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QRD #70 - comic creators & guitarists
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about this issue

Feature Interview:
Electric Bird Noise

Guitarist Interviews:
Fred Frith
Phil Dole
Chris Jeely

Comic Creator Interviews:
Jules Rivera
Derek Adnams & Brandon Bullock
Graham & Caroline Johnson
Martin Malin
Mike Rickaby
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Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Phil Dole
Guitarist Interview with Phil Dole
January 2015
Phil Dole
Name: Phil Dole
Bands: Chord, X-Bax, Dots (and a bunch of other stuff stretching back to the early 80s using Deviant & other pseudonyms).
Chord: http://chord.atomicmouse.co.uk
Chord Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chordfb
Phil Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phil.dole.79
X-bax Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dole.xbax
Phil Twitter: https://twitter.com/phildole
Chord Twitter: https://twitter.com/chordnotes
Chord bandcamp: https://chordgroup.bandcamp.com/
X-Bax bandcamp: https://xbax.bandcamp.com/

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

Phil – White Ibanez Les Paul copy bought at a pawn shop in Victoria, BC for $100 (circa 1980). Stopped using it after I got some better guitars, but it saw me through my first couple of punk/weird bands. Later sold it for $100 to Cory O’Brien of the New Heads who was starting a noise band with some other New Heads & some guys from Puke Theatre (which I eventually joined as a power-tool operator). This will only mean anything to people who were in Vancouver in the 80s.

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

Phil – It’s different in different situations. The Chord set up is really stripped down, guitar, volume pedal, stereo delay to separate amps each with separate reverb. I used to have a lot more effects in the chain before the stereo split, which was fine in bands where I was the only guitar, but there’s so much tone & texture going on with Chord that it works better if I occupy a simpler space. When I first started doing the “stereo-rig” thing in the late 80s, sound guys in clubs just couldn’t figure out what the hell I was up to & tried to argue with me on what I should be doing or that they only needed to mic one amp. Used to frustrate the hell out of me. I eventually took a break from that approach for a number of years, but when I came back to it in the early 2000s, it was no longer such a weird thing to do.
X-Bax is a little different every time out, but the usual core of it runs two guitars (with different tunings) through different channels of a stereo looper that in turn go to separate effects & amps.
There are other situations where I’m just a crank-the-gain-&-plug-it-straight-into-the-amp guy. Sometimes I’m all about the experience of the sound where all the components become part of your instrument, but sometimes I just want to slap you in the face with naked guitar (the punk rock impulse). I like doing different things, but I try to be fairly consistent within a single band or project.

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

Phil – When it’s a 12-string gig, it’s the guitar. If it’s an experimental show, it’s effects & gadgets (there have been times where I’ve traveled for Chord with just effects & gadgets & used borrowed amps & guitars for shows).

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Phil – Nothing special. An old Fender Stage Lead II (usually run in tandem with a Fender Stage 185 to make a “Fender Stack”, the Stage Lead II powering 2 X 12, the 185 powering 1 X 12 & an external 1 X 15). I still use it partly because it still works & haven’t been forced to replace it & partly because it has sentimental value (it’s been through a lot, including Blixa Bargeld of the Bad Seeds kicking it over after a show & braking a knob off it that still hasn’t been replaced). In general, I prefer Fender amps because they are better suited for the range of styles I play & are versatile from high-end wash/noise to evoking classic guitar sounds & atmospheres. If I played more throaty, chuggy stuff, I’d probably lean toward something else. There have been recording sessions where I’ve borrowed a couple of Fender Twins or similar for that extra tube warmth, but when you’re playing live with others in small venues where there’s a lot of density of sound, I’m not convinced the extra weight of the gear (especially on tour when I’m carrying it myself) is worth the difference.

