Interview with Matt Stevens of Fierce & the Dead
Name: Matt Stevens
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Matt – It was a £10 Argos Guitar, nylon strings & it smelt of polish, in the end I painted it white & set fire to it.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Matt – For acoustic it’s an Ibanez Artwood
Acoustic, Volume Pedal, Whammy Pedal, Line 6 DL4 (with a Korg Kaossilator
going into one input of the DL4).
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Matt – My line 6 DL4 Looper delay - vital for the loops & it does some very cool retro delay sounds as well.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Matt – For electric I use a Fender Princeton transistor amp, I love the clean sounds on it. I think Radiohead use them for clean sounds.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Matt – My main acoustic is an Ibanez Artwood - what I liked about it was that it was cheap & sounded amazing. It had a hole in it, but I loved the sound. For electric I use a Fender Mexican Tele, I love it.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Matt – I’d like something light because I have back problems. Other than that, pretty much my broken Ibanez is perfect especially with the L R Baggs pickup I added later.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Matt – I’d like a special edition line 6 DL4 with midi sync, undo, & a longer loop time & multiple.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Matt – Not many… 6 or 7.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Matt – In my spare room or in the front room ready to be played. My wife puts up with a lot.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Matt – Not too easy to play, or can have a tendency to noodle really good sound & really stable tuning because I like to really attack the guitar. Good clean tone & no humbuckers, can’t stand them.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Matt – Depends on if it’s custom designed for a player - I mean you get something decent for £200 these days, which is great.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Matt – I only do stuff that is essential, my pick up on my acoustic cost twice the price of the guitar, I’m looking for specific sounds.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Matt – I’ve been hurt before, so lots of testing & I’m always looking for particular things. I want quality basic tones that I can mangle with effects later. I use the Korg Kaoss Pad to mess with stuff.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Matt – I like to add stuff, but I’m really happy with what I have - I normally change the pedals a bit yearly. I was using a synth pedal, a Line 6 Filter Modeler thing, but I swapped that for an Ebow.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Matt – I keep one simple clean tone & mess with it - for example I don’t really like really saturated distorted tones. I like fuzz as a specific effect for single notes, but you are so limited in terms of playing clearly defined chords.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Matt – I honestly don’t, maybe I’d like a nice Jaguar or Jazzmaster & I’d like virtually all the Electro Harmonix pedals.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Matt – Decent action & tunings pegs. When you are learning to play, you really need to have an instrument that plays in tune.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Matt – I had a BC Rich during my teenage metal phase & the headstock use to hit the floor if you played it standing up & the best was the acoustic Ibanez I still use today.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Matt – I don’t like Marshalls - they feel really flat to me dynamically. I’m not great with Les Pauls or Gibsons in general at the moment, I used to only play them, but I overdosed in my 20s on them. It’s too easy to play fast on a Les Paul, there is no fight on them.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Matt – Probably a Smiths song or the Mahavishnu Orchestra stuff. The stuff I first think of when I play.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Matt – 14, a late starter, I played violin for a bit when I was a kid & a bit of synth.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Matt – 34 in terms of playing interesting stuff, 16 in terms of fast lead playing, 29 in terms of playing over jazz changes.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Matt – I’m not sure it does really, I love music really & it just happens to be played on a wooden thing with strings. I like the expressive vibrato of playing you can get with the guitar, but I’m always frustrated with its limitations.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Matt – Perhaps, I think the most important thing is that it’s an instrument that you love the sound of.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Matt – Both - I find it eternally annoying that it lacks sustain. I’d like to try one of those Moog infinite sustain guitars, it’s like having an Ebow in every string.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Matt – Fripp, Mclaughlin, Bill Steer &
Mike Amott, Johnny Marr, Radiohead. Nick Drake maybe for acoustic.
Matt – Completely silly & daft, they are just tools.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Matt – Smashed the neck off an SG by throwing it on the floor mid-way through a gig a few years back, stupid but the audience loved it. It wasn’t done deliberately.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Matt – I practice classical stuff, Bach mainly & jazz chord substitution.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Matt – About an hour a day, I would like to play more, but I have back problems at the moment.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Matt – Heavy Dunlops for precision, I can’t stand floppy picks.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Matt – 12 Elixir, I’m an Elixir evangelist, love them.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Matt – Every few months, the Elixirs last ages & retain excellent tone.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Matt – Not very often; I used to, but not since I went up to 12s. The heavier gauges seem to sound better.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Matt – Fretting, I’d like to get the Niles Rogers choc thing going one day with my strumming hand.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Matt – I’m rubbish so I get it set up by a guy in Denmark Street. I need to find someone new because the last time I took my guitar down there he lost part of it!!
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Matt – Just normal, drop D, or Drop C. I am a big fan of that Nick Drake sound with the open tunings.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Matt – I just remember stuff really. I can read sheet music, but I’m not very good. If you can’t remember it, it’s probably not very good.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Matt – Above the waist, but not too high. I’m not Slash. Recently I’ve had to play sitting down because of my back.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Matt – I mostly down pick - I need to improve that & when I hybrid pick sometimes the notes I play with the plectrum are too loud compared with the ones played with my fingers.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Matt – Listening to the violin for melodic playing & the piano for chordal voicing, especially Bill Evans. Singing is great for working out melodies as are glockenspiel & melodica.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing do you wish you could do that you can’t?
Matt – Funk guitar like Chic would be useful but I fear turning into some horrific Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar shop player.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Matt – Open tunings, using Ableton live, slide guitar. There are lots of things still to learn.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Matt – Using an Ebow & I love it for nasty synth sounds combined with a whammy pedal.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Matt – Some of the percussive flamenco things. Slide would be very cool, like lap steel.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Matt – I had lessons with a guy called Richard Beaumont for about 10 years. He was amazing; we did chord substitution, odd timings, all sorts. He really pushed me & got me into the Mahavishnu Orchestra & the Groundhogs. He’s an amazing guitarist.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Matt – Chord substitution & harmony. How to come up with interesting parts when you are playing in bands, not just barre chords. That’s the difficult thing & what people really want from you, to be interesting.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Matt – Learn what arpeggios work well together to create multiple harmony parts. Use a looper to orchestrate multiple parts & fade in & loop chords using a volume pedal. Learn odd timings, subdivision of 3 & 4. I mainly use extended arpeggios plus chromatic tones for leads, I’m not really thinking of scales.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Matt – Not into them really, although the ones on Jags are very cool. Not good if you want to play guitar actually in tune though.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Matt – There should be no difference – it’s all about rhythm & melodies. The hard bit is coming up with parts that really work together well, the parts that really make records.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Matt – Nah. It’s all about the band performance for me - not interested in noodles.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Matt – I wouldn’t mind a go on one of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars just as something I always thought was cool when I was a kid.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Matt – Nels Cline maybe or the Radiohead
guys. Both use interesting harmony & effects in a pop/rock context.
Very cool. Also Sonic Youth & Omar Rodriquez Lopez.
Matt – Not really for me to say, but I like the lead playing on The Fierce & The Dead first EP the part 1 19 minute track on Bandcamp. People seem to like it. For acoustic playing there are some fast leads on my first album Echo & I’m really pleased with the layering & chord progressions on my second album Ghost.
QRD – Anything else?
Matt – I think that’s covered every thing!!
You can get all my stuff as pay what you want downloads from www.mattstevensguitar.com
or Itunes, emusic etc.