In Search Of Tone: Niclas Stalfors Of Lowrider

Twelve years ago, I picked up the guitar for the first time and I very rarely have put it down since. Twelve years later here I am still a beginner – haha. I often wonder how my favorite guitar players create the music they do and how they find inspiration. Then I thought why not just ask them! This is the first interview, of what I hope to be a series, to learn the different ways these individuals approach the guitar.

Niclas Stalfors - Lowrider
Niclas Stalfors – Lowrider

This is part one of the series and I’m still in disbelief that I got to interview Niclas Stalfors from Lowrider. Twenty years ago, they left a mark in rock music with Ode To Io and last year they got back together to show the world they still got it! Refractions was #1 on many top 10 lists of 2020 and rightfully so. Niclas was very kind to answer all my questions and I hope you will learn as much as I did!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share with me how you approach the guitar. As a guitar player myself, I find it can be overwhelming looking for new pedals and amps with the amount there is to choose from. Let us start with amps. What kind of amps are you using? Do you have different amps for recording and live?

I totally agree! When doing live shows I usually play on a regular Marshall, like a JCM 800. It’s a safe bet, you know what you’ll get. I also like amps from Orange… I’m particularly fond of the TH 100.

On Refractions we used Ola’s Marshall Plexi most of the time… He’s had it since the Ode to Io days, and is the most beautiful sounding thing there is.

At home I have a ‘67 Ampeg VT40, but it’s a little bit too loud for the neighbours, so I also have a small Orange Crush combo that is better sized for home practice.

When dialing in a tone on your amp do you start with a clean tone or add a little crunch before the pedals?

Usually yes, but it all depends on the amp and in what mood my pedal board is in. But I do try to use the amps natural drive as a starting point.

Niclas Stalfors of Lowrider Guitar Gear
Niclas Stalfors FX Pedals

Moving on, the endless amounts of pedals to choose from! Which pedals have made it to your pedalboard and are any of them custom for you?

Yeah, it’s like a whole jungle of gadgets nowadays… I’ve tried several different setups. At the moment, I’m trying to keep the board as light as possible… my favs are on there:

  • Fuzz: Hoof –EarthQuakerDevices
  • Fuzz: Muffuletta – JHS Pedals
  • Compressor: Ego – Wampler
  • Overdrive: RevivalDRIVE – Origin Effects
  • Wah: Bass Mini – Cry Baby
  • Tuner: Polytune2 – TC Electronic
  • Volume: Leveline – Mooer
  • Effects: H9 Harmonizer – Eventide

I also have a great Fuzz/Overdrive called Parvati from Demon Pedals in Germany.

For live shows I use a ‘74 Gibson SG Standard and a ‘77 Gibson RD Artist.

Do you remember your first guitar pedal? Mine was a Boss Metal Zone and I thought I was the coolest – haha.

The first was a Boss DS-1! I still have it somewhere!

Last but not least are the guitars. What guitars are you using, and do you have a preference in single coil, Humbucker, P90 or active pickups?

I’m all Humbuckers…And when it comes to guitars I have a few…

For live shows I use a ‘74 Gibson SG Standard and a ‘77 Gibson RD Artist. The RD is all original parts intact with the Moog circuit still working. I really love that one.

I also have an ’80 Ibanez hollow body… I think it’s called SA-400 and two newer Hagstroms… one F20T and one Swede. They are mainly for home use and quite new in the collection… didn’t need them really but bought but them since they originate from Sweden…

Niclas Stalfors of Lowrider Guitar Gear
Niclas Stalfors Guitars, Amp & FX Pedals

Do you have a guitar, amp or pedal that you have had for a long time and will never part with?

There is one… My first Gibson SG Special… I had a couple of guitars before that one but when I played it I was home…. It’s been around for over 20 years and I will keep it forever. The paint was demolished when I tried to peel a sticker – in the end I had to remove all of the paint. But it looks nice on the wall. It still plays really well… and it was my first one.