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

Phil – I’d say I have two.
1. A Stratocaster model that wasn’t around for very long in the late 80s with an unusual tuning lock that releases on the fly with a thumb latch rather than requiring an allen wrench. It quickly became my main guitar & I bought a second as a stage backup when I heard they were being discontinued. The tuning lock was the deal maker as I used to do some very physical stuff to the guitar (see responses to tremolo system & physical damage questions).
2. I also have 12 string Ovation that I don’t particularly like the natural tone of, but is fine when played through an amp. What makes it a main guitar is its reliability. I bought this in the middle of a short winter tour after a night in a club in Dayton, Ohio where the heating system for the entire venue was above the stage. Every time the heat kicked in or out, the beautiful sounding 12-string I was playing would need to be retuned from top to bottom. Possibly the most frustrating night of my life. I sucked up my bias against non-wood bodies & went for road-worthiness.

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

Phil – Unassuming & black. I’d bring back that thumb-lock system Fender abandoned.

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

Phil – Hm. A stereo delay that had an additional separate reverb for each channel. Does somebody make this already? I’ve been thinking it’s probably past time to replace a couple of things.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Phil – Right now, 5 & a bass.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Phil – The 4 I use most regularly are in cases in a dedicated closet. Traditionally, I’ve had them in stands all ready to go in my personal recording space, but that doesn’t really work in the current set-up. I have an additional acoustic & a bass in climate-controlled storage right now that will eventually get stowed closer-at-hand.

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

Phil – Hm. You know, if I think about it, my case problems really are my problems because I’m too damn lazy to remove & stow straps. However, if there were more strap-friendly compartments I might do it.

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

Phil – It’s been different every time. Aside from being structurally sound, I’m usually buying a guitar for a specific purpose.

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

Phil – Just slightly more than I’m comfortable paying.

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

Phil – The one time I had a crazily tricked out guitar it was stolen. Since then, I’ve mostly just gone with what I’ve bought. Sometimes I upgrade pickups along the way, but I usually don’t change things until I break something. Which happens as I’m pretty hard on the hardware.

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

Phil – Definitely research. There’s only so much testing will do, you never really know for sure until you put it into service.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Phil – Yes & no. I have different configurations for different situations, but for a given group or project it pretty much gets locked in.

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

Phil – Well, I don’t like fiddling with tone on the fly (unless that’s the entire purpose of what I’m doing), so I tend to lock in to one or two settings for the duration of a set or session. However, I will try different things in different situations.

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

Phil – I’ve learned (the hard way) not to look at gear unless I’m looking for something specific. Keeps the lust in check. Prevents accidental purchases that interfere with paying the rent.

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

Phil – I think a first guitar should be simple, no distractions. Focus should really be on the feel of the strings & how organic tones are made.

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

Phil – The aforementioned Ovation was probably the best purchase simply because it made my life so much easier, especially on the road. The worst purchases were more a result of buying something cheap, which is often a mixed blessing if you only have a little money to try something out with. I had a cheap amp-in-a-box that kinda filled a need for a little while, but it was heavy on the effects sounds of the day & light on basic quality amp sounds. & the wiring was a little bit suspect -- it would buzz & burp if bumped or adjusted.

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

Phil – I’d like to point out to all those fine people out there who never gave me an endorsement that they blew this opportunity!

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

Phil – I strum the 5 basic open chords just to hear how it sounds for tone & for tuning. Then usually something I’ve been working on recently to see if it’s still there from the previous attempt.

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

Phil – 16. I started late!

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

Phil – 27 or 28.

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

Phil – I think I just soaked-up more guitar based rock than anything else as a kid. It was not my first instrument, but there was definitely an “ah-hah” moment when I tried it for the first time. I’m enough a multi-instrumentalist that I can get to be mediocre on just about anything I pick up, but it’s not the same as having an instrument at your creative center. If you write, the instrument(s) you write from fit you best, I suppose. So, it’s about 80% guitar & the rest is keyboards & weird electronics.

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

Phil – Not necessary the best instrument for learning theory on, but it’s better to play an instrument that motivates you than one you don’t relate to.

