Friday 4 December 2015

"Making a Constant Racket": Amped & Doomed with Mike McGinnis (Fight Amp)

By: Aaron Pickford & Mike McGinnis

A synonym of “Noise” refers to a din, racket, clatter and blast, indeed to describe the sound of today’s featured artist Fight Amp, those words would not be out of place.  Hailing originally from NJ, but natives to Philadelphia for the last 5 years,  Fight Amp have been creating their own brand of off kilter dissonance for the last 8 years, noise rock as their music is affectionately known, is nothing new of course, indeed the genre perhaps garnered notoriety due to the influx of more popular bands during the early 90’s, with bands commonly known in the AmpRep style stemming from the formation of the influential label, where many of the purveyors of the off kilter style, found their home during perhaps the scenes most influential period. 

Bands such as Helmet would eventually sign to major labels and as was the case back in the day, with any specific trend of music, other labels followed suit, signing up bands such as Barkmarket, featuring renowned producer D. Sardy.  Of course bands such The Jesus Lizard would have their day with Duane Denison, perhaps gaining wider recognition years after their split for his contribution to Mike Patton side project, Tomahawk

But for me on a personal level Steve Albini is synonymous with the scene and his work with Big Black, Rapeman and latterly Shellac, who continue to produce some of their best music to date has had perhaps the biggest influence and his/their influence can still be heard in new bands today.  Indeed whilst it would be unfair to specially credit those bands for creating the “noise rock” sound or style alone, what is true is that those bands especially Albini are often name checked by many or most people when referring to “noise rock”.  All in all, whilst I do not profess to be an expert on this scene, it is clear the sound is in the ascendency once more, with artist such KEN mode, Great Falls, Whores. and Fight Amp helping to continue the tradition of producing superior and yet off kilter music, latterly you could also add Kowloon Walled City into the group, indeed the list is endless. Just this month Grizzlor and Kowloon Walled City featured in our very own “Sour 16” feature, so clearly top quality music is still being produced and remains an integral part of the heavy rock/metal scene. 

Having released their strongest album to date with “Constantly Off”, Fight Amp is certainly a band who needs to be heard and having stumbled across them back in 2012, following their contribution to the awesome Hell Comes Home 7inch package, I have been following them ever since.  Therefore I am stoked that guitarist Mike McGinnis agreed to talk to us about his love for Melvins, Kowloon Walled City, Gibson SG’s and his response to folks who ask him  “how much pussy you got on tour” So check it out and thanks for reading. 

SL). Mike, welcome to Amped & Doomed, could you perhaps give us a brief history of your playing career?

Mike McGinnis) It’s a little hazy, but I started playing guitar when I was around 13. It all stemmed from skateboarding and being exposed to the music surrounding that culture and from liking Nirvana and digging deeper into their influences like Black Flag and The Melvins. At some point playing guitar started cutting into my time skateboarding and it eventually took over. I took maybe 3 guitar classes and two years of music theory/history in high school, but the book always bored me and I found a lot of flaws in my peer’s use of music theory in that they would generally use the rules to write music instead of writing what they heard in their head and using theory to transcribe it and communicate with other musicians.

From that point on I was self-taught and playing guitar was just a means to an end; writing the riffs and music that I was hearing and still hear, in my head. I played in some weirdo hardcore punk bands with friends in high school in the late 90s (Pride of Youth) being the first and only that really played shows), bounced between a couple metal/grind type bands shortly afterwards in the early 00s, and spent a couple years doing short tours in a punk band called The Funeral Bird (which had members of Creepoid, Into It. Over It., Ladder Devils, Gunna Vahm). After a short lull I started writing what would become the first Fight Amputation riffs sometime in 2003, played our first show in 2004, and really didn’t start putting out real albums and doing any real touring until 2008 when we became something a little more “serious” than a part-time band.

SL).  Are there any bands, guitarists, currently on the scene that continue to inspire you and push you to try new things? 

MG).  The obvious answer for me is always The Melvins / Buzzo. Their / his approach has always been extremely influential to me. It’s never anything but honest and my playing/writing style is very similar to his. Steve Albini is another obvious answer for me. It’s weird because those guys are classic examples yet they remain on the scene currently because of their prolific nature, which is exactly why they’re so hugely inspirational to so many musicians. Lately I’d have to say Scott Evans and Jon Howell of Kowloon Walled City. Yeah, they’re my buddies, but they put together some of the best dual guitar interplay I’ve heard lately, and it’s tonally on point yet simple.

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

MG) Man, top 5 of all time? That might be impossibility for me. I’m not a fan of top lists in general because they’re so steadfast and concrete. My moods often dictate my taste and my favorites list probably changes every day. I’ll use this as an opportunity instead to tell you my five favorite albums of 2015 because all-time is gonna dig back decades and turn into a top 20. 

