Gra­ham coxon

The Blur gui­TarisT re­flecTs on his cre­aTive process and The role of equip­menT Through­ouT his long and var­ied ca­reer as a pro­lific solo arTisT and as a mem­Ber of one of The mosT in­flu­en­Tial Bands of The 90s…

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Rod Brakes Pho­tog­ra­phy Will Ire­land

ra­ham coxon is hard at work be­hind the doors of a north lon­don stu­dio in prepa­ra­tion for an im­mi­nent us solo tour. We im­me­di­ately recog­nise his play­ing from the other end of the corridor and walk in to find him au­di­tion­ing a new Yamaha revs­tar rs620 at vol­ume through his most re­cent of gear rev­e­la­tions – the line 6 he­lix. sur­rounded by gui­tars and boxes of ef­fects ped­als, he takes a break from re­hears­ing the new set, which has been drawn from two decades’ worth of solo re­leases. How far back are you go­ing with the songs for the solo tour? “right the way back to the be­gin­ning, which is 20 years ago! i’m just fig­ur­ing out the lo­gis­tics of what acous­tics and electrics i can take, what i shouldn’t take, and what gui­tars would be good to have with me when i’m stay­ing in la af­ter the tour. i’m go­ing to catch up with some friends after­wards and see what hap­pens. fender just gave me a lake placid Blue 60s Tele­caster from their new amer­i­can orig­i­nal se­ries that i’ll take with me. it’s beau­ti­ful. it’s bound like an old cus­tom and it’s got a slightly deeper neck [pro­file]. i got used to the 60s necks on Te­les, al­though i did play the ’52 reis­sue [amer­i­can vin­tage se­ries] through­out Blur, which had quite a big neck and was re­ally heavy.” How did you ac­quire the 60s Tele with the Gib­son hum­bucker in the neck po­si­tion? “i bought it from vin­tage and rare gui­tars. i got a few gui­tars from there — a re­ally great old Jazzmas­ter with a ’61 neck and a ’62 body, a lovely gold­top les paul with p-90s in it – which is a cus­tom shop job, i think – and the Tele with the gib­son hum­bucker, which is what even­tu­ally be­came fender’s gra­ham coxon Tele­caster model. i call it The shed now, be­cause it looked like it had been cre­osoted, and it had a ham­mer hole in the back. i think it’s a ’68. it had been well gigged. But the gib­son hum­bucker is amaz­ing. it wasn’t very ex­pen­sive be­cause it was so beaten around. The neck is just lovely – that was why i bought it, in a way, and the hum­bucker is in­cred­i­ble. it gave me that mas­sive sound. my tone ref­er­ence was al­ways cream as well as Abbey Road, with the sort of fat, bluesy sound – I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and that kind of thing. so, the hum­bucker in that Tele re­ally did it for me.” Many great gui­tars aren’t fac­tory orig­i­nal… “Well, mostly they’re im­prove­ments, aren’t they? if you do some­thing for the playa­bil­ity and ben­e­fit of the gui­tar then it’s fine. i mean you can al­ways try and put back the orig­i­nal bits. Well, maybe not with my ’68 Tele as it’s slightly butchered. There was a lot of weird stuff in that gui­tar, like nails and nuts and bolts float­ing around and rat­tling about, but it’s a bril­liant gui­tar!” You seem pretty open-minded about gui­tars – that Fender Bass VI has an in­ter­est­ing re­fin­ish… “That was done for sly stone. Just af­ter i bought it, i used it on the first track [That’s All I Wanna Do] from my first solo al­bum [The Sky Is Too High]. That song starts with the re­ally old 30s gib­son acous­tic, and then it goes [makes ex­plo­sion sound]. That’s the Bass vi through a fuzz pedal.” Your first solo al­bum, The Sky is Too High, has a great lo-fi sound… “it was be­cause of peo­ple like smog, who were mak­ing records with­out wor­ry­ing what kind of qual­ity they were. Y’know, peo­ple like pave­ment and that lo-fi move­ment – it en­cour­aged me to think, ‘Yeah, why not?’ and in the end, i thought it was fine. i was lucky enough to be able to go into ma­trix stu­dios and sit down at my old drum kit and bash out a drum track, and then play over the top of it. i mean a lot of [The Sky is Too High] is very loose. i wasn’t mess­ing around a lot with get­ting things very per­fect. But it has its thing, y’know?” Your post-re­hab al­bums, such as Hap­pi­ness In Mag­a­zines, have a very dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere… “Yeah, a few songs from Hap­pi­ness In Mag­a­zines had a bit of that per­spec­tive. The Kiss Of Morn­ing al­bum def­i­nitely did as well, it has quite a few ref­er­ences to that [coxon en­tered re­hab in 2001 fol­low­ing al­co­hol ad­dic­tion]. and to hav­ing a young child. The whole thing – y’know, i was out of my big band and on my own and i wasn’t plan­ning to have a solo ca­reer at all, but i just couldn’t help it, re­ally. There was a

