Sunday 29 November 2015

“Turn Everything Up, and keep that Fuzz pedal On” – Amped & Doomed with David Majury (Slomatics)

By:  Aaron Pickford & David Majury

During my tenure with The Sludgelord, what continues to surprise me to this day, is just the sheer volume of music the world of heavy music has to offer, I am referring to mass here rather than the degree of sound in this instance and the reason this is important, is because I, like many other fans of “heavy” music tended to limit myself in terms of what music I was exposed too or I was just unaware that there is an untapped “heavy” scene out there, that co exists with that which is fed to us through mainstream media. 

Like many fans of heavy music, I picked up a copy of metal hammer regularly and there is nothing wrong with that, but like many genres of music, there is a polarizing opinion about what is cool and what is not, what is metal what is not, what is underground what is not and perhaps more importantly what type of music your mags, blog, website should feature and what you should not. 

What is clear, is that today’s featured band, Slomatics, is an example of a band that would have likely passed me by if I hadn’t been a writer at The Sludgelord, indeed their ‘A Hocht’ album would never have reached my in box back in 2012 and for that reason, I am eternally thankful to The Sludgelord for enabling me to tap into a scene that I had largely ignored, not through ignorance, but simply because I was unaware that the sludge stoner doom scene even existed. 

For me, the subjective view of heavy metal music should be, as a consumer, do I like it or do I not and indeed, The Sludgelord albeit a different beast now than what it was from its original conception and covers perceived “popular bands”, retains a core principle.  If we like it, we review it, if don’t, we won’t.  We will not please everyone, but what we feel we do is to present the best of what heavy music has to offer and with it, we attempt to try new things too, so today I present, this new feature “Amped & Doomed”.

Formed back in 2004 in Belfast, Slomatics are a band that immediately stuck a chord with me, indeed “The aftershocks of their monolithic Moby Dick sized riffs” still affects me to this day.  Slomatics are a band that I much admire, they have created some of the heaviest music out there, based upon a passion to play music, not necessarily to be populist, but because they have a creative itch to scratch and that they are making music for themselves for fun and that which makes them happy, indeed this is the mindset of many of the bands on the scene. 

Much like someone who goes to the gym after a hard day at work for fun, Slomatics create compelling and blisteringly heavy music and who’s passion is pedals, amps, guitars and finding the perfect tone, if such a thing exists.  So why not give the band the opportunity to talk about their passion, without the discourse of having to rigorously plug a new record. A band without guitars is like an artist without a brush and like an artist, give a band the platform to discuss their passion will hopefully result in an awesome body of work.  “Amped & Doomed” is about influences, guitars, amps and everything else that makes our favourite bands sound great. 

Today, David Majury of Slomatics is the first to be “Amped & Doomed”.  So enjoy

SL). Thanks for agreeing to do this David, could you give us a brief history of your playing career to date?

David Majury) I was a very late starter and didn’t start to play guitar until I was nearly 30. I got a three piece together with our drummer Marty and knocked out some two riff caveman stuff. Luckily for us, we rehearsed in the local DIY spot and we were offered a gig by one of the guys who worked there – if that hadn’t happened I doubt I’d ever have organised one myself. That band was called Cosmonaut and we played loads of shows during the year or so that we were together, including an English tour, and recorded an EP, so it was a real baptism into being in a band. From there I played in a garage band called The Favourites, a studio project called Holy Riff, a sludgy/stoner band called The Naut and a side project thing called Colossus. The Naut was the busiest, we recorded two EPs and played quite a lot of shows. Once that band split I formed Slomatics with Chris and our now ex-drummer Joe. It’s just been Slomatics for me since then, over ten years now.

SL). Can you remember who or what inspired you to pick up the guitar? Are there any bands, guitarists, currently on the scene that continue to inspire you and push you to try new things?

DM) Without doubt, King Buzzo from the Melvins. I got into them in the early 90s, and was obsessed by “Bullhead”. Even though I already loved a lot of “non-muso” bands like the Stooges, it was really through reading endless interviews with Buzz that I first began to think that maybe I could do it too. He’s actually an amazing player, but at the time he seemed to be very much about the guitar as a tool, so no top string, all the riffs in drop-D tuning etc. Once I understood how dropped tunings worked it really opened up a whole new world, in terms of being able to get the sounds I liked out of a guitar.

