ScanS → Guitarist Magazine Interview
Publication Date: March 1999
This month in Sound Advice, we continue our search for the ultimate in cool guitar jobs. And let’s be honest, they don’t come much cooler than Angelo Bruschini’s current enlistment as six-stringer for ambient innovators Massive Attack.
While words are wasted on the demise of the guitar in popular music, it’s time we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and realised that the guitar is alive and thriving in one of its newly creative guises: as a fully blown member of the ambient dance scene. To discover more, we tracked down Mr Bruschini, along with his effervescent antipodean guitar tech Aidey Dessent, to discuss the future for the modern guitarist and the sort of gear he’ll need for the journey.
BRUCE: Angelo, tell us about your background as a player and how you came upon the Massive Attack job.
ANGELO: I’ve lived and played in Bristol most of my life, and I was in a band called The Blue Aeroplanes which had three guitarists. I started off as the third guitarist and by the end, I was writing stuff for them. Then I got a call from a friend saying he had Massive Attack in for a session and they wanted a guitarist. So I did the session and left it thinking I’d been dreadful, bloody awful, and I didn’t hear anything for about six months. Then the album ‘Protection’ came out and I just happened to recognise quite a few samples!
When they first started playing live, Massive Attack were literally guys with decks doing a bit of vocals. Then Portishead came along and did a live band thing in the same style. So first they brought in keyboards and then bass, and then I got a phone call asking if I wanted to go on tour with Massive Attack in three days’ time! So I just dropped everything because I really liked the music. I thought to play with people like that, and to play that kind of music would be a challenge. I was getting a bit bored jangling away on the indie scene, and this seemed like a way of getting into more modern computer music.
Guitarists have to do that – you just can’t continue to plug into an amp any more. Well, you can if you want to, but professionally, you just can’t do that – you have to have your own computer, you’ve got to know how it all works and you have to be adept at sampling yourself.
BRUCE: Massive Attack are renowned for using loops and samples, so what do you think the guitar adds?
ANGELO: Humanity. While we were doing the album, we were sticking stuff through my amps all the time just to mess it up; one problem with the digital domain is that it’s too clean – even the bass.
You can have the pure source of the sounds, but we want to screw them up and the best way to do that is to use analogue things, like a guitarist. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t play the same every night. I wanted to get a certain feedback note, so we put marks on the floor and if I stood in a certain place I might get it, but it wasn’t too successful. That was when Aidey came up with the idea of the wedge in front of me with the second volume control. Once we did that, the markers on the floor were absolutely accurate.
BRUCE: What about the difference in the amount of guitar you play live compared with on the album?
ANGELO: Well live there are areas where it’s multi-layered, so me and Michael, the keyboard player, sat down and came up with the lines that I could play and the ones that have to come from the machines. Quite often I’m playing stuff and you’ll hear two or three other guitars coming in, which is purely because I can’t play them – Mike’s got the other guitars on his keyboard. That was the only way we could do it because there are more guitars on the album than I can play.
When we recorded the album, I fed the guitar straight into the computer and then cut it about. It was a case of trying to make it notlike a guitar; use the sounds and the feedback and choppy chords, but cut it up so it didn’t sound normal or traditional. I’d go in and record all night and then go in the next day to listen to the track and say ‘who played that’, and they’d say ‘you did’. They cut it up so much that I didn’t even recognise my own playing! A lot of it’s done by the producer; he’ll say, ‘have a listen to this, this is ass backwards to how you played it… now play it like that… ’
BRUCE: Who was it that made you pick up the guitar in the first place?
ANGELO: My brother. He got a guitar one Christmas and he lasted a week with it, then I picked it up and I’ve never looked back. I must have been seven or eight. I think my first influence was Dave Hill from Slade; I saw them play live and it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. That was when I realised that this was what I wanted to do.
Then I just started playing along to records; Stax and A1 Green, and I think that it’s the best thing I could have done because it meant I was already playing with other musicians. I was also influenced by Richard Thompson – he blew my head off when I saw him with Fairport Convention. He was amazing and he opened my eyes to a whole world beyond the blues scale. Later on, Joey Santiago from The Pixies because he was so inventive. But I’ve tried not to sound like a blues guitarist – Eric Clapton makes me fall asleep – I just wanted to go in other directions and keep the
old brain alive. I prefer textures to guitar solos, I’m much more involved in the emotional side of it.
BRUCE: What about guitars, do you have a favourite or favourites?
ANGELO: I used to use a Guild 175 because they were feedback kings. They’re the best at feedback, but they’re buggers to control so I had to adapt my technique. But when I started doing large gigs with Aidey, I didn’t want it on tour any more… especially as that Guild was priceless.
We were in Switzerland looking at these Framus semi-acoustics to try and replace the Guild. I thought the necks were dreadful, but these other guitars were there so I picked up this one which had been sent back because the colour had gone wrong, and it was genius. It never went out of tune, it was solid as a rock and it got brilliant feedback. It was the 24-fret PRS with a heavy maple top on it. I’d never played PRS before ‘cos I thought they were metal guitars, but they’re just amazing. I have a McCarty gold top with P90’s as well.
