Posted by gerwin
Wed Dec 18, 2002 9:34 am
New Board is killer.
You may have arleady seen this but, here’s a link* to an OLD interview with Steve Farris of Mr Mister, with some interesting info about gear/set-up.
All the best,
*Added interview here for convenience and archival purposes.
Steve Farris of Mr. Mister (article interview)
Interview between host Geoff Twigg and Mr. Mister guitarist Steve Farris.
Transferred from the “Guitarist” magazine, volume 2 number 11, April 1986.
Steve Farris of Mr. Mister
How do you go about the different tones you use?
Well, there are about three basic formats I go through; real clean stuff where I’ll use a lot of effects, maybe several choruses at once, some echo, panning echo or harmonizer, then there’s that medium range of power chords and meat that can be used and I might use it up in the track or down real low, some of it’s real subtle in the mix, but it just adds some kind of growl down there, and soloing I just generally like it as fast as I can get it. I always used to describe to people who built me things for my guitar that I wanted it to sound like a Mac truck coming at you.
So which guitars do you use?
I use several Stratocasters, but I have a Valley Arts Strat that was built for me in Studio City, California, by Mike Maguire and that’s my favorite. It doesn’t go on the road though, it stays at home and records. It’s beautiful!
That’s the one that does a lot of the solos on the album [Welcome To The Real World]. I have an old Floyd Rose on it, one of the ones Floyd used to put on in Seattle, so that’s how old it is. It doesn’t have tunable bridge or anything, though, so it’s a little harder to get into tune. When I do get it into tune it’ll stay wherever I get it, although I still have to make adjustments, like to tune the B string I have to tune it a little bit flat, and the G has to be tuned a little bit sharp because when I clamp down the nut it’ll go… it’s one of those guitars. It’s still the best Floyd Rose I have, mind you, it just feels different and don’t ask me why. My guitar techs back in LA have been trying to figure out why it has a different swing to it, great sound and so on but it’s just a great piece of wood!
I went through a phase where I had a whole lot of guitars built for me. I got my guitars stolen from me a few years ago. I didn’t have much money at the time and I used all my savings to start buying guitars again, trying to replace ones that got ripped off. Valley Arts built me three different Strats, this is the one that I kept, but I had another one that was quite good and one that was a real dog. The craftsmanship was great, it’s not their fault, it’s just that the piece of wood was dead – very thin, you know. It was a piece of heavy ash and it sounded rubbish.
I have a Vintage re-issue Strat, I guess it was a ’63 with a Rosewood neck.
That’s a Fender, not a Squier?
No, that was just before the Squier came out, when they just started doing those Vintage reissues. It’s a killer! I was with Richard [Page], the bass player, at John Carruther’s place in LA and I was there just hanging out, and just to kill time I pulled this guitar off the shelf and plugged it in, and it was unbelievable. I compared it with six others and it was the best, so I just wrote the cheque there and that’s the best purchase I’ve ever made! The guy in the shop understood, he said they’d all been trying to scrape together the money for it.
One thing I learned is that, if you can possibly do it, you’ve got to get those guitars that are really good and sell the ones you don’t necessarily like. Anyway, that was one of those guitars and it usually does all the clean sounds. It’s a Strat, no Floyd, no nothing, just real stock. It’s got a Fender tremolo on it and it doesn’t go out of tune much, it really doesn’t even if I wang the hell out of it. I’ve had it refretted by Mike Maguire again, but I told him, »…don’t change the nut«. Don’t ask me why, I’ve had them all filed before in my life and you can’t get them to work, just every now and then you get one that slides you know, and I was lucky to have one that did.
Then I have two Charvels that are great, that’s what I use live. I have one that I prefer over the other one and I’ve been using that live for two years. I also do quite a bit on the record [Welcome To The Real World] with it; a lot of the Marshall type power chord stuff. If you were looking at the graph of it, it would be a lot of low and a lot of top on it, you know, it’s a lot wider range, whereas my Valley Arts has a great mid range bark to it which makes it great for soloing.
What pickups are in the Valley Arts?
They are Seymour Duncan; I use almost all Seymour Duncan stuff except for on the Fender where I’m using Fender pickups. The only other pickups I use are a couple a guy called Joe Barden made. I was playing guitar with Eddie Money and we were on the road and he showed up at the gig with these pickups. I bought a set of them and they’re really good. They’re like a stacked Strat pickup, but he has them side by side, two mini coils. They sound real good, they’re real warm. Usually my general set up is the two Strat pickups neck and middle, and then neck and back, that’s more or less become the standard.
It’s a good all round thing. You don’t get that real Strat sound between the middle and the bridge, although you come quite close.
