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A duality – part mystical, part practical – describes White’s musical philosophy as well as the history and evolution of Tonstartssbandht, which he founded in 2008 with his older brother and drummer, Edwin. The last release of the duo, Petunia, marked a new phase in their development, as they eschewed fuzz and lo-fi sounds in favor of cleaner tones. Despite capturing live instrumental takes, the album is largely a studio creation. The brothers took advantage of the Covid downtime – cooped up together in their hometown of Orlando – and experimented with gear, shooting perfect takes, and even built an iso stand.
“It was definitely alien,” White says. “It was very weird, and I questioned myself most of the time. ‘Should it take this long? Does it have to sound so high fidelity? Are people going to hate us or think that we sold ourselves?”
Tonstartssbandht – Pass Away (Official Video)
Compared to the rest of their work, Petunia it looks like it was captured with Steely Dan precision. Their previous effort, Wizard, was recorded under completely different circumstances that exemplify the brothers’ ability to embrace serendipity and circumstance. “Wizard was recorded in our old apartment, when Ed and I both lived in Brooklyn in a large shared living and art space called The Wallet, in Bushwick,” White explains. “If you could build a voice booth inside a voice booth, you couldn’t escape the noise, because the building was surrounded on three sides by the elevated M train. I didn’t mind sleeping there, but you couldn’t get a quiet take unless you timed it perfectly when the M wasn’t running for about five minutes. We knew we were working with the ambient noise of a passing train or a roommate across the room cooking dinner and wanting to scream or something. There was no avoiding it.
The much more delicate sound of Petunia is a new entry in the band’s discography. The album opens with “Pass Away,” a dreamy, spacious, falsetto-laden jam that grows and grows, yet never forgets it’s meant to groove. White layers chord extensions over an ostinato bass figure that is played with his thumb and—check it out– is not overdubbed. In fact, none of the guitar parts are. Even the hypnotic, uneven delays that complement the melodic double stops in the upper register of “What Has Happened” were recorded in one complete take. White was able to create a rich and detailed sonic image by carefully dialing in his amps and mixing.
“I questioned myself a lot. ‘Should it take that long? Does it have to sound so high fidelity? Are people going to hate us or think we sold out? »
“I sometimes struggle,” he says. “If I put microphones in a room and think, ‘That sounds good and heavy for a two-man band’, when I listen to the recording, I may be disappointed because it doesn’t quite sound how heavy it sounded. . If I’m left to mix on my own – like we were on our previous albums – it’s just a lot of trial and error with the post EQ. With Petunia, we had all the carefully recorded takes to work with, and that’s why we brought it to other people for mixing. It took us long enough to figure out how to record it the way we wanted it, and we didn’t want to ruin what we worked so hard on by trying to mix it ourselves. It also paid off in showcasing the haunting qualities of White’s voice, which spins warm melodies and charms in an airy falsetto for most of the album, but can drop into a growling attack when it’s on. it’s time to show the teeth.
White uses two Lab-series solid-state amps — he owns both the L5 and L6 models — which he finds break down to his liking and cover a wide tonal range. The Lab series dates back to Gibson’s Norlin era, the period from 1970 to 1986 when the company produced some of its wackiest products, including quirky guitars like the Marauder and Corvus, and solid-state amps that included, for the time, state-of-the-art electronics. designed by sister company Norlin Moog. You don’t often see Lab Series amps, and for White, they’re perfect. “Some guitarists tell me they have a tube sound without the grumpiness of the tubes, and I’ve always found them to be very reliable. I try to get a nice heavy bass boost from the amps, and when it comes to recording it, it’s luck and trial and error.
The White Brothers: Edwin (left), drums and Andy (right), guitar.
White runs both amps simultaneously and bounces his signal between the two – not a dry signal in one amp and a wet signal in the other – creating a ping-pong effect and magnifying the sound. You can hear this in action on Petuniaespecially on songs like “All of My Children” and the aforementioned “What Has Happened”, where he also relies heavily on an Electro-Harmonix Super Pulsar.
“It uses a really loud quarter-note tremolo—like a strobe—and then a 100% wet-and-dry delay repeat on the dotted quarter,” White explains. “I used to dial this in on the fly on a live show and it would take forever to get everything perfectly tuned by setting the tremolo ratio and getting the delay to hit it at just the right swing. Now I just tune the Super Pulsar and tweak it to be exactly how I like it, then save it as a preset.
