Did you ever take guitar lessons?
Somebody taught me a couple of chords when I was 13, and then I just picked up chord books and taught myself from there. I think that’s why I have sort of an odd style.
What strikes you as odd about your guitar style?
I think if people watched the way I move between chords, or the way I finger them, it’s not necessarily the best way to be doing it. It’s not necessarily the textbook way.
How would you contrast your views and attractions to guitar as opposed to synth?
When it comes to playing live, I really prefer playing guitar. For a start, it’s more visual. And you fill far more fulfilled being less restricted and able to move around the stage and interact with the audience a bit more. I’m chained to one spot when I’m playing the keyboards.
When you decide a song needs guitar, do you usually have a chord progression or riff in mind that you want to play on guitar, or do you just mess around with tones until you find a cool part?
It depends. Sometimes there’s a guitar part that’s been worked out in advance or that’s on the original demo, and sometimes you’re just getting a good sound together in the studio and sort of jamming along until something magical happens and it just feels right.
Do you prefer Gretsches with a Bigsby tremolo or a stop tailpiece?
I like both of them, really. But, live, when you’ve got a tremolo it’s always a bit of a risk with tuning.
It sounds like you’re really into tweaking sounds?
All of us were trying stuff out. Ben Hillier, the producer, is great with sounds. He seems to have gone through every single possible engineering process that you can, starting around the age of 13 or 14. He started out miking up orchestras and then went on to learn engineering, and he’s also a drummer and can have a go at bass or guitar.
Sounds of the Universe sounds more cautiously optimistic and upbeat—musically and lyrically—than Playing the Angel and much of your recent work.
That’s true. The album as a whole is much more upbeat and up-tempo generally than the previous couple of albums. Lyrically, it’s a bit more positive and there’s a spiritual angle to a lot of the tracks.
Do you like Apple Logic because of the control it gives over automating patches?
I just like it because it’s simpler for the actual writing process. I like some of the automation stuff, but for demo purposes I don’t need to get too in-depth with that.
Can you tell me about your First Act signature guitar?
I don’t use that much in the studio. I had that made especially for me more for its visual look. I was a big fan of the Glitter Band when I was growing up, and they all used those star-shaped guitars.
How did you get involved with Depeche Mode for this album and what was it about your style, past work, etc. that you think helped you land the gig?
One spring morning last year I met Ben [Hillier, producer] in a cafe for a quick cup of tea and much to my surprise he asked me if I’d be interested in working with him and DM as a programmer. Of course I jumped at the chance. It seemed to me, amongst other things, an incredible opportunity to learn from all involved. And that it was! I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Ben previously. We met a few years ago during a now-defunct project of mine called “clor,” which I’d co-written and produced, and we have remained friends since. I’m always keen to work with him on any project, but this job in particular was an extremely exciting prospect for me. I guess I landed the gig from being a bit of a geek—mildly obsessed with DSP, guitars and synths—plus an equal measure of hard work and good fortune.
How did you and Martin divide guitar chores and what was your role for the Universe sessions?
I was effectively the programmer on the session, flipping between various DAWs: Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Logic, amongst others. In general, I was involved with most aspects of the recording. As guitar is my primary instrument, Martin and I often worked out the finer points of his parts and chord progressions together prior to laying down the tracks. This was a great excuse for me to fumble on each of his exceptional guitars. Martin frequently astonished me with his ability to reach tricky fingerings after radical transpositions and the like. Often we’d sift through a hotchpotch of modern and vintage effects, guitars, and amps until we found something suitable for the track—always closely guided by Ben.
What was the most challenging part about the sessions?
I’d have to say either choosing which sandwich or soup to have for lunch, or, trying to win the deadly serious table football league we’d been running since day one! There were, of course, technical challenges along the way, such as synchronizing various vintage synths and drum machines—but nothing we couldn’t work out between us.
What kind of input, suggestions, or guidance did you and Martin give each other relative to guitar tones, parts, recording and playing techniques during the sessions?
One of the main things, technique-wise, was the fact that Martin very rarely uses a pick. Nearly all of his playing is just with the fingers and thumb, and the groove is incredible. The playing on the record ranges from delicate chords to blistering riffs, and Martin accomplishes these with raw intent as much as anything else. He doesn’t pound the instrument to get the result—he just plays it right. As we had such a broad selection of guitars, amps, effects, and other recording equipment to choose from, each of us would contribute to the overall sound of each part. Ben, myself, and Martin would try various guitars, pedals, and amps until the desired sound was achieved. Then Ferg Peterkin, the engineer, would choose the right mic, mic preamp, and compressor to compliment the overall result. We worked on chord positions, inversions, and different placements of the rhythm hand to achieve different tones when necessary. There aren’t really many instances where Martin needs input when it comes to guitar playing. If there is such a thing I think it’d be fair to say he’s a natural.