By Damien Castaneda
Goddard (left) and Hosking wielding their workhorse PRS guitars.
“I think about guitar sounds like a soft rubbery ball covered in glass, frilly bits hanging off of it and all,” says Karnivool’s Andrew “Drew” Goddard—and who’s going to argue? Goddard pretty much invented the dynamic and delay-drenched guitar sound that has come to identify his Perth, Australia-based band, drawing comparisons to legendary acts such as Tool and Dream Theater. Despite a stream of awards, a successful 2010 U.S. tour, and garnering a steadily increasing worldwide following, Goddard and co-guitarist Mark Hosking are more focused on developing their image-laden style of music than on their successes. GP caught up with them in between tours to talk about their new studio album, the cinematic Sound Awake.
On the new album, both guitars are interwoven amid a lot of sophisticated delay. How do these parts come about?
Goddard: I’ve always been a delay freak. It instantly puts you in a unique environment. Delay, reverb, different guitar sounds and where they’re placed in the mix—that can all give you the sense that you’re inside of the part. You can swim around and look at it from different angles. That’s where the texture and the color come from. I try to visualize things, to get an image in my head of what the sounds look like.
What’s the songwriting process like?
Hosking: We write very differently than any band I’ve ever known. No two songs are the same, and sometimes we’ll write something and let it sit for long periods of time. It’s amazing what doing nothing to a song can do [laughs]. Just the simple act of taking a step back leads that song in a completely different direction.
Goddard: Yeah, there’s no right and wrong really. We just kind of feel our way in the dark and hope for the best. In a case like “Goliath,” for example, that was a drumbeat I came up with jamming with our bass player, Jon Stockman. Then Steve [Judd] jumped on the kit, took out a couple of kicks, and made it groove hard. We don’t sit down and calculate, “Oh, this needs to be a 7-7-7-6,” or something. You just kind of feel it out and after a while it sounds like common time. But if you were to play it in 4/4, it would sound totally wrong. There’s the push and pull and the tension and release where it all just seems to click. If it flows and doesn’t sound jerky and unnatural then we are into it, whatever time it is in.
The line between lead and rhythm parts definitely seems to be blurred in Karnivool.
Goddard: Again, it’s whatever’s necessary for the song and taking care of where the gaps are. If one player’s doing a shimmering high part, then there’s a space below just waiting to be filled, so you naturally go for that. Most of Sound Awake is drum and bass driven. This was the first time that we had Steve and Jon writing together, and they’re at their best when they play together in a room. They just lock in and zone out, and become this conduit for thick, heavy slabs of rhythm. And Jon, being a guitar player originally, plays a 6-string bass and writes a lot of stuff on the guitar, as well. We don’t really have any set roles instrumentally. Jon will jump on the guitar, I’ll jump on the drums, and Mark will get involved on the electronic side of stuff and the sound design.
Hosking: I think it also definitely helps to keep the perspective that there are no set roles. If it sounds right and it feels good then don’t not do it.
Can you detail some of the gear you use?
Goddard: We’ve got a few PRS guitars. We quite like Gibson Les Pauls, as well. I use an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, and my old trusty Boss GT-3. But we’re kind of gear sluts. We use anything we can get our hands on, especially in the studio. I think the delay is probably the most integral part of my sound. When the delay switch is off, it’s almost like when the lights come on in the club at the end of the night, you know what I mean? “Uh oh, reality.” But whether the delay is analog or digital, we’re not really purists when it comes to that.
Hosking: The PRS CE 24 was a great workhorse for us, but we used many different guitars for this record. We also used a lot of different heads like Drew’s trusty Peavey 5150, and I would run a Marshall JCM 800 or 900.
Goddard: The 5150 is kind of the common thread. It blended really well with a whole bunch of different amps. We used that in conjunction with a ’73 plexi Marshall Super Lead that was modded by a friend of ours, and it just sounded amazing. You crank them up and make the speakers work. There was even a Fender Twin, and a ’59 Vox AC30 that we used. We also had a Bad Cat Hot Cat 30, which got a few airings on the album. The Sherlock Fathead, which is made in Melbourne, was another amp that we used for a lot of the really crystalline clean stuff. That in combination with the hollowbody PRS McCarty was just awesome. It really compressed the sound, and you could play lightly on the high strings and it would bring out some shiny, shimmery sort of sounds. We love gear, man. There’s no end to it.
You don’t overdo the effects, though.
Goddard: Well, I think a lot of that is the role of the producer. I’m just like, “Put delay on everything,” [laughs]. We’re doing a lot of stuff now that’s totally dry. It’s almost like that’s an effect now because I’m so used to delayed sounds.
Could you spell out some of the different tunings you use?
Goddard: Pretty much all of the last studio album, Themata, and some of Sound Awake is in B, F# , B, G, B, E. Sometimes we drop the G to an F# ,and for songs like “Change” we also drop the E to a D, which is this open Bm chord. We like to mess around with tuning. It really makes you look at the fretboard in a different way and fumble around and find happy accidents. You’re not in your comfort zone anymore, and you just pick out these cool new chord shapes. It’s our way of keeping things fresh as guitarists.
There’s another open Dm9 tuning we’ve got for songs like “Deadman.” It’s got an open D with a high E. Then we chuck a capo on at the 5th fret. “Goliath” is also in this tuning, though it wasn’t played on the record with a capo. It has that key change at the end, so Mark is in the standard B, F# , B, G, B, E, and I’m playing C, G, C, F, A# , D. I put on a capo first, and for the key change at the end I flick off the capo.
Are you using specially gauged strings for the lowered tunings?
Goddard: Not really. We both use D’Addario .010-.052 Light Top Heavy Bottom sets at the moment, which work particularly well with the floating vibrato on the PRS guitars when we drop the low strings. And we both use the grey Dunlop .73mm nylon picks.
Des any of the subtlety you’ve built up on the record get lost during a live show?
Hosking: Live is a complex beast for us, just by the nature of how much stuff is going on. It’s interesting what taking a song into a live arena can do just for the song. It’s amazing—you’ll play the exact same song in the exact same way in two different rooms and it becomes two completely different songs. Audiences have such an impact on what a live song is and what a live song can become as well. The energy they throw at you highly changes your mind and what you play back at them. It’s a beautiful process of backwards and forwards.