Interview with Micheal M of M is We
September 25, 2018
Name: Micheal M
Bands: M is We, Spring Leaves, Drugcharge (scab for tours)
Websites: miswe.com (I keep forgetting we have an actual website.)
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Micheal – Oh dang. The first one I owned & wasn’t indefinitely borrowing from another kid was one of those Ibanez RG series that were, looking back, remarkably well put together for the price. I don’t remember the model number, but it was the one with two humbuckers a certain national music store was pushing pretty hard for a while in the early 00s. I had that for maybe six years before I checked it on a flight & it went to the wrong state. The airport was next to useless in helping me find it when I landed. I called a couple days later & found out it was in like... Virginia or something & it wasn’t really worth it to drive/fly there to pick it up. I hope whoever ended up with it played it.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Micheal – So my typical setup is a late 60s Goya Rangemaster into a Blaxx Tuner, Donner Harmony chorus, EHX Soul Food overdrive, EHX Data Corrupter, Ibanez DE7 delay, EHX Cathedral reverb, Voodoo Labs tremelo, & a Line 6 DL4 delay. From there I use a Carvin x100B & Laney 4x12 cab with two speakers stock & two swapped with vintage 30s. Sometimes I’ll run a stereo channel though a Marshall MG100HDFX stack for split wet/dry sound if it’s in town & a venue that can handle the volume.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Micheal – I wanna say it’s the Carvin head, but I’m kidding myself if I don’t say it’s the delay-reverb-delay sandwich I have going on with my pedals. My ~tone~ comes from the head, but my sound is so reliant on the pedals I use.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Micheal – Absolutely the Carvin x100B. That thing is a powerhouse. It somehow manages to have a delicate clean tone before you put the gain anything past one & a half. After that it pushes with the perfect snarl. The EQ on it along with the warmth of the tubes make it so versatile.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Micheal – I talked before about the Goya Rangemaster, but my main guitar is really the Ibanez Jet King 2. It’s more sturdy & still dynamic enough to do anything I want with it. It comes stock with coil tapped humbuckers & rocker switches for both so you can get the single coil sound out of either the bridge or neck independently. The design is ripping off those 60s-70s Japanese guitars but it’s built with a modern jumbo fret neck that’s more comfortable & holds intonation better than others I’ve played. I’m a sucker for guitars that have a large range of tone that you can get out of them since I play a pretty wide variety of genres.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Micheal – Honestly, I’d be down with rebuilding the Rangemaster with a slightly smaller headstock, thicker neck, & clicking buttons instead of the lazy springs it has. It’s got that wacky surf look to it that I love & all the buttons that are trying so hard to be more technologically advanced than they are. It’s so dumb. I love it. I’d keep the split pickups for sure, maybe updated with some that run a little hotter, but I really dig how they only reach three strings each.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Micheal – I’ve put a lot of thought into this & honestly want to try just building the thing myself if no one else will. So there’s a story. A while back the fourth footswitch on my DL4 broke off & fell inside the casing of the pedal. It was kind of a bummer at first but because it was rattling inside & making contact with the pad still, the loop functions went haywire. So in case anyone doesn’t know, that pedal doubles as a loop & has a footswitch that will on one tap set the loop to half speed, & on a double tap, reverse it. With it stuck inside & barely making contact, it was pressing the button at truly random intervals. The end result being a glitchy whirlwind that’s still in key with what you’re playing, but constantly changing from swelling backwards & changing pitch with no rhythm or control. Like, sometimes it’ll change every millisecond & sometimes it’ll last three or four beats. After using it like that for a couple months I eventually fixed it, but I’ve been dreaming of making a copy of that experience that’s intentional ever since.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Micheal – Three as of now. A children’s size acoustic, the Jet King, & Rangemaster.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Micheal – I keep the acoustic hanging on a wall with a few others my roommate owns. I’ve got two stands in my bedroom for the others so that they’re close to my amps & such. Depending on how often I’m playing out, they might stay in hardcases, but I prefer to have them both easy access & visible if possible.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Micheal – Ha. Whatever technology that pokeballs use to shrink ‘em into the size of your palm when they aren’t out? That’d be pretty nice on the road.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Micheal – Versatility of tone first, sustain, but otherwise general comfort. I’ve loved the way some sound, but if it just doesn’t feel good to hold a chord on it, what’s the point?
