In Search Of Tone: Jostein & Magnus Of Red Mountains

Have you ever fallen into a rabbit hole of music? The song you’re listening to takes you down a path of new music with endless tunnels to navigate through. Well, I fell into that hole a while back and I decided to take the red pill to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I’m glad I did because at the end was this treasure entitled Down With The Sun by Red Mountains.

Red Mountains
Red Mountains

I listened to the whole album from start to finish and the whole thirty eight minutes felt like five. I was even more excited to see another album by them called Slow Wander. Equally as good as their first! I was lucky enough to speak with both Jostein and Magnus about how they created such fantastic albums and I believe a new one is on its way.

I was immediately drawn in by the outstanding album art for both Down With The Sun and Slow Wander. I was excited to hear if the music was as good, or even better than the artwork. What was your writing process like for these epic songs?

Jostein: Thanks for the kind words! The writing is surprisingly democratic. Almost everything is written with all members present. But very rarely do we start writing collectively from scratch, usually there is a riff, or a theme, or something that generates the rest of the ideas. Then it’s a matter of trying to create an atmosphere rather than chord progressions and technical stuff.

Red Mountains 'Slow Wander'

With a finite amount of notes and chords, and an infinite amount of music, how do you guys create unique music without repeating yourself or others?

Jostein: Well, there certainly are repetitions in terms of little things and signatures that we have incorporated into our musical beings in a way. Like a couple of chords that we tend to prefer in combination with a certain time signature or things like that. Sometimes there’s a certain feeling of ‘nope, we’ve been here before’, and we’ll ditch whatever that idea was and move on.

Our influences, in terms of musical inspiration, vary quite a lot….

Other than that, I guess listen to a lot of different music. Our influences, in terms of musical inspiration, vary quite a lot. I’d say there are musical references from a heap of genres and from different musical eras being thrown into the band at any given point, and it’s been that way pretty much from the beginning.

I have plenty of off days as a guitar player and often put my guitar down for days/weeks. What do you guys do to inspire yourself to play again if you’re having an off day?

Jostein: I don’t do anything really. If I don’t feel like playing, I’ll leave my guitars alone. I recently bought an electric piano and a booklet with some Bill Evans tunes. Lots of crazy chords, and the notes mostly look like random ink splatter. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing but it’s hella fun. So my recommendation would be just let music be free and joyful and diverse. The guitar will eventually get jealous at all the fun you’re having and come begging again.

Jostein / Red Mountains - Fender Guitar & Amp
Jostein / Red Mountains – Fender Guitar & Amp

To touch on off days a little more. I tend to have trouble getting my tones to sound good on rhythm guitar and lead together. They often clash and I get discouraged. How do you guys blend your guitar tones?

Jostein: I wish I could just list A-Z here and say ‘do this’. First of all, the guys mixing our records have done a really good job. Our tone will otherwise vary from performance to performance in a live setting. So we sort of hope that it sounds as good to the crowd as it does to us on stage and in a practice setting. What we have done to actively chase a good blend is just to mix it up and don’t go for the same tone.

I [Jostein] mainly use an original, single coil Fender Telecaster while Magnus is playing a hotter Les Paul to mix the single coils with his humbuckers…

I mainly use an original, single coil Fender Telecaster while Magnus is playing a hotter Les Paul to mix the single coils with his humbuckers. We also play rather different amps (more on that later), but tend to keep it a bit towards the bluesy spectrum of guitar sounds I suppose. And then mixing up our gear within those boundaries. My personal tip: lower that gain knob. Let it chill. I don’t know your preferences or anything, but to me limiting distortion was a revelation in terms of creating a comfortable, more musical guitar sound. For every distorted guitar you add to a mix, you elevate the overall perceived distortion (in my ears).

Jostein / Red Mountains - Fender Telecaster
Jostein / Red Mountains – Fender Telecaster

I’m a huge fan of Silver Grey Sky. That song has everything. Powerful riffs and explosive intro with very calming parts and the tone on the clean, delay lead is perfect. Is there a song or part of a song that you guys are particularly proud of?

Jostein: This is a funny one. I have to agree with you, Silver Grey Sky is probably my favorite track as well. The part at the 2:47 mark especially. It still gives me goosebumps for a lot of reasons. Mainly because I just think very fondly of that time in my life when it was written and recorded, but also because it feels so genuine in some way. Like, there’s a desperation in that thing. Plus, I like the layered vocals and how the cymbals just come washing in right after. If not Silver Grey Sky, I’d say Returning and Nomads deserve some love. Or the ending of Moral Panic. That’s my favorite one live probably.

It still gives me goosebumps for a lot of reasons…

Magnus: I’ll have to agree that Silver Grey Sky is one of my favorites as well! Being an early tune, I think it set the direction for future music and it helped us figure out our musical direction in the early days of the band. Big creds to drummer Simen for writing that one! Personally, I’m a huge fan of Oak. I think that’s our best ‘mellow’ song and it is also my best lyrics to date. I think anyway.

