A quick glance at Applewhite vocalist/guitarist Carl McBeath and guitarist Dave Mitchell’s respective pedalboards reveals that these Vancouver-based musicians put a good deal of thought into how they blow out the quartet’s overall sound. Each player runs close to a dozen pedals through their rigs, chaining together metal gear-grinding overdrives with canyon-wide delays. Oftentimes the pair, as well as bassist Steph Jurek, crest atop the oceanic pull of a fully-dialed chorus pedal.
But despite McBeath and Mitchell’s maximalist tendencies, the pedal work on their New Bohemia colours the canvas naturally, never drawing too much attention to its plethora of effects. Instead, the focus goes towards tightly-crafted cuts like “Flag” and “Seams”, which conjure the early ‘90s alt-canon (think Sugar and Teenage Fanclub), albeit with a modern edge.
From half-cocked early purchases, to the spectacular sounding stompboxes he’s currently soldering from home, Carl spoke with Gut Feeling to get into his ever-growing pedal collection.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Over the past couple of months, Applewhite’s Instagram page has been putting up a number of posts visually detailing the dozens of pedals that went into the making of New Bohemia. How long have you been collecting pedals?
Carl McBeath: I got my first guitar pedal close to 18 years ago. It was a Snarling Dogs wah-wah, this huge wah with a cocking mechanism in the shape of a foot. It sucks! And it weighs 10 pounds. My knowledge of guitar pedals at that point was the Snarling Dog and a couple of BOSS pedals. I started collecting pedals seriously about five years ago.
The members of Applewhite all come from a hardcore background [featuring past and present members of Punitive Damage, Blue Monday, Keep it Clear, and many more]. Was falling into the pedal world a reaction to playing with a more direct bass and guitar tone in those other bands?
C: When I was playing in hardcore bands, I felt the ultimate tone was just plugging your guitar directly into an amp, and cranking the amp up until it starts distorting. In some ways it is! It’s a great sound, but it didn’t leave a lot of room for trying new things. Starting Applewhite leant itself towards learning about tone and composition; adding pedals to the mix was an interesting way to help figure it all out. And it’s fun!
So what was the first pedal that really opened your mind?
C: It wasn’t a pedal. My first piece of gear that really opened things up was a Roland JC-120, a solid state head. It’s got a really great clean tone, but it’s also got the circuit for the BOSS CE-1, which is a true stereo chorus sound. You get an amazing chorus sound out of this amp, and that got me thinking about what other things I could add [to my sound]. After that, my next pedals were maybe the Electro-Harmonix Cathedral reverb pedal and the MXR Carbon Copy delay. Those were two big ones for me.
Going by those posts again, your boards run close to a dozen pedals, and some of them run in a similar vein. I’m seeing a BOSS TR-2 tremolo and a Diamond TRM1 tremolo in one photo. How do you go about prioritizing one pedal over the other, especially when they’re in the same wheelhouse?
C: That picture you’re referencing is actually two pedal boards sandwiched together in the studio. My board has the BOSS, and Dave’s board has the Diamond tremolo. At that point we were in the studio putting everything together to see what sounded best— it wasn’t even just song-by–song, it was part-by-part. The Diamond tremolo is great, because it has tap tempo. It’s a lot more tweakable, but the BOSS has a great, straightforward, choppy sound.
What were your personal workhorses throughout the New Bohemia sessions?
C: My favourite pedals to use were the Cathedral, the BOSS tremolo, an MXR Distortion Plus, and I really love the MXR Carbon Copy.
I love Bob Mould, and I love his tone. I read somewhere that he was doing a two amp set-up with the JC-120 and a Fender Twin, so that’s what I went with.
Was the album played mostly using your Jazzmaster?
C: The Jazzmaster is definitely my number one guitar, but in the studio— just like with the pedals— we brought in so many guitars. Six or seven between us, and I think they all got used.
Anything out of the ordinary in that batch?
C: There were a couple that were strange. I have an Ampeg AMG100, which is a Dan Armstrong reproduction, except instead of Lucite it’s made out of wood; I guess Ampeg bought Dan Armstrong and made these guitars for a limited time. That was used on a couple of parts. I also used a Danelectro 12-string.
Actually, my dad made a couple of guitars for me a few years ago, and they’re great. One is a Les Paul-style, and the other is like a Strat, but with a humbucker.
Were those the first guitars he had made, or has this been a hobby of his for a while?
C: He doesn’t play guitar, he’s just a really talented woodworker. He didn’t know what to get me for Christmas one year and had a lot of free time on his hands, so he made me the guitars. They’re awesome! They’re both maple; the Les Paul is maple sandwiched on mahogany, I believe. They’re both dense and heavy, but I think that adds to it. The Les Paul definitely sounds like a regular Les Paul Standard.
What can you say about the Sagan delay pedal you were just teasing on the band’s Instagram account?
C: I made that! It’s a PCB board; I bought all the components and soldered it myself. It’s supposed to emulate a Roland RE-201 head, which has a three-tape delay. Obviously this is just an analogue delay, but that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.
Have you built any other pedals?
C: Since the whole lockdown happened, I’ve built about ten pedals. I’ve got three of them on my board right now. I’ve made a couple of fuzzes. I’ve made a Fuzz Factory; I’ve made a take on an EarthQuaker Speaker Cranker; and I’ve made an EarthQuaker Grand Orbiter, which is a phase/vibrato. I didn’t buy the PCBs for those ones. I found the schematics online and used perfboard.
Has Dave checked them out?
C: No, we haven’t been jamming because of lockdown. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten into the same room to swap pedals in a while.
What are Applewhite’s upcoming plans?
C: Our drummer Mike [Jurek] and I are looking to press New Bohemia on vinyl. Hopefully that’ll happen by springtime. We also have a couple extra songs from those sessions, and we’re looking to have that released as a 7-inch single in the fall.
Orwell “Bandsaw Architecture” (Bandcamp)
Orwell were a short-lived Chicago group from the mid-90s that featured members of Braid, Friction, Haymarket Riot, Gainer, and more. In the band’s words, this was a “fleeting moment of adolescent excitement from five unfledged twenty year olds.” While their output was slim at the time, the upcoming Orwell 1995 compiles all of their existing comp tracks with unreleased studio recordings, songs from a set at Chicago’s legendary Fireside Bowl, and a few boombox sessions. Last year, vocalist Bob Nanna even recorded vocals for the previously unfinished “Ph9 Green”.
While some of Orwell 1995 plays up a more textural, yet scrappily melodic angle, “Bandsaw Architecture” is a blur of era-appropriate emo-hardcore: fractured, awesomely atonal chord work clattering against an errant trumpet and a frantic beat akin to the attacks of Antioch Arrow or Angel Hair. Nanna runs himself hoarse throughout, perhaps alluding to a future Braid song while admitting, “I’m afraid of everything.” I’d forgotten that this song was on the Ground Rule Double compilation—fittingly alongside tracks from Braid, Gainer, and Friction. It’s past due for a revisit!
If you’re a Bob Nanna completist, you can soon file Orwell 1995 with other posthumous compendiums from Braid, Friction, and the Sky Corvair. This latest collection is currently streaming, while the vinyl LP ships on February 5.