Genesis guitarist talks new M+TM album, gear

Mike Rutherford is backstage in an arena in a “very cold, wet Scotland,” calling before show time to talk about the new Mike + The Mechanics album, Let Me Fly. It’s the band’s first new project in six years, and he is quite satisfied with the results. “I’m pleased with the album,” he says. “I think it’s got a strength to it. How it does, we’ll see.”

Rutherford began thinking about a new album while The Mechanics were touring their 2011 release, The Road. “On that album we didn’t really know each other,” he says. “We were sort of feeling our way. This time it was a lot easier because I knew Andrew and Tim’s voices and I knew the kind of songs I wanted them to sing — or I had an idea, anyway.”

Let Me Fly, introduced earlier this year via the first single, “Don’t Know What Came Over Me,” features Rutherford on guitar and bass, along with Mechanics members Luke Juby – keyboards, Gary Wallis – drums, Anthony Drennan – guitar, and vocalists Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar. It also marks a new songwriting partnership for Rutherford: the album’s producer, Brian Rawling [David Bowie, Tina Turner, Cher], introduced him to former Johnny Hates Jazz singer Clark Datchler in December 2015, and the two immediately clicked. Rutherford also collaborated with longtime friends Fraser T. Smith and Ed Drewett.

“We wrote, and we found the first three or four songs good enough to record,” he says. “We worked on them, rewrote bits, worked on chord sequences and melodies, and I think the whole process made the quality control high. It shows on the album, hopefully. There’s a certain Mike + The Mechanics sound. I’m not quite sure what it is. It’s probably the way I write and co-write, but I don’t intentionally think it has to fit in a format. Basically, if a song inspires me and moves me, then I’ll do it. I’m not trying to write within a certain framework.”

GEARPHORIA: This is your first album in six years, although you’ve remained on the road. What made this the right time?

MIKE: Having spent some time on the road with these guys, I couldn’t keep doing the same songs. I needed new songs to carry on tour. And I felt we’d become a much closer unit. Once again, Brian Rawling was the outside ears on this project, and he’d question us: “Are you sure that chorus is good enough? You haven’t quite got it yet.” It really helped with our songwriting.

Read the rest of our exclusive Q&A with Mike Rutherford here
Visit the Mike + The Mechanics official website here

Built-out basement is HQ for pedal up-and-comer

McCAFFREY AUDIO started much like many other pedal companies across the US. First, there was nothing but some remedial knowledge of how musical instruments operate, mixed with a little passion. The passion pushed just hard enough to pursue self-education, which in turn afforded enough know-how to pour into a product that others were interested in buying. In the early days it was just Ryan McCaffrey and RJM Effects. Then came the push. The push is what makes a builder take the leap from hobbyist to businessman.

“I worked 24 hours on at the fire department and 24 hours off,” explained McCaffrey. “I’d been playing guitar for a long while. I learned how to do some guitar work and some amp work way back when and it got to a point where, there were a lot of cool pedals out there, like the Klon, take that. And I thought to myself, humbly, ‘Ok I can do electronics on a guitar and some stuff with an amplifier. How hard it is to build a pedal?’  It was pretty tough… it was like boy this is like night and day, but then you get to a point, you build a simple fuzz circuit and then you build this and you build that so it was really just kind of hobby on my in between days. But then you build one for a friend type deal, or you do this and then slowly but surely a little income comes with it. If you would have told me two years ago, you are not going to be in the fire service anymore, you are going to work in your basement and you are going to have a pedal company, this type deal… I would have said you’re bat shit insane.”

Insanity nonwithstanding, McCaffrey made the transition to self-employed pedal maker and looked to build a small team of like-minded, musically-inclined folks around him. The first member of which, before any of this could fly, would need to be his wife, Jessica.

Read the rest of our visit with McCaffrey here
Visit the builder’s website here

Finding balance as a one-man operation

THE PEDAL business isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be as ruthless as it can be rewarding. While the barriers to entry are low, the barriers to success are much more challenging. It takes dedication, persistence and product. Sean Erspamer at Lotus Pedal Designs had all of these when he took the plunge in 2009, but he did so with the safety net of retaining a full-time job at a high-end pro audio equipment manufacturer in northern Minnesota.

“The pedal thing started when the band I was in earlier on got back together for a reunion show in like 2009,” recalled Erspamer. “I had sold off most of my gear. I had one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar… no amp anymore. But if I was going to get the band back together, I was going to need some pedals. So I bought a boutique pedal from a manufacturer I won’t name and it didn’t work. So I took it into work and opened it up to take a look. I was like, really? This is all there is to it? I’m used to dealing with microphone preamps and compressors and EQs with 3,000 parts in them and this had seven. It took about three minutes to trouble shoot. Isolate the problem. Get the part. Fix it. And all along I was thinking I can make something better than this.”

That thought lead to a fit of tinkering in the basement and emerging with three different circuits. A quick call to a friend and a few test drives later and there was a sale… only Erspamer didn’t take the money. He gave the friend the pedal. He did really have any interest in that particular circuit as a product. Not long after, word started to spread around Duluth that their was a new pedal guy on the scene.

Read the rest of our visit with Lotus here
Visit the builder’s website here

Eau Claire pedal house eyes community growth

IN JANUARY of this year, the effects wizards at Dwarfcraft Devices celebrated their 10th anniversary — a decade of over-the-top distortion, mind-blending oscillation and things that go bloop and bleep in the night. The anniversary loomed large during our visit to the company’s current digs, which was at the rear of a building currently housing an art collective of sorts. The shop is split into two sections — one houses the main workstation area while the other holds offices and musical equipment for both testing pedals and play time.

For the first two years of its existence, Dwarfcraft was Ben Hinz, in his basement… alone. He would toil away on builds while his wife Louise attended college then landed a job at a local law firm. It wasn’t long however until she was pulled into the business.

“He got in way over his head,” says Louise Hinz. “He was drowning in emails. So I just started by answering a few emails here and there. Then I started sending invoices. As things got more official I was doing business, backend stuff. I quit the law firm and have had one other job for like a year and a half where we could get health insurance and all of that regular stuff that grown ups do, and that was just a nightmare so I quit after about 18 months there and came back full time and I’ve been back for 2.5 years full time now.”

Check out the rest of our shop tour with Dwarfcraft Devices here
Check out the Dwarfcraft website here

Former Brother Cane frontman finds comfort in guitar

Damon Johnson is in a good mood. In fact, he’s thrilled. His day began with the news that Black Star Riders’ new album, Heavy Fire, is No. 6 on the UK charts across all formats, comfortably positioned between Ed Sheeran and Adele. “None of us could have envisioned it,” he says, speaking for himself and his bandmates: vocalist Ricky Warwick, bassist Robbie Crane, drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, and guitarist Scott Gorham. “It’s a real pleasure, and it reminds me of how grateful I am to be a part of this. We’re very grateful to our fans and to our team at Nuclear Blast. This is the highest chart position they’ve ever had with any act, and they’ve been around a while, so it’s a good day. It’s a goal and a priority for us to help some of that translate to the States.”

Black Star Riders came together in late 2012, building on Johnson, Warwick, and Gorham’s working relationship and friendship in Thin Lizzy. Although easily assumed to be an offshoot or side project, BSR was formed as a new, original band, one that Johnson had longed for since the dissolution of his 1990s group, Brother Cane.

Johnson’s musical resume is lengthy. He grew up in Alabama, where he played in bands, attended concerts, collected albums, and honed his chops by practicing to his idols’ recordings. With equal parts talent and determination, he worked his way up the old-fashioned way, making his first mark recording and touring with Witness, then forming Brother Cane, with whom he recorded three albums and developed a strong fan base. He also became an in-demand session musician and songwriter. In 2004, he joined Alice Cooper’s band, then became a member of Thin Lizzy, which paved the way for Black Star Riders.

At home in Nashville, Johnson was still reeling from the morning’s news when he spoke with Gearphoria.

GEARPHORIA: Black Star Riders have released three albums in four years. While many artists are releasing a song or two at a time, why have you chosen to release full-length projects?

DAMON: I am the one proponent in our band who wants to treat releasing music in a little more modern or contemporary fashion. We put out these albums because we’re older rock musicians who grew up buying full-length albums. It was always ten or twelve songs, hold the album in your hand, so we’re a bit retro in that respect. I’d like to see us make the transition to two or three songs at a time. I see artists doing that and I’m OK with it. That’s how you should do it, because the majority of people are streaming, not buying physical products. So the short answer is because we’re old and we’re accustomed to doing it that way!

Check out the rest of our chat with Damon here
Check out his official website here

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