“There was a lot of weird stuff in that gui­tar, like nails and nuts and bolts float­ing around and rat­tling about…”

gui­tar sit­ting there and i had plenty of spare time, then sud­denly i was writ­ing songs like Bit­ter­sweet Bun­dle Of Mis­ery. i was like, ‘crikey, i can’t be­lieve i’ve writ­ten this lit­tle song,’ y’know? i was weirdly shocked i could write songs. i’d al­ways been part of a team that wrote songs, but i’d never re­ally done it all on my own.” It’s never too late to find out you can write songs… “You can write songs if you love mu­sic and you lis­ten to enough mu­sic – the in­for­ma­tion is all there in your head. it’s just a mat­ter of fid­dling about, maybe with an acous­tic gui­tar, un­til the chord se­quence piques your in­ter­est and then melodies come to you. i find if i’ve got a chord se­quence and it’s been sit­ting there for ages, my brain starts to do the work un­con­sciously. it’s al­most like an ear­worm. That chord pro­gres­sion will be go­ing around in­side your head and your brain might be work­ing on a melody with­out you re­ally know­ing it. Then, one day, it’ll make it known to you and you’ll be like, ‘oh right – there’s a melody!’ so, you try it out and it ei­ther works or it doesn’t, but of­ten you don’t know where it’s come from. “it’s there from all the lis­ten­ing you’ve done – maybe from just lis­ten­ing to the at­mos­phere of a song. i think the mem­o­ries of mu­sic come in big chunks. some­thing like a cow­bell will be in your mem­ory some­where, or maybe the sound of the drums, or the types of har­mony. if you’re lis­ten­ing to some funk or soul, then the whole at­mos­phere of that will be there, along with the melody. You sort of take a snap­shot of the whole at­mos­phere of the record­ing. it’s only re­cently i’ve re­alised that’s kind of what’s go­ing on.” How do you de­velop and record ideas? “i use logic, but i used to use one of those old roland vs-2000 hard drive recorders with a line 6 pod and a drum ma­chine. That was how i got the demos to­gether for Hap­pi­ness In Mag­a­zines, just to get the vibe over, re­ally. [Hap­pi­ness In Mag­a­zines pro­ducer] stephen street was like, ‘Well, you know what’s go­ing on.’ it was ba­si­cally a cou­ple of dis­torted gui­tars, bass and drums. it wasn’t very com­pli­cated.”

It sounds like you were more pre­oc­cu­pied with the es­sen­tial ideas… “it was all about get­ting some­thing down and get­ting the job done. i never no­ticed any kind of veil be­tween my play­ing and the sound – y’know, if the em­u­la­tion wasn’t re­act­ing and trans­lat­ing, or that i couldn’t play as i wanted to play. i’m not very sen­si­tive to that. i mean, i can be, but this was the time when i just wanted a dis­torted gui­tar chug­ging away, y’know? i could feel the dif­fer­ence when i started us­ing the line 6 he­lix though, es­pe­cially when i started us­ing the mod­u­la­tion ef­fects.” Can you gen­er­ally tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween dig­i­tal and ana­logue ef­fects? “Telling the dif­fer­ence be­tween things that are dig­i­tal and ana­logue is of­ten the same as telling the dif­fer­ence be­tween some­thing that’s ana­logue and ana­logue – they’re all dif­fer­ent any­way. it’s like mi­cro­phones – no one is go­ing to sound ex­actly the same as the other, apart from stuff like matched pairs. When it comes to re­ally old equip­ment such as ped­als, they can be quite dif­fer­ent. and the same goes for gui­tars, of course.” It can be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to truly re­place old ana­logue gear… “i re­mem­ber go­ing on a search through loads of old plexis, to maybe get an­other one, and none of them sounded like my old [1959 slp] that i got years ago. even the peo­ple at mar­shall lis­tened to my plexi and said, ‘This is tons louder than a nor­mal one,’ and it’s got this kind of rat­tle to it, which i’ve never found in an­other plexi. i au­di­tioned tons of them a few years ago for a Blur tour, when i was get­ting a bit wor­ried about mine. i thought, ‘maybe i should just get an­other one,’ but i was never happy with how it sounded.” Cer­tain gear can af­fect your play­ing way more than you might re­alise at the time… “it to­tally changed my life, get­ting that mar­shall. i was strug­gling for a long time with am­pli­fiers – just get­ting them to do what i needed them to do. par­tic­u­larly when it came to changes in dy­nam­ics, be­cause i was never a gui­tar vol­ume­knob kind of per­son. i know that if i had ap­proached things in a more geeky, proper way, then i may have used my vol­ume and

