What’s your favorite thing about the recordings you guys have done for THE LOST MILLIONS debut ‘101’ now available on iTunes? They are all really good songs on this album and they don’t sound like anything else out there to me. We are proud of it and can’t wait to see how they go over. For all I know there’s a whole genre built around bands that sound like us, who knows. We’re nobody but represent millions. We’re just four more dudes playing rock in a band. Everytime we get together it seems like someone in the group says quietly in passing “the ‘lost millions’ are kind of a big deal” LOL..
How does the writing process work for you guys? The bulk of material on this album was written by Matt Westfield and Heath McBurnett in what has become a prolific partnership. Generally, the songs begin with a riff or progression in a jam situation and develop from there.
Did you go in to the recording process with a vision for the sound over all or is it more of a sum-of-the-parts / songs-as-they-happen dynamic? There wasn’t any preconceived overall sound we were shooting for on this one. We just started building on the framework with the gear we had and what we thought the song dictated.
What is your go-to set up? In the studio, I mainly used a Fender Blues Jr., although an Orange and a BF Bandmaster were used as well. Effects-wise I used a Ibanez ts808, MXR phase 90, and a Big Muff. For guitars I used a Strat, Les Paul, and an Angers 12 string. I played the Wurlitzer through a SF Champ. There wasn’t much food involved.
What was the first record you ever bought and how do you feel about it today? The first record I ever bought was Elton John “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player”. It still stands up. Great melodies, great lyrics and a killer band.
Can you recommend any guitar solos young guitarists should sink their teeth into? That is a tough question. There are so many different approaches and tones that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Usually what inspired you to pick up a guitar in the first place will lead you on your own journey. Some of my favorites for sure were played by Mike Campbell, Johnny Marr, Brian May, Billy Gibbons, David Gilmore, George Harrison, Joe Walsh and of course ‘Ace’ & ‘Pagey’.
Do you still listen to LP / CD’s or are have you embraced music via the computer and phone with platforms like Spotify? I still prefer listening to LPs. It is a ritual. Dropping the needle, checking out the cover and credits, flipping it over, it’s an interactive experience. Plus, I just think it sounds better. That said, I do listen on the phone and computer. I’m a music junkie but can’t always be near a turntable.
Outside of the SXSW bonanza, what can you tell us about the scene in Austin for bands looking to make in-roads in town or visitors looking to go pro for a night? Austin is struggling to find itself musically as the tech sector takes over. The cost of living has forced venues to close and musicians to move. We are just beginning to navigate the inroads of the new landscape and we will keep you posted on how that goes. For those from out of town looking to play for a night and make some money …good luck.
If you had to make a list, has your favorite music come from England or here in the US of A? My top ten is probably dominated by English bands but American bands would make up most of my top 100.
Through a series of unforeseen events you wind up at the Pearly Gates with a guitar and, as folks settle in, Saint Peter nods your direction and mouths “do something good!!” …. What do you go with? I imagine it would be a large and diverse crowd there so I would keep it instrumental. Perhaps “Bron-y-aur” or a Nick Drake inspired tune I’ve been working on. Chill, non-offensive, and hopefully impressive to the powers that be. Maybe they’d let me play with some of my heroes if I pass the audition?
Who would you say is most to blame for your having come down with rock & roll pneumonia? My folks were only 16 years old when I was born in 1970 so I had a pretty good record collection growing up. I would have to say Led Zeppelin was my first rock and roll love affair, but it was The Police who made me want to play guitar and be in a band.
What are your 5 favorite guitar solos of all-time?
Buddy Holly-“That’ll Be The Day” …Jimmy Page-“Whole Lotta Love”….Robert Quine-“Girlfriend” (Matthew Sweet …..Jim Babjak- “Girl Like You” (Smithereens)…..David Hidalgo/Cesar Rosas- “Mas y Mas”
What was your first guitar and what is your axe of choice these days? Do you collect at all? My first guitar was my mom’s Yamaha FGacoustic, but I guess my first solely owned guitar was a Yamaha SBG200, kind of like an SG Special copy. Great guitar! My number one these days is a guitar built at our shop by Robert Daniel. it is a 1959 copy of a Les Paul Junior but with an ebony board, stainless steel frets and in cherry red. I don’t really collect guitars, I only have about 5 guitars that I play regularly and a few mutts lying around.
