‘In the water I can see it moving, watching you all the time.’ The Kraken by Duel’s opening line frequently pops back into my head throughout the day. It’s not like one of those annoying jingles you can’t get rid of. I welcome the thought as it emerges back into my brain. Tom Frank of the aforementioned Duel was kind enough to discuss how he creates these incredibly catchy riffs and songs. Thanks to his tips, I may start utilizing the thirty to forty minutes when I first wake up better, instead of staring at my cup of coffee. Who am I kidding?
Of course a good sounding album is important but I feel playing live really let’s a band shine! Duel has definitely mastered both. Starting with amps what are you currently using and do your amps differ from studio to live?
Thanks! As for guitar amps, Jeff and I both play Witchbanger, a friend of ours in Austin, Dillon ‘Chicken’ Griffith makes a handful of these amps every year. They’re totally sought after! Ours are 100 watt heads designed after a Marshall Plexi or an old Hiwatt.
Chicken was cool enough to give both me and Jeff our amps for free! He’s a great old friend of ours and so we were on the road all the time and needed better gear that we could never afford. We use them so much live, and in the studio, that we named our second album after the amps. Best one I’ve ever owned. For bass, Shaun is an old Ampeg fan. In the studio we also use tons of small tube amps from the 50s and 60s, old 5-10 watt Silvertone and Magnatone etc. they sound amazing recorded if you just crank everything to 11.
We use them [Witchbanger] so much live, and in the studio, that we named our second album after the amps…
When playing live do you often have to adjust your settings to cater to the different venues?
Haha, we probably should. I mean we just try to squeeze up on stage and do our thing. You never know what the night is going to bring. Some of our wildest shows have been on a stage we didn’t think we could fit on. It all kind of changes when the crowd is in and fills the room with energy. However it’s really fun to play a big fancy stage with all that room to strut around, but we love them all.
When dialling in a tone on your amp, do you start with a clean tone or add a little crunch before the pedals?
I get my distortion 100% from my pedals, one that’s in full time is an Enormous Door PDX, another weird small run item made by friends in Austin. They didn’t last long as a business, but the pedals are amazing and you can find one if you look hard enough. So with my amp, I’m after the loudest, clean full tone I can get. I feel it cuts through better that way and you can hear all the bumps and edges of the crunch.
There are an endless amount of pedals to choose from. Which pedals have made it to your pedal board and are any of them custom made for you?
Nothing made for me. Shaun was using a cool pedal that Brian Ritchie from the Sword made for him. It was a bass fuzz with a boost and delay all in one box. Really cool. For me I use my Enormous Door PDX and a few classic pedals, mostly MXR stuff – Phase 90, Dyna Comp Boost – also an old Boss DD1. Stuff I’ve always used and easily replaced.
For me I use my Enormous Door PDX and a few classic pedals, mostly MXR stuff – Phase 90, Dyna Comp Boost…
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?
Live it’s all light body Gibson’s with humbuckers. We had a Lace deal for a while and fell in love with their Hemi Nitro humbuckers. Also some Seymour Duncan, and old Gibson pickups, Dirty Fingers and what not. I play a Gibson SG mostly and an old 80s V2. Jeff has an L6 he uses and a 60s SG. Shaun is all Fender P bass. Jeff recently has been working with Reverend using some of their guitars in tours and in his studio Red Nova Ranch.
Do you have a guitar, amp or pedal that you have had for a long time and will never part with?
My Witchbanger amp, just because I have used it on every US tour I’ve been on in the last nine years. Lots of good times there. Also a 98 Gibson SG Faded that has been on every tour in the US and Europe. Not a remarkable guitar, but I’ve had the greatest times of my life beating that thing up. Never lets me down and feels like a part of my body at this point. Also this 70s MIJ Ventura Les Paul my dad gave me when I was 9 or 10. It was the beginning for me, and was my axe till my mid 20s. I still play it at home.
I write the moment I wake up every day. I’ve got thirty to forty minutes of really creative time while I’m still processing the dreams from the night before…
Songs like Devil, Drifting Alone and Fears Of The Dead just stick with me throughout the day. What is your process of coming up with unique sounding songs and riffs?
I write the moment I wake up every day. I’ve got thirty to forty minutes of really creative time while I’m still processing the dreams from the night before. Your ears and mind are fresh for that time. Then I get distracted and it’s over. I try to record as much as I can during that time and send it to the guys. We all listen for a few days then jam it together. We all come from different angles and I’m so lucky to play with three great musicians. We put the songs together as a group where everyone has tons of input. Our chemistry is what makes the songs what they are. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
When I play guitar, I try and play new things but many times I find I play the same riffs over and over. I will also play those same riffs and feel I was worse than the day before. What do you do for inspiration if you’re having an off day or to keep from playing the same things over and over?
I try to write something by humming or whistling then adapt to guitar. It gets me out of the muscle memory box, and out of my typical stuff. It’s really hard to break those habits, but this helps a little.
Do you have any practice routines or warm-ups that you do on a daily basis?
Not really, I just play as much as I can, more because it’s like meditation for me and I need that. I notice my skills improve for a while, then I kind of lose it. Back and forth it’s all fluid, kind of like playing Pool or bowling. One day you’re on fire and terrible the next.
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?
Thank you man, we have a new album coming out on Heavy Psych Sounds this summer with hopefully fall tours if COVID in under control. Cheers.
Interviewed by: Josh Schneider