Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Syd­ney four-piece Rackett have fast be­come one of the coun­try’s most ex­cit­ing and dy­namic bands, with a live show that’s been praised for its high en­ergy and ex­treme tight­ness blended with a “DIY hy­per-femme aes­thetic”.

On the sur­face, it’s punk-pop with big gui­tars, but this is a band of pro­fes­sion­ally trained mu­si­cians chan­nelling their shared knowl­edge for max­i­mum ef­fect, de­liv­er­ing ex­pert hooks and an ex­tremely ad­dic­tive quirk­i­ness to their song­writ­ing.

Gui­tarist Kat Ayala – who is also part of the Syd­ney based Forces And Fury pro­duc­tion duo with part­ner and Rackett drum­mer Astrid Holz – plays a huge role in de­liv­er­ing their sig­na­ture live sound, pair­ing with singer and gui­tarist Bec Cal­lan­der for half the set, then go­ing it alone for the re­main­der.

We caught up with Ayala in a rare break from tour­ing in early April to talk about her cus­tom sig­na­ture gui­tar, ded­i­cated pedal re­search, and how she joined the band just as they em­barked on a huge tour with The Dark­ness.

How did you come to find the gui­tar?

My dad played a lot of gui­tar, and so did my un­cle. I’m Filipino, so I grew up in the Philippines – it was a big fam­ily and there was al­ways mu­sic around. There were in­stru­ments ev­ery­where – pianos, gui­tars, and al­ways lots of sing­ing. So I started from there, and my dad taught me. The first song I learned was “My Girl”, I would just lis­ten and strum along. But I never re­ally got into study­ing the in­stru­ment as a lead gui­tar, rather than just chords or what­ever, un­til around the time I turned 19.

And who were the play­ers you looked up to in your for­ma­tive years?

I’ve al­ways loved Tom Morello, and I lis­tened to a lot of The Used way back in the day, so I played a lot of pop-punk-y styles. It was ac­tu­ally The Jez­abels that got me into us­ing de­lay!

How long have you been with Rackett now?

Since April of last year, when we opened for The Dark­ness. We just man­aged to hop on that tour, which was in­sane. It was to­tally a bap­tism by fire.

I was able to do that be­cause Bec and I had played in a band to­gether be­fore. She had a project called Bec And Ben – I was their gui­tarist for just a few months, and then I went off to the Philippines for eight months and that was that. Once she found out I was back in the coun­try, she asked me if I could hop on for that se­ries of shows. Bec’s ob­vi­ously the vi­sion­ary and band leader, and she writes the en­tire show. It’s kind of awe­some, be­cause I’ve al­ways been one of the band lead­ers, if not the band leader.

Some­times it’s nice to be one of the kids!

I turn up, I know my part and I play it. And she gives us room to be creative and ex­pres­sive as well. It’s a re­ally good gig!

Rackett are a band with an amaz­ingly dy­namic and con­sis­tent live sound. What do you have in play to achieve that?

Well, I’m glad you think that. We’ve been want­ing to in­vest in a sound en­gi­neer, but it’s not within our bud­get. So the sound at the mo­ment is clear enough be­cause we’ve got­ten the hang of our tone. We re­cently just put to­gether an in-ear mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem be­cause our drum­mer Astrid – who’s also my girl­friend, busi­ness part­ner, creative part­ner and other things – is also a sound en­gi­neer. So she built this in-ear mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that we take around. We just take a patch. We split the sig­nal, patch our sys­tem in, and we con­trol our in-ears our­selves. We don’t need a mon­i­tor en­gi­neer or the front of house guy to do our mon­i­tors any­more. We just took con­trol over that. I like to think that that’s im­proved our pitch.

That’s pretty great. What’s your live gear setup like? What kind of ped­als, amps and gui­tars are you work­ing with at the mo­ment?

I’ll take you through my sig­nal train. I al­ways play the HoneyTea, which is my cus­tom Wa­ter­fall model. Hands down, that’s the mother of all gui­tars for me. I play that into a Boss tuner, and then I run through my whammy, into a Sick As Over­drive by Bondi ef­fects – I freak­ing love that pedal – and I use a Boss NS2 noise sup­pres­sor. Then I go into an Earthquaker Hoof, which is an amaz­ing fuzz pedal. I’ve got so much con­trol over how I want my fuzz to sound.

Af­ter the fuzz, I go into a Kee­ley Bub­ble Tron, which is like a Dyna Phase. It’s got a phaser and then a dy­namic phaser as well, so it’s two phasers hap­pen­ing at the same time, and I’ve used a flanger set­ting as well. That’s pretty fun. And there’s a fil­ter set­ting on it, which makes it sound

like bub­bles are com­ing out of my gui­tar. And then from there, I go into my de­lay – I’ve just got a Tonal Re­call by Chase Bliss au­dio. They call it dig­i­tal brain with an ana­logue heart – it’s an ana­logue de­lay and a dig­i­tal con­trol. And then af­ter that, I’ve got a Ne­un­aber Im­merse Re­ver­ber­a­tor, which is a dig­i­tal re­verb pedal.

