In Search Of Tone: Paul Aloisio Of Restless Spirit

Restless Spirit have created waves in the doom metal community and rightly so with their take on the heavy riff. The trio created a fantastic sophomore album titled Blood Of The Old Gods. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Aloisio was kind enough to answer my questions about how the music of Restless Spirit was created.

He went above and beyond on the interview answering each question with great detail and teaching me a few new things about the guitar, especially the ‘figure out a way’ approach. It’s changed my mind on a few ways I was approaching playing and it’s very much appreciated!

Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit
Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit

Thank you Paul for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. I typically start these with a rig run down so if you would like to start with amps and run through what you are using?

Thanks for having me. We’re a three-piece band, so to fill out our sound I like to run everything through two separate heads, and I place cabs on both sides of the stage. I’ve got an Orange Rockerverb MKIII and a Peavey XXX with EL34 tubes. I spray-painted that stupid grill black before I even played a single note when I first bought it – most people can’t believe the sound I’m getting through it because it has such a bad rap, but that’s just because it’s also very easy to dial it in wrong. And it looks ridiculous in its normal state. I like the contrast between the Orange and Peavey, which is why I run two drastically different heads. It’s a wet/dry setup as well – the Orange gets the effects loop.

Both are going through Marshall cabs. If I have an extra person to come with us on tour, I run it through three – the Orange goes through a 1980’s Marshall 4×12, and on the other side of the stage with the bass, the Peavey goes through another 4×12 and a 2×12 on the bottom. There’s just something about running through so many speakers that gives such a powerful and full response. If we don’t have an extra hand, I stick with just two 4x12s because that’s just one more thing for me to carry.

I like the contrast between the Orange and Peavey, which is why I run two drastically different heads…

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

Always a dirty tone. I love gain and do not subscribe to the whole ‘less is more’ way of thinking when it comes to that area, at least for my personal sound. I try to just shred the signal, so I will run both amps with a decent amount of gain and then add my pedals from there. I love making a feedback-y mess – just enough that could be tamed with a gate. I have never found a drive pedal with a clean amp to give me enough of what I want for the main sound of this band. I really want it to just sound like a wild untamed beast, like how I look with no shirt on running around my house at 4am.

Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit - Pedalboard
Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit – Pedalboard

I’ve quickly become obsessed with pedals and always on the hunt for something new. Do you have a set pedalboard or is it ever changing? What is on your board currently?

You know, for a while I was constantly changing things up, but I would always go back to what’s tried and true for me. Right now in front of the amp, the first in line is a Boss Pitch Shifter. I use it only for divebomb type sounds to add more variety to my solos live, or just to make noise in between songs when needed. Then in the chain there’s a tuner, but nothing much to say about that.

For dirt, I’ve got an EQD Plumes, an EarthQuaker Devices Hoof, and also an Op Amp Big Muff Pi, the Billy Corgan signature from EHX. I like the tone controls on that thing and try to set it right at the sweet spot of the higher end before it gets overly harsh. I used a Way Huge Swollen Pickle for Blood Of The Old Gods through my Peavey for one side of guitars, and the other half was the same Peavey through an EarthQuaker Devices Cloven Hoof. I took the Cloven Hoof off for a regular Hoof because there was a noticeable volume drop from the Cloven Hoof, and the regular Hoof sounded similar enough without the volume drop. I replaced the Swollen Pickle when I got the Op Amp Big Muff Pi to save some space, but for the new record I might go back to it because I don’t need to be concerned about board space in a studio.

Moving down the line towards modulation type pedals, I’ve got an MXR Phase 90, which is usually set to the widest sweep, and a Walrus Audio Juliana for my chorus sounds. I think that is hands down the greatest chorus pedal of all time. You can do so much with it and I’m always pulling new sounds from it. That all goes into a Boss Noise Suppressor because I’m a coward and then I split the signal to both amps through an Orange Amp Detonator.

I like the tone controls on that thing [Op Amp Big Muff Pi] and try to set it right at the sweet spot of the higher end before it gets overly harsh…

Through my effects loop I then run an EHX Canyon for delay, and a Walrus Audio Fathoms for reverb, both of which I love and don’t see myself taking either off for a long time. You can get some amazing ambient tones with both of those pedals, which I utilize heavily through layering on recordings. If I didn’t sing while playing, I would definitely add some more modulation effects, but I have learned to keep things as simple as they need to be.

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

Classic first choice! I hope you still feel like you’re the coolest. I actually bought one of those like five years ago. It’s a good pedal to use as a boost with the gain down plus EQ through a dirty amp!

My first pedal was either a Crybaby Wah, or a Boss Flanger. I know those were my first two but I’m not sure which came first. I never once used the Flanger the way you’d typically get those airplane type sounds – I set it so it’s more like a rotary. I didn’t know what a UniVibe was, so I figured this was how you got that sound. I remember hearing See You On The Other Side by Ozzy, a ballad, and just absolutely loving that tone, so I got it the best way I knew being a thirteen-year-old. I still have both and will throw the Flanger on the board from time to time.

Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit - Guitars
Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit – Guitars

Last but not least are the guitars! What guitars are you using and what tunings do you typically use?

Oh man… I have a lot. I’ve made it a point to use every single one I own on a record at some point. But to keep things relatively simple, I only use four of them live currently. My main is a 2001 Gibson V with a Dimarzio X2N in the bridge. I love how that pickup just slams the front end of my amp. And for me, a V shape is very easy for me to maneuver and stay comfortable while singing, playing, and switching pedals all simultaneously at shows. I’ve got a 2004 Gibson SG Special that my dad bought for me when I was 18 which still gets a lot of use, but I will often take my Gibson SG 120th Anniversary in a dark tobacco burst instead. That one has a set of Lace pickups in it – I think it’s a Finger Burners but I can’t remember what the neck pickup is.

