While not the whole story, effects pedals play a huge role in how we perceive music. Take Jimi Hendrix’s iconic “VooDoo Child (Slight Return),” a song whose legacy is in no small part indebted to just how damned snarling that Vox wah sounds. Or think of how the BOSS HM-2 accidentally defined a generation of death metal players when Entombed’s Leif Cuzner cranked each dial to the max to get that punishing, buzzsaw sound.
With that in mind, Vancouver artist Shannon Hemmett is twisting those dials to reconsider what we love about our favourite artists through her Pedal Prints project. Throughout the year, the graphic designer/tattooist has been tweaking the template of a vintage BOSS pedal design, splotching it with colours and verbiage associated with classic acts like the Cure and Kill ‘Em All-period Metallica. A Nirvana pedal, for instance, is washed in an aqueous, Nevermind-style blue (replete with reflection lines), while traditional pedal settings like “Gain” or “Tone” have been replaced with band-specific references like “Bleach” and “Bloom”. It’s called the Teen Spirit pedal—or for you gearheads, the TS-1.
Gut Feeling spoke with Shannon to learn about how she’s customizing her thoughts on music history through Pedal Prints, while also figuring out how stompboxes colour the musical palette of her post-punk projects, Leathers and Actors.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
From the font selection down to the beveled knobs, it looks like your Pedal Prints are modelled after BOSS pedals. Is there a specific pedal you’re basing these prints on?
Shannon Hemmett: The first one was based on the DS-1, the orange distortion pedal. That‘s a classic!
When the lockdown started, I was unable to tattoo for three months. I was trying to think of little side hustles I could do, art-wise, that could help generate income. I was doing these mystery paintings, saying, ‘Hey, send me X amount of dollars and I’ll paint you something’; I was doing it for friends and clients. One of the ideas I came up was to do a guitar pedal for a Slowdive fan—the first one I did was the Slowdive pedal with the blue watercolour design on top. That one kind of took off and I got asked to do a bunch more. Initially I was hand-painting them, and then as they started to gain popularity I began [colouring] them digitally as well.
You have to be economical with your word selection, since there’s only so much real estate on an effects pedal. How do you go about choosing words that best fit a band’s style and sound?
S: I guess I think of either song titles or lyrics that exemplify the tone of the band. For example, I just did a David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust one where the dials were “Moon,” “Mars,” and “Stars,” just taking some of the words from the Ziggy Stardust songs of that era, bringing it all together so that when someone sees it, all those words and colours create the feeling of that artist. With the Metallica one, we have “Search” and “Destroy” [as settings]; that’s a song title.
Coming from a graphic design perspective, what else can you say about colour selection, or some of the added flourishes? With the Metallica Kill ‘Em All pedal, you’re referencing the cover art through the blood splatter on the stomp pad; The Joy Division pedal is a nod to the pulsating Unknown Pleasures cover...
S: There are certain colour palettes that you can attribute to certain artists. Joy Division, for me, is monochromatic, especially with the Unknown Pleasures cover [in mind]. In order to take inspiration for each pedal, I either pick a photograph or I use an album cover. I use colours that represent that artist. For example, the My Bloody Valentine one has all the pink and purple washes of that Loveless cover.
Have you ever been stumped on one of these?
S: I wanted to do a Cocteau Twins one, because they’re known for using pedals. I thought it would be a cool one to do, but I haven’t quite figured out what the dials would be. The language on their song titles is visual, but the word choices are very long; design-wise they’re not great to put on the knob labels. And then, of course, there aren’t a lot of lyrics you can [pull] from, because Elizabeth Fraser sings in her own kind of language.
Getting into your own relationship with pedals, what was the first pedal you ever picked up?
S: The first pedal I ever bought was the Purple BOSS flanger. When I was a teenager, my guitar teacher suggested I grab that one because he thought it was used on “Come as You Are” by Nirvana, to get that watery, chorus-y, flanger sound.
Has it come in handy over the years?
S: I’d definitely used it a lot over the years. I don’t have that original one anymore, but we use lots of delay pedals and chorus on the Leathers and Actors material.
Do you use more pedals in one project than the other?