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Micheal – I’m comfortable with the $200-800 range if it’s a quality used guitar. I guess when you’re paying someone directly for their labor on a new one it would be different.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Micheal – A little bit of both. I’ll upgrade inputs & pots when I get the chance. Otherwise I try to keep things stock since I usually buy weird guitars.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Micheal – Oh boy if you only knew the YouTube rabbit holes I’ve been in for months on end. Also it turns out, a lot of vintage gear gets like maybe one thread on a forum that was last active a decade ago where only four people have used it & I guess you just have to roll the dice sometimes on if you trust them or not.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Micheal – Not really. I do a lot of research before picking anything up & am poor. It’s nice though because I have exactly what I want as far as essentials go. At this point I’m really just adding more things to get weirder with.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Micheal – I like to change things up for different projects, but I’d be lying if I said I tweak things a lot. Mostly I’ll just change the EQ on my amp to make it more or less overdriven/snarly/beefy depending on the situation.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Micheal – I’ve had my eyes on the Digitech Space Station pedal for the longest time. That thing is from another planet. If you don’t already know, look it up. They were so ahead of the times when that got released. I’m not the biggest fan of multi-effects but that one really stands out enough to not care. One of these days I’ll pick one up, or at least a modded clone.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Micheal – Hmm. I’m a believer that when you’re first starting out, the less complicated something is, the less intimidating it’ll be to keep trying. That said, an input that isn’t faulty would have been nice from the beginning.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Micheal – Oof. The worst was definitely buying a Mustang 2 amp when I was young. That was a mistake. Those things are trash. It’s always blown my mind that Fender can make such quality guitars & amps & then just like, put out what’s basically a Digitech RP50 with a speaker. That might be a little harsh. It’s a little harsh. I’ll bring it back with the positive about buying a pedal board with a matching case. I spent so much time taking three or four pedals to a gig in a canvas tote bag. It’s a miracle none of them broke.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Micheal – Usually a big ol’ E to test the volume & make sure everything is sounding the way it’s supposed to.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Micheal – Something like 14 maybe? You’d think after all this time I’d be better at it.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Micheal – I noticed a big change around 25 when I started playing in more bands again & had to push myself out of an ambient rut & back into playing more traditional sounding guitar styles. I guess I got past another plateau not too long ago too, but I think that has more to do with understanding music theory a little better now & not so much the physical playing.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Micheal – Something about the way to make them expressive resonates with me more than anything else. Maybe because it’s easy to modulate the signal while still having the dynamics of strumming & bending notes, that doesn’t really happen as naturally with synthesizers or brass instruments.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Micheal – It really depends on how you want to approach learning how to make music. Pianos are probably the best thing to start on, but they don’t really give that satisfaction of just hitting a big chord all loud & powerful.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Micheal – Little bit of both. I’m so comfortable with it that I can usually get out any ideas that are in my head right away, but I do find myself doing all the work with one guitar & not leaving as much room for other instruments to shine through when they otherwise should.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Micheal – It’s an odd combination, but the sound I have now probably comes from listening to too much My Bloody Valentine & Brand New when I was younger. I’m not exactly excited to admit that, but I can’t really deny it.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
Micheal – A little. Names are totally fine. It’s when people make up full personalities that kinda weirds me out. Like that episode of Bob’s Burgers when the dentist is going on about how his guitar is ticklish & stuff. I’ve seen a few guys going overboard like that, baby talking to their Gibsons or Fenders. I don’t like it. Maybe I just don’t understand, but ehh. I don’t particularly want to.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Micheal – On purpose: My teenage band thought it would be cool or something to smash a cheap one up at a show.