So my 5 this year are: 

Cherubs – “2 Ynfynyty” 
Kowloon Walled City“Grievances”
The Hex Dispensers“III”
Ecstatic Vision“Sonic Praise”
Spray Paint“Punters On A Barge”

SL). Can you remember your first electric guitar?  

MG) A black Squier Stratocaster. The only Fender-ish guitar I've ever owned. Still had its remains until recently. 

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

MG) I play a Gibson SG. I gravitated towards SGs early in life, love the way their necks feel, how lightweight they are and their simple setup. I don’t exactly know why, but I’ve never been comfortable playing most other guitars. I also use a rebuilt Epiphone SG that I’ve owned since maybe ‘99. I generally only play that on songs that are tuned below drop C# and as a backup guitar/extra tracks in the studio. I do like Jaguars and Les Pauls though and if I feel like adding guitars in the future it’d be one of those next. 

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.  

MG) I really subscribe to a bare-bones (yet oddball) philosophy when it comes to rigs. I play two half stacks currently, a Peavey Classic 100 tube amp through a Marshall 4x12 and an Acoustic Model 450 solid state amp through an Ampeg 2x15 loaded with EV 100s. I’ve always tried to pair a tube amp with a solid state amp to get the best of both worlds; some warmth from one and some attack from the other. I basically get the best clean tone I can out of them and then run a RAT and an MXR Micro Amp to boost the signal. I occasionally use a delay pedal for certain riffs but I’m not a big pedal guy and focus on tone and riffs more than effects or bells and whistles. I use the same setup in the studio but generally go back with accent riffs and a third guitar track with different combo amps and/or a Musicman HD150 through a 2x12

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

MG) My tuner. And I’m still out of tune sometimes because I strum hard naturally. Kill me. 

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

MG) Mostly in drop C#, lately some songs have been way down in double drop G#.
I like D’Addario 11s.

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

MG) Yeah, a ton, but I doubt they’d listen, and maybe they shouldn't. Do what makes you happy, not what other people are telling you you’re supposed to do. Anyone that tells you there’s a strict set of rules for bands has an agenda and can fuck right off. 

SL). Do you feel there are deeply held misconceptions about being in a band?  

MG) Yes. The next person that wants to know “how much pussy I got” on the last tour can take a fuckin hike. 

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? 

MG) Fight Amp put out a new album, ‘Constantly Off’, in June on Brutal Panda Records, we also released a new two song 7” on Reptilian Records in September. We recently wrapped up a west coast run with Kowloon Walled City and currently have no shows scheduled and are pumping out new material for future releases. I was also part of a self-released EP last year with a band called Pale Shelter with the guys from Bubonic Bear, but that's now defunct. 

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

MG) We’re happier than ever with our new releases and view it as a jumping off point for our future sound and albums. Personally when I listen to “Constantly Off” I hear the album I’ve wanted to make for the last 8 years. We hit the nail on the head with the new stuff and now we’re ready to make more. Hopefully people get as excited as us about it, but either way we make the albums we want to hear and if it doesn’t please people then that’s just a by-product of us having off-kilter taste I suppose. Every second on “Constantly Off” was calculated. 

SL). What are your favorite songs to play live? What is it about them that makes them so good to play live?  Anything from your catalog that you wouldn’t play and why?

MG) Currently all the songs from “Constantly Off” and the new 7” have made their way in heavily. We’ve never made an album that was front-to-back so much fun to play live. Every other album has some songs that ended up being “studio” songs that we’ve never played live. Other than that, personally I love playing “Dead is Dead” from “Hungry For Nothing” and “Fly Trap” from “Birth Control”. There’s probably nothing we’d ever take off the table for playing live depending on the circumstances.

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

MG) We’ve seriously formed such great relationships with almost every band we’ve toured with and there’s not a single band we’ve toured with that we don’t enjoy musically. I’d have to say standouts are definitely Black Tusk, KEN Mode, Weedeater, Whores. and Kowloon Walled City

Proudest moment…. Hard to say, first thing that comes to mind is playing the Naked Raygun reunion show in Austin in 2008. Crazy show and an honor to play with such an influential punk band. 

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

MG) We’re writing heavily. Maybe some shows in 2016 but we’re not hell bent on playing live unless the circumstances point towards killer shows for the bands and the crowd. We’re focused on new material above all else, but it’s too early to talk release schedule especially with how current production times are so lengthy because of pressing plant backups. 

SL). Right on man, thanks for taking the time to talk us.   Before we sign off, do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us? 

MG) Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. 

The End

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