Contrasting players set to soar above the instrumental masses
Instrumental rock is constantly building in popularity, but without lyrics, one of the key differentiators between good and bad instrumentals is whether it tells a story. Songs need a narrative, a sense of direction, purpose and structure. Fortunately, Northern Irish post-rockers Psychojet have one hell of a back story, not to mention a gutsy reason for taking the less well-travelled instrumental path, explains guitarist Adam.
“I became disillusioned with hip-hop after being kicked out of the Wu-Tang Clan for being ‘too real’,” he laughs. “Plus, instrumental music really is marvellous. In theory, we could all don drainpipe trousers, grow self-consciously bohemian hairstyles and start playing twee indie music. But it would keep us amused for about eight seconds. For grown-ups, instrumental music seems to hold the most promise.”
Despite only existing in their current guise for less than a year, Psychojet, which includes guitarists Adam and Pete (their surnames are filed under confidential), have already established an impressively mature sound that’s well beyond their collaborative years. But that doesn’t mean it’s ready to settle down in the semi-detached house of weepy guitars and meandering minor progressions.
The band’s new release, The Sea Is Never Full, is a crash course in how to make a modern instrumental rock album: seven tracks of tightly focused songs that never lost their sense of purpose, with a range of mind-bending time signatures that remain accessible to non-musos. Oh, and a cheeky Prodigy cover, too. The band’s accessibility is partly down to the guitarists’ influences, which aren’t necessarily what you’d expect.
“Hands down, my favourite guitarist has to be Nuno Bettencourt,” Pete enthuses. “His style of playing just incorporates everything: great songwriting, technical solos and rhythm. From a more alternative music genre, I would say my main influences are Billy Corgan and Stone Gossard, as well as Mike Sullivan from Russian Circles.”
Meanwhile, Adam has his own surprise inspirations.
“Robby Krieger from The Doors, and both of Janis Joplin’s guitarists: Sam Andrew and James Gurley,” he lists. “Their work on Summertime is the best guitar duet I know. I also like Chandrasonic from Asian Dub Foundation, even though he goes heavy on his effects, while I tend not to use them. And Rodrigo Y Gabriela, a Mexican duo now living in Ireland, do some quite startling work on the Spanish side.”
So, Pete and Adam incorporate an eclectic mix of styles, which has seen them compared with fellow Northern Irish instrumentalists And So I Watch You From Afar, but also Kasper Rosa, Giraffes? Giraffes!, El Ten Eleven, Fugazi and Do Make Say Think. And the guitar duo’s approach to gear is just as disparate as these aural comparisons…
Pete clearly knows what he wants when it comes to his guitar’s tone, and he’s tweaked his Fender Highway One Stratocaster to meet his exacting needs. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with it when he first bought it, though.
“I’ve had it for about eight years, and at the start, I didn’t really take to the sound of it,” Pete recalls. “I loved the feel of the neck and lack of heavy lacquer on the body, but I just couldn’t get the sound I was after. So, I installed a set of DiMarzio pickups – PAF Pro bridge, HS2 middle and Virtual Blues neck – along with brand-new electrics, and the rest is history. I have played my Strat pretty much constantly ever since.
“Occasionally, I use a Gordon-Smith GS2 and a Music Man Silhouette, but I have got so used to my Strat that I always lift it for gigs and practices. I am also currently building my own Stratocaster through the Lagan Lutherie School in Newtownards, [County Down], so time will tell if I can manage to rest my Strat for a while!”
Adam, meanwhile, is unashamedly minimal when it comes to his guitar.
“It’s a left-handed Yamaha Pacifica, about 12 years old – my only modification is raising the saddle slightly!” he laughs. “Sorry, that’s awfully plain, isn’t it? I also have an Admira Spanish guitar, which I actually prefer. But due to feedback and mic’ing problems, it’s just not practical to take out on stage, so sadly I have to stick to the electric.”
With amps, too, the pair differ in their approaches. A Fender Blues Deluxe is the combo of choice for Pete (“It gives me a great warm, clean sound that I can tailor with a few effects”), while Adam’s choice is, it’s fair to say, a little unusual for a gigging band.
“I use a wee Hiwatt BSK-15 busker’s amp,” he reveals. “It’s portable, chargeable, has a good tone and holds up fairly well against stacks in volume (unless we’re playing a huge venue).”
If cork-sniffers haven’t already turned away after catching a glimpse of Adam’s amp, they’d be well advised to navigate elsewhere at the sight of his pedalboard.
“I built my pedalboard out of plywood and shelf brackets from a DIY store, and it is every bit as good as that sounds,” Adam laughs. “Embedded within it is a Behringer TU300 Tuner, Boss RC-20XL Loop Station, Behringer Tube Ultragain MIC100 preamp, and a Zoom 505 for volume control. I rarely use much besides my tuner, though – I like to keep the tones clean and simple. If I want to change my sound, I just flip the [Yamaha’s] pickups to the humbucker.”
Of course, the important thing is that it sounds good – which, on the evidence of The Sea Is Never Full, it is. Pete, however, has a more comprehensive approach to pedals. ”I’m more partial to the use of effects than Adam,’ he says, “but, as Adam finds difficult to believe, I don’t really use a lot!”
Pete’s signal chain looks like this: TC Electronic NDY-1 Nova Dynamics, Boss TU-2 Tuner, Suhr Riot, Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, loop switch (from diypedalkits.com), MXR Micro Amp, TC Electronic Flashback X4. He has a specific approach to his ’board, which he explains below.
“The compression is always on,” he reveals, “and the loop pedal allows me to flick the Micro Amp and delay on simultaneously – it gives that nice big boost when I’m doing some tremolo [picking]-type lines. The Flashback is the most recent addition to my pedalboard – I haven’t got round to using all the features on it yet, but it sounds great.
“I use to be a bit of a distortion pedal freak – always trying to find the one that sounded just right – but I’ve settled on the Suhr Riot for the heavier, more saturated tones, and the Boss Super Overdrive for a touch of dirt. I also use a lot of reverb from the amp on the lead line of False Crescendo; I think it just adds a nice bit of colour to the sound, and it’s hard to beat the reverb sound from a Fender amp.”
Despite their seemingly disparate approaches to gear and playing in general, Adam and Pete have a real respect for each other – and it’s a guitar-playing bromance that they’re not afraid to share.
“The best moment for the band was probably discovering Adam,” Pete admits. “He’s been a real driving force for us all, and has kept us on our toes. Not to big him up too much, but before his addition things were going a lot slower. I think as guitarists we complement each other well, and have very different playing styles and tonal characteristics to our sound that seem to blend well.”
Adam returns his bandmate’s affections. “Every time I see Pete’s captivating beard, it fills me with hope and inspiration,” he jokes. “And he’s all right on the guitar, too, I suppose. He’s too self-effacing to admit it, but he really is very good. When we sync guitars in the first portion of Latitudes, it’s brilliant fun every time.”