I’m always really inspired by bands that we play with, but I wouldn’t say I ever really think ‘I should try that scale’ or whatever after watching other guitarists. I’m well aware of my limitations and I’ve no real desire to try and rip people off. That said, I’ve certainly been really impressed with people like Tommy from Headless Kross or Paul from Like a Kind of Matador, and gone away thinking about their use of dynamics or light and shade, and tried to incorporate some of that into what I write.

Definitely the first time I saw Like a Kind of Matador really was a lightbulb moment. I quit playing in the band I was with fairly soon after. I’d never heard anything as heavy yet melodic in my life. Seeing Part Chimp was a similar experience, just the sheer volume and intensity of those guys, but without any of the baggage of heavy metal.

SL). Whilst we’re on the subject of inspirations or heroes for example, do you have 5 records that stand out as favourites, what influence did they have upon you and what is it about those record that particular resonates amongst others? 

DM) 1). The Stooges – “Funhouse”. The sheer simplicity of the songs, and the freedom to use repetition as a tool. Ron Ashton really was so far out there and the album sounds absolutely wild even now. I can’t imagine what guitar players must have made of it when it was released!!
2). Like a Kind of Matador – “Halfway to Dangerous”. It’s one of my most played albums, and was a real game changer for me. The sheer weight of the record and the guitar tone, along with the total disregard for conventional song structure opened my eyes to doing things differently.
3). Floor – “S/T”. This record is all about the melody for me. It’s totally unlike anything else and the way the vocals lifted the entire thing up really floored me, pardon the pun. Add to that the brevity of the songs, and Steve Brooks ability to cram the most jaw dropping riffs and hooks into two minute long songs, along with loads of cool guitar playing. No wasted space at all, an absolute classic.
4). My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless”. This record is all about texture, the way the songs flow into each other and have that really woozy feeling is just amazing. It got me hooked on using effects, but not overdoing it – using sounds to create certain feelings. It also combines being super heavy with a real spacious calming effect too, sort of the opposite of a lot of stuff I’d listened to previously.
5). Black Flag – “My War”. Specifically, side two of this record. A lot of Black Flag is lost on me, but this record was like proto-doom, it’s just such a huge downer. The longer songs are incessant and driving, albeit at a very slow pace, and I loved that they let those songs just plough on without needing to add pointless extra sections. It’s a master class in restraint and bludgeon.

SL). Can remember your first electric guitar?  

DM) Yeah it was a Kay electric that I bought off a mate for £15. I was about 13. I didn’t know how to play it, but was able to paint it black and then gouge “Metallica” into the paint! That was about as far as it went.

SL). What guitar(s) are you using today and how did you gravitate towards the guitar you currently use? 

DM) I only have two guitars, a Gibson SG Special and a Les Paul Studio. Both are early 90’s, but were the cheapo end of the Gibson range. I’d always loved SGs, just the look of them and the fact that Tony Iommi and Tony McPhee both used them. It’s my number one, totally reliable and not too heavy to strap on. I’m not getting any younger!! The Les Paul is really nice too, lots of people look down on Studios as a cheap LP, but this one feels great to me. I like ebony fretboards and both guitars are real workhorses.  I suppose playing heavier stuff I naturally went for the industry standards, loads of bands I like use them. Both were cheap too – as much as I’d like an aluminium EGC or whatever, I’m not about to spend thousands on a guitar. They’re just tools of the trade really. Wood and wires.

SL). What do you like about the guitars you currently use and has there been any specific modifications to it? 

DM) Both my guitars are basically rebuilt – the only original parts are the wood. That’s another plus to buying less expensive guitars, there’s no issues with modding them. I’ve changed the pickups, wiring and all the hardware on them, all to stuff that suits my needs. Both Chris and I are really nerdy about the minutiae of tone, to the point where we imported specific capacitors. I use Zombie Dust pickups right now, they sound great. They’re built by a one-man company in England and are warm but still thick and heavy. I changed all the tuners to Gotoh ones with a high gear ratio to help with tuning stability on the low notes.

SL). What amps and pedals do you currently use?  Do you use a combination of amps, or a full half stack? Talk us through your set up both in the studio and in the live environment?

