The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Dan Hammond-Smith. Dan fronts the indie/rock band “The Otherhalf” who’ve been making waves in the UK live music scene throughout 2010. Guitar Jar caught up with Dan to quiz him on his guitar equipment, projects he’s involved with and playing live…
…I like to paint some colour to my guitar parts and make it stand out a little from the norm…
- Hi Dan, 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?
I have been lucky enough to been surrounded by music my entire life. I started playing the violin very young up until I was 14 and then I stopped as I felt I wasn’t getting any further with it. For two years I stepped away until I heard that my mate Phil was jamming some Foo Fighters songs on drums with another guy on guitar. I told them they needed a bass player, so I got my hands on a bass and an amp, within a week I had started playing around on friend’s guitars though (Smoke on the Water, All Right Now, Back in Black, Sweet Home Alabama) and ditched the bass. I’ve been playing guitar for 8 years now, it’s crazy how time flies!
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
I was definitely a SLASH guy growing up; when a friend passed me the Appetite album I was blown away. I remember going out and buying the entire Led Zeppelin back catalogue totally in awe how Page could work his riffs around Bonzo’s beats, I wanted to immerse myself in every stereotypical guitar album I could find: Paul Kossoff’s wide vibrato, Zakk Wyldes alternate picking techniques, Tom Morrello’s ability to think way outside of the box and Hendrix playing decades ahead of himself. It was that time where you wanted to be fast to emulate your hero’s. The more you grow as a musician the more you start to listen to the other things that makes your playing special.
- Fender or Gibson?
I’m a Fender guy, I have love for both, I play an American Telecaster which has taken some real punishment but a few years back I owned a PRS Custom24 which was an impulse buy; we had a string of dates over a summer and I needed to take a backup with me, so I bought this Telecaster. I took it to practice, played it, and didn’t pick up the PRS for 6 months! It was so bright and responsive, the neck moved like butter. Since then I’ve played a few Les Paul’s and liked the weight and chunk of it, but you don’t get as much variance as the Telecaster. I have an Epiphone Sheraton too – awesome guitar with real warmth, but the Tele takes the punishment and screams for more.
- What amp do you use when gigging? Do you have your eyes on any other amps to add to your live setup?
My main amp for live and the studio is a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I’ve tried a bunch of different amps: Devilles, JCM800’s, even an original AC50 but the Deluxe is pretty much everything I’m after, the tone clean and driven comes out very smooth. For an amp that has every control going up to 12, it’s hard to take the volume past 6 sometimes because it really does push! Its handles the overdriven sound of Emergency just as well as the bluesier chords and tones on Into The Fire. I‘m eyeing up a few amps from Blackstar, it would be great to run an A+B switch on my board and play the Hot Rod Clean and the Blackstar HT60 Dirty.
- Rumour has it you have a fairly packed pedalboard. Can you tell our readers about your choice of effects and how they compliment The Otherhalf’s material?
From the Amp I go into a Boss PW10 Wah, I think that Wah Pedals are a labour of love because you get to know its intricacy’s , I have played loads of different Wahs and this is the first one I ever bought, stuck with my from day one.The DD6 Delay is a decent delay pedal, I use it on a song called Instructions which has a sweeping delayed intro 4 note pentatonic pattern; I like to add delay on octave sections too it adds a lot of atmosphere. The TR2 Tremolo is again another texture I like to hit on the end of some clean songs like Barcelona which has a real chilled vibe at the end, or on Emergency I’ll ring out in the verse and let the pulsing note merge with the feedback.
My Electro Harmonic Octave Multiplexer I only picked up a few months back and it’s a beast of a pedal, I’ve tried different types of phase shifters and harmonisers in the past but this is a very special box. You have a choice of a high end or low end merge, also an extra option for a sub-woofer sound, real low. We have a few slower groovier songs that are have been written recently, more riff orientated again, this is a great pedal to roughen up the edges of the sound, you can almost get that muffled 40’s/50’s trumpet sound out of it, so awesome! Next is a MXR Phase 90, once again a pedal I bought around the same time as the EH Octave, it adds a great slow sweep to I Don’t Mind in the midsection, also I’ll stamp on it for the Too Late Tonight solo as it take the notes in and out a bit more.
Boss SD1 Overdrive, I use this when I want ridiculous feedback at the start of Emergency, I already use the Fender’s Gain and More Gain footswitch, then I have everything cranked up on this pedal and it shoots the signal out of the room! Sometime you just get that feeling where you want to hit every pedal and go mental…this does it for you.
Finishing with a Marshall ED1 Compressor Pedal. I like the added boost to the clean tone on this pedal, I pretty much leave this pedal on for the whole show, and this goes back into the loop. For a tuner I again use a Boss TU2.
- Would you feel “naked” if we took away your effects, leaving you to play with an electric guitar plugged straight into a good amplifier?
No, the effects are not the song, they are textures, you can’t hide a sh*t song with effects pedals, it’s still going to be a sh*t song. Mike from TOH doesn’t use any effects apart from some wah, so I like to paint some colour to my guitar parts and make it stand out a little from the norm. I’d rather have too much of something and be able to take away from it, than have not enough and stand there thinking “what if…?”
- You’re doing a fair amount of acoustic solo acts over the summer 2010. Is this a completely separate project to The Otherhalf?