It has been 20 years between albums and Refractions has made many critics Top 10 of 2020 lists. Congratulations! Did you guys try and build on Ode To Io or did you start from scratch with new inspirations?

Yes, the response has been quite overwhelming. Refractions has been a really long project. Some of the songs we started on back in the Ode to Io days. Ode to Io is special to us. I mean not only in the case that it’s the only full-length album we ever did before Refractions, but also since it seems to be quite popular among the fans… still. Also, when we made that record, we were kids… lived and recorded in the studio for a couple of weeks together. So, it’s special in many ways.

When it comes to Refractions we never tried to do Ode to Io #2. We just wanted to do music the way we think it should sound… based on loose ends, riffs and tunes that we kept in storage combined with new things… we never thought of top lists or such things… Hell we didn’t know if the record would be appreciated at all. But we knew that WE liked it. And that was good enough for us.

My first Gibson SG Special… I had a couple of guitars before that one but when I played it I was home…

There are endless amounts of music out there and only a handful of notes and chords. How do you create unique sounding riffs and songs?

Well… When it comes to the guys in Lowrider, we have different fav bands as influences. But the roots are more or less the same… Led Zeppelin, Stones, Cream, Sabbath a little bit of Soundgarden…

When writing songs, in most cases it’s our mastermind Peder that comes up with the ideas. The songs come together in the studio or at rehearsal… I think though what makes our sound is it comes from our differences… I mean… Ola wants to do it his way and Peder always has a clear opinion of how things should sound.  Andreas is the best drummer there is… and me, I just try to keep it all together… haha!

Lowrider ‘Refractions’

When I play guitar, one day I will think wow that sounded perfect and the next day play the same song think that sounded so bad I don’t know why I’m even playing guitar – haha. What do you do for inspiration if you are having an off day?

Yeah, one of those days… I would put on some of my favorite songs. Play along or just listen. There is so many ways to listen to a song. In my case it might be some drums, a special riff or a guitar sound that makes my day. Not necessarily the whole piece….The intro on Evil Eye by Fu Manchu for example. Epic. It’s my ‘I’ll take no shit’ soundtrack.

I try and record myself playing and sometimes, while I’m playing, I think a riff idea sounds good but listening back I second guess what I played. How do you know when a riff or song is worth keeping?

I try to record all ideas I come up with. I seldom listen to most of them again though. But suddenly some of them resurface again, from the back of my head. Maybe not as a free-standing riff, or a new idea to a song, but as a part of something else, or as a part of an already existing piece.

Lowrider - Photo by Anna Liden Wiren
Lowrider – Photo by Anna Liden Wiren

How do you go about crafting a guitar tone within a band with two guitar players in a way that you can complement each other and not get in each other’s way when playing?

The guitar sound on Refractions is made by several guitar tracks, recorded directly from the amp but also re-amped through various other amps and gadgets,  but that’s all made by wiz kid Karl Daniel Lidén who did all the mixing. But what I really like is that thick, slightly compressed bottom created both from rhythm guitars and bass together with the lead guitar on top. I reckon it’s the same on stage. Since I’m playing rhythm I try to create that wall of sound in order to let Ola on the lead break through…the fuzz tends to blend a bit so I try to keep the high mid and treble a little lower than Ola. He off course always turns his amp up to eleven, so it isn’t that much of a problem anyways – haha!

The guitar sound on Refractions is made by several guitar tracks, recorded directly from the amp but also re-amped through various other amps and gadgets…

Do you have any practice routines or warm-ups that you do on a daily basis?

Nope. Actually not. Days or sometimes weeks can pass without touching the guitars… but then there’s times I don’t do anything else except playing. 

Last and most important question! Will we have to wait 20 more years for the next Lowrider album?

Well… Without promising to much… There will be more. And it won’t take another 20 years.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. This has been an amazing experience and I know I learned a lot. Lowrider‘s Ode to Io reissue and Refractions are still available to purchase over at Blues Funeral Recordings.

Label: Blues Funeral Recordings
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider