|THE LIFE ELECTRIC’S
|Analog Man King of Tone
Active since 2011, Boston’s The Life Electric play rather aggressive but always melodic rock’n’roll, with psych and disco influences. Their personal guitar sound is crafted through carefully chosen stompboxes, so we decided to ask them a few questions about their gear and creative process – check out the Q&A below.
What comes first: music or lyrics?
Almost always music, but sometimes lyrics. And when you can come up with the vocal melody first, that’s even better.
What’s been inspiring your music lately?
We’re all voracious listeners of all types of music, and I’m always on the lookout for something new. It doesn’t have to be an actual new record – maybe it’s something I just haven’t had the chance to discover yet. Between that, and living in a vibrant city [Boston], inspiration is everywhere.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
It’s absolutely something that can be set in motion. The ideas can still come randomly, but you got to put yourself in a position to be open to them, to know when something is worth your time. The trick is to really live for music. Eat, breathe, and sleep it. Creating music never feels like a burden to me. When you’ve got a band that’s really active and really talented, it just makes me want to write all the time.
- MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Are there any instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
I got a Disaster Area Designs DMC-6D that’s really freed me up to try any combination of my digital pedals without having to worry about tap dancing too much.
How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
Now, everything is done in the studio. We record at Zippah Studios, and Brian Charles is such an excellent producer that we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t record there. He’s a great catalyst for ideas, and it’s important to have an outside perspective for the creative process. I go into the studio now, and I can just concentrate on the performance when I’m there.
We did record our first album on our own, but it was… not the easiest thing to do. We didn’t have a place to get loud in, so we managed to get access to an Air Force bunker from, like, the 1950’s. I can’t say how, but we did. It was so eerie down there, massively huge, industrial, dark with flickering lights. Do you know that video game, Silent Hill? It felt like that. We had to wait until well after all the staff had left for the day – definitely not okay for us to have been there. Anyway, to deal with all of that, on top of trying to engineer, produce, AND perform? Not that ideal.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
I guess for my home demos and such, I would give my left nut for a nice Neumann U47. Seriously, how much would a testicle go on the black market for?
Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own guitar sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
In the studio, anything’s fair game to use. That said, I think the only rack gear we used for the new album was an Eventide H3000, and we also used one of those Chandler Limited Abbey Road preamps to get DI distortion a few times.
I do use pedals a lot, and the Analog Man King of Tone is the cornerstone for my sound. It’s just so well thought out, so versatile. Sounds great no matter what amp you’re using. I’ll either stack both sides together for more gain, or I’ll drive that into a Big Ear NYC Loaf for even heavier sounds. Both those pedals keep a lot of clarity no matter how much gain I’m using, which is important for live sound. The thing is, there are so many overdrives on the market, it’s the build quality and the customer service that really distinguishes a pedal from the rest of the pack. Analogman’s Mike Piera has always answered my emails. And Grant from Big Ear n.y.c. has always treated me the same as the big rock stars that also use his pedals. That’s important to me. And of course everything that these guys make are built like tanks.Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
We mainly stick to being modern, but the way we try and get performances in the studio can be old school. I think the medium just lends itself to being modern anyway, but for as many layers as we put into each song, it’d be a lot tougher to do that on 2-inch tape. Lots of stereo guitars, lots of drum mics, lots of synths.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
Ummm… paying for it? Having the finished mix is easily the most rewarding part
- BEING A BAND
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
It usually starts off with an idea from either me or Joey. It could be a riff, a vocal hook, or a more fleshed out song. I try and not write melodies so Joey can put his art to it, but sometimes that’s the first thing that comes. We upload the idea to a share drive space, and either Joey will start fleshing out melodies and lyrics to them, or I’ll take his ideas and build them up into a song. Then we’ll try it out with the full band to see how the arrangement feels. But our roles aren’t defined. The more someone wants to do, the better. We can always edit and choose the best ideas.
Are bands ever true democracies? What about yours?
Ours is, to the extent that any significant decision is always agreed upon by the whole band. Sure, we’ll all take leadership in different areas, but I don’t think I’d want to be in a band where someone just doesn’t want to have a say in all the major decisions we make. I think that’s only fair: everyone has equal ownership of the band, but you’re expected to give it your all and commit yourself.
How do you guys deal with the inevitable conflict of egos?
We’re super lucky now that none of us truly has an ego within the band. We just all know that we’re complete shit without one another, so there really is no point in getting carried away with thinking just how great you are. And we developed some decent business chops along the way, too, so we make our expectations really clear and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Tell us about the process of the one song from your repertoire that came together in the most surprising way.
We’re about to release a song called “Everest.” It started off as a simple piano ballad that Joey wrote with his iPad and some loops. But when we got together as a band, we gave it a lot of space to breathe, replaced the piano with some delayed guitar arpeggios for the intro, and then kicked up the tempo with the emotion that’s being conveyed. When we got into the studio, the structure was refined a bit more so that it actually rises and peaks at the last chorus, then it falls into the outro… so in other words, the structure resembles a mountain as well. And lyrically, rising and falling and mountains are a constant metaphor. I think that we were able to pull it off so well. It’s such a beautiful song.
- THE LIVE SHOW
Would you say that your live show informs your recording process? Or that your recording process informs your live show?
I think we’ve got a nice balance between the two, now. I wouldn’t want to lose track of either.
What equipment do you find particularly useful on stage? (Please mention the brand and model name and say why you like it)
We’re a “working band” like most other bands, so it’s all about efficiency and quality. I’ll use the Disaster Area controller to change the presets to all my Eventide and Strymon pedals with just one click. The Mobius pedal in particular is really cool because you can choose whether the effect comes before or after your dry sound. It’s even got a wah sound, so it saves that much more space on my board. I’m not a purist when it comes to things like that: the Strymon and Eventide pedals are digital, but they sound amazing. Not having too many pedals allows me to just focus on actually performing, and of course it’s way lighter. I mean, it’s heavy enough, as is. Last year, after our last night down at SXSW, I had to carry all my gear, weaving through the Sixth Street crowd, all the way back to my hotel. I woke up the next morning with this dark, purple bruise across my shoulder the length of the pedalboard strap hahaha…
- BEYOND MUSIC
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in pursuing for the band, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
I’d love to have our upcoming album mastered for vinyl as well someday. It’s just something with way more tangible value to the listener, something you can literally put your hands on more. Plus, how cool would it be to see the artwork that big?
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band: fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.?
A lot. We won’t get too carried away with fashion, but the artwork, photography, and web design all help to define your brand. And it’s actually not a lot of effort, but rather, being more selective about your content these days.
Any comments about the current state of music and art in Boston?
Boston’s got such a hugely active scene, but it’s accessible at the same time. There’s some really exciting things going on behind the scenes that’ll catalyze what’s going on even more. The Sheila Divine are doing a new record, so are The Field Effect, Ruby Rose Fox is out on tour right now, tearing it up… I think we’re seeing a convergence with what all these bands and more are doing, and the payoff will be huge.