The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Austyn Brown. His band have been causing a stir across the south coast of England so Guitar Jar catches up with Austyn to quiz him on his technique, influences and his amazing guitar collection…
….my SG… beaten up, knackered old dog. It was like an episode from Animal Hospital or something. It looked like it needed to be put down more than anything else!
- Hi Austyn, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
Yeah, I was about 15 and my dad had just brought my brother this new Epiphone Casino from this guitar-ex they went to. My brother was at the kinda age where he was going out every night of the week, so when he did that I used to go into his room and have a bash on it with this Oasis chord book he had. I already played piano and drums, so I understood the basics, so it didn’t take long for me to get a handle on the thing! I think about a month later I tapped the old man up for an Epiphone Les Paul in Cherry Sunburst and that was how it started.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
Well, it was a real mixture. On the one hand I had a lot of influence from the kind of stuff that my brother was listening to – Weller, Small Faces, Oasis etc. I also had the stuff that my dad listened to play a huge part in my upbringing like Robert Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So I was going off in all these different directions really. I also started picking up CDs like AC/DC at Our Price in the reduced bin, just trying to get a feel for lots of different guitar bands.But I suppose if I had to choose I would say the most significant influence for me was Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene. I was just amazed at this range of tones had could get ya know? One minute there’s this soft, almost jazz tone, followed by this huge crunch sound that he just dialled up from next to nothing. He is not the fastest guitarist by a long shot, but I still rate him as in my top three for style and just what he can do.
- Can you tell our readers about the history of your Gibson SG?
Ha! Man it’s a right dog! Well not so much now to be fair. I took it to Robin Greenwood a few years back and got him to give it a complete overhaul. It’s a 1967 SG Standard with a big hunk of bent tin bolted to one end! That’s nearly fifty odd years of playing – so you can see why it needed it! I picked it up in 1999 at this little shop in Southampton. They had two in there. One was this brand spanking new SG std with the cellophane still on it, and the other was this beaten up, knackered old dog. It was like an episode from Animal Hospital or something. It looked like it needed to be put down more than anything else! So anyway, I sat down, plugged in the new one first and I was like ‘That’s a fab sound’. I then took the hold of the ’67 and from the start, it just felt right. After a lot of fuzz and crackle and jack wiggling, this thing just fired into life. Man what tone! I was blown away! The difference in the two was just huge. I must have played Whole Lotta Rosie about a hundred times, until they got so pissed off in the shop I bought it so I could go home and play it. The mad thing was, the ’67 was cheaper than the new one! I got it for about £700, which is a bargain!
- What other guitars do you own? What do you look for in a guitar before you make a purchase?
I lost count once, so I had to write them all down! Right so, from the top – An early 80s Kay Busker, a 1993 Rickenbacker 330 in Fireglow, a 1990 Gibson Les Paul Std (The 8 Ball) in ebony, my 1967 Gibson SG Std, an Epiphone Supernova – but I ripped out all those naff Epiphone electrics and pickups and replaced it all with Gibo bits from an early 90s Les Paul. There’s a 1992 Fender Strat MIJ, a 2001 Gibson Flying V std in ebony, a 2004 Gibson 1960s Classic Goldtop, a 1954 Hofner Congress, a 1994 Fender Telecaster Custom, and a 2006 Gibson Custom Shop 335 Trini Lopez.Acoustic wise, I play a mid 90s Gibson J-160, an early 80s Takamine 12 String, an Ozark Style O’ National copy, this Alverez that I pinched off someone when I was in Australia, and a Yamaha Acoustic that I have converted into a High Strung… I think that’s about it… oh and a 1964 Hofner Violin Bass – propa Macca! Yeah, think that’s about it.
- Your song writing style reminds me of a mix of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. Who do you think influences your song writing style?
They were both high up on my ‘listen to’ list when I was growing up. I suppose now I try and bring in as many different styles as I can to stop myself from getting bored. AC/DC are pretty high up there. I love the idea of those old school big riffs that Angus drills out! I think that a song comes out of what I’m listening to at the time. It’s like with ‘Number 6’, I was listening to a lot of Neil Young and Weller when I wrote that, so you got this blend of the two, where as with ‘Anywhere But Home’ I was listening to a lot of OCS and Phonics stuff.
- What was the last gig you played and how do you think it went?
Last gig we played was at Mr Kyps in Poole supporting this Rod ‘Not Rod’ Stewart tribute band. I was pretty happy with the overall gig. Some of the new songs weren’t completely polished so in places it sounded a little lost, but on the whole I was happy with it. There was this pissed up bloke there who thought it would be funny to heckle, but it’s just a case of thinking ‘I’m up here doing it, drinking free beer and you’re not! So up A-holes to ya!’
- How much do the use of effects pedals contribute to your overall style and tone? Would you feel “naked” if you were left to play with a guitar plugged straight into a good amplifier?