Outside of the household name brands, any new guitars on the market that have caught your eye at Third Coast Guitars? My favorite right now are the Wild Custom Guitars. They are out of France and they have a really classic look with a twist and they are remarkably built.
Is the guitar ‘set-up’ still the life blood of the business or has that changed over the years?
That has change a bit over the years. We’ve become more nationally known for our restorative work and for doing higher end repair. We do a ton more vintage restoration these days, but fret levels and set ups are still a big part of what we do every day.
What is the strangest client request (in terms of guitars) that you’ve ever had? We get weird requests all the time! The most recent one is taking a Parker Fly guitar, putting in a Sustainiac, and acoustic Piezo pickup and a midi driver. It is going to look like an aircraft carrier inside! We have folks request to make their vintage guitars look like new a lot as well. I never have understood that but, as we say in the shop, “it ain’t my guitar”.
Music fills the air 24/7 there in the land of the cobbler: what 5 bands would you say have gotten the most shop air-time over the years? With the advent of Internet Radio, we listen to all sorts of different stuff these days and rarely listen to stuff over and over again these days, but if you count the years of cassettes and CDs…
Yes (unfortunately for me, I hate prog rock)
Would you ever consider a Third Coast mobile app and, if so, what might it do?
I have thought about it! I think it would have a tuner, a few maps of guitar anatomy (like what each part of an electric and acoustic guitar are called, people get things like bridge and saddle mixed up a lot), maybe a chart of things to look for when buying a used or new guitar.
What Gooey record is the bands St. Pepper’s? …any plans to finish the White Album?
We are actually getting ready to release a new album called “Rodgers Park” We are going to release it for free on the interwebs and press vinyl for sale at gigs. Vinyl is cool again.
If you could smash any guitar what would it be and why? (have you ever smashed a guitar?) We actually smash broken, useless guitars all the time! Manufacturers have us smash cheap guitars that have twisted necks and what not a good bit. There are some pretty good photos and a video of us playing “guitar baseball” on or Facebook page. We try to keep it light most of the time, it’s just guitars, it’s not like we are doctors in an ER. You have to be careful when you smash Ovation guitars since they are made out of that composite. It can bounce back at you and smack you in the head. It’s always nice to smash the Keith Urban guitars they sell on Home Shopping Network. Those guitars are such crap and they have Keith Urban’s Picture on them.
Can you provide a ‘state-of-the-union’ for the Floyd Rose tremolo? The Floyd Rose is still strong! There is still no unit that really provides the tuning stability of a Floyd if you really want to get your whammy on. The Kahler is really good as well for that but Floyd Rose still reigns supreme. Coupled with the GraphTech saddles, there just isn’t anything that comes close.
Matt > I was a 3-year-old kid living on Long Island in 1977. One day, my 16 year old babysitter Donna (who I was utterly devoted to) shows up with a copy of Alive II by Kiss and has me sit down, listen to it, and puts that iconic gatefold picture in front of me. I had no chance! For the next ten years, there was no other band but Kiss for me. I wanted to be a rock and roll superhero.
Rachel > I think I was always destined to love rock & roll. My parents met each other in a band and music always filled my home. But, when I was probably 4, my dad showed me how to use the old record player. I listened to a lot of Rolling Stones and I remember the first time I ever watched Mick Jagger perform. I was hooked. I loved that it was dark and exuberant, free and alive. All my first crushes were rock stars, Mick, David Bowie, Jimmy Page. It was just part of who I was from a very early age so I grew up idolizing people who made music. I was performing from about 4 on and it was a drug. I always felt most alive when I was making or performing music and rock & roll was always my first love.
