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Staffan Johansson on Minimalism

July 6, 2012
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It kind of sounds like atmospheric rockabilly, but that doesn’t account for the strains of tango, 1920’s jazz, and “Weimar Republic cabaret” that Carver Combo bandleader Peter Murphy (not the Bauhaus lead singer) cites as his band’s influences. In any case, the broad musical spectrum of the Stockholm, Sweden group definitely keeps its guitarist Staffan Johansson on his toes. But rather than attack Carver Combo’s stylistic Smörgåstårta with multi-textural orchestrations, Johansson embraces savvy dashes of minimalism to punctuate the music’s ebb and flow. His fat, hollow tone resounds through the band’s 2007 release One Sin Between Me and the Lord, and this year’s Let the Fire In [GraveWax Records]—sometimes clean, sometimes edgy, but always right in the pocket and delivered with expressionistic starkness.

Your big, round guitar timbre almost sounds as if you’re plucking a huge water pipe. What gear did you use to craft the tones on Let the Fire In?

My main guitars are a 1983 Stratocaster and a Fender Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster. I also used a Harmony Vibra-Jet that belongs to our producer, Jerker Eklund. My amps are a Bad Cat Tremcat and a Gibson Maestro GA-45, but Jerker let me play through his mid ’70s Fender Deluxe Reverb, as well. My pedals include a Moody Sounds Tremolo, a Keeley-modded Boss Blues Driver BD-2, a Roland DEP-5, an Ibanez DML-20 Modulation Delay III, and an Ibanez Metal Charger that’s modded for less distortion. It has cool EQ knobs, so I can get some real ratty sounds from it. The reverb came from the amps or a Korg GR-1 Gated Spring Reverb. My strings are D’Addario, gauged .010-.046.

 

How do you get that clear and articulate edge to your sound?

I try to use as little distortion or overdrive as possible, and just turn up the amp to make it compress a little bit. In fact, for recording, I don’t really like using overdrive pedals—except for the Keeley BD-2.

Given Carver Combo’s stylistic layers, how do you conceptualize your guitar parts?

There is no particular format, so I am free to create whatever I want. But when Peter first plays his songs for the band, I listen to the lyrics and the melody, and I try to capture that vibe. I also use a lot of duct tape on the strings.

What prompted you to play so bare?

[Laughs.] I’ve over-played on so many recordings, and was horrified to hear that it sounded like sh*t on playback. Also, my girlfriend has to listen to me practice all day, and she keeps saying, “Music must include pauses.” But, seriously, I am obsessed with playing parts that complement the singer, and it seems the best way to do that is to play less and not get in the way of the vocal. I really study the melody, so I don’t play anything that doesn’t serve the song. It also helps to not be afraid of silence.

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