Listening to the brand new album ‘Door to the Sun‘ by PA via New York trio The Stargazer Lillies is an experience comparable to getting lost in the fog. The fog, in this circumstance, is of the aural kind, and created by an over-abundance of guitar effects employed (very unsparingly) by guitarist John Cep, formerly of Soundpool. The man loves stompboxes so much that he carries around to shows not one but TWO boards to fit them all – one of them, as you can see, hosts almost exclusively delay pedals… We were looking forward to getting some geek talk out of him, but it turns out his thought process is as deranged as his playing style.
The Stargazer Lillies’ sound is literally drenched in effects, is your songwriting inspired by them, or are they mostly applied after the composing process?
It really depends. I don’t have a set way or system to compose and record music although I do gravitate toward certain habitual things. Using tons of effects and turning all the way up would be two essential habitual things. I literally do just whatever allows me to use the maximum amount of effects on my boards. I start the process with my amps turned all the way up and every single pedal on. Then I sculpt the sound by reducing effects much the way Leonardo DaVinci would take a chisel to marble. I’ll eliminate effects one by one to reveal the sculpture which was inherent in all the noise and gobbledegook.
AmpS turned all the way up with all the effects on? Gobbledegook indeed! What was the most inspiring pedal you recently added to your board?
I was like, this is it, this is the signature sound for the new album, the guitar + all the effects.
I am inspired by all the pedals on my pedal boards every single day. I actually draw inspiration from them by siting in lotus position directly in front of my pedalboards and meditating on producing awesome sounds. You need to use the power of your imagination to literally see the sound (not hear it, you must see it!). You sit in front of all your pedals and close your eyes but leave them open just enough so that you see a sort of blurry image of all your effects. Make sure all the effects are turned on so you can see a blurred vision of all the pretty lights etc. Then you go through each effect in your mind, imagining the type or crazy sounds you’re gonna make with that effect… but then you have to actually visualize the sound, not just hear it. I do this twice a day for 20 minutes.
It sounds like a healthy habit, but, FYI, each foot should really go on top of the opposite thigh! (see top picture). Where there any stompboxes that ended up giving the new album a signature sound?
Yes! I was using all my effects – like I always do – to try and create a signature sound for the album, and then I used a guitar with all the effect, and it totally blew my mind. I was like, this is it, this is the signature sound for the new album, the guitar + all the effects. It was like magic and everything fell into place after that.
I guess that was like asking “which one of your children do you love the most?” – naive question… Is there something you do with one of your pedals that’s not very straightforward?
I know what you’re trying to get to. I have to admit it’s true. Sometimes I like to do things with pedals that aren’t so straight like hooking them up using two male jacks instead of straight male to female. Two females too, but I usually like to have the male in there somewhere.
…with the guitar, just a smidgen is all you need, let the effects do all the work.
It’s obvious that you lived in NYC for some time, in the South nobody would dare using cables that way… speaking of sexually charged words, the band’s vocals are also very “wet,” both on record and live, what effects do you guys use on those?
It’s important that whatever effects we use on our vocals, it’s something that sounds really good! So, our goal in vocal production is to use the vocals as a means by which to make all the effects sound awesome. Now I realize people generally like to do it the other way around but I’m telling you they’re all doing it wrong. The trick is to use as little vocals as possible, just enough to make all the effects sound awesome. We use a similar strategy with the guitar, just a smidgen is all you need, let the effects do all the work.
And although the last answer sounds like another joke, a track like ‘U R Y’ (streaming below) may convince you otherwise.