How close is Roxy Swain to the band you wanted to create and how have you guys evolved?
Rachel > I mean, this is a hard question to answer. I think in terms of the democracy and the co-authorship of the music, Roxy is really strong. We all bring something to every song and I love that sense of community. That is definitely a long process that we improve upon with every song and every release. However, I think there’s always room to grow. I would hate to think that we ever reached the point where we were done and we’d reached some kind of ideal band. To me evolution is all there is – when you stop evolving, you’ve peaked and I never want to peak.
Matt > Roxy Swain has changed so much since we first started. Rachel and I have been working together since 2006, but when we were looking to do a band, we didn’t quite know what we wanted to do. The initial version of Roxy Swain was an outgrowth of a Chicago power pop band named Loomis, and much of the band’s first wave of songwriting was based on the influences Tom Valenzano, our first lead guitarist) and I shared. Our first album The Spell of Youth was written as an extension of the style of Loomis: a lot of late 70s-inspired power pop and rock and roll. I believe through a series of lineup changes and examination of our strengths we are very close to what we want to be doing now.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the recording?
Matt > Our philosophy on recording is to capture the band organically. We prefer classic tones, simple (but purposeful), dynamic arrangement. We try to highlight the biggest strengths of the band – Rachels amazing voice and sense of melody, and the band’s overall performance and treatment. Generally speaking, we like to let the songs speak for themselves, as tracked. We shy away from a lot of digital processing and an abundance of compression. That being said, we aren’t necessarily wed to a particular process, nor do we think the band should sound exactly the same in the studio as it does live.
Rachel > I’m probably the least experienced with recording. I would say that I like to take a lot of time away from recordings to formulate opinions and I am very feel oriented. In other words, I will often fall in favor of a track that isn’t technically perfect but has a lot of spirit, character, and quirk. I also really refuse to listen seriously to anything I’ve recorded under bad conditions (crappy computer speakers or earbuds) because I know I will be frustrated and hyper critical. I like to walk away from a recording for a week, come back to it in the studio and make a judgment. I’m just a strong believer in the feel or the vibe of a performance over total proficiency. I don’t think I’m even capable of taking a track that feels totally perfect anyway. If recordings are too perfect, too massaged, they end up sounding robotic and they lose something intangible. I want to feel passion in a recording and I think sometimes passion and perfection go in opposition. Not always, but sometimes.
How does the songwriting process work for Roxy Swain?
Rachel > Typically, one of us will start with the skeleton of a song, bring it to the band, and we will build it as a group. I’ve become increasingly aware that each of us have a really important role in this band when it comes to songwriting. Chuck Harling is a master arranger, Jeff Altergott‘s bass lines are so crucial because they are so interesting and organic, Matt’s lyrics and sweeteners make our sound ours, and I think my melodies come together with the other parts to create what has become our cohesive band sound. I don’t want to elevate us to be something that we aren’t, but I’m really proud of the ways in which we’ve honed our craft as a group. We work together well and we each add something unique and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of about the band.
Matt > We currently have four accomplished songwriters and arrangers in the band, so everyone has ideas. In the initial phase of the band, Tom Valenzano and I came in with complete ideas, and we dictated those ideas to the band, which was all we could do at the time, but that approach didn’t optimize the band’s talents sonically. Now that all of us are involved in the writing process, our songwriting is rarely one person with a finished idea, and more often two, three or four people collaborating on a piece. On our forthcoming album there are instances of Rachel writing with Chuck, of Rachel writing with me, of Chuck and I doing a song together, and of all four of us collaborating. It’s really exciting to be in a band with a bunch of songwriters collaborating, because many of my favorite bands feature that. As we transitioned into the lineup we have today, the style of the band has really changed into an amalgam of Chuck, Rachel and I’s separate influences, which include my power pop, but also Rachel’s soul and blues, and Chuck’s rock, roots, swing and modern indie. As we have progressed, I believe that our songwriting blend has emerged as a distinctive hybrid sound that now fits all of us like a glove. There’s an aspect of all of us in there. Even though Jeff does not typically have the initial ideas, he puts his writing stamp on the songs with the incredible bass lines he comes up with. The most fascinating thing about it is that it’s continuing to evolve and push us in unique directions we never expected, which is evidenced by the sound of our third album. We are definitely getting weirder, and I like it.
