Truth is a relative concept for Rob Fetters. It’s
at the core of Saint Ain’t [Baby Ranch], an album of tightly constructed
rock and pop anthems that explore personal accountability
and the repercussions of action and inaction. Track titles like “Suffer,”
“Desire,” “What You Do,” “Famous Last Words,” and “Life & Death
Boogie” provide a glimpse of the thought-provoking mindset at work.
The album is also huge fun, infused with adventurous arrangements,
fiery guitar solos, and addictive hooks.
Saint Ain’t is the third solo release from Fetters, who is also
involved in two guitar-driven bands: Psychodots and the Bears. Psychodots
includes drummer/vocalist Chris Arduser and bassist Bob
Nyswonger, both of whom play on the record. All three musicians are
also in the Bears, along with guitarist Adrian Belew. Commercial scoring
is another career path Fetters engages in, having done work for
ABC, Disney, Nickelodeon, and PBS, as well as major brands including
Microsoft, Crest, and Kellogg’s.
Fetters’ life is all about balance. He’s the epitome of the modern
working musician, with irons in many fires that enable him to deal
with the challenges of today’s music industry. He has been courted
by Clive Davis, been on the cusp of major label deals, and seen his
share of big promises broken. More importantly, many unexpected
windows of opportunity opened along the way, too—a perspective
he digs into on Saint Ain’t.
Describe the general perspective presented on Saint Ain’t.
It’s the result of trying to see reality instead of trying to run from
it or attempting to create a separate reality. I’m no longer making
judgment calls on what is good versus what is bad. A lot of things
in my life relate to the fact that I didn’t get what I wanted and I had to settle for something better. Some people
think I’m being ironic or witty about turning
lemons into lemonade, but I’ve also seen
a lot of lemonade turn into lemons. I’m a
bit more unmoored these days, and I’m not
afraid to be that way. I heard an interview
with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma once. The interviewer
said, “You’re Yo-Yo Ma. You’ve mastered
your instrument. You’re the greatest
cellist in the world.” Yo-Yo Ma just chuckled
and said he was at a point in his life where
all he could see was everything he didn’t
know. I said to myself, “Yeah. That’s why
you’re so good.” It’s because of his humility
in the face of reality and his endless curiosity.
Those are reasons artists like him are
so adventurous. I feel that way about life in
general. I haven’t got this sucker figured out
and that’s what I wanted to express.
“Play Your Guitar” is an epic treatise and
confessional for guitarists worldwide. What
went into writing it?
A lifetime of guitar playing went into it.
The guitar has literally been a lifesaver to
me. In fact, it has been my life. I know so
many guys that run businesses, are creative
directors at ad agencies, or own studios. But
what do they really love to do? Get out old
guitars and play them. We guitar players get
hooked from the first time we do it. You pick
it up and you start dreaming. Before I could
even play, I held my sister’s old Stella tiger-striped
acoustic and imagined I was a Beatle,
and then a Rolling Stone, and then someone
in the Who. This was before I knew where
to put my fingers. The song deals with the
fact that if you are a guitar player you will
get in trouble. Someone isn’t going to like
you playing that guitar so much. Some girl
won’t marry you. Your parents will instantly
be worried sick if you decide to pursue it.
People will tell you guitar players are a dime
a dozen and you need to do something else.
I think every guitarist hits a point where
those realities emerge, but I was never going
to do anything else. I’d rather be dead than
not play guitar. The song also resonates with
people who aren’t guitarists. If you’re really
passionate about something, you’ll run into
the same problems.
How did the guitar save your life?
It pulled me back from doing some bad
things. When I used to drink and use drugs,
somebody said to me, “If you keep that up,
you’ll lose your music.” I’ll never forget that.
There are lots of famous guitarists who did
just that and lost what made them special.
So, the guitar has saved me from self-destruction.
The guitar has never been work. It has
just been a universe of wonder.
Which instruments do you use on “Play
I played a 1967 Martin 00-18 acoustic and
a 1965 Rickenbacker 625 on it. I also used
a 2012 Strat-style “parts-caster” called a
Greenie von Schneidocaster, created by master
luthier David Schneider. It has Sperzel locking
tuners, a Trem King fixed-bridge vibrato
system, a Warmoth compound-radius neck, a Mark Jenny body, and Seymour Duncan
Zephyr Silver pickups dipped to kill their
microphonic tendencies. You’ll hear me doing
some Keith Richards and Pete Townshend
Who’s Next kind of power chording on it—not real distorted, but choppy chords that
sound like a rifle getting cocked and fired.
I also wanted to have a little Jimmy Page in
there, so I put this kind of Lydian scale into
it. For the main solo, I went psychedelic with
a backwards-sounding effect; I used a little
bit of compression from my Keeley 2 Knob
Compressor running into a Boss RPS-10 Digital
Pitch Shifter to make it happen.
What else is in your signal chain?
I also rely on a 1992 Fender Strat Plus
with Sperzel locking tuners, a Kahler tremolo,
and Fender N3 noiseless pickups with
pickguard electronics. In addition, you’ll hear
a 2001 Taylor 612-CE acoustic and “Broke
Ass,” my wildly worn fretless 1974 Les Paul
Custom 20th Anniversary B-stock. My guitars
go into a Furman SPB-8 pedal board that
also includes an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer,
a Pro Co Rat, a Boss TR-2 tremolo, a Boss
VB-2 vibrato, a Boss DD-3 delay, a Hughes
& Kettner Rotosphere, and a Boss FV300H
volume pedal. For amps, I use my Wavelength
Audio Rob Fetters Signature 20-watt head
into a 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion
Greenback speakers, and a Vox AC15HW1X
15-watt 1x12 handwired tube combo.
How did you create the sci-fi effects in
“God is War?”
I’m playing the Rickenbacker, which is
great for carving our some nice clear yet
chunky and juicy guitar. When I played the
solo, I was thinking, “Don’t play anything
fancy. Play something you could have played
when you were 14.” I did that as a placeholder
for a proper guitar solo that would
impress everybody later. I went back to the
song a month after that and thought, “This
is a perfectly good solo. It just needs to be
mangled up.” So, I used a Native Instruments
plug-in called Reaktor 5, which is a synth/sampler. It has a device called The Finger
that has all kinds of octave shifting, filters,
gates, wave shapers, reverse, and ring-modulation
options. So, I put the mindless solo
through kind of a food processor.
The album has a lot of space in the arrangements.
Describe the philosophy at work.
I don’t believe having a dozen guitar tracks is
a bad thing, but I’ve become better at saying
more with less. For instance, on “Desire,”
I’ve got a double-tracked Rickenbacker and
Les Paul on there, as well as a my Taylor
acoustic playing the same thing very tightly.
If I had covered it up with other things, you
wouldn’t hear the nuances anymore. It’s like
looking at the night sky. You can’t pick out
the individual stars if there are too many out
there at once.