Every band claims its latest release is its best but with House of Gold & Bones American metal band Stone Sour has finally made the studio album that captures their intense live sound.
Released in two chunks [part 1 is out October 22; part two in early 2013], House of Gold & Bones is a concept album that will be expanded into a comic book and possibly a movie next year.
MusicRadar met with guitarist Josh Rand at the Gibson Guitars HQ in London to talk about the writing and recording of the new album, his studio rig... and why we need to campaign to get him the signature guitar of his dreams...
When did it become apparent that House of Gold & Bones was going to be a concept album?
"The concept came before any of the songs did. Corey [Taylor, guitar and lead vocals] put the idea of the short story together then it started to form from there. We kinda just did what we normally do. We all collaborated musically then picked the best stuff and from there Corey wrote lyrics based off of the story. Things just kind of fell into place. We recorded 24 tracks; only 23 will be released."
What's the deal with the missing track?
"It's actually an instrumental. Unfortunately, we ran out if time and didn't get it to where we felt it needed to be. Hopefully we'll revisit it and finish the song at some point. There's a couple of really cool heavy riffs in there."
What's the theme of the records?
"The main character has to make these decisions that will affect the rest of his life. He's basically at a cross roads figuring out if he's ready to make changes to possibly better himself... or is he just willing to go with the flow."
The story is being expanded into a comic book?
"Four! They will be out next year. Two of them will cover part one of the story and the rest part two. They're literally about the character in the story... not us. It's not like it'll be Jim and myself in super hero outfits! It's not Kiss!"
Is there a movie in this?
"That's Corey's end game (laughs). There's been discussions about it."
How would you define the working relationship between you and [Stone Sour and Slipknot guitarist] Jim Root?
"Because our styles are so different, I think they compliment one another. I'm all about the riffs! They usually come from me. I'm a very aggressive player. I live and thrive to do that kind of stuff. Jim loves to do all the texturing and layering of guitar tracks; I just want to play stuff that makes people want to beat somebody up! So it works out great (laughs)."
What's the first step of building the guitar tracks?
"Jim and myself record the rhythm guitars at the same time. We're set up so that one of us is hard left and one of us is hard right [in the stereo field]. It's about capturing the moment... the feel. It might not necessarily be perfect but we're thinking, 'Does it have energy; is it lively?'"
Do you approach soloing in a different way to Jim?
"Jim is an improv player so he'll record 20 or 30 passes and then build off of certain parts. I'm the complete opposite. I'm the kid that stayed up 'til midnight studying so he can hit it the next day."
So you work your solos out before hitting the studio?
"Yeah, I pretty much do all my work at home by myself. With Gone Sovereign, the opening track, that's three passes at ten o 'clock in the morning. Right out the gate. I just wanted to go for it because that's the energy of the song. I knew pretty much what I wanted to do. Really it was like that with all of them."
All that preparation must take the stress out of recording?
"Well, it's great for me but it can be stressful for however is producing the record! In my mind I know what I want... and that's what it's going to be."
Are there any tracks you're particularly pleased with?
When we decided to do the record we were really like, 'Fuck it, we're going for it.' That got me excited because I finally got to do RU486. I've been wanting to record that style of song since I started. The idea was to pay homage to the bands that influenced me in that time period between '86 and '89: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. That period was all about me really wanting to play guitar. I cut my teeth with that stuff. It's part of my musical vocabulary."
You're ever faithful to your EMG-loaded Ibanez SAs but not a fan of tone controls?
"Well, if you're running active pickups, and you're playing the style of music that we play, then yeah, they're just pointless. Some of my guitars have a tone control but they're not wired in. Just so that I don't have a hole in the guitar. To make it look pretty! With that being said, there was - and I have to touch on it - times on the clean stuff between both records where I did use the tone control. I have a SA that has the David Gilmour EMG setup. Using the tone control made it so the tone wasn't quite so brittle; it gave it more of a round sound."
You're one of the few metal players with a signature guitar. When are Ibanez going to get your name in some headstocks?
"The first guitar I wanted was the Ibanez 540P [the reverse body Power Series model released in 1987 in HH, HS and HSS formats]. Everyone calls it the Alex Skolnick. I've been trying to get one of those in mint condition and, believe it or not, it's fucking hard. I want one with the two humbuckers. Of course, I've talked to Ibanez about making one but they won't!"
Maybe it could be your signature model?
"Hey, I like the way you're thinking! You guys should start a campaign to get me that guitar!"
You pretty much use your live rig in the studio?
"Over the years I've figured out what works for me. The main amp was a Hughes & Kettner Triamp and I did a blend with a Soldano SLO100 head. My main guitars were my Ibanez SA custom shop stuff. I also used my LTD Truckster which I originally bought at the time of recording Come What(ever) May (2006) as a 'hotel room' guitar. The thing sounds ridiculous. Unfortunately, it's the most uncomfortable frickin' instrument that I own. But it sounds amazing."
How did you set up your back line in the studio?
"I ran the Triamp through an Engl XL 4 x 12, the heaviest son of a bitch cabinet. I bought this thing years ago. It showed up with a tag on it that said '130lbs'. It's heavy as a refrigerator. For a cabinet it's insane! The Soldano head went into a Soldano cabinet. That's it. We just mic'd them up. We ran it all through a D.I. box too. That protects your butt in case you have problems. That's just the standard now."
The record has a definite live feel as opposed to the more polished vibe of your last album, Audio Secrecy (2010)...
"It was about capturing the live feel... it being organic. That's one of the things we're proud of with this record. For the first time, it's not overproduced. We're a very solid band live. There are no smoke and mirrors. There are no backing tracks... it's just us. If we fuck up it's very obvious! We felt we hadn't captured that on an album yet."
How did you go about nailing that live sound?
"We kept it basic. Even with the drum sounds. 90% of the drums on the album was an actual drum kit which nowadays is just unheard of. It was really important for us to lock into that drum sound. I think everything sounds the same because everyone uses the same damn samples. They use the same recording methods. We were kind of like if something is popular we want to do the opposite of that. We didn't want to use samples; we wanted to use real amps. I didn't want to re-amp the guitars through some frickin' computer program."
It is tempting for use modelling software to save money and studio time...
"Yeah, and I'm not saying some of that stuff doesn't sound good. It can be great for demoing and stuff like that - it's convenient as hell - but for me, on a professional record, there's just something about having an amp frickin' cranked up to move some serious air. You're talking ones and zeros versus a head that weighs 50 pounds!"
What effects did you use on the sessions for House of Gold & Bones Part 1 & 2?
"Basically it was all Dunlop stuff. There was a little bit of chorus. The Carbon Copy (delay); the tremolo. Again, I like to try to use in the studio what I use live so that it's not completely different. Everything effects-wise on the record is in the chain. Right through the amplifier."
Why did you pick the Kirk Hammett wah from the seemingly endless range of Dunlop Crybabys?
"I guess it might be a little bit of the fanboy in me! Metallica are a huge influence on me."
Your Hammett wahs are customised for switchless operation...
"As far as I know they had to contact Kirk to make sure that it was ok to do that. That's very cool! They made three of them for me. I used a Jerry Cantrell wah too. That thing sounds sick!"
You've hooked up with Lag for your acoustic stuff?
"They reached out to me and I was like, 'You know what... send me whatever and I'll check it out.' I use a Lag six-string, 12-string and nylon. Jim's tech set up the six. The action on this thing is ridiculous... as low as any electric I've ever played. Period. It doesn't have the big weird acoustic neck. It feels more like an electric. My first custom built Lag is actually waiting for me at home. I'm really stoked because they took the neck dimensions off of my candy apple red Ibanez SA."
Each album Stone Sour releases feels like a progression...
"We've always made them for ourselves. That's why each record is its own thing. We change things. For better or worse, depending on who you talk to!"
Now that you've been living with House of Gold & Bones for a while how do you feel about it?
"It's our best record. Hands down. We're really proud of it."
House Of Gold & Bones Part 1 is out on 22 October. For more information, visit the official Stone Sour website.