Selling over four million records, opening up for the Rolling Stones and U2, and scoring five radio hits, Third Eye Blind cracked the Top 40 code their first time out. Although the band could have carbon-copied their jackpot-winning songwriting and production values for their second album, Blue [Elektra], they decided to get more adventurous.
Blue's first single -- the under-two-minute "Anything" -- offers nothing like a conventional pop hook: it's fast, furious, and fleeting. Other songs also seem to be arranged more by creative whim than convention. For example, the first half of "The Red Summer Sun" slurs along melodically, then suddenly does a coronary-inducing, 180-degree turn into a thrashing, screaming Zeppelin-esque breakdown. Then there's the meandering, delay-drenched "Camouflage." Although Blue is not without potential hits, the album's "anti-classic pop" production should open the ears of critics who dismissed the band as bland, buzz-bin poster boys. This time out, Third Eye Blind dares to balance pop sensibilities with unexpected twists and edgy sounds.
To produce more immediate and spontaneous guitar textures, guitarists Kevin Cadogan and Stephan Jenkins limited their studio tone palette to sounds they could pull off live. That exercise also pointed the way to worry-free gear setups and creative spontaneity onstage.
And I really do use those amps live. I wanted to have the same sound onstage as I do on the record. The only exception is a Magnatone M15 that I ran through my Marshall cabinet for clean stuff. I love the tremolo on those Magnatones -- it's a very cool, swirly sound that's different from a Rotovibe or Univibe. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a Magnatone that's sturdy enough to bring on tour. I'll pick one up in a store and the handle will come off!
GP: What's the big deal about matching your live guitar sound to the tones on the record?
KC: One big reason is keeping everything easy to manage, so I can control my live sound and still perform. Last tour, my guitar tech was controlling all my pedals, so I had the freedom to run around the stage. But it got to the point where I couldn't even turn on my own guitar at soundcheck, and there certainly wasn't much room for spontaneity during the show. This time out, I want spontaneous things to happen. Last tour, for example, I worked out the riff for "1000 Julys" simply by goofing around before we started the song "London." But it's hard to try new things when all your gear is offstage and out of your control.
GP: Why are you using 4x10 cabinets?
KC: Tonally, open-back 4x10 combos fit the best with my approach to guitar -- which is an airy, wide-open sound. Also, because I'm the only guitarist on a lot of songs, I like to fill up the spectrum with alternate tunings and big, open chords. The 4x10 cabs help enhance the airy quality of the ringing strings.
GP: Are there typical settings for the amps?
KC: I start by setting all the controls at 12 o'clock, then I adjust as needed. But there's no real formula. For example, I sometimes have to crank the bass on my AC30 because it's not a very dark amp.
GP: What types of pedals are you using?
KC: The pedals I use most are either a Morley or Dunlop wah and a Rotovibe. I also have a Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe and a Proctavia, a Budda Phatman Zen, a Boss delay, and a Lexicon MPX G2. One of my favorite pedals is the Z. Vex Seek Wah. It's kind of like having 20 wah pedals set up, each with a different envelope. The signal travels down the line and makes these really cool rhythmic patterns. The song "1000 Julys" is a good example of what the Seek Wah does -- I got a really cool Pink Floyd-like sound on the break section.
GP:You don't use many distortion pedals.
KC: Well, I use the Zen and a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory from time to time, but I like driving the amp's power tubes to get a real crunch. On the Mavericks, for example, I overdrive the clean channel. Of course, the volume would be way too high when we're playing live, so I put a THD Hotplate attenuator on the amps to keep the stage levels as low as possible.
GP: What is your current guitar arsenal?
KC: My MJ Engineering Mirage archtops are semi-hollow, and they're equipped with sustainer pickups made by Dunlop. I just hit a switch by the pickup selector to make a note or chord sustain. Another switch turns whatever note I'm playing into a harmonic. The switches are fun, but they're also very dangerous. I have to hold back a little, or else the whole set will sound like "waaaaaaaah."
I'm also using a PRS McCarty Archtop, a Gibson ES-125 and ES-335, a Gretsch Country Gentleman, a Guild Starfire, a '54 Gibson Les Paul goldtop, and a Danelectro 12-String. The big problem with hollowbodies onstage is that I can never be more than a leg's length away from the mute button on my effects switcher because the guitars feedback so easily.
GP:What do you bring to the band as a guitar player?
KC:Believe me, if I could play blues like Kenny Wayne [Shepherd], I'd be doing it. But there are so many great guitar players who can play that way that I had to find something I could do well. I think my talent lies in finding interesting chord inversions.
GP:Is it difficult translating your songs to the stage?
SJ:Dynamics are critical to getting a song across. For example, I recently saw a band I really like, and they played at "10" the whole show -- the guitars were nailing it as hard as they could. At full volume like that, your ears just go numb. But a really good live band like Pearl Jam will come way down, and show that what makes music loud is the distance it has gone from being soft. It's the release -- the space in between -- that's so important.
GP: What guitars did you use on the album?
SJ: I played a lot of acoustic guitar with a beautiful Martin D-45 and a Gibson J-200. In a very Bowie-esque way, there's always a little acoustic guitar behind what we're doing, and I think that really makes the drums sing. We usually recorded the J-200 facing a wood wall because that added a nice, warm slap to the tone.
I also have a custom Stephan Jenkins model PRS. It's based on the McCarty, but it only has one pickup and no volume or tone control -- just an on/off switch. It's a very light guitar, but it packs a lot of punch. In addition, I played a '56 goldtop Les Paul -- that was my main electric on the album, though I use a '59 reissue sunburst Les Paul now -- an Explorer with Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups, a Gibson ES-335, a Hamer acoustic-electric, and a Rickenbacker 12-string.
GP: What amps are you using on tour? SJ: I'm using a rack with two Mesa/Boogie Triaxis preamps. I'm a big Mesa fan because their stuff is so bulletproof. One of the preamps is run dry, and the other preamp is routed to a Lexicon MPX G2 multi-effects unit. I've got two 4x10 Mesa cabs running in stereo right behind me, so the sound really nails me. I mean, we try to keep the stage volume down, but the fact is, we can get pretty loud!
GP: Do you have a favorite guitar sound on Blue? SJ: "Ten Days Late" is so simple. It's a '56 Les Paul into a '73 Marshall 100-watt head and a Mesa 4x12 cabinet, close miked with a Shure SM57. It's the fattest guitar sound ever.