Performer Magazine: April 2017

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On Bucking Stereotypes & Turning Genre Conventions Upside-Down

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Nnamdi Ogbonnaya cover story by Tony Eubank

Rose Cousins by Vincent Scarpa

10 4. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR 5. VINYL OF THE MONTH: Mad Denizen 6. DIY Tips from Martyrs 8. Soundrop: Single-First Music Distribution for All Music Makers

Surfer Blood by Sarah Brooks


28. Advanced Routing Tips for Live Mixers 30. GEAR ROUNDUP: The Best LowWattage Amps

34. Treehouse Records: A Visual Guide 36. GEAR REVIEWS: BAE, Warm Audio, Blue Microphones, Yamaha and more…

48. FLASHBACK: Vintage AKG Reverb Unit

Vita and the Woolf by Heidi Schmitt

18 Cover

Johnny Fabrizio



Howdy, y’all. As of this writing, we’re getting early reports that several bands have been denied entry into the United States who were scheduled to perform at this year’s SXSW. Now, while we don’t have all the facts and details, it would be easy to jump on the “this is what you voted for” bandwagon and bash the current administration’s hard-line stance on those entering the country. But finger pointing aside, the situation raises some very good questions, and should lead to better conversations artists need to be having before they book international travel.

the facts. But the media has been quick to denounce these situations as reflections of U.S. policy, without stopping to define what, if any, responsibility artists have when traveling abroad. So, let me offer some words of advice: if you’re unsure about what documentation or paperwork you need when booking your travel to work in a different country, hit the pause button and contact the appropriate channels BEFORE putting those plane tickets on your credit card. We’d hate for any more bands to show up in a foreign land only to be sent back home before they got a chance to perform.

Volume 27, Issue 3 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 CONTACT

Phone: 617-627-9200 Fax: 617-627-9930 PUBLISHER

William House Phone: 617-627-9919 EDITOR


At the crux of the matter is the proper type of visa, it seems, and what paperwork is, and is not, in order for some of these bands trying to gain entry to the States. Regardless of whether or not these acts had official letters from SXSW about their performances, trying to enter any foreign nation to work (and yes, even unpaid showcases are work if your profession is music) without the proper paperwork is a fool’s errand. I’m not saying the bands are in the wrong here; we don’t yet have all

So be smart, have all your ducks in a row, and give ’em hell when you arrive! Benjamin Ricci, editor

Cristian Iancu



Andrew Boullianne, Benjamin Ricci, Colin Smith, Chris Devine, Heidi Schmitt, Michael St. James, Sarah Brooks, Tony Eubank, Vincent Scarpa CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS

Johnny Fabrizio, Vanessa Heins, Zak Bennet, Chris Sikich, Jessica Flynn, Morgan Smith, Colin Smith ADVERTISING SALES

William House Phone: 617-627-9919



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Performer Magazine, a nationally distributed musician’s trade publication, focuses on independent musicians, those unsigned and on small labels, and their success in a DIY environment. We’re dedicated to promoting lesser-known talent and being the first to introduce you to artists you should know about.

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EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS In the words of our esteemed forefathers at CREEM: “NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: reviews, features, photos, recording tips, DIY advice or whatever else you have in mind that might be interesting to our readers: independent and DIY musicians. Who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will... ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us to and see what comes back your way. If you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”


D Benjamin Ricci

iscovering the debut LP from Mad Denizen, Starved, is kinda like putting on Springsteen’s Nebraska for the first time. It’s one of those records that encourages late-night listening, preferably with cigarettes smoldering in the ashtray, whiskey close at hand.

Starved is primarily the work of Michael Charles, an Oakland artist who’s crafted an afterhours LP that, intentional or not, is haunting as all get out (but in a good way). Armed mostly with an acoustic guitar and his voice, Charles tracked the record to tape using a TASCAM 388 reel-toreel machine. The audio quality of the vinyl is striking in its immediacy and clarity, likely due to the tape medium, attention to detail in the

recording process and top-notch mastering/ cutting job. We’ve been a bit bummed by the level of quality going into recent vinyl pressings (noisy as hell, lousy pressings, poor fidelity all around), but Starved is a winner for both the listener and even the most discerning audiophile. Lead single “Invisible City” is (and yeah, we’re using the same descriptive term twice in one review, so sue us!) haunting, like a modern update of Nirvana’s “Polly” (complete with tasteful cello). We’re digging Starved, as if you couldn’t tell. The tunes are moody and a great Smiths alternative for when you’re feeling mad at the world and just want a comforting record to turn to. Couple that with the high-quality audio experience and killer album art, and this album definitely deserves a spot on your ever-expanding LP shelf.

Mad Denizen Starved

Oakland, CA (Broken Ear Records)





efore anything, take time to deeply connect to the foundational reasons as to why you do what you do as a DIY band. Determine what it is about your music that’s most important to you. That understanding will help you sustain focus on meaningful goals and remain motivated while enduring the likely challenges that will arise when attempting to make music on your own terms. In the case of my band, Martyrs, one of our driving forces is to participate in a music culture that has held great meaning for us, all for the better portion of our lives. Ideally, our efforts will result in a positive contribution to the underground DIY subculture and provide meaning to as many of its participants that connect to what we do. When it comes specifically to the music we make, it’s a matter of creating songs that celebrate the roots of musical genres that heavily resonate with us (often in the realm of Hardcore Punk) while pulling on that sonic foundation in ways that will help reinvigorate and offer refreshing ideas to those genres. TIP 1: RECORDING YOUR BAND Record with someone you believe has a strong personal connection with the types of music that influence your sound, since it will more likely lead to a recording that adequately captures the essence of what creatively differentiates your music from the rest. That is debatably more important than simply having a “professional sounding” record. Pick someone who has already proven to produce a recording that sounds the way you hope yours will sound. Make sure to trust in your producer’s creative suggestions and technical feedback, since they’re likely to understand what’s necessary to produce a better overall product. On a more technical front, make sure to set aside considerable time prior to the recording sessions to ensure that every band member is on top of their parts. If possible, practice to a click. TIP 2: BOOKING YOUR BAND In our experience, building genuine real world relationships is the best way to sustainably have access to show opportunities. Get personally involved in the DIY community in your area and if one doesn’t exist, START IT YOURSELF. Come to learn who’s putting on the shows that you enjoy attending and make them aware of your band’s 6 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

existence and interest in playing shows. Find and support bands that you respect, introduce them to your music and offer to swap gigs. If venue availability and budget allows, book your own shows and support bands that are likely to return the favor. If you live in an area with a high saturation of bands, it may take time and persistence to gain the attention of the regulars in your local DIY community. Just keep showing up, be genuine and most importantly, keep working on creating music that has integrity. TIP 3: BAND PROMOTION Before seeking the masses, make sure you have something of value to offer to begin with. Is your live set strong? Are you confident that the songs you have written will resonate with the people you care to reach? If not, aggressive promotion of unrefined creative content runs the risk of doing more harm than good. Although a lot of bands put a heavy emphasis on online marketing and social media, regularly playing live is a more effective and impactful way to share your music and gain recognition. You’re more likely to produce unique and memorable experiences on the stage as opposed to from behind your keyboard. Figure out where the most

passionate crowds exist and fight to get in front of them. Once you discover people who genuinely care about what your band’s doing, show them gratitude since they are the ones who are most likely to spread the word about your band. ABOUT MARTYRS Martyrs is a band from Boston, MA. Although Martyrs’ music is heavily rooted in Hardcore Punk subculture, the members’ influences are quite diverse and the band puts a serious effort into incorporating a variety of appropriate and relevant styles into their writing. Martyrs create music that both triggers a sense of excitement in listeners and inspires them to explore musical styles that they formerly would have shied away from. Martyrs recorded their first, self-titled record in 2014 at God City with Kurt Ballou (Converge, Russian Circles). After going through a series of lineup changes the band recorded The Great Disturbance in August of 2016 with Jay Maas (Defeater) at Getaway Recording. Dave hopes that those who listen to The Great Disturbance come away from the record with a sense of excitement, a desire to join them in live settings in support of what they do, and beyond that a desire to explore their local DIY art and music scene in person, away from their devices.

RADIO PROMOTION (terrestrial, satellite, internet)

Dresden Dolls Bad Plus Girls Guns & Glory String Cheese Incident Esperanza Spalding Medeski Martin & Wood Steve Winwood Gov't Mule 311 Janis Ian Jim's Big Ego Stanley Clarke Umphrey's McGee Gretchen Parlato Miss Tess Mike Stern Soulive Maceo Parker PUBLICITY AND TOUR SUPPORT (print press and viral)

call: 800-356-1155 www:


Single-First Music Distribution for All Music Makers Michael St. James


Pony: Soundrop also works very well for collectives and small labels releasing albums with compilations of multiple artists. The songs are tracked directly to the artists; we handle the licensing and rights management if there are covers, and direct all of the split payouts. That makes life easy for them. PM: Give us the pricing breakdown. track, and maybe don’t want to get into a yearly payment just to keep these tracks online. Enter Soundrop, a simple digital music distribution platform, geared toward those who release tracks daily or weekly. I spoke with Kevin Breuner (you know him from CD Baby), and Zack “Pony” Domer, the company’s Brand Manager.

here is a growing wave of music makers who do not fit the traditional band/artist model. They’re not concerned with an album cover, a release date, high-concept videos, magazine reviews [editor’s note: and why the hell not?!?!], or any of that. They don’t tour, and they don’t give a damn about sales. To them, the game is not so much about crafting a sound or painstakingly going over mixes and bridges; nope, it’s about releasing music as quickly and cheaply as possible. Produce, release, see if it goes viral, repeat. Some are known for releasing a single a day, or more.

