Hunter H. Keegan
Essays, news, etc.
Keegan: "Sobrewity.com was a "secret project" of sorts ..."
"I stopped drinking alcohol 4 years ago for health reasons, it was messing my life up and I didn't need it anymore. In early 2019 I began drinking non-alcoholic beer and was surprised to find that there is now a wide variety of really good tasting non-alcoholic options for people who like the taste of beer, liquor, whatever, but may not be able to drink beverages that actually contain alcohol for health, religious, or other reasons."
"Sobrewity was created because there aren't really specialized non-alcoholic beverage review sites out there these days -- it sucks, you have to trawl through apps like UnTappd and try to decipher which reviews were written by sober people, which were written by guys who were pissed when they realized they were accidentally drinking a non-alcoholic beer ... the review scores are all skewed and almost all of the beers have ratings around 2.5 out of 5, which is totally useless."
"Sobrewity was initially envisioned as a podcast, and I think that there's still a definite possibility that I will incorporate a podcast element to the website but for now I am working with a group of drinkers and non-drinkers alike to create curated, succinct, honest, accurate, written reviews of non-alcoholic beverages."
"With so-called 'Dry January' right around the corner it seemed natural to put the website together and launch it right before the new year..."
-- Hunter Keegan, 12/28/19
The Moog Subphatty is an analog synthesizer that has been used on every Last Known Images release and that Keegan extensively uses when brainstorming new song ideas.
It's a versatile and great sounding synth! Moog recently dropped the price on them to around $500 making them an affordable and very cool addition to any recording artist's studio.
Sadly they use cheap plastic side panels that degrade over time (usually a couple of years) and become sticky to the touch -- even leaving residue on your fingers as you play with them which feels gross and distracting ...
Enter: Wenge, A naturally dark and eye-catching hardwood that isn't terribly expensive.
Keegan enlisted the services of his retired carpentry champion (Virginia State Champ, 1978) father to custom saw new side panels for his Moog Subphatty. Keegan then hand filed, sanded, and drilled the wenge panels and installed them on the synth enclosure ... no more sticky sides... and now much classier looking!
Fun fact: The bandsaw used to cut these panels has a cameo appearance in the LKI song "Rainbow." Listen for it... it's comes in about halfway through.
Keegan's article "Sobriety Is Not Boring" was published by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)!
"In early 2019 I wrote an article for NAMI regarding sobriety and healthy living. At first I was discouraged because they didn't immediately publish the article, but in early December 2019 they contacted me asking if they could release it after making a couple of minor revisions. I was so excited because their blog page is carefully vetted and contains articles by medical doctors, licensed therapists, and other mental health professionals ... so it was a really big deal for me -- personally -- that they would select my writing for their site."
"In mid-2020 I will also be publishing a book about severe mental illness, recovery, and healthy living strategies (tentatively titled "Lithium on the Rocks") so this is a really good sign that my work is relevant and of interest to other people!"
Click below to check it out!
Hunter talks about the background and production process of "Pickard's Silo, 2013 - 2018." The good, the bad, and the ugly. Audio and full transcript below.
Hi this is Hunter from Last Known Images doing something a little different this time ... usually after we make a new release I do a little write up on my website, hhkeegan.com, where I talk about, you know, the background and production process behind our music and some of the behind the scenes stuff, but I thought I would just do an audio installment for this one and then post a transcript of it online, just to mix things up a little bit.
So this one is about Pickard's Silo, which is the... I would, I wouldn't call it the most recent release because it's actually a compilation album of material that I recorded independently and then also, that was you know remastered and remixed with Last Known Images.
It ranges from the years, approximately 2013 through 2018, with a couple of brand new tracks that were recorded and written in 2019 so it spans about six years, which is really crazy. And it's a 17 track album and it features just a plethora of different, you know, styles and just all this diverse range of output.
Some of it was recorded and when I was in college, being a degenerate at Penn State University.
Those tracks would be, "Fred the Potato," which certainly was not written, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Um... What's another one that was recorded or written at least when I was at Penn State? Umm ... "Typewriter" is a song that I wrote, shortly after graduating Penn State, that's when I was going through this phase that I still haven't really let go of which is that: I love taking sounds and noise that wouldn't normally be considered musical, such as the clacking of a typewriter and turning them into, you know, centerpieces of a song.
