Interview with Jeff Schneider of Arab On Radar & Made in Mexico
Bands - Arab On Radar, Made in Mexico
Websites - arabonradar.info, www.myspace.com/zodiaczoo, www.youtube.com/madeinmexicoband
Listen to Made in Mexico “Villa Tranquila”
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Jeff – A Peavey T-20, I sold it to a band member & bought an amp.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Jeff – Travis Bean (Artist or Standard) guitar, through a Gallien Krueger head, through a Peavey tweeter cabinet, through a 4/12 Hi Watt guitar cab.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Jeff – The tweeters definitely.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Jeff – It really doesn’t matter much, but the GK has mucho power & that works best.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Jeff – “Yoko” my Travis Bean (#1118) Artist, she has an aluminum neck & has the direct, treble sound I enjoy. Plus, these guitars are workhorses, could be dropped out a 10 story building & still be in tune, no need to have a major set up often.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Jeff – It would be one of these electrical guitars (a Travis Bean style guitar), they look real nice & I would have it be a shiny silver, possibly chrome colored body, almost like a Veleno but not so weird looking, more playable.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Jeff – I guess it would be a remade Gibson Maestro FZ-1A Fuzz Box. It would just have a nasty fuzz that’s all. Maybe a wah wah. I always wanted a wah that stayed open, with some sort of a ball or rubber piece that you had to push down (with opposite resistance) I dislike how wah’s are just free hanging. I like the compressed sound of a wah, left open. So whatever that is, that’s what I’d like, ha ha, guess it depends on what you are trying to play really.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Jeff – Five.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Jeff – Very poorly. Some are in cases, others just laying around my pad… it’s bad, don’t want to think about it.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Jeff – Light weight, flyer friendly… some of these things are so bulky & weird that I can’t use them. I just need a place for my picks, cords, & strings & pliers… a little pouch inside perhaps.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Jeff – All sorts of things, but mostly, that they have a trebly aspect to them. I like extreme sounds & when people describe that “creamy Hendrix tone” I puke. I prefer the opposite tone.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Jeff – $1000.00
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Jeff – Some of them. But it is usually changing tuning pegs or the color of the guitar. I am a utilitarian player honestly.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Jeff – I am always looking at Travis Beans, you can catch me on the forums about these guitars often. I usually play one first, be sure I am buying the exact model etc. that I like. I shop for tone & practical reasons.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Jeff – I am in two bands – Arab On Radar & Made in Mexico, funny huh? For AOR I never change. For Made in Mexico my tone emulates a trumpet at times (tonally) & I do change amps often, guitars often (From Gibson SG to Fender Tele) & I sometimes use this Pod thing that I don’t really like too much.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Jeff – Mostly I have created my own tone, there are many underground bands out there right now (that most people will never hear of), but in that subculture my tone is known & people try to get at it & usually do. It is pretty organic actually, what I call “natural distortion” because I play clean through the amp, but once it hits & overdrives those tweeters it provides a very direct & amazing guitar sound. It takes distortion to a totally other level. Far beyond what a pedal could do. People seem to like it.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Jeff – Oh, that Veleno. That guitar is a gem. I am sad that so many dipshits own the existing ones, people who never play guitar even & if they do it is such horrid music… For amps, I am not too picky. I’d love to build my own speaker cabinets some day, it’d be basic, just a 4/12, but with some real nice speakers in it.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Jeff – A thin neck. I think you can learn better on a thin-necked guitar than on some thick one. It will be more rewarding to learn all those AC/DC riffs on a fast guitar.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Jeff – I bought a hot pink Ibanez once & put a hot pink locking strap on it & a hot pink Andre the Giant sticker on it, & none of that was a good idea. The best was when I bought my Travis Bean Artist for $300 in Nashville. It was one of those moments where the person selling it hated that “damn heavy metal guitar” & I was just sweating trying to keep from giggling like a child at it until I got out of the store. I got a steal on that one.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Jeff – The list is too long in regard to effects. Amps, I dislike Ampegs because many of those amps are huge, bulky, not loud enough, weird tone, & farty. I also don’t like Orange amps much either for the same reason. Guitars, I don’t like Fender Strats because of the tone, Jaguars because of the tone & the tuning issues. I dislike most guitars built after 1980. I particularly hate those Paul Reed Smith guitars, sorry.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Jeff – All kinds of crazy shit that scares the bejesus out of people. I play my own stuff, which is probably the most unorthodox riffage ever known to this planet, ever. I know that sounds arrogant, but I can think of very few exceptions to this claim, possibly improv, but that’s it.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Jeff – Twelve.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Jeff – Oh, probably when I was 24.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Jeff – My guitar is a part of me. Or more like my favorite tool, like a hammer that I use to build with. It matches my guitar playing perfectly.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Jeff – Sure! I love guitar. You can always play bass after learning guitar.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Jeff – Most definitely my ally, it channels like a lightning rod the signals I am projecting into the cosmos. I need it very much to make it all happen correctly. If my guitar is having a bad day then I am too. I always try to spend time with her before we do anything serious (big shows, recordings, etc.).