PM: There are many music distributors. What role do you see Soundrop fulfilling?

These musicians are often found on YouTube with thousands of subscribers, eagerly awaiting the next quirky cover or original recorded on a laptop cam from their living room. Some are also on platforms like SoundCloud or Patreon, producing and releasing mixtapes, EDM features, rough tracks, and more. There are even collectives and small labels focused on niche music, such as unique covers of video game soundtracks or meditation/study music.

Pony: We wanted to make it a simple and streamlined distribution platform, with no risk upfront, and no long-term commitment.

Each of those platforms has experienced problems in recent years, pulling catalogs, changing terms, dwindling ad revenue, and more. Listeners are flocking to Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon, etc.; so, there is an opportunity to support this community of “single-first” artists. If you’ve released covers on YouTube, Content ID takes care of all the legal mumbo jumbo, but that doesn’t fly on the major streamers. For those, you’d better know mechanical licensing and what HFA stands for. And if you’re releasing hundreds of songs per year, you can’t possibly pay per



great platform, but changed direction. We have expanded the reach broadly to include the gamer market (VGM artists), EDM producers, remixers, and more. Obviously, we serve traditional musician/artists too. We welcome all.

KB: We’re focused on a piece of the market that hasn’t been serviced - creators who release singles right when they finish them. This idea of releasing track after track, you never know what’s going to work, so you need to have the least amount of friction and cost to find out what does work. The EDM market is very single-release oriented. YouTube Creators, many [of them] are artists that can’t tour, [they are] very cover song heavy, of very different ages.

PM: Who Soundrop?





KB: Mainly a lot of the YouTubers. We migrated the Loudr users, too. Loudr had a

KB: No signup or yearly free. Soundrop takes a 15% admin fee on all sales, but only if you sell. For covers, it’s a flat $9.99 per composition, and that’s it. Simple. PM: How about your payout policy? Pony: Once an artist has reached a minimum of $20, we pay through PayPal or mail a check. We are now working on adding monthly reports, as well. PM: How do you handle collaborators and splits? KB: As you know, that’s a huge pain point for artists. We’re making it simple. As you upload a track, you list any collaborators and Soundrop then searches out the system. If they are not registered, we email them and setup an account in the system for their direct payment. PM: How long does it take to get a single live on services? KB: It varies by store, but usually, one to two days. Pony: If it’s a cover - or a release that contains covers - it could take a week or so for the licensing, and then one or two days to get to the stores. PM: How does this work if an artist already is setup from Tunecore? Can they still use you? KB: We have plenty of Soundrop users who have released through other distro services and there are no issues with you releasing a separate track through us. Pony: That’s kind of the point. Release and try as much as you want for free, no upfront money, you only pay 15% if you sell. Visit and get started for free.




ROSE COUSINS On Allowing Lyrics to Get at the Heart of One’s Self

Vanessa Heins

Vincent Scarpa


really believe in not having everything ironed out beforehand,” Rose Cousins tells me. “The magic gets lost in over-determination.” If this is indeed the methodology that brings Natural Conclusion— the Canadian songwriter’s fourth and newest record—into being, fellow musicians might wish to develop a habit for plunging headfirst into the indefinite. Just look at the results it yields. One listen to the record—even one listen to “Chosen,” the centerpiece of Natural Conclusion and its first single—is evidence enough of the magic Cousins mentions. It’s a skillful sorcery in which she engages; one she’s demonstrated on the lyric and melodic level to astonishing effect in her three previous records—2006’s If You Were for Me, 2009’s The Send Off, and 2012’s We Have Made a Spark, a record that landed the songwriter a Juno Award—but which has never been more apparent and laudable than it is here. Cousins has a preternatural, if not supernatural, ability to

capture and render the fraught complexity that exists both between people and within oneself. “Relationships are the trickiest things we navigate as human beings,” Cousins says. “It’s separate people with their own unique emotional structures—however they were created—attempting to connect with another person who has their own unique emotional structure. And I’m fascinated by people who are doing it successfully.” Indeed, many of the songs on Natural Conclusion are interested in the innumerable ways a relationship might fail or flounder or otherwise deteriorate in the face of that tricky navigation. This, of course, can be said of a great many—a majority, one could even argue—of songs. It’s what Bonnie Raitt is up to in “I Can’t Make You Love Me;” what Leonard Cohen is tugging at in “Famous Blue Raincoat.” What sets Cousins— and, specifically, this record—apart, however, is her willingness to examine honestly and ruthlessly the role she herself might play in any given relationship’s dissolution. “I am tired and worn thin from healing wounds inflicted by my own scorn/I am at war and I am alone,” she sings on “Chosen,” a song in which Cousins lays bare a

frank, distilled worry: “I don’t know if I have what it takes to be chosen.” Of all the striking lines to be found throughout the songs that comprise Natural Conclusion, that’s the one that packs the biggest, most affecting punch. “I’ve been chewing on the feeling within that song for a really long time,” Cousins says, “trying to figure out what might be the source of my own fear and doubt.” The outcome of this variety of auto-ethnography is a stirring, heartrending song for an audience to engage with, but something additional for Cousins. “After writing it, it was a great release for me, because I understood better what I was feeling,” she says. “I wrote that song and I thought, ‘Shit, that is real, that is as vulnerable as I have ever been and as honest as I’ve ever been.’” This is the unrelenting ambition of Cousin’s songwriting: to know herself better by virtue of what she finds herself able to disclose in her lyrics. In setting out to write toward an apprehension of why we—often without knowing—circumscribe ourselves, immure ourselves from what has the potential to be unspeakably happy-making, Cousins arrives at a place of insight as capacious and meaningful for her audience as it is for PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 11


“The more vulnerable you are, the more feeling you can translate.”


shortage of instances on Natural Conclusion wherein Cousins demonstrates an impressive deftness for lush, lyrical acrobatics—as in a line like “my guts are raw with the lines of a liar” from “Chains,” or “I swear your nerves were thick like trees,” from “Like Trees”—Cousins’s great strength is and always has been the deployment of a language of undecorated candor, stripped of artifice, to impart feeling and meaning. Consider the straightforwardness of a line like “I pushed you away and now you’re all that I need,” from “Lock and Key,” or the bluntness at the heart of “I am my own worst enemy” from the same. Where other songwriters might seek to shroud the emotion being expressed in esoteric abstraction, Cousins is content to simply say it—to sing it—as it is. This confidence in language—that the words, so long as they are honest, will be good enough—seems the condition of possibility that allows for what is so moving and so admirable about the music Rose Cousins puts out into the world: its unremitting willingness to transmogrify the results of a fearless self-cartography—maps of error, joy, pain, vulnerability, beauty, and everything in between—into songs which, regardless of the emotion or situation being adumbrated, always allow for the maximum passage of light.

Follow on Twitter: @rosecousins

herself. “That, to me, is an endless, constant conversation the songs are having,” she says.

thing I had to give up to have it, and isn’t that the fucking rub,” is how Cousins characterizes it.

The conversation is taken up elsewhere on the record in a song like “Freedom.” Boosted by the sonorous production, the song has to it an anthemic feeling—and how could it not, with a title like that—in which the speaker seems to be expressing liberation from a suffocating dynamic that has come to permeate and thereby constitute a relationship. But though it may take a few listens to land on—for Cousins’s voice, which this reviewer has described previously in Performer as having the capacity to “lullabize a pack of starved, angry wolves,” is often so arrestingly beautiful and singular as to dominate the initial listening experience—the perceptive listener soon realizes that Cousins is in fact troubling the very notion of what freedom might mean; for what kind of freedom is it that, born of one’s being risk-averse, unfetters one from love? “Here I am sitting with the thing that I want, and missing the

“Freedom” feels representative of what Cousins’s songs seek to dramatize—or perhaps hypothesize is the better word—which is that love might be defined as nothing more and nothing less than the cultivated practice of embracing one’s own vulnerability and, in tandem, the vulnerability of others. The trick, then, is to enact this embrace without abandoning one’s authenticity. “I’ve spent a lot of time maneuvering and gymnastizing in and around connections,” she says, “but no matter how many times you try— or in which ways you try—to contort yourself in a relationship, it’s just not going to work out. And you’re not honoring yourself if you’re contorting for someone else.” This disinterest in contortion is embodied not only in what the songs aim to appraise at large, but in the lyrics, too. Though there is no




