Jesse Sampermans is the guitarist for Belgium metallers These Mountains Are Ghosts, who boast a Queens of the Stone Age-esque swagger and Mastodon-ised riffs with prog, stoner and hardcore tendencies. If these mountains are indeed ghosts, it’s the intense, encircling nature of Jesse’s riffs which form their spectral peak.
Since he claims to have never had one idol above all others when it comes to guitar playing, Jesse’s influences encompass a wide range of styles and genres. Heavier guitarists include Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, Russian Circles’ Mike Sullivan and Sleep’s Matt Pike, while less aggressive players like David Gilmour and Nels Cline also get namechecked. You can certainly hear elements of these guitarists in Jesse’s playing but they all amalgamate to form a personal flair for the instrument which makes These Mountains Are Ghosts so much more than “just” metal or hardcore. So what’s he using to bridge the divide between the brutal and the tripped-out?
Jesse’s axes aren’t exactly what you’d expect for metal but that only goes to emphasise the unique nature of his playing. His main axe is an old Ibanez JTK2 which he bought for €200 almost entirely based on its looks. Although apprehensive about its sound as he made the perilous journey home on a train in rush hour, Jesse consoled himself with the fact that he could just swap out the pickups or sell it further down the line. However, his feelings about that guitar are very different now.
“Sure, I was a kid back then but even now when I have more expensive guitars I still grab the Ibanez as my main guitar,” Jesse says. “I think a lot of its mojo is due to the Super 58 pickups which have this weird magnet in them. They sound extremely fuzzy when you play the guitar with overdrive and it became a huge part of my sound. It’s probably the only piece of gear that I will never part with.”
As a backup, Jesse employs another retro guitar in the form of a 1971 Epiphone Crestwood. Its Maxon pickups are microphonic which can cause a few noise issues but, according to Jesse, they sound huge. While he plans to use it more often live to spare his beloved Ibanez, Jesse points out that he’ll have to get the pickups waxpotted to stop excessive feedback squeals on the stage.
As with his guitars, there’s also a history behind Jesse’s main amp; he uses a Laney VH 100R, which was the first head he ever bought, and runs it into a full stack comprised of two Orange 4×12 cabs (or just the one 4×12, depending on the venue). He has since had the clean channel modded to react better to overdrive pedals but doesn’t use the dirty channel since it needs incredibly high volumes to sound good. He expands on the changes below.
“The mod I had done affects the treble on the clean channel,” Jesse explains. “Laneys are very brittle amps and my tech modded the bright caps to make it sound darker. It has a really flat response now and makes a good foundation for pedals.”
It’s lucky that Jesse’s Laney takes pedals so well because he’s got a fair few to run into the front end. Although he maintains his board is ever-changing, he outlines his current signal chain as follows:
Ibanez LU-20 Tuner -> Boss OC-2 -> Jupiter Effects QZ-One -> Jupiter Effects Holy Mountain -> Earthquaker Devices Monarch -> Devi Ever 90 -> Electro-Harmonix Small Stone -> Boss CH-1 -> Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar -> Line 6 Verbzilla -> Marshall Echohead
The dirt section is led by the Jupiter Effects Holy Mountain, a reimagining of the D*A*M Sonic Titan. “The Jupiter Effects pedals are insane. They’re built by Florian Zeh and are clones of discontinued or hard to get pedals but with some kind of mod to them,” Jesse says. “The Holy Mountain is Florian’s take on the D*A*M Sonic Titan but it has this three-way tone stack switch which makes it go from chunky metal distortion to full-on fuzz madness.” Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until These Mountains Are Ghosts’ debut album to hear Jesse’s new distortion tone, since their self-titled EP was recorded using a ProCo big box Rat.
Complimenting the Holy Mountain is an Earthquaker Devices Monarch, which Jesse runs as a light crunch to fuzz up the sound, while another Jupiter Effects pedal, the QZ-One (a clone of the discontinued Dunlop Q-Zone), also takes pride of place on his board for filtering duties. Finally, there’s a Devi Ever 90, which goes against the usual Devi trend and actually finds a practical use as a volume and gain boost.
Jesse’s latest purchase is the Boss OC-2, which gets considerable use in These Mountains Are Ghosts’ newer material. “The OC-2 is more synth-y than a POG and I’ve been using it a lot for some super heavy riffing lately,” he says. “I’d love it even more if it was polyphonic but it forces me to think differently and be more creative when using it.”
Modulation also forms an important part of Jesse’s pedal rig, thanks to an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone and Boss CH-1. The former often gets used with dirt (as heard in the opening to Ashes below), while the latter is set up to provide what Jesse calls a “weird metallic flange that sounds awesome and creepy.”
Finally, there are time-based effects like the Line 6 Verbzilla (the ’63 Spring setting is used for all reverbs on the EP) and the Marshall Echohead, which Jesse says has the strangest and dirtiest tape delay he’s ever heard. Don’t expect the ‘board to stay this way for long though, as Jesse’s already eyeing up the Strymon El Capistan as a replacement for the Echohead.
While a lot of guitarists opt to break songs down to the core component parts, Jesse always writes with his pedalboard into a small practice amp, spending much of his time searching for unique sounds. “Different distortions really inspire me to find different riffs,” he says. “The Rat I have sounds really grinding in the midrange so I tend to write stoner rock riffs when I turn it on. I have this old Boss HM-2 which puts me in full-on Converge mode when I’m playing at home so I really rely on my gear to get the creative juices flowing.”
You can hear These Mountains Are Ghosts’ self-titled debut EP on SoundCloud and download it for free from the band’s Facebook page. The band gig most weekends thanks to Belgium’s thriving hardcore scene but will be taking some time off from the road in the winter to pen their first full-length. For more information see These Mountains Are Ghosts on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.