But the one that really turns heads is my JML Custom SG. I love old vintage horror movies, especially the Creature of the Black Lagoon, so my wife got this built for me through Jay in an amazing green burst. It has an X2N in the bridge once again. It has the perfect amount of heft to it and feels like you’re truly wielding a powerful weapon. I’m pretty sure I can knock down a house with it, but I haven’t tried. I can’t say enough good things about JML.

The majority of our songs are in D standard and drop C. We have two songs that are in drop A – Deep Fathom Hours and Clarity, both from the Lord Of The New Depression era. Not sure if we’ll return to that tuning anytime soon.

I love old vintage horror movies, especially the Creature of the Black Lagoon, so my wife got this [JML Custom SG] built for me…

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

Probably just the ones mentioned above. I like to keep a main stable and have what I call ‘Floaters’, not because I am referring to them as pieces of shit, but because I am not against selling or trading one when something else comes along that catches my eye. Well, some might be pieces of shit actually… but still.

Blood Of The Old Gods is a fantastic album and a great follow up from Lord Of The New Depression. What is your songwriting process like and did it change with the new album?

Thank you. Our songwriting process used to be Marc, our bassist, convincing me to record riffs he would hear me playing, and then he’d make programmed drums to it. He’s really good at hearing things that I am not and giving an outside perspective. Some of my favorite songs ended up being ones I didn’t want to demo out initially, but he would coerce me by saying, ‘Well, I already made the drums, so why not?’ And I’m happy he did.

But I was going through a lot of stuff at the time and that’s all I hear when I listen to it, so I never go back to it really. I’m happy others enjoy it, and I’m really thankful for that. I love the songs, but I never really listen back to that album. And the band at that point just went into a standstill.

But then Gusmo, or our drummer came back, and things felt good again going into Blood Of The Old Gods. There, Gusmo and I just got in a room and would jam on some riffs I had sent over to the band. We’d record actual drums to my guitar playing and then I would take that back to my house and add approximately seven million guitar and vocal layers and other things a three-piece band has no right to be doing. It was more organic this way and livened up the songs a lot as opposed to the programmed drums. Writing and recording Blood Of The Old Gods was definitely the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was the spark of life the band needed, especially with the original line-up coming back together, and gave Restless Spirit a second chance.

The new album, which we will start to record next month, was written the same way as Blood Of The Old Gods. It’s interesting this time because instead of feeling like we are rising from the dead, which was essentially what Blood Of The Old Gods did for us, we wrote it as expanding onto something we were really proud of and investigating different avenues we didn’t go down on prior albums. I think people are really going to like it, there are some songs that are just us going all out.

Restless Spirit ‘Blood Of The Old Gods’
Restless Spirit ‘Blood Of The Old Gods’ Artwork

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

I don’t think about it, I just play something. I think our band sounds like our band because of how the three of us play. The way you actually play a riff, outside of just the notes, has a huge impact. That is what ‘tone is in the fingers’ really means. You take three guitar players of the same skill level and equipment, and if they have their own style outside of being a robot, it will all sound different. I figured out how I like to play from learning guitar on my own for most of my life and making many mistakes along the way. My motto has always been ‘figure out a way’.

My motto has always been ‘figure out a way’…

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

That’s a good question. I feel like that a lot. I think the answer is right in the question actually – why are you even playing guitar? It helps when I think about what the end goal is. Am I trying to create something for someone else, or myself? Am I trying to write super heavy riffs or to bring out some sort of emotion? It almost sounds a bit too introspective, but it helps me. If I can clear my mind and just focus on the why, I can get things done. If I sit there frustrated, I’ve usually just been lost in too many thoughts and need to reel it back to basics.

Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit
Paul Aloisio / Restless Spirit

While I love both albums, I’m currently playing the Young Graves and Crooked Timber Of Humanity tracks on repeat. Are there any songs or part of songs you’re particularly proud of?

We actually joke all the time that if we haven’t been selling enough records on tour then it’s time to pull out Young Graves for the last song because inevitably people will come up to us after the set, ask which album that song is on, and buy it. It’s our little cheat code.

Anyway, I would say Cascade Immolator because I had this mountain of fucking anger I needed to get out of me and wanted to really capture it in a way that I could listen back and feel like it was authentic as opposed to contrived. I remember doing the vocals in one take and being like, alright, I got this down to what I want to say perfectly. Every time I hear back the line ‘Well, I found out you were a snake once you bit me’ still gives me that excited feeling I had when I first laid it down. The lyrics on that song are my favorite.

That’s probably tied with Judgement And Exile – it’s eight and a half minutes of epic Sabbath influenced metal, and I am super happy we pulled off something with so many different parts while making it feel cohesive and satisfying.

I would say Cascade Immolator because I had this mountain of fucking anger I needed to get out of me…

What is currently on your playlist of music you listen to for fun?

The new Yatra record is super heavy and I’m really into it. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Acid Witch after we toured with them, and it’s especially fitting now that the fall is coming. More mainstream, I’ve been listening to the new Coheed And Cambria on and off. I will always go back to their first couple of albums, they’re a top three band of all time for me. And I love the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album. I’ve been unabashedly listening to them since I was twelve and I will never stop.

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?

Well, thanks for having me, and thanks for contributing to my ever-growing ego. Magnetic Eye Records just put up pre-orders for our latest record Blood Of The Old Gods in an awesome ice blue vinyl, so check that out. We’re about to record our third full length, so stay tuned. And here’s an open offer for any bands looking to do some cool stuff – hit us up and let’s do something.

Label: Lifesblood Records | Magnetic Eye Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider