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The Everyday Guitar Gear of...

Alex Kokawski and Church of Wolves

Church: a place of community, spiritual worship and WOLVES?!? Get ready for a whole new kind of religious education as North Carolina’s finest sledgehammer you in the face with an unholy trinity of groove-laden sludge, heavyweight rhythms and inebriating structures at the hands of Church of Wolves and axe-wielder Alex Kokawski.

“I want to punch you in the face but also make it feel like a trip as well,” Alex says of the band’s recent ventures into psychedelia. “It’s still metal obviously, but we want to add more to it than just punching you in the face riff after riff.”

In between all that punching, Church of Wolves have taken influence from High on Fire and Sleep, Frank Zappa, Cream and BB King, plus everything in between. However, it’s not just music that gets those sonic fists pumping, as Alex explains, “We are very big into conspiracy theories. The evil that comes from politics and religion being misused to ruin lives drives us as well.” This isn’t just brutality: this is brutality with a conscience.

The Durham/Chapel Hill/Raleigh scene in which Church of Wolves play is an important part of what drives them; Alex cites Black Skies, Hog, Systems, Bitter Resolve and Horseback as examples of bands who inspire him to step up his live game, while the guitar legends Alex admires most are Tony Iommi, Matt Pike and Mike Scheidt (Yob), all gods of heavy music who also uncover the beauty of the genre at the same time.

Alex’s metal instinct has been with him from the age of four, when he first saw Kerry King playing a Flying V, and that vision is something that has shaped his life ever since. “Metal can be extremely angry and savage, very primal. It gets down to the ugly of humanity very easily,” Alex elaborates. “Heavy music can also be beautiful. Take Yob as an example: some of the most crushing songs written in our generation, but absurdly beautiful as well. Being heavy is an art. You can’t just tune down and have a really distorted amp and expect to be heavy.”

Guitars

Thankfully, the riffery which dominates Church of Wolves more than solidifies the band’s status as 10-tonne heavyweights. But this is partly down to Alex’s guitar of choice, a 1998 Gibson SG standard tuned down to C standard. Although the bridge pickup was replaced with a Gibson Iommi signature and a 1meg pot, Alex says it was love at first sight. “I found it at my local GC used,” he gushes. “I played it and had to have it; I have yet to find a guitar with a more comfortable neck. The Iommi pickup brought it to life tonally where it was lacking for leads, but even before that it still sounded fantastic.”

Alex sees red with his Gibson SG (photo: Karen A. Mann)

Amps

To get his desired tone, Alex runs two amps simultaneously, a Laney GH50L through an Avatar cab with Celestion Vintage 30s and G12H30s and a 50-watt Fender Bassman through a Jet City cab. The Laney stays on the distortion channel while the Bassman predominantly has a Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh fuzz pedal running through it, although it does get used for clean tones when required.

Double the heads, double the heavy: Alex's amps

On his tonal burden, Alex has this to say, “I learned the hard way that the tone in my head isn’t achievable with just one amp. It makes for a huge pain in the ass having to cart around all this stuff, but the end result makes it well worth the back pain.” Listening to Alex’s almighty tonal onslaughts, it’s pretty clear why he makes such an effort: this rig sounds colossal.

Pedals

Alex takes advantage of his dual-amp setup with a pair of effects chains. The signal travels from a Boss TU-2 to a Lehle dual A/B pedal for splitting the signal. The Laney’s effects loop contains a TC Electronic Nova Mod and an MXR Carbon Copy while the aforementioned Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh, combined with a Hardwire DL7 and Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano, hit the front end of the Bassman.

Alex's board covers a lot of ground with minimal fuss

“I’m digging this set up right now a lot,” Alex says. “The Carbon Copy through the Laney while the Bassman has the reverb sounds awesome. I use that setup on the solo in Peace is a Pipe Dream. It gives it a huge wash of ambiance.” That said, Alex’s board isn’t likely to stay the same for too long; he has a Dunwich Amps FAC OFF fuzz on the way to potentially usurp the Pharaoh’s Bassman throne.

Heavy horror stories

When asked whether he has any horror stories from his live experience, one particular incident springs to Alex’s mind. “Our first show was the first time playing live for me,” he recalls. “I had been a bedroom warrior for 13 plus years. Third song in I missed a beat and it started an avalanche to Shitstown. I had nightmares after that show. (laughs) It was a damn good ice breaker though. I put too much stress on myself. But then we opened for Cough, who I’m a big fan of, and I now go into playing shows with a level head; I know that all I need to do is have fun and hopefully make my fingers do what they should do.”

You can hear Church of Wolves’ recordings so far above and download them from their Bandcamp, ReverbNation and Facebook pages. The band are currently working on material for a full-length album, while Peace Is A Pipe Dream will be featured on an upcoming compilation from Divine Mother Recordings. For more information like Church of Wolves on Facebook.

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About Michael Brown

Michael is a journalist, musician and general guitar geek who works for Total Guitar and Guitarist magazines. He also freelances on the side, most often for Drowned in Sound. You can view his work here.

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