On accident: I once tripped in the middle of the night & knocked my roommate’s Les Paul out of a stand, cracking the neck & making it unplayable. It got fixed but I still feel bad to this day.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Micheal – It took a lot of practice to get “control” of the Data Corrupter.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Micheal – Hmm. Maybe 14-25? I’m pretty satisfied with that. It could be more, but should it?
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Micheal – Dang ol’ Dunlop 1mm exclusively. Perfect width & flexibility (or lack thereof) for me. Also those little grooves at the top come in handy when you’re on stage all sweaty. Kinda hard to find a black pick on the floor when you do drop ‘em, but I also throw a few to the side just in case.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Micheal –.011 - .049 Those mediums feel better to me & can handle going from E standard to D standard tuning pretty well.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Micheal – Way less often than I should. Maybe once a year/two years. This is a good reminder.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Micheal – Almost never. I’ve broken more strings setting them up than playing. Which blows my mind because I play pretty hard for some projects.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Micheal – Fretting for sure. While I can pick around & be precise, I tend to do it minimally & focus more on the notes I’m playing.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Micheal – I try to do it myself, fail, & then end up taking it to McGee to fix my mistakes almost every time cause that guy is a master.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Micheal – E & D standard. There were a couple songs for Spring Leaves I would use an open tuning for that I don’t remember now. Mostly I’m lazy/stubborn & will contort my hand to play whatever chord I’m trying to make if it isn’t a normal one.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Micheal – Ha, I’m such a bonehead about this. While I could write things down, I end up just making videos of myself playing things instead & relearn it by ear/sight if I forget what I was doing.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Micheal – About at my waist so my arm is relaxed. Not quite punk low, but not anywhere near classical high.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Micheal – I look down at the fret board a lot. I don’t need to, but I do it out of habit from practicing like that. It probably comes off as unprofessional.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Micheal – Piano for theory. Bass for building strength & precision/timing/rhythm.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Micheal – I never got that great at sweep picking, but like... I don’t care.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Micheal – Hmm... I figured out a way to position my hand so that I can do a volume knob swell with the tremolo arm pressed down & letting it up as I gain volume. Like a record player turning on with the needle halfway though a song. Kinda useless & uncomfortable, but it sounds cool for half a second.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (Ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Micheal – I used a violin bow on a guitar in a recording for Spring Leaves & love how good/bad it sounds. Kinda want to bust it out more often.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Micheal – Tapping. I can’t tap to save my life.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Micheal – I didn’t. I had friends teach me things here & there, but for the most part was stuck figuring things out on my own. Might be why I don’t play as conventionally.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Micheal – Maybe how to hold a tremolo arm constantly & have control of strumming & bending at the same time to get that classic shoegaze sound. Do they teach you that?
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Micheal – Eat a bunch of acid & turn your reverb up.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?
Micheal – Floyd Rose’s suck to set up, but are totally worth it.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Micheal – My guitars are all too poorly built for them to really matter.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Micheal – The obvious. Rhythm is there to carry the song & lead should be making it weird.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Micheal – Not really. A bad drummer (bad, not simple -- simple is fine.) totally ruins a band for me.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Micheal – Would it be wrong to have the artist formally known as Prince’s guitar if you’re not the artist formally known as Prince?
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Micheal – I’ve been into Nick Reinhart’s spastic glitchy guitar style for a while. I could watch that dude improv all day.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Micheal – My phone? Bedroom? I don’t really push myself to my “best” when it comes to the bands I’m in for the sake of being able to play consistently. Is this where I should plug the new M is We album that isn’t out yet? That’s probably the closest to it that’ll be publicly available.
QRD – Anything else?
Micheal – Uhh. Thanks for reading. Thanks to Silber asking me to be a part of this.