Mike Vennart is a man of many contradictions.
His playing with UK prog heroes Oceansize established a keen ear for oddball riffs and off -kilter song structures, yet when it comes to gear, he likes things simple… or so complicated he can’t predict what they’ll do next.
“I like things that have got a mind of their own,” he enthuses. “I think that’s what live performance should be.”
In between playing mega-venues with Biffy Clyro, Mike reveals the rig that fuels the tour for new solo album, To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea...
“The old Squier, amazingly, is still in one piece - it still feels like home, and it still sounds really fat and stupid. I’m just delighted that I can take it out. It’s so worn-in - it’s like an old mate.
“It does a lot of stuff - the back pickup is really fucking big and really loud and resonant, and then the front neck is a really Stratty, almost a P-90 kind of sound. It just does everything, so I love using it. It’s a DiMarzio Tone Zone in the back, and the front is from some Ibanez Roadster II piece of shit from the 80s. I can’t get any sort of single-coil twang out the back; it’s just super-huge distortion. It’s really nasty.”
Fender Elite Stratocaster W/ Burgundy Mist Refinish
“I took out all the noiseless pickups and switching, because I just don’t like the sound of that stuff. Matt Gleeson from Monty’s Pickups put in some nice vintage-wound stuff for the middle and the front.
“I find that for the front pickup, I always like a really low output; it just gives it more clarity and more bell-like resonance. And then for the back pickup, he does me a custom-wound, so it’s like 17k, a really super-hot single coil. Clean, it’s not so nice-sounding, but with distortion it sounds huge. It just rips. The guitars are all in D standard.
“Fender has always been really kind to me, but I’ve got so many Sunburst Strats because that’s all the company generally makes when they make left-handed Strats. I thought it was really cool, but I feel like playing a Sunburst Strat onstage, nobody walks away going, ‘Oh man, did you see that guitar?’ So I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to spend the money and get it refi nished!’ And it’s come out great; it’s lovely. It’s polyurethane, so it will age really sexy.”
“There’s a friend of mine called Matt Walker, who lives in Austin, Texas, and he built me this thing. It’s a Jazzmaster with a Telecaster bridge pickup and a Telecaster bridge, but it’s also got a Jazzmaster tremolo that’s just fucked.
“The Telecaster pickup single coil is also a P-90, so when it’s clean, it’s really twangy, like an old Tele, and then when you kick in the distortion, it’s a big, ballsy distortion. It’s fucking ripping. Both pickups are Porter - the front pickup is a standard vintage Jazzmaster wound thing. And again, it’s just got that really luscious, wiry Jazzmaster sound. You can guarantee, if it’s got that guitar sound, then I will enjoy it. I use it on Spider Bones and Immortal Soldiers. When you kick in the distortion with it, it’s just got so much punch.”
Orange Retro 50
“I still use it: it’s got a lot. For a five-knobs, no-effects loop, no-bullshit, it’s a whole lot of amp for me.
“And the thing is, I’m a total luddite; anything that’s got scrolling menus or too many knobs, or anything like that, I will never learn how to work.
“I’ve had a Strymon TimeLine in my drawer for about five years, and it’s the most intimidating thing that I’ve owned. I’m rubbish at it, so I stick to what I know. If it’s got three knobs and a button, I’m happy with that.”
Audio Kitchen The Small Trees
“I run the Orange pretty dirty; my clean sound is broken up, so it’s quite a balancing act, getting the Big Muff to pile through. To compensate for that, as an initial gain stage, I’ve started using an Audio Kitchen The Small Trees. Just a tube in a pedal, one button, one knob, and it just adds as much push and preamp distortion as you want. So that enables me to run the amp cleaner, get the Big Muff bleaching through it and yet still have that broken-up sound with this preamp pedal. It’s cured a lot of my ills.”