DM) I’ve used the same amp for years, a Matamp-built Orange 120. Prior to that I used an old ‘70s Marshall which was great, but the Matamp is louder and has more grunt. I use one 4x12. In an ideal world I might run more, but to be honest it’s a pain getting gear to gigs (we don’t have a van) and we have to borrow gear for fly-in shows, so a wall of cabs doesn’t make sense. Plus, although I’ve seen bands use it to great effect – Conan being the best example – I’ve also seen bands sound huge without all the cabs. I saw Uncle Acid recently and they were incredible, with a massive sound. They were using two very small combo amps. I’ve seen Mudhoney level venues with just a Fender Twin. The Matamp is super loud, and we’ve never had anyone complain that we we’re too quiet so I’ll stick with that. That said, when we record in Skyhammer I’ll use more than one, to blend tones and get a bigger sound. It’d be mad to resist the amps in that studio; it’s like an Aladdin’s cave for tone freaks!!

With pedals I keep it quite simple. I use fuzz into a couple of delays (one analogue, and a Boss Space Echo re-issue), along with a MXR Phase 90. I’ve a flanger and an octaver on the board, but they’re really only used sparingly. We’ve been really fortunate over the years to have had some super talented builders design fuzz pedals for us – D*A*M, Dunwich, Eldritch, OXFuzz and Mooses Custom Electronics. Really, we’re spoilt for choice. I’m forever watching YouTube demos of amazing pedals, but I’d rather try and use a few well than just cover everything with effects.

SL) What one pedal could not live without and why? 

DM) I’d have to say the D*A*M Meathead, as I’ve used it consistently since day one with Slomatics. At this stage it really is the sound in my head. It’s not like other fuzzes aren’t up to the job of course, but that one is just ingrained in me! Actually, I really couldn’t do without my Boss Tuner, the cheapest pedal on my board, and also there from day one!

SL)  What are your amp/ pedal settings?

DM) I run the Matamp pretty much flat out with bass on full and the remaining EQ dialed in to give a little more clarity. Those amps only really sound right at full whack. I like to have to try and tame all that volume a bit, it allows me to try and use feedback as part of what I’m playing. I read a Part Chimp interview where they said they felt they played their amps, and I get that idea. I love simple fuzz pedals – none of that multi band EQ stuff, so with the D*A*M/ Dunwich stuff I just dial the only control up to the level where I can just about still make out the notes. All that combined with the high output pickups seems to work well for me.

SL)  What tunings do you use and why, and as a result is there a specific brand / gauge of string you prefer ?    

DM) Our tuning has sort of gradually evolved over time – it was never our intention to tune really low but we don’t have a bass player so there’s always a degree of trying to cover all frequencies. I think we’re probably settled on the one tuning we currently use, as we’ve used it on the last four recordings and will again on the new record. I think of it as the Neil Young gone doom tuning, we’re down about a step and a half with the lowest strings tuned in unison and the high E dropped to B. The unison tuning allows for some nice octave sounds which thicken up the lows a bit. We use flatwound jazz strings as they’re nice and warm. We use 13 gauge strings but replace the low E with a .75 gauge, essentially a bass string. We actually had to drill out the tuners to fit them through!

SL). Do you have any advice for up and coming guitars players, bands?

DM) I’m literally the worst person to ask for advice – if Jon Davis had listened to me the first
Conan album would have been a CDr burn distributed free at tiny gigs in pub cellars!!

Also, the plan with Slomatics has never been anything other than to play music for fun, so
we’ve never thought about career moves or whatever. I suppose it’s about trying to do
something original, and not just copying whatever specific band you’re into. I think guitar
players fall into two categories, those who are into the technical aspect of playing, and those
who are ham-fisted cavemen who do it for fun. I’m the latter no question – but I don’t think
either is necessarily better. I guess just play whatever you enjoy.

I’ve never felt intimidated playing with other bands even though they’re all much more
technically capable, as I’m happy enough I can get the sounds I want out of the amp. That’s

all that counts.    

SL). Do feel there are deeply help misconceptions about being in a band? 
DM) Yeah definitely. From knowing the Conan guys well I’ve been able to see just how hard it is to make a go of music as a job – the sheer hours involved and the time away from home. I think life on the road can be pretty repetitive and a little dull. There’s certainly a huge sacrifice required, in terms of family and income. Loads of the “big” touring bands we’ve played with – Torche, Baroness, Khanate, all have regular jobs between tours.  At our level I think we’ve been lucky enough to get the best of both worlds to an extent.  We still organise all our own shows, carry our own gear, pay for our own studio time. That said, it’s always fun.

