By Nate Hall (U.S. Christmas)
#5. Dixie Collins – Weedeater
It takes a special kind of person to create a sonic mirror, a tone that reflects the individual hitting the strings. When Dixie straps on his cheap Squier P-Bass, slugs back some of Kentucky’s worst and switches on his amps, the ungodly wails that erupt from the cabs are a true reflection on the nine-toed, cockeyed rascal himself. There are lots of sludge bands, lots of guys who push their amps to get wild feedback sounds – but somehow Dixie’s tone is unmistakable. A good example is the first few seconds of the song “$20 peanut” from God Luck and Good Speed. When I hear that familiar groan I immediately begin to chuckle, trained by years of experience that some kind of comedy gold is going to follow that sound. I am never disappointed. Dixie is an able multi-tasker, simultaneously a great comedian and musician. He can play a set while vomiting, setting off fireworks, blasting airhorns, or even curled in a fetal position. His signature bass tone – achieved by turning all the knobs on his Sunn head all the way up – except for treble, which is turned all the way down- acts as a kind of auto-pilot, screeching and oscillating on its own until his spastic arms grab the strings again. Dixie is one-of-a-kind, and so is his weird ass tone.
Dixie Collins – Weedeater
#4. Brian – Meatjack – Days of Fire
I never got to see this band live, but thankfully I have this CD to remind me that guitars don’t always have to sound like guitars. These guys achieved an amazing tone on this record, a super-sustained, amazingly compressed and powerful sound that I have never heard anywhere else. Days of Fire is a great album, cohesive from beginning to end and absolutely dripping with malice and sinister guitar wails. At times, the guitars are distorted in a traditional sense, pretty much Gibson through Marshall tone. But at others, particularly on the first and final tracks, the sounds are really out there. I’m not sure exactly how they got the instruments to sound so smooth and snythy (I just made up that word), if I had to guess I would say E-bows or some kind of sustainer system. I remember meeting Meatjack guitarist Brian Daniloski once and asking him about the guitars on this album. He was nice enough to tell me what he used, but thankfully my senile brain erased it. The best thing about bizarre music is the mystery that obscures it. At A Loss puts out a lot of great records, and Days of Fire is one of my favorites.
3. Henry – Dove
A long time ago USX played a show with Place of Skulls, Dove, Starchild, and Valkyrie. Needless to say, there was a lot of great tone on the stage that night. Victor Griffin had 3 Laney heads and sounded amazing, Starchild used white Matamps, and lead guitar brothers Pete and Jake Adams made everyone’s jaw drop. The guys from Dove hung out and – I swear to god – fixed each other’s hair in a gnarly biker bar in the deep south. When it came their time to play Henry trotted out a rack unit, some custom cabs and a Les Paul and let loose a torrent of amazing guitar sounds. I have seen a ton of great guitar players in my time, but that performance still sticks out. I remember standing right in front of him the whole time, amazed and curious. I wanted to know how he got that tone, but the rack stuff was then and is now way over my head. Henry pulled of some of the best live guitar sounds I have ever heard, completely saturated with distortion but still clear and smooth. It was like a sonic massage. I include him on this list because he went about things in an unusual but very effective way. Whatever he is doing, it works. Much respect to Henry.
Henry – Dove
2. Yanni – Stinking Lizaveta
Dixie suggested this one and I’m glad he did. I love this heavy, freaky jazz band. They are great players and they have been doing their thing for more than 15 years. Cheshire the drummer is some kind of immortal, ageless earth mother who was baptized with the sweat of Ginger Baker. She can seriously throw down. Bass player Alexi (Yanni’s brother) uses a weird looking standup fretless thing, and Yanni looks (and plays) like someone mixed up the DNA of Hendrix, 60’s Santana, and Pigpen from the Grateful Dead. His wild, expressive playing combines the best things about doom, jazz, and psychedelia. His tone is amazing – the sound of an amp on the verge of explosion. When USX did a show with Stinking Lizaveta, they all did yoga for a couple of hours before they played (Along with Brian from Darsombra, who was the guitar player in Meatjack), something I have never seen before or since. There must be something to that, because they were absolutely on fire when they came on. Yanni plays an old Les Paul studio with a weird aftermarket tremolo called a “Les Trem”. It is a pretty simple design, a small spring loaded bar attaches where the stop-bar usually goes. You can’t do divebombs like you can with a strat, it doesn’t work like a Bigsby either. It is more like a really intense vibration, and Yanni absolutely wails on it. He also screams into his guitar pickups, which must be really microphonic. That is a really cool trick and I have never seen anyone do it like he does. Do not miss this band if they come anywhere near you.
Yanni – Stinking Lizaveta
1. Eric, Eric, and Matt – Archers of Loaf
I came up watching this bizarre NC band. They made some great albums in the 1990s and I was at the last two shows when they called it quits. I saw them play many times and I could never figure out what they were doing with their guitars. They are the only band I have ever seen that could make angular, clean tone guitars sound truly heavy. Everything about them was weird. They looked weird, they tuned weird, made great weird faces when they played, and they played an assortment of vintage and custom instruments through little amps. Their guitars always sounded really metallic to me, and they made use of cool plinking sounds playing the strings above the nut and below the bridge (the song “Distance Comes in Droves” is a great example). Their bass player Matt sometimes played a Travis Bean style steel neck and broke strings almost every time I saw him play. I highly recommend every album they ever did and their main vocalist Eric Bachman continues to create really great, strange albums. I’m sure the other dudes are doing cool stuff now as well, but I have lost track. One of the best NC bands ever, weirdos of the highest order.
Harnessed in Slums: Eric, Eric, and Matt – Archers of Loaf
** U.S. Christmas’s Run Thick In The Night is out now on Neurot Recordings. Order here.