The Solo stuff is something that happened almost by accident. A promoter contacted me in Bournemouth about supporting a band from London at the iBar. The guys had been really busy and were kinda burnt out so I said I would do it on my own. I played fourth on a 5 band line-up and I was the only acoustic artist. It was a great experience because the room had a great vibe, guys and girls sang along and we all had a good time. After that I started to get contacted about more acoustic shows but I didn’t really have the time for them as we were busy going in and out of the studio. Now as the summer is definitely upon us it’s given me a chance to take up some of those offers and get out there.The Acoustic Solo shows are another outlet, it’s the complete polar opposite compared to the loud energetic balls out live show from The Otherhalf, but it gives me the opportunity to show some of our songs from another angle and gives me the chance to play a lot of material that’s not for or not ready to go into The Otherhalf. I think you can always tell a great song by how it translates completely stripped and raw. It’s nice to get up there and really sing, suddenly ad lib and not worry about timing and have a real intimate close atmosphere. I play a Fender CD140 Acoustic which is just a little warrior, it gets bashed around and doesn’t complain, it just seems to look fresh every time, I’m also playing a Takamine G-series at the moment which has this huge body to it, it really is a beaut, next up I’m feeling a Taylor so we’ll see what happens.
- In addition to your solo work, you’ve recently joined Dorset guitarist Austyn Brown’s band playing bass. How did this come about, and how will you change your approach to playing? Will it be difficult for you not being the “front man” in this setup?
The first time I saw Aus play, I was 17 years old it was in a sh*tty pub in New Milton and he was playing lead guitar in The Alibi with a mate of mine called Dan Kazimirow on Bass. If you would have told me the three of us would have been playing in a band together 7 years later I would have laughed my ass off! Aus and Dan came down to see us a few times this year and we hung out, chatted sh*t, normal stuff. About a month ago he asked me if I knew of anyone who wants to play bass for his band so I suggested myself. Dan Kaz plays guitar for him, we went out for a few beers and a jam and it went from there.
Aus is a great songwriter, we were actually sat down playing last night and he just pulled out 6 songs randomly that blew me away, he’s a real mix of styles but he writes pure gems!I’ve known Dan Kaz for years, my old man and his were great mates and I’ve wanted to play in a band with him for years, he gave me my first acoustic many moons ago!It’s so different to what’s happening in my band I don’t need feel like the “front Man” in this band, it was something I wanted to do to broaden myself musically. I wanted to approach music from a different angle to gain a better understanding of where the dynamic of bass playing and backing vocals come from. Austyn writes some great melodic songs and it’s great to be able to add my own ideas and be a part of it. I approach the bass from a guitarists perspective, there are some moments as a guitarist you just wish that the bass would boost a part up rather than trying to be different, there are some moments where you need that unique line or drop out all together, I’m starting to get a real feel for it and looking forward to some shows with Aus and the guys.
- How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I try to play every day, for at least an hour. When I was starting out I would play up to 5 or 6 hours a day, every day! I’ll have a guitar in the lounge one by the table, one in my room, even a tiny one to take into the sh*tter! I’ll normally play on Acoustics when I’m at home, I like to do the four finger four fret warm up where you run it up and down the fret board across the strings, I’ve been doing that forever and it just helps get your fingers and hands moving. Another one I like to do is 1,3,2,4 warm-ups across all frets/strings. I’ll switch between going through some pentatonic shapes and different modes. After that I will just play, whether it is writing something in particular or just riffing on some ideas to come up with new songs.
…definitely a fan of the spontaneous solo, to the point where if we have recorded a track, I will probably not play the solo the exact same way ever again…
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Where to start… 5 guitars played in a 6 song set because I broke a string every time I picked up a new guitar, Wireless systems running out of gas?The one that could have been really tragic but so much worse happened about 3 years ago. We played at a Jumping Jacks and I was playing out of a JCM800 at the time that wasn’t mine, as I ran up to the mic stand from the drum riser my foot caught on my guitar lead which stayed put in the amp. I got propelled forwards staying onto the stage literally on my tip toes in what can only be described as a Ricky Martin dance. I caught my balance to find that Sean’s Bass Cab had just caught onto the Marshall Cab and was saving it from falling to the ground, it was a nightmare, but it could have been a lot worse.
- Your house is burning down. What is the one guitar item you would save?
I would take my Tele. Although I may leave it in for a bit, that burnt effect would be nice! Seriously, toughest question I have been asked in ages!
- 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?
Definitely a fan of the spontaneous solo, to the point where if we have recorded a track, I will probably not play the solo the exact same way ever again. I like the fact that you have so many options in front of you to be able to do what you want, when you want. That’s what makes playing the guitar so ****ing great. It’s all about feeling, if you want to fly around the same way you did at least weeks show, fair enough do it; but I’m all about being there in the moment and seeing where it takes me.Obviously certain solos can develop hooky moments that you want to keep in because that’s a way for the listener to connect to the song, but if someone was to start playing a track right now, I’d be happy playing along for the rest of the day, I love to just play along and come across hidden gems on the fretboard.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
I would say Dave Grohl, he takes everything that John Bonham was about then puts a modern twist on it. I really like his drumming on the Probot album I think he would be amazing to jam with!
- Lager or Cider?
Lager if we are just hitting the pub, if we are out, it doesn’t matter…line them up!
- What‘s the plan for your band for the rest of 2010/11?
We are still writing and recording material, it’s a process that’s taking a long time but instead of running into a studio and bashing it all out in one go we know we can take our time and make something we are truly happy. So far we’re about 33.3% complete, but we are writing some great songs and the direction seems awesome.Other than that we just want to get out and play some great shows and carry on trying to make a good impression on first time listeners.We’re playing on the 31st July at The Winchester in Bournemouth, 7th August at Champions in Bournemouth and 29th August at Vdub in The Pub Wimborne.
Just a quick thanks to everyone who comes to our shows, and has supported us through our decisions and accomplishments this year, you guys and girls are awesome.
For more information about Dan Hammond-Smith and The Otherhalf please visit: