You can’t stop Cambridge alt-rockers Lonely The Brave from tinkering with their tunes. Following the release of last year’s massive Things Will Matter, the band now present a Redux version of that album, stripping back the distortion in favour of chiming clean tones and glitchy electronic elements.
Once again, the radical reworkings go to show the strength behind the songs, and Ross Smithwick is one-half of the guitar duo responsible for the euphoric guitar lines that make the compositions soar.
To celebrate the album’s launch, we pinned Ross down to get his thoughts on his essential gear, the story behind his most cherished instrument and why Leeds Festival was one of his best and worst gigs ever…
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“My first guitar was an Encore electric, all in black. I don't think it was full-size. I got it for a Christmas present when I started learning guitar at the age of 10 or 11. I loved that thing and remember taking it anywhere I could. On holiday, visiting relatives, it came with me. I don't think I even had an amp when I first got it, but that didn't stop me.”
2. The building’s burning down - what one guitar do you save?
“I would have to let all my electrics burn to ground with the house and save my acoustic guitar. It's a priceless instrument to me. It's a custom-made Andy Manson, made for my dad in the ’80s. It looks so simple - there’s not even a scratchplate - but it is the most beautiful instrument.
“I pestered my old man for years about it - as he’s left-handed and I'm not, I was always asking when he would hand it over to me. He said never for so many years, but on one birthday in my late-20s he gave it to me. Pretty sure I cried. So we both went down to Andy's amazing workshop in Devon, where he altered it for a right-handed player. I hope one day I can hand it down to someone and it lives on once I'm gone.”
3. What's the one effects pedal you couldn't do without, and why?
“Overdrive. It's an obvious choice, but there is no way I could play clean guitar forever. I'm in love with noise and feedback and how you can make your guitar sound like an absolute beast.”
4. Is there a guitar, or piece of gear, that you regret letting go?
“My first ever Gibson - a really weird, cool-looking ’80s Studio Lite. I bought it with my savings when I was 16. And it really did get 'let go of' as it got left behind at a show in Copenhagen where I had lent it to a friend. Gutted doesn't come close! After that, I decided that the only way to get over it was to get a Gibson Les Paul Custom. I have two now and feel slightly better about the whole thing.”
5. And what's the next piece of gear you’d like to acquire?
“I'd like another amp. I have a couple of Marshalls at the moment: a JTM45 half-stack and a JCM900 half-stack, which have both served me well over the years. I'd like a couple of other amps now to mix things up. Maybe a Fender Twin or an AC30. Guitar-wise, I'm looking at a 335.”
6. What’s your favourite chord, and why?
“E minor. The saddest of all. So many great songs are based around it. It always sounds so great played really heavy.”
7. Is there an aspect of guitar playing that you'd like to be better at?
“I can't read music, so that would be a good start. Also I'm pretty much self-taught, so I don't really know how to play anything unless I teach myself. I don't know any scales, but I love lead work. I like to think it gives me my own style, but sometimes I do wish I knew a bit more.”
8. If you could have a guitar lesson from one guitarist, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
“Jimi Hendrix, just because he's the best guitarist of all time in my eyes. I'd love to be like 'Okay, so which teeth are best to use for this bit?'”
9. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
“Ha, easy one. Playing main stage Leeds Festival in 2015 with Lonely The Brave. A massive deal for us and personally the greatest achievement of my life! Walked on stage after a successful line check to find that my entire pedalboard had gone down.
“Basically spent the next 20 minutes half-miming, trying not to look panicked, trying not to burst in to tears while my guitar tech scrapped around in front of me trying to figure out the problem - the whole time being very aware that there were two huge screens either side of the stage probably highlighting all of this! It really was one of those nightmare moments where you just want to ground to swallow you whole.
“About two songs from the end of the set it started to work again, but the damage had been done. I was devastated after that. Luckily, we had Reading two days later where we totally smashed it and played one of the best shows of our career, but I was pretty nervous before walking on...”
10. What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?
“Again, it would be about being able to read music. I'd tell myself to stop being a dumbass and pay attention in music theory lessons! But only a little as I wouldn't want it to change what would one day be a style of playing that I like to think can't be taught with theory. Being a tad more technical wouldn't go amiss, mind...”
Things Will Matter (Redux) is out now on Hassle Records.