Chicago-based heavy metal power rock outfit War Gods Of The Deep will drop Action Space Battle, on September 17, via Astro Dragon Records. Produced, recorded, engineered, and mixed by Rikk Currence at the Black Viper Social Club, in Wheaton, Illinois, the album features 10-high-octane-fueled-tracks of kick-ass magnitude.
Currence plays guitars, bass, drums, and all vocals on the album, along with arranging all orchestration and strings.
Tattoo sat down with the Chief War God – Rikk Currence – to discuss gear: amps, pedals, guitars, and recording techniques, simply because we love finding out how guitarists and bands achieve their distinctive sound. He also provides unique insights for young guitarists.
On your forthcoming album, Action Space Battle, did you have a primary guitar? If so, what was it?
I actually did /do. The bulk of the guitar tracks on ASB were recorded with a neck-thru, Fender Telecaster with a mahogany body loaded with DiMarzio super distortion pick-ups. Some of the other guitars used were a Framus idol maker, Gibson flying V and PRS swamp ash special (to name a few).
Any modifications to it?
The tele, nick named “Shirley”, is 100% stock. It was a limited edition run that Fender did a while back. It’s really the combination of the tele body style coupled with the mahogany body and DiMarzio super distortion pick-ups that drew me to it. The guitar is tuned to open C tuning, which when combined with the pick-ups and body shape / wood really lends itself to the different variations of “thick” sound I was going for on this record.
Do you prefer one type of string over another?
Nope. Not really. On this particular record I used Ernie Ball skinny top / heavy bottom strings as well as D’Adarrio NYXL strings. In both brands I used .010 -.052 gauges.
How do you define tone?
I personally choose not to, which often makes other guitar players very upset with me. In my musical world, all tone(s) only exist to serve the song. All I care about is the collection of rhythm, melody and performance that we call a song. I’m not interested in a defined or “go to” guitar sound or tone. I like all kinds of guitar sounds, and subtle variations to those sounds and so on and so forth – especially when you’re talking about distorted or overdriven guitar sounds in metal and rock. The song will tell me what to dial in, what it (the song) needs to be complete. I work better approaching every musical scenario with a “clean slate” so to speak. This not only keeps things fresh but gives me the latitude to examine and evaluate what the musical influences for a particular track I’ve written might be, and then to chase sounds that might infuse and honor those influences a little more effectively in the composition.
Has your tone changed over time, or is it pretty much the same?
I literally never think about it (tone) by itself. I’m always framing those thoughts and critiques through the lens of the completed composition. So, from that perspective, my best guess would be that it does and will change over time.
Which amps and pedals are you using right now and why?
This record was predominantly recorded on a Marshal DSL15 through a Marshall 2×12, a Randall RD5H through an Orange 1×12 and Vox AC30. Pedals were mostly Earthquaker devices, JHS and Roland. I also use the Line 6 Helix software, A Line 6 POD 2.0, and a Fractal Axe FXII. The guitar amps and cabinets were mic’d up with a combination of a Shure sm57 and an AKG 414. The 57 was wired into a Black Lion Audio B173, which is a bad-ass preamp they make inspired by a Neve 1073. The AKG 414 was fed into a Trident channel strip. Direct signals were also recorded during all the performances for re-amping or use of guitar amp simulators inside of Pro Tools.
What kind of drums and cymbals did you use on the new album?
The record was done with me playing on a “hybrid” sort of electronic drum kit (e-kit) triggering Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2 software. This allows me to have the best and most flexible sound options upon mix down. On some songs I would overdub live acoustic drum hits and performances for kick snare and cymbals and then blend it in with the S2.0 performances to achieve different playing effects. Drums are actually my primary instrument, and as a drummer, in the studio, I play Pearl, Ludwig, DW and Pork Pie drums, and primarily Zildjian cymbals. I also use Evans drum heads and Vater drum sticks.
Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
All of them! My feeling is that there are no rules in the recording studio – if you’re doing it right. Walking into the studio, for me, is like walking into “Thunder dome,” all the ideas enter, and one song leaves. Whatever it takes to get all of the sound out of your head and heart onto the tape / hard drive is what you need to do. In the studio, I live by the ancient audio ethos of “record it like it’s not going to be mixed and mix it like it’s not going to be mastered.” Get all your sounds at the source / in the room right from the start and don’t be afraid to commit. Also, recording an album is not a race, insure there is time to do the “extra” takes, performance is everything, and a great performance will always win out over whatever trendy sound or production trick is popular at the time.
What does your practice consist of?
When I’m not working on a record, I spend about an hour or maybe a little more each day practicing. I do this six days per week. I split the week up between guitar, drums and singing, just to try and keep it all moving and growing. There is always so much to learn…so much. When I’m recording a record, it’s all “on the job” training so to speak. Doing everything in real time, pushing my limits, putting into practice the things I’ve learned… it’s more of an adventure.
Any advice for young guitarists?
Be you. Make the instrument the extension of you and what you and you alone want to do. Comparison is a thief of joy, who gives a shit what other guitar players or musicians are doing in relation to how you express your musical creativity? If you want to be the player known for sweep picking mixolydian scales over augmented arpeggios so other guitar players subscribe to your guitar-porn YouTube channel, then be that player. If you want to be the player who tunes every string on a 5-string guitar to Eb and builds complex, atonal drone soundscapes in different octaves and then loops it against audio clips of goats eating cake, then be that player. Don’t ever feel worse than, or better than other players out there simply because your perceived skill sets, and achievements are different.
Never confuse skill and talent – they are two very different things and not mutually exclusive on any level, or in any way shape or form. You want to be a “skilled” player – it’s easy, practice. Skill is simply the result of knowledge functioning within experience, and in relation to guitar, that knowledge is of some basic patterns and shapes, and experience is the repetition of movement that will inspire hand-eye coordination and muscle memory. Work on that for a few years – and boom! – now you’re skilled. Talent is a different thing all together. It can’t be learned or purchased, and everyone has it (talent) in a different capacity, that ultimately serves a different purpose. Explore your talent. Embrace your talent. Use your talent. Then, combine your talent with your skill and create that personal and unique musical expression that you feel will best serve and fulfill you.
And, as always, if at any time in life, someone tries to diminish, redirect or discourage your unique musical journey, politely tell that person to go “fuck themselves” and get right back to doing your thing.
Decorate the time my friends…it’s all any of us really have…and I promise you that no matter how much you get, it’s never going to be enough.