To say Rhodri Viney has been involved with a few bands in Cardiff is one hell of an understatement. He’s played a role in a staggering number of acts, including Stray Borders, Martin Carr, Sweet Baboo, Vito, Little My, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Sophia, Brave Captain, Cymbient and The Secret Show – the country side project of Funeral For a Friend frontman Matt Davies. Phew.
However, the most intriguing aspects of Rhodri’s guitar playing come courtesy of his work in solo project Ratatosk and rock duo Right Hand Left Hand. Both are uniquely dynamic and intricately layered, with looping forming the primary impetus for both acts. I was lucky enough to sit down with Rhodri, talk gear and film a performance of new Ratatosk composition The Ni’ihau Incident.
Like his music, Rhodri’s influences are an unusual blend of the traditional and the avant-garde, with the likes of Johnny Greenwood and Nels Cline contrasted with Guided by Voices’s Doug Gillard and Kavus Torabi (Cardiacs, Monsoon Bassoon). Nowadays, however, Rhodri has a clear stipulation for new influences. “I like inventive guitarists,” he says. “By this point I just like people who surprise me! Everyone plays guitar so the whole thing can get stuck in a rut.”
While he’s been using the same electric guitar for some time, the number of options it has on offer ensure Rhodri never gets stuck in a tonal rut. The axe in question is an Aria Pro T-500 Thor Sound and you certainly don’t see too many of these around, which is frustrating considering how customisable it is: Rhodri took the time to demonstrate its myriad series/parallel switches and lo-/hi-cut filters and the effect on the sound was, at times, fairly dramatic.
However, there is one switch that sees more use than the others. “My favourite part of the guitar is the overdrive switch,” Rhodri says. “It’s got a hell of a kick to it when it comes in, which is a big part of the Right Hand Left Hand sound. If there’s anything with any distinct nastiness, it’s usually that switch.”
Also notable is the tuning Rhodri employs: it’s [low to high] CGCGBE and he uses thicker strings as a result. “I love the sound of detuned guitars,” he says. “It’s easy to do barre chords because you only need one finger down to get a really gnarly sound.” That sound can be heard to full effect in any number of Right Hand Left Hand recordings, filling out any missing bass frequencies with a growl and a snarl, enough to scare away any naysayers.
While he loves his guitar, Rhodri is pretty clear on the importance of amps. “I think the best investment I made was my Orange [DT30 Dual Terror] amp,” he says. “I always liked Orange amps just because I saw Steve Malkmus use one. Nobody liked him so I wanted to be more like him!”
It’s lucky Rhodri chose the dual channel version of the Tiny Terror: that amp has to be versatile, especially when Rhodri’s playing with a few different acts. “If I’ve got a couple of different instruments running through it – like for some bands I use a pedal steel and guitar for the same thing – I set up an A/B switch and switch between those two sounds,” he says. However, when you’re a guitarist who also keeps organs, synths, a zither and a saw in your music room, channel-switching is likely to be the least of your onstage problems!
Again, Rhodri isn’t shy of playing favourites with his pedals, in this case the Ibanez DE7. “Delay is still one of my favourite things, ever since hearing Mogwai do the multiple note kind of thing with tons of delay,” Rhodri says, before launching into a solo rendition of New Paths to Helicon, Pt. 1. “That’s the sound I copied for years and years and years when I was in Vito,” he laughs.
The rest of his rig consists of a Boss TR-2 tremolo, Digitech Digiverb, Burford Electronics Robot ring modulator, Boss RC-50 and, oddly enough, a Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver. “I’ve always liked it when bands like Kyuss run their guitars through bass amps,” he explains. “So when I’m not using an amp I need something to give it that little bit of an edge.”
There’s also a background behind the Burford Electronics Robot, which tends to get used more on vocals than guitar. “There are a couple of songs from the sixties which use ring modulator really well,” Rhodri says, before putting on a few tunes by Jodi Henske and Jerry Yester. “It’s so sinister. When we were recording the Right Hand Left Hand album, I actually played this to Charlie [Francis], who was recording us, and told him to make me sound like that!”
Of course, it’s the RC-50 which is Rhodri’s primary love since, without it, neither of his current projects could exist. His looping epiphany came courtesy of a Matt Elliot gig at the Barfly in 2001. “He did this looping apocalyptic folk style stuff and it blew my mind,” Rhodri enthuses. “I hadn’t seen anything like that at that point.
“In the wrong hands looping music is the most boring thing in the world, but in the right hands it’s amazing. Matt Elliot’s the only person I’ve seen who’s got the balance between songwriting and looping down. It’s very hard to mix the two together because repetitive looping doesn’t make for good songwriting.” Judging from Ratatosk and Right Hand Left Hand’s exquisite compositions at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, we’d say Rhodri’s found the perfect balance.