So Many Overdubs: an Interview with Kayo Dot’s Ron Varod

Continuing my streak of interviewing musicians behind some of the best releases of 2013, I took a moment to have a nice chat with Kayo Dot guitarist Ron Varod. On every release until now, band founder/composer/vocalist Toby Driver handled guitar duties (among other instruments), but in the revamped lineup he’s moved to bass (still among other instruments) and Ron has taken over the six-string. We talked about tracking Hubardo, the perils of recreating approximately 5 hojillian overdubs with only four musicians, and more.

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So anyway, I wanted to be really informed and ask you a lot of deep specific questions about your record, but it’s so long that I forget what the beginning sounds like by the time I get to the end. Are there any sections that go on long enough that you have to count the repeats?

Oh totally. Most of the other Kayo Dot material is through composed. This was more of a “pop” record in our eyes because most riffs happen 4 times and there’s a lot of sections that come back. Most of the riffs or ideas are totally insane so I can see people not being able to locate where sections begin and end.

Did everyone from the live lineup record on the record?

Yes! Right now we’re mostly operating as a four piece with me on guitar and backing vocals, Toby Driver on Bass/Vocals and Keys, Dan Means on Sax and Synth, and Keith Abrams on drums. Tim Brynes our trumpet player has been doing most of the local gigs with us as well.

Our keys/sax player Terran is all over the record but he moved back to Cali shortly after the recording which limits which stuff we can pull off live. We’re still figuring out how we can arrange some of the stuff we haven’t played live. We really want to play the last song “Wait of the World” especially without it sounding weak or half assed.

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Any temptation to play it with some per-recorded synths?

Never! But re-arranging horn stuff on synth has been working for a few songs, much to Terran’s dismay I’m sure. He’s Mr. Anti-Synth.

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Did you play all the guitars on the record or did you and Toby split them up?

It was all me baby! There was talk of Toby doing some of the guitars on the record being that he wrote a vast majority of the guitar parts. I’m insanely stoked that my first appearance on a Kayo Dot record is 100 minutes of my tasty licks.

Was there a lot of double tracking? It sounds like you guys tried to leave a decent amount of room in the mix for horns, keys, and other overdubs.

Yeah almost all of guitars minus a few clean parts were doubled/tripled usually with some other effect or variation of the tone of the initial track. There were actually a lot of clean chorus-ey guitars overdubbed on a lot of the really dense dissonant chords to bring out the notes a little more in the mix. Our producer Randall Dunn loves dialing knobs to get crazy tones, guitar overdub day was super fun.

Since the album is so long was it tough to get a perspective at first on how much time you could spend having fun with overdubs per song? Or did you have it all blocked out like “we need to get 4 songs done every day”?

Time was super limited, the whole record with tracking, mixing and all was done in a two week span. We also flew out to Seattle to record the record so each of us was also only in town for as long as we needed to be there for tracking, so the pressure was on.

All of the basic tracks (guitar/bass/drums) were done in about 3 days before Keith had to fly back home. I also did a lot of the guitar overdubs immediately after we got our final takes so that Keith could have a breather and have us not waste any time. Then it was horns/keys for a few days, I did my remaining overdubs the same day Toby did some bass overdubs. I went home and I think they did all of our violinist Mia’s parts and Toby’s vocals in 2 days and took a 2 day break before mixing.

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So were basic tracks live?

Yes, it was really tense and fun at the same time. There was one really funny moment during tracking after a take of one of the mathier songs Keith said something to the effect of “Why the fuck would anybody write something like this? This is so stupid!” We were all delirious, it was hilarious.

What kind of ampage did you have going on in the studio? And did you use a different one for overdubs?

For the initial tracking I used an A/B switch for 2 different amps: for the clean we used a vintage fender twin and for the heavy we borrowed a Sunn Model-T going into a Marshall 70s 4×12 from Dan from Lesbian, who also let us borrow his non-Gibson Les Paul Custom knockoff (I don’t remember the brand) for a lot of the heavy guitars. For overdubs we used those same amps and would sometimes swap the heads and use either a Hiwatt 100 or a Plexi.

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Why the Les Paul? Your main axe is a Telecaster right? Was it not cutting it? Is it single-coil?

Yeah Randall was all about me using the Les Paul because he wanted something with humbuckers to really saturate, I was resistant at first but I just gave in and it sounds great. I actually a Les Paul but didn’t bring it with me because I wanted to bring my jaguar baritone which didn’t even get used for the session. My telecaster is also all over the record too, we used it for just about every clean part and some of the heavier overdubs

Thanks Ron. Anything you wanted to sum up with? Any new tours coming up?

I’m really stoked on how Hubardo’s been received thus far. Our recent tour was a blast. We’re doing a small weekend run in January, we just got announced to do SXSW so we have some really exciting stuff that we’re planning on leading up to and after that. Talks of Europe this summer. Everything will be posted on facebook.com/kayodot.official as it’s confirmed. Oh also fuck it I’ll plug this: I’m working on this solo thing under the monkier Zvi (facebook.com/ronvarodmusic) that I hope to have finished early next year and probably just release it on bandcamp unless I find someone that wants to put out a physicial release.

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.