Rats Out of Hell: An Interview With Joe Anastasio of Lone Wolf Audio

I’ve found that as the years go on, my ears develop better in two ways: in terms of what I’m listening to, and in terms of who I listen to to tell me what to listen to. In an age where big-time gear companies aren’t looking so hot, and when there are so many independent effects shops that it can be tough to distinguish what’s truly great from what’s trendy in Williamsburg basements, true sweat and guts shine through. For people like me at least.

With Lone Wolf Audio, they eventually became a force that you had no choice but to pay attention to. The endorsements/co-signs from some of the top metal guitar and bass players in the game just kept coming through: Kurt Ballou from Converge/God City Studios, Nails, Darkthrone, Midnight, Young And In The Way, Graves at Sea, Brad Boatright of Audiosiege Studio, and Bloodbath, all count themselves as members of what LWA’s owner/operator/chief engineer Joe Anastasio calls his “Lone Wolf Cult.”

I was impressed by Joe’s tireless work ethic and his pull-up-your-bootstraps aesthetic; but I was blown away by how much he values communicating with his customers, and delivering the best quality product for their needs and vision. As the big-time music merchant industry become more disconnected from the human-to-human interactions, and the small-time guitar shops remain as elitist as ever, it’s more than refreshing to see someone who is so knowledgeable and talented also be so relatable and concerned. And also, it doesn’t hurt that he can build pedals based on Frank Zappa’s personal arsenal.

Gear Gods: Let’s start from the beginning. What drew you to heavy music as a kid?

Joe Anastasio: Being a disconnected kid, I never really got on well with many people, acted up in school, mostly rode BMX and played video games. I got into Punk and Hardcore as a natural part of being a BMX rider in the 90s. Seeing other kids in other towns riding, trading tapes and CDs. I have always had a personal taste for extreme music, movies, etc.

Did the tech end of things always appeal to you? Were you tinkering with gear early on, and trying to decipher how bands got the sounds that you liked?

Yes, my original interest in this kind of thing started with home theatre systems and stereos. I rewired an EV loaded Peavy 2×15 cabinet to work with my Marantz receiver as a subwoofer back before that kind of thing even existed. I honestly only messed around playing music until I was 19, then thats when I got serious about playing music as I was dealing with the bane of my existence, bad knees. I’ve dislocated and injured both of my knees close to 30 times. Eventually I gave up on the bike and channeled that aggression into playing music. Fast forward 6 years and yet another knee injury, this time on the job, and I got really lost in something that led to where I am now.

10644402_754660957933783_3239012438100196978_n

What schooling/training/background in electronics and/or electrical engineering do you have?

I have a degree in AutoCADD. I am self taught in all of the electronics end of this. Can’t really explain it, but I can see how it works by looking at circuit boards.

Are you self-taught, then, on the metal end of the pedal-making spectrum, or did you have a mentor of some kind?

I am self taught as the main reason I started doing this was I was sick of standing sounding pedals. Ive never really played a typical rig either. I started out playing bass, then switched to playing guitar, and always played Ampegs. Mainly SVT and V4 models.  So naturally, to get any kind of distortion, I needed a pedal.

Cool. From there, what was your first job in music?

Doing security at a bar/Door man. Led to booking shows.

How did Lone Wolf come about?

Lone Wolf got its start a few ways, and this is a long story.

I worked at a liquor store for awhile and got hurt on the job, my knee got messed up loading the cooler. Jerkoff boss fired me because I needed surgery, I was laid up for a few months. At this time I was in a band that was playing fairly regularly back home in NJ. Pitch Black Sleep was the band. My mom suggested that I try my hand at a few guitar pedal making kits, and from the first one, I was already modifying the circuit to do things it shouldn’t and sound how I thought was better.

This is how my first company, Braindead Audio Designs, AKA B.A.D, started, as sort of an inside joke as I never really thought this would go anywhere.

My good friend Brad Boatright, guitar player in From Ashes Rise and mastering studio genius at Audiosiege got [from me] what was then named the “Rat Out Of Hell,” A modified BYOC rodent kit to sound better through an ampeg V4. From there I got a lot of guys in the crust/hardcore scene into what I was making and sold a few pedals.

I then left NJ to move to Austin, Texas to start another pedal company, Enormous Door. After things not really going how I wanted them to, I split a year and a half later to form what is now known as Lone Wolf Audio.

And now we are here in 2015, and I don’t regret anything I have dealt with to get here.

You offer a pretty wide variety of pedals that can appeal to all sorts of musicians and bands, whether they play black metal, sludge, hard rock, Swedish death metal, grind, thrash, etc. Is it important to you to make pedals that appeal to all metal players?

No, for me it is important that all of my products will work for every player. Aside from the Left Hand Wrath, that is a specialized circuit to do one thing. The Iron Fist, works as well for doom as it does Pink Floyd riffs. The Plague Rat works for doom as well as it does classic rock. The Over Dose Over Load octave fuzz works for psychedelic rock and noisecore. The Outsider is a universal tool that has limitless potential.

What goes into making a quality guitar pedal?

What goes into making a quality pedal is one key thing I focus on: quality of parts used. Anyone can go to an overseas distributer and buy off the shelf 3-cent parts, make wild claims of the product being accurate to something and it sounds horrible. I have nine different suppliers, three [of which] are my personal stock guys who search for off-the-wall rare parts for me specifically. One in japan, one in Russia and one in Bulgaria. Another great supplier is Steve at Smallbear. He gets all the awesome stuff. I pay a premium for my components, and that’s what sets Lone Wolf pedals’ sound apart from the rest.