SL). Moving on a little then,  what can you tell us about any of your current projects, tours, cds, etc you’re currently promoting, completed and anything else band related we should know about?

DM) We’ve just signed to Black Bow Records, so right now our first two albums are being digitally re-issued, and we’re about a week away from entering the studio to record our next album. That’s due in spring 2016 so we’re in the process of looking at gig plans for next year. We’ve one pretty big show tied down already which we’re stoked about, and a few more things happening that should be fun. I like recording, it’s a cool challenge putting a record together and the studio is always a good experience. We’re splitting the recording between Skyhammer (the massive drums/riffs bit) and Start Together (the weird synths bits) which will make for a change.

SL). What things springs to mind when you think about the completion of your new/current record and how is the mood in the camp at present?

DM) It’s always exciting doing new stuff. “Estron” was pretty successful so we played songs off it live quite a lot, so it feels about time for some new music. I really like writing and piecing together a new record but it’s only really in the studio that the songs take on their full form. We’re all really pleased with how this one is sounding so far, as it pretty much takes all the aspects of “Estron” and pushes them a bit further.

At the same time there’s always that tiny voice in your head wondering is the new stuff actually any good – although the only record I ever felt uncertain about was “Estron” and it went well. Songs can sound different in the studio but more often than not that’s a good thing. I think we’re all just itching to get started now to be honest. Recording the last record we did at Skyhammer was such a buzz, so I’m sure this one will be exactly the same.

SL). What are your favourite songs to play live? What is it about them that makes them so good to play live, crowd reaction, etc?  Anything from your catalogue that you wouldn’t play and why? 

DM) Sometimes songs surprise me live. I didn’t think we’d play “Lost Punisher” live, but it goes down really well and has pretty much been in the set for the last year. Its fun as it’s so simple and I think folk get into that. We tend to play our set as one continuous piece so it’s not like we wait for applause at the end of each song – maybe we subconsciously do that to avoid the silence!! I like playing “And Yet it Moves” live, it’s got a couple of different sections and allows for a bit of improvisation too. There are a few songs we don’t do live, like “Red Dawn” or “Blackwood”, as they’re quieter and need a good balance with synths which can be hard to get onstage. Also a lot of our older stuff, most of the songs from before Marty joined, are in a different tuning so we don’t play them either.

Our sets are usually short, so we don’t want to waste any time mucking about with pedal settings etc. Certainly the aim is that we don’t write songs we can’t pull off though – there’s not much studio magic!

SL) Who are some your favourite bands you have toured with and what has been your proudest
moment and/or performance of your playing career?

DM) I like playing with friends, as it’s always cool to catch up with people. In Belfast I love to
play with Hornets and Zlatanera, as those guys are mates as well as being amazing bands.
We’ve played quite a lot of shows with Headless Kross which has been brilliant, they’re very
likeminded folk and an incredible live band, really mindblowing.

Goes without saying that playing with Conan is a very special thing for us, those guys are old
friends and we definitely have a cool bond. I always look forward to spending time with them.
We’ve played with loads of ‘big’ bands too, and honestly we’ve never met anyone who isn’t
just totally down to earth – High on Fire, Ufomammut, Baroness, Torche, Church of Misery,
Kylesa, etc etc. All nice people.

The proudest moment, I’m really not sure. I think every gig since Marty joined has felt good, but
maybe the time Jon from Conan joined us on stage for an old song would top the list. We
hadn’t rehearsed it beyond sound check, and it was just a very natural way to share
something. He’s been an enormous supporter of the band always and it felt really good to
have him up there.

SL). What can fans look forward to from you over the next 12 months? How is your schedule
shaping up?

DM) It’s shaping up nicely, but we can’t give too much away I’m afraid. We’ve plans for gigs
further afield, and will get to play some new places which will be great. Obviously the new
album will be out around May which we’re stoked about. It’s always good to play new songs
 live and given that this is the third full album with Marty on board we’ll be able to mix sets up
quite a bit. There’s a possibility of further recording too. We’ve sort of fallen into a pattern of
interspersing each album with a shorter release and that’s something we’d like to continue.

SL). Finally, do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us?

DM) Thanks for taking the time to chat! Words of wisdom? Turn everything up, and keep that
fuzz pedal ON!

The End

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