Magnus / Red Mountains Burny Guitar & Fender Bassman Amp
Magnus / Red Mountains Burny Guitar & Fender Bassman Amp

Moving into the endless discussion of gear! What amps are you guys currently using and when touring comes back (sooner than later I hope) will you use the same amps live?

Jostein: So, I play a rather small amp, a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb, while Magnus plays through a Fender Bassman with a 4×10 Fender cab. We’re not the biggest gearheads by any stretch, but we’ve found this to work well for us and for our collective sound. We used to just grab whatever was available in the backline at the venues earlier on, but yeah there’s something nice about knowing your amp live and having that predictability. So they’ll follow us wherever we go when this shit is passé.

I [Jostein] play a rather small amp, a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb, while Magnus plays through a Fender Bassman…

Magnus: Being a bassist by trade I was happy to find that my bass amp also doubled as a guitar amp! I used to not bring my own amp when we started playing live but found that I didn’t get the consistency in my sound. I bring my own amp as much as possible now.

Magnus / Red Mountains - Fender Bassman Amp Rig
Magnus / Red Mountains – Fender Bassman Amp Rig

What pedals are currently on both your pedalboards and do you guys change up pedals often or have a set few that you love?

Jostein: I just swapped my entire beloved (but also cursed and notoriously difficult) pedalboard for a Line 6 Helix LT since the recording of our last album. Join the revolution! But I still have my Strymon Blue Sky and an MXR Classic 108 Fuzz. Anyways, during both albums these bad boys were fairly consistently on my board – in alphabetical order for the freaks:

Boss DD7 Digital Delay
Dunlop Cry Baby
Fulltone OCD
HardWire TR-7
MXR Classic 108 Fuzz
Retro-Sonic Compressor
Strymon Blue Sky
TC Electronics Flashback
TC Electronic Polytune
Voodolabs Sparkle Drive
Xotic AC Booster

Magnus: I am by no means a ‘pedalhead’. The only pedal me and Jostein share is the TC Electronics Flashback. Other than that I have a Boss OD-3, a TC boost of some kind and a tuner. My job in the band is laying down the riffs and chords as well as singing. Jostein takes care of the real guitar work, bless him. My sounds are usually distorted or clean with a touch delay, and I think my pedalboard does a great job at exactly that! 

Jostein / Red Mountains - Line 6 Helix LT
Jostein / Red Mountains – Line 6 Helix LT

Lastly, Guitars! What guitars do you both currently use? Do you have a preference in pick-ups, single-coil, P90, humbucker, etc?

Jostein: My battle axe is a 2013 3-color sunburst Am Std Fender Telecaster with custom shop pick-ups. I bought it new, so I hope to remain the only owner as long as I walk the earth. Then I have an Am Std Fender Stratocaster from ‘98 I believe. Olympic white, very Hendrix-y and sexy. Both of them are maple necks.

My [Jostein] battle axe is a 2013 3-color sunburst Am Std Fender Telecaster with custom shop pick-ups…

I also have a Supro Sahara, which is a crazy good looking, Chinese built retro thing with a single ‘Vistatone’ pick-up, which is based on an old Supro single coil design by a guy called Ralph Keller in the 50’s. It eats any fuzz you throw at it raw, it’s a brilliant high gain guitar. But it is also made with a special ‘Acousti-Glass’ body, which is hollow but without the f-holes so it resonates in a very special, odd kind of way for clean stuff as well. I’ve used it live, and it’s a great little guitar.

Magnus / Red Mountains - Burny Guitar
Magnus / Red Mountains – Burny Guitar

Then there’s my first guitar, a Squire Strat, and an Epiphone Les Paul that I spend way too little time with. And yeah, my great, deliberately worn and abused Yamaha Acoustic guitar. I don’t remember the name of the model at the moment. Pretty standard, nothing fancy.

I [Magnus] play a 1979 Burny. It’s a Japanese Les Paul clone with three humbuckers that gets me a lot of sound for not that much money…

Magnus: I play a 1979 Burny. It’s a Japanese Les Paul clone with three humbuckers that gets me a lot of sound for not that much money. Running it through my pedalboard and into my Fender Bassman it really dooms! 

Is there a piece of gear each one of you have that you will never part with?

Jostein: None of my guitars are going anywhere in a hurry for sure. I could never part with any of my Fender guitars.

Magnus: Same! The guitar is staying.

Is there any advice you can give to bands just starting out or maybe something you guys struggled with and had to overcome?

Jostein: Love it like a mistress, run it like a business.

Magnus: Tune low, play slow.

Thanks Jostein and Magnus for answering my questions, check out their latest album Slow Wander that’s out now All Good Clean Records and keep an eye on their social media for news with what Red Mountains are up to with any new recordings and (hopefully) gigs they have planned.

Label: All Good Clean Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Josh Schneider