I started this series to ask my favorite guitarists the questions I have as an amateur player. As this series continues I’ve learned of many new bands and the talent out there is as endless as the gear selection. Ben Nechanicky of Sun Crow is a prime example as he went above and beyond to give great useful advice. Thank you.
Sun Crow released their first album Quest For Oblivion on 11th November 2020 and it had such a powerful reception that they were nominated for band of the year. They deserves that high honor and I have had this album on repeat for quite some time with no sign of slowing down. The only foreseeable way of removing the debut from the turntable is for them to release a sophomore album.
Starting at the end, Titans is a fantastic closing song. I love the intro with its soft cleanish tone then kicking it into high gear two minutes in. What amps are you using to achieve these opposing sounds?
Thanks man! Glad you like that one… Working our way back through time… all the way to the end. Excellent! We really tried to let Titans breathe and pulse. That’s an old Mesa Boogie from the late 70s, I have a thing for a couple of beat-up Boogies that had been abused by previous owners. I guess they are kind of rescue amps… with scars, missing a few teeth, and acting funny around the house. I have a cabinet with V30’s and another one with C90’s, I really like using them together. Playing with mics on them is fun as hell.
That’s an old Mesa Boogie from the late 70s, I have a thing for a couple of beat-up Boogies that had been abused by previous owners…
Fell Across The Sky has a really awesome otherworldly phaser type effect. What are you using to achieve this sound and what other pedals are on your board?
There is a Rotovibe in there, and a Cry Baby in some other sections. In the intro I used a Fix’d Fuzz from Blackout Effectors to really kick it, that’s in a couple other spots also. It got pretty dense in the mix. I know there was a Mercy Of The Sea Fuzz in there too, that was a gift from my buddy Alan. It’s insane. I change stuff up on my board from time to time, and for recording I’m pretty much open to trying whatever we can find to get to what we’re after. I run the old amps pretty much at the top of their gain, and I like boosts to kick them into different colors. Lately there’s an Analogman Beano, a ToneBurst, I have been really liking BlackHawk. The VIV is killer and Brooks is just super cool. An MXR Phaser is always on the floor. I have a Q Zone pedal I use sometimes instead of the Cry Baby. I just kinda nose my way around and make puzzles out of how to try and get things to happen, they constantly change over time. Leaving it open to explore new combinations is part of the fun.
Do you remember your first guitar pedal? Mine was a Boss Metal Zone and I thought it was the coolest.
The Metal Zone‘s are rad. My first amp was just the guts of an old Fender Champ my friend sold me, and I wired that to a 1930s radio speaker in a metal enclosure another friend of mine lifted out of his dad’s garage. I don’t know how I did that. I still can’t solder very well. I found that if I played a V chord really hard and really loud it would distort just a little. I wondered how guitar players I was hearing on records got all these cool sounds. It took me a while to discover the magic of pedals. Once I did, I saved up and bought a green Ibanez Sonic Distortion with the little money I had, and holy shit! It sounded like the universe opened up. I wince now imagining what hell that must have sounded like, but for a while I really thought I had figured everything out.
I’m a Gibson SG guy. They just feel right…
Do you have an arsenal of guitars to choose from or do you have one or two that are your go to? Also what kind of pickups do you prefer?
I’m a Gibson SG guy. They just feel right. I have a couple, they have different personalities and they have different pickups. They cover a kind of range I’m trying to get at in my mind. If I could, I’d probably have infinite SG’s with different pickup and other configurations. I like overwound vintage pickups, PAF or P90 style where I can still hear some wood sound in there, I tend to feel better leaning into the classic, older designs. I got a set of Seymour Duncan’s a while ago that I’m just stoked on. I love and admire a lot of guitars and I’ve had a few over the years, I like checking them all out. I still daydream about SG’s.
Do you have a guitar, amp or pedal that you have had for a long time and will never part with?
Most of what I have now is here to stay. The last time I tried to get rid of a guitar, I think I heard it talking to me in my sleep ‘please don’t…’ I tend not to go through a lot of gear, and I stay with what I use until it’s beyond time to move on. I can get pretty obsessive before pulling the trigger on something new, because I know it’ll be around a while. There are a lot of combinations that can be created by just using things differently, and I don’t get bored too easily.
I find your riffs very cool, especially in songs like Nothing Behind, Hypersonic and I have to mention Titans again. What is your writing process like?