Surfer Blood

How to Turn Loss into Creative Fuel

Zak Bennett


Sarah Brooks





016 was a tough year for many of us. With the currently divisive state of society, how could it not be? For multitudes, struggle, as well as its counterpart resilience, were a big part of the year, too. For John Paul Pitts, the year included not only the loss of his bandmate, Thomas Fekete, but also his mother’s cancer diagnosis. Amid all this, his band, Surfer Blood, was planning to release a new album—laden not only with the endlessly catchy ballads they’re known for, but heavier material that allows us to connect with his personal experiences as if we’ve learned them as our own. Since the band’s debut album, Astro Coast, Surfer Blood have been honing their production. For Snowdonia, the band’s latest, Pitts continued the trend from their first

record and wrote and mixed the work entirely by himself. What remained was a sense of autonomy amid collaboration, where solitude reigned supreme. He used the skills he had gained over the years, and was able to create a multifaceted album that explores the depths of human emotion. Though the album has been crafted by Pitts once more, there’s a whole lot that’s different, too. Bassist Lindsey Mills provides guitar backings as well as strong vocals, and they experiment with an instrument that’s not-so-commonly played: “One of the cool things we discovered is one of those rotating cabinets, it’s called a Leslie cabinet - it’s used on an organ, and we were able to rig it up so you can play it through a guitar. It’s so cool because you can’t really tell if it’s a guitar

The album was polished and ready to go in May of 2016—however, this time period also coincided with one of great loss. One of Surfer Blood’s original bandmates, Thomas Fekete, lost his battle with cancer that same month. Pitts struggled with the dual loss of his dear friend as well as his musical counterpart. “I think January 2, 2015, we got wind that Thomas was really sick and going on tour was just not an option for him. That was the first time we had known anyone who that happened to who wasn’t our grandparents or something. That was really crazy, and it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t going to be around to help us write songs anymore, that everything else in his life was now second to his fight. That was really hard on me. That took a lot of getting used to and was a huge adjustment. I considered walking away from the band. That was separate from when he actually passed in May and I just knew that I wasn’t ever going to see him again. That took a long time to process and that was a much different feeling: losing your bandmate and your writing partner, someone who introduced you to all the music and has come to influence you. Just realizing the seriousness of what he was going through, how scared and lonely he must have felt, influenced me a lot while I was writing songs, for sure,” Pitts notes with an air of sorrow.

“The one thing that stays constant is you’re always trying to make all your favorite records at once.”

In a way, Fekete helped Pitts realize he was a true musician. Pitts was in college, without a major, when Fekete urged him to go on tour and take these big risks that musicians do. And Pitts was ever so grateful when it paid off. “I think that if he had not pushed me or encouraged me to just put it all on the line for what I truly loved, then what was I doing? I didn’t have a major, I didn’t want to be there. But saying goodbye to all that and going on tour with a band seemed like something that happened to other people. Tom encouraged me to believe in myself more than I ever would have on my own.” Along with having an intensely emotional year, Surfer Blood found themselves stretching their limits creatively while recording the new album. Though Pitts wants the tracks to sound “pretty and clever,” he also admits that this collection of songs is more personal than he had initially let on. And after his explanation, how could they not be? “I feel like most writers, even when they’re writing about other people, are writing about themselves or people they know. And that’s true for me; that’s always been true for me. A lot of this record is like an ode to getting older, because it is crazy how the years go by and you wake up one day and you’re 30, and you still feel connected to the person you were when you were 23 and started this band. But at the same

time, so much has changed in your life. I guess this record sort of helps me sort that all out and take a look at it.” With Snowdonia emerges a new sense of soul-searching for both Pitts and the rest of the bandmates in Surfer Blood. As for the future, Pitts wants to keep soaking up music like a sponge, and growing and learning from these listening sessions. In this, Pitts hopes to keep evolving Surfer Blood, too. “The one thing that stays constant is you’re always trying to make all your favorite records at once. And I guess the thing that really changes is you and the things you hear that you think are interesting, and maybe worth exploring. That’s constantly evolving.”


or organ, because it sounds like a guitar, but it has a really warm quality of an organ.”

Surfer Blood is consistently asked for advice from teens coming to their shows. And they’re the perfect people to give that advice. When the band’s songs got someone through a tough time, Pitts recalls his own adolescence, when those groups for him were Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. Today, he’s hoping to pay it forward. For a band who homes in on the art of creating pretty and clever ballads, Surfer Blood sure knows how to find strength amid struggle, and pass it on to others who are enduring tumultuous times, too.

Follow on Twitter: @surferblood





Jessica Flynn

Heidi Schmitt

VITA AND THE WOOLF Using the Power of Songwriting to Battle Emotional Turmoil



Chris Sikich


always had a ‘thing’ about music,” Jennifer Pague, frontwoman of Vita and the Woolf, says as she is trying to explain her development as a musician from childhood. “My grandmother plays piano, and my great grandmother played piano, and they both had pianos in their house,” she continues. “I would always go over there and play. It just comes naturally to me, if I really apply myself.” Singing would follow next. The Philadelphiabased artist was classically trained as a singer – “which is really good because it teaches you how to sing correctly so you don’t destroy your vocal cords” – and she found herself listening to R&B as she approached adolescence. “I got into Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys when I was in middle school. They were using that really big, belty voice to grab people’s attention, which I thought was really cool, and I was able to do it.”


Vita and the Woolf’s new album, Tunnels, out April 21st, features Pague’s “big, belty voice” and her unique synthesizer sounds paired with her lively drummer Adam Shumski. She uses almost exclusively the Nord Lead 2, which, according to Pague “is now considered a vintage synthesizer. It was popular in the early 2000s.” This is part of the draw to the piece. “Not a lot of people have it anymore, so I’m not hearing a lot of the same synth patches.” In addition, Pague says the Nord Lead 2 has “great tones that are really bass-y” and an easily customized sound. “You can do a lot with it because it goes off of basic synthesis and synth patterns,” she says. “Sorry, I get a little nerdy about it,” she adds, laughing. As much as she loves the Nord Lead 2, she’d like to try some new synth sounds. “As far as the factory pre-sets and sounds, I’d like to find some new sounds that I can

manipulate and use.” Her agility with manipulating and using not just the synth but her dynamic vocal range is apparent on Tunnels, which she says took 6-7 months from start to finish to record. The band’s successful Kickstarter campaign helped them launch the recording process, though Pague notes that she was lucky in the process. “It costs a lot of money to record. I found the right people who wanted to do it and believed in the project and they wanted to donate their time to producing and recording the record.” She notes that the band spent a great deal of time creating on-the-fly during recording, but says that was “really expensive,” to the extent that they were not able to record the album-opener “Feline.” “Long story short is that we ran out of money and time,” Pague says. Pague recorded the song herself and used the demo because she


“Having high expectations tends to get me in trouble, especially in the music industry. So, I’m just trying to let everything fall into place.”

act to Europe to promote Tunnels. “I really want to get to Europe in 2017. The response has been really, really positive and really solid over there. I feel like it’s more up our alley – it’s kind of more of a central genre.” But she is quick to center herself, noting “I don’t have a lot of expectations, because that’s really bad. Having high expectations tends to get me in trouble, especially in the music industry. So, I’m just trying to let everything fall into place.” Pague is likely able to be grounded by the work she does part time with SpArc Services in Philadelphia, where she teaches music to individuals with intellectual and development disabilities aged 18 and older. Noting that she’s worked with some of the participants for years, she says her work is an artistic outlet for her “because I have to come up with ways to encourage people to play music or try to create ways to make it fun and exciting and cool for them.” In turn, she says her music is an opportunity to process feelings – the process of creating music helps her to have a resolution of sorts to her emotions. “I feel like no matter what happens, I have that song, and I wrote it, and it expresses what I was feeling and if the person who’s fucking me over right now fucked me over, then…whatever. At least I have this song and maybe something will come of it. It’s like having hope.”

Follow on Twitter: @Vitaandwoolf

wanted to include the track at all costs, which she says is a “great sincere song” that she wrote at a “really dark time in [her] life.” Which shouldn’t be terribly surprising, as Pague indicates that she isn’t “really interested in making music that is happy.” She pauses and continues as she describes her songwriting process. “[My music] is more melancholy and sad, because when I write a song, I’m sitting down and thinking about all the things that have been bothering me, or confusing me.” She says thinking up lyrics to describe her thoughts helps her to process her emotions. “I’m inside my head – I could sit for 30 minutes by myself just thinking, getting stuck in my own brain. I think that helps me figure out lyrics. What am I thinking about, what is going on in my head?” Pague has had plenty going on in her head since she started Vita and the Woolf in 2012. The

group was originally a 7-piece band that included both Pague’s ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend. “That might have caused a few issues,” she says, noting that she quickly learned the value of keeping her personal life separate from her professional aspirations. She says she learned other important lessons when the group fell apart a year later. “It was my first band. I had never known how to lead a band, which is a thing.” She says that once the band members quit, she sought out a drummer and went through several before meeting up with Shumski, her “angel.” In 2014, Vita and the Woolf released their first EP Fang Song, which vaulted them to attention in Philadelphia and beyond. They have opened for and/or toured with Milk & Bone, Christina Perri, Colbie Caillat, Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) and The Parlour Tricks. Pague says she’s hoping the duo may be able to take their





NNAMDI OGBONNAYA On Being the Gateway Drug for Rock & Hip-Hop Crowds to Co-Mingle Johnny Fabrizio

Tony Eubank




hen Nnamdi Ogbonnaya speaks, it’s with the wry ‘everything is an absurdity’ of a hyper-intelligent 13-year-old with ADHD who’s skipped a grade and makes a sport of humiliating substitute teachers. Nnamdi is musically confident and his current project, DROOL, is possessed of the unapologetic weirdness of a Kool Keith/ Dr. Octagon joint, mixed with the humor of a Quasimoto track, bolstered by the musicality of that character’s creator, Madlib. He comes off something like a Kid Cudi, with better raps, art-rock and jazz fusion chops, and the vocal buoyancy of a Swae Lee.

really into melodic new type R&B. Like I really like all the new Frank Ocean stuff and I have a love/hate relationship with Drake, it’s just too catchy for me to avoid. So, I guess that means I like Drake.” He continues, “I listen to a lot different stuff, mostly weird rock and jazz type stuff. I just saw this kid, Jacob Collier perform and he was amazing. He’s a composer, piano player, he played everything. I mean, I don’t even know what to call his music. I really like people who just do their own thing and don’t restrict it to one genre.” Nnamdi is a multi-instrumentalist, and a highly prolific veteran of the Chicago music

“I want to be like a gateway drug to certain people.”

