Talking about guitar effects with John Haughm of Agalloch
Earlier this year, I had a chance to grab some lunch and a beer with John Haughm of Agalloch (and his lovely companion Veleda – you have to check out her photography!) to discuss another unrelated project. But recently, I thought it would be great to talk gear with John and how they play a role in Agalloch. Pedals, guitars and amps are always fun to talk about, but what I really like is how they *apply* to music or to the creative process. A simple fuzz pedal to one person is a completely different beast or tool to another, and it’s interesting to see how and WHY they use particular pedals.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of very gear (specifically pedals) oriented interviews by musicians for musicians for a while, so let’s start things off!
Agalloch is a dark metal band based out of Portland, Oregon. For more information, check out the website, Wikipedia, Facebook and MySpace pages! If you get a chance be sure to catch Agalloch on the road, they tour quite a bit (and to Europe).
To start, here is John’s pedal line. He’s using a bi-amp set up with half of the pedals going to one amp (78 Fender Deluxe Reverb Combo) and the other going to the other amp (Orange Rockerverb 100 MKII halfstack) with the option of running both amps (and all effects) at the same time.
-> Radial ABY for Amp Switcher -> ProCo Rat2 Distortion -> Red Witch Analog Empress Chorus -> Electro-Harmonix Freeze -> 1978 Fender Deluxe Reverb Combo
-> Radial ABY for Amp Switcher -> MXR M-152 Micro Flanger -> Boss DD-6 Digital Delay -> Boss RC-20 Loop Station -> Orange Rockerverb 100 MKII halfstack
- John, how would you describe your music to someone completely unfamiliar with Agalloch?
JH: There is a long answer and a short answer to this question. The short answer is “Dark Metal”. The long answer…well we have a lot of influences that range from black metal like Bathory and Ulver to doomy stuff like Bethlehem and Katatonia all the way to stuff like Fields Of The Nephilim, Swans, Coil, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arvo Part, Death In June, Steve Reich, and Joy Division. Our style combines a great deal of opposing musical genres to create some really dark, eclectic, heavily layered, and often longwinded compositions that ebb and flow with varying degrees of mood and depth. We have sprawling 17 minute long dynamic epics and we have 3 minute acoustic pieces. Plus ambient drone, noisy stuff, experimental folk, progressive rock tendencies, etc…
Also, my favorite band in the world is Rush. You can hear their influence all over our songwriting and especially Alex Lifeson’s influence in my playing.
- Ok, I’m sure you get asked this a lot, where/how did the name Agalloch come about?
JH: It is a rare type of wood that is burned for its aromatic smoke. The name sounded good and it didn’t pigeonhole us to a single, tangible heavy metal stereotype.
- How critical are your pedals for creating the Agalloch’s sonic atmosphere?
JH: For me especially, they are crucial because most of my parts totally depend on them. My bi-amping alone creates half of the wall of sound live.
- Has a pedal (or combination) actually gave birth to a song?
JH: Yeah, in fact I started writing a new composition the day I bought the Nova Delay. It ended up being a song on our last album called “Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires”.
- How has the Travis Bean guitar influenced your song writing, if at all?
JH: Well I have only owned a Travis Bean since early 2009 but that guitar definitely cleaned up my very “loose and dirty” playing style. I had to get used to a guitar with such precise clarity that any sloppiness would be heard. I have played a lot of different guitars over the years but the Travis Bean is far and away the best instrument I have owned. I own three of them now (2 standards and an Artist). It is amazing what that tone can do to certain songs that used to not sound that great live….but now sound completely revitalized.
- I’m assuming everything is powered up with the Voodoo Lab PedalPower 2+ underneath?
JH: It is a BBE Supa-charger under the Pedal Train PT2. We use the Supa-charger for the voltage switching since we tour Europe a lot.
- You have 3 very different delay pedals. The MoogerFooger Analog Delay, the Boss DD-6 and the TC Electronic Nova Delay. Can you describe the differences and how they apply for your sound?
JH: The Moogerfooger is used primarily for leads and solos. The DD-6 is used with just the Orange for really noisy distorted delays. The TC Electronic is used for both the Orange and Fender simultaneously. I use it a lot for clean tone passages that require a very U2-ish pinging delay but I also use it for those moments when I want both amps effected for a full wall-of-sound atmospheric experience.
- Why do you prefer to run the MoogerFooger through the effects loop rather than through the input?
JH: It sounds cleaner. I use it for solos and leads primarily and I want those delays to be smooth and understated.
- How do you feel the Boss DD-6 holds up compared to the MoogerFooger and Nova?