Green Carrot Infatuator
“My Infatuator is a ’78 IC Op Amp Big Muff - it’s the Pumpkins one; I’m not a Pumpkins fan, but that sound is a great Big Muff. It’s a really raunchy sound. And the other side is a famous Fuzz Face variant that’s all spluttery and nasty. I use it on the most horrible Velcro setting. And I get to do a solo on one of the new songs called Diamond Ballgag, a solo with the worst guitar sound imaginable - I fucking love doing it every night. It’s like, how ridiculous can I make this solo?”
Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork
“I just use that for Infatuate, that’s all it’s there for. It’s set to a perfect 5th.”
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
“I needed something to just give it that midrange poke. The Tube Screamer is an old reliable, it’s a cliché, but for a reason: it’s great. I have it literally set to zero, and it’s just dirty enough, but it cuts through.”
The Tone Guru Pure Acid Driver
“This is a Rat clone made by my friend Russell Sault. My old 90s Rat that I used to use with Oceansize got nicked, so he made me a clone of that - it’s got the LM308 chip - it’s got a really nice raunchy distortion, but a little bit of fuzz on top of it. It’s that Pavement-y thing that I’m obsessed with. So when I put the Tube Screamer on top of that, I’ve learned that gives it the chug.”
Danelectro Fab Tone
“Gambler [Richard Ingram, now bass in Vennart] got one of those when we were in Oceansize, and it’s a great card to be able to pull out of the back pocket when you absolutely, positively have to destroy every fucker in the room. It’s more famous for Mogwai, really. I don’t think enough people know about them. They’re cheap, plastic pieces of shit but, fuck, they sound good. I use it for the end of Duke Fame - that’s pretty brutal, and the end of Music For A Nurse.”
“That’s a really volatile, nasty fuzz. It’s got two settings, and they’re both horrible; no matter what you do, it just reacts badly. It’s great. There’s a button on it that’s starve, which basically robs the pedal of power, so the more you starve it, the more fucked up it gets. It just oscillates and feeds back all by itself, so I use that for a solo on Duke Fame now. It doesn’t matter what I play, because it’s got a mind of its own; it’s fucking brilliant.”
EarthQuaker Devices Acupulco Gold
“My drone-metal obsession continues, because that’s meant to be emulating a sound of a Sunn Model T - it’s pretty good. It’s better than a Big Muff ; it’s just got more fullness and boom to it.”
Hologram Infinite Jets
“Again, it’s got a mind of its own. I just use it for some really spluttery textures that are just nice to have. I use that for segues at the end and beginning of Diamond Ballgag, and I use it in Donkey Kong. I’ll invent some more presets with it, because at the moment it’s just stuck on this weird, spluttery, lush thing. It’s great - it’s so fucking weird!”
Death By Audio Echo Dream 2
“That’s replaced my old Boss DM-2. It’s a great analogue delay. You get a lot of crazy repeats out of it, and you can add as much hair and fuzz on it as you want, and it oscillates like no other. When you do that stupid spaceship noise and wind it all the way back on an oscillation, it’s just got a huge amount of fuzz and balls to it. It’s fucking mad.”
Boss DD-3 & DD-7 Digital Delays
“One of them’s set to standard, boring delay, and the other’s set permanently to backwards, and that’s set for Infatuate, and I just fl ing it on when I want to annoy everyone.”
EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser
“That thing is an absolute godsend. I don’t even know what it is; I don’t know what it’s doing, but I think it’s like a reverb with a load of distortion on top of it. It’s been a game-changer for me. For me, everything is on, and the whole thing is set full: decay, rate, frequency.
“The new song Diamond Ballgag has got a wig-out at the end, so that’s when it’s going crazy. But I also start the set with it; it’s the fi rst thing you hear on the new album. I use the volume knob a lot to bow notes in, and it’s very, very sensitive is the Transmisser, so you can bow a note in and it will just fl ourish for fi ve minutes. It’s the dream pedal.”
TC Electronic Hall Of Fame Reverb
“There’s a song from the new album called That’s Not Entertainment, and that’s got a really old-school, Elvis-y reverb, so that’s what that’s for.”