There's this band that I always, always mispronounce the name of, it's something like [Einstuerzende Neubauten], I just called them, "EN," and they're a German experimental group. And they utilize all of this, just, you know, like throwing nails against a concrete wall or like using an air pressure thing to like create percussive sounds and stuff in their music and it's just so fascinating to me, and I so anyway, the point is that I really liked the use of unconventional instruments in music, and some of that is definitely reflected and Pickard's Silo.
Another track where that can be found, is the song "Drought," which was recorded. I think last winter, but that song, all of the percussion on that song It's actually me shaking a metal can full of ice cubes and also tapping against a tin box with my fingers. And that's how the percussion for that song was created so I just love experimenting with all these different sounds and these different ways of just coming up with stuff that you can throw together in a musical way. And I mean, honestly, like, I won't get too much into it but that goes back to, like, all the way when I was like a little toddler just like banging on pots and pans and like driving my parents fucking insane and shit.
Yes... So, Pickard's Silo. It's a compilation album features a lot of different material. A lot of it is very lofi material, there was recorded kind of off the cuff.
If you listen through the tracks you'll notice that there are natural inconsistencies or -- even some would argue -- "mistakes" or "errors" that can be found that, I think, to the discerning listener would be pretty obvious, but again, man I just I love that kind of raw energy behind recordings.
Something that influences me a lot in my own writing process regardless of if it's, you know, with Last Known Images or it's my solo shit or whatever. I really like stuff like Montage of Heck, the Kurt Cobain album, that's just a bunch of stuff that he recorded while you know he was in his basement, you know, just like strumming on guitar and just doing all this weird experimental shit. Also, on that note, the Meat Puppets album. It's just called "Meat Puppets II," which was also a big influence on Kurt Cobain ... stuff like that where it's just really raw, emotional, you know, kind of like stoney just lofi recordings man, it just, it sounds great to me and I mean ... fucking, I mean Neil Young is another great example of that. I mean, the album Rust Never Sleeps it's just it's so abrasive, and it's not like ... I mean it sounds phenomenal but it's so ... you can tell it's like they had a sound that they liked and they just went for it. I mean that fuzzed out tone on... [groans] I can't believe I'm blanking on the name of the song.
What is it -- "Hey Hey, My My?"
I have to look this up right now. ("Hey hey, my, my, rock and roll can never die.") Yeah, yeah, it is "Hey Hey, My My."
Okay... anyway, so glad we confirmed that
Anyway. The fuzzed out guitar tone. It's like: "Do you think they sat around and like worried about how much it was clipping or what the exact compression or like EQ settings on it were?" I mean, it really does sound like they just like walked into a studio and like cranked up the amp and cranked up the distortion and we're just like, "fuck it," and it you know it sounds so great. So I draw from all these different influences I try to incorporate them into my own music, sometimes in a successful way, sometimes in a non successful way.
One of the things that, in my opinion is not successful about Pickard's silo. Is that it, it has a lofi aesthetic that I love, right? But one of the problems with putting together this compilation album, especially considering that it covers about six years of material that was recorded and completely independent settings with. In some cases completely different equipment and completely different recording software and things like that. There was an issue with the track volumes were in certain tracks were coming out quieter than other tracks and so there were there, these weird volume jumps in between. Some of the tracks on the album and -- I was -- I'm not stoked about that I mean just from a listening experience you don't want to have to be fucking adjusting the volume the entire time you're listening to the album.
So I sent it to this guy who I've worked with for a couple of years now he's an audio engineer, I'm not going to say his name, but he sent it over to him and I was like, "don't master this don't like mix it or anything I want it to sound exactly the way it currently sounds, but can you just level out the volumes between the tracks, so that on Spotify and other streaming sites it sounds
at an equal volume throughout the entire album?"
And so I paid this dude some money and he fucking, you know, allegedly put it together he sent it back to me.
And I was listening back through what he had sent me on my laptop and also on my car stereo while I was driving to work. Because I, you know, didn't really have the time or inclination to go through and individually meticulously listen back through each track, I kinda just trusted that this dude had done it properly -- which was a mistake on my part, I should have run it by one of the last known images collaborators I'm sure Amberly or fucking anybody --
Anyway, the point is, I like basically realized after releasing this album that on hifi stereo systems, it's not as obvious if you're listening like on your phone or through a laptop speaker whatever but I was listening back through the album on my full stereo system that's in my living room. And there are noticeable volume drops and there's also tracks that are just in general like way quieter than they should be. So, the audio quality is exactly the way I want it -- like, the actual quality of the tracks and the mixing and everything is fine. But like, the just overall volume jumps around and it really pisses me off and I, you know, I'm really frustrated about that it's probably the key issue that I have with this release. And it's just such a simple thing that I should have caught and it really bothers me. Maybe at some point in the future, I'll rerelease it with the volume levels corrected.
It's not going to ruin your listening experience it's not going to ruin the album or anything but it's just like one of those like small things that really pisses me off. Anyway, that's my rant about that.
Let me talk a little bit about the, I guess the actual content of the album in a little bit more detail than I already have: So a lot of the songs on Pickard's Silo were actually solo works that I did over the last three years. I had released them under different names. Originally, "H. H. Keegan." And then eventually under, I think, "H. Keegan" and now "Hunter Keegan" which is my, I guess, professional music moniker ... "creative moniker" ... that I've been using for the last couple of years.
Anyhow, there were all these different recordings and they were floating around on Spotify and other streaming sites, and it was like scattered between slightly different artists names and it was really confusing for people to, like, find and follow my output. So I wanted to condense it under Last Known Images and just credit it as "Last Known Images" so that some of the best songs from those earlier releases would be included as part of this compilation album. So those include tracks, like "Drought" that I talked about earlier. It also includes tracks like "Crickets," was one of them... "Montana", "South Dakota 3:00 AM," "Wyoming," "Twisted Oak," those were all recorded as solo projects.
The ones that were recorded with Last Known Images are "People Like You," "Alien Friend," "Grey Sea" -- which is actually a live recording that we did in the studio -- it was like, we just kind of dialed in the mixer and we laid down a synthesizer track and you know some drum machine shit, and just kind of improvised -- I improvised -- the lyrics on it. So that was kind of interesting.
And, you know, it's a lot different than our other LP, Nocturnal. Nocturnal was a very overtly electronica album that focused a lot on ambience and long tracks and really immersive kind of stuff, and Pickard's Silo is a collection of much much shorter recordings and it's like the kind of thing that you can kind of like skip around and like, you know, jump back into. And I think that really the goal behind it was to showcase that we're not just doing these heady long, you know, primarily instrumental projects. It was also to show that we have a wide range of styles that we incorporate I mean there's elements of like country western on this album, there's elements of doom metal, in some ways, there's elements of grunge, and of course electronica. And, you know, just all all sorts of different shit and I think it kind of showcases that in a cool way.
Moving forward, I don't think I'm going to be doing a whole lot of other releases quite like this one, I think that we're definitely going to be moving back more into the more ambient electronic kind of meditative mellow but dynamic and interesting type of music that was on Nocturnal, I really really enjoy writing and recording and producing that and I mean so do the other cohorts who I work with, and it's um ... it's really really relaxing to work on those types of songs.
But, you know, Pickard's Silo it's, it's like, I mean that's the kind of stuff that I play at least when I'm just you know sitting around my house, you know, trying to come up with song ideas, I'll just sit down with an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar and just, you know, fuck around and come up with these weird little songs and the songs often are a starting point for projects that become broader in scope and that turn into things like Nocturnal that have, you know, wider concepts and things like that behind them.
Anyhow, I've been speaking into this recorder with my eyes closed, I don't know how long this recording is exactly, but I feel like I've been talking too much, and I don't want to bore people to death. So that's the background on Pickard's Silo. Listen to it, enjoy it.
One new thing about Last Known Images is that we recently were approved to be on the music rating website, Rate Your Music, which is a really cool website ... it caters to kind of like music snobs, such as myself, I've used that website for a long time. And it's a really cool way to, you know, rate and review music that you're into, especially more underground stuff. So if you like anything from Pickard's Silo or if you liked anything from Nocturnal, and you want to go on there and drop us some reviews so we can start getting some more visibility that would be awesome. I think a couple of people have already done this. Anyway that's, Rate Your Music. It's a website,
Go on there. Leave your thoughts.
And you know, of course, be sure to check my website hhkeegan.com that's kind of the central hub for every, every project that I've been working on.
I actually have a book coming out sometime in 2020.
That is, that's a whole other story though.
So there will be more to come on that.
Fuck, what else? Okay we're on twitter @LastKnownImages. We have Facebook page you can like us on there we post our music on there too. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @hhkeegan.
Alright guys, hope you dig it. Check it out, get some of those indie alternative. Non-mainstream, super underground, Washington DC, fucking dope music scene up in your life.
And yeah man. Thank you so much for listening and thank you to all the people who've listened to our stuff over the last six months as we've started releasing it it's like super cool and, you know... we love you.
Recorded and Transcribed 12/16/2019.
What it is: An educational but very conversational and candid account of my personal experiences with bipolar disorder, drug addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and recovery over the last 8 years of my life. It is not quite a “memoir,” and I am trying to avoid using that term when referring to it. It’s more like a manifesto (relax, that’s a joke).
Why I wrote it: I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, worked in the mental health field for several years (have since moved on to other things for the sake of my own sanity) and also happen to have a lot of lived experience with mental illness so writing this book seemed very natural to me. It is not me whining about my life or talking about how I’m a “unique little snowflake.” I use my own experiences as an example of how bipolar disorder manifests and place it within the context of how these experiences correlate with formal diagnostic criteria and mental health symptoms and recovery methods.
When it comes out: I anticipate that this would realistically come out in mid-spring / mid-2020. It is currently being edited by a (legit) freelancer who I found online and there is a lot of other backend stuff that I need to take care of before I could feasibly look at getting it released through a traditional publisher OR -- what honestly will more likely happen -- comfortably independently publish and distribute it myself.
Once formatted into a standard-sized book it will be around 160 pages and is broken into about 15 chapters. It’s an easy read, it’s the sort of thing you could casually page through over a couple of weeks or read through in a couple of hours if you really wanted. I am also planning on narrating an audiobook version if you want to listen to my soothing and eclectically effeminate southern stoner drawl recount it for you.
This book is based off of about 8 years of direct source material based off of journals, audio files (I voice record lots of stuff since I am a musician), and even photographs that I compiled and saved since I was around 19. I spent about three months actively writing, editing, and revising it. I am really happy with how it’s turned out and cannot wait to share it with the coldhearted, uncaring world (how dramatic).
People often ask me why I own “so many” guitars. I have 4 electric guitars, 1 electric bass, and one acoustic guitar and eventually plan on buying a couple more once I get my money right.
Disclaimer: I would also point out that I’ve been playing stringed instruments for about 15 years now and my collection of instruments is a fairly carefully curated and tasteful collection compared to what some other gear addicts are using.
First and foremost, they all are designed for different purposes. At a glance, many people may think “Well, an electric guitar is just an electric guitar,” however there are fundamental differences between them.
To put it simply, it’s sort of like the difference between using a claw hammer versus using a rubber mallet to whack something.
My Fender Stratocaster, which is the prototypical electric guitar design (along with the Gibson Les Paul which was developed during the same era in the 1940s and 1950s, and which incidentally I have never been a fan of) uses very bright sounding single coil pickups (pickups are the thing that actually pick up the sound of the guitar strings when you pluck or strum them). Examples of this can be found extensively on my album Dark Little Eyes, if I recall correctly the Stratocaster is actually the only electric guitar that was used on that album.
Meanwhile I have a Warmoth guitar that I custom designed and personally assembled which I call “Minerva,” it is based off of a Jackson Soloist body type. It is a warmer sounding guitar that uses majorly different electronics, wood, and is basically set up like a more modern version of the Fender Strat in terms of carved body type and physical feel. This guitar has appeared a few different times on my recorded works, including on the Last Known Images song “RAINBOW.”
I recently constructed a project guitar that I just call “Lucifer” (because it was made specifically with death/doom metal in mind and looks evil) it’s a modified Schecter Gryphon body that would be worth about $25 if I had sold it. Instead I upgraded it with very high output pickups (most notably a Seymour Duncan JB which I absolutely love). It uses a fixed bridge – fixed directly onto the body and cannot be tilted like with a tremolo-equipped guitar like the Jackson, Warmoth, and Fender to add improved tuning stability. It appears on the upcoming song, “The Horror Yet To Come” and is specifically designed for very low tuned heavy metal songs.
Anyway, that’s the gist of it. I do not collect crappy guitars for fun like some other guys seem to do. Everything I own serves a very specific function and was acquired for a specific purpose. Listen to Last Known Images or my solo albums to hear all of them in action.
All Indie Electronica Sucks Except for “Nocturnal”
Last Known Images released our first full-length album (“LP”) “Nocturnal” on 10/19/19 (click for link). I really wanted to do something that was Halloween themed and initially intended for it to come out on Friday the 13th back in September.
Unfortunately life intervened and I wasn’t able to get the album to where I wanted it production and mixing-wise until mid-October so we missed the cool Friday the 13th deadline but I think it was for the better. Certain tracks, especially “Hitcher” needed to be extensively reworked and the extra time really benefited the final version of the LP.
“Nocturnal” is primarily based around 8-step synthesizer sequences from a pair of Moog DFAMs that I connected to each other and ran through a couple of Moogerfooger synth modules. I also used a 16-step Korg Volca Beats drum machine to lay down more traditional percussive sounds and add variety to the shorter 8-step sequences. We’d pretty much spend a couple of hours creating patches (pre-made synth settings) in the DFAMs and then record them directly through a mixer into my recording/editing software (technically called a DAW).
We’d let them run for 10-15 minutes making small adjustments to the DFAM settings as they played. For example, the undulating “warped” sounds on the title track were created by me physically changing the modulation settings on one of the synth modules (an MF-108m flanger for whoever is curious) in real-time.
The Korg Volca Beats were also added in real time as the DFAM sequences played throughout. We would store preset beats on the Korg and time it up with the DFAM so we could cycle back and forth between the preset Korg beats/sequences. We’d then edit things down to take out the shitty parts and make 8-10 minute long percussive foundations that other sounds could be added to, which is basically the same writing process you’d use with any recording (starting with percussion and then working up to the rest of the instrumental stuff).
A huge limitation of the Moog DFAM is that it cannot store presets and does not have a digital display or MIDI connection that allows you to save the exact settings that were used to create a patch. Because the DFAM is a fairly complex analog sequencer it is almost impossible to perfectly recreate sounds after you begin altering its settings. We had to decide on a sequence that we were happy with and then move on to the next 10-minute sequence that we wanted to use for the next song. Overall though the DFAM is a great instrument that has a lot of personality and a seemingly endless plethora of unique sounds that can be created.
We threw audio clips pulled from horror movies and an educational video about echolocation and bats onto each of the tracks based off of their overall vibe and what type of sonic landscape they implied. A clip of Sigourney Weaver in the film Aliens basically telling everyone they’re fucking idiots was used for the first (aptly titled) track, “Ripley.” The intro to “Hitcher” includes excerpts from the opening scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the kids decide to pick up a sketchy hitchhiker and then bad things start to happen.
The topic of both real and fictional horror comes up a lot in the music that I write independently as well as the music I write for Last Known Images. I love weird, creepy music, and especially atmospheric music so that’s something I’ve really tried to capture in a lot of my works over the last few years. I think that the genre of horror is interesting because of the paradoxically negative appeal that it has (it’s entertaining but also stressful and disturbing). I could write a full article just about how effective Texas Chainsaw Massacre is as a film and also a piece of art in general … it’s just so fucked up and touches on all these different elements of the failed American dream and seedy underbelly of small town life and takes them to the absolute extreme. I love these themes, even going back to my second EP, “Strange Americana” which came out around a year and a half ago reflects these types of themes and anyhow… that’s why “Hitcher” is my favorite track off of “Nocturnal.”
Speaking of “Hitcher,” that song is the only track that features a guitar. I used my Jackson RR-24, which is equipped with an EMG-81 and Floyd Rose tremolo system and put it through ~5 different “gain stages,” which is essentially when you make the guitar signal go through a light overdrive, then through a moderate overdrive, then through a heavy distortion, through another overdrive to clean up the signal a bit but also boost the distorted signal and then through an Electro Harmonix DMM1100tt delay pedal through a clean Mesa Boogie TA-15 amplifier. I think a Boss RV-6 reverb pedal on the “Shimmer” setting may also have been used but I honestly can’t remember because it’s hard to tell with all of the other delay/reverb that was used.
I recorded the guitar parts using a really basic portable microphone positioned about 12 inches in front of the amp’s speaker cabinet and recorded a ton of really textured feedback that I edited down and incorporated into the song. I also used a lot of digital reverb (Valhalla Room) from my DAW that was added after the initial recording to really, really, flesh out the sustain and delay… not that the Jackson RR-24 really needs additional help in the sustain department, I always think of that clip from the film, Spinal Tap, where Nigel Tufnel is holding up an unplugged Les Paul and gloating about how great the sustain … “Just listen to the sustain – uh, you could hear it, if it was plugged in, though.”