S: Jason [Corbett], my bandmate in Actors, has a studio called Jacknife sound, and he basically has a wall of pedals at the studio. It’s like a candy store of sound. They’re all laid out on the wall, and whatever you’re feeling inspired by, you can just pick a few off the wall and chain them up together. There’s a lot of experimentation there.
Have you finished recording the Leathers LP with Jason?
S: No, not yet. We’re in the process of working on it at the moment. Three songs have been released over the past few years, just as singles, but since we’ve been home because of COVID, we’ve been in the studio steadily working on new Leathers songs. We’ll have something out late next year, which will be a full-length LP. Singles will be out before that, but the full-length record won’t be out for a while.
Are there any tone experiments from those sessions you could talk about?
S: My bandmate Kendall Wooding played guitar on one of the new Leathers songs, and she used a Swarm [Beetronics’ fuzz harmonizer]. It’s a fuzz pedal, but it has a gate to it. It has a quite cool, cut-off fuzz to it, and it has harmonizer in it too. Kendall is such a talented guitar player, too. She was shredding it up.
You’ve also been taking requests for the Pedal Print series. Have any bands comes up that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of doing?
S: I’m doing a Type O Negative one coming up this next round, and I’m doing a couple Depeche Mode pedals—I’ll be doing a Violator pedal and a Black Celebration pedal for a couple of different people. Someone requested a David Bowie Scary Monsters-influenced pedal as well. That one was fun to do.
You can order Shannon Hemmett’s Pedal Prints, or make a custom request, here.
Jim & the Holograms “James Coburn and His Tray of Oysters”
The first time I saw Barry Higginson play music, he was singing a song about doing your taxes with his Minutemen-ish group, the Doers. Barry’s played in a surplus of bands since then (Uptights, Catlow, Reverter, and Joanie Loves Chachi, to name but a few), but most recently, he’s delivered his first-ever solo album as Jim & the Holograms.
Victory Lap is mostly-instrumental (save a few oohs and ahhs), bouncing from lean bass grooves and twilight sparkle guitar (“Wednesday Evening Wind Up”), to jazzy, marimba-driven post rock (“Abruptions”). I’m particularly digging “James Coburn and His Tray of Oysters,” a phosphorescence-slickened surf rock slow jam that brings to mind the deep cuts from ‘60s studio player projects like Gary Usher’s Kickstands. Marvelous, laid-back stuff.
Crud is a Cult “Busy Little Beaver”
The big news Joshua Brown was hanging onto during the first Gut Feeling podcast episode was that Crud is a Cult is getting ready to release a discography collection, Love Hate Life Death, through Toybox Records. It’ll include the Philly straight edge group’s lone 7-inch and demo tape, and presumably a whole lot more. There’s also going to be a big book full of photos and stories about the band. They’re expecting to drop it in the spring, and you can find out more on the Toybox site. There was also an interview with drummer Alec Rosenberg published by No Echo last week.
“Busy Little Beaver” starts out with the kind of grooving, minor key uncomfortableness I generally associate with that period of Philly hardcore, but propels itself into a furious, post-Youth Crew frenzy by song’s end. Gnarly stuff, can’t wait for the release.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first release on Toybox Records since 1997. The label was founded in the early ‘90s out in Florida and put out some early releases from local bands like Hot Water Music and Less Than Jake, but also records by Canadian screamo group Grade and Cleveland hardcore vets Integrity.
Mike Richter “All the Best”
Incidental Press are set to release a new compilation made by and supporting artists in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). It’s called 100 Block Rock, and it’ll feature a mix of folk, punk, and funk made by residents of the neighbourhood, promoting the voices of “a community constantly on the verge of extinction from a drug war, colonial genocide, gentrification and the lack of political will to create substantial change.”
There have been a couple previews from the record so far, starting with Mike Richter’s “All the Best.” It’s a gently shuffled piece full of nimbly-fingerpicked acoustics and fluttered flutework. Mike’s voice is warm throughout, rich and supportive as he offers positive thoughts with lines like “May you be the spinner of the story, The teller and the tale.”
100 Block Rock releases in full on December 15th.