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

Phil – Both!

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

Phil – Pete Townsend. Bob Mould. Ron Asheton. Robert Fripp. East Bay Ray. I tend to like guys who are no-frills, get-it-done types & guys who think in really odd & interesting ways.

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

Phil – Silly. Unless you’re an old, black blues man, then it’s a love thing.

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

Phil – I used to destroy the shit out of tremolo systems. Had this one song that was 6 or 7 minutes where I used it in brutal, unconventional ways. It was always a show closer, partly because if the whammy bar went, some other damage invariably happened & the guitar would be dead for the night. The worst one of those incidents I remember lead to a crack in the body & one of the pickups fell out.
The most amusing damage occurred during a gimmick I was doing for a while where I’d bite into a can of beer & then use it as a slide. The pressurized beer would shoot through the tiny puncture hole I’d made with my teeth (it’s actually pretty easy to do) & then spray off in different directions as it hit the fretboard. It looked chaotic & wild, but it was actually pretty controlled. I’d been doing it for a while without incident, but the first time I did it in a mainstream rock club (as opposed to a “scene-friendly” venue) the douchebag soundman freaked out, pulled the stage power & rushed up to me, screaming at me. I was so startled, I stopped paying attention to what I was doing & ended up shooting most of the beer point blank into the electronics & in our hurry to pack up & escape this fact was not discovered until a couple of days later. One of the pickups started getting flaky & had to be replaced.

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

Phil – Just play & try to stay nominally fit for the sake of stamina. I guess I run things in my head sometimes without an instrument present.

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

Phil – Depends what’s going on. I’m happiest when I play something every day, for whatever reason, but I’ve had extreme stretches. There have been periods where I was juggling multiple projects & working on new stuff all at the same time where it seemed like all I was doing was playing & there have been stretches, like when I move, where I may go for a couple of months without playing much at all. A consistent hour a day, give or take, is best.

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

Phil – Really light: .46mm nylon. I started out as a sort of a slash-&-burn rhythm player & I found I could do more complex things if I had extra give in the pick. Of course, the trade off is that my leads probably don’t have has much attack as they would with something heavier; but overall, it’s the best fit for me.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Phil – Standard 10 gauge 6-string guitars. Light, but not so light I keep snapping the high E string. On 12 string guitars, I use 10 gauge sets, but swap the .008 6th string (G-guide string) for a .010.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Phil – I’m not systematic about it. I guess I do it a few days to a week before a serious recording so they’re bright & new, but have been broken in a bit. They seemed to last longer after I started wiping them off after playing (especially after a show). So, as needed & as motivated.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Phil – A lot less frequently than I used to. Does that mean my technique is better or am I just less ferocious?

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

Phil – I have more natural proficiency in my strumming hand. It means I have to practice leads harder than rhythms & am less likely to improvise leads than I am to improvise rhythmic variations.

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

Phil – I can & have done it myself, but since I’m not the best at it & it takes me a long time, it makes more sense to pass it off.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Phil – Currently, I mostly play monotuned E & standard tuning. I have an acoustic that stays tuned in open D, mostly for recording slide textures. I have older material I haven’t played in a long while that uses other tunings, usually done as a tool to try & write something that sounds a little different. There was some stuff I did where I had detuned the G to E, which makes for some easy & interesting figures. I did a one-off acoustic thing that was D-A-D-A-A-D.
The monotuned idea came to me via Savage Republic. It’s great for drone.

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

Phil – I find it easier & faster to use my own shorthand.
Chord is an interesting group for charts as each player has developed their own notation system to handle the arrangements (which rely on dynamics rather than on notes & rhythms).

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

Phil – Lower than is optimal, but I’m not the ridiculous slinger I used to be.

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

Phil – I think it’s far too late for that!