The RR-24 is a sharkfin-style flying V that looks absolutely insane and over-the-top but is also crazy comfortable to play on because the neck shape rules and the flying V design lets you position the guitar right up against your body as you play which, for me, helps with playing more technical stuff. It’s a Japanese-built neck-through design meaning that the guitar’s neck actually continues all the way through the body instead of simply being connected to a neck joint. [Some would argue] This makes the guitar resonate much more. The active EMG-81 pickup is really the true source of the sustain though, I believe. And the Floyd Rose bridge is what allows the crazy dive-bombing feedback and harmonic content. It’s about 12 years old now and is no longer in production as far as I am aware. You can find used ones for like $900 which is actually pretty crazy because they were like $1200 new back in 2007 which means that this particular model has held its value really well over the years… which is pretty unusual for guitars that aren’t like … vintage … super old school stuff.
Anyway, this album features mostly analog equipment. All synth sounds are analog. All the guitar stuff used is analog. The only digital stuff would be the audio clips we pulled from those horror movies and the reverb and compression that were used throughout the album. There’s really no practical way to get around digital reverb, to use natural reverb requires a lot of extra equipment and space and it cannot be specifically modified after being recorded the way that digital reverb allows you to do. I really like the Valhalla Room DAW plugin because it can create quite dark reverb effects, has a lot of modulation options and also extremely long (like 45+ second) reverb trails that you can really play with when it comes to dynamic volume and panning effects.
There are around 40 different individual audio tracks on “Hitcher.” Going through and mixing it was fairly complicated and time consuming although not nearly as much as earlier songs I’ve done such as “Drought” off of my solo album, “Dark Little Eyes.“ It is difficult to create a layered sound without it getting too muddy and when I sent it to be mastered by this audio engineer who I’ve been working with for about 2 years now he actually spent a lot of time increasing the brightness of the song so that the multi-tracked synths and guitar feedback stood out from each other. Though I would also say that my (improving) mixing skills played a big part in allowing the brightness to be increased without simply amplifying shitty qualities of the original mix.
Toward the end of the editing process when I was putting together the final pieces of the album, cover art, final mixing, reviewing masters, etc. I decided to throw two bonus tracks on the album, “Annapurna” and an instrumental version of the first single LKI released called, “RAINBOW.”
“Annapurna” is a song that I wrote and recorded back in February - March 2019 that I really, really, really like but that I didn’t really have any standalone projects that it could be attached to. It utilizes bass guitar as a lead instrument and also incorporates slide-bass (glass slide + reverb to create the trippy middle-eastern sounds that start appearing toward the second half of the song), which is pretty cool. I got the slide-bass idea from this ultra-1990s sounding jazz goth (?) band called Morphine.
“RAINBOW” was simply rereleased as an instrumental track. Rainbow is the most guitar heavy track on this album and despite the stripped down aesthetic the guitar tone was achieved using a pretty complicated live stereo-recording process that was done in a single take. (I don’t want to go into too much detail but it involves a Mesa Boogie TA-15 and Mesa Boogie Lone Star Special and a lot of different overdrive effects).
We are all very happy with how “Nocturnal” came out. It’s the first full length LP I’ve ever worked on, everything I’ve previously done has been EPs and singles. The recording process was a lot more relaxed and natural than with previous projects I’ve done. I rarely found myself getting frustrated while we were recording the instrumental tracks and the production quality (by which I mainly mean the type of equipment we used to record and the mixing process) overall is really strong. As with any project that I do, I listen back through it and identify various things that I would have done differently or maybe approached from a different angle but that’s just the way it goes and I don’t subscribe to the perfectionist philosophy that you need to go all Brian Eno-status and meticulously go through every individual note of a song to make sure it sounds immaculate. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love Eno, it’s just not my creative style. I like organic, slightly more lo-fi sounding stuff that sounds real and visceral and where tasteful human errors actually add to the authenticity and emotional aspect of the songs. This is why stuff like The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, etc. still sound great, their recordings are not locked into technology to quantize, pitch correct, etc. in the way that many people now do with the advances of digital recording technology and digital instruments. The performances you hear on those albums are more like live performances than a modern studio performance. Case in point: The first Black Sabbath album was recorded in 1 day and people continue to reference it as one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever created.
Also, before I wrap this up, a huge shout out to the band, Boris, a Japanese heavy metal / doom metal / progressive metal group that has been around for like 30 years but is somehow still fairly underground. Their song “Love” (off of their album “Love and Evol” that recently came out) is amazing and really helped me find ways to incorporate insane but nuanced guitar feedback into the track “Hitcher,” especially after seeing them perform it live.