What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you?
Rachel > It’s really sad, but I grew up watching so much live music that I can’t remember my first real concert. My dad’s band played constantly and growing up in Texas, we attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year where I saw a ton of live music. I guess it’s kind of tragic that I can’t remember, but I think it was so present that I can’t pin point the first ever. I do remember seeing some big bands at a really young age and looking around at everyone singing along and thinking, that’s what I want. I want people to sing along and dance to my music. I was probably seven when that translated into writing my own songs (terrible, terrible songs) and performing them on my front lawn with my sister and neighbor for the other kids on the block.
Matt > I actually didn’t attend a concert until Junior High School, and that was an odd bill. My parents took me to see 80s Chicago radio personality Jonathan Brandmeier and the Leisure Suits at the Rosemont Horizon. A strange entry into concert experience, to be sure. My ears really just hurt the whole time! I had never seen anything that loud. By the end I was enjoying it, despite feeling rather deaf. I followed that up with seeing Rush at Alpine valley a couple years later. That was really cool.
What is your approach to playing live and what is your mind-set pre-show?
Matt > My approach to playing live is to try to stay in the moment. My mind set pre show is often meditative as I try to pull myself into the present tense.
Rachel > Playing live is my favorite thing in the whole world. Honestly, I’m excited and often I just want to get up on stage. I don’t get nervous because I’ve been doing it for so long. I just want to get up there and I get really bummed when we get to our last song. I want every show to be memorable and I want to see people having a good time. I mean, half of playing music for me is sharing my art but the other half is sharing a moment with people, whether they are friends or strangers. When I see people dancing, singing along, smiling, it makes me feel honored and privileged and happy. Being on stage is a privilege and I just feel like every show is a blessing and an honor and I want to share a good time with the audience ….my approach to playing is live is to make try and give every performance and every audience all I have.
If you could tour with any artist as support who would it be and why?
Rachel > I don’t know, I have so many friends that I would be honored to share a tour with, I can’t really see myself picking a big band. I guess if I’m being honest, I admire my father’s musicianship so much that I would probably want him along on the tour. Also, other projects of my band-mates’, both Roxy and other projects I’ve been involved in, like The Ye-Ye’s. I think I would surround myself with local bands because I think support of your fellow local musicians is really important.
Matt > In terms of currently touring indie bands, I would love a shot at opening for The National. Their songwriting has been a big influence on both Rachel and I. In terms of all time faves, this an odd answer, but probably Yes, if they ever went out with their 1973 lineup again. I love those guys. It would be a terrible fit stylistically but I would have fun just watching those guys play every night.
What are your favorite 3 albums of all-time?
Matt > King Crimson – Red, Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans and The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Rachel >David Bowie – Station to Station, The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers, The Replacements – Let it Be Whats the best live performance you have seen by a local Chicago band?
Rachel > My friend Heather Perry was in a band called Bring Your Ray Gun that absolutely killed every time I saw them play. I’ve always felt honored to be associated with her because she was one of the first women I saw leading a band as a songwriter and musician. She was the first person to make me think, I can do this. I didn’t have many female role models in the local scene before her. Anyway, seeing her play live has always inspired me. Plus she looks so cool on stage playing insane bass lines without breaking a sweat. They were a really tight band and I loved seeing them live.
Matt > Sludgeworth, final show of the original run, January 11th, 1993, McGregors in Elmhurst. The single best concert I have ever seen.
You two are separated in a horrible ship wreck, stranded on adjacent island and forced to leave messages in a bottle for one another: what does your message say?
