“I thought using loops was cheating, so I programmed my own using samples. I then thought using samples was cheating, so I recorded real drums. I then thought that programming it was cheating, so I learned to play drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating, so I learned to make my own. I then thought using premade skins was cheating, so I killed a goat and skinned it. I then thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I haven’t made any music lately, what with the goat farming and all.”
This is far and away my favorite music joke ever. How far must a musician go to prove their mettle? Or to prove they’re metal?
The Ongoing Concept wanted to find out, so for their new album Handmade, they built all their own instruments.
We asked guitarist/vocalist Dawson Scholz a bit about this crazy process and what drove them to such insane lengths to make an album.
Tell us a bit about the band and yourselves.
We are pretty much a band of brothers. Besides three of us actually being brothers, our long time friend Tj has been our friend since we moved to Rathdrum back in 2000, so we basically consider him a brother as well.
Why is your album titled Handmade?
We wanted to make an album from scratch, something completely DIY. We have been doing stuff ourselves for so long that it just seemed like the perfect time to take that DIY approach to another level. We were back and forth on the name Handmade or Homemade. Homemade sounded way to homely. I pictured my grandmother baking a pie whenever I used that name. So we stuck with Handmade instead.
What made you decide to build your own instruments for the album, and what made you think that you could?
We had been making stuff ourselves for so long. We had made a lot of our guitar cabs from scratch. The van and trailer we have toured in had been gutted and completely redesigned to house bunk beds, a fridge, microwave, coach, tv, video games, etc. I think this “build it yourself” idea has been so engrained in our heads that when I started coming up with concepts for a new album, it was just something that slowly began to make sense. I was researching how to make guitars one day and it hit me all of a sudden, “Why don’t we just build everything and record with those instruments”.
After a few minutes of researching further into the drum side of things, I realized this would be no easy task. That was when I knew this was the concept we had to do. I feel our band has always thrived on doing things that seem impossible at the time. It tests our abilities, and makes the final product some much more worth it.
How did you come by the knowledge to build instruments from scratch?
We did a lot of extensive research on the internet, youtube, etc. There is a ton of sites that give really good information about all this stuff. We relied on those a lot. We also did a lot of trial and error. Kyle did a lot of the building and he did a ton of testing on other pieces of wood before doing anything to the actual instrument. Especially the drums. Some cuts were very precise and one mess-up could mean the whole drum was useless. A lot of math was needed because if you were even a millimeter off, the drum head would not fit on the drum properly. It was a bit nerve racking, so we had to take our time.
How did you not just make handmade instruments, but ones that sounded good?
Ha! Honestly, we had no idea if they would sound good. Everyone on the internet says pine is the WORST wood to use for this stuff. But we cut down a pine tree so we couldn’t really go back. I guess out all of it we started to realize one thing, “As long as you take the time to build the instruments correctly, they are bound to sound good.” Who cares if they are made out of some soft wood that breaks easily. If they are soft, don’t throw them around then! I go to these certain forums sometimes and people just go on and on about how some type wood is better then the next. Who says it’s better? That person? Is there some group or organization that votes on what type of wood, pickup, string, or amp is best? Of course not, its completely personal preference. I think thats what makes music so special. You could have the worst equipment in the world or the best, the way the music impacts someone will be completely different to each and every person. There is no right or wrong way to make music. Just make it.
Are there other bands or musicians that you admire who make their own gear?
I don’t really know of any bands that make their own gear that I actually listen to. I think the guitar player for the Misfits makes his own guitars or something? I’m not completely sure since I haven’t really listened to them before (I am sure people will probably take offense to that, I am sorry). Im sure there are other bands out there that do though. There are so many talented people doing stuff these days.
What other kind of gear are you using on the album? I presume you didn’t also build the mics, cables, preamps etc…
We TOTALLY did….ha! How hard could a preamp be to make?!?! ha. We did actually make our own cables though. At least we bought all the bulk materials to make them. Its wayy cheaper that way. As far as mics and preamps though. I used the UAD Apollo Quad for my interface and the Audient Asp880 for my preamps. Those two together are great for what I needed to do. As far as mics, I used the go-to Sure Sm7b for some of mine and Kyle’s vocals as well as a Neumann U87 clone by this company called Advanced Audio microphones. They are based in Canada and make really good clones of famous mics. I used a lot of their mics for overheads and stuff. Of course I used the sm57 for snare and guitars and the good ole sennhieser md421 for toms. I really didn’t use anything fancy. I feel the type of mic or preamp only makes up a fraction of the sound. Placement and mixing make up so much more. I didn’t really go to heavy on expensive gear. We are way to poor for that.
Are you guys planning to build more instruments, for yourselves or commercially?
I doubt commercially, unless we got a huge demand for them. We might make some more stuff for ourselves though. It’s a lot cheaper to make our own gear. Especially when we tend to break our stuff so much when we go on tour.
What are some other things you’ve made by hand.
We made all our own guitar and bass cabs. We have also made a lot of the dollies and accessories used for making a lot of our music videos.
Tell us a bit about the making of the album apart from all that.
Making the album was tough. Having to make our own gear was hard enough and having to actually write music seemed like a whole other world away. We didn’t want the “Handmade” concept to be the only thing good about this record. We wanted the music to be great as well. We spent months and months doing pre-production, preparing for this record, but after all that, we still weren’t satisfied. We would throw songs away day after day and it seemed we were not getting anywhere. Saloon was such a long process and I felt a lot of those songs were years in the making. I felt we had to take all the ideas we had for that album and somehow attain them within a one or two year period. That is hard to do! It’s not easy to write music on a deadline. We are all perfectionists too so that doesn’t help. If we couldn’t listen to the whole record front to back without getting bored, the album wasn’t good enough. We had to keep pushing the release back month after month. I know a lot of our team (label, management, etc) were tired of hearing we weren’t quite finished. It was hard to assure them that it would be worth it in the end. When it finally started to come together we knew the wait was worth it though. I think all the songs on this album are great. I couldn’t be more proud!
Do you think that gear matters?
I think gear matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. I feel people get lost in this “tone” war where they only care about the gear and not the person behind the gear. Often those people rely on it so much that when it comes time to actually use it, they’re completely lost. They will record something and it won’t sound that good and they blame the gear. They will say things like, “I thought this $7000 telefunken microphone would make the vocals pop in the mix? Why isn’t it doing that”. They don’t even stop to think that maybe its them that is making it not pop in the mix. That microphone is only as good as the person controlling it. The same goes for everything. You could have the nicest guitar in the world but if you don’t know how to play it, its not going to sound good no matter what you do.
What’s next for the band now that you’ve accomplished this massive undertaking? How will you follow up such a great feat without it becoming gimmicky?
We will probably make a couple more music videos to keep this album rolling. Hopefully within the next year or two we will come up with a cool idea for our third album. At this time of writing, thinking about having to come up with something to follow up Handmade gives me way to much anxiety. I just want a day off.
I know that feel, bro. Handmade is out now on Solid State Records.