Nnamdi chuckled a brief synopsis of himself: “I play drums mainly. From Chicago. I live in Chicago, I wasn’t born here, I was born in L.A. Aaaaand, I just make a lot of music, all the time.” He goes on, “I really like weird, dissonant hardcore stuff. I like this band, Daughters a lot, which is kind of thrashy. I like this man John Zorn - he’s a composer and saxophone player. He had this group called Naked City, which is pretty wild. I like a lot of weird stuff. “But, I also really like Busta Rhymes. I’m 24 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

scene. “I started out playing piano, but I’m the worst at piano and probably play it the least. My main instrument is the drums, but I also play bass and guitar.” Nnamdi, who started playing in punk bands, has ventured into avant-garde, jazz ventures and recently started experimenting with hip-hop, beginning with his last release. He explains, “The last thing I put out was also a hip-hop record. It was my first 100% hip-hop thing. But this one, its more structured, less orchestral. Like, the


“I like that hip-hop is becoming more open and allowing people to just be themselves.”

songs aren’t as difficult and more straightforward musically. And I focused more on the lyrics.” Nnamdi rapped a taste about more thematically open post-millennial hip-hop: “It’s come a long way and still has a long way to go, you know the more mainstream type rappers that have the persona that you have to be tough all the time, there’s still a lot of that.” He explains, “I like Migos a lot and I feel like even though they’re within that realm of ‘they’re tough’ and people think they’re badass and cool

and shit, their adlibs are so goofy. Like, there’s an element of silliness that’s allowed even in stereotypical ‘tough guy’ rap music. You can be funny. I feel like it’s kind of frowned upon in a lot of music to be silly.” He adds, “I don’t feel like you can separate that as people. That’s why I had a problem with a lot of hip-hop people, because you’re putting on this front like you never smile, like you never have fun. You know you’re not like this all the time and no one is like that 100% of time. It’s just a persona. PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 25


Which is cool. People are attracted to personas, but I like that hip-hop is becoming more open and allowing people to just be themselves, without having to be a specific way.” Nnamdi goes on to discuss his identity and musical evolution, “Growing up…I was around mostly white dudes because I would play in punk bands and shit and none of the black people that I was around where into the things I was into. But then I go home, my family is black and at church everyone is black, so I would go back and forth between these two things. It opened me up to lots of different music. But showing any black people [my] music early on, like I’m in this band and they’re like, ‘Man, nigga you’re weird as fuck. Why are you making this psychedelic shit?’ Because I like it.” Nnamdi proceeds, “But I’ve always been into hip-hop, like I’ve never divided into different things. I just like what I like and I just happen to be playing a type of music at a certain time. When I started making music, I would just record any idea that came to my head, be it rap, some weird goofy stuff, or heavy grunge or grind, I would just do whatever. “I feel like people open up as they get older, as they experience different things. I feel like it’s kind of a young person’s mentality, that’s being faded out with young people today too, because we have more access to all this shit. But when you’re only around one type of people, people are kind of like, ‘This is all we do’ and you get stuck in a rut. Which is hard to get out of.” Nnamdi also explains how his musical adventurousness has helped expand his worldview, stating, “I’ve gotten to see all sides of everything. I feel like I’ve got to be in the church with people doing that shit, I’ve got to be in basements at hardcore shows, and I’ve gotten to hangout with gangsters. I’ve been exposed to all that shit and I try to bring people to realize, yeah we have all these different cultures, but people don’t realize the different privileges they have until they see other sides of the shit. So, seeing all this has helped me be diverse as a musician, like I can’t imagine a different type of life where I wasn’t exposed to all these different people and different types of friendships.” Nnamdi also speaks on coming of age in Chicago, “Early in my college days, I drive from the burbs up into Chicago and go to school downtown, then I would go hangout with friends in Englewood. So, I would be all over Chicago in the course of one day. There’s drastic differences, just going up and down one main street of Chicago. You turn a corner and it’s like, What the fuck is going on?’” Nnamdi went on to describe what drives him creatively, saying, “My goal musically is to, I don’t to want say bridge genres, but I want to be like a gateway drug to certain people. I want to make some things that bring hip-hop fans over to rock and bring rock fans over to hip-hop.

SPOTLIGHT But I don’t want to do some corny like, ‘Awwwwe yeah, Linkin Park/Jay-Z mash up!’ type shit. “I want it to happen organically. I want to challenge people and to make things that will get played on the radio, that wouldn’t normally get played on the radio, because we keep hearing the same shit. I want to make it popular to try to be your self. I feel like the biggest thing put on black men is to be macho and be tough. I feel like that is sooo toxic, because no one wants to be that person all the time. It’s toxic. “But my main goal with my music is to just encourage young people to do what they think they should do and try to perfect their own crafts,” Nnamdi adds with finality.

Follow on Twitter: @NnamdiOgbonnaya





Welcome to the third in a four-part series on getting better live sound, co-presented by Performer Magazine and Yamaha. There are three primary ways that most bands will be using their mixers to route audio signals: sending sound to their main PA speakers, sending sound to on-stage monitors or in-ear monitors, and routing signals to external effects devices (and then back into the mix). Let’s explore how each of these would work on a typical mixer. MAIN OUTPUT The most common application for a live mixer is part of a PA system. So, it only makes sense that traditionally, what most bands will be doing with their new mixer is outputting sound to their PA speakers, either for rehearsals or stage use. This is an easy step, as most compact mixers have readily identifiable main outputs, most of which will be setup to work with balanced XLR cables. So, take the left and right outputs from your mixer’s main outputs, and run an XLR cable to each of your left and right channel PA speakers. That wasn’t hard, was it? 28 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

AUX SENDS – WHAT ARE THEY? Most mixers, both large and small, are equipped with routing options called “Aux Sends.” In its simplest form, this functionality allows you to send a signal to an auxiliary location (the “aux” part). Now, why would you want to do this? There are a number of incredibly practical applications where it makes sense to take sound coming into your mixer, and send it out somewhere else, either for additional processing, effects, or simply to feed a mix to stage monitors, in-ear monitors or another monitoring source. Take a look at your mixer’s channel strips and output section. In the channel strip, you’ll likely notice “aux send” level controls, which allow you to change the levels of that channel being fed to a particular aux send output. Your mixer may have many different aux send options, allowing you to simultaneously send signals out for external processing and monitor mixes. Now, take a look at your output section. Your mixer will likely have corresponding aux send outputs for each level control you see in

the channel strip. On our Yamaha test unit, for example, we have a level control for “Aux1” and a corresponding output near our main output for “Aux1”. It’s always a good idea to test things out in a tactile way, so you can get a real handson feel for what Aux1 does by simply attaching a 1/4” cable to an external monitoring device, and by turning the Aux1 knob to increase or decrease levels. Simple, right? ROUTING STAGE MONITORS Perhaps you’ve rented a hall and want to make sure the sound is just right. You’ll set up your main PA speakers like normal, but now let’s get the aux sends in the mix (no pun intended). Most PA speakers, like the Yamaha DBR12’s we’ve been using for this series, can also be used as floor wedges. So, if your vocalist needs to hear themselves better during the gig, why not use your Aux1 option to send a version of your mix to a floor wedge? What’s great about this option is you can turn up their vocal channel to accentuate their vox in their auxiliary monitor mix without

turning up the vocals in your main mix. So, your singer can hear themselves clearly above everything else, but your audience won’t be blasted with an out-of-proportion amount of vocals coming from your mains. ROUTING IN-EAR MONITORS The same concept applies to in-ear monitors. Take your Aux1 output and route that to the input of your wireless transmitter (assuming you’re using a wireless personal monitoring system, of course), or to a headphone amp for wired usage. In either case, again you’ll have the ability to send a specialized “monitor mix” to any musician using the in-ear setup, which can differ from the main mix being sent to the PA speakers on stage. RETURN TO SENDER One of the more creative ways to use sends it to route audio coming into the mixer out to external processing units. Get creative here. Let’s take an acoustic guitar, for example, and use the panning knob to set it hard left in our main mix.

