“IT KIND OF FREAKS ME OUT HAVING TO
cover guitar and bass at the same time,” says
Nico Vega’s Rich Koehler of his trio’s guitar-vocal-drums lineup, “but it keeps me stimulated.”
Although stimulation wouldn’t seem to
be a problem, given drummer Dan Epand’s
propulsive attack and vocalist Aja Volkman
darting around onstage covered by just a
Danskin camisole, Koehler does have a huge
chunk of frequency information to hold down.
Fortunately, his obsession with tone tweaking—
as well as influences that include Black
Sabbath, the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, Jimi
Hendrix, and Funkadelic—provided Koehler
with the raw material to conjure one helluva
sonic storm front on the band’s live-sounding,
self-titled debut on MySpace Records.
What gear do you employ to fill the sonic space
of a missing bassist?
I play Fender Stratocasters strung with a
.011 set of GHS Boomers, and because of the
single-coil pickups, I’m always looking for fat
tone. I run an Ampeg SVT, a ’72 Fender Pro
Reverb, and a Music Man 1x12 combo
simultaneously using a Morley ABC router.
Obviously, the Ampeg pushes out the real
low end, and then I use the Music Man for
the high-midrange frequencies and the Pro
Reverb for low-mids.
Do you run the Ampeg and guitar amps on
different sides of the stage—as if you had a
bassist—or do you stack everything behind you?
I’ve experimented with both ways, and
I’ve had good shows with all the amps
together, and good shows with them split
up. Lately, we’ve been putting everything on
my side of the stage.
You’ve chosen to drive the trio sound by
playing mostly riffs, rather than devouring the
frequency spectrum with huge chords.
I have a lot of faith in the riff, and I think
the riff is where you hear a guitar player’s
voice. I try to go as far as I can with the main
riff, and then develop it further to write
bridges, choruses, and so on. I also work
closely with Aja, who has a knack for putting
pieces together to make a song.
Do you create riffs by exploring scales or
melodies, or do you go with whatever beams into
I let my fingers take me wherever they
go. I rarely go back to scales. The more I
don’t focus on it, the better.
So you never consciously think, “I loved what
Tony Iommi did on ‘Sweet Leaf,’ so I’ll work from
that foundation to build my own riff”?
I never go back to a song and try to emulate
it, but if you think a song is cool, it’s
definitely fused into your brain, and it’s going
to come out of you in some way or another.
Do you have a typical tonal starting point for
crafting your riffs?
I start with a classic clean tone, and then
I keep on building by adding effects or adjusting
EQ. I’ll tweak for hours. I’m constantly
looking to reinvent my sound.
What are your main effects?
A Fulltone ’69, an Ibanez Tube Screamer,
a Boss Digital Delay, and an Electro-Harmonix POG and Graphic Fuzz.
Do you have a favorite riff on the album?
It’s “Beast.” I left the Ampeg very clean
and twangy, and I used the Fulltone and the
Graphic Fuzz on the guitar amps. Most of
the tone was the Fulltone, though.
Do you adjust your Strat controls much?
No. I leave the Volume and Tone all the
way up, and I’m always on the bridge pickup.
How do you approach your solos on stage without
a bassist or rhythm guitarist to hold down
the harmony or maintain the density of the band
I keep a low note going all the time with
my thumb, while my pick and fingers pluck
the rest of the solo. Each time I change positions,
I have a low note that matches that
specific part of the lead melody. It’s a simple
self-accompaniment technique that keeps
the power churning.
You’ve managed to develop a rather unique
sound, while many other young guitarists have
chosen to emulate the sounds of popular bands
or players. How did you avoid the clone trap?
All I can say is that I never tried to play
like anyone else but myself, and I play whatever
gives me goose bumps or chills. I just
try to honestly express whatever I’m feeling
at the time, and that is never going to
sound like anyone else. Beyond that, if I
can also communicate the magic this band
feels when it plays together, then I’m one