Rachel: “At least we will have a lot of good experience to write from if we ever get off this island”
Matt: “I love you. Here’s the lyrics to our next song, “Stranded”” ~ ROXY SWAIN
When did your fascination with guitars begin and Is it curable? I recall as a kid having an interest in guitars long before I knew how to play one. I have a vivid memory of dragging my poor mom into a music store and gawking at a hanging row of shiny new Gibson Firebird’s. There is a disease associated with guitar lust. It’s commonly referred to as GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome). So far I have not heard of a cure.
Do you still listen to the same players that turned you on as a kid? Absolutely! You never quit learning from your mentors. It’s like watching a favorite movie 100 times and every time catching something you didn’t notice before. To this day I’m always fascinated listening to Jimmy Page, Brian May, Freddie King, etc.
What was the first guitar you ever owned? do you still have it? Ok, disregarding the plastic banjo (prop) I had for my first public performance at around age 4, my first guitar was a lovely Hohner dreadnought, you know, the $99 variety. It had a skinny neck and never would tune properly. The coolest thing about it was the faux denim chip board case it came in. After all, it was the early ’70’s, baby. I gave that guitar to a student sometime in the late ’80’s. I was trading guitar lessons for kick boxing training.
It seems as if your timing and location were right on the money: how is Wicker Park treating you guys today? Wicker Park is still one of the most vibrant and artistic communities in Chicago. I think we fit in here well. It has a great central location relative to the rest of the city. Good public trans., etc. Close to some good clubs, too. We see a lot of local and touring musician’s. Our starting time could have been better (right at the beginning of the economy bubble burst), but we’ve made the best of it.
How do you feel Avenue N Guitars is different than other musical equipment retailers in Chicago? Certainly there are other great ma and pa music stores in the Chicagoland area, but, and this may sound cliche, I think the one thing that sets us apart is at the heart of it, we really do care about music and the people that make it and play it. Our main goal is to support that. We don’t have any gimmicks here, no slick sales pitches. We stand by everything we do. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a long and intimate history with vintage guitars and that market not to mention our guitar and amp service dept’s are one of the best kept secrets in Chicago.
How do you turn a walk-in new customer into a repeat offender? Again, by expressing our concern, going that extra yardage and providing the best customer service we possibly can.
How has the internet, ebay and the like impacted the guitar biz over the last decade? Huge impact. eBay has made a big dent in competition for small retailers. On the other hand it is useful for sales and a handy price comparison tool. Having a website can also be a great sales tool even if only used as advertising. A lot of people have developed retail businesses solely on eBay and websites. The ones that hustle have done very well although ebay sales have slipped over the last few years with the economy the way it is. Overall, the internet has been a game changer and mostly for the best, however, it’s not without negatives for small retailers. For example, it’s nearly immpossible to compete with corporate giants such as GC who not only sell on their own websites at grossly discounted prices (because that can buy from vendors in bulk at great discounts), but also sell on other internet sites they own as well such as American Music Supply, Music 123 and Musician’s Friend to name just a few.
Who do you think are making the best new electrics on the market today? any hot tips? The best new electrics, of course, come from the hands of custom builders and generally with a premium price. If we’re talking the big dogs (Gibson, Fender, etc.) and mass production, it’s hard to say. There has been a lot of scrambling going on it recent years. All the big companies keep producing more and more new models in every possible price point. In doing so, I feel they keep slipping further and further away from their roots as quality guitar makers. They seem to have no clue about their own history. Integrity and quality has long ago taken a back seat to profit margin. My question is this: if you are going to spend $3000 of your hard earned money on that Les Paul Custom you always wanted, would you buy the brand new plastic looking CNC machine made one or the cool old vintage one?
What’s is the strangest request you have received from a customer? As a tip for good service, I once had a customer ask if I wanted to ‘light one up’ right at the front counter of the store. It was about one in the afternoon and the store was full of customers.
Should smashing guitars be made legal too? For some guitars it definitely should be legal!