Interview with Dan Cohoon of Moral Crayfish & Empty Shapes
Name: Dan Cohoon
Bands: Moral Crayfish, Empty Shapes, Taken Girls
Websites: Moral Crayfish - moralcrayfish.bandcamp.com, myspace.com/moralcrayfish
Empty Shapes - emptyshapes.bandcamp.com, www.myspace.com/emptyshapes
Taken Girls - myspace.com/thetakengirls
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Dan – It was a no name acoustic guitar that my brother & I glued back together after it was sat upon.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Dan – I currently play a Hondo II Professional (it survived a house fire before I owned it). For distortion I use a Boss Metal Zone MT-2 distortion, Fulltone Fulldrive 2 FD2 -MOSFET, the distortion pedals are on perma-loan from John Gibbons from Bardo Pond. I have a Digitech RP70 Modeling Processor multi-effects processor, touchy as hell but lots of sound options. I also have a Digitech XDD DigiDelay Pedal (also very touchy) & a Danelectro DJ-17C PB&J delay. For an amplifier I have an Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack.
Dan – Since I play prepared guitar I would say the objects I use to alter the sound of my guitar. I shove objects like screwdrivers, chopsticks, & small wooden objects into the strings of the guitar. I then hit, rub, twirl screwdrivers, maracas, drumsticks, etc. against the strings. I also use a Gillette M3 Power Vibrating Razor neck as a cheap ass e-bow.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Dan – I have an Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack. I like it because it is all tube & there is only one chicken head knob for the volume. Since my bandmate just got a Marshall Cab that he is running his Fender Twin through, I might have to add an Epiphone Valve Senior Combo to my set up.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Dan – I have a HONDO II professional that a friend gave me after it survived a house fire. The conditions of keeping the guitar was that I was not allowed to remove the stickers that read “WORK”, “Spend” & “Pain” on a plastic flower, the crowning jewel is the 90210 sticker with the girls from the original series. For a Sears’ guitar it is surprisingly well built & heavy, it has taken a lot of abuse & still keeps on kicking.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Dan – I would want something that is solidly built. Something that I would not feel bad about hitting with screwdrivers & dragging across the floor.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Dan – I love delay. Maybe something that could have multiple loops & delays going at the same time.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Dan – Just one.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Dan – Not very carefully, in the gear bag.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Dan – More pockets for my screwdrivers.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Dan – Sound is the most important, how well it is built.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Dan – It all depends, I got my guitar for free & it is great. I would try & find an interesting used guitar before I bought a brand new one. Considering my budget a couple hundred bucks is where I would max out.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Dan – I replace stuff that gets broken. Guitars are just tools, I don’t fetishize them that much.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Dan – I read up on it on the inter-web. Go to a few shops & see the price range.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Dan – Only when things break.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Dan – I am self taught & only vaguely aware of this thing called tuning. I like to twiddle knobs & see what I can get.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Dan – I would like to get a Jazzmaster, but I would feel pretty silly buying the Sonic Youth model. I could go for the J. Mascis model because it is purple. A Marshall Stack would be cool to have, but I would be happy with a Fender Twin.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Dan – Strings. My first guitar kept on getting less & less strings because I did not know how to re-string it.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Dan – The best is my Valve Jr. Half Stack, it looks good & sounds great & was cheap. The worst: the Digitech RP-70. I will never buy a pedal made solely out of plastic again. It has a habit of breaking right before a show.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Dan – I am not a gear snob, I like my Epiphone amp a lot. You get quality for a good price. Boss pedals are built like tanks. Brand I don’t like is Digitech, they are touchy as hell & are constructed & designed poorly.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Dan – I usually start by jamming a screwdriver through the strings & then bang on it some with another screwdriver.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Dan – Fifteen or sixteen maybe?
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Dan – I still don’t know how to play chords after 15 plus years of playing.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Dan – I played saxophone in middle school, but anything beyond 8th notes eluded me. I wish I knew about free jazz or I would of stuck with it. I like the ease of getting sound out of the instrument.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Dan – I wish I had some formal training in guitar. I think whatever instrument inspires one to make sound they should use that instrument.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Dan – An ally on most nights, I have been known to break all the strings on my guitar on stage though.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Dan – Glenn Branca, Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Dean Roberts, Keith Rowe. (Not a guitarist, but John Cage’s influence on me cannot be underestimated.)
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Dan – The way I treat my guitar, it would be a bit sick if I called by a nickname.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Dan – One night I broke all the strings on the guitar, shoved a drumstick through the pick guard. I ended up screaming the lyrics of “Freebird” through my pick-ups.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Dan – Since what I do is mostly improv, I don’t practice per-say. I like to experiment getting new sounds out of my instrument.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Dan – I am very lazy. Sometimes never. I should do more.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Dan – Whatever the kind my bandmate has.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Dan – Um, I just sort of pick them at random, kinda like a chance operation.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Dan – When I break the strings.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Dan – I can go months or days it all depends.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Dan – I guess my fretting hand because that is what I use to put objects into the strings & I like to mess with the strings high up on the neck.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Dan – Luckily my band mate Jack in the EMPTY SHAPES is pretty handy with guitar fixing. I generally have him work on it.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Dan – When I do tune I use open tunings, I am slowly learning how, but still need my bandmates to tune for me.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Dan – I am totally self-taught so I record my ideas if I want to remember them.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Dan – A little above waist height.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Dan – Being lazy, not playing unless there is a show.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Dan – Piano, maybe, I am totally self-taught & don’t play either instrument in the traditional way.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Dan – At some point I think I should learn about such things as tuning & chords. If I could I would like to play like Jack Rose.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Dan – Learning chords, I just recently started “tuning” my guitar.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Dan – My bandmates taught me open tuning.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Dan – I use the neck of a vibrating razor blade as a ghetto ass e-bow. I can use it to either vibrate the strings directly or place it near the pick-ups & cause strange noises to occur without touching the guitar strings.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Dan – One day I would like to play a real song on the guitar.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Dan – I have no formal training on the guitar. I did take saxophone lessons from 5th grade through 9th. The last two years I faked it because 8th notes eluded me.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Dan – How to shove foreign objects into there strings, how to feedback effectively.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Dan – Be completely unskilled & be willing to abuse their instrument.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Dan – If the guitar has it I will use & abuse it.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Dan – I use the tone knob a lot to adjust the tone of the drones I am making.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Dan – I guess Mike Watt had the best line about that, “Be a Ball Hog or Tug Boat,” he was talking about bassists but it could apply.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Dan – NOOOOO! I prefer crappy guitar work versus guitar wanking & no soul.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Dan – Lee Ranaldo’s, he is an inspiration to me. John Fahey for the same reason.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Dan – If you asked me last year I would say Jack Rose, sadly he passed away. Glenn Jones was a close friend & collaborator with Jack. I really admire him, not only for his acoustic work, but his work with his great band Cul De Sac.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Dan – The Empty Shapes split with Carlton Melton. Jamie our bass player spent an insane amount of time mixing it. He made me sound like I kinda knew what I was doing.
QRD – Anything else?
Dan – Don’t let your own musical incompetence stop you from making sounds, it never stopped me.