If you actually read this entire article, thank you. I hope you enjoy “Nocturnal” and it enhances your life in some capacity. Also the title of this is a complete sarcastic joke, obviously not all indie electronica sucks.
“RAINBOW” is a song that was written following an incident at a gay pride rally in D.C. wherein a mass panic erupted following false reports of an active shooter. The area surrounding DuPont Circle, an upscale, picturesque area in Northwest DC was suddenly swarming with police and frightened people.
The situation was intense, I was with a girl who I was dating at the time and took her by the arm as I navigated our way out of the immediate area.
While my relationship with that girl fizzled out after a couple more weeks, the surreal, self-contradicting image of groups of people wearing festive outfits and running in terror through the historic streets of Washington DC on a beautiful Summer afternoon stuck in my mind and the lyrics and overall tone of the song started coming to me pretty quickly.
Two songs directly influence “RAINBOW”: “Ohio” by Buffalo Springfield (a side project lead by Neil Young in the late 1960s) and “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen (off of his phenomenal early 1980s dark folk album, Nebraska). Both songs are minimalist in their approach but feature lyrics that paint vivid images of social violence and the impact that it has on the people who experience it.
When collaborating with Last Known Images on “RAINBOW,” I didn’t really realize it would be LKI’s first official release.
I’m heavily influenced by a German experimental/industrial group called Einstürzende Neubauten whose philosophy is basically, “Virtually anything you can find laying around in the street can be utilized as some kind of musical instrument.” We were very into the idea of using field recordings and “found audio” (I guess is what you’d call it) for percussion and background effects, utilizing little to no digital enhancement except to adjust things like reverb and compression.
My favorite unconventional sound in the song is a brief clip of bandsaw shearing through a piece of wood that was recorded in my father’s workshop (i.e. basement), it leads into the second chorus but we edited it in a kind of understated way so that the sound of machinery somehow feels organic and at home in the mix. There are also some clips of police helicopters that we recorded and incorporated into the chorus section in a way that could almost be mistaken for a manufactured flanger or phaser effect. The primary percussive sound heard throughout the song is a heavy steel plate being struck with a 2x4.
In the spirit of lo-fi aesthetics, the guitar track on “RAINBOW” was recorded in one take and was recorded with a handheld stereo condenser mic. I used my custom Warmoth (“The Moth”) guitar and two amplifiers with an array of overdrive and boost pedals to achieve a spongy, but textured and dynamic tone.
There are about 5 demos that LKI has sitting in the pipeline, but they range from “sort of dark” to “extremely dark” and the current consensus is that I should come up with some lighter lyrics to balance things out before we put together a full E.P.
We’ll see how that goes…
There are a lot of guys out there giving people advice on what type of guitar or amp or pedals they "need" to achieve a certain tone or style. About 75% of this advice is off-base and biased by things like gear's price, exclusivity, and notoriety.
My main weakness when it comes to guitar gear is when it comes to effects pedals (aka "stompboxes" or "distortion pedals). At this point in my 15 years of being a pedal fanatic, I own several boutique, vintage, and even "unobtanium" pedals (pedals that are permanently out of production due to part scarcity) and one of the strange things I've noticed over the last year as my pedalboards have evolved is that... They ultimately feature almost all standard/widely available pedals! Here is a pic of my main board:
The two most rare pedals on there, the Moog MF-107 and Moog MF-Boost (original black enclosure version) are the only really fancy ones... virtually everything else you see on there can be found at a Guitar Center or other mainstream guitar shops.
Why have these pedals kicked so many boutique boxes off my board? Because they sound FINE in fact, they even sound GREAT. I am actually strongly considering selling that MF-107 (a now out of production, famous Moog synth module that can be used with guitars/bass/etc.) and replacing that space on there with a Boss DS-1 (which can be found used for about $30) or Dunlop Fuzz Face ($50) and/or mid-range wah pedal.
The main takeaway that I have for people who are new to guitar and / or the crazy rabbit hole of gear collecting (be it effects pedals, amps, guitars, etc.) is that tone and taste is subjective. It's like trying different beers until you find a brand/type that you like. Some jackass was recently trying to condescendingly explain to me how a Boss DS-1 "only sounds good through a guitar with low-moderate output pickups because of the xyz capacitor and blah blah blah" and I was like "dude that's fine, but I've used a DS-1 on and off for 15 years with all sorts of guitars and amps and... IT SOUNDS GREAT. I also have a $300 alternative I could use, but I'm not using it because it does not sound as good for the application I need it for."