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Jeff – Rowland S. Howard of the Birthday Party, Jimi Hendrix, Helios Creed of Chrome, Keith Levene of Public Image Limited, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead & Noe Fachin of Juaneco y su Combo (Peru).
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Jeff – Yes! That’s why I laugh at myself for naming my guitars “Yoko”, “Excalibur”, “Tropicali”, “Twangy” & “Gunny”.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Jeff – I threw a hissy-fit at the Knitting Factory in NYC & threw my Travis Bean across the stage into their grand piano, chipped the piano & dented the headstock on my guitar. It was very very stupid. I am usually a calm person.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Jeff – I/we do a lot of talking & setting up some reference points for what it is we are going to try to do. My music is real abstract & songs are an organic jam based process that is then subjected to a detailed editing process, then a song is present. That said, you need to be on the same page somewhat so that people aren’t playing “Free Bird” over here & Crass over there… for personal practice I usually noodle a bit, but that has no connection to the music I do honestly. Back when I was learning I used to play along to songs, I redefined the solos on almost all Hendrix songs! Probably for the worst.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Jeff – I practice with a band 2 times per week for 3 or 4 hours per practice. I might play some acoustic on the couch for an hour a week, while watching CSPAN.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Jeff – Jim Dunlop nylon picks, something around an 80mm, medium pick.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Jeff – I use what I call 13s, which is usually GHS Boomers. I buy an extra 13 gauge single string because I play AADDAA tuning, the top A (typically the high E string) is tuned to a loose string sound, almost dangling. This is how I get some sounds. So it is weird.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Jeff – About every 6th time I play the guitar live.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Jeff – I used to all the time when I was using hard picks to get a more brilliant sound by those means. Once I switched to nylon, it is very rare. I may break a string due to the thrashing I do on the guitar at times or over-bending a certain string, but it is rare.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Jeff – Hmmm, not sure, I am a unique animal so I never really think of it that way. My guitar playing is very unorthodox & I am not sure people have caught up to understanding what I do for the most part. It is like asking Jackson Pollack about his brush stroke technique, before people understood what he was doing. My right (picking or plucking hand) plays real fast, I have perfected the speed when I need it, such as these mandolin-esque runs I do. My right (riffing hand) can do the job, I do get weird muscle strains at times when I am trying to play riffs that are bizarre & need to be precise. That’s all I know.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Jeff – If there is a problem I send it to my friends at BSharp music here in Providence, RI. They are just masters. A Travis Bean having no need to be intonated (since the neck goes right into the body as a piece of aluminum) I rarely send it out to them. But my other axes I do, the Tele I play needs to be set up quite often.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Jeff – I developed this raga sort of thing, which is AADDAA tuning, it helps to drone & play heavy low stuff (the low As help) & like I was saying about the top A it is a loose string, so that does all sorts of soaring octaves & weird stuff much like a sitar. It has been years in the making. I think the inspiration came from experimental bands like Captain Beefheart & many of the Chicago 1999 noise rock scene (US Maple, Scissor Girls, Flying Luttenbachers, Lake of Dracula & other bands no one knows). Maybe even a little old Sonic Youth? I hate to say that, but it’s true. Once you start on a thing you kind of hone it & honestly (sorry to sound egocentric) but it was from listening to what I was working on & going with that idea to its end. So many tunings came out of this process. I also sometimes play (in Made in Mexico) standard tuning EADGBE.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Jeff – I am a cretin. My ideas are communicated in real abstract ways “play something with a Reggaeton beat” or “play some faster stuff” & the only notation (other than ALWAYS having a recorder going) is to write simple charts that say 8, 4, 8, breakdown, 8, end. Something like that. Or “Raga part for 8, Munster’s theme song part for 4, back to raga.”
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Jeff – Bladder height. I play below the belly button & above the you know what.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Jeff – It is what it is & where I am coming from there are no mistakes, there is only raw emotion & an attempt to channel that out through the music. I am not a very technical player. My concerns are more with the mental state of those who I am playing with, meaning – are they open-minded enough to travel into their own psychic power & tap the energy that makes good music good? I really think we as players are only a conduit for something bigger, not God or whatever (because I know that’s what people say) more like a 4th dimension, synchronicity, subconscious communication, ya know, the stuff we have yet to understand. Pretty hippy huh?
