Full-bodied shred and habanero heat: a conversation with Neck of the Woods' Dave Carr
Photo by Shimon Karmel
Considering Neck of the Woods recently started slinging their own hot sauce, it’s no surprise that the Vancouver quintet’s 2020 LP, The Annex of Ire, has its fair share of flavour. For the multi-hyphenate metal group, it’s all about how those ingredients come together.
This third album is tech-heavy, but hooky. Terror sweat-inducing progressive shred bleeds into bold metalcore beatdowns; damn-near septic death metal blasts might contain undertones of acoustic sweetness. Then there’s lead guitarist Dave Carr, whose soloing on the album can pivot between a spacious, sustain-heavy vibrato towards fretboard-scorching sweeps on a dime. He’s certainly put in the work to get there. Recently, he posted a picture of his road-worn Paul Reed Smith CE 24, its finish corroded around the pickups from years of palm-muted punishment. Neck of the Woods’ precision attack comes with a price.
Gut Feeling caught up with Dave while he was taking a quick break from his film industry day-job to get into the well-rounded sound of PRS guitars, riffing on the couch, and which of the new album’s leads best reflects the pineapple-and-habanero heat of their Annex of Fire hot sauce.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How long have you been playing Paul Reed Smiths? Going by your Instagram profile, you’ve put a good chunk of time into one of them, in particular.
Dave Carr: Definitely with that black one. I think it was 2016 when I got that guitar, the CE24 with the satin nitro finish. And then I picked up a Dustie Waring signature model in 2018. I think that black guitar must have close to 150 shows on it. It’s nice and worn-in, and plays just like you think it would when you look at it.
What do you mean by that?
D: Well, it plays like a worn-in guitar! It feels good, it resonates quite well on those big open chords. It’s a solid mahogany body on there—sustain for days. Great playing, great sounding, and great looking guitar
Is that your first PRS?
D: Yeah. The other guitarist at the time, Travis [Hein], picked one up as well. I just love the neutral feeling of a PRS. Sometimes you pick up a Jackson or an Ibanez and you feel like you have to shred. When I pick up a PRS, I can play metal; I can play the blues; I can play classic rock. It covers a lot of ground. It works with the Neck of the Woods stuff.
With how you approach those different styles within Neck of the Woods— you work with elements of shred, metalcore, and even some proggier feels— where did you want to take your playing for this record, texturally?
D: We’ve always wanted to incorporate those dynamics and layers in our music, without going too far overboard. We didn’t want to have seven different guitars going [at all times]. We always wanted to be able to replicate the album in a live scenario.
We kept the rigs pretty straight ahead and simple. The black guitar with a coil tap covered a lot of ground, sonically, whether it was clean, dirty, or for leads. Now that I think about it, it was mostly the two CE 24s, and then Travis had a custom 24 that we used as well. Those three guitars made up the majority of the electrics on the album.
There aren’t a lot of obvious effects on the album, save something like “Vision Loser,” which incorporates phaser effects in various sections. I’m guessing that’s the MXR phaser on your pedal board…
D: I’m mostly a delay guy. Now I’m getting into a bit of reverb; I do use a phaser, as well. We’ve never been an effects-heavy band, coming back to what I said about being able to recreate the songs live. Don’t get me wrong, though, I do appreciate a good effects pedal.
What else do you have on your board?
D: I’ve been using a Strymon TimeLine for the longest time, which is an unbelievably versatile delay pedal. I had the BOSS ES-5 switcher going. I tried switching things up completely and picked up a fractal unit, incorporating the Four Cable Method with my ENGL, but I wasn’t quite happy with the results, at least feel-wise. It felt like something wasn’t translating as well as it could. Especially with metal, the quick stuff with my right hand, there’s no room for error. I found when I went back to the TimeLine— midi switching and all that stuff—it just felt right.
It’s funny, our new guitarist, Ron [Holloway], same deal. He’s got a Mesa JP-2C head. He was running an AX8–to-Four Cable Method as well. He also picked up an ES-5 switcher and has started using that. Actually….those units [AX8’s] are awesome. They have their time and place, but I find myself mostly using it for going over to someone’s place and jamming, and usually on the demos. In a live scenario, where I’m standing in front of my amp— cranked up and playing—just pedals and that tube head sound right to me. I had to go back to it!
