16 Oct Shaking up sounds with EarthQuaker Devices
In my opinion, a big part of growing as an artist is encouraging yourself to try new things – techniques, technology, anything that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. (You might surprise yourself with what you can achieve.) The Outer Vibe has been in creative mode a lot in recent months because, yes, you guessed it – it’s time to record new music!
I write a lot of my trumpet parts based on my strengths… phrasing, melody, and scale agility. (No screaming high note strength here.) In retrospect, cinematic spaghetti western-inspired trumpet lines have been sneaking into our sound as far back as our song “On the Run” from the Monster EP (2009). I like using the trumpet to add that element to The Outer Vibe’s sound because it’s a little different and sits well with Wonder and Noah’s funky dance grooves. This cinematic style has also appeared in songs like “Hoka Hey” (2012), “Shining Like a Diamond” (2015), and “Fionna” (2017) among others.
On a different end of the trumpet spectrum, “Sold My Brain” was me exploring new territory… getting a little quirky while also pulling some classical stuff out of the back pocket, like trills, turns, and melodic lines that sound like they could have been borrowed from an etude book. The original intent of that song came from one of the guys in the band having the brilliant idea of, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to write a song where we all play as many notes as possible?” So there’s that, too. Also, for that one or two of you who really care, “Sold My Brain” is loosely based on the octatonic scale, which lends itself to getting weird.
At this point I needed something besides words, so here’s a pic Nick took while I was practicing in the garage of the Nashville Vibe Castle.
It’s easy to settle back and coast off the chops you’ve already developed that you know will likely get the job done. I’ll probably always write cinematic, classical-influenced melodic lines… but why stop there?
Making a record is so much fun, and we all believe in the importance of giving ourselves creative time to experiment with sounds, especially going into the writing/recording phase. We saw Spoon perform at SXSW this year (best concert I’ve attended in a long time, hands down), and their keyboard player inspired me to start experimenting with effects on my keyboard like delays and reverb. That soon carried over to my trumpet playing, and I decided it would be fun to see what would happen if I started playing trumpet with digital delay.
The end result? It is definitely a whole new approach to writing trumpet parts. When I write with a delay pedal on, I write lines I wouldn’t normally come up with. It’s a whole new world to explore.
Back in June, the band took a few days off between tours. A few of us decided to hop in my car and go to Sweetwater’s annual GearFest… a.k.a. nerd heaven. We got to try out some amazing new equipment and had many insightful conversations with reps from some of our favorite gear brands.
This is where we began a conversation with EarthQuaker Devices, a company that hand-makes effects pedals. They are cool people with cool ideas, and they invited us to stop by their Akron, OH factory sometime. Akron happens to be a city we love and visit at least a couple times a year, so while touring through the midwest this past July, we paid them a visit. I picked up a delay pedal called The Space Spiral, and Nick decided to buy a “pitch shifting modulator” called the Rainbow Machine.
The Space Spiral
A few weeks after visiting the EarthQuaker Devices factory and buying the pedals (still on tour and living out of our van and peoples’ living rooms, because that’s what we do these days), I spent some hours in our friend’s garage with the Space Spiral.
Belated high school senior portrait?
The Rainbow Machine
First things first… let’s be honest. I’m not a gear head. I’m not going to even act like I know what half the knobs mean on this device or the technical “why” behind how it works. Does it matter? Maybe to some, but not to me. I just care about what’s coming out of my keyboard and how it can creatively add to The Outer Vibe’s sound. Not to mention, Wonder and Nick are gear heads and if I ever have technical questions, they’re good at dumbing it down enough to explain to me.
Nick was actually the one who bought the Rainbow Machine, and I stole it from him to try out on my Nord. This pedal has a lot of capabilities, way more than I’m even aware of. But after only maybe 10 minutes of twisting knobs, I found a sound that, much like the Space Spiral, sounded great on every tone I tried… everything from a lead synth to wurlitzer to vox organ to harpsichord.
The best way I can sum up this post is to encourage artists of any medium to explore outside their comfort zone. I’ve always said “I’m not a knob turner. I’m just a classical trumpet player.” I guess you could say I put my foot in my mouth because suddenly my rig is starting to look like a guitar player’s.
EarthQuaker Devices have been a jumping off point for me to be able to explore new areas of creativity that I hadn’t even considered before. If you’re into supporting “local businesses” that are kicking ass and doing something cool, you might enjoy checking these guys out.