Now, let’s take that channel and use our Aux1 options to send its signal to a rack-mount phaser (or any device you choose), and then return that signal into an open channel on the mixer. Pan that channel hard right in the mix, and then blend the two to taste in order to create a truly spaced out stereo effect. Dial up or down each of the dry or wet signals to add interesting texture to an instrument. Or take the dry signal out of the mix completely if you like. This is where we encourage experimentation. Aux sends can be great for applying reverb to all of your backup vocals in one fell swoop, or for doing cool things like sending audio out to a delay unit and back into an unused channel. Try new things. Make the most out of the options your mixer has, because you might be surprised by some of the happy accidents you come up with that can really add a new dimension to your stage sound. Learn by doing! PRE-FADER/POST-FADER: THE KEY DIFFERENCES One thing we haven’t touched upon yet is



a little button you may notice in your channel strip labeled “Pre.” Now, don’t get confused here. You might think it’s addressing the preamps for your mic inputs. This is not the case. If you see something labeled “Pre” near your Aux1 or Aux2 controls in the channel strip, this actually lets you set whether the aux send is “pre-fader” or not. When engaged (and usually we find that aux sends are pre-fader by default), the “pre” setting will not be affected by your main faders at the bottom of the board. So, go ahead and turn up the guitar in the main mix; it won’t affect what’s going on in your aux send setup. Conversely, if you disengage this button, the signal will now be “post-fader,” and any adjustments you make to the main fader on that channel will now also affect your aux send signal for that channel. CLOSING THOUGHTS We hope this installment gets you on your way to sending sound into, out of, and back into your new mixer. Until next time, be sure to check out the entire range of Yamaha live sound products at PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 29


OUR FAVE LOW GUITAR AMPS The days of lugging around 100-watt Marshall stacks to club gigs are long behind us. So, unless you’re Iron Maiden and flying a jumbo jet filled with gear, you’re probably better off looking at some low-watt alternatives. We’ll be taking a look at four of our favorite models that won’t break the bank. Without further ado…

Yamaha THR10 Modeling Combo We totally fell for the Yamaha THR10 when we first saw it debut at NAMM a while back. It’s lightweight, has a ton of tonal options on tap, and comes in at a ridiculous $299 price tag. Basically, everything Yamaha builds, they overbuild. And the THR10 is no exception. For the modern player who’s tracking demos or doing full-on recording at home, the small footprint and USB output will be key features. Presets can also be edited over USB, so shaping your sound is hella easy, and the modeling capabilities will open up a new world of textures for your next track or studio sessions.




The guitarist who wants a mobile, versatile rig at a low price.




Great range of sounds, built-in fx and headphone output.

On-board speakers aren’t mind-blowing.



The guitarist who wants a monster sound in a tiny, mobile package.




Ultra-tiny and ultraportable, big sound when run through a more robust setup.

Limited tonal options.

You want portable? You got portable! When we first got our hands on the Piranha, we were amazed at how much beef was packed into such a small burger. In other words, this tiny amp head, which is about the size of an external hard drive and weighs about two pounds, is powerful enough to run full cabs with ease. Now, what you give up is some tone-shaping capabilities, things that you might find on the Yamaha THR10, for example. But the Piranha is priced accordingly, and if you want a ludicrously mobile amp rig for stage and studio use, you owe it to yourself to crank up the Peavey Piranha and hear what this beast can do in action.


OW-WATTAGE PS Peavey 6505 Piranha Micro Head


GEAR ROUNDUP Still affordable, and equipped with those lovely valves the Brits refuse to call tubes, the OR15 packs enough crunch to make you an official captain, if you catch our drift. We were mighty impressed by Orange’s solid-state combo offerings, and at $699, we’re kinda baffled at how this tube head can pack such a wallop, and yet still come in under 700 bucks. The crunch channel is obviously the selling point here, and

if you know the classic Orange sound, it’s here in spades. Simple controls line the front panel (sans text, as per usual in Orangeland), and you’ve got the choice to switch between 7 or 15 watts with the flick of your wrist. 15 will open up a little more headroom if you do want to clean things up a tad, and lowering to 7 will enable you to enter saturation territory with more ease, especially at lower volumes.

Orange OR15H Tube Head




Cruuuunch time party animals!




Da crunch.

We couldn’t find any. You might have better luck coming up with a flaw here...



Serious recording artists who want power and control.




Fantastic overdrive, DI built in.

Great for stage and studio, there simply are no cons here.

tube design at such a great price point would be enough to win us over, but add in the DI capabilities, power switching, and a neat tube safety control that monitors your valves to ensure proper performance, and we couldn’t ask for much more. All in all, we must say the versatility of this amp shocked us, and made us eat a little crow after initially thinking it wouldn’t have a lot of usable tone-shaping capabilities on hand. Shame on us.


The H&K TubeMeister 18 features some pretty grown up features for such a small head – including EL84 power tubes and the ability to flip between wattage and even go silently direct for recording purposes (a great touch for home recorders!) We weren’t quite prepared for the roaring high-gain madness the TM18 had in store, but were pleasantly surprised with just how raunchy (yet defined) this beast can be when really opened up. Featuring an all-

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18


TREEHOUSE RECORDS “This is what started it all. This is a one-inch tape machine” - Matt

Treehouse Records: The Evolution of an All-Analog Studio


Fender Rhodes collapsed from its stand as Barrett “Bear” Guzaldo was working beneath it. His instincts kicked in: he clutched it above his back, much like Atlas holding the weight of the world. Bear has never sold a piece of musical equipment since he started amassing a collection as a teenager. And along with his longtime friend and business partner Matt Gieser, the two founders of Chicago’s Treehouse Records collect and maintain 34 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

Colin Smith

vintage, rare, and otherwise classic gear. The studio records only on analog tape, and they’ve kept this tradition ever since Bear started recording out of his parents’ basement in high school. Now that the studio’s been running for more than three years — and have recorded Twin Peaks, Cage the Elephant, and The Orwells, just to name a few — they walked down memory lane with us to talk about the equipment they’ve mastered, their memories, and to reflect on their growth. After cutting their teeth on a Tascam tape machine and the Soundcraft Ghost, the guys heard about a local studio shutting down,

which was letting go of the legendary Trident TSM #9. The English soundboard was used by Pink Floyd on The Wall, Queen, and Keith Richards, and it was too good to pass up. “We weren’t searching for it but it found us,” Bear says. But after reassembling it and using the soundboard for close to a month, it stopped working. “We spent around $6,000 and one month trying to repair this,” Matt says. They brought in various technicians, including many experts, but didn’t get any closer. “The guy who designed this is probably dead,” Matt adds. By the time


Matt says to Bear, “When you bought a new piece of equipment, you would tape over the settings and labels over each knob.” For Bear, he said it’s more useful to have your own descriptions “rather than having a bunch of arbitrary terms, you have what you want.”

they were running out of time and money, they followed their first hunch. “Our solution was very elementary,” Bear comments. Matt suspected they had an issue with the power supply. And by the time they were on their last financial leg, they decided they had nothing to else lose but to order new power supplies on eBay. When they got it working, Matt says, “Between the two of us, we could power a house.” Bear agrees that “it reinforced the idea of going with your gut.” MORE TO COME FROM TREEHOUSE RECORDS Treehouse Records has a lot more in store for this spring. They worked with Cherry Glazerr for their song in the Our First 100 Days project, which supports the causes threatened by the Trump presidency. They recorded Twin Peaks live this past winter to create a double record. You can even expect a collaboration with Whitney soon. Learn more about Treehouse Records at PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 35



Super comfortable, excellent sound quality.



Excellent sound quality, incredibly well designed.

Slightly pricey.


Expensive. PRICE PRICE





ike their previous headphones, the Sadie utilizes Blue’s floating suspension design that is fully adjustable and comfortable. The over-the-ear design has plenty of padding on the ear cups, as well as the head band, and the cans are relatively lightweight, meaning no longterm fatigue or discomfort. Inside the left ear cup is a USB connection for charging the battery that runs the onboard amplifier. They will work when the battery is dead, but the volume drops and the EQ response is fairly flat. There are two powered modes, a normal and a bass-boosted version, which is adjustable at the detachable cable’s end point. They’re optimally designed and intended for listening to music through tablets, smartphones and laptops. Considering the fact that most of these devices don’t have a lot of tonal adjustments for listening, a set of these can easily make any sound source more enjoyable. Even mp3’s on a smartphone sound brilliant through a set of Sadies. There’s plenty of top-end clarity, even with the bass-boost function engaged. The bass-boost setting works nicely but it’s quite subtle, not overpowering things (like other brands) and completely changing the whole audio spectrum into a muddy mess. With a pair of Sadies, there’s plenty of isolation from the outside world, but there’s an air of room ish-ness, where the sound doesn’t feel piped in. For a serious listener, these could be the first steps into a larger world. The $399 street price is slightly pricey, but play a single track, and they quickly show their value. Beats beware.


BLUE MICROPHONES Ella Premium Planar Magnetic Headphones


lue is taking things up a notch in the audiophile world with their premium Ella headphones. They share a similar design to other Blue cans like say, the Sadie, with excellent padding on the head strap, as well as the ear cups.