tone knobs a lit­tle more, but i pretty much get all of my tones from ped­als, with all of the gui­tar knobs turned up. That’s just how i’ve al­ways done it.” Ef­fects ped­als have been a big part of your sound since the early Blur days… “i al­ways re­lied on all my dy­nam­ics from ped­als – get­ting louder and louder and get­ting three or four lev­els of dy­namic. i had enough to worry about with com­pli­cated pedal changes and back­ing vo­cals. i couldn’t be do­ing with ad­just­ing my gui­tar vol­ume as well. i’m used to press­ing ped­als!” What are some of your favourite ef­fects ped­als at the mo­ment? “i was never prop­erly into ped­als un­til the last cou­ple of years, i guess. i al­ways had my ’board, and that was full of stuff that i’d used since i was in my 20s. But so many new, amaz­ing things are com­ing out now, like the [hud­son elec­tron­ics] Broad­cast, which i love. and i love Thor­pyfX ped­als. They’re to­tally us­able, es­pe­cially the fall­out cloud. it’s flip­pin’ amaz­ing be­cause when you turn the vol­ume up, it doesn’t just get to a point and then stops do­ing any­thing – it keeps go­ing. and the ori­gin ef­fects guys are mak­ing some in­cred­i­ble stuff – the cali 76s are beau­ti­ful com­pres­sors. i’ve got a cou­ple, in­clud­ing a union Jack one.” It’s good to see a cou­ple RAT dis­tor­tion ped­als still lurk­ing around “i used the orig­i­nal [proco] raT ped­als and i got the faTraT, just to see how sim­i­lar to the old raTs it is. There’s also a Jhs-mod­ded raT there. i of­ten use fuzzes in con­junc­tion with raTs when i want some chaos. i’m not a fan­tas­tic, shreddy sort of lead player, so i like to put the gui­tar un­der a cer­tain amount of stress and see what it asks – just to see what it wants me to do, whether that’s con­trol­ling noise or hurt­ing it a bit more. i used raTs re­gard­less of what their pur­pose was, re­ally. i mean i had no idea that [my use of ] the raT may have come about from, say, its mid-boost dur­ing solo­ing; as far as i was aware it was just a dis­tor­tion unit! i didn’t used to know the dif­fer­ence be­tween dis­tor­tions, fuzzes and over­drives, but now, i guess i know a bit more.”

Gra­ham uses his GigRig Quar­terMaster QMX8 ’board to au­di­tion ef­fects ped­als. This Hud­son Broad­cast – an RCA con­sole-in­spired ger­ma­nium pre-amp/ clip­ping unit – is one of his re­cent dis­cov­er­ies The Suhr Koko Boost pro­vides a clean boost (up to 20db) and a fre­quency-se­lectable midrange boost, for great flex­i­bil­ity when fine-tun­ing dy­nam­ics, pickup re­sponse and gain stack­ing The LongAmp Rox­anne is a flanger pedal mod­elled on the vin­tage Elec­tro-Har­monix Elec­tric Mis­tress, as used by Andy Sum­mers, and takes its moniker from the Po­lice song of the same name 1 4 2 5 6 3 “You can switch the FATRAT’s cir­cuitry be­tween sil­i­con (like the orig­i­nals) and ger­ma­nium, and you can also boost the low-end us­ing the Fat switch,” says Gra­ham Thor­pyFX’s Fall­out Cloud (for­merly known as the Muf­f­room Cloud) is a vin­tage Elec­tro-Har­monix Big Muff-style fuzz with tough con­struc­tion and the added ver­sa­til­ity of a two-band EQ Gra­ham’s Ori­gin Ef­fects’ Cali76 Com­pact Deluxe has a rare Union Jack fin­ish and is a mod­ern, com­pact re­cre­ation of UREI’s vin­tage clas­sic, the 1176 Peak Lim­iter out­board com­pres­sor

7 Gra­ham’s Mar­tyn Booth Cherry Sun­burst Sig­na­ture model was hand-carved in the UK and fea­tures Sey­mour Dun­can JB SH-4 and Jazz SH-2N hum­buck­ers in the bridge and neck po­si­tions re­spec­tively This late-60s Fender Bass VI was re­fin­ished for Sly Stone prior to Gra­ham pur­chas­ing it in the late 90s. It has proven to be a firm stu­dio favourite since ap­pear­ing on his first solo record­ing The Sky Is Too High

9 Gra­ham’s gui­tar col­lec­tion in­cludes this Yamaha LS26 small-bod­ied acous­tic. Since be­ing turned on to Yamaha acous­tics by Bert Jan­sch, he has also ac­quired a vin­tage FG1500 and an LL11 (as played by Bert)


13Thor­pyFX ef­fects – in­clud­ing these Peace­keeper low gain over­drive, Gun­shot over­drive and Chain Home tremolo ped­als – are among Gra­ham’s favourite stomp­boxes, both for live use and in the record­ing stu­dioClock­wise (from top left): Boss DS–1 Dis­tor­tion; Carl Martin The Fuzz; Big­foot En­gi­neer­ing King Fuzz; No­bels ODR-1 Nat­u­ral Over­drive; ProCo RAT 2 Foot Pedal with JHS Pack Rat mod; and Sey­mour Dun­can Pickup Booster

11The hand-wired Mor­gan Am­pli­fi­ca­tion AC20 Deluxe fea­tures a 75W Ce­lestion G12H speaker and power at­ten­u­a­tion down to 0.25 of a watt. “It’s a mar­vel­lous amp for record­ing with,” says Gra­ham Gra­ham is a re­cent con­vert to the Line 6 He­lix’s amp mod­el­ling, loop­ing and ef­fects fea­tures and has been re­hears­ing for his forth­com­ing one-man-band solo tour of the US with it, us­ing both elec­tric and acous­tic gui­tars

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