Weapons of Choice - Gavin Glass
GoldenPlec headed into Orphan Recording Studios in Dublin to talk to singer-songwriter Gavin Glass who has forged a career as one of Ireland’s go-to record producers with credits including The Hot Sprockets’ ‘Brother Nature’ to his name. The Acclaimed singer-songwriter is also an in demand musician, recording and touring with the cream of Irish talent including Lisa Hannigan. Glass, showed us around his impressive studio and its array of instruments, pedals and amps that he uses to create music.
First Musical Memory
“My first musical memory would be hearing I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats when I was about two or three. I remember just going ape-shit for that song, the next one after that was Heart of Glass by Blondie. I didn’t start playing music until I was about thirteen or fourteen, I was always drawn to music but there was no one really playing musical instruments in the house. It was something I was always drawn to, musical instruments. My folks were a little bit oblivious to all of that because they weren’t musicians themselves but eventually I asked Santa for a guitar and it snowballed from there, like coral building up.”
“My first guitar was an old Karina acoustic guitar that was £60; my dad bought it for me in Dempsey's Music Shop, which is long gone. It was an amazing place just on Parnell Street. I wanted an electric guitar but someone told my dad “Get him an acoustic guitar first”, which is probably the best piece of advice, but I wanted a horrible ZZ Top style guitar that attached to my belt and spun around. I don’t have it anymore; I gave it to a little cousin of mine years ago. I was down in their house a little while ago and it’s obviously been thrown out, he never took up the guitar. It's probably in some bedroom or dumping zone.”
“My first electric was a Marlin, I can’t remember what it was but it was an Eddie Van Halen looking thing. It was Sunburst and the pickups would pick up every taxi company in the Stillorgan area for a ten-mile radius. It was a heap of crap; I sold it to my neighbour.”
I’m like a polygamist Mormon when it comes to the guitars they are all my wives.
Learning & Influences
“There was a hippy (teacher) who used to come into school on a Monday; I did a full school year with him. He was incredible but he never came back to the school so I was self-taught after that. It was a lot harder back then because there was no internet to figure it out. I remember I used to turn on my turntable and put these Prince August lead soldiers on it to slow the record down so I could work the notes out. The other one was going in behind the TV so when there was somebody playing guitar I was looking over their shoulder and trying to hold the guitar that way.”
“I wanted to be Eric Clapton and Slash at that stage. I wanted to be able to do seven-minute guitar solos. Whoever my girlfriend was at the time would go around music shops with me. Much to the annoyance of all the people there, she would sit staring at me playing Stairway to Heaven and Sweet Child of Mine, really badly.”
“I got an electric guitar when I was fifteen and then I saved up and bought a really good guitar when I was sixteen. An old, wine red 1976 Gibson, Les Paul that was stolen the day before I was to go to Germany to record an album with my (then) band Gramophone. By that stage, I’d had it six years and it was worth a fortune. The entire advance that I got from signing a record deal was gone. I was meant to live off that for three months, but I had to go and buy another guitar.
“We recorded the album, but it never saw the light of day. The record label went bust, and we had to ring our parents to get airfare home. Only two weeks before that we’d gone on a cruise around the South of France to celebrate finishing the album. It was an absolute disaster.”
Writing and recording
“Gramophone broke up after we were dropped and everyone got disheartened. We all went back to our day jobs, but I kept writing and working on stuff at home. I saw this documentary on The Band when I was at the height of the depression from being dropped. I’d no job and that made me go back to all the old Bob Dylan records I’d listened to growing up. The first time I heard The Band I thought, “That’s what I want to be doing, that kind of music.” I was starting to get into recording myself and was building up a modest home studio.”
“We were in Germany for a year and I’d learned a lot. I pretty much lived in the studio. We had a house, but I stayed on the couch in the studio and experimented with the gear there. So I started toying with the idea of singing the songs myself. I couldn’t get a singer to do it so I went solo then.”
“For my first venture, I was really into folk, a big Radiohead fan and I was into electronic music at the time. It was definitely a “first album”, home produced, it was a good little calling card but I hadn’t developed what I was about . The rootsy stuff and Americana didn’t really come out until The Holy Shakers record in 2007."