First off, the technology is a little different, the speakers are planar magnetic drivers, not something normally found in most off-the-shelf headphones. Simply put, it’s a series of magnets surrounding conductors, charging them to adjust the magnetic field, and move the diaphragm. It’s a more evenly balanced way of moving them, with much less distortion. Trust us, the difference in audio quality is stunning. The onboard amplifier is powered by a battery inside the ear cup, which in turn is charged via USB. Anything through a set of these is like going from pre-cable TV to 4K, in an audio sense, of course. In most cases, a pair of Ellas offer clear articulation between instruments and their frequency spectrum. With so many people revisiting vinyl and recording at home, a set of these are well paired to a turntable or even an audio interface. No matter what you throw at them, sound quality is uniformly excellent. With less adjusting there’s more time to enjoy or focus on your mix, and there’s no ear fatigue as well, even during extended periods of use. With a street price of $699 they are certainly not cheap by any means. They could, in theory, be used for any casual listening at work or home on any type of music playing device, from an mp3 player to a turntable. Mixing your next album, sure, we tried them out with a few DAW setups, as well. And for a headphone that really seems suited to the audiophile world, we were loving how they held their own during a mix session. But these really live in the world where you’re not listening for a certain instrument’s level or EQ, but listening for the enjoyment of the final project in a pure sense. In the immortal words of Q-Tip, “If you’ve got the money, Ella’s for the booking.” OK, maybe he didn’t say that, but he should have. In either event, the Ellas get our highest recommendation for serious listeners. ChrisDevine


BAE Hot Fuzz Pedal


he 1970s are back, in full effect. Fuzz pedals have been around for decades, and started off as a low-tech device. BAE Audio has now brought their experience in highend audio processors to this classic effects box in the form of their new Hot Fuzz pedal. It’s slightly larger than a standard size pedal, but thankfully can be run off a 9v battery or standard negative center pin power supply. One interesting thing is the input and output jacks are the opposite of what’s the norm on pedals these days. This may require some creative connections when placed on a pedal board. Sound-wise, it really captures that classic fuzz tone, and with the EQ, it’s very sculpt-able to fit well into a mix. It really captures that fuzzy sustain well, without losing definition on the low end of the spectrum. It’s a lot more controllable than a standard fuzz, with the on-board bass and treble EQ settings. It doesn’t go into hyper sludgy territory like some fuzzes, but that low-end presence can be felt, with plenty of clarity. Rhythm chords have chunky goodness, and the leads can still have plenty of fuzz while not overwhelming the notes or getting thin and brittle. Fuzz is a kind of gloriously

unpredictable effect, and that feel and response is still there, but with a lot more control that a lot of other fuzzes seem to lack, and in some case, need. There is a high-frequency boost with its own gain control that’s foot switchable. Adding this into the signal really makes this sing with more than enough top end when combined with the fuzz. Using this function on its own isn’t a problem, but depending on the amplifier and guitar, there might be a bit too much on the high-end frequencies at certain volumes. So, dial in accordingly. Each footswitch is true bypass, but they are a little too close together for our taste, which may make accidentally kicking on (or off ) an unintended switch an issue. With a street price of $225, it’s not cheap, but the reason it sounds so good is the hand built, handpicked selection of components such as four low-noise transistors. It can get crazy, but it’s much more controllable than a vintage fuzz without all the background noise and hiss that normally comes with this type of effect. We dig it; we think you will, too. Chris Devine


modern version of classic fuzz, very low signal to noise ratio. CONS

foot switches are a little close together. PRICE






e were very lucky to get a chance to try out Blue’s SL series of microphones after this year’s NAMM show: the Spark, Bluebird and Baby Bottle. As it’s a lot to digest as a whole, it might be good to point a few things out on this series: they are all condenser mics, using a cardioid pattern. Each has a 100Hz Hi-pass filter, as well as a -20dB pad, and uses phantom power. Included is a nice wooden storage box, as well as a shock mount with each. Each model we reviewed was well made and had excellent overall sound. The applications for all of these are endless: strings, piano, acoustic and electric guitars, drums, vocals and horns. Really, anything you could think to throw at them, with each model bringing its own unique vibe to the table. A lot of the response the mics give will depend on certain variables, but overall they definitely deliver across a broad spectrum of sound sources. Now it’s a pretty expansive range price-wise too, from $199 to $399. Now is the most expensive one the best? Maybe, but it depends upon your


application and what sound you’re looking for, as well as your budget. For the singer-songwriter who records home demos looking to get that first nice mic, any one of these will be amazing, but the Spark might be the best way to start. It’s not their highest priced one, but it’s an excellent value, and all of these mics have a lot of crossover potential for their uses, but they still retain an individual character. Below is a quick mini-guide for these mics and their applications: Spark SL – “my first Blue” great for singer songwriters. Bluebird SL – crisp and tight, excellent definition, great for any studio application. Baby Bottle SL – nice and warm with plenty of top end with an overall great, classic sound. All in all, there is something for everyone here in the lineup, regardless of the desired sound, and budgets. Look for our complete, in-depth reviews of each individual model exclusively at Chris Devine

Snappy response, well designed, plenty of applications, great on vocals. CONS



MOJAVE AUDIO MA-50 Condenser Microphone




ojave is a sister company to Royer Labs, one of the premier highend microphone manufacturers specializing in ribbon mics. Mojave’s specialty seems to be in condenser mics, and their entry level MA-50 is on par with their siblings at Royer. It’s a large 1” diaphragm condenser, cardioid capsule microphone. The overall build quality is very robust, and the same gold sputtered capsule on some of Mojave’s more expensive microphones is an excellent feature. It’s a transformer-less design, which means no excess noise or coloring of the signal. The frequency response is 20Hz to 20 KHz, and has a maximum spl of 125dB, so it can handle pretty much anything thrown at it, without any issues. The best application we found for the Mojave MA-50 is capturing acoustics, not just instruments but overall spaces as well. Recording acoustic guitars, there felt to be a quick snap-like response, without getting harsh or brittle, even when placed close to the bridge. There’s a nice proximity effect as well, when backing it off, it opens up the sound a bit more naturally, making placement not a technical issue, but a creative avenue to find that sweet spot. With the low noise response, even with the gain up a bit more, but away from the sound source, it doesn’t get hollow, just creates a bit more air. A pair of these would be excellent as overheads on a drum kit, or as a way to capture the room sound, as it works great in higher volume applications. Vocally, it’s very robust -- there’s plenty of depth, without having to really get on it, and it can accurately capture nuances of even the most dynamic performances well. Included in the package is a sturdy shock mount and carrying/ storage case. With a street price is $495, it’s kind of an easy entry point into the higher-end microphone world, from the consumer and even pro-sumer levels, to what the big boys use. The leap in sound is amazing, but considering the competition, the leap in cost isn’t that big, and the MA-50 is well worth the asking price. Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 39




hen we met with D&A at NAMM, they handed us one of these new Gig Straps with more enthusiasm than we’d seen at most booths (including brands launching items costing tens of thousands of dollars). So when we saw the $20 price tag, we were more than curious. What’s the Gig Strap do? Well, if you’re like me and you’ve killed your back after years of long sets and heavy guitars, the Gig Strap might just be your new best friend. No, for real. We said we were curious, but we were also a little skeptical, as well. See, the Gig Strap is a pad you slip on your normal guitar strap, and after you start playing, you don’t think much of it. That’s part of the deceptively awesome nature of the product. It’s only after a half hour, an hour, two hours of playing that you realize you have no stiffness or pain. Yeah, for real.

wearing it. Then you take off your guitar, and it hits you. Or, in a more accurate sense, the pain doesn’t hit you. Well played, D&A. Well played. We can see this become a must-have accessory for every live band out there. Benjamin Ricci




worked as advertised, very inexpensive.

comfort level may be different for each person.





Applications for advanced modern technique driven players, as well as a great studio tool.



The Gig Strap has raised pressure points designed to combat the shoulder aches and pains we’ve all become accustomed to. And after a second or two of getting used to the bumps on your shoulder, you kinda forget you’re even