As I've sort of alluded to, this holds especially true for the overdrive / distortion / fuzz market of effects pedals. Don't let guys on facebook groups trick you or hype you up into buying the latest, greatest dirt box. You'll end up spending way more than you should, and in about 6 months you'll realize that hardly anyone is evening talking about them anymore (because they realize that they are relatively average circuits).
So experiment, try different gear, find different tones, decide what you like and embrace it! Personally I've come to the conclusion that I prefer vintage-voiced tones. Others like very modern sounding, tight, distortion and super high output pickups... which is fine. Different strokes for different folks. Just do your own research before buying and try not to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Your sonic proclivities will take time to evolve, don't rush out and just hastily buy stuff.
With that said an Ibanez TS-808 reissue Tubescreamer or Maxon OD808 is never a bad call for any pedalboard ;)
(AUDIO CLIPS INCLUDED AT BOTTOM)
Malekko is a small/medium sized guitar pedal / synth company that I've always had a weird interest with because of their small, simple to use pedals and the fact that their name is really fun to say.
I have been looking for a secondary delay (guitar pedal that makes echo sound effects) to back up my Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man 1100tt (often abbreviated as DMM1100TT) because I run a relatively complicated stereo setup that really warrants its own entry on here... and perhaps one day I will post that write-up.
But anyway I had been using a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay as the "secondary delay" and it was just way, way, too bright sounding -- especially through my Mesa Lone Star Special which is a very bright sounding amp to begin with. Don't get me wrong -- The DD-3 is an awesome delay, I used it extensively on some of my recent tracks including the songs, "Dark Little Eyes" and "Heart" but it was just too "chirpy," and uniform.
Enter: Two months of me experimenting with different mid-range delay pedals at guitar shops trying to find something that I liked. The obvious choices were the MXR Carbon Copy (which I ended up disliking due to it sounding "flat" and the modulation setting sound ... ahem... awful), and the Boss DM-2w ... I also tried a vintage Boss DM-2. Both versions of the DM-2 sounded great BUT they did not have any modulation (i.e. making the echos "warble" and slightly bend in pitch) function which was a big deal breaker.
I was looking for something that would sound good, suit my needs, and not break the bank. Delay pedals are particularly expensive pieces of gear, higher-end ones range anywhere from $300 - $1000+
Long story short -- I ultimately went with a used Malekko Ekko 616 Mk. II. This was kind of a shot in the dark as I wasn't able to personally demo one before purchasing it, but I'd read good reviews and one of the YouTube demos I watched featured it being used on a cover of "Holiday In Cambodia" by Dead Kennedys in a very authentic sounding way which pretty much sold me (Also I was able to find one online for like 50% cheaper than they normally go for which is always nice).
The Malekko Ekko 616 is an analog delay -- Analog delays are characterized by being warmer, and more "organic" / "lush" than traditional digital delays. They also exhibit something called "decay" which basically beans each echo gets progressively dirtier / darker / slightly distorted than the previous echo... which is very cool sounding. It has about 650ms of delay time, which I personally find to be more than enough for most applications.
Important Note: Just so I don't get murdered by fellow gear nerds, modern high-end digital delay units have gotten to the point where they can virtually perfectly mimic analog delay tones -- but fuck that fake shit. Also I'm not paying $300-$600 for a Strymon digital delay with a ton of hidden features that are a pain to dial in blah blah blah.
Back on track: The Malekko Ekko 616 reminds me a lot of the Boss DM-2 however it features toggle-able modulation, a toggle-able bypass function, and a lower profile design. I believe they are out of production, but they can readily be found on the used market. There is also a "Dark" variant and a "Lo-Fi" variant of the 616. It sounds great.
Below are some clips I recorded using a small handheld digital recorder that I use for recording jam sessions (Zoom H1n). I was using my Fender American Pro Strat (SSS) through a Mesa Lone Star Special. Obligatory apologies for sloppy playing, I was just jamming and not really planning on posting this when I recorded it.
Do you have a favorite delay? Or a delay that surprised you with its sounds? Would you like to see more gear reviews on this page? Comment below and let me know!
(c.) 2020 Hunter H. Keegan