“There’s elements of it on the first record but when I made the second record I said “No samplers, all the sounds had to be the actual instruments, no replicas.” I wanted to make a very old school sounding record. Franz Ferdinand and all these real angular bands were all the rage at the time and it wasn’t really, where my vibe was at.”
you can really crank but not be so obnoxious that you're gonna loosen the fillings in the bass player's teeth
“I have this Japanese black Tele from around 1988, that I fitted a Lollar hardwire pickups into, which I use an awful lot. It has a very unique, thick tone. It's got a really thick string gauge, 58 to 13. It separates the men from the boys, you don't do too many crazy bends on it without getting arthritis. I used this on the song Older Than My Years, all the chicken pickin' guitar stuff, and all the telecaster on The Holy Shakers record was done on that."
"There's very little of it on the new album, but all the electric stuff I did on Lisa Hannigan's 'Passenger' album, the riffs from What'll I Do were done on it. The Hot Sprockets used it all over the Brother Nature album. It's pretty much the first guitar I've been reaching to the last ten years.”
“Acoustically I go for a Martin D28. I had one that I left in the back of a cab two Christmases ago -totally my own drunken fault- I never got it back. I’ve a sponsorship deal with Martin and when I told them what happened, they did an amazing deal to replace it. I've another Martin D28 re-issue and I keep saying I’m going to keep my main D28 as a studio guitar only, but it just looks too nice and I photograph too well with it, it really completes me.”
“I use a Gibson ES347, the blonde one. That was a present. Soper from Hot Sprockets used it on Soul Brother & Comin' On. They gave me the Epiphone when they finished Brother Nature, Soper gave it to me and said "Here you go man, rapid, thanks a million, you're gonna love this guitar" and I did. I put a set of flat-wounds on it and I get this really warm '60s sound, George Harrison, very Beatles kind of sound.”
“The twelve-string and Baritone Danelectro, I use a lot for different textures with bands. They're two guitars that not a lot of people would have and a lovely thing to use for colour. I'd use them on my records, but not live. The next single that I have coming out, the main melody is driven on the twelve string. It was all over Cathy Davey's song Silhouettes.”
“I’ve started using my Les Paul again, I put a Bigsby on it this year and changed the pickups to a single and a P90. You can switch them and combine them both so it becomes a humbucker, it’s so versatile.”
“The Les Paul, for whatever reason, be it Slash, there’s something very cock-rock about it, but Neil Young and Daniel Lanois get away with it. I’m like a polygamist Mormon when it comes to the guitars they are all my wives. I played that on a lot of the recordings I did for Jerry Fish. It's played on something every day.”
It separates the men from the boys, you don't do too many crazy bends on it without getting arthritis.
“I’d say I play about thirteen to fifteen instruments off the top of my head, from guitar, piano, mandolin, banjo, dobro, organs, so mostly any string or key instrument. I played my first violin track recently but I don’t really play any classical instruments. I’m the world’s worst drummer, but I’d be quite vocal with drummers when producing them about what I think they should play. It’s just I wouldn’t be able to play it.”
“I started playing the Dobro about six years ago. I was playing with a guy called N.C. Lawlor, who was the king of anything with a slide in Dublin. This was used on The Faces cover I did for the Meteor ad.”
“I learned how to play piano when I was in Germany, and by that, I mean a couple of chords. I learned Let It Be and then when we got dropped I ended up taking a gig in a piano bar, as it was the only work I could get. They said “do you play piano” and I was like “…Sure I do” but I could only play Let It Be, so I’d play it like six times. I eventually got better and better and it really helped my singing, as I hadn’t really sung live before.”
“This was in the Viper Room, I used to play there four nights a week from 11pm to 4am, I really had to get good fast and they had this limiter on the PA, because somebody lived upstairs, so if people clapped too hard the whole PA would shut down. Sometimes people shouting from the bar would trigger it, so I had to learn to sing above the PA so I didn’t have to rely on it, I could do it all acoustically.”
“My voice and playing changed as a result of that, for the good and the bad, I guess. When I started playing guitar and piano with Lisa Hannigan in 2008, I had to learn to play really quiet, whereas I had learned to play really loud and drown out people. I toured with her for five or six years, touring all over the world, it was amazing to do.”
“I did an album in Eastwood Studios in Nashville, while I was on tour with her, I’d go there at the end of each tour. It was run by Eric Fritsch, he has an in with a load of guys from Wilco and Black Crowes so he was able to get these amazing session musicians to come down.”
“It was a great studio and pretty much inspired me to get my own place together. I thought, “Why the fuck am I spending $7,000 over here when I can do it myself and it would be a better investment.” So I was always hoarding gear for the studio.”