Do you have a coil split?
I’ve had just about all the different wirings. Valley Arts work on all my guitars and the pickup covers are interchangeable on a lot of them, so I just pull one out and throw in a whole different configuration if I want. I don’t do it anymore, because I’ve found the ones I like in particular guitars and they just end up sitting there, but they were designed to do this. I could split this coil, you know the set up where you’ve got three toggle switches for each pickup, and at a coil tap at the side or whatever, and the other side is full/in-between/off. I don’t like that though, it’s too slow for live; you have to hit two here and one has to come up and down and it’s like too much, so I use 5 way. Basically the sounds are what I would have used anyway, so it was just a question of more moves.
Is it important to you to keep the controls simple on stage?
Well, it just gives you less to think about, I mean, you’ve got plenty of things to do when you’re live as it is. I like to keep it simple and quick so I can just play and be involved in the music at that level rather than thinking too much about my guitar. I mean, I use a computer system in my rack that I’ve got all my stuff pre-set in terms of sounds.
I’ve got four amps. I use an old 50 watt Marshall, I use a Howard Dumble amp, which is a great amp. Those two don’t go on the road though, they’re like special, one of a kind things. I’ve got a Jim Kelly amp as well, which is great, and I’ve got a Fender Twin reverb amp that I got of Paul Rivera. Paul’s a really nice guy and really brilliant. He’s done a lot of work for me and he actually re-wacked the whole thing. In fact, he was in England and he picked up some special English parts – English transformers and some valves – and he converted it all to a lot of English stuff that he liked. It’s really good now.
Those are the four amps I use, plus I even have a Super Champ, which I use for certain things, because there are so many applications. But all my amps are unusual, real customized, except for my Marshall – I think I only had one little mod done to that, but nothing drastic.
Bob Bradshaw built me a rack. He’s just starting to get a few clients now and just about every studio player, especially in Hawaii, has invested into Bob Bradshaw. It’s all custom order. He actually builds a system to control whatever you want to control. His basic rig has forty presets in it – ten banks of four – so it’s got like all your effects running off so you get your configuration starting with 01 or 02 or 03. It works out great for live because I’ll assign one bank per song. I’ll maybe have four sounds in that song, and it works great; it’s immediate, so you just hit one switch and bingo. I can set up to control all four off my amps, on and off to the amps, or the AB functions which are in three of the amps, you know the dirty and clean thing, or it completely bypasses any of my effects. It’s all buffered of course and it’s a great system.
Though MIDI is the standard I don’t really know so much about it and I don’t really play any MIDIable instruments. Bob is talking about making his convertible to MIDI, but the only thing I’ve got that is MIDIable is a Korg SDD 2000 sampler. So it doesn’t make much difference to me at this point.
What are the actual effects you use?
I have a YE 1010 and a Korg 3000 DDL, not a Roland, a Korg, and I think it sounds great. It’s real warm, perfect for what I’m using it for. I have an SDD 2000 Korg sampling/delay. I have a Boss chorus, one of the original ones, but I had Paul Rivera rework it for me. And I’ve got a Heavy Metal pedal, a DBX 160X compressor and an Ibanez harmonizer, I always forget the model number. It’s a very cheap harmonizer but it works for what I’m using it for. Actually, even the great ones don’t do exactly what I like; they’re a little slow on tracking and you get a lot of glitching.
Do you use it set on an octave?
Yes, it’s set on octaves, 4th’s or 5th’s…
To beef the sound up again?
Well yeah, but I wouldn’t just call it beefing it up. If you set it in 5th’s you’re taking on a whole different thing. It’s pretty out, like what Trevor Rabin did on Owner Of A Lonely Heart, I don’t use it like that but that’s what it sounds like.
It sounds as if I use a lot of things and I suppose I do, but the most important thing is having a great guitar and a great amp. That’s really what you have to deal with, and coming from being a studio player in LA, having to make your sound great to record right in order to work, it’s all made me very particular. All the experimentation I’ve done and everything I add has got to be to improve it, or I just don’t add it. All the guys that customize my stuff, like Howard Dumble, just get so sick of me sometimes because I’m notorious for being picky and making them change things.
They are all good and that’s their job and they are excited about making it work. It’s great when they come and see me live and hear the sound of all their stuff and you see them shake their heads at what a great sound it is. It’s got to be good but I’m also going for a sound that I think is meaningful if you put it on a track. Well, it’s so subjective anyway but it’s got to be meaningful to me, like if you have the solos and like it to have substance. The Mac truck thing really sums it up! One of my basic things is that I like to do things that are like maniacal, but things that are really trying to grow and trying to bust out, something that’s a little unpredictable.