Right on, thanks! There’s not one process really, but maybe there are some practices and habits I try to stick to. A lot of what we write develops from a kind of improvisation, the structure comes later. Usually, I’ll come in with a riff or a kind of shape. Sometimes fragments, sometimes they are more developed arrangements. We’ll have a few beers, free our minds and jam together without too much direction, capture some good moments and try to replicate them. Usually once someone starts making some moves, a whole universe of possibilities opens up. I get into that interplay, especially with the drums. Sometimes what I’m going for isn’t clear until Keith [Hastreiter, drums], Brian, [Steel, bass] or Todd [Lucas, vocals] bounce it back at me with their moves. That’s the best. I feel like they know what I’m thinking. The stories start kind of writing themselves when that flow is on. I really like finding those moments where we surprise ourselves. The process evolves over time.
There’s endless amounts of music out there and only a handful of notes and chords. How do you create unique sounding riffs and songs without repeating yourself or others?
I heard this killer Willie Nelson quote: ‘do it wrong until you like it that way.’ That sums it up. I think we all play our version of what we’ve heard, or what we thought we’ve heard. Everyone’s voice and experiences are unique. It’s nearly impossible to actually sound like someone else, so we are all just collectively getting better at emulating parts we like. I try to celebrate that by just getting absorbed in it. It’s funny, because you only get good at music through repetition, but we all have this drive to make every move unique and find our own voice. I just try to be quick to discard the stuff I don’t feel is worth the effort to play again and focus on the stuff I enjoy. The loud, heavy, and noisy.
A lot of what we write develops from a kind of improvisation…
When I play guitar I’ll write some riffs and think it’s cool only to listen back and change my mind. I’ll often get discouraged and stop playing for a short time. How do you deal with off days and get inspired to play again?
I try to use that empty feeling to help decide what has my attention, and what doesn’t. When I’m in it though, it can be hard to know when to stop flogging a corpse and look for fresh inspiration elsewhere. The main thing is that I try to stay receptive to the possibilities. You never know when you are going to catch a riff or an idea, and usually a good move follows another pretty naturally once it starts flowing. Sometimes the perfect thing is waiting right around the corner when nothing is happening. Embrace the tension. Try to play through it. If nothing comes, put it down and go do something else. If I am really stuck, I come back later and play along to something I already know I like, because I just enjoy playing guitar. I know I can always listen to some Black Sabbath. They obliterate all ruts.
Do you have any practice routines or warm-ups that you do on a daily basis?
I try to come up with something off the top of my head every day when I first pick up my guitar. I keep a recorder near me and when something good is happening I try to catch it. Then it’s a game of listening back and interpreting what’s there. Kind of like a game of telephone with myself. It’s like a practice of mindlessness. I have been having to pay more attention to the physical lately, doing spider walks, scales, arpeggios, and beginner chord exercises. Slow unison bends too. Lately work has had a toll on my body, so I need to rebuild some good habits and muscles to avoid injuries. If I can make the exercises musical, it’s a lot more enjoyable, I’ve been playing some head games with that.
Is there a song or part of a song you’re particularly proud of?
Quite a few on Quest For Oblivion, yeah. Collapse is one, it came from some conversations I’ll never forget and has some of my favorite moves in it. Hypersonic has some layers that were really exciting to come up with, and I really like how the solos fell together. Parts of that one will never happen the same way twice, I really like it when that happens. Everytime we play it, I have to approach it differently. We do try to leave those doors open. Working with our producer and engineer Gary Mula to build these textures is something I’m most proud of though. He’s a damn good friend and a great partner. We have some great stuff happening in the kitchen.
Collapse is one, it came from some conversations I’ll never forget and has some of my favorite moves in it…
What songs are you currently listening to these days?
Mainly the new stuff Sun Crow is working on… but there is so much good music being released these days, it’s an embarrassment of riches. I listen to the doomcasts a bit (Doomed and Stoned, Stoner Witch, IgniteHeavy, Deliverance of Doom, etc…) The new Monster Magnet A Better Dystopia is amazing. Lowrider‘s Refractions is grabbing me again. Wo Fat, Cactus, early Scorpions, Deep Purple/Rainbow, the Burning Witch/Goatsnake trip is cool too. I return to old heavy staples and blues masters all the time. I got pretty obsessed with Chopin‘s Funeral March for a while, I think the pandemic influenced that.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Great talking with you Josh, thanks for doing everything you do with The Sleeping Shaman. The last year with this pandemic has been fucking unreal, sharing music with each other has been one of the things that has kept a lot of us from going completely over the edge. We’d be lost without that. Thank you to anyone who is keeping the sounds alive and sharing them with each other, and thanks to everyone who’s put their ears in on Sun Crow.
We are stoked to have Quest For Oblivion coming out this summer on Ripple Music, they are a great family.
Thanks for listening, there’s more to come.
Interviewed by: Josh Schneider