Th­ese are some high bou­tique ped­als you’re us­ing! Do you do a lot of re­search?

I’m part of a cou­ple of Face­book groups. I’m sure you’ve heard of them too – all the pedal trad­ing ones. I see what peo­ple are sell­ing and what peo­ple are buy­ing, just to get an idea of what peo­ple like and what’s out there. And I just do my own re­search. When I was buy­ing the de­lay pedal, I just searched, “Ana­logue de­lay with tap tempo,” and I went through so many. I was re­search­ing for weeks be­fore I set­tled on this one. I buy a lot of ped­als from Deluxe Gui­tars in Melbourne – they’re a good lit­tle store and they’ll let you try a piece of gear out for a while. But I haven’t re­turned any­thing, re­ally. I’ve been happy with my pur­chases. My re­search is pretty good!

What about amp-wise?

So af­ter all of those ped­als, I split my sig­nal. I go into a Mar­shall 1958X, which is a hand-wired reis­sue combo. It’s like the lit­tle cousin of your Blues­breaker. It’s got two ten-inch speak­ers, and it’s the best combo I’ve ever played through. I play with that, and then I split the sig­nal into what­ever Bec is play­ing, be­cause she drops her gui­tar half­way through the set.

And for the strings?

I use Curt Man­gan strings. They’re a great bou­tique string com­pany based in the US. They do cus­tom gauges, and I use 9-48s.

So tell us a bit about your con­nec­tion with HoneyTea and Maple­wood, and the cre­ation of your cus­tom model gui­tar.

I dis­cov­ered his work [Stephen Bur­nett, luthier] via Face­book. I was in the Philippines for eight months be­tween 2015 and 2016, and I was play­ing so much that I got carpal tun­nel syn­drome. It was just aw­ful, I woke up in the mid­dle of the night and I was scream­ing. I went and saw a cou­ple of doc­tors and took a few weeks off from play­ing, and I fi­nally went to an acupunc­tur­ist and he sorted me out for a while – enough to heal, any­way. And I just had to re­work my play­ing tech­nique.

I wear my gui­tar a lot higher now. I took a lot of no­tice to the way I was play­ing with my cur­rent gui­tars. I had a Tele­caster for a while, and I had to wear a wrist guard so that I wouldn’t in­jure my­self. It was just so that I could help my­self heal, re­ally. So I wore that for months, and I found that I re­ally had to bend my body in ways that wasn’t good for my pos­ture.

I kind of had to curl around the gui­tar to be able to do some of the things or play a cer­tain way, and I re­alised that my shoul­der started aching with that pos­ture. I had all th­ese phys­i­cal prob­lems, so I just started search­ing for some­one to build me a cus­tom gui­tar.

It was an er­gonomic de­ci­sion just as much as it was a sound de­ci­sion?

Yeah, to­tally. And the clos­est I’ve got­ten to my tone was prob­a­bly with the Tele­caster. I just wanted some­thing that sounded a bit more like a hum­bucker. So I told all this to Stephen and he just said, “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t we do this?” He loves Gretsch styles and he sug­gested for me to try a PRS as well, just to see if I liked the necks for that. I ended up sam­pling a cou­ple of PRS gui­tars, which I re­ally, re­ally en­joyed. And so we did a lot of back and forth re­search. It took two years in the end.

It was 2015 when I first con­nected with Stephen about my is­sues and what I was af­ter, and since then, he’s come to see me play. He stud­ied my style, tones and sound. And the thing was him is that he’s a real artist and a re­ally good lis­tener, so he’d ask me some ques­tions and then kind of just fig­ure me out. And I just trusted him. We got to know each other. I kind of let him go to town on the de­sign, and I just trusted that it would fit. And it does. Per­fectly.

And how did the colour scheme come about?

I told him that I’ve al­ways been par­tial to reds, but I kind of wanted some­thing a bit more blue [ laughs]. So... Pur­ple. There you go! He’d show me a cou­ple of sketches of what his plan was, and one day, he was like, “What do you think of this?” And he showed me a sketch that had the gold trim on it. I was like, “Oh my God. We have to do it.” Who else has got that!? I ac­tu­ally feel quite self-con­scious be­cause I have the gui­tar now. I’m like, “Oh man, I’ve got to be able to play it well!”

It’s like a hol­low­body with no F holes, and it sounds great. I love the feed­back – I never had that. When the Tele­caster used to feed back, it was kind of just noisy. But this one’s re­ally bassy. It’s got more of a round tone, and you kind of feel it be­fore it even leaves the amp.

And you changed your ped­al­board around the gui­tar, didn’t you?

To­tally. I got rid of a lot of ped­als, be­cause I don’t need to beef it up any­more. I used to have a POG since I liked the sound – I just put an oc­tave be­low and a lit­tle bit of sub, so that I had a bit more bot­tom-end – but I just don’t use it any­more. The gui­tar just sounds so beau­ti­ful and big on its own!

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