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Elliot Easton Turns on the Twang

January 30, 2014
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ELLIOT EASTON’S BEAUTIFULLY COMPOSED SOLOS FOR THE CARS always bring the listener on a thrilling musical journey, so it’s a welcome gift to guitarists everywhere that the fiery left-hander is stretching out with a full album’s worth of instrumental tracks. Released under the moniker Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods, Easton Island serves up 12 tunes brimming with twang, lush reverb, and cinematic melodicism. (At press time, the album was only available via digital download from amazon.com and iTunes.)

“I’ve always loved that ’60s soundtrack stuff by composers such as Les Baxter, Henry Mancini, and John Barry,” says Easton, whose first effort with the Tiki Gods was the song “Monte Carlo Nights” for the Jackie Brown soundtrack album in 1997. “I think the genesis of my developing a voice in this kind of music was listening to players like Al Caiola, Billy Strange, Al Casey, and Tommy Tedesco. I wasn’t consciously doing research or anything like that. I was simply enjoying their music, and the influence kind of osmosis-ly seeped in.”

Although Easton brought on the twang for Easton Island, he didn’t reach for typical twang tools such as single-coil Fenders, Gretsches, or Mosrites.

“I rediscovered my left-handed, 1965 Gibson ES-335 with a Bigsby,” he says. “I never played it much because it wouldn’t stay in tune, but I had a guy work on it, and now it plays like a dream. I was inspired to try the ES-335, because Cailoa played ES models on all the easy-listening records he made, and he got quite a twangy sound on the Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven themes in 1961. I was amazed at how nice and crisp you can get playing a 335. I also used a more or less identical-spec ES-335 that the Gibson Custom Shop built me in Pelham Blue—my favorite custom color—and a Mosrite made an appearance here and there.”

Amps for the Easton Island sessions included a Vox Valvetronix VTX, a Fender Deluxe Reverb and Princeton Reverb—and a Line 6 Pod Pro was employed for layering. Basics were recorded live in the studio, and Easton also brought Pro Tools files to his home studio to “massage stuff on my own time without anybody breathing over my shoulder.” Tone crafting—as per Easton’s usual method—started by his visualizing sounds in his head, and then working to manifest them in the real world.

“I let my instincts take me where they wanted to,” he explains. “I’m ‘singing’ the melodies on guitar, of course, so I was always trying to get unique sounds to intrigue listeners. I added some cool textures with the Pod, such as a clean Dual Showman patch combined with a fuzzy, tremoloed Vox model on ‘Isle of Canopic’ where you only hear the gritty ‘va-va-va-va-va’ sound on sustained notes. Pretty much all of the solos are down in the well somewhere [laughs], but not everything is that splashy, surfy spring-reverb sound.”

While Easton was inspired by cats who made some excellent elevator music in the ’60s, there’s nothing “easy listening” about Easton Island.

“The Tiki Gods is a bunch of guys who grew up on the Beatles and all the stuff after them, so whatever we do is filtered through that rock thing,” he says. “We weren’t trying to make a record that sounded like it came from 1958. That would be futile, because we’re not those guys, and we approach our instruments with a bit more of an edge.”

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