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Jeff – Oh piano will certainly help. & any string instrument if you look at it from a physical perspective.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Jeff – I wish I could just play straight up, like Robbie Robertson or Keith Richards, ya know, those guys who know all the riffs from a Blues Rock perspective. I envy that. I am way too radical to do it. I am trying to play more standard Salsa & Latin style nowadays so I will need to bone up. How well do trombone licks translate to guitar? I am not sure yet.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Jeff – I have never gained any respect as a guitarist. People think it is noise, but they fail to see that it is just different. I would like to find that song or riff that is acceptable enough to open up the rest of the fringe stuff that is too challenging for the uninterested or ignorant ear. That playing would have to be a “gateway” style, like Zappa did, he let the fart joke mentality hook people in then he laid down the most complex expressions of his time in many ways. I am not a big fan, but you have to credit the guy for seeing that his true stuff was too out there without the “gateway” stuff.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Jeff – Like a “hammer on” or something? I guess I learned how to let the bottom two strings drone while riffing on the top two; which sounds easy, but isn’t. My guitar talks to me, as does nature & I listen to it. I am not sure I can always repeat the exact sound it once made unless it lets me. For instance, I am fascinated with the sounds of environments, birds, cars, talking, yelling, jackhammering, buzzing of the city, which is my zone. I apply that to songs sometimes, like try to imitate a birdcall or a Harley revving up. I do this within narrow margins of what my guitar will do. So I limit myself to odd tunings & odd sounds & what comes out is usually, somehow, a song or musical offering. My tricks are just trying to get that guitar to do all sorts of tricks. Although as a kid I loved to do that “natural harmonic” trick & Eddie Van Halen had some neat stuff he did with the springs for his whammy bar on the back of his guitar. I learned all that shit.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Jeff – Most definitely a slide. You can do amazing stuff with a slide. You can massacre a guitar riff with a slide. I love how the ebow is used by The Edge of U2 in “With or Without You”, really sculpts the sound to bring out the emotions they were trying to convey. I guess that is Eno’s touch there….
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Jeff – Anything Latin… Chicha music interests me very much.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Jeff – Horrid stories. Had a junkie guy who would nod off while teaching me, charged my parents for the hour. That was at Luca Music in RI. I showed up with a beat up acoustic guitar that was not intonated, the strings were an inch off the neck. He would just hand me his Jackson (metal guitar) & let me riff out aimlessly while he slept. It worked out OK. I took lessons from guys who went to Berklee. I got real technical in 1995 (when I was young) & then literally had to unlearn all I was taught. I just began to see music differently, more artistically & abstract. I am not turned on by much other than creative, unique sounds nowadays. I rarely learn a cover song. I had to recently to impress some people while camping. It was all Buck Owens, Byrds, Ian & Sylvia & Beatles stuff though… ha ha.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Jeff – I have taught people before, many times. I think standard theory is good as a foundation. But endless scales & training can become a bore. I usually show them the main stuff get them to build chords, get a book for them to self teach & simultaneously just show them some Black Sabbath riffs (what they used to call power chords, 2 finger shit) so they can impress their friends. Can’t lose them to Guitar Hero or Rock Band ya know.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Jeff – Lose their mind. Just kidding, they would have to really listen to lot of underground music, collect it like baseball cards or comic books, become learned in what is current in the underground, know the history of what happened between 1990 & 2010 in the underground music scene. They also should research the forerunners to this movement, the nuggets that are out there that inspired it. So, for instance, The Stooges, Birthday Party, Can, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Chrome, PiL, Tubeway Army, back to Hendrix, Gong, etc. That would be the educational process. The actual playing I would describe as primal. Make noises that are made when you hand someone a guitar that has never touched one before, those are the best riffs. Hand someone a guitar who has never touched one before & ask them to try to play something that sounds like an army charging down a hill during the Civil War. Whatever that is would be close to what I try to do, but I am coming from the funnel at the other end. I do it intentionally & make some structures out of it that seem to appeal to the masses.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Jeff – I am sorry I don’t have one really. I am neutral. If you want it or need it then use it.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Jeff – Never, took it off, duct taped over it.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Jeff – Tone usually. Rhythm players are usually milky, creamy, muted & lead players are usually trebly & do the solos loud over the other guitar. I am thinking of the Rolling Stones of course. If you look at good usage of this standard instrumental set up, a band like the Desert Rose Band (country rock), Chris Hillman sings & strums some rhythm guitar under the sweeping riffage of John Jorgenson. It is a supportive role aimed at filling out the sound & being a “solid band”. I think that works.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Jeff – Sadly, no… I think it is the drummer that makes a band. You can absolutely suck, but if your drummer is good then the band is good. It is the audience’s fault for this. It’s the kick drum actually… that’s all. A good, fast, punchy kick drum is all you need to succeed.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Jeff – Well, that Veleno once owned by Keith Levene of PiL would be nice to own, because it is beautiful, amazingly made, rare & my fiancée collects modern lamps & décor & it would look nice in the loft I live in. Also, a Chet Atkins signature Gretsch would be nice, just because I bet it plays amazingly.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Jeff – I think (& you should all Google this) that Marnie Stern is a guitar player’s dream. She is tapping & doing some old school riffage that should be recognized in all guitar circles. She uses some pretty interesting pop melodies to hold it all together. It’s kind of like what I was saying about a “gateway” music. I know many other obscure guitarists, but she is the one I’d like to give a shout out to because she is amazing & more people need to catch up to her music.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?