Holy Tongues immediately hit the radar of any fan of the three members’ previous group: Baltimore, Maryland hardcore heroes Ruiner. Yet where Ruiner embodied pure distilled musical adrenaline, Holy Tongues is a more patient destruction. Guitarist/vocalist Dustin Thornton, drummer Joey Edwards, and bassist/vocalist Steve Smeal have created a musical project that would fit in mode on Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile’s roster of bands two decades ago; a cross between post-hardcore and Jesus Lizard sonic discomfort.
And that bass tone. Long story short it’s the shit, an overdriven monolith of lows and low mids that holds the fortress standing as the guitar meanders into orbit. Part of the quality was no doubt aided by the band’s choice in recording engineers, Kevin Bernsten of Developing Nations Studio. Not sure if you’ve noticed but we’re kind of into the work he does. Nonetheless, any engineer will tell you that you can’t polish a a shitty nugget of a bass performance. The quality output wouldn’t be phenominal if the input level weren’t equally high. So we got the lowdown on Steve Smeal’s note-producing devices. Like the band’s music, it’s straight to the point and effective as hell.
Give a listen to a track from the bands’ new full-length endeavor, Weak People, below. It’s available on vinyl now on Melotov Records vis Deathwish’s webstore.
I have a pretty simple setup. I started playing this rig a year or so into Ruiner and I guess I really found “my sound” then. It kind of sucks because I’m definitely a gear head and always have these far fetched dreams of grandeur of getting cool new-to-me gear but when I finally plug it in I always go back to Old Faithful.
Let’s start from the bottom.
I play D’Addario Nickel Wound Medium Gauge bass strings. I’ve played D’Addario on my guitars and basses for as long as I can remember. I love the sound and feel. I can’t really explain it more.
My only pedal is a TU-2 tuner. It’s a standard. I had one that came all over the world with me while I was playing in Ruiner. Never had a single problem with it. Then, at our last show, it grew legs and walked off. I guess someone has a cool souvenir.
The cab… it’s your standard Ampeg 8×10, the refrigerator cab. I love it and I hate it. It’s heavy as hell, it takes up too much space, but you can’t replicate it’s sound.
The bass… it’s a 1976 Fender Jazz Bass. I bought it off of eBay and luckily it lived up to the expectations. I originally bought it to rip out the pickups and put in some P-Bass style ones. I loved the look of the Jazz Bass but wanted the sound of a P. After a friend threatened to kill me if I changed it I fell in love with the sound. Everything is original to the best of my knowledge except I added a Badass Bridge. I also took off the pickup and bridge covers so I wouldn’t cut my hand. I play bass more like a guitar with hard strumming so it would not have worked out well with the covers.
The amp… Ampeg SVT-II probably from the 90s. It’s pretty much a rack mount version of the classic 300 watt all tube head. This amp is the key to my tone. It’s been on every record I’ve played on since, I think, Ruiner’s first EP. I even let Killing The Dream borrow it when they recorded “Fractures” here in Baltimore. Pretty sure they used my Jazz Bass as well but that’s neither here nor there. The key to this amp is just cranking it to the point that it peaks most of the time. It gets crazy hot and I can’t believe it hasn’t melted down completely yet (knock on wood). While we were recording “Weak People” the head got so hot that Kevin Bernsten made me take the top metal plate off because he thought it was going to blow up. It’s heavy as hell but sounds amazing. One Ruiner tour it actually ripped a set of rack rails out of a rack, at that point I started touring mostly with a Tech 21 Landmark 300. Now in Holy Tongues it’s all I use to play live even though I throw my back out almost every time I carry it.
That’s about it. I don’t really think you need a bunch of effects and everything to get a great sound, just play loud and aggressive.