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

Phil – Piano (keyboard) can help with any instrument just by the fact it’s all laid out linearly & you can still think about note relationships, chords, melodic & harmonic lines, etc. In the end, I think that’s more important than the technical execution of the guitar. But I also come from a perspective of using different kinds of guitars in different ways -- each requires it’s own thinking & skills.

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

Phil – I wish my slide playing was better. I’m okay as far as adding texture goes, but I can’t do it for real. There’s a particular simultaneous precision & delicacy required, even when playing full-on that escapes me.

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

Phil – Being able to play well without always working at it. I wrongly assumed a day would come that I’d have so many hours behind me that I wouldn’t have to do so much maintenance. I have to practice for the sake of feel. Even if the mechanics are all there, I have to keep working on it to make sure I’m focusing on how I’m playing rather than what I’m playing.

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

Phil – Don’t recall. Some ebow subtleties, probably.

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

Phil – Ebow. Two words: infinite sustain.

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

Phil – Again, slide. I’ve never tried lap steel. I suspect I’d be similarly inept.

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

Phil – I never had guitar lessons, but I had other music lessons (mostly piano) that made it easier for me to learn guitar on my own.

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

Phil – That timing accuracy is more important that note accuracy. You can often get away with playing the wrong notes in time, but you can’t get away with playing the right notes out of time.

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

Phil – Ha! I had a situation where I was doing work on a film soundtrack. It was kind of a mess on all levels. There was a track where I’d just played something without accompaniment (& without a click track) that they later decided they wanted drums on. So when I came back to hear the final mix, I’m listening, & it suddenly seemed really subdued to me. I was thinking “huh, this performance doesn’t jump the way I remember.” Turns out they’d brought in a studio musician to redo it because my spontaneous playing wasn’t tight enough for the drummer they brought in. Then they told me that they’d spent hours trying to figure a couple of the chord voicings I’d used, like that was the essence of figuring me out, these couple of suspensions I usually play in place of some normal chords -- which is why I didn’t figure out I wasn’t listening to me right away. So, yes, there are certain note & chord choices that would have to be there to emulate me, but what I learned that day is there’s also a feel element I don’t quite know how to describe. Urgency of attack or something. Even with the drone stuff where you’d think it was straight ahead single note on an ebow, you can tell it’s me.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?

Phil – Done with them. Bashed the shit out of them for 5+ years with one band & got them out of my system.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Phil – Not a lot. I tend to go all on or all off, so there’s no guess work.

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

Phil – Hm. I’ve never played in an outfit where people were strictly defined like that. The traditional distinctions always have that snobbery attached. Lead players have a bit of the virtuoso in them. Rhythm players couldn’t cut it as lead players. I guess if you were to play pure lead, you’d need to have a little bit of the virtuoso in you. I kind of hate that mind-set though. It’s useful & technical, but can send you down some tired, over-traveled roads. I think Frank Zappa nailed it when he started having a “stunt guitar” position in his band. To me, Steve Vai will always be a stunt guitar player.

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

Phil – Not really. The band doesn’t necessarily need to be as good, but there has to be a minimal level of competence or it will distract. If they’re not as good, it’s okay. If they’re actually BAD, then not so much.

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

Phil – Wow. That’s a pretty big candy store to choose from. Makes my brain explode. I do know which famous musician’s guitars I would NOT like to own. Hendrix’s Flying V. Bob Mould’s Flying V. Dave Davies’ Flying V.  KK Downing’s Flying V. Etc., etc., etc. No Flying V’s. Ever.

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

Phil – I have to admit that one of the things that happens as you get older is you start paying less attention to what other people are doing & staying more focused on what you’re doing yourself. Which has good things & bad things about it. But I’m just not as obsessive about keeping up with everything going on like I was 25 year ago, or even 15 years ago.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Phil – Drone-wise, the stuff with Chord, especially Progression & Gmaj7. Rock-wise, the stuff I was doing in the early 90s as Deviant, maybe Mary’s “Police Hunt”.