Papa Roach's Jerry Horton on Tones, Riffs and Survival Skills

June 1, 2009
NOTHING SURVIVES LIKE A ROACH. The odds-on favorite to be the last organism standing after a nuclear blast has a knack for not just adapting, but actually thriving under conditions that many other species find hostile or even deadly. All this would seem to hold true for that tenacious bug’s namesake band, Papa Roach. When the Vacaville, California group came up in the ’90s, it was an exponent of the hip style du jour—rap metal—and enjoyed almost instant success in that genre. Unlike so many of those rap and rollers, however, Papa Roach is still around. The band, and guitarist Jerry Horton, are currently rocking their sixth record, the aptly titled Metamorphosis [Geffen], and show no signs of extinction. And while Horton’s riffs still crunch as hard as they ever did, they are tempered now with a heightened sense of dynamics and space that make them even more powerful. Horton took time out of an L.A. press junket to talk about his tones, riffs, and survival skills.

What was the philosophy for the guitars on Metamorphosis?

We’ve done records in the past where we would throw up a bunch of guitar tracks. We would take two or three different amps, get a sound, bounce those down to one track, and then do that over and over—like four or five times. That makes a huge wall of guitar sound, but it’s not really necessary. This time, we wanted space and attack to the guitar sound, and we wanted to have some kind of clarity to the distortion. You can get a really powerful sound with one or two tracks. That’s how they did it in the old days, and that’s all you need, really. We wanted to concentrate more on writing good riffs and playing them well.

How did the single-note riff with the chromatics in “I Almost Told You that I Loved You” come about?

Our bass player Tobin wrote that riff. He plays guitar, too, and he writes a lot. He likes that kind of odd, chromatic, and sometimes dissonant stuff. Jacoby [Shaddix, singer] and I heard him playing that in the bus and we said, “Wow! Record that.” So he threw it on Garage Band. If any of us hears something we like, we try to make the other guy record it. I was playing something kind of cool the other day, but I didn’t record it and now I don’t remember it.

When the power chords come in, is that the same track?

We’ll do one pass all the way through and then in the choruses we’ll overdub another guitar. For that song I played a ’67 Les Paul though a modded Marshall JCM800, with a 25-watt greenback cab.

How are you playing the opening riff to “Lifeline”? Are those harmonics that are jumping in and out?

It’s funny you ask that because we had our old front of house guy on tour with us and he asked me, “What effect do you have on that?” I told him there’s no effect. I’m using some pinch harmonics. I put just enough of them in there so it seems like there’s a delay or something on the tone, but there’s not.

Some of the guitar parts on “Had Enough” remind me a little of the Police or U2. Are you a fan of either of those guitarists?

Oh yeah. When we moved into the house where we wrote this record, Tobin said we should go see a movie. I said “What? We’re here to write the record. Why would we stop working to go watch a movie?” He said it was okay because it was the U2 3-D movie. He thought it might inspire us. We went to see it and we did get inspired. We wrote “Had Enough” and “March Out of the Darkness” after that, so absolutely that was an influence.

Talk about the solo to “Into the Light.”

Mick Mars played that solo. While we were in the studio, we knew that we were going on Crue Fest, and that song has this pentatonic bluesy structure and we thought, “Why don’t we get Mick Mars? That’s what he does.” We called him and he said yes. When we were on the road with Motley Crue in Tampa, we popped into a studio and he did it. He didn’t use an amp, he used Eleven, the Digidesign plug-in. He did a bunch of passes and we picked the best sections and put it all together.

How much gear did you have in the studio? Was there one rig you relied on more than others for this record?

For the main heavy stuff, we used the Les Paul and the JCM800. We also had an old Tele, but that thing wouldn’t stay in tune. Actually, the Les Paul wouldn’t really stay in tune either. Marc LaCorte from Schecter lent me his USA-made Schecter PT model and we used that quite a bit. We also had a couple of my Schecter Tempest guitars and a ’69 or ’70 Gibson SG Custom with three pickups.

How do you get your tone live?

I use a Marshall JMP-1 preamp and EL34 100/100 power amp. For my heavy tone, I use the OD 1 setting on the JMP-1 with the gain and volume all the way up. I really like that preamp for live work, because we have so many sounds and I don’t like to tap dance. It’s just one button per sound. I run the EL34 power amp to a Marshall cab with Vintage 30s, and I have a Marshall Valvestate 120 power amp that goes to a cab with 75-watt Celestions. I also use a Vox AC30 that goes to a Palmer D.I. box. The Vox is on all the time, set to a semi-clean tone, to give the overall sound some punch. Our sound guy can mix the Vox in as he sees fit. When it comes to clean tones, I like a full sound, so I usually have the guitar in the middle position. I tried using the Vox, but the way I set it, the clean sound isn’t right, so I use the Marshall preamp—that thing sounds great clean. I play Schecter Tempest Customs, and I have a new signature series coming out later this year, based on Schecter’s Solo 6.

Who did you listen to initially that made you want to play guitar?

Metallica. That was the start of it. Then I got more into metal like Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura, then industrial and death metal.

Your style and your band’s style isn’t as heavy as those bands. Where does your pop sensibility come from?

I think that probably came from the Beatles. They were the main influence on that. We like the sound and the structure of the pop song. We like melody, and we’re exploring dynamics too. I started playing guitar because of those heavy bands but then kind of moved on.

Who have you toured with that you thought was a great guitarist?

Apart from Mick Mars, we did a tour in Australia with the Chili Peppers and John Frusciante is sort of otherworldly. He plays with such feel and he really makes his guitar sing. He approaches it in a way that’s different from anybody else.

When you guys came on the scene, rap metal was the big thing. A lot of those bands are gone now. How do you view that era of the music business?

There are genres that come in and out and there are a few bands from each that stick. We ended up being one of them. We did have that hip-hop influence, but we’ve always been evolving, since before we got signed. So, it was natural for us to move on to something else. We definitely wanted to be a career band, and we knew that if we were going to stick around, we had to change. It was a risk, and some people in the industry viewed our second record as a failure because it didn’t sell the three million that Infest did, but it was a step we had to take. In the long run it paid off because we’re still here. We’ve lost some fans but gained some too. We make music that makes us happy and if you like it, great. If not, that’s cool too.

What do you think guitar magazines can do to keep guitar and guitar playing vital?

I don’t know that you have to do anything. As long as there are bands that have great riffs, kids are gonna just keep picking it up. It’s the most popular instrument in the world. I don’t see that diminishing.

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