As a follow-up to that, are there any electronics components makers that you work with that have helped build the Lone Wolf sound?

I am a big fan of old Fairchild transistors, old cold war stock, I buy things just to see how far I can push them into sonic destruction.

Can you take us through your process for deciding to build something?

If I think it will sound cool, I make it. I also try to make things others haven’t thought of, or things I think I could take further than others have. I really like doing unique and again, useful pedals.

Do you start from a schematic, do you take apart old pedals that you like, or do you have a sound in your head that you just dive into trying to create? Or some combination of things?

All of the above. Sound is limitless. Destroying an audio signal is one of the best things in the world.

How long does it usually take from the inception of an idea for a pedal to actually having a completed working version of it? Do you go through lots of drafts in terms of the parts, components, and enclosures that you use?

It depends on the pedal. Some more basic designs work right out of the box. Other times I tweak them on the fly and then revise them after. The Left Hand Wrath, that was 3 years of development hell until I nailed it.

1743516_825407744192437_8000822102616382810_n

The Outsider is not only wild, but also incredibly versatile. Any plans in the future for more pedals like that? I know that Frank Zappa, who frequently used the pedal that the Outsider is modeled on, the Systech Harmonic Energizer, is a big influence on you, and he of course had an incredible palette of guitar tones.

Thanks, thats an effect I really think everyone should try and use. It’s so limitless. It’s no secret Frank Zappa is my favorite guitar player, and I try to take the same open minded limitless approach to making effects.

Other rare pedals, well, the Mutron Bi Phase, the Oberhiem Sample Hold (I am bringing my version out soon), the Systech Harmonic Overdriver (also coming soon from Lone Wolf as the “Insider”). And crazy synth style effects. The Spin FV-1 chip is also proving to be quite limitless in what can be done, as Earthquaker Devices has proven.

The Left Hand Wrath is one of the heaviest pedals I’ve ever heard, and has obviously captured the attention of young bands like Nails and Young and in the Way, as well as members of the old guard like Bloodbath. What do you think it is about the HM-2’s sound that makes it such an enduring distortion pedal?

Well, the HM2 when used correctly is the secret. Can’t tell you how many times people say ITS HORRIBLE but are running it wrong. The famous chainsaw tone, and this is a free piece of tone advice for everyone: RUN IT INTO YOUR HIGH GAIN CHANNEL. Thats how all the bands got their sound.

The pedal is built around what is called a gyrator tone stack, and it becomes somewhat transparent when stacked into the front end of an amp, therefore boosting frequencies. Yes there will be hiss from the gain, but your tone will sound like a bulldozer. With that said, I designed the Left Hand Wrath around this concept of being stacked into a high gain amp, and further enhancing the chainsaw tone.

How did you get on Darkthrone’s radar? Or, Kurt’s, or Bloodbath’s, all of these great musicians and bands?

When I was pedal designer at Enormous Door, they were mastering the new Darkthrone LP and we talked to them about making a pedal (the FOAD) for them. I’ve since refined that design and am working on getting them the new and improved version. Kurt Ballou I approached as he had the LHP [Enormous Door’s Left Hand Path] and I wanted to give him the LHW. Bloodbath approached me to get an LHW. I approached Nails to get them LHWs.

I’ve been into punk/HC/Metal for a long time, and just going to shows and talking to all the bands really helped. People eventually see your gear and wanna try it.

I finally got in touch with the guys who were in Dismember to send them Left Hand Wraths, thats really amazing for me, as that’s who I made the pedal to sound like.

Check out their amazing new band, Dagger. It’s killer NWOBHM.

10670023_737668829632996_8735115359292536652_n

It’s been fun watching the company grow so organically over the last year. You’ve really built up a cult of users – some of the best bands in the underground use Lone Wolf pedals. What’s it like seeing something you created get on the radar of people and bands those?

It’s rad when I get contacted to get bands I enjoy using my pedals, and it’s rad when I reach out to bands I want to send pedals to and they are stoked on them, and then I see them using them regularly. It’s humbling really. When I heard the final product of the new Bloodbath LP I had a smile on my face for a month.

Bloodbath put the Left Hand Wrath to the test on their new album, Grand Morbid Funeral

I get the sense from conversations with Grant that you’re one of the hardest working guys in the biz, and I know that you pride yourself on your craft and handiwork. What do you think it takes in addition to that to run an independent pedal company in this day and age?

You can ask Grant, from Big Ear NYC, I am non stop. I eat and breathe guitar gear currently. The main thing it takes is dedication and patience. You will have failed designs many times before [you find] a working one. Sometimes you get lucky. You will also have a few pedals people may not understand, and that’s fine too.

The other main thing is, you have to love this. It won’t love you back sometimes. I spend days on end losing my mind trying to make something work, in addition to building, and networking, doing sales, answering emails, handling parts orders, taking care of any issue that may arise. I love it though, and I have fun.

Silly question, but what is next for Lone Wolf in 2015? I know that you have a line of guitar amplifiers in the works.

Amps, yes. Very soon.

Other things for 2015, a guitar synth pedal. The LWA120 which is my take on the classic Matamp circuit. A more budget friendly line of pedals. I am also working with someone to get custom etched enclosures in limited runs. One day I will want to make an overdrive, another day Ill scrap it since its so overdone I think. Another day I will have a new fuzz design, make it and release it in a limited run.

I come up with new things weekly, I guess everyone will have to stay tuned to see.

Lone Wolf is running a $50-off-any-pedal sale right now. So check out their selection, use the coupon code TAXTIME, and get ripping.

10325298_685548731511673_5801993068481240431_n

Written by

Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.