JH: It’s reliable. I’ve never had a problem with it which is great for a cheap delay pedal that I’ve had forever. Sound-wise it does what I want it to do which is basically the more nasty distorted delays. I don’t like that it is not true-bypass but whatever. It doesn’t seem to affect my tone at all.
- Is there a specific task that the DD-6 can do that others can’t do as easily?
JH: It does have this cool haunting vibe to it with the settings I use. The other pedals could probably get that vibe too, but I use them for other specific sounds. But yeah…for a wicked haunting distorted delay sound from a cheap pedal that’s built like a tank, the DD-6 is just fine. Of course I’m always trying new pedals out and changing my board around so will likely replace the DD-6 eventually. For now though, it does its job.
- I see the ProCo RAT is on the the ’78 Fender Deluxe Reverb, why did you opt for that particular distortion pedal for the Fender?
JH: The RAT was recommended to me by several people so I checked it out and thought it sounded really great with the Fender, especially with that amp’s reverb. I mostly use it for texture on top of the normal gain I use from the Orange.
- Can you explain how the EHX Freeze is used? It appears to be in the effects loop, which I don’t see that often for that pedal. Is it with the Fender? Do you primarily use it in ‘latch’ mode? If so.. why?
JH: There are a couple newer songs that require a sustained note here and there. I also use it for one of our show intros which involves a very ritualistic drone that slowly builds into the first song.
- For modulation, you are using the Red Witch Chorus/Vibrato and the MXR Micro Flanger each to their respective amps. Can you let me know why you chose those modulation pedals over others?
JH: I have always loved Red Witch stuff so their chorus pedal was high on my list. Totally satisfied. Killer pedal. The MXR was something I tried in the studio. That pedal through the clean tone of a vintage Hiwatt was like a voodoo experience. I literally couldn’t stop playing ’80s post punk riffs! I had to get one! It is a great little chorus pedal that often does its job too well.
- Have you messed around with modulation in the effects loop?
JH: Yeah, whenever I get a new pedal I’ll try it with every possible configuration until I get whatever sound I’m looking for.
- There is something strange in the water over there in Portland (and in the NW in general) that promotes effects building. Have you dabbled with any of the effects that are made in your neck of the woods? Prescription Electronics, Devi Ever, Spaceman Effects, Jack Deville Electronics, VFE Electronics (WA), Catalinbread (WA) are just a few names that come to mind.
JH: I bought the Catlinbread Semaphore pedal but ended up giving it to the other guitarist in the band since he plays the majority of tremolo parts and he was looking for a killer tremolo pedal for his board. The others I haven’t tried. Our bassist uses a Monolith Lodestone which is made locally. My friend Daniel Menche (local noise legend) has a pedal made from an Altoids can! It’s awesome! Built by another local pedal artisan…
- How important is the RC-20 looper? Does Agalloch do a lot of loops?
JH: Well…we tend to use programmed ambient loops between songs while we tune. I also use it for layers of noise at the end of our set. Its clunky and takes up a lot of space….but we do use it a lot. Eventually we might just have our soundguy run these sounds through the PA but for now I kind of like being in control of them.
- I’ve asked this as a ‘community question’ in the past on EffectsBay, but if you could only keep one pedal on your board.. .what would be that pedal?
JH: Tough question….probably the Moogerfooger Analog Delay. Funny story…a Line 6 rep sent me a DL-4 for free along with a European A/C adapter for it. He’s a fan and wanted me to check out some of their stuff. I thought “Cool, I’ll use this overseas instead of the Moogerfooger”. Well, I did that and just found myself missing the Moogerfooger. The Dl-4 isn’t a bad pedal. It has some cool modulation effects that are nice for noise and such but…it just is not a replacement for the Moogerfooger Analog Delay!
- Is there a pedal or effect that you’re thinking about picking up next? If so, what are you thinking?
JH: I have been thinking more and more about guitar synth technology and maybe trying it out. I’d also like to check out more boutique delay pedals. Luckily in Portland there are several shops that carry a vast array of strange pedals that I can check out anytime.
- Is there a bastard step-child pedal on the board? Something that always bugs you, yet it remains?
JH: Not so much anymore. I have had problems with pedals in the past that I simply ditched after one tour. I had a Voodoo Lab tremolo pedal that I just hated. It lasted one show. Again, the RC-20 takes up a lot of space and we only use it between songs…which is important….but I could probably do the same with a smaller looping pedal. Another annoyance is the voltage switch on the Supa-charger is in a really bad spot under the PT2 so switching back to 120V literally involves either a toothpick and flashlight or simply unscrewing it from its mount. Not a great design.
I would like to thank John Haughm for spending a few minutes and geeking out with me. I would like to continue this series – if you’re a touring/recording guitarist/bassist or have contacts to someone that might be interested in non-traditional gear focused interview, please contact me!
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