The propulsive engines of no Doubt—guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young—definitely do not go into a creative dry dock when vocalist/media star/entrepreneur Gwen Stefani is focused on, well, Gwen Stefani. So in 2014, looking to do a side project, the trio secretly reached out to AFI vocalist Davey Havok, demoed four songs, wrote 28 additional songs—determined they had a band (but no label or manager)—got serious and wrote more songs, and, ultimately recorded their self-titled debut album, Dreamcar [Columbia], with producer Tim Pagnotta.
Photo Credit: Paul Haggard
“We kept the band a secret because we wanted to write music simply for the sake of writing music,” says Dumont. “It’s a unique group to make an album with. Three quarters of it have been together forever, and then there’s Davey’s freshness in the mix. So we have the excitement of a completely new project, but with the comfort of old friends.”
I love the album’s new-wave guitar tones.
The guitar sound was this combination of a Kemper Profiler augmented by some pedals plugged into the front end of the amp, and my Fulltone Tube Tape Echo routed through the effects loop. There are a lot of choruses, flangers, phasers, delays, and echoes—which speaks a lot about my early inspiration from The Edge. Much of the album was also informed by what Alex Lifeson did on Rush’s Grace Under Pressure and Signals, where he was playing Strats with a heavy use of delays and choruses to make atmospheric sounds.
What Profiler patches did you use as foundations for your tones?
A lot of the sounds started with a Fender Princeton model that had a really clean and chime-y tone. Then, I’d heavily compress the signal with a Kemper compressor, and I’d also plug in an old Ibanez chorus. Another patch we used a lot was called Walking Moon. It had a swirly, saturated lead sound.
And the main guitars?
I mostly used my Gretsch Duo Jet with Filter’Trons and a Bigsby. There was something about that guitar—a chiming top end with a little bit of body. My Hamer 12-string electric was used for single-note lines, and it was processed with a heavy, saturated delay and a chorus. Then, there was a 15-year-old Ovation double-neck acoustic with a Nashville tuning on one neck. This was for ear candy and strum-y things, like what Johnny Marr did on the early Smiths tracks.
What do you feel was producer Tim Pagnotta’s essential contribution?
A great producer is someone who can coax your best performance out of you, and who can mediate disagreements. For example, if Tony tells me my part sucks, it’s hurtful coming from a friend. But if Tim asks, “Can you do better?” it’s simply a challenge to improve. In the case of Dreamcar, my love of simple rhythmic stuff leads me to play straight eighth-notes, or eighth-notes with a delay for a sixteenth-note vibe—much like The Edge or Elliot Easton. But Tim kept pushing me to syncopate things—to funk up my lines. It was like, “How would Prince approach this solo?” As a result, my solos on the album are short, melodic, catchy, funky, and rhythmic. This is a perfect example of a producer bringing you out of your comfort zone to go somewhere new. It’s a huge win to have someone help you do that.
That said, being pushed out of comfort zones can sometimes make it initially difficult to reboot your creative energy. Were you concerned about freezing up?
Actually, I got stuck on “Kill For Candy”—the first single. The guitar parts on the song demo were not very good, and Tim and I figured we’d just come up with new parts in the studio. But it was one of those days where everybody in the band was there, as well as videographers documenting the recording process. And Tim’s challenge was, “You’ve got to come up with a great, all-time guitar riff.” Well, I tried to do that for two hours, riff after riff after riff, and it wasn’t happening. I had a camera in my face, everyone was watching, and I was feeling depressed and dejected. Then, all of a sudden, I started thinking about the riff to Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Using that as inspiration, I finally found the riff for “Kill For Candy.” I felt so triumphant in that moment, but I obviously had to go on a journey to get there.