Carving metal with an axe after giving up the sticks
Not just content with writing a veritable arsenal of punishingly groove-heavy hardcore riffs, metal axeman Clifton Carr also managed to find his way into his favourite local band, Grievances from Warner Robins, Georgia, USA.
“Grievances were around for six months or so and did a few shows with my old bands,” Clifton recalls. “When I saw them play I knew I’d like to jam with them. They are all friends of mine so I told them that if they ever need another guitar player I’d be down to do it. About two months later, I got the call. I showed up at the first practice knowing three songs already, so it went really smoothly…. almost.”
That “almost” is telling of the lineup troubles Grievances have faced. Shortly after Clifton joined, the entire rhythm section left. Fortunately, guitarist Matt Mills gallantly took over the bassist role while new drummer J.R. Morrison filled in on the sticks, joining existing vocalist Chris Monk. Now left as the sole guitarist, Clifton is instrumental in leading the band through a host of stoner, thrash and crust movements, all the while keeping the rhythm and the groove at the forefront of his mind.
“I never hear guitar riffs in my head: I always hear drums,” Clifton confesses. “I guess that comes from playing drums ever since I was 11. I always jam to my internal drummer and the riffs just come out. I tend to let the riffs dictate where the song is gonna go.”
And my word do those riffs dictate. To use a politically incorrect analogy, these are Stalin-esque rifftatorships. A lot of the inspiration behind them comes from Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, while bands like His Hero Is Gone, Neurosis, Catharsis and Overmars have all had a big impact on Clifton’s playing too. However, as with a lot of guitarists, it all started with Black Sabbath, although for Clifton it was the man behind the kit rather than the one behind the axe who started it all.
“I started out drumming and Bill Ward was my hero back then. I taught myself how to play guitar from watching the guys I jammed with,” Clifton explains. “During breaks I’d pick up the guitar and put my fingers where I saw them putting theirs. Once I got the hang of it, I became obsessed with guitar. I got a subscription to Guitar World and all those kinds of magazines and learned everything I could – not so much how to play songs, but what kind of amps and pedals so-and-so would use in the studio and what kind of recording techniques they used.”
All that reading paid off: Clifton has massive tone. It starts with three Les Pauls, although to find his favourite Clifton took a bit of a gamble.
“My main guitar is an ’86 Orville by Gibson Les Paul Custom. It is all stock, but I’m not sure exactly what model Gibson pickups are in it. I found it on eBay from a Japanese seller and fell in love with the pictures,” he says. “I was nervous about buying a guitar I had never played first, but once it came in I knew I did good: it feels perfect in my hands.”
Clifton’s backup is a natural-finish Les Paul Standard from 2005, fitted with EMG 81 and 85 pickups, although he may soon swap the pickups for something a little less active. Completing the trio is a 1993 Les Paul Studio Lite, another guitar with a story behind it.
“This is my third time owning this same guitar,” Clifton laughs. “I traded it to a friend for a Tele and then I sold it online to a guy on the other side of the country. I told him that if he ever decided to sell it I wanted first dibs. I didn’t ever think he would, or even remember that I mentioned it, but one day I got an email asking if I wanted it back. Third time is the charm though and I’m not getting rid of it again: it plays and sounds too good.”
If you thought those Les Pauls were impressive, wait until you see these amps. Clifton uses an early 80s 50-watt Marshall JCM800 with 6CA7 power tubes and a Soldano Hot Rod 100+, run in stereo. The JCM goes into an Emperor 4×12 and 2×12, both with Weber 65 speakers, while the Soldano goes into an Emperor 4×12 with Weber 75-watt Silver Bells, although when Clifton feels lazy or stages are smaller than usual, he’ll just use the JCM800 with both 4x12s.
While recording Grievances’ split EP with Gulfport, Mississippi grind merchants Quiet Hands, Clifton had a specific strategy for splitting his amps. “I recorded two rhythm tracks and panned them hard-left and hard-right and then had an overdub straight up the middle a la Jerry Cantrell,” he explains. “The left was the JCM800 into the Emperor 4×12 with Weber 65s and the right was the Soldano Hot Rod 100+ into the Emperor 4×12 with Weber Silver Bells.” The result? An absolutely crushing array of riffs coming from all directions.
“My ‘board is a Pedaltrain Jr. and I cram as much shit on it as I can.” Clifton is certainly forthright when it comes to his approach to pedalboards, but there’s no denying he makes good use of a small amount of space. His board features a Korg Pitchblack, Boss OC-2, Black Arts Toneworks Revelation Superlead prototype, Black Arts Toneworks Black Forest, Ibanez DE7, Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Small Stone and a Line 6 DL4. It’s the Black Arts Toneworks creation that occupies the most important slot on the board though.
“The Black Arts prototype is amazing,” Clifton enthuses. “It is based on the preamp of the Marshall Superlead and makes my amps sound so much bigger than they are. Mark [Wentz, owner of Blacks Arts Toneworks] hooked me up with it. I got to meet him at his shop and he is seriously one of the coolest builders out there. His customer service is the best there is.”
But just because Clifton has some awfully nice gear doesn’t mean things don’t go wrong, although, when they do, it’s more to do with his stage performance than his equipment.
“My old band was playing a show on a smaller stage and I was really getting into it, climbing on shit and jumping off of cabs and slinging my guitar all over,” he recalls. “I hit the bassist with my guitar and broke the headstock completely off. I threw the guitar across the club after that. I really loved that SG and haven’t been able to find another like it!” For the sake of killer riffs everywhere, let’s hope the same doesn’t happen to Clifton’s Les Paul collection.