You might remember Carl Jah from his killing guitar work with the hilariously awesome Dread Zeppelin, a band that
played reggae versions of Zeppelin tunes with an Elvis impersonator
lead singer. Although he’s released albums since then with his
bands Drastic Party, the Keep, and Shocking Violet, Jah had never
released a solo instrumental record until his latest, Re-Purpose.
But this is no ordinary 6-string instrumental shred fest. For starters,
several of the musical ideas were transferred directly from
old cassettes. Then there’s the fact there aren’t exactly songs on
Re-Purpose; instead, the music is organized into “Events.” According
to his site, each event is made up of smaller musical ideas
that are run together in a medley form. What the site doesn’t tell you is that these events lurch from balls-out rock to country
twang to techno pop to pseudo thrash with seemingly nothing to
connect them except some spoken-word found sounds from old
records. “I got the idea from listening to my car radio,” says Jah.
“When you turn the dial, stations abruptly appear with no regard
to style or content. This idea intrigued me enough to apply it to
my album.” Of course what truly connects all the music on Re-
Purpose is Jah’s spectacular guitar work, which is steeped in Jeff
Beck craziness, Van Halen swagger, Brian May layering, and some
good ole Billy Gibbons swampiness. The sense of humor from his
Dread Zep days is still there in spades, dressed up in 1,000 different
tones and textures.
It would seem like stringing together all
these disparate elements wouldn’t work, and
yet it works really well. How the hell did you
A lot of it was just haphazard experimenting.
I didn’t have any grand plan, but I knew
there were so many short little pieces that they
wouldn’t stand on their own. They needed
to be combined into a medley in some way
because a 15-second song is kind of ridiculous.
Some of it was easier than you might
think, though. When I was going from song
to song within the same event, the pressure
was totally off because sonic consistency
was to be avoided. It didn’t matter. In other
words, when you change radio stations, you
never know what you’re going to get, so it
was okay if the transition to the next song
on Re-Purpose was totally abrupt. Maybe the
first time it sounds kind of weird or like
it doesn’t fit, but just like anything, after
hearing it a couple of times, you think, “Oh
yeah. That’s how it goes.” You get used to
it. Having said all that, some of the longer
pieces on my record were approached like
a pop song: You have a verse and then the
chorus and then maybe a middle part. But
the middle part might be those little comments
and things that I took from training
records, meditation records, speeches, CB
radio calls—weird stuff like that. The one
credo I did use throughout was that no two
ideas next to each other could be the same
tempo or in the same key, nad no two long
ideas or short ideas could be back to back.
Let’s delve into the creation of this record. I
read on your site that you might use a 20-year
old rehearsal cassette tape and build a song
around it. Is there an example of that?
Yes, there are several. The song “Blap”
in Event 3 was done that way. I found a cassette
tape from a band I was in years ago. I’ve
always liked the riff but the rest of the song
was just okay. So I played the cassette into
a stereo track in Logic, chopped it up so it
would keep repeating, and then added that
whole middle part that gets really heavy. That
was the basis of that song. There’s another
one where it was me jamming along with a
drummer and a bass player in a room—just
a cassette recorder taping a band rehearsal—
but I really liked the ending. So I took that
little piece and recorded around it, adding
extra guitars on top of it, and making it an
entirely new song. The cassettes add a lo-fi
grit that I like, but 85 percent of the album
is new music.
There are so many different tones on this
record, it seems like you must have employed
a truckload of guitars and amps.
It’s funny, I didn’t have a ton of amps.
My go-to amp was an Engl 100-watt head
into a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier cabinet or
a Framus 2x12 cabinet with Greenbacks—
they’re both good sounding cabinets. I also
have a 100-watt Mesa/Boogie Stiletto Deuce.
Most of the lead sounds were from the Engl
and the twangier tones were from the Boogie.
Then I had four or five small amps—nothing
special. Most of them are just solid-state
combos, but they’re very versatile and I made
them more versatile by adding extra speaker jacks in the back so I can run them through
bigger cabinets. My main guitars were a
Korina Explorer and a Korina V. They’re
made by John Gaudesi and they’re exact replicas
of ’58s. He even made the pickups on
one of them. They’re called Pasadena Classics—
basically like PAFs. I also have a copy
of a Mighty Mite Megazone that he made for
me. The pickups are Duncan ’59s. That’s a
great sounding guitar. It’s got a Floyd, and
it has a really cool twang. I have an old Karl
Sandoval Strat with a DiMarzio HS2 that
I use for compressed, clean electric tones.
The sustainy guitars you hear in the background
of tunes were done with the Fernandes
There are lots of beds of sustaining guitars
on this record, but some of them sound like
good, old-fashioned amp feedback.
There is some of that. I don’t like headphones,
so I’m always in the control room
in front of the monitors and sometimes I hit
that sweet spot. I just walk up there and it
feeds back as if I was in front of the cabinet.
But when you hear a pad of four or five notes
feeding back, like in the middle of “Boon”
and the middle of that jazzy one, “Has Love
Lost Its Way,” that’s all the Sustainer guitar.
It’s a great tool.
There’s a wacky set of chords in “Has Love
Lost Its Way” that sounds like it was created
with a harmonizer. There’s a delay, so you’ll play
a line and when the delay comes back the line
will be shifted up a major third or something.
Again, that’s a song where I had the bass,
drums, and rhythm guitar on a cassette from
back in the day. The sound you’re talking about
was created by my Rocktron Intellifex. There’s
a setting on there called Major 7th. You hit a
note and it comes back like a major 7 chord.
So I’m just playing single notes and the Intellifex
fills in the gaps. You can set the delay
time for when you want the major 7 chord
to come in after you hit the initial note, but
I think it was just a factory preset that I was
fooling around with and thought was cool.
Then I did a drum loop, played the bass, the
whole middle part, and then all the lead stuff.
Are you going to gig this material? What
would a rehearsal be like to work out a set of
Well, there’d be a lot of drinking, we’d
probably go to a local strip bar, and then we’d
come back and tune up [laughs]. It would actually
be fun to have maybe one or two other
guitar players and really take some of these
ideas and jam on them. And I would definitely
repurpose Re-Purpose. I would want to
rearrange the songs to be different than they
are now. A song in Event 6 could run into
one in Event 2 and then maybe a cover song
would happen in the middle of that. That
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