GRUV GEAR FretWraps String Muters/Dampeners


ood technique separates the pros from amateurs, unwanted open strings ringing out is one example. But modern players are pushing things to where the instrument is just going to resonate and ring out regardless of technique. Gruv Gear has a simple solution with their FretWraps. It’s a microfiber cloth mute that wraps around the guitar’s neck and sits on top of the strings, preventing any unwanted overtones that can resonate. It’s adjustable via the Velcro strap, and they have sizes that can fit pretty much every instrument from 6 string guitars to basses, as well as extended range guitars, such as 8 strings. There’s no mounting hardware, so it’s easily adjustable for any instrument, just place it near the nut, and slide it around to taste. For modern players, who for lack of a better phrase “like to djent” with syncopated riffs and patterns where just the physicality of playing these complex parts would create sonic dissonance, this is a simple solution. Or for tappers like Guthrie Govan where accuracy and articulation is key. It’s not fun having a riff in the key of B flat, with 40 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

the adjacent open strings ringing out, adding odd overtones to clutter things up. Any producer should also have a set of these on hand. It’s not uncommon to have a band come in where bad technique that doesn’t get noticed in a practice room gets amplified, and a set of these can make a session go way smoother. The $30 street price won’t break the bank either. There have been string dampers for instruments available in the past, but the FretWraps are a simple, almost universal solution that isn’t permanent, but can really keep things in tune. Chris Devine




he statement “timing is everything” carries more weight in music than anywhere else. DS Guitar Engineering’s Chronograph is a great tool to keep track of time, without a lot of hassles. It’s a fairly small device, slightly bigger than a business card, but has a large bright green display with a single footswitch. Placing it on a pedal board won’t take up a lot of room, and with a standard 9V power connection, it means it can get juice from any normal pedalboard power supply. There are three modes: the first is a standard clock, displaying the time. Not a bad thing to have, especially if you want to hold band members to task for not showing up on time! Internally is a watch battery that keeps the time even when there’s no power, so no need to constantly reset the clock. There is a “count up” function, which starts a clock, like a stopwatch. This is great when planning out sets to see how long certain songs may run. Finally, there is a “countdown” mode -- set the time, for example 45 minutes, start the clock, and the time ticks away. There is also a “warning” mode that can be set to flash at a specified time (1 minute is the default, but can be changed) giving a visual warning, as well. Venues, take note. You’ll want to snatch

these up to keep sets starting/stopping on time, and bands will like knowing their openers won’t have an excuse to run over their slot. Yes, most phones have timer apps, or why not a clock in the practice space? With this little device placed on a pedalboard, it’s hard to ignore. There’s no asking, “What time did we start the set?” or forgetting to stop/start an external timer. It’s right there at your feet, and with the bright green display, it’s also in your face and impossible to miss. For bands worried about getting their set tight, and not running long or short, this is great. The sound guy telling them through the monitors, “You have one more song left,” when you expected to have three more, isn’t fun, and this is a great tool to help plan things out, and also perhaps point out any venue that may have the reputation of cutting band’s sets short (no, that NEVER happens). With only a single footswitch to control the settings, it can be a little tricky to make sure you’re in the proper menu/mode, but after a few uses, it starts to make sense. It’s one of those great “why hasn’t someone thought of this years ago?” devices. With a $49 street price, this is well worth finding some space on a pedalboard. Chris Devine


Great idea, bright display, works on any pedalboard power supply. CONS





ELIXIR Optiweb Coated Electric Guitar Strings PROS

feel more natural than previous Elixir strings, less string wear over time. CONS

some people just don’t like coated strings, no matter what we tell ’em. PRICE



e’ve been big fans of Elixir strings for years. Personally speaking, whatever mutant acid is in my sweat causes any strings I encounter to essentially rust on sight. Which means, for me at least, using standard uncoated strings like Ernie Ball Slinky and the like is a non-starter. After one gig or just a half-hour recording, my hands have eaten through the entire set, rendering them dull, rusted and useless. Enter the coated string, something Elixir has been at the forefront of for years. I dig the Polyweb coating, myself, and have all my guitars strung up with Elixir strings. Simply put, whatever magic they’re using to coat their strings with keeps mine playing perfectly, without rusting through or sounding dull, for weeks, even months (yeah, really), on end. And yep, I actually like the slick feel that you don’t get with uncoated strings. Your mileage may vary, of course, but that’s my preference. It feels faster and my hands move more naturally with the coating. Now, for those of you who want the long-lasting and protective effects of a coated string without the slick feel, you’ve been S.O.L. for years. Not any more! At NAMM, we got our first taste of the Optiweb coating, which keeps the benefits of coated strings (mainly, not becoming a rust-bucket under my freakish body secretions) with the more natural feel of strings you’re probably used to. “Guitarists who choose uncoated strings for their natural feel and tone used to have to compromise on tone life,” says Jason Zambotti, product specialist for W. L. Gore & Associates, parent company of Elixir Strings. And he’s not wrong. You wanted Elixirs in the past but didn’t like the feel? Oh well. Too bad. Now you’ve got no excuse! OK, so they’re a little pricier than an average pack of strings. But we re-strung our office Strat after NAMM and here we are in April and the strings still feel like new, and sound bright as ever. They even seem to hold tune better than regular strings. So that extra cash means you have to restring less often, saving you in the long run.

Needless to say, we’re total converts. While personally speaking, I still prefer the feel of the Polyweb coating under my fingers over the Opriweb coating, I can see a lot of new customers lining up for the Optiweb option. Benjamin Ricci 42 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

FUZZROCIOUS M.O.T.H. (Multi Overdrive Tremolo Hex) Pedal


he fuzz/overdrive side of things are pretty standard on the new Fuzzrocious’ M.O.T.H. pedal, with just a single volume and a gain control. From about 12:00 on, the gain control to the left is overdrive, and from 12:00 to the right things sit on the fuzz side of the spectrum. It’s not hard to get a great sound out of it, and the gain sits well in both the overdrive and fuzz ranges, which also isn’t so overwhelming to the actual signal. The M.O.T.H. also cleans up nicely when the volume knob on the guitar is rolled back. Chords and rhythm sounds are nice and chunky, and leads have enough highend cut that they don’t get shrill or unmusical. With this hybrid fuzz/overdrive, there’s no issue of it getting lost in the mix live, even with another guitarist on stage. There’s no oversaturation that drops the overall level -- it just adds in, while still maintaining definition. Nice! M.O.T.H stands for Multi Overdrive Tremolo Hex, and here’s where things take a turn; the second footswitch engages a Hex Schmitt Trigger, which acts like an oscillating tremolo effect. It’s a bit noisy, depending on the gain. But, its added effect is still musical, in a very strange way. The large speed knob controls the speed (duh), and can easily be adjusted with your foot, enabling it to have a synth like effect while playing and sweeping the knob. Very cool stuff, indeed. The only downside is making the right placement of this pedal on a pedalboard to access the Hex effect’s speed control with your foot, and not moving knobs on other pedals by accident. Also, the Tremolo Hex effect can only be engaged when the overdrive/fuzz is active. For the $165 street price, the fuzz/overdrive part of this pedal is well worth it for pretty much any player looking for that elusive blending of fuzz and overdrive sounds that don’t overpower things and muddy up the signal. The Hex effect is not subtle, and while may not be something every player would enjoy, it’s worth it regardless. Consider the Hex effect an added bonus to kick in here and there when feeling adventurous! ChrisDevine PROS

Excellent blend of fuzz/ overdrive tones, Tremolo Hex effect is interesting. CONS

Tremolo mode is slightly noisy, can only be engaged when overdrive/ fuzz is on. PRICE



HOTONE British Invasion Nano Legacy Amp


n May of 2016 we reviewed Hotone’s Mojo Diamond Nano Legacy amp. Now they’re at it again, this time going across the pond to capture that classic British AC30 tone. Like the Mojo Diamond, it’s about the size of a standard stomp box, with a 3-band EQ, volume, and gain controls on the front. The rear has the effects loop, speaker output, headphone/recording out, and aux-in connections. Sound-wise, it captures a lot of that Vox-y goodness. The EQ reacts and interacts very well to the gain and the volume controls, just like the original. As more gain and volume is dialed in, the AC30 character really comes to life. At lower gain settings, there’s plenty of top end chime, while maintaining that big bottom end. Pouring the gain on, it gets really big and saturated, and a lot of the dynamic richness of the original oozes throughout. The AC30 was used by bands as diverse as the Beatles, and Brian May of Queen, and this little amp delivers the range of those rich tones, at a much more manageable volume. It’s only 5 watts, but that’s still enough to

upset the neighbors. In a live setting, it’s plenty loud for a small venue, where a normal size/ wattage amp would be too much. The output is from 4-16 ohms, so it can work with pretty much any cabinet, including a 4x12, believe it or not. Single coil and humbucking pickups work equally well, and the amp’s character doesn’t color the guitar’s natural tone. With a modern AC30 running about $1200 (and vintage examples going for crazy cash on the secondary market), the cost of the British Invasion at $99 certainly delivers the goods at a price most guitarists can swallow. Purists might scoff, saying that all of those nuances can’t be captured in such a small, solid state head, but it’s close enough toneand feel-wise for any player to really enjoy all those classic sounds from a real amp format (not emulation). Considering that there are pedals that offer up Vox-like options, this is a huge value, especially as it’s not a pedal that has to be adjusted to work with an existing amp to get the classic Vox sound. It’s just going to the source and getting that real tone, without any hassles. Chris Devine


Nails that VOX tone, excellent price, super small. CONS

none. PRICE




BAE G10 Graphic 10 Band EQ


K, we’re officially on the 500-series bandwagon. Took us long enough, but now that we drank the Kool Aid, we can fully appreciate things like the BAE G10 graphic eq. For those unfamiliar with the 500 (or lunchbox) format, it basically enables you to mix and match small modules that each do one specific task. Which, in turn, enables you to customize a recording rig with cool gear taken from much more expensive boards and channel strips, at a much lower cost and footprint.