“There’s pedals I have here since I was 15. The Big Muff was the holy grail of pedals, you just couldn’t get them back then, because they had stopped making them in the early eighties, and they didn’t re-issue them until around the nineties."
"To get one of those was really tough. When I heard 'Nevermind' -that’s all Big Muff you hear all over that record- I got one of them and that was my first Lego block in terms of my quest for killer tone.”
“I got my first Watkins Copicat (Tape Echo) at 19, I picked up four of them from a guy for £50 and this shitty rack mounted digital reverb unit that he was delighted with. But I got four Watkins that all worked. I hooked up all four when I got home and got the Planet Telex sound that I was looking for.”
“If I were to do up a pedal board of four key pedals, there’d be a Keeley Compressor, probably a Tube Screamer, a Watkins Copicat and a Holy Grail Reverb. I think that’s all you need; you don’t need any more pedals.”
“If I’m doing solo stuff with the band I tend to play acoustic guitar, nobody needs to hear me play a solo when there’s six other dudes that are gunslinger musicians. If I was session guitar playing for someone, like Mundy, I’ll have a fairly stacked two-level board with a couple of distortions, a couple of delays."
“For distortion I have this Keeley Luna, which I bought in London a few months ago that is amazing, as well as the Big Muff, Tubescreamer and the Guv’nor."
"The most out there pedal I’d have is this Ibanez Modulation pedal that I got when I was 15 and I’ve never seen one since, you can modulate your delays and get crazy siren effects and get the most unpredictable sound of a car crash. The Maestro Rhythm and Sound pedal looks like a Fisher Price toy, it sounds great for recording and makes the guitar sound like a tambourine, it’s mad. I’d never risk them live.”
“The first decent amp I got was a Vox AC30 which got stolen two weeks later. I bought it for my 21st out of money I got from my folks, friends and family. I did a charity gig out in the Cat & Cage in Drumcondra. We were lifting the gear down, I brought it down first and went to give the drummer a hand, turned around and it was gone.”
“Someone with a van had fucked it in and made off with it. It had an amazing custom reverb tank put into it, it was like a small plate with a spring on it. Every Vox that comes through the workshop here I look to see "Is that mine?"
“I put an ad in the Buy & Sell to see if the person who robbed it was stupid enough to answer and some guy said he'd a Vox. I went down to see it, he was looking £800 for it because it was a 1964, and I told him my story and he gave it to me for £200. He had stopped playing guitar and was glad it was going to a good home. If I ever met him again I'd certainly buy him a pint, that's for sure.”
“I also like to use smaller amps, like the Fender Junior, that you can really crank, but not be so obnoxious that you're gonna loosen the fillings in the bass player's teeth because the guitar amp is so loud. I like Twins, I really like old ‘70s Deluxes, they're pretty hard to beat.”
“Live, I still use the Vox AC30 and sometimes I might have it with the Fender Junior in an old Marshall cab with the speaker taken out so I have it in stereo. That's only for big rock gigs; I tend to keep it smaller and smaller live now.”
“For nearly ten years, I’ve had my own studios. Officially, Orphan Recording was started in 2010, but I’d been working as a producer and had different studios since 2006. Since we’ve opened here, we’ve had John Grant, Bell X-1, Villagers, The Hot Sprockets, The Eskies, Gypsy Rebel Rabble, Young Funk, Edisons, Jerry Fish, Luan Parle, Pete Fagan, Miriam O’Donoghue, Kicking Birds, Twin Headed Wolf, Trouble Pilgrims, Kolumbus, and loads more.”
“I've sort of stepped away from touring because the studio is too busy, but I'm going to do a few shows with Mundy around Ireland, Then I'm going to do a Gavin Glass tour in the Summer. After five or six years away with Lisa, I just couldn't be away from the studio or the dog for two or three months. Tour bus living is great the first month, the second one, brilliant, but by the third one you're like "There's a smell of feet here," and there's too many people living in a very confined space."
“Next is to get my new album out, it's finished, it was mastered by Richard Dowling. It's called ‘Sunday Songs’ and we're looking at May to get it out. It's just a matter of getting the artwork completed, everything's ready to go, the band are primed & it's just a matter of getting it out there.”
“In the studio, we've The Young Folk's album to finish off. We've finished about five other records recently so we've a new wave of albums to start now.”
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