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QRD #66 - Guitarist Interviews X
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Guitarist Interview with Jason Hendrix of An Unfortunate Woman
February 2014
Jason Hendrix
Name: Jason Hendrix
Bands: An Unfortunate Woman, Big Science, The North Atlantic, solo.
Websites: anunfortunatewoman.bandcamp.combigscienceband.bandcamp.comsoundcloud.com/jasonchendrix

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Jason – My first guitar was a cheap Harmony electric that my parents bought at Sears for a Christmas gift when I was 6 or 7.  It came with a tiny battery powered amp.  I didn’t end up “learning” how to play guitar until I was 14, so there were quite a few years of me banging away on this thing creating, what I am sure was, unbearable noise.  In a way, I guess not a whole lot has changed, ha! I let a friend borrow it, a long time ago, & I am pretty sure he still has it.

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Jason – Guitar--->pedals---> 1 or more amps.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Jason – The guitar is the most important, otherwise you wouldn’t be playing guitar, beyond that, amplification.  Without it there is no sound.  Electric guitars have no voice without the amp.  Every element is important, but the sheer power of a loud amplifier still gets my blood up.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Jason – I have a bunch of different amps, but the one that always gets used is my Carvin X100B.  It is extremely loud, versatile, resilient, affordable, & it can get that chimney-cut through anything-punchy-breaking glass-tone, I love.  It is mean in a way that I have not found in any other amp & it takes my abuse like a champ.

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Jason – It changes quite frequently.  Presently, I am playing a Jazzmaster that I have wired in series.  I love the neck.  Plus having the extra real estate between the tremolo & the bridge makes it perfect for overtone noise stuff. 

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Jason – Unbreakable.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Jason – I have always wanted something that makes my guitar sound like a jet engine, I have gotten close with some pedals, but I just want something that gets that blistering intensity of volume & swirling noise.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Jason – 12-14.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Jason – In our recording studio.  In their cases.

QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?

Jason – I wish they were all truly universal.  Obviously, you can’t accommodate all of the weird metal guitar body types, but having a Jazzmaster shows how un-universal basic “universal” cases are: come on people, we are talking about an extra inch here.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Jason – The main thing is I have to enjoy playing it.  A good neck is the most important thing, because with an electric guitar, the rest is changeable.  If you love the neck, but the pickups suck, you can always change them out.  People get too precious about messing with their guitars.  At the end of the day it is just a piece of wood & some electronics, don’t be scared to fuck with it.

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Jason – FREE.  If it was up to me, no one would have to pay for a musical instrument, ever.  Remember that it is a tool.  If buying super vintage, all original, shit is your vibe, go ahead, it’s your money, but just know that no one ever wrote anything great by treating their guitar like some kind of rare mid-evil tapestry.  You have to feel free to destroy something to really push it to where it pays off.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Jason – I upgrade & customize.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Jason – It all depends, but I will always try & play with it firsthand.  I live in Chicago, so I am very fortunate to live in a city that has quite a few stores that carry pretty much any kind of pedal, amp, or guitar imaginable.  So it is very easy for me to go somewhere in my town & A/B 8 different clean boosts.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Jason – Fairly often, it depends on what I am working on.  I am constantly trying out different pedals & I like to mess around with the different amps.  I have several different amps & I like to experiment with different bi-amping configurations.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Jason – I have been into the recording process since I started playing, so I am always interested in messing with my tone & experimenting with mic placement, DI-ing, etc.  Nothing is sacred, otherwise you get bored.  That being said I also don’t like to spend very long on it, at the end of the day set the knobs & get on with it.

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Jason – I am always looking at different pedals.  There are so many people doing great things in the realm of effects: Earthquaker Devices, Walrus Audio, Zvex, etc.  I am constantly watching YouTube demos for crazy effects.  I would really like to get the Mini-Ark & Tracer City by Snazzy FX, but they are expensive little noise engines.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Jason – Cheap & hard to play.  That way, when you finally learn to play & get a decent guitar, it will feel great.  It’s the Harrison Bergeron method.  If you slog it out & learn through a shit guitar, then it shows you are committed & will make it easier down the road.

QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?

Jason – BEST: My first delay pedal, a Digitech Echo Plus, it was the first pedal that introduced me to the concept of looping=Mind blown!
WORST: I once bought a Boss Acoustic Simulator pedal in high school.  I don’t think I really need to explain why a pedal that emulates the thin nasally tone of a piezo pickup is a shit idea.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Jason – The DL4 is an amazingly useful pedal for the money.  As many people have found, they break too easily, but it is testament to its usefulness that I always replace it.  I just got a Dwarfcraft Pitch Grinder & I love it, just a bizarre little pedal: crazy blips & gurgles that make me happy.  I love Seymour Duncan pickups because you can take a canoe paddle & make it sound good.

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Jason – “Smoke on the Water”… just kidding.  I usually play whatever little riff I have been working on.

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Jason – 13-14ish.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Jason – I would like to think that I am getting better everyday, whether or not that is true.

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Jason – It is a never ending well of sonic possibilities.  You can abuse the hell out of them & they will just reward you with new & amazing sounds.  I also like how at home they are either being rhythmic or melodic. 

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?

Jason – Piano or drums should be the first instrument.  I have seen so many guitarists that have a shit sense of rhythm.  I took percussion in high school & it was one of the most valuable things I ever did for my development as a musician.

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Jason – I see it as an extension of myself.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Jason – Wow, that is a hard one to answer.  I guess the first answer would be everyone I have ever played with.  All of the brilliant people I have had the pleasure of being around over the years have had the most profound influence on my playing & my musical understanding.  Everyone has their own personal musical language & it is really gratifying to see how each person “speaks”.  You pick up little things & incorporate them into your own vernacular.  In the broader world of music (excluding the basic givens i.e. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix etc.): Archers of Loaf, HUM, Fugazi, Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes (John Reis is AMAZING!), Failure, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Minor Threat, Rights of Spring, CAN, Gang of Four, Joy Division, Pavement, Cap’n Jazz, Sonic Youth, The Minutemen, Slint, Botch, Converge, Johnny Greenwood, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Glenn Branca, Ian from Don Caballero & Battles, the list could go on forever.  John Bonham is my favorite musician.  Guitar players need to pay more attention to drummers.  He played with such power & groove that it floors me every time I hear it.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?

Jason – I think it is fine.  I don’t do it, but I think it makes for cool little stories.

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Jason – Oh hell! One time, when The North Atlantic was playing in Tucson, I threw my guitar across the stage.  I have no idea why someone as poor as I was would do such a stupid thing.  I wasn’t even mad, we were drunk & playing amazing, the last night of a long tour, & I just got caught up in the fury of it & lost my shit.  It wasn’t some “cool” rockstar bullshit, it actually just looked ridiculous, but it was honest in the moment.  It basically broke the body & the headstock in half.  I, of course, immediately thought, “I am a dumb-ass.”

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Jason – Listen.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Jason – 15-20 hours a week, when I am not touring.  I would like to play as many hours as I could, but at a point, you aren’t coming up with good ideas anymore.

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Jason – It fluctuates, but the one that always seems to get the most use are Dunlop .60mm.  I have a fairly heavy hand, so I would be breaking strings left & right if I played with heavy picks.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Jason – 11s, sometimes 10s.  I just like they way they feel.  I don’t do any crazy drop tuning so I don’t need anything much heavier.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Jason – When I am on the road, playing shows everyday, I like to change them after 3 shows, but it always has to do with the conditions & use.  When they don’t “sing” anymore is usually when I will change them.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Jason – Very rarely.  Only in practice when I have been lazy & left a set of strings on for too long.  The only time I break them live is when I am “freaking out” & I am trying to rip them off intentionally.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Jason – Wow, that is a really hard question to answer.  If I absolutely had to choose, I would have to go with my strumming hand, since so much of my style has to do with rhythmic noise & scraping.