works flawlessly, adds great tone-shaping capabilities to your recording setup. CONS

maybe a little pricey. PRICE


The BAE G10 offers up the ability to shape your sound during mixing and mastering with a transformer-based signal path and a 2520 style op-amp ( just like us Americans love!) The 10 bands are all musical, which we totally dig. Cut here, boost there, and see what works for your particular mix. Each time we moved a fader, smiles lit up all around because of smooth nature of what we could instantly hear being sculpted. With 12 dB of boost or cut for each notch, you really have a wonderful amount of control over each frequency range with just a small nudge of the slider. (and for the tech heads keeping score at home, those boosts/cuts occur at 31 Hz, 63 Hz,125 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, and 16 kHz). You’ve even got switchable hi and low pass filters (80 Hz and 12 kHz, in case you’re curious), for even greater control over what you want (or don’t want) entering your mix. These are accessible on the front panel with small pushbuttons. We like that, because we’ve seen a number of switches and buttons located on rear panels, which is really annoying in a dark studio, or when space is cramped and you can’t physically turn an installed unit around to access the back panel. Build quality is fantastic (much like the other BAE gear we’ve tested hands-on in the past), so we’re really hard pressed to come up with any complaints. Yeah, it’s a tad pricey, but considering all it has to offer, if you’re really planning to invest in a 500-series rig for your studio, this is one module to seriously consider adding to your arsenal. Benjamin Ricci



t’s not uncommon to use multiple microphones on a single guitar amp, and blending the two signals. This approach has a few small downsides: optimum placement of both mics, making sure the microphones and speaker(s) are in phase with each other, as well as using two separate tracks (and plugins) in a DAW that can eat into processing power. MXL has introduced a dual capsule microphone that is literally two mics in one to solve all those issues. Inside the metal casing are two mic capsules, a cardioid and a super cardioid. A small blend control on the back side allows the user to select the capsule. The cardioid side captures a lot of richness and warmth, with a full-bodied response. It still has plenty of cut and top end, but retains a lot of thump, with distorted chords having plenty of punctuation. At the other end of the spectrum the super cardioid has a much tighter and snappier feel, with a lot of midrange response that carries over into some of the higher frequencies.

only during tracking, but during mixdown as well. There is an included mic stand mount, but it’s super easy to use by snaking the mic cable through the handle of an amp (when using a combo).


MXL DX-2 Dual Capsule Variable Dynamic Instrument Microphone

Street price comes in at $149, and while there are more conventional mics out there to record guitar, this was designed to provide flexibility that would normally only come from swapping out mics to solve tonal or frequency problems. A studio that records a lot of guitarbased bands would definitely benefit from one of these. Regardless of the amplifier, it’s much easier to put this up, and dial in the tone, rather than sifting through a mic locker. Chris Devine


Plenty of tonal options, super easy to use. CONS

Blending the two signals in the center is as expected, a nice mix of both capsules. Depending on a few variables, such as guitar, amp, effects, tone, etc., setting it at the middle is a great place to start, and then you’ll simply the control knob to start tweaking to get the blend of the two just right. An excellent application is favoring the super cardioid for rhythms, and then switching over to cardioid for leads and overdubs -- no swapping mics or placement.



There’s a decent range of adjustment between both capsules, so finding that sweet spot for any track is super easy. With no EQ or outboard gear, the signal is very robust. Not having to add extra adjustments saves time not PERFORMER MAGAZINE APRIL 2017 45


WARM AUDIO WA-412 4-Channel Mic Preamp & DI


ven in the digital age, getting the signal that goes into the DAW to be as big and musical as possible can present a challenge. There are interfaces that have nice built-in mic preamps, but nothing beats the real thing. Warm Audio’s WA-412 is the real thing and then some. In a single rack space unit are housed four individual preamps and DI connections, each with a LED meter input, phantom power, tone switch, phase/polarity reverse switch, a -20dB pad, Hi-z engage switch (for the 1/4” input on the front), as well as gain and output controls. The rear has XLR inputs and outputs as well as 1/4” outputs. The gain and output controls work nicely together; hitting the gain section with strong signals, the audio doesn’t get grainy or crunchy, it can really handle high SPLs overall, using the output to control the overall level the DAW will get. The tone switch is interesting, as it alters the input transformer configuration from 600 Ohms to 150 Ohms. Condenser mics sit well with the 600 mode, while lower powered dynamic mics work better at 150. This control not only works for the XLR inputs, but the 1/4” input, as well. 46 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

Its inspiration comes from the API 412 Preamp, and while we didn’t have one on hand to compare, this preamp didn’t disappoint at all with what we fed into it. The overall response is smooth, and tight. There’s no extraneous audio “fluff” happening that clouds things. And the simplicity of the controls, with a well-tuned design means no looking for workarounds. It can tame high volume sound sources such as guitars as well as drums, while maintaining a nice smooth musical response. And running line outs to your interface means you can still work in the digital world, just with the benefit of better pres going into the session.

this, and usually will have only one channel on board. The Warm has four that sound equally fantastic; it’s simple math. With a lot of DAW interfaces coming standard with 8 inputs, a pair of these could easily give that classic sound to all of the channels you want to record, covering a drum kit, horns or background vocals easily. But just one of these could easily make a bigger difference, tonally, than double the cost of any plug-in package could. We recommend you give the new Warm Audio WA-412 a serious look as the cornerstone of your new home studio build. Chris Devine

So, what makes this so good? Well each channel has its own individual circuit board, and Warm has worked with Altran, who makes their transformers, to really tailor the circuit to their needs. Considering it handles high SPLs well, it’s not surprising a huge territorial transformer supplies clean power to the four inputs. For real tone tweakers, the 6-pin op amps are socketmounted and can be swapped out with other versions (not included) for even more tonal customization.


At $1200 it’s almost a bargain, considering there are so many companies making new versions of classic preamps for way more than

Classic, smooth sound, well designed. CONS




ast month we checked out the $99 HPHMT5’s from Yamaha, and at that price point, were pretty impressed with the level of quality to be had. For under a hundred bucks, studio-quality monitoring headphones are now in reach of even the cheapest home studio setup.


YAMAHA HPH-MT8 Studio Monitor Headphones

For the last few weeks, we’ve also been testing out the MT5’s big brother, the MT8. At $199, it’s still a fairly affordable studio option that users who want a bump up in quality but who don’t want to dish out a grand for a pair of cans, can easily swallow. Directly comparing the two, there are a striking number of similarities. The accessory packs are nearly identical. The design aesthetics are clearly similar. So where do the two part? For starters, there’s an inherent richness and fullness that, while not lacking on the MT5’s, is much more readily apparent in the 8’s. Full-bodied bass comes through during listening (our test cuts are usually Eric B. & Rakim tracks that even the most badass stylus has difficulty tracking) and even more so during recording. We mixed with each pair of headphones on a variety of material, including deep bass and rhythm tracks using the MONTAGE6 synthesizer Yamaha was also kind enough to loan us. Again, the MT5’s were no slouch, but the 8’s definitely outperformed them. Did they outperform them by $100? Well, that’s debatable. To be honest, if you could only afford the 5’s, you’d be much better off than a lot of home studio users even 5-10 years ago. They’re just that good. Maybe Yamaha made them a little too good…But the 8’s are clearly awesome, there’s no denying that. The 45mm driver is larger than the 40mm version on the 5’s, which certainly accounts for some of the added fidelity. Frequency response on the 8’s is 15Hz-28kHz, which is insanely impressive, even if the average human ear can’t resolve all that information. Comfort level is about the same, which means it comes down to specs and what you want to spend, at the end of the day. Here’s our advice: if you can only afford a hundred bucks for studio headphones, the MT5’s are a killer bargain. If you’ve got the extra cash, and you want to invest in a pair of studio cans that offers more accuracy and better frequency response, you owe it to yourself to spend the extra few bucks on the 8’s. Either choice is a good one, trust us. Benjamin Ricci


outstanding sound quality, great isolation, incredibly comfortable. CONS

none. PRICE





The BX20 reverberation unit was produced in the late 1960s. The BX20 is one of the most popular spring reverb units ever made. It was designed to produce natural reverberation that would impersonate the sound of some of the finest concert halls in the world. It is a 2-channel unit that has a separate remote for controlling decay time.

Recently, Universal Audio released a brilliant BX20 plug-in. It sounds great and is fun to use. WHAT MODERN ENGINEERS CAN LEARN

The modern engineer can learn to stray from the norm when using this piece. It is a reverb unit that offers a very unique sound. If you cannot get your hands on the hardware, get the plug-in and use it on everything!


It was used to add richness and depth to a track. One interesting characteristic is the fact that it can be used in either mono or stereo. The inputs in the unit can be paralleled or used separately. Another feature that makes this piece of gear so special is that it is in a league of its own. It is not your common plate or chamber reverb even though it has characteristics of each. CAN BE HEARD ON

It has been used on many prominent songs and albums. Today, the BX20 is very commonly heard on Kings of Leon, Black Keys, and Jack White records. 48 APRIL 2017 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


Andrew Boullianne is a studio manager and a full-time engineer. He loves long walks on the beach and creating music. Check out Andrew’s Instagram @drewboull10 and thelalamansion. com to see the studio that he works in.


The Mitchell MS Series modern single cutaway guitars offer a cutting-edge take on a revered design by combining a slim-line body with coil-tapped humbuckers plus a collection of high-end features typically found on boutique instruments. MS400 SERIES • Premium carved mahogany body for killer tone and sustain • Slim-tapered mahogany set neck and rosewood fretboard for superior playability • Paraffin-dipped alnico V humbuckers with coil-tap provide a variety of sought-after tones • High-ratio locking tuners keep your tuning rock-solid • Available with AAA maple veneer top for an amazing look

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