Andy White’s gear
Seen here at Brooklyn’s Market Hotel, Andy White splits the signal from his Strat into two vintage Gibson Lab Series amps for maximum tonal density and psychedelic ping pong effects.
Photo by Todd Seelie
- Danelectro 12-SDC
- Early 70’s Gibson SG with Bigsby
- Fender American Elite Stratocaster
- Lab L5 2×12 Series
- Lab Series L6 1×15 Bass Combo
- Ernie Ball Power Slinky (.011–.048, for 6 strings)
- Ernie Ball (.010 sets, for 12 strings)
Boss TU-3 chromatic tuner
Boss GE-7 Graphic EQ
Boss OC-3 Super Octave
Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff
Electro-Harmonix Super Pulsar
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai
DigiTech X-Series DigiDelay
Boss RV-6 Reverb
TC Helicon VoiceTone Create (for vocals only)
White’s recently developed pragmatic approach to equipment also applies to his guitars. It is based on three: an SG and a 12-string Danelectro tuned to standard D, plus a Strat tuned to a hybrid C# tuning of his own invention (C#-G#-C#-F#-G#-B), with its bridge plugged with cork to disable the tremolo.
“I went to the local Orlando guitarist and had him tune my guitar into this C# tuning,” he says. “I can’t believe I’m 32 and I just realized that maybe it was a smart thing to do. It was very rewarding. I picked up three guitars on the road. I don’t I just couldn’t mind spending so much time tuning and retuning on stage, and it paid off I think my brother really enjoyed not sitting on the drums whistling to himself while I connected to the middle of a live show.
The guitarist fingers in a raw style, using only his thumb and index finger, with the other fingers anchored to the pickguard. He plays with the flesh or pads of his fingers and does not use his fingernails or fingerpicks.
TIDBIT: The White brothers made the most of the pandemic-caused gig shortage and took their time recording Petuniacreating the most faithful and detailed recording of the band’s extensive discography
“I got into fingerpicking on an old nylon string which was my first guitar,” he says. “I can’t remember a specific moment when I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do now,’ but I do remember playing guitar for me was all about using a pick – playing chords of power or big open chords – and then one day I tried fingerpicking and realized I could use my thumb and index finger and it wasn’t that hard. I started writing and fingerpicking as much as I could, then I came across John Fahey and Davey Graham and that kind of British folk and blues fingerpicking. A few years later, when I was playing with my brother in Tonstartssbandht, our music, at first, was based on noise, drones and vocal loops. Slowly but surely, and perhaps it had to do with being able to express myself by tuning amps correctly or finding the right guitar, fingerpicking became something we could do comfortably together. He could rip on the drums and I could play with my fingers, and it wouldn’t sound too much like a hot mess. It was consistent. »
Cohesion describes the improvisations of the duo well. They don’t jam in a solo/accompaniment sense, but rather in the band-oriented style of ’70s krautrock bands like Can and Popol Vuh. “There are only two of us,” White said. “If only one of us is solo, it’s gonna sound pretty fucked up. We try our best to sound like a full band. If I don’t play chords and sing, I want to play roles principals like Michael Karoli. It’s funny – to say that Michael Karoli is my favorite guitarist – because you don’t listen to the Can records for the guitars; you listen to the whole sound.
“If only one of us is solo, it’s gonna sound pretty fucked up. We’re doing our best to sound like a full band.
Likewise, with their combination of practical, work-focused focus and just letting things happen, you’re listening to Tonstartssbandht for all the sound. But the comparisons end there, because the members of Can, for the most part, usually wore shoes – you knew that came back – which, as White said, is not his MO. keep your shoes on disabled although it has its share of problems.
“It came back to bite me,” he said. “If you’re playing in a smaller place with grounding issues, you get electrocuted all the more if you’re not wearing shoes. My dad told me in the past, ‘Before you go on the road , go to Home Depot and get an insulated rubber mat to stand on in case you play in a place with bad electricity”. advice and I think, “Shut up dad! That’s a stupid idea. But it’s actually a really good idea. I should probably do it someday.”
“Falloff” by TONSTARTSSBANDHT live at Market Hotel, Brooklyn, NY on October 28, 2021