Are you handling the bulk of the leads on The Annex of Ire?
D: All except for one, I believe. Travis has a lead on “Strange Consolation”.
Are those all live off-the-floor? I’m thinking of something like “Skin Your Teeth”. There’s this doubled arpeggiated mosh section between yourself and Travis that seamlessly bleeds into some fluid sweeping.
D: I generally have an idea of where it’s going. We went pretty heavy on the pre-production with this album.
Truthfully, I feel a lot of pressure when it comes to writing solos; I’m sure other guitarists have that as well. There are so many great players out there, sometimes it gets to you when you’re trying to come up with something. So I generally have 80 per cent of the solo ready to go, and see what happens for the rest of it in the studio. Sometimes you’re lucky and something cool happens.
Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’d begun posting at-home play-throughs, whether it was covering a Mastodon track or playing key licks from The Annex of Ire. What is it about the opening riff to Neck of the Woods’ “The Tower” that sticks out to you, in particular?
D: That was just one of those riffs where you’re hanging out, watching TV, and riffing on your couch. That’s how I wrote riffs all the time when I was younger, before I started sitting down with ProTools. I came up with this little dancey riff, the intro to “The Tower”, on there [the couch]. It sounded like a cool intro!
You never really know where [riffs] can end up. There are countless riffs that end up in the grave, that’ll never be heard by anyone. Sometimes you get lucky. You get going with one riff, and the next thing you know you have a whole song on your hands
Being that many of us have had extra time to sit down on the couch and play guitar this year, have you already started workshopping new Neck of the Woods material?
D: Ron is a riff machine. It’s been great, because he’s pretty motivated, while I’m getting into the production, now. We’ve already got a couple of demos on the go. Ron was our bass player on The Annex of Ire, and he did a fantastic job. He comes up with a lot of great ideas, and I’ve been able to focus on the songwriting, making sure we have those peaks and valleys in our tunes. We’ve definitely got stuff going on behind the scenes—a couple of cool things lined up for early next year, which we’ll announce soon.
If there is one lead that speaks to the spiciness of Neck of the Woods’ Annex of Fire hot sauce, which is it?
D: I’m going to have to go with the solo from the title track. Those couple of whammy bends you’ll hear, on the harmonic? I’m just reefing on that bar. It’s savoury at first, but when you hear the second note there’s some extra spice to it.
Actors “Love U More”:
Nearly three years after Vancouver darkwave group Actors delivered their excellent It Will Come To You, the band have returned with “Love U More,” the first taste of their forthcoming sophomore LP. It’ll be the first to feature new bassist/vocalist Kendall Wooding.
The synth filters have a bit of a “The Final Countdown” feel to them, but the track plays well to Actors’ strengths as an anthemic, icy post-punk force. I’m generally fascinated with how vocalist/guitarist Jason Corbett hangs in the mix of most Actors songs. His notes are spare yet incredibly dramatic—often one solitary note sustaining across a full four bars, letting you feel the full gravity of his selections. It’s hypnotizing.
The zombified music video, directed by horror buff Peter Ricq (Dead Shack), presents the difficulties of, well, putting yourself together in the morning.
Goodbye, Blue Monday “Chicago Coin”
Closing things out with an oldie!
During the podcast episode with Joshua Brown, I’d mentioned loving more than a few Philadelphia hardcore bands from the ‘90s, but forgot to mention a pair of greats. One is Elements of Need, who likewise drilled into the eerier side of hardcore on split 7-inches with Frail and Jasmine, while another was Goodbye, Blue Monday. The latter featured past and future members of Frail, Franklin, and the Mandela Strikeforce, but ventured off towards indie rock and ‘90s emo.
I think part of this has to do with my reference points when I first got the record back in high school, but certain parts of their 1996 7-inch remind of the pop drive of the first Promise Ring LP (though it might pre-date it), the lo-fi jangle of mid'-90s Halifax (particularly the Super Friendz), and the raw emo-core of Evergreen. “Chicago Coin” is my favourite track, and was often a mixtape go-to. It’s a real hip cip, I’m told.