with Chas McKeown of Gray Young
Name: Chas McKeown
Bands: Gray Young
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Chas – It is called Stella. My dad got it for Christmas when he was as kid. Then he gave it to me. Stella still follows me everywhere I live.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Chas – I plug my guitar into a Boss tuner, into an Austin Gold overdrive, followed by a Line 6 Delay, over to another delay (right now it’s a carbon copy), straight into a Holy Grail Reverb, & then its off to the amplifier (which has been a Peavey Classic 50 for a long time now).
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Chas – Well I need all three. My effects aren’t enhancers. They are a necessity. They are the paint to my brush. But if we are talking about the different types of each of the objects mentioned, I would say that having a guitar that inspires me is really important. It needs to make me want to create something when I hold it.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Chas – Peavey Classic 50. Because I don’t have the money to buy a different one even if I wanted to.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Chas – A Godin. Don’t know the model. But it looks like a Strat mixed with a Les Paul kinda. It has been my one & only mainstay electric guitar until last Christmas when I received a Fender Stratocaster from Santa Claus.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Chas – It would have my name signed on it.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Chas – It would have my name signed on it.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Chas – 2.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Chas – In their cases.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Chas – Little squirrel figurines.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Chas – Whether or not it inspires me to want to write music with it.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Chas – I don’t know. But I have played some really expensive guitars & hated them. & I have played some really cheap guitars & hated them. I think if you are looking for an instrument you should just play it & see how you relate to it. Don’t even look at the price. It’s irrelevant.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Chas – Just depends on if I feel like anything needs to be done. I recently got better tuners on my Godin because the original ones were too loose.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Chas – I won’t ever buy a guitar without playing it. If I play a guitar & then still feel like I need to do research, then it’s probably not the one.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Chas – No. But that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Chas – I’ve got a sound that I have very much locked in that works for what I do in Gray Young. But maybe one day I will mess with that more.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Chas – Delay.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Chas – For it to stay in tune longer than a few minutes after you start strumming it. If a guitar is constantly going out of tune & you are just learning, you might be apt to give up. I hate tuning to this day.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Chas – I don’t have any real allegiance to a brand. If I like it I will go for it. Effects & amps are instruments to me in a way though. They have to inspire me to want to create with them.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Chas – It.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Chas – I think I was in 10th grade.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Chas – Whenever I started playing in Gray Young. A band will make you play things you wouldn’t have dreamed of. But it’s not a case of leveling up to anything. Playing an instrument is about constantly searching. Gray Young is still making me feel like I have places to go with my guitar.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Chas – No clue. I’ve always loved that I can take my guitar wherever I go though.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Chas – People should play all instruments! Whenever they want!
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Chas – Haven’t ever thought about it. But I will say both.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Chas – The Edge. Then from there... Johnny Greenwood. Don Peris. Billy Corgan. Robert Smith. Kevin Sheilds... & many more. Other guitar players affected me then & later & more will in the future I hope! One thing to say about this is that these guitar players are/were in bands that I loved at the time. I’m into bands as a collective voice. I’m not influenced purely by guitar players. I can hear drums in a band & feel inspired to write on guitar for example.…
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Chas – It’s naturally silly.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Chas – I used to throw my guitar around a lot more. I kinda stopped that. For a few reasons. One being I didn’t want to break it. It’s got scars. The pickup switch broke off. But I’m glad because I was always hitting it by accident & switching my pickups in the middle of songs.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Chas – All I do is just play these days.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Chas – Any work I have done that I can’t do is by Guru guitars in Raleigh, NC. Or by someone that I know in town that is more knowledgeable than me.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Chas – I just play & remember stuff. I have a personal tape recorder too. I wish the band recorded more of the jamming we do, but usually the good stuff sticks.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Chas – Fingerpicking.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Chas – I used to play with a capo more often. Maybe I will do that again. The ebow is one of my favorite gadgets too though.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Chas – Fingerpicking.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Chas – I taught myself a lot of chords & was writing my own songs before I took lessons. I wanted to take them because I reached a point where I wanted to keep exploring, but I didn’t know where to go next. I luckily found a guitar teacher who showed me things but never forced them on me. I got to take some maps & go where I wanted on those maps. I was lucky to have a teacher that fit my personality.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Chas – To just make up their own music.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Chas – That’s not something that anyone should concentrate on. I loved certain guitar players because they found their own way. They made me want to find my own way. So I would rather encourage that.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Chas – Whatever gets you through the night.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Chas – Once.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Chas – Well, to be honest, I’ve never really seen the guitar in that light. I just see it as a world to explore. Not two worlds.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Chas – I guess you could listen to just the guitar & get something out of it. Sure. But I wouldn’t be into a band based purely on the guitar player. The music as a whole needs to move me. Not just one part of it.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Chas – None. They need it to play!!!
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Chas – I don’t know. But I’m way more into the music as a whole that is coming from a band than what the guitar player is necessarily doing these days. In high school I was a lot more into this idea of an innovative guitar player. I looked at certain players like that for sure. The Edge was at the top of that tree for me. But I wouldn’t have been into them if I wasn’t into what their band was doing.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Chas – Bonfire is our newest record. I would start there if I were me.