In my opinion, I think a good guitar and a good amp are key. Get that right and everything else flows from there. I had a 1976 Marshal JMP 100w that I used until I blew the thing up about 5 years ago. Since then I have been using a 100w JCM2000 head with the 1960a cab and I love it! I have always loved Marshall amps. They’re like Cuprinol ya know, they do exactly what they say on the tin – no nonsense big guitar noise! As far as pedals go, I suppose because I followed a lot of what Steve Cradock did when I was young, I have a pedal board that is similar to his in many ways. From the guitar I go into a Dunlop Wah, (the best ‘Wakka Takka’ sound in my opinion) to an old Zoom 509 Modulator. From that it goes to a MXR yellow distortion box, followed by a Boss RV-5 Reverb/Delay and then a Boss DD-3 Delay, finishing with the all important Stage Tuner!I’m on my 4thWah now as I seem to go through them in quite rapid succession, but I wouldn’t ever have anything else!The Zoom gives me a whole range of stuff to play with. I get some great Phase and Tremolo effects from it. I used the Octave Shifter it has on ‘Number 6’ to get this real deep tone that’s kinda like a Neil Young ‘Hey Hey My My’ sound. I have been through loads of distortion boxes in my time, ranging from a Blues Breaker to a Big Muff. I settled with the MXR as rather than boosting the sound, it instead sort of crafts it into a completely different tone, so you can get some big sustain when you roll the rhythm pick up tone right off, that’s when it sings!The delay and reverb units are great for adding that little bit of atmos to your sound. I play with only a little bit of reverb from the amp, so that when I wash it with the RV-5, you get this cool effect. The delay unit is just great to play around with, using slides to get some mad sounds – you just gotta remember to switch the damn thing off when you’re finished!
- Can you tell our readers about the recording sessions you’ve done? Where did you do the session and were any unusual recording techniques incorporated when laying down your guitar tracks?
Well we did the recording at Knighton Heath as it was close to us all and then we mixed it over at a mate’s place just so that we could spend as long as we wanted on it. It’s so easy now to get good gear at home that it makes sense to do it that way, rather than pay for studios. I do a lot of draft and acoustic recording at Ocean View Studios, which is owned by a mate of mine, so he only charges me in beer which suits me fine ‘cause I end up drinking it any way!I try not to over complicate things when I’m recording. I was talking to this dude, who was telling me to try out an electric screwdriver on one of the pick-ups, but I don’t really go in for all that stuff, I like to keep things simple. I suppose the only thing I insist on is a good layer of different guitars, so you can hear all the different tones coming together in one product.
- How often do practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I pick up a guitar most days. I think it’s good to do that rather than to just wait for rehearsal or a gig. I don’t really focus on anything really to improve my technique, but I do think playing with other people and in different bands makes you a better guitarist. Just seeing what other people do up close means to say you can have a chin wag with them after, and pick up things you might not have thought about. A good friend of mine, Alan Johnson plays for Mungo Jerry and in the past I have depped with him in his other band. It’s great to see what different people do and how they use their stuff. I think that counts for an awful lot.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Erm… nothing massive I don’t think. I suppose blowing up amps and things like that rate pretty highly. I was playing out in Switzerland The Alibi and when we arrived at the gig from the airport, which was up this bloody great big mountain, the lorry with all the gear was parked outside… with all the gear still in it. They had arrived the day before and had just left everything in there over night in like minus 30 conditions. So after going a bit nuts at them and after everything had been taken into the venue, we all tried to dry everything out as best as we could. A few hours later and we started to sound check and about half way into the song, my amp goes ‘pop’, big spark, smoke starts coming out the back and that’s it! Good night New York, hasta la bye bye, ‘that’s all she wrote’ etc.Now you tell me where you find a Marshall amp when you’re up a mountain in Switzerland with only an hour before you go on… well the simple answer is you don’t.A couple of the techies took it back to their hotel room and worked on it like the clappers while I went to the bar. Fair play to them though, they got it working about 5mins before we were going on. Dan Sealey from Ocean Colour Scene was there as well and I was like ‘Great!…Splendid!’ but it all came good in the end and everyone enjoyed themselves! So I suppose ‘yes’ is the correct answer to that question!
- Your house is burning down. What is the one guitar item you would save?
You know, I’ve wrestled with that ‘what if’ question for years. I really couldn’t tell you. They are all so unique and have so much history to them. I would probably risk getting 1st degree burns from running in and out before I let any of them go up in flames!
- Do you feel comfortable ripping into a solo? Are you a spontaneous player or do you need to work out a solo before you unleash it to the public?
Yeah – I think some of the best solos come from just going for it. I will sit down and learn a specific lead break it’s needed – something like Sweet Child O mine I think needs some attention to detail, as it’s such a well recognised lead break (and an air guitar favourite for a lot of people) that you just can’t bring out any old tripe! But I think just playing what you feel at the time brings out some really interesting stuff.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
On drums? Ha – John Lennon! He was the best drummer in the band!!! I dunno really – probably Paul McCartney’s current drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. He has got it man! I saw him at the Isle of Wight this year and he was awesome! I mean he beats 10 bells out of that kit but still makes it sound so melodic – it’s unreal!
- Lager or Cider?
Both please – where is it?
- What‘s the plan for your band for the rest of 2010/11?
Well, we are just getting a new line up together but it’s all onwards and upward man! We are supporting Mungo Jerry in Sept at Mr Kyps which should be a good old crack – come down if you’re free. I’m also currently working on some music for a new UK film about people who bust ghosts… I’ll leave it to you to work out, but can’t say too much about that just yet! We have got some new bits and bobs to record so studio time is a must. Again it’s just about getting out there and playing, doing what we love to do! I think with the advent of so much trash that Cowell guy is pushing out, bands need to be fighting back reminding people of where it all came from and how it started.
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