I want things to sound really odd ball, I don’t want them to sound like everybody else, and I want my solos to step out of the track, so the solo presents itself and sounds like a little painting in itself. That’s usually what I go for, except for when I might be doing a vamp and I just want to be wailing, where you really stretch and you’re just blowing. That’s what I want it to be, a little song in itself. I don’t want it to be the solo where it’s like some dance track where it’s all at the same level and all of a sudden they say, »OK the guitar solo«, and you wake up for a while, start playing and you think great, and it has no meaning.
We arrange it for the solo to set up the whole song, musically, then it goes back into the groove. It’s like trying to really lift someone so when they get back down they think, »Wow, what was that?«. I mean, that’s the best reaction I could imagine, no matter how full of mistakes or anything it might be, if it got some reaction like that…
As a session player were you actually going for a unique sound or were you playing anything really well?
Well, you have to do that to an extent, but I think I get called because people like what I do. I mean, I’ve never worked as much as Steve Lukather, but then again he’s got a style too and he gets called for that. Some people frown on session playing, but to me it’s very intriguing and it’s very creative – it’s a lot of good things.
I went to LA to be a session player. I’d been in a million bands, had studied jazz and had been through about four years of playing jazz. I did a lot with Joe Pass – that was what I was into – as well as Charlie Christian and Charlie Parker. But session playing, at least what I get called for, is record dates. I’ve done a few jingles, which are obviously pretty funny, although I never made much money doing jingles. I also played a couple of movie things, which can sometimes be interesting, but movie and TV, that gets to be the 9 to 5 job. Quite often those guys read really well, like the Tommy Tedesco thing, and I’ve got a lot of friends doing that stuff; they all work regular and they make good livings at it.
What I get called for is when they want you to come up with something like they may need some real nasty guitar work, and that might be the only thing they have to say about it. Generally, if they call you they either already like you or they’ve got a recommendation from somebody they trust, so you’re kind of already in the door and they just want to get the best out of you. So they give you a lot of freedom, because they want to see what you’re going to do for them. Obviously, being in the producer’s position, they’ve got to give the musician a break, to like help me out and let me have a little more creative input, to say just a little 8th note or this little power chord, something particular that the song needed. It might need a rhythm track all the way through, or you can go down and they say, »Right we need 8th notes in the verse«, and you just go down and play it. You do your best, so it’s usually creative and I like it, I still like it. I still want to do session work but I haven’t really much time and have been out of town. That’s how it goes – out of sight, out of mind.
A couple of producers have talked to me about some really interesting things recently, though, that I might play on. It almost feels like collaboration, you know, with some other really interesting artist, which I’m going to look forward to.
Is that the direction for you as an individual, rather than a member of a hit group, a collaboration with other musicians that you respect?
To a degree, I suppose it is, I really want to do that, I want to be a guitar player, be in this band and do various stuff with this band, and I want to collaborate and be on other records. I mean, guys like Adrian Belew have had a wonderful career, and to me, artistically, he’s been on some really great records!
What techniques are you using and is that a sort of product of your study?
Well yeah, I’m sure it is at one point or another, but most of my playing is self taught – as is most peoples when it comes down to it.
I started playing guitar when I was nine and had a few lessons from a local teacher. We lived in Nebraska, which is a small town of about 26,000 people, with one music store. I took lessons from two different teachers over a period of about two years and was playing little melodies. Finally the guy got me into playing Beatles songs and learning chords and then it was kind of like fun, playing little riffs of rock’n’roll tunes, but I soon quit taking lessons and just got into playing.
Jimi Hendrix was the major influence on me, obviously, because as a kid of 12 your life is so formative. I remember I just used to wear those records out and everybody was in a band playing Jimi Hendrix songs. I really got into Jeff Beck as well after that, he is one of my all time heroes, too. Through grade school there was a period of a couple of years where I didn’t take lessons, then I took a couple more lessons when I was in the 7th grade, and didn’t have any more all through high school. I then started playing in rock’n’roll bands, just learning stuff off records, blues and blues rock, whatever was out at the time, 1972.
By the time I was senior at High School I really started to get bored and started getting into jazz. My dad was a drummer, not professionally, he hung up the sticks as it were and started having kids instead, but he is a jazz drummer and I grew up with him playing jazz all the while. He suggested I took up some jazz, so I started getting books and teaching myself. It all looked pretty mind-boggling when I first started to check out what chords really were, you know, b5 and #11, I didn’t know what any of that was.
