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Matt Stevens' Juiced Acoustic

February 7, 2012
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London-based Matt Stevens has been creating a buzz for the past year or so, both for his daredevil solo live-looping shows and his self-produced discs Ghost (2010) and Relic (2011), downloads of which he sells online for whatever buyers want to pay—including nothing. He also deftly deploys social media and performs free concerts online to get the word out.

Stevens’ musical aesthetic stems from diverse influences—Brian Eno, Voivod, Joe Pass, Sonic Youth, and Robert Fripp to name a few—though he has transmuted those influences into a refreshingly inventive and adventurous minimalist form, centered primarily on his acoustic guitar playing. “An acoustic is easy to carry around, and you don’t really need an amp,” says Stevens. “Among other things, that helped me get a lot of gigs opening for prog bands that have tons of keyboards and other gear that takes ages to sound check. I just plug in my guitar and a mic and a few minutes later I’m done, which they love.”

Stevens plays an Ibanez Artwood acoustic fitted with an LR Baggs M1 pickup, running through a Boss volume pedal, a Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler (“for weird ’70s Dr. Who inspired synth-like sounds”), a Digi- Tech Whammy pedal (“set an octave down for bass and an octave up for melodies”), and a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler for delays and looping. “I use the looper to layer multiple parts, which is visually sort of interesting for the audience,” says Stevens. “I’ll start with a basic idea and then improvise, often stacking chord sequences using multiple voicings and substitutions to create big harmony parts, maybe adding a bass part, and then playing lead over everything, occasionally with an Ebow. I also sometimes experiment with rhythmic ideas such as creating loops in, say, 13/8, and then stacking groups of three beats on top of them like some minimalist composers might do.”

Although Stevens also plays electric—most notably with art-rock trio the Fierce & the Dead—he mostly composes and records his solo albums using his acoustic. “I’ll work out the chord sequences and some additional parts at home using the looper before entering the studio,” he says. “Then I’ll play the parts into Pro Tools one at a time, without a click track, just like I’d loop them, which gives me control over the individual parts. After that, I’ll do some editing and arranging, and have the other musicians add their parts.”

Once the acoustic parts are tracked, Stevens typically processes them in various ways to add color and variety. “We used pedals such as the Death By Audio Total Sonic Annihilation, and software such as the Massey TD5 and Waves MPX tape delay simulators, the Waves SSL E-Channel Strip and Massey CT4 compressors, and a bit crusher to get lots of cool effects,” says Stevens. “We also did things like recording lines with an Ebow and the Whammy, then doubling the parts with backing vocals; and using the DL4 to feed back on itself while reversed to get huge Hawkwind-like sounds. Any sort of little trick, really, because I was absolutely terrified of people being bored with what I was trying to do.”

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