THE GUYS IN BLACK WATER RISING KNOW HOW to party. As the recipients of a 2009 High Times Doobie Award for Best Rock/Alternative Artist, they’re one of the most promising exponents in the current killer crop of heavy bands. The band’s self-titled debut is a smoking showcase of huge tones and brutal riffs dished up by guitarists Rob Traynor and Johnny Fattoruso. A hallmark of the BWR sound is the fact that the guitarists’ brand of metal is informed by their deep roots in classic rock. Where so many bands rely on walls of angular power chords played at break-neck speeds, Traynor and Fattoruso mix in lots of space, funky single-note lines, and low-string bends that add a smoldering bluesiness to their riffs and make their chords seem all the heavier when they eventually drop.
You guys sound heavy without being metal.
Traynor: That sounds about right. We’re just a hard-rocking band. Metal has become much more extreme, so that’s what gets that banner these days. Back when we were growing up, Black Sabbath was metal.
Fattoruso: After my last band, Stereomud, I knew I wanted to play something heavy, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in a metal band when there’s so much of that going on. I love that metal’s all over the charts, but if you want that style you’ve got Slayer, Lamb of God, and Machine Head. They’re all awesome—three of my favorite bands—but I don’t want to sound like any of them. We can play with any of those bands and we won’t get booed off the stage. What we do is not fake, and metal fans get that and appreciate it.
Talk about what led to the making of this record.
Traynor: When I was a kid, I started out playing bass. I was inspired by Steve Harris, Sabbath, and Priest. I loved guitar players, too, like Iommi, and later on Dimebag. Then I started writing a lot of music and that led me to picking up the guitar. That’s how I transformed into a guitar player. That’s how I became a vocalist, which I never wanted to be. I just wanted to be a bass player. It’s kind of strange how things happen. When I sat down to write this stuff, I wanted to go back to my roots. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground, I was just playing music that I enjoyed.
Johnny, what was it about Rob’s tunes that made you want to join the band?
Fattoruso: I heard part of “Mirror” and part of “Hate Machine.” As soon as I heard that weird part in “Hate Machine” I said, “Whoever you have coming down, cancel them. Give me all the stuff and I’ll be back in a week. I’m joining this band!”
Did you have to change your style?
Fattoruso: I did. I had to go back to square one and relearn the basics. I had been playing metal, with all the down picking and the gallops. This is more stripped-down, inyour- face hard rock. It was a trip for me to regain that feel.
The guitar tones on this record are huge. How did you record them?
Traynor: The last record I did was recorded at Electric Lady, where they had ten different mics on ten different amps. For this, I got a 50-watt Orange Rockerverb combo, cranked it up, plugged a Les Paul straight into it, and put a Shure SM57 straight on the cone. That’s it. That’s pretty much all you hear on the entire album. There are a couple of Marshalls here and there but 95 percent is that Orange with an SM57.
Fattoruso: Live we both use Marshalls, but we got the best sound out of that Orange rig in the studio. There was no need to use anything else. It had a sound about it that no one is using these days.
On that subject, how did you track the rhythm guitars?
Traynor: It’s three tracks of guitars for all the songs. I’d be in the left speaker and Johnny would be in the right. Then either I’d lay down the center guitar or have Johnny do it, and that would come in for an additional rhythm during choruses. There were a couple of tunes that I had completed prior to Johnny joining the band. When he came in, I told him that even though the rhythms were done, I wanted him to track a part, because that’s what gives it that band feel.
Was it tough to double rhythm lines that someone else had already laid down?
Fattoruso: Rob, Mike, and I jammed for a couple of months just to get the guitars right. We worked the parts over and over to make sure the bends and the rhythms were exact. It was fun working to get it all right. Of course there were a couple of rhythm tracks that sounded so perfect I didn’t redo them. Why bother?
A lot of bands don’t do doubles with two guys. On a Metallica record, it’s Hetfield playing with Hetfield.
Traynor: I love Metallica, but my approach is more old school, like Thin Lizzy. That’s rock and roll. It’s raw. I was missing the rawness of a lot of the old analog recordings. You couldn’t move everything around. Sometimes there were little mistakes in there and maybe the timing wasn’t always perfect, and those were the things that gave those recordings personality. If you’re not careful, recordings nowadays can sound stale. When I sat down to do this, I knew I was going to use a digital workstation, but I was going to take an analog approach to it. I didn’t do 100 overdubs. There are little mistakes left in there. I didn’t quantize Mike’s drums. There are fluctuations in the timing. If that was good enough for every amazing band from the ’70s, it’s good enough for me. Like I always say: We ain’t trying to recreate the wheel. We just want to give it an alignment.