Earlier this month I had the chance to speak with Los Angeles artist SASAMI for Northern Transmissions. The talk centres on the complex metal, folk, and dream pop qualities of her new album, Squeeze, but also on the way various parts of horror lore impacted the aesthetic. It’s a wild record where tap-crazy guitar solos exist over gain-charged Daniel Johnston covers, but it’s just as likely to pivot from nu metal stomps towards gloom-infused classical arrangements and back porch folk bops. It’s a serious head trip!
Considering the searing guitar work she and Barishi’s Graham Brooks supply to Squeeze, I also had a few gear-related Q’s lined-up for SASAMI while I had her on the line.
This one’s a quick Gut Feeling gear talk, hope you dig it!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Being that there are some serious sonic shifts between your two solo albums, was there much in the way of gear swaps when it came to making Squeeze?
Sasami: On this album I just dimed the gain and [made] the amp a lot louder; there’s more amp head noise and distortion. I used a Marshall stack for the first time— I used the [Fender] Quad Reverb a lot on my first record.
The first album that I made was all on 16-track tape machine, whereas this one was way more hybrid. There’s much more of a mix of fidelity, in terms of analogue and digital. I used samples, drum machines, synths, and tracked a lot of things directly into Pro Tools. Double kick pedal was also a big part of this record.
There’s some massive fuzz through the arpeggio-type sections of “Make It Right”. Do you remember what you were you using on that?
That was probably the Travis Bean into a Big Muff pedal and into the Quad Reverb, but it also might’ve been DI. I can’t remember. That’s the thing, though: it doesn’t really matter! You either get the sound that conveys the emotion, or you don’t. You can use the exact same gear that someone else used, and it might not work. Like, the gain could be different, or the strings you use could have less sustain. You could be doing a riff that just doesn’t sustain the same. It doesn’t matter if you have the same pedal.
You were showing off this acrylic, see-through BC Rich Mockingbird on your Instagram semi-recently. Like you're saying, it’s not the gear, it’s how you play it, but there’s something intrinsically “metal” about that shape of a guitar. Or at least we’ve been conditioned to accept that…
I think there’s a kind of drama and theatrics to a performance. You only have 35 minutes to take the listener from being in a place where they’re thinking about what they’re going to have dinner, or if they fed their dog before they left, and transport them to this place where they’re experiencing something hellish. I think any visual element that can help transport those people is useful, so I think the gaudiness of that BC Rich is pretty exciting.
You also added Gibson Explorer to your collection. Had you experimented with one of those before?
I’ve used a lot of offset guitars, and I played a lot of Les Pauls on the album. This is the meeting point of having a cool-shaped, lopsided guitar with the older Gibson sound.
You also play the French horn, correct?
Yeah, that was my first instrument.
Have you ever leveled up your French horn? Or is there a treasured piece of brass in your instrument collection?
I don’t really play enough to justify leveling up, but I was a conservatory student, so the model I have is pretty legit. Also, compared to violins or something, brass instruments are on the cheaper side. From college-age I’ve had a pretty legit Hans Hoyer French horn.