of “Mirror” and
part of “Hate Machine.” As soon as I heard
that weird part in “Hate Machine” I said,
“Whoever you have coming down, cancel
them. Give me all the stuff and I’ll be back
in a week. I’m joining this band!”
Did you have to change your style?
Fattoruso: I did. I had to go back to
square one and relearn the basics. I had been
playing metal, with all the down picking and
the gallops. This is more stripped-down, inyour-
face hard rock. It was a trip for me to
regain that feel.
The guitar tones on this record are huge. How
did you record them?
Traynor: The last record I did was
recorded at Electric Lady, where they had
ten different mics on ten different amps. For
this, I got a 50-watt Orange Rockerverb
combo, cranked it up, plugged a Les Paul
straight into it, and put a Shure SM57
straight on the cone. That’s it. That’s pretty
much all you hear on the entire album.
There are a couple of Marshalls here and
there but 95 percent is that Orange with
Fattoruso: Live we both use Marshalls,
but we got the best sound out of that Orange
rig in the studio. There was no need to use
anything else. It had a sound about it that
no one is using these days.
On that subject, how did you track the rhythm
Traynor: It’s three tracks of guitars for
all the songs. I’d be in the left speaker and
Johnny would be in the right. Then either
I’d lay down the center guitar or have Johnny
do it, and that would come in for an additional
rhythm during choruses. There were
a couple of tunes that I had completed
prior to Johnny joining the band. When
he came in, I told him that even though
the rhythms were done, I wanted him to
track a part, because that’s what gives it
that band feel.
Was it tough to double rhythm lines that someone
else had already laid down?
Fattoruso: Rob, Mike, and I jammed for
a couple of months just to get the guitars
right. We worked the parts over and over to
make sure the bends and the rhythms were
exact. It was fun working to get it all right.
Of course there were a couple of rhythm
tracks that sounded so perfect I didn’t redo
them. Why bother?
A lot of bands don’t do doubles with two guys.
On a Metallica record, it’s Hetfield playing with
Traynor: I love Metallica, but my approach
is more old school, like Thin Lizzy.
That’s rock and roll. It’s raw. I was missing
the rawness of a lot of the old analog
recordings. You couldn’t move everything
around. Sometimes there were little mistakes
in there and maybe the timing wasn’t
always perfect, and those were the things
that gave those recordings personality. If
you’re not careful, recordings nowadays
can sound stale. When I sat down to do
this, I knew I was going to use a digital
workstation, but I was going to take an
analog approach to it. I didn’t do 100 overdubs.
There are little mistakes left in there.
I didn’t quantize Mike’s drums. There are
fluctuations in the timing. If that was good
enough for every amazing band from the
’70s, it’s good enough for me. Like I always
say: We ain’t trying to recreate the wheel.
We just want to give it an alignment.