I put together a band for some high school dance and there was this jazz trio from college playing Johnny Smith type stuff and this black guy playing guitar. He was a good jazz player, playing full chordal arrangement stuff and I went up and started chatting to this guy and ended up studying with him.
His name was Curtis Robinson. I haven’t seen the guy since, but he taught me a lot and he was very stiff on technique. He’d had this teacher from Chicago who was an old alcoholic, quite a famous bloke because I’ve heard of him since then, and of other guys who have studied with him. He was a great teacher, like my thumb would come over the top of the neck and he’d hit it back down with his hand because the thumb had to be in the middle of the back of the neck, and the fingers had to be parallel to the frets!
I went through two months of real serious, legitimate technique and went home and practiced every day. The first day he sent me home with scales, I mean, I didn’t even know a major scale because I’d just always played like blues format. He taught me a couple of exercises and I went home and practiced it and I thought I had it done, so I went back and played it in a sloppy way and he wasn’t having it. He got really heavy onto the whole thing.
As you pick your finger off the string to go to the next string for some reason, it just sounds a little bit, now I would probably hear that now, but I didn’t hear it then. He had a name for it though, he called it “visitors”. He’d say, »Hear that sound? That’s a visitor, and no visitors allowed!«. He used to scare me to death this guy, but in two months I got the most rapid chop increasement – it was amazing.
Then I went to “Berklee College of Music” in Boston. I went there the day after graduation; I came out of high school and got on the plane the next day to Berklee. That was the period of my life, from 18 to 21, when I really worked on technique. I could play scales then about three times as fast as I can now, and I really worked myself hard. I would do some things that those teachers didn’t even do, because Curtis had been such a good technique teacher, I mean, he had spent time, and I used to be practicing like 166 on the metronome playing 16th note scales, and cleanly!
I don’t think I could play that now and really be clean. I should practice more, I suppose, but that was an especially creative time and I learned a lot more theory at Berklee playing over changes and things.
Then I got into bebop and I actually got good at it. Again, I couldn’t play it now as good as I could then, I mean, it’s like sport; you’ve got to stay in shape every day and your mind has to be quick as well.
I joined club bands, and a show band, and as we were all jazz players we’d go and jam all night in the hotel room after a gig. We would have practice gear that we would just set up and blow. Then when I moved to LA that was my thing too; I was into jazz and black music and didn’t want to know about white rock’n’roll at that period in my life even though I’d come from that. I used to go down to Watts and sit in, and I’d be the only white kid. I had a black friend who’d take me down and I’d just sit in the clubs and play black music, skanky rhythms.
And you know there’s still a bit of that in our music now. I mean, I would think Pat Mastelotto, the drummer, has played the least of the black stuff out of the four of us, but even he’s got traces of it in the way he plays. The others have been in like straight R&B bands, but I used to be the only white kid in the band. The first year I went to LA, I was playing with black players all the time, hanging out with guys who had played with Stevie Wonder and George Benson, and I was doing like demo sessions with them! I’ve played with some great players…
As a group now I think we all want to do solo deals and solo projects. We have a lot of difference of opinion in the band; we are aware of it and it’s part of our sound. I suppose that’s how we get it together, but sometimes we just can’t see each other’s points of view. That’s part of collaboration though, so there’s always going to be the time when you want to step out. We’re quite happy with the way things are going with this band.
How do you get the material together? Do you write in total collaboration?
No, it’s different combinations within the band; all the lyrics are written by the singer Richard Page, and Richard will write some with an outside guy named John Lang, and Steve George, the keyboard player. They’ve all been writing songs for like ten years. I wrote some of them on the last album and brought them in and Richard and John would finish them, or sometimes we write a couple of tunes at rehearsal and Richard and Steve would finish them. So it happens in all sorts of combinations, but it’s always a band arrangement. I mean, we all write things on each other’s songs, too, that we don’t always take credit for.
We bring Paul DeVilliers, our co-producer, in if we want any help on production. He also has some creative ideas about parts and he’ll suggest things, but we have the final word.
So when will we see you over here [Europe] on tour?
Probably in the fall. I’d like to come over before that, but I just can’t be in every place at once, that’s what it really boils down to. We’re going to do a tour of Canada, of Australia and Japan, and we played at the Marquee [London] last night. None of us have really picked up our instruments for about a month, because we’re just so busy now. That’s the only thing that scares me about having a success – it’s just so hard to find the time to keep writing and coming up with stuff. Actually, it doesn’t scare me, it’s just getting tougher and I’m real hungry to play much more. I can’t wait till we start the next record [Go On] and come up with new ideas.
Steve Farris was talking to Geoff Twigg
© Guitarist 1986. Transferred and prepared by Frank Achmann, November 1998