I also have a Strat which I use for one song; it’s a bog-standard Squier, but when Squiers first came out there was a batch of them that were really well made with a really nice sound, and I’ve never found another one that can match it.
BRUCE: Can you tell me about your live amp and effects set up?
ANGELO: Well we had to work a way of doing as much of the stuff from the studio in a live situation. So live, I use a BOSS GT5, but I threw away the presets and started again. Y’know, I wanted the flanger before the phaser; stuff like that. One of the great things about the GT5 is that you can put anything in any order at any time. The amp simulations are brilliant, except now we have the new Mesa/Boogie Formula preamp, so I can get proper clean or proper dirty sounds.
BRUCE: Aidey, what’s the motivation behind Angelo’s set-up?
AIDEY: The set-up was designed specifically for the way Angelo plays because he uses lots of feedback. So instead of just having everything ridiculously loud and annoying the shit out of everyone, I came up with something where he has a little 2×10 Boogie bass wedge next to his normal monitors. This is wound in via another volume pedal to get the feedback coming back at him rather than cranking up the amp from behind. Also the whole thing is stereo, so you can find a point between the wedge and the speakers behind you where you can surround yourself and get involved in your own little world without being outrageously loud.
BRUCE: How is Angelo’s rig set up?
AIDEY: The GT5 does the preamp, distortion and effects thing, and that’s split off into two Mesa/Boogie power amps; one to drive the wedge and one to drive the rear cabinets, which are both ElectroVoice-loaded 1×12 Mesa cabs. That’s switched by a Kitty Hawk loop switching device, so we can keep. adding all sorts of things. There’s also now a brand-new Boogie Formula preamp which we’re incorporating bit by bit, which is really good. The preamp is run from the send and returns from the GT5, rather than the other way around. This was down to experience really, because I’d built a loom with so many ways in it, so rather than build a whole new loom, we thought we’d just try it – and it worked! But the purists would be horrified!
The silver volume pedal controls the level of the Boogie wedge coming back at you, and the two switches to the right of that can be allocated to do all sorts of things with the GT5.
The only other thing in there really is the Ebtech Hum Eliminator. They’re great because you can spend hours and hours chasing hums in systems like this, so this is the lazy way out. It’s passive and you just plug in and out of it and it works like an isolation device. That’s about it, it’s quite simple really.
BRUCE: Angelo, what was the last thing you learned and what are you practising at the moment?
ANGELO: I’m not practising at the moment because I play every day for two hours at the gigs. I keep these sections within certain songs where I don’t know what I’m going to do. I try to keep these bits as open as possible to try things out – sometimes you do something and everyone turns round and goes ‘where did that come from’!
BRUCE: When it comes to modern players, do you have any favourites?
ANGELO: No. Truthfully, I hate players like Satriani because it’s meaningless to me. I can play pretty fast myself, not as fast as him, but I can do it and it’s just meaningless. When you’re learning – especially in your early years – technique is really important. But once you’ve got your technique, it’s what you do with it that becomes important. It’s all about becoming a good musician, like Graham Coxon from Blur or Joey Santiago from the Pixies for example.
Keith Richards is a god; a man who can play one chord and make it sound genius. Also the old jazzers Charlie Christian’s amazing, and Wes Montgomery of course… The thing about Satriani is that while there’s a lot of crap, there must be some really good tunes there as well, but I can’t be bothered with the fight to find them. I’d rather listen to Richard Thompson and know damn well that eight out of ten tunes are going to be gems.
BRUCE: Any nightmare stories?
ANGELO: The first time I picked up a PRS was in Switzerland, and Baba -the Swiss importer – wanted Swiss francs rather than pounds. So the tour manager gave me some money to change into francs, and I didn’t want to walk to the bank with £2,000 by myself so I took Winston and Horace Andy with me. We got there, I handed it over, but it just wasn’t coming back. Horace was in the bank with me and Winston was outside having a fag, when these security guards appeared from nowhere and started to clear everyone out of the bank. After a while we were the only people left and the money still hadn’t been changed. So I asked if I could have my money back but the bank manager came over and started asking me where the money had come from. Then the front doors opened and six armed police came in and started to question us about the money, asking us where our passports were and who we were. By now I was freaking out because they had my money, I was surrounded by six armed police and Horace was being held down by two other guys. It turns out that they thought that there was a great big drug deal going on. Eventually it took the tour manager to turn up with our passports and about half an hour of negotiation to calm them down.
BRUCE: Any words of advice for young up-and-coming players?
ANGELO: Don’t give up. You’ll get a million knock-backs, especially in the music industry because it fluctuates all the time. One minute you’ve got loads of money, the next you can’t land a job for a year. So just don’t give up.
Written By Bruce Cockburn