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Jason – I am a professional guitar tech for work.  So I set my own up.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Jason – It depends on what I am doing, In An Unfortunate Woman, we pretty much stay in standard.  I think a brutal punchiness is lost when “heavy” bands tune down: I am more interested in a serrated blade than a sledgehammer.  With improvisational stuff, I like to intentionally screw myself up by trying tunings I have never played in.  It just helps you get out of your comfort zone.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Jason – Recording.  Always recording.  Even if I was that good at reading music, I would still have to record it; so much of my style is texture & noise.

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Jason – I use to have it set pretty high, but I felt I wasn’t playing with all of my body in a way that balanced out my more noodly ideas.  I play with it at about waste level now, but who knows, that could change next week.

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Jason – When I rely too much on things that I have done or have worked on before.  Come on brain, stop being so lazy!

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?

Jason – DRUMS!

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Jason – Flamenco.  At the very least for the technique.

QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?

Jason – Playing in one of Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestras.  Improvising with Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo.  I would like to record more on random peoples albums.  Either in the studio or just getting sent tracks, I would love to put a patina of texture & noise on other peoples work, kind of a session noise musician.

QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?

Jason – How to get paid for playing guitar, oh wait, not sure if I have figured that one out yet.

QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?

Jason – As I have said, I am also a guitar tech, so my list of “gadgets” is quite large.  Tool wise: a string winder bit on an electric drill saves me tons of time & frustration.  My Peterson strobe tuner is invaluable.  Playing wise: Not sure if a looping pedal counts as a gadget, but I love them.

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Jason – There are a lot guitar styles from parts of Africa, specifically Mali, that I find completely mesmerizing.  I would hope to master the patience & headspace that Ali Farka Toure & the guys in Tinariwen play with.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Jason – When I was 7 I had a couple lessons.  Personally, that was too young for me, I was a spazz.  I hadn’t developed the focus or patience needed to learn guitar at that point.  I basically just requested my teacher play Poison covers for me.  Beyond that, I am pretty much self-taught.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Jason – LISTEN, above all else.  Your own voice comes from failing to emulate your influences, embrace the idiosyncrasies or “failures” of your playing & turn them into the strengths that define it.  Also, on a more pragmatic level: if you have more than one pedal, even just 2, PUT THEM ON A PEDALBOARD!!! Even if it is just a piece of wood, or a cutting board, or a roof shingle, just do it.  Don’t be that asshole plugging all his pedals in while everyone else is waiting for you to line check, just go ahead & be an adult about it.  I am way over the whole slacker asshole scene that is so popular in independent music.  DIY ethic, at its core, is about hard work, so stop being a lazy turd.

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Jason – LOVE pedals, noise, texture, & dynamics.  Hate Steve Vai.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Jason – Why not? It’s a tool, but keep it simple.  Floyd Rose shit is overkill.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Jason – Pretty much never, sometimes in quiet improv situations, but not for most live settings.  It just comes from playing in bands where I also had to sing.  I didn’t have time to dick around with tone knobs while I was playing in The North Atlantic, so I just used my pedals for that.  It was too fast moving & relentless to get into that kind of myopic stuff.  Besides, at the end of the day, it just does not translate to the front of house when you are that nuanced.  You aren’t recording Darkside Of The Moon in a million dollar studio, you are playing The Mutiny on a Wednesday night, get on with it.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Jason – Both play in old white guy blues bands? But seriously, I think that the lead/rhythm dualism is a very antiquated way of looking at guitar playing.  Who is the lead guitar player in Fugazi? It only applies to more “traditional” forms of music.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Jason – No.  I can appreciate the guitar work, but I can’t ignore the rest of the band.

QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?

Jason – Whichever one is worth the most, so I could immediately sell it & spend it on stuff that makes for a good life, like travel & beer.

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Jason – I could never pin one down, but people that I think are doing a lot of amazing work on guitar are: Isaiah Mitchell (Earthless, Golden Void), Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos), Victor Villarreal (Cap’n Jazz, Owls), just to name a few. 

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Jason – It’s impossible for me to judge that, you are just going to have to listen to all of it & let me know.

QRD – Anything else?

Jason – Make good things for the world, it needs it.