All Baritones All the Time: an Interview with Mares Of Thrace’s Thérèse Lanz

The first thing they teach you in the Imperial Academy of Metal Journalism is that you should probably know who’s in the band you’re interviewing. I had a couple questions lined up for Mares Of Thrace‘s guitarist/vocalist Thérèse Lanz, ones where I asked her about the loss of longtime drummer and co-conspirator Stef MacKichan and the band’s revamped lineup as a 3-piece, with a bassist for the first time. So read and laugh at my expense as I fall flat on my face, because the band has reverted back to its original duo configuration, with the original members.

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Whatever, Mares Of Thrace’s The Pilgrimage was a standout record from last year, at once sludgy and angular, with some unique guitar tones. So I asked Thérèse about her baritone guitars, amps, and… people who aren’t in the band. Sigh.

I remember when I ran into you recording at Sanford Parker’s studio you were playing a custom Baritone guitar. You said you had it made through Kurt Ballou if I remember correctly? Can you tell me about it?

Godcity 13 has the following things: mahogany body, flame maple top, bubinga neck, and rosewood fretboard, 28 5/8″ baritone scale length, stereo output with Lace Deathbucker in the neck position feeding a bass amp and EGC P90 in the bridge position feeding a guitar amp. Kurt apparently came up with this clever wiring solution for a friend of his who played in the two-piece Local H. It’s a great workaround for a duo, as even a Micropog doesn’t do as efficient a job of faking the tone of a separate instrument. It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever played. Hilariously, I think my guitar is considerably better-known than my band is; I roll up to shows and everyone wants to see the “Kurt guitar”.

Do you always play baritone guitars in Mares Of Thrace or are any of them standard?

Nope, baritones only! I’m addicted to them, and it’s sheer willpower keeping me from buying more! It’s been years since I played a standard-size guitar for any length of time, in fact. (My Gibson Firebird Studio is, sadly, under a thick layer of dust at my folks’ house back in Canada.)

Were there any difference between how you approached your tone in the studio? Did you play any bass or play a separate guitar part in the “bass” role, or was everything essentially how you play it live?

We did very little in the studio that’s different from the live arrangements, which is how I like it. Sanford did some magic knob-twiddling that really fleshed out the audible vacancies where a bass player would normally be, and I honestly didn’t think it needed any further low end. I did some overdubs of high shreddy shit, because that’s the sort of thing that you really can’t do as a two-piece. But other than that, and obviously doubles, it was a pretty live-esque experience.

Can you go over the rest of what’s in your guitar rig?

After almost five years of doing this band, I no longer feel the need to convince everyone of the enormity of my penis, and I’ve scaled down my rig considerably, opting for quality rather than intimidating-wall-of-amp-quantity. My Orange Thunderverb 200 is probably the best amp purchase I’ve ever made; it’s loud enough to rattle the fillings in the molars of the people in the bathroom. I play that through a Bogner 4×12, which at 4 ohms is pretty much just masquerading as guitar equipment.  Then the bass output goes into a wee Yorkville, more to bolster the guitar sound than anything. If I ever get bit by some sort of mutant vermin that gives me super-strength, I’ll get a giant Ampeg.

The band has a bassist now right? How has this changed how you approach your guitar tone? Have you scaled back your amps?

Ha, that particular experiment was short-lived. We have reverted to being a two-piece, and will be so unto perpetuity. It wasn’t the same band as a three-piece, and I like it the way it is. I like all the challenges, and all the perks, that come with being a duo. Everything about this band, from the arrangements to the writing process, hinges on being a duo. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Is there any relief in having another stringed instrument for your live show, since you’re also the bands’ vocalist? I’d have to imagine it can be stressful to be solely responsible for every bit of the notes and all of the vocals.

I wouldn’t say it’s stressful. With every challenge, there’s a perk (as I mentioned last question).  There’s one less safety net if I break a string or have amp trouble… but there’s also one less asshole with a schedule we need to plan around, one less unwashed body in the van, one less person to allocate beer tickets to. There is also a sparseness to being a duo that is completely deliberate. |Metal has always traditionally been about more, more, more… More spikes on the logo! More notes in the solo! More patches on your denim vest! But there is something so horribly, despairingly bleak about hitting one hideous chord and letting it ring, that is heavier to me than all the dueling tap solos in the world put together.

How has the new lineup changed how you approach songwriting? Have you written any new material yet?

After our short-lived three-piece experiment, Stef and I decided to keep going as a two-piece, long distance for now (she still lives in Calgary, and I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago). It was a TREMENDOUS relief… we’ve been playing together for thirteen years, and while we both have other bands, nothing is the same as playing music with her. So now we just write in a glorious frenzy whenever I come back home. Being in a long-distance band just forces you to be more productive… we write rather than sitting around shooting the shit. We have about a third of a new record written. It’ll take a little longer, but I, like everyone who has ever written a new record, ever, in the history of people writing records, am going to say that it’s our best stuff yet.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Anything you wanted to say in closing?

It’s Black Friday, and I briefly contemplated standing in line at Guitar Center and trying to trample someone to death for a chance at a deeply-discounted Tiny Terror, but then thought better of it.

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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.