Craig T: Before you started inventing your own effects, what were you using as far as amps and pedals. Was there one pedal that gave you problems and you said, “I’m going to build my own stuff?”
“It was more a matter of the things I wanted just didn’t exist. I started out with cheap tube amps, and I actually had a lot of fun overdriving them and getting some really phenomenal sounds. I used an MXR equalizer – you can still buy them today or something like them; I used battery-powered and line-powered ones. I experimented with boosting various ranges and seeing what happened – that’s how I learned about creating the kind of harmonic distortion from the amp that I liked.
“I then wanted to find a way to have a synthetic double-track of the sound. I got a friend of mine to do the circuit design. I gave him a block diagram of what turned out to be chorus unit. When I was starting, there was no chorus unit – we actually built ours. He followed my block diagram and wired up a prototype in a cigar box. We called it a ‘doubler,’ but it was the world’s first chorus – we just didn’t know it yet. That was in order to get my sound into stereo. I had two amps, and I put one on each side of the stage, wiring one direct to the guitar and the other through the chorus unit. The sound was unheard of in those days because nobody had stereo sound coming from a single guitar. But that’s how I got started, necessity being the mother of invention.”
Dec Suddaby: How do you go about your songwriting? (Big question, but maybe we can go through a couple of anecdotes.)
“I always start with an idea for a chord that could be for a verse or a chorus, or it could be a lick, some sequence of notes that I like. I play with it as much as possible; I may have an idea for a melody that goes along with it. Eventually, something hooks up in my mind and I think of a corresponding chorus or verse. Sometimes I have them in my mind for a while and it takes a while to realize how well they work together.
“Once I get that, once I have the verse and a chorus for what could be called the ‘accompaniment music,’ then I go to work and I start to think about what the melody will be like. I’ll start to make a recording, listen to it, sing along with it, play along with it, and I develop it from there. Depending on my level of excitement, that’s when I get serious about it, and I block out everything else and try to develop that piece of music.
“Sometimes it turns into a song; sometimes I drop it before it gets too far. The lyrics are always the last thing I do. I always have a recording of basic tracks and maybe some of the lead work. I’ll sit back and listen to it, and I’ll just concentrate on what kind of feeling it gives me. My goal writing the lyrics is to not disrupt that feeling. [Laughs] That’s my only goal. I don’t need to write something earth-shaking; I just don’t want to ruin the feeling. I come up with lyrics that I think augment the emotions that I’m getting from the music.”