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Zane Carney on Performing on Broadway, Channeling The Edge, and Going Digital

February 14, 2012
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While the band Carney was promoting its major-label debut, Mr. Green, Vol. I, in 2010, lead vocalist Reeve Carney was selected to play the lead role in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—a massively complex Broadway production with music by Bono and The Edge of U2. The rest of Carney was chosen to be part of the pit band, and Reeve’s Tele-wielding brother Zane became the show’s primary guitarist.

What were your expectations going into Spider-Man?

I figured there would be lots of sightreading, as that’s a must for Broadway gigs. But I’ve studied music seriously since I was in junior high school, and I’ve done every kind of sideman gig from touring to television bands, so I felt well prepared. I was surprised that working with Bono and The Edge felt so natural. I just had to pick up on their terminology. For example, “cello guitar” is U2 terminology for a fast tremolo- picking part.

How hands-on was The Edge?

On the first day of rehearsal, he literally got down on his knees and dialed his trademark delay sound on my Line 6 Echo Park pedal. His trick is to set the delay at a dotted eighth-note, bump the wet level up a bit, and play straight eighth-notes along with it. The result is a pseudo-swinging, accented sixteenth-note kind of thing that you instantly recognize—like the intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” He also gave me one of his Herdim picks, and said, “I want you to use this because it’s one of the secrets to getting my sound.” It’s similar to the gray nylon picks you’ve probably seen around. It’s about 1mm thick and it has dimples for grip. He asked me to play with it turned upside down to get a crispy attack.

Did he bring you anything else?

Yes—seven Gibson Explorers! When I auditioned number two, he said, “That’s it!” To me, it felt like a scene out of a movie— like he handed me Excalibur or something. For the other half of the show, I play my blue Telecaster with a 1mm Dunlop Tortex pick— which I hold in all sorts of different ways to get various attacks. It’s sort of symbolic— half Edge and half Carney.

Are there any other interesting Spider-Man gear stories?

The evolution of my gear is its own little saga. Initially, I gathered all my favorite effects—everything from a Maxon AD999 Pro Analog Delay, which I love for its warmth, to a vintage Electro-Harmonix POG—and I learned how to wire them into a rack system. No tech was available early on, so the other guitarists were doing the same thing. Eventually, a supervisor was assigned who decided that racks of analog gear were liable to fail, and too difficult for subs to manage. I fought tooth and nail because I’m so passionate about analog gear.

Ultimately, we all ended up using the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx, and digital processors became necessary because the sonic shifts in Spider-Man are so dramatic. I programmed 180 patches in show sequence, but that meant any changes to the book required hours of programming and re-sequencing, and it would have taken even longer if I didn’t have my laptop.

Did the widely publicized troubles with the show affect you?

Those reports were highly sensationalized— other than the injury to the main stunt Spider-Man, who recovered. The craziest part of getting the show going was how long it took. Things kept changing, so we would work 12-hour days, six days a week. It was exhausting.

Did the fact that the show took so long to develop work to your benefit?

Yes. When there was down time, I would pick Edge’s brain, or the orchestrator’s brain, or a take notes on how the conductor operates in case I ever get the chance to, say, score a film that I want to conduct myself. I also seized opportunities to study the piano/ vocal charts and analyze the harmony, because not many guitarists work from those charts.

It sounds like Spider-Man was like musical boot camp.

That’s a great way to put it. I feel much